As a reminder, I have some notes on each Come Follow Me lesson on my other blog. This week's lesson is especially significant regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon.
President Nelson taught, "Good inspiration is based upon good information." In this blog, we share good information from original sources. Many Latter-day Saints still believe what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah. This blog discusses corroborating evidence. We support the Church's policy of neutrality regarding Book of Mormon geography and other issues. That policy promotes unity by recognizing multiple working hypotheses. We encourage all interested parties to do the same.
As a reminder, I have some notes on each Come Follow Me lesson on my other blog. This week's lesson is especially significant regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon.
Some readers here don't know about the MormonStories podcast, but for those who do, I've updated my blog that reviews that web page.
MormonStories is a web page and podcast that primarily confirms the biases of former LDS members. Apparently it has a substantial following and raises a lot of money, although not nearly as much as the M2C citation cartel.*
A frequent theme on MormonStories is the implausibility of M2C and SITH,* which is why I discuss it occasionally on this blog. One of the reasons I keep blogging about these topics is to offer a "third way."
Our LDS scholars who participate with the M2C citation cartel censor alternative faithful perspectives. Underinformed Latter-day Saints are left to conclude that it is M2C (and SITH) or bust; i.e., that the only acceptable explanation of the Book of Mormon is M2C, and the only acceptable explanation of the translation is SITH.
Web pages such as MormonStories and CES Letter point out the logical and factual fallacies and implausibility of M2C and SITH. That causes faithful LDS to question their beliefs, leading some to a "faith crisis," to use the common term. Without a third option, many young, new and prospective Latter-day Saints (as well as many seasoned members) reject the Restoration--all because they can't accept M2C and SITH.
The "third way" that we discuss on this blog and elsewhere rejects M2C and SITH in favor of what the prophets have taught about these topics, starting with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.
A recent podcast on MormonStories involves the gold plates. I discussed the podcast here:
*The M2C citation cartel consists of scholars and organizations that promote M2C, including Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter Foundation, FairMormon, BYU Studies, etc.
For new readers, M2C is the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory; i.e., the scholarly claim that the events in the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and that Joseph, Oliver, their contemporaries and successors misled the Church by teaching that Cumorah was in New York. M2C involves the historicity of the Book of Mormon and has led BYU and CES to teach students about the Book of Mormon by referring to a fantasy geography, thereby framing it as fictional.
SITH is the stone-in-the-hat theory of translation; i.e., some scholars claim that Joseph didn't really translate anything, didn't even use the plates or the Urim and Thummim, but instead produced the Book of Mormon by merely reading words that appeared on a seer stone he put in a hat.
It's a slick page, well organized and presented. It has potential to be a helpful resource. We all want more accessible information that will help us understand and appreciate Church history and doctrine. Well done. Except...
Look who created and contributed to the website--the usual suspects, our M2C/SITH* scholars at the Interpreter, FairMormon, and Book of Mormon Central.
This means the new web page will not help people make informed decisions.
Instead, the creators will omit historical evidence that contradicts, or merely challenges, M2C and SITH. It's another example of the M2C citation cartel generating a new facade to convey the appearance of consensus.
Of course, their obstacle is the clear, concise and unambiguous teachings of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Despite the efforts of these scholars, there are still many Church members who believe the prophets instead of scholars, no matter how many ways these scholars dress up M2C and SITH.
As John Sorenson, author of Mormon's Codex put it, "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." Mormon's Codex, p. 688.
Those of us who still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught don't mind people believing whatever they want. We encourage Latter-day Saints to compare the teachings of the prophets with the teachings of the scholars to make their own informed decisions.
But the scholars disagree. They curate (censor) Church history so that Latter-day Saints never see the historical sources that contradict M2C and SITH. And this latest web page is more of the same.
*M2C=Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory; SITH=stone-in-the-hat theory.
The new page was developed to correlate with the Interpreter's movie about the witnesses, to be released this summer.
Of all the possible filmmakers, could there be any group worse than the Interpreter Foundation to make this film?
The scholars at the Interpreter steadfastly repudiate what Joseph, Oliver, David, and Martin said about the New York Cumorah. They reject what Oliver and Joseph said about the translation (and they misinterpret what David and Martin said).
And yet they expect people to believe their selective quotations because...
because they said so.
Which is the same reason they think everyone should accept their M2C and SITH theories.
The great irony is that by repudiating the teachings about the New York Cumorah and the translation with the Urim and Thummim, these scholars undermine both their own credibility and the credibility of the witnesses whose testimony they purport to share with the world.
The M2C/SITH scholars want us to believe some, but not all, of what these witnesses said. They assume the authority--conferred by their academic credentials, apparently--to censor statements from these witnesses that they don't agree with. That censorship is exactly what so many members, former members, and potential members object to.
The M2C/SITH scholars, blinded by their bias confirmation, don't seem to realize that everyone has access to the same information. Dan Vogel, CES Letter, MormonStories--they all have read and discussed the same sources that are found on https://witnessesofthebookofmormon.org/. Except the critics don't censor the historical sources. They put out everything and let people decide.
If our LDS scholars were no so focused on confirming their own biases, they would do the same. But they won't, because they have convinced themselves that M2C and SITH are the only faithful narratives allowed, and they can't jeopardize their theories by letting members of the Church make informed decisions.
No matter how many times a person reads these accounts from the witnesses, each individual must decide what to believe. If you think the witnesses were honest, credible, and reliable, you accept what they said. If you think they were either dishonest or delusional, you reject what they said. That's how simple this all is.
