Monday, January 18, 2021

Manhattan Ward's Come Follow Me lesson in SITH vs U&T

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_N53Ju8CvFE&feature=youtu.be

I think they did a great job explaining the concept. What do you think?




Sunday, January 17, 2021

Come Follow Me reminder

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:

https://comefollowme2021.blogspot.com/2021/01/jan-11-17-d-2-joseph-smithhistory-12765.html

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.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Evidence Central: Overeducated vs common sense

"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) 

or 

(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.







Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Why does Cumorah matter?

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.

_____

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said Cumorah was in western New York because (i) they learned it from their personal experience visiting the repository of Nephite records (Mormon 6:6) and (ii) they knew Cumorah's location was an essential fact to refute the claim that the Book of Mormon was fiction. 

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).

(click to enlarge)

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 logo is a repudiation of the New York Cumorah; the Mayan glyph represents their insistence that the Book of Mormon is actually a  Mayan codex that Joseph (or whoever put the words on the stone in the hat) mistranslated because he didn't understand Mayan culture.

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. 

See https://evidencecentral.org/evidence/oliver-cowdery.

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.

_____

We've reached the point where BYU professors use the 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. 

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/90

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.  

___________

To review:

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.


1:53:50

JB: 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. The point is, they point to all of these statements that were made by all of these prophets, seers and revelators and insist that the Book of Mormon has a hemispheric geography, that Cumorah was in fact the drumlin in New York where Joseph Smith got the plates, and that Joseph claimed that. But Joseph never did. 

JD: He called it the Hill Cumorah.

JB: No, he never did. Oliver did. There was a letter from Oliver where he defines that. Joseph, the only time we have Joseph referring to Cumorah is in the 128th section of the Doctrine and Covenants where it talks about "glad tidings from Cumorah." But when he recounts his history he does not refer to the hill where he got the plates as Cumorah. I think he probably believed it was. But there was no statement by any prophet, seer or revelator that claims a revelation that delineates where Cumorah is or delineates a hemispheric model for the Book of Mormon. 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Censorship in the nation and at BMC


I've discussed George Orwell's book 1984 before in my blogs. Some years ago I was quite surprised when none of my college students had ever heard of the book. Back in my day, we all studied it in high school. It's fascinating to watch how Orwell's descriptions align with our modern society, especially lately. 

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).

https://twitter.com/BrianRoemmele/status/1347702746850361345

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.

Seriously, when your very logo announces to the world that you reject what Joseph and Oliver taught, and you censor alternative interpretations of historical evidence that is faithful to Joseph and Oliver, what outcome do you expect?

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.




Friday, January 1, 2021

Starting the new year with SITH

Who would have thought that the last day of the year 2020 would provide a high-profile promotion of SITH? (SITH = stone-in-the-hat theory). I'll discuss the Dec 31st article in the Salt Lake Tribune below.

SITH is about the last thing I wanted to discuss in 2021, but it's inevitable and, apparently, necessary. I'm posting this on this blog because our M2C citation cartel is also our SITH citation cartel. 

For more detail on Church history, see my new web page: ComeFollowMe2021.org. I'll have commentary and links to podcasts for every lesson this year.

(BTW, last year I intended to do the same for the Book of Mormon in 2020, but I had lots of other projects and anyway, I was curious to see how the citation cartel was going to handle the issues. As expected, Book of Mormon Central ended up spending millions of dollars promoting M2C (and SITH), depriving their readers/viewers of the opportunity to make informed decisions. They are the mirror images of the critical sites (CES Letter, MormonStories, etc.) that also deprive their readers/viewers of the opportunity to make informed decisions.

Sigh.

We can't expect the scholars, whether LDS, former LDS, or anti-LDS, to sacrifice their theories any more than we can expect the wealthy to sacrifice their wealth, as we discussed yesterday. For the credentialed class, Zion remains a theory--something for other people to live. 

So let's move on.

Warning: this is a long post. I'll be traveling and probably won't post again for a week or so. 

I posted a short video summary here. https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/p/video-summary-of-sith-and-new-mormon.html

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The article in the SLTribune was an interview with Richard Bushman, the author of Rough Stone Rolling. (see below)

People often ask me about Brother Bushman. I've met him, spoken with him briefly a few times, and I think he's awesome. He's brilliant, friendly, personable, thoughtful. He's an excellent historian, of course. I respect his work. But... he's a historian.

If you're not already familiar with the term "talent stack," you should learn about it. Everyone develops different combinations of talents. We have natural interests and aptitudes. We get an education. We gain experience and expertise. We pursue our interests and develop our skills. The sum of all that is our talent stack.