In this case, the approach of the M2C/SITH scholars deprives members of the Church of some of the strongest evidence of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
It's true that the witnesses were consistent. Throughout their lives, they stuck with the general outline of the official, published accounts of their experiences, contained in every copy of the Book of Mormon. It's also true that they offered variations on those accounts. There is plenty of evidence to either believe or disbelieve them, whichever way you want to go.
But apart from the specific events related in the formal testimonies of the Three and Eight Witnesses, and apart from the experiences of Mary Whitmer, Lucy Mack Smith, Emma Smith, William Smith and others, there is another important category of evidence that our M2C/SITH scholars won't accept.
The repository of Nephite records in the New York Cumorah.
David Whitmer, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff and others said that Oliver Cowdery told them about the repository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah in New York. Brigham Young, fearing this knowledge would be lost among the Latter-day Saints, brought it up in one of his last sermons, delivered just two months before he died.
His fears have been realized because our M2C/SITH scholars have successfully purged the accounts from Church curriculum, media, visitors centers, etc. They know that if Cumorah is actually in New York, as the prophets taught for nearly 200 years, then that destroys their claim that the "real" Cumorah is in southern Mexico. (The New York Cumorah says nothing about other geographical settings, of course.)
The repository Oliver and Joseph visited is the repository Mormon discussed in Mormon 6:6. Oliver said he and Joseph visited the repository multiple times. Oliver related details about what was inside. He published a declaration that it was a fact that this hill was the Hill Cumorah where the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place.
You can read some of these accounts here:
David Whitmer explained that the messenger who picked up the abridged plates from Joseph Smith in Harmony took those plates to Cumorah. You can read about that here:
When asked about it, David explained that the records were no longer in Cumorah, but were not far from there.
Understanding that the repository of Nephite records was in New York, and that, as Moroni told Joseph Smith, the record had been "written and deposited not far from" Joseph's home near Palmyra, is powerful evidence of the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
We are not dealing with a fantasy setting, as taught by BYU and CES. We are not dealing with a mysterious, unknown location of Cumorah, which could be located anywhere in the world.
Instead, we are dealing with a known, physical location, identified first by Moroni, then confirmed by Joseph and Oliver, and reiterated by numerous prophets and apostles.
For those willing to accept these teachings, this is powerful additional evidence of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
But you won't find it on https://witnessesofthebookofmormon.org/
If you look into the details of the web page, you'll find some of the apologetic arguments typical of the M2C/SITH scholars. They are riddled with logical fallacies.
For example, look at this FAQ on David Whitmer. Notice how our scholars use scare quotes to frame David as claiming a false revelation because he didn't report hearing the voice until six weeks after the fact.
Whitmer’s excommunication occurred on 13 April 1838. Whitmer refused to appear at the council meeting that severed him from the Church; he wrote:
to spare you any further trouble I hereby withdraw from your fellowship and communion—choosing to seek a place among the meek and humble, where the revelations of heaven will be observed and the rights of men regarded.
Whitmer here says that he will withdraw from the Church—this would have been an excellent opportunity for him to invoke a “revelation” telling him to leave the Church, but he did not. This is not surprising, since he does not report hearing the voice until June, at least six weeks later.
Thus, when he reports being told by God to “separate himself from among” the members of the Church, Whitmer was already out of the Church, but still living in Far West among members of the Church.
Our scholars think a six week delay is determinative, yet these same scholars insist David was absolutely correct about SITH (Joseph translating with the seer stone in the hat) even though he didn't report it for decades after the fact.
This is the type of subjective assessment of historical facts that makes their arguments unpersuasive.
I don't think David's six-week delay in invoking a revelation is a material delay; he probably felt inspired to leave the Church before he left the Church.
As I've explained elsewhere, I think David told the truth about what he observed, but his subjective interpretations of what he observed, felt, or concluded is a separate matter.
For example, I accept David's claim that he actually observed Joseph using a stone in a hat, but he inferred it was an actual translation instead of a demonstration by Joseph about how the translation worked. The best Joseph could do, without displaying the Urim and Thummim or the plates, was to use a stone in a hat convey the idea.
Lately we've seen references in the Ensign and elsewhere to David's pamphlet, An Address to All Believers in Christ. The pamphlet is cited to support SITH because David describes what he observed. Yet the same pamphlet is primarily a denunciation of Joseph Smith. While I think David probably honestly thought Joseph had exceeded his original mandate, etc., does it make sense to provide selective quotations to support SITH while ignoring the bulk of what David wrote?
In my view, none of David's subjective interpretations have any bearing on David's veracity about what he actually observed as one of the Three Witnesses, about the messenger carrying the abridged plates to Cumorah, about Oliver telling him about the repository, etc. But if we're going to direct faithful Latter-day Saints to sources such as An Address to All Believers in Christ, we ought to at least provide context and consistent explanations.
There are other examples in this web page (and throughout the writings of our M2C/SITH citation cartel), but the main point here is that, once again, our scholars are causing confusion for people, whether Church members or not, by censoring historical evidence that contradicts their theories.
Let's all hope our scholars change course.
Let's hope they decide to use this otherwise awesome and promising web page to provide a resource containing all the statements of the witnesses--even if the witnesses contradicted the pet theories of the scholars.
People enjoyed the memes the last time I posted some. From now on, some Mondays will be Memedays.
Click to enlarge.
It could be very helpful to have these evidences in one easily accessible place. Such a collection could help people everywhere make informed decisions.
Maybe you've seen ad such as these:
Then, at the bottom of the page, we see the mark of M2C and we realize something's up.
Sure enough, Evidence Central is yet another vehicle to promote the theories of the M2C citation cartel.
A moment's reflection may remind us that the first principle of the gospel is faith, specifically faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Next is repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.
"Reliance on evidence" doesn't make the list. Actually, the Articles of Faith don't mention or imply that "reliance on evidence" has anything to do with the gospel. They are Articles of Faith, not Articles of Evidence.
People can believe whatever they want, but it does no one any good to simply censor the teachings of the prophets while promoting scholarly theories as "evidence."
The scriptures do mention evidence a few times. For example, Helaman 5:50 explains,
"And it came to pass that they did go forth, and did minister unto the people, declaring throughout all the regions round about all the things which they had heard and seen, insomuch that the more part of the Lamanites were convinced of them, because of the greatness of the evidences which they had received."
But we also have more aggressive revisionist historians and scholars who continue to promote their personal theories. In some cases, these theories repudiate what Joseph and Oliver taught. We see a lot of the philosophies of men, not even mingled with scripture.
The de-correlation of Cumorah and the Urim and Thummim is evident in the Saints book, but also in the Come Follow Me manual. We can observe this ongoing de-correlation by comparing with a lesson manual from the year 2000.
The 2021 Come Follow Me lessons focus on the Doctrine and Covenants, but also cover Joseph Smith-History 1:1-75. Even though these verses refer to Joseph obtaining and translating the plates, the Come Follow Me manual doesn't mention the word Cumorah and never quotes what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said about translating the plates with the Urim and Thummim.
Instead, we get this revisionist history:
We don’t know many details about the miraculous translation process, but we do know that Joseph Smith was a seer, aided by instruments that God had prepared: two transparent stones called the Urim and Thummim and another stone called a seer stone. 3
There are no explanations from Joseph or Oliver about how God supposedly prepared the seer stone that Joseph found when he was digging a well. We wouldn't expect them to, actually, because neither of them said anything about Joseph translating the plates with that seer stone.
That doesn't matter to our revisionist Church historians. Note 3 in the lesson refers back to the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation, which also doesn't quote what Joseph and Oliver taught. Instead, it quotes the speculations of scholars.
3. For more information, see “Book of Mormon Translation,” Gospel Topics, topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org; Richard E. Turley Jr., Robin S. Jensen, and Mark Ashurst-McGee, “Joseph the Seer,” Ensign, Oct. 2015, 48–55.
Here is the link to the Come Follow Me manual:
Readers here know that I think Joseph used the seer stone during a demonstration, as I've explained in detail in A Man that Can Translate. I have no problem with alternative explanations; people can believe whatever they want. However, I think it's counterproductive to simply replace what Joseph and Oliver said with the speculations of scholars.
Back then, students learned actual Church history instead of the revisionist version students learn today.
Below are two example explanations from the 2000 manual that no young (or new) Latter-day Saints will ever learn.
The manual even included a photo of the Hill Cumorah in New York.
And, the manual quoted from Oliver Cowdery's Letter VIII.
Before looking at the examples, keep in mind that President Nelson has taught, “Good information leads to good inspiration.” Now, let's consider how new and young Latter-day Saints can't make informed decisions because, with Cumorah and the Urim and Thummim being de-correlated, they learn about these important details only if
(i) they make the effort to study what Joseph and Oliver actually taught (instead of relying on the manuals and CES/BYU teachers) or
(ii) they learn what Joseph and Oliver taught by reading/watching the presentations from critics of the Church.
I keep hearing that the revisionist Church historians and the M2C proponents think their efforts will "inoculate" young and new members against the risk of exposure to the "real history."
That excuse strikes me as exactly wrong. The revisionist history and M2C theories are infections, not inoculations. What sense does it make to de-correlate (censor) the New York Cumorah and the translation with the Urim and Thummim? De-correlating these historical records does not make them go away. The "inoculation" effort just aids and abets the critics who claim the Church has hidden the history. They make a good point--except now it's the teachings of Joseph and Oliver that are hidden from the lesson manuals.
Far better to teach the young and new members what Joseph and Oliver actually taught. Then, instead of repudiating those teachings as our LDS scholars do, we can explain to the young and new members how historical and extrinsic evidence corroborates and vindicates what Joseph and Oliver taught.
I realize that the power of bias confirmation will never allow the intellectuals at Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, BYU Studies, etc., to change their approach. They will continue to censor and attack those of us who still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught.
But no one has an obligation to accept the teachings of the scholars. And to be clear, I'm fine with people believing whatever they want. However, I'm not fine with these intellectuals using their positions of influence to censor alternative faithful explanations.
Despite the efforts of these intellectuals, we can make our own informed decisions if we follow the teachings of the prophets and "seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith." (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118)
Fortunately, more and more Latter-day Saints are discovering that what Joseph and Oliver taught makes more sense than what our intellectuals have come up with.
Now, let's look at the 2000 manual.
“As Joseph approached the Hill Cumorah, he had thoughts about the poverty of his family and the possibility that the plates or the popularity of the translation would produce enough wealth to ‘raise him above a level with the common earthly fortunes of his fellow men, and relieve his family from want’ [Oliver Cowdery, in Messenger and Advocate, July 1835, 157]. When he reached down for the plates he received a shock and was thus prevented from taking them out of the box. Twice more he tried and was thrown back. In frustration he cried out, ‘Why can I not obtain this book?’ Moroni appeared and told him it was because he had not kept the commandments but had yielded to the temptations of Satan to obtain the plates for riches instead of having his eye single to the glory of God as he had been commanded [Cowdery, in Messenger and Advocate, Oct. 1835, 198].