Our talent stacks are part of our filters on the world. Our brains only process what our filters allow to pass through. Some of that is perceptual--what we see, touch, smell, hear, etc.--and part of that is mental or psychological--what confirms our biases, mostly.

For example, our M2C scholars say they "cannot unsee" Mesoamerica when they read the Book of Mormon. Their talent stack--Mesoamerican anthropology, archaeology, etc., combined with an M2C interpretation of the Book of Mormon--literally filters out information and explanations that contradict their M2C beliefs. That's why they create this incestuous citation cartel and engage in peer approval instead of peer review. It's all about bias confirmation, but to them, their beliefs are reality and everyone else is wrong. They think they're doing a favor to Latter-day Saints by "protecting" them from impossible ideas such as the idea that the prophets were correct about the New York Cumorah.

It's the same with the dominant LDS historians. They have convinced themselves that Joseph Smith didn't use the plates, that he didn't really translate anything, and that he merely read words off a seer stone in the hat (SITH). 

Why?

Because they're historians. Their talent stack involves finding, uncovering, and preserving historical evidence (mainly documents). They consider the context and weigh the credibility of the evidence and reach conclusions. They think they are striving to be "objective" and get at the truth.

But historians are people, subject like everyone else to bias confirmation. Once they reach a conclusion, they profess skepticism or "caution" about documents that contradict their conclusions. They'll redefine terms to suit their conclusions. They'll omit inconvenient evidence, etc. For a prime example, notice how the Saints book, volume 1, censored Cumorah from the historical record.

Another good example is the "Early Modern English" theory promoted by Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack. They're linguists. Plus, they're members of the citation cartels. Here is an excerpt from Brother Skousen's book on the King James quotations in the Book of Mormon: "“The Book of Mormon is a creative and cultural translation of what was on the plates, not a literal one. Based on the linguistic evidence, the translation must have involved serious intervention from the English-language translator, who was not Joseph Smith.”

I've discussed before the inherent weakness of intellectuals; they are blind to their own blindness. That's why, when you read the work of LDS historians and other intellectuals, you can trust, but you better verify. (I wouldn't even say trust, but that's how the saying goes. I'd say you can "consider, but verify.")
_____

At this point, I should pause to briefly address some of my critics who assert that I'm also an intellectual. True, I'm a lawyer, so I have credentials: J.D., M.S., B.S. I've taught courses for three universities, written lots of books, etc. But I don't want or expect anyone to trust me because of my education or credentials. I encourage everyone to make informed decisions. I encourage people to consider alternative points of view. That's exactly the opposite approach taken by our LDS scholars. Book of Mormon Central's own logo forecloses alternative interpretations, even (actually, especially) those that support and corroborate the teachings of the prophets.

I'm all in favor of education. The more the better. But that's only one element of a healthy talent stack, and when your education blinds you to your own blindness, it's time to branch out.

Which brings us back to Rough Stone Rolling.
_____

Years ago, my Stake President asked if I had read Rough Stone Rolling (I was the stake Sunday School president at the time). He said it was the best book on Church history he'd ever read. I told him I had read it, and I also thought it was great, although it reflected an editorial bias that I didn't completely share.

Many Church members have contacted me to say they find the book appalling, along with the rest of "New Mormon History" promoted by Leonard Arrington, et al. Usually they object to the "anti" evidence, meaning the evidence that differs from or contradicts the traditional Church history narratives.

There are numerous anecdotes of faithful LDS who have found the book troubling. In fact, John Dehlin and other former LDS who encourage people to leave the Church feature Rough Stone Rolling (along with the Gospel Topics Essays) as one of the main factors for people losing their faith. One of Dehlin's most popular podcasts is the interview he did with Brother Bushman several years ago, which I've discussed before.

[Some readers here know I have a web page that reviews MormonStories called MormonStoriesReviewed. I have a few reviews on there, but it's a work in progress. If you want updates, subscribe or follow by email.]

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I think Rough Stone Rolling, like most of the New Mormon History, is useful and important but stopped short of reconciling the various historical accounts and historical evidence. 

It's important to show all the evidence, for sure. To make informed decisions, people should have access to and consider all of the evidence, along with a variety of explanations and interpretations. But you can't get that from one book.

Rough Stone Rolling omits important evidence and offers only limited alternative explanations. But that's what the book is supposed to do. That's all any book can do! 

This is an inherent problem every author faces. You can't provide all the evidence or you've written a reference book. We already have reference books, and even those are abridgments. One of the most popular is Opening the Heavens, but by taking all the quotations out of context, the book is useful only as a quote book, or to confirm one's biases, or as a guide to actual references in the footnotes. And, as I've shown, the editorial bias in Opening the Heavens is a serious problem. 