The manual included another important piece of history that young and new Latter-day Saints never learn today. I included a link to the Joseph Smith Papers so you can see the reference in the original.
“Little is known of Joseph’s visits with Moroni between 1824 and 1827, but sometime before fall of 1827, Joseph returned home one evening later than usual. His family was concerned, but he told them he had been delayed because he had just received a severe chastisement from Moroni. He said that as he passed by the Hill Cumorah, ‘The angel met me and said that I had not been engaged enough in the work of the Lord; that the time had come for the record to be brought forth; and that I must be up and doing and set myself about the things which God had commanded me to do’ [Smith, History of Joseph Smith, 100]. [ https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/lucy-mack-smith-history-1845/111]
“Much must have transpired in Joseph’s four years of preparation. He passed through his teens largely untainted by the precepts of men. He enjoyed the emotional support of his family, and he took on the responsibilities associated with marriage. Angels prepared him to translate a divinely inspired record and taught him the necessity of self-discipline and obedience. He was undoubtedly anxious to begin translating the Book of Mormon. At this time Joseph Knight and Josiah Stowell were in Manchester visiting with the Smith family. This might have been in anticipation of Joseph’s receiving the plates.
“Long before sunrise on 22 September 1827, Joseph and his wife hitched Joseph Knight’s horse to Josiah Stowell’s spring wagon and drove the three miles to the Hill Cumorah. Leaving Emma at the base, Joseph climbed the hill for his final interview with Moroni. Moroni gave him the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate. He also gave Joseph a specific warning and promise concerning his responsibilities. Joseph was now responsible for these sacred objects, and if he was careless or negligent and lost them he would be cut off. On the other hand, if he used all his efforts to preserve them until Moroni returned for them, he was assured that they would be protected (see Joseph Smith—History 1:59).
The 2000 lesson manual accurately reported what was in the stone box.
Joseph Smith—History 1:34–35. What Was in the Stone Box?
In the stone box were a book and the Urim and Thummim. The book was written on gold plates and included the book of Lehi, the small plates of Nephi, the plates of Mormon, and the sealed plates that Joseph was commanded not to translate (see “A Brief Explanation about the Book of Mormon” in the introductory pages of the Book of Mormon). The Urim and Thummim was a divine instrument prepared by the Lord for the purpose of translation. It consisted of two stones in silver bows and a breastplate onto which it was attached.
Notice the difference:
2000 lesson manual: The Urim and Thummim was a divine instrument prepared by the Lord for the purpose of translation.
2021 Come Follow Me manual: Joseph Smith was a seer, aided by instruments that God had prepared: two transparent stones called the Urim and Thummim and another stone called a seer stone.
Our revisionist historians have added the seer stone based on statements made by David Whitmer (who was never a scribe) and the so-called "Last Testimony of Emma Smith," which was recorded by her son two months before her death, first published six months after her death, and never acknowledged by Emma herself. Emma's contemporaries and associates in Utah said the "Last Testimony" was a lie and fabrication, but our historians today claim it was the truth and outweighs what Joseph and Oliver taught.
Notice that the stone box contained the plates and the Urim and Thummim (and the breastplate). Anyone who has visited the M2C exhibit in the north Visitors Center on Temple Square (or the replica at the Hill Cumorah Visitors Center in New York) has seen the depiction of Moroni putting the plates in the stone box, along with the sword of Laban and the Liahona. Of course, there are no historical accounts that support this; it is a product of M2C, which insists the "real Cumorah" is in Mexico, so Moroni must have carried the other artifacts to New York.
Yesterday a Sunday School class in the Manhattan Ward (New York City) discussed my approach to SITH (stone-in-the-hat) vs U&T (Urim and Thummim). You can watch the lesson on youtube here:
I think they did a great job explaining the concept. What do you think?
It seems like everyone is doing Come Follow Me podcasts, blogs, articles, etc. I've watched a few, and they're pretty generic. I'd just stick with the lesson manual.
However, I noticed a gap in coverage, so I've been making notes for those interested, here:
The main page is www.comefollowme2021.org.
On that page, on the left, there are links to our podcast, as well as some special topics pages. If you subscribe, you'll get updates regularly.
"The overeducated are worse off than the undereducated, having traded common sense for the illusion of knowledge." - @naval
Prominent Latter-day Saint intellectuals, including both historians and Book of Mormon scholars, are overeducated. They keep trying to persuade Church members to accept their illusion of knowledge that Joseph Smith didn't really translate anything, that he merely read words that appeared on a stone he put in a hat, and that the hill Cumorah is in Mexico.
For those who believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, it's common sense to accept what he and Oliver Cowdery taught. They said Joseph translated the engravings on the ancient plates that he obtained from the hill Cumorah--the same hill where the Jaredites and Nephites fought their final battles.
This is the problem of prophets vs scholars.
The text of the Book of Mormon supports whatever you want to believe. There is plenty of external evidence to support whatever you want to believe.
That's how bias confirmation works.
Decide whom you want to believe. The evidence will follow.
Do you believe prophets or scholars?
Do you believe:
(i) people with personal experience (Joseph and Oliver)
(ii) scholars two hundred years later who consult scraps of documentary evidence to concoct their own theories?
If you're an overeducated Latter-day Saint, bias confirmation prevents you from understanding how anyone could still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught.
That's how we ended up with Evidence Central--brought to you by the mark of M2C. We'll discuss it more next week.
Some people new to this blog ask why I focus on the New York Cumorah. It's a good question, and recent events have prompted a clearer explanation.
The simple answer:
the New York Cumorah is the only known touchstone between the real world and Lehi's promised land.
By repudiating the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah, LDS scholars have (i) distorted the text of the Book of Mormon, (ii) cast doubt on the credibility and reliability of the prophets, and (iii) misdirected the pursuit of evidence to support the claims of the Book of Mormon.
Understanding these key points, Joseph's contemporaries and successors as Church leaders frequently reiterated the New York location of Cumorah.
But--and this is a key point--we don't even have to take their word for it. The New York Cumorah is consistent with the text itself and with extrinsic evidence including archaeology, anthropology, geography and geology.
Nevertheless, a handful of LDS scholars decided the prophets were wrong. These scholars adopted the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C) that had been developed by RLDS scholars in the early 1900s. Because of their privileged academic status at BYU and CES, these scholars have managed to impose their theories on Latter-day Saints throughout the world.
I think all of these scholars are honorable, fine people with good intentions. They make important and useful contributions to our knowledge base. I like them all personally, but that has nothing to do with the problem of scholars vs. prophets. We can trust, more or less, but we should also verify by making our own informed decisions.
A few days ago on MormonStories.org, Jim Bennett discussed the "Heartlander thing." (If you don't know Brother Bennett, he is known for a lengthy response to the CES Letter, which we'll discuss below). Judging by Brother Bennett's comments, our LDS credentialed class continue to miss the point.
|Jim Bennett on MormonStories|
During the interview, he said, "This is a huge controversy now. I don't know if you follow the whole "Heartlander thing." I think it's fascinating because you've got these guys that, the most important principle of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is the location of the Hill Cumorah. To me I think, what the heck is your problem? Who cares? It doesn't matter to me at all. That has nothing to do with anything." (see reference below)
Saying it doesn't matter is a natural response for someone experiencing cognitive dissonance.
Despite Brother Bennett's pejorative characterization, those of us labeled by these scholars as "Heartlanders" spend most of our time serving in the Church, doing missionary and temple work, and testifying of Christ. We think the Book of Mormon is an authentic history, supported by strong evidence in addition to the teachings of the prophets, but we don't accept the speculations of scholars who repudiate those teachings. Naturally, the scholars are upset.
Those who follow this blog know how sensitive the M2C scholars are about the question of Cumorah. Their cognitive dissonance can't reconcile the inherent contradiction between claiming to believe and follow the prophets, but also repudiating what the prophets have taught about Cumorah (such as in Letter VII).
On one hand, they openly say the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah, that they were speculating, expressing their own incorrect opinions as men, etc. Realize, they are talking not only about Joseph and Oliver, but members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.
On the other hand, these same scholars get upset when people point out they are repudiating the prophets. They get defensive. Some get aggressive. (Oddly, some of my critics try to debate these issues, as if I couldn't make their arguments as well as they do. My time is better spent seeking ways to support and corroborate the teachings of the prophets instead of seeking ways to undermine and disavow--repudiate--those teachings.)
Cognitive dissonance is unpleasant. Usually people deal with it by telling themselves the issue, whatever it is, "doesn't matter," the way Brother Bennett did. In the LDS context, this is called "putting it on the shelf," meaning they'll set it aside and try not to think about it, hoping for a future resolution.
But the issue is not going away.
The question of Cumorah is not a harmless bit of academic speculation.
Many faithful Latter-day Saints can't understand why LDS scholars would speculate about Cumorah when we have the unambiguous teachings of the prophets on this topic. We can't read the minds of the M2C intellectuals, but we can read their publications.We can see that Book of Mormon Central is spending millions of dollars annually to persuade people that the prophets were wrong and the scholars are correct. There is nothing so predictable as scholars insisting their theories are correct because of their superior credentials. The credentialed class need people to be dependent on them to justify their employment (and fundraising). The handful of LDS scholars who promote M2C have created a facade of like-minded publications and organizations that publish and cite one another's work, which I call the M2C citation cartel.
Their cognitive dissonance is evident in their disparate treatment of Oliver Cowdery. When discussing Oliver's teachings about the angel showing him and David Whitmer the plates, they scour every possible source. They examine every letter, newspaper article, or mention in third-party accounts.
But when it comes to Cumorah, they ignore (or worse, reject as ignorant speculation) what Oliver explicitly wrote in his essays about Church history, particularly Letter VII. These essays were written with the assistance of Joseph Smith, copied into Joseph's personal history, and republished at Joseph's direction multiple times (Times and Seasons, Gospel Reflector, Millennial Star, the Prophet), but Book of Mormon Central claims Oliver's formal, explicit, and official teaching was wrong--solely because their academic theories contradict what Oliver taught.
_____BYU fantasy map to teach students about the Book of Mormon, portraying the Book of Mormon as taking place in a fictional setting. Surveys show that more and more active Latter-day Saints think the Book of Mormon is not an actual history. That trend can only accelerate as the BYU fantasy map becomes de facto doctrine in the minds of BYU and CES students.
Modern LDS scholars claim Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah. They say Joseph "didn't know much about the Book of Mormon," and whatever he thought at first, by 1842 he changed his mind because of a popular travel book and came to depend on scholarship instead of what he learned directly from Moroni and his personal experiences.
Leveraging their positions of trust as teachers at BYU and CES, they have used the academic cycle to persuade several generations of LDS students to prefer their M2C theories over the teachings of the prophets--mostly by censoring Cumorah.
Influential scholars have sought to eliminate cognitive dissonance among Church members by censoring the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. They have managed to "disappear" references to Cumorah from curriculum, media, visitors centers, and even Church history, as we see in the Saints book. The current version of the Gospel Topics entry on Book of Mormon geography doesn't mention Cumorah; instead, it frames Joseph Smith as equivocal and uncertain, exactly how our M2C citation cartel wants him to appear. (That entry was revised after I pointed out obvious errors, and it could and should be revised again to address Cumorah.)