The Joseph Smith Papers are the only comprehensive references and they're not even complete yet. Plus, the notes reflect the editorial agenda of the editors.

Think of Rough Stone Rolling (and every other book) as an abridgement. You can't blame an author for omitting information because it's impossible to include all the information in any one book. 

That's why you consider the editorial agenda. What did the author plan (and hope) to accomplish? We'll discuss that below, but first, let's look at how people are using Rough Stone Rolling.

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The critics, such as John Dehlin, use Rough Stone Rolling as a tool to persuade Latter-day Saints to question their faith. But they are using a basic logical fallacy to mislead their readers and listeners. They frame Rough Stone Rolling as the most comprehensive, honest, detailed history of Joseph Smith. 

Of course, that's nonsense. The book is selectively detailed and pursues an editorial agenda.

Nevertheless, Dehlin portrays Rough Stone Rolling as a sort of reference book, which it is not.

I don't question Dehlin's sincerity. I'll assume he really believes what he says. But Dehlin's straw man is an effective persuasion trick. Latter-day Saints and others who don't know much about history generally, or Mormon history specifically, take Dehlin's word for it. They accept the straw man argument that Rough Stone Rolling is the most honest, or even only honest, book about Joseph Smith written by a faithful Latter-day Saint. Richard Bushman, after all, is a Stake Patriarch and a former Stake President, one of the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers, etc.

Many faithful Latter-day Saints are unprepared for what they read in Rough Stone Rolling. Why?

Most people merely want to confirm their biases, so they read and listen enough to do that and then stop, satisfied. We actually get a dopamine hit when we confirm our biases. It feels good. We like to associate with people who share our beliefs. We meet with them regularly. We work with them. We trust them. 

Dehlin and others know that. Because of the way they frame the book, they know that Latter-day Saints will expect to get another dopamine hit when they read Rough Stone Rolling because they think it will somehow "prove" Joseph Smith was a prophet, etc.

Instead, the book gives them an alternative history that is jarring for many. It's the opposite of a dopamine hit. It's disturbing.

And it's a major reason for Dehlin's success. Whether he sends people to Rough Stone Rolling, the Gospel Topics Essays, FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, it doesn't matter. All of these references create expectations for Latter-day Saints that are dashed when they realize these sources are teaching Latter-day Saints that the prophets were wrong.

Then, Dehlin can offer them an alternative source for a dopamine hit. Now, it's the dopamine that comes from confirming the new bias that the prophets are wrong. 

It's why people who leave the Church--the "ex-Mormons"--keep coming back to Dehlin's webpage and podcasts to confirm their new biases. It's a constant dopamine hit.

Bias confirmation is not inherently good or bad. It's a core part of our psychology. It helps us navigate an uncertain and unpredictable world. We confirm our biases daily in innumerable ways. If your bias makes you happy and productive, great. But there's always a risk that the bias we're confirming is based on a mistake.

The big mistake here is the assumption that Rough Stone Rolling is actual history. It's not. It presents merely an abridgment of one version of history. Like every other book, it relates some facts and omits others. It suggests some conclusions and omits others. It's not good or bad. It's a tool. It's one of many windows into actual history.

I always say people can believe whatever they want. It doesn't matter to me what you believe. I just encourage people to pursue the truth and make informed decisions. 

People who want to make informed decisions will not read Rough Stone Rolling and stop, no matter how it makes them feel. They won't read Essentials in Church History and stop. They won't read Come Follow Me 2021 and stop. They will read a variety of materials, hopefully skewed toward authentic original sources. They will use both their minds and their hearts. They will follow the guidance in D&C 9:8. "you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right."

As I noted above, unfortunately Dehlin can point to the Gospel Topics Essays for confirmation, but that's a discussion for another day.

Dehlin can also point to FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, and the rest of the citation cartel for confirmation. These LDS intellectuals are making Dehlin's case for him. He just has to point it out.  

One of the best examples is SITH.

_____

For over 150 years, LDS Church leaders taught that Joseph Smith translated the Nephite plates with the Urim and Thummim. From the early 1830s, critics said that Joseph produced the Book of Mormon by either (i) reading words off a seer stone he put in a hat or (ii) reading a manuscript written by Solomon Spalding and edited by Sidney Rigdon.

All three alternatives were set out in the 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed. When that book was released in October 1834, Oliver Cowdery responded by declaring unambiguously that Joseph translated the record with the Urim and Thummim. You can see Oliver's declaration in the Pearl of Great Price, at the end of Joseph Smith-History, or in the Joseph Smith papers here:

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/50

You might think that Oliver's declaration, which Joseph Smith helped write and specifically endorsed multiple times, would end the debate.