We even have the Interpreter Foundation, which completely rejects Oliver's teaching about Cumorah, creating a movie about the Three Witnesses--as if people won't see the absurdity of claiming Oliver was only correct when he agreed with what modern scholars believe. Actually, all three of the witnesses referred to the "hill in New York" as the ancient Cumorah, but you won't see that in their movie.
The problem is, the teachings of the prophets are available for everyone to see. People can read Letter VII right in Joseph's own history, right in the Joseph Smith Papers.
Fortunately, there are faithful Latter-day Saints who still accept the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah and can help others understand them. (Not just me, but many others.)
Unfortunately, there are many critics and nonbelievers who use the futile censorship efforts of the M2C citation cartel to sow confusion among new and young Latter-day Saints who have been taught M2C exclusively and have never heard the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.
Which brings us to the CES Letter.
Some time ago, Brother Bennett wrote a response to the CES Letter that (according to Bennett) Book of Mormon Central spent a lot of money promoting. That's not surprising because in his response, Brother Bennett promoted both M2C and SITH. He claimed M2C started with the anonymous 1842 editorials in the Times and Seasons.
Outside of the M2C bubble, informed Latter-day Saints know that the 1842 editorials said nothing about Cumorah. They know that in 1841, the Times and Seasons published the essays about Cumorah that unambiguously placed the site in western New York. They know that in 1842, in two signed letters published in the Times and Seasons, Joseph Smith refuted Orson Pratt's theory about Central America and referred to Cumorah in New York.
Those living inside the M2C bubble, however, either don't know these details of Church history or have rationalized them away.
Let's look at how Brother Bennett dealt with the Cumorah question in his response to the CES Letter. Here (in green) are the passages from the CES Letter. Brother Bennett's responses are in blue. My comments in red. (To see this in the original, go to https://canonizer.com/files/reply.pdf and search for "Cumorah.")
6. Archaeology: There is absolutely no archaeological evidence to directly support the Book of Mormon or the Nephites and Lamanites, who were supposed to have numbered in the millions.
Short Answer: Nonsense. There is a great deal of direct Old World archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon, as well as a growing body of archaeological evidence in the New World, too.
[Brother Bennett discusses the Old World evidence, then says] I’ll get to the New World evidence as I address the rest of your question.
This is one of the reasons why unofficial apologists have developed the Limited Geography Model (it happened in Central or South America)…
No. The theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Central or South America can be documented to have been around since at least 1842, when the Times and Seasons, the Church paper edited by Joseph Smith at the time, published three unsigned editorials detailing Mesoamerican Book of Mormon theories.
[These are the anonymous articles that say nothing about Cumorah and, contrary to Brother Bennett's representation here, reflected the hemispheric model. IOW, CES Letter was correct, and Bennett was wrong.
Ironically, just a few months earlier, the Times and Seasons published Joseph Smith's signed Wentworth letter, in which Joseph rejected Orson Pratt's hemispheric model (including Central America) by emphasizing that the remnant of Lehi's posterity are "the Indians that live in this country."
Bennett also cited the equivocal Bernhisel letter that was obviously drafted by Wilford Woodruff and not even signed by Joseph Smith. Nevertheless, he writes...]
To say that the idea of the Book of Mormon in a Central American setting is a late product of “unofficial apologists” is to ignore the words of the prophet himself.
… and claim that the Hill Cumorah mentioned as the final battle of the Nephites is not in Palmyra, New York but is elsewhere. This is in direct contradiction to what Joseph Smith and other prophets have taught.
It is not, in fact, in direct contradiction to anything Joseph Smith taught. Joseph never made reference to the hill in New York as Cumorah.
[The M2C citation cartel simply censors historical evidence that contradicts their theories. Again, CES Letter is correct and Bennett is wrong. Joseph's mother quoted Joseph referring to the Hill Cumorah in 1827, before he even got the plates. He could only have learned that from Moroni. In 1831, Parley P. Pratt explained that Moroni called the hill Cumorah anciently. And, of course, Joseph helped write Letter VII, had it copied into his history as part of his life story, etc.]
No identification of the drumlin in New York as Cumorah can be found in the Doctrine and Covenants or any canonized revelation.
[D&C 128:20 was published in 1842 in the Times and Seasons as a letter from Joseph Smith to the Church. "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."
A year earlier, the Times and Seasons had published Letter VII, declaring it was a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the valley west of the "drumlin in New York" named Cumorah. Joseph's contemporaries who read the Times and Seasons knew what the term "Cumorah" referred to. It was common knowledge. And if the "glad tidings" did not refer to the Book of Mormon that came from the "drumlin in New York," to what was Joseph referring by the phrase "the book to be revealed" in this verse? Why would Joseph refer to "glad tidings from Cumorah" if Cumorah was a hill in southern Mexico that contained the repository of Nephite records but not the abridged plates?]
Even a cursory reading of the Book of Mormon makes it clear that the Hill Cumorah isn’t the hill in upstate New York where Joseph got the plates.
[Notice, instead of a reading here, cursory or intense, Brother Bennett gives us his own M2C speculation, about what Moroni "presumably" did.]
In Mormon 6:6, Mormon states that he “hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni.” [Emphasis added.] So the plates Moroni had after the massive bloody battle at Cumorah were specifically not plates that had been buried there. Moroni then spends decades wandering with these plates, presumably getting as far away from Cumorah as possible, and then buries them up for Joseph to find in an area far removed the Cumorah carnage.