But no.

A few decades ago, some LDS historians decided it was time to deal with "all the evidence." They started what has been called the "New Mormon History" to bring out some of the evidence that differed from, and contradicted, the traditional Church history narratives.

Among these was SITH.

Historians largely rejected the Spalding theory, so they focused on SITH vs U&T. 

(Sending the Spalding theory into oblivion is one reason why everyone has overlooked the key role it played, as I've discussed before.)

Rough Stone Rolling was a key part of the New Mormon History's focus on SITH, but lots of people contributed. The historians in the Church History department largely embraced the New Mormon History (as well as M2C), and the result is the presentation of SITH in the Ensign (which I discussed here), the lesson manuals, the videos, etc.

Several justifications have been proposed. 

Some have claimed that when Joseph and Oliver said or wrote "Urim and Thummim" they really meant the peep stone Joseph found in a well. That obviously contradicts both what they said and the historical record. Others claim Joseph used both, but that also contradicts both what Joseph and Oliver always said. Some say the "SITH sayers" were all liars who hated Joseph Smith, but that also contradicts the historical record. Besides, people on the other side just say Joseph and Oliver were liars. Stalemate.

In a recent presentation, I summarized it this way, leading to my own conclusions. (click to enlarge) 


As I mentioned at the outset, a longer version of this is available here:

https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/p/video-summary-of-sith-and-new-mormon.html

The full presentation is also available. Email me at lostzarahemla@gmail.com if you want a link.

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I hope by now you can see that it doesn't matter whether you agree or disagree with my conclusions. What matters is whether you are satisfied that you've made an informed decision. Did you read multiple perspectives and interpretations of the facts? Did you study things out in your mind and then get confirmation in your heart?

If so, you can read Rough Stone Rolling and spot the editorial agenda and bias. You can read Essentials in Church History, Truth Restored, No Man Knows my History, or any other book about Church history and spot the editorial agenda and bias. But you will have decided, for yourself, what is factual, logical, rational, and true.

_____

Let's consider the bias and motivation behind Rough Stone Rolling to keep it in perspective.

In the Preface, Brother Bushman wrote this:

it is unlikely there will ever be consensus on Joseph Smith's character or his achievements... Everything about Smith matters to people who have built their lives on his teachings. To protect their own deepest commitments, believers want to shield their prophet's reputation. On the other hand, people who have broken away from Mormonism-and they produce a large amount of the scholarship-have to justify their decision to leave. They cannot countenance evidence of divine inspiration in his teachings without catching themselves in a disastrous error. Added to these combatants are those suspicious of all religious authority who find in Joseph Smith a perfect target for their fears. Given the emotional crosscurrents, agreement will never be reached about his character, his inspiration, or his accomplishments.

A believing historian like myself cannot hope to rise above these battles or pretend nothing personal is at stake. For a character as controversial as Smith, pure objectivity is impossible.

What I can do is to look frankly at all sides of Joseph Smith, facing up to his mistakes and flaws. Covering up errors makes no sense in any case. Most readers do not believe in, nor are they interested in, perfection. Flawless characters are neither attractive nor useful. We want to meet a real person....

Joseph Smith did not offer himself as an exemplar of virtue. He told his followers not to expect perfection. Smith called himself a rough stone, thinking of his own impetuosity and lack of polish. He was sensitive to insults and could not stand to be crossed. Twice he was brought to trial before one of his own church councils for scolding offenders too severely. He so dominated the rooms he entered that some thought him arrogant. But it was his iron will that brought the church, the cities, and the temples into existence.

If people read and consider this preface, the rest of the book makes sense. Brother Bushman does not set out to write a book that is either apologetic or critical. 

"Frankly" means "open, honest, direct." That's not technically the same as "objective," but it does create a misleading implication of objectivity.

As any author must, Brother Bushman decided to include some facts and omit others. For example, he omitted some of the most direct historical statements about the Urim and Thummim.

Here's the main passage in the book about the translation, with my notes in red. The style of writing--framing theories as facts--can be misleading to readers who don't understand that this is more advocacy than reporting.