[Orson Pratt explained that the repository was in a separate department of the hill from where Moroni constructed his stone box. This is consistent with what David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery said. But our M2C citation cartel has to persuade us that two of the three witnesses misled the Church about Cumorah. Actually, Martin Harris also referred to the hill as Cumorah in 1830 as well.]
It is correct to say that many Church leaders have equated the New York Hill with Cumorah, but the Church’s official position on Book of Mormon geography has always been one of neutrality, and they have scrupulously avoided officially jumping in to the long-running debate over where the Book of Mormon took place.
[This is revisionist history and rhetorical commingling. Church leaders have always taught that Cumorah is the hill in New York where Joseph found the plates--no prophet or apostle has ever questioned that teaching. That's separate from the question of where other events took place, a topic about which Church leaders have not taken a position. The Gospel Topics entry on this conflates the two issues by omitting any reference to Cumorah, but that does not negate the clear historical record.]
Now is it true that many – but not all – prophets, apostles, and members have long believed, and many still believe, that the New York his [sic] is the BoM Cumorah. We keep coming back to infallibility and the lack thereof, and so many of your objections are rooted in the idea that if even apostles make mistakes like this, the Church can’t be true.
[This isn't a question of "making mistakes." We have specific declarations that the New York Cumorah is a fact, repeated by many Church leaders for over 150 years. The M2C citation cartel asserts these are mistakes solely because they disagree with the Church leaders and disbelieve what Joseph and Oliver said, based on their personal experience. People can believe and disbelieve whatever they want, but everyone should make informed decisions, not just rely on the obfuscation of the M2C citation cartel.]
That’s not just wrong; it’s bad doctrine.
Mormons ought to realize that agency trumps infallibility every single time. In the absence of direct revelation, speculation fills the gaps. There is no direct revelation about the specific whereabouts of any Book of Mormon location, so prophets and anyone else are perfectly capable of acting in good faith and still reaching incorrect conclusions, which seems to be precisely what they did in this instance. Like it or not, that’s how agency works. That’s mortality. That’s life, in and out of the Church.
[This is clever rhetoric, but it's a straw man. No one is claiming that Joseph and Oliver taught the New York Cumorah based on revelation (although the absence of a written revelation does not mean they did not receive revelation on the topic). Instead, Joseph said he learned the name even before he translated the plates. Oliver said he and Joseph visited Mormon's repository of records in the "drumlin in New York" multiple times. David Whitmer said the messenger (one of the 3 Nephites) took the abridged plates from Harmony to Cumorah.]
It also makes little sense in light of the Church’s visitor’s center near the Hill Cumorah in New York and the annual Church-sponsored Hill Cumorah pageants.
It makes a great deal of sense. It’s still the hill where Joseph got the plates, so it’s quite significant to Book of Mormon history.
CES letter makes more sense here. Why refer to the hill as Cumorah if it was just a drumlin in New York thousands of miles away from the "real Cumorah" in southern Mexico? The answer is, because the prophets declared this was the actual hill Cumorah.
Thanks to the efforts of the M2C citation cartel, visitors to the Hill Cumorah today never learn why the hill is named Cumorah! There is no exhibit of the teachings of the prophets. Site missionaries are not allowed to even read Mormon 6:6 with visitors.
We read about two major war battles that took place at the Hill Cumorah (Ramah to the Jaredites) with deaths numbering in the tens of thousands – the last battle between Lamanites and Nephites around 400 AD claimed at least 230,000 deaths on the Nephite side alone. No bones, hair, chariots, swords, armor, or any other evidence of a battle whatsoever has been found at this site.
None in upstate New York, no, which is not at all surprising, as the Book of Mormon itself makes it crystal clear that that’s not where either Cumorah or Ramah actually was
[Now we see the serious problem our M2C scholars have created. CES Letter is merely repeating the expectations raised by the scholars, who have to inflate Book of Mormon populations to be consistent with their Mesoamerican setting. They continually reinterpret the text to fit whatever new discoveries are made in Mesoamerica.
The other approach is to look at the text to inform our expectations.
The text points out that the bodies were not buried. Unburied bodies (including bones and hair) disintegrate rapidly; otherwise, our forests and fields would be full of carcasses of deer, elk, buffalo, etc.
CES Letter exaggerates by mentioning chariots and armor. Mormon 6:9 explains that they had the sword, the bow, the arrow, the ax, and "all manner of weapons of war." Upstate New York has had abundant evidence of such weapons, dating to Book of Mormon time frames, which are found in museum and collections throughout the area. In the Cumorah area, farmers used to give them to tourists. The Bean children used arrowheads as skipping stones because they were so abundant. The exception, arguably, is "swords," but even there, the text describes swords "cankered with rust" which means iron, which means we wouldn't find them after a few years or decades.
In Letter VII, Oliver explained there were fewer than 10,000 Jaredites in their final battles and the numbers of Nephites and Lamanites were in the tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands. A careful reading of the text shows there were at most 20,000 Nephites killed there, and that's assuming the phrase "ten thousand" is a literal count and not a translation of a term such as "unit" or "patrols" like in the Old Testament. I compare this to the Battle of Hastings, where 10,000 men were killed without a trace.]
The rest of this section continues with CES Letter repeating the expectations raised by the M2C scholars, with Brother Bennett pointing toward Mesoamerica as the answer.
Instead, informed Latter-day Saints can point to museums and private collections throughout the midwestern and northeastern U.S. to show evidence of exactly the descriptions contained in the Book of Mormon.
By repudiating the teachings of the prophets and refocusing our attention on Mesoamerica, our M2C scholars have created unnecessary problems. The have adopted their own interpretations of the Book of Mormon to fit Mesoamerica. They say Joseph (or whoever put the words on the stone in the hat) mistranslated the text by failing to describe pyramids, Mayans, tapirs, jaguars, jade, and jungles, so they "find" these elements of Mesoamerica themselves. They regularly contort the text to align with the latest archaeological discoveries in Mesoamerica.
The New York Cumorah was a specific, evidence-based rebuttal to the claim of critics that the Book of Mormon was fiction, composed by Joseph Smith and/or Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, Solomon Spalding, etc. Joseph and Oliver never claimed a revelation about Cumorah; instead, they claimed personal experience. Joseph learned the name from Moroni even before he translated the plates. Oliver explained that he and Joseph had visited the repository of Nephite records (Mormon 6:6) inside the hill in New York where Joseph found the plates in Moroni's stone box--a separate department of the hill (as Orson Pratt explained).
But a handful of LDS intellectuals disagreed. They rejected what the prophets taught and instead sided with a couple of RLDS scholars who, in the early 1900s, had concluded that Cumorah was actually somewhere in southern Mexico. (This is M2C, or the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory).
Through the academic cycle (because they were teaching at BYU) and over a couple of decades they've managed to persuade most of their students to repudiate the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. Now, the New York Cumorah is being systematically disappeared (I call it de-correlated), to the point where even the Saints book revised Church history to eliminate Cumorah from the historical record.
Consequently, it is critics such as the CES Letter who are educating Latter-day Saints about what the prophets actually taught.
Hopefully, future Latter-day Saints will learn what the prophets have taught about Cumorah within a framework that supports and corroborates these teachings, instead of learning from our M2C scholars that the prophets were wrong.
Transcript of Brother Bennett's interview on MormonStories.org.
Censorship of "crimethink" (see Orwell's 1984) has become a big issue around the world. When I worked in China decades ago, it was difficult to access western web pages. My own company's website had not been approved by the government so I couldn't access it for needed files. That was a little understandable back when the Internet was new, but what's it like today?
Last year when I lived in China, I got used to controlling my speech because there were lots of topics we could never discuss in public or even private conversations, and certainly not on the Internet. The Internet was highly censored; news items that contradicted official government positions were banned, as were individuals who were deemed a threat to society for voicing opinions or reporting news. In some cases, such people became unpersons.
If you haven't looked at China Daily, you should, because that's what the American news media resembles. There is news, conveyed with attractive images and video. But already, only one point of view and only approved speech is permitted, and the scope of approved speech is narrowing. Other opinions, as well as inconvenient facts, are deemed crimethink and censored and banned.
More broadly, the cancel culture prevents "crimethink" on college campuses and doxes people for crimethink to impact their employment.
Some thoughts from Twitter accounts that haven't been banned yet:
Either the government will regulate technology or technology will regulate the government.
This was the year the Fake News became so powerful they could tell you there was definitely no election fraud because you aren’t allowed to check. And it worked.
Regarding censorship generally, here's a relevant tweet from Brian Roemmele (assuming Twitter doesn't ban him before you read this).
The thing about studying history and the decline of cultures is all “team” are fully convinced that if they just could better control what people, thought, felt, read and talked about “society would be better”. It has never worked. It will never work. We have amnesia.
In LDS culture, some of our most prominent apologists have long engaged in ad hominem attacks (attacking the person instead of the argument), which is the equivalent of doxing for crimethink. I plan to release a book about LDS apologists later this year, which I'm sure many will find quite interesting. One of my favorites is an anonymous blogger endorsed by one of the best-known LDS apologists.
People have asked me to focus on the critics such as MormonStories and CES Letter instead of the faithful scholars in the citation cartel. It's a valid point. But how effective is it to point out the evidence and rational arguments that support what Joseph and Oliver taught, when both the critics and the LDS apologists agree that Joseph and Oliver were wrong?
In my view, both groups are effective for similar reasons: they both elevate their own theories and interpretations over the plain words of the prophets.
Some LDS apologists seem to think it's a good idea to repudiate what Joseph and Oliver taught, as if doing so would ingratiate themselves with the critics. I disagree with that approach. I respect both the critics and the LDS scholars, all of whom are undoubtedly well-intentioned from their various perspectives, but I don't agree with their theories and interpretations. You can see my responses to MormonStories here. https://mormonstoriesreviewed.blogspot.com/
We might think that after spending $28 million, the citation cartel would have some effective responses to the critics, but instead, their editorial policy of censorship of other faithful LDS has led to (i) agreement with the critics on key points and (ii) more confusion among members of the Church.
One of the reasons why I object to the ongoing censorship by Book of Mormon Central and the rest of the citation cartel is that censorship is a short-sighted error. It makes no sense to me for the cartel to insist that the only allowed theories are the ones that portray Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the New York Cumorah and the translation of the plates with the Urim and Thummim, but that's what our scholars are doing.
The Church History Department continues to de-correlate both of those elements of Church history, solely to accommodate the theories of a handful of scholars in the M2C citation cartel.
Look especially at the Mayan glyph (which doesn't belong with the other scriptural languages anyway, but is purely an insistence on M2C). The figure has a line down the side of its face that represents closing off the mind. It's an image of the closed-mindedness editorial policy of Book of Mormon Central and the rest of the citation cartel that justifies censorship.
You might find it unbelievable that this logo depicting a closed mind attaches itself to so much LDS apologetics. But it's not actually unbelievable. Instead, it's consistent and descriptive.