Emma said she sat at the same table with Joseph, writing as he dictated, with nothing between them, and the plates wrapped in a linen cloth on the table.53 [This comes from Emma's Last Testimony, recorded shortly before she died by her son Joseph Smith III. Emma never publicly acknowledged the statement. At the time, Joseph Smith III was corresponding with a dissident who insisted the Solomon Spalding theory was the best explanation for the Book of Mormon; hence, it was convenient for him to have his mother say "there was nothing between us" when Joseph dictated. I have an entire chapter on this in my book, A Man that Can Translate.] When Cowdery took up the job of scribe, he and Joseph translated in the same room where Emma was working. Joseph looked in the seerstone, and the plates lay covered on the table.54 [The note claims the description of translation comes from Emma, Oliver, David, Martin and William. However, there is no such description from any of these people from the time Oliver was acting as scribe in Harmony. Only Oliver, Joseph and Emma were present there, and we have no statements from Emma regarding Oliver's service as scribe. However, Joseph and Oliver always said Joseph translated with the Urim and Thummim, the Nephite interpreters. David, Martin and William related events at the Whitmer farm, although it's unclear what they actually observed vs. what they heard others say. David and Martin gave a variety of statements. I think these are all consistent with Joseph doing a demonstration with SITH at the Whitmer farm which was not a translation. Joseph had been commanded not to show the plates or interpreters to anyone unless commanded, so a demonstration made sense.]

Neither Joseph nor Oliver explained how translation worked, but Joseph did not pretend to look at the "reformed Egyptian” words, the language on the plates, according to the book's own description. [Here is another indication of the author's bias: "Joseph did not pretend." There was no question of pretending; Joseph himself said he not only looked at the plates, but he copied the characters on them, studied the characters, and translated them. As we'll see below, Joseph's mother explained that Joseph applied the U&T to his eyes and looked on the plates, but RSJ omitted that, too.] The plates lay covered on the table, while Joseph's head was in a hat looking at the seerstone, which by this time had replaced the interpreters. [This is stated as fact based on one account and hearsay based on that account, but other historical evidence contradicts this version.] The varying explanations of the perplexing process fall roughly into two categories: composition and transcription. [Notice, translation is not even considered as a possibility, even though that's what Joseph and Oliver both said happened.] The first holds that Joseph was the author of the book. He composed it out of knowledge and imaginings collected in his own mind, perhaps aided by inspiration. He had stuffed his head with ideas for sermons, Christian doctrine, biblical language, multiple characters, stories of adventure, social criticism, theories of Indian origins, ideas about Mesoamerican civilization, and many other matters. During translation, he composed it all into a narrative dictated over the space of three months in Harmony and Fayette.55

Composition is the naturalistic explanation for the Book of Mormon - the way books are always written-but it is at odds with the Joseph Smith of the historical record. The accounts of the neighbors picture an unambitious, uneducated, treasure-seeking Joseph, who had never written anything and is not known to have read anything but the Bible and perhaps the newspaper. None of the neighbors noted signs of learning or intellectual interests beyond the religious discussions in a juvenile debating club. To account for the disjuncture between the Book of Mormon's complexity and Joseph's history as an uneducated rural visionary, the composition theory calls for a precocious genius of extraordinary powers who was voraciously consuming information without anyone knowing it.56

[This explanation has too many problems to itemize here, but the main composition theory during Joseph's lifetime and for decades afterward was the Solomon Spalding theory, which the American media repeatedly published as fact but is omitted from RSR. The Spalding theory required that Joseph dictate from the Spalding manuscript from behind a screen or curtain, as some early accounts described. To defeat the Spalding theory, David, Emma and others insisted that Joseph was not behind a curtain and had nothing to read from. That makes sense, if you see it from their perspective. Plus, they had the demonstration in the Whitmer home to go by. But it contradicts what Joseph and Oliver always said.]

The transcription theory has Joseph Smith “seeing" the Book of Mormon text in the seerstone or the Urim and Thummim. He saw the words in the stone as he had seen lost objects or treasure and dictated them to his secretary. The eyewitnesses who described translation, Joseph Knight, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer, who was in the house during the last weeks of translation, understood translation as transcription. Referring to the seerstone as a Urim and Thummim, Knight said: "Now the way he translated was he put the urim and thummim into his hat and Darkned his Eyes then he would take a sentance and it would apper in Brite Roman Letters. Then he would tell the writer and he would write it. Then that would go away the next sentance would come and so on.”

[This is all consistent with the demonstration, but it is not consistent with D&C 1, 9 and 10, Joseph's early work in studying the characters and translating them, and his repeated claim that he translated the engravings on the plates.]

Joseph himself said almost nothing about his method but implied transcription when he said that "the Lord had prepared spectacles for to read the Book.” [That's also an implication of translation, which was what the spectacles (the Urim and Thummim or Nephite interpreters) were prepared for.] Close scrutiny of the original manuscript (by a believing scholar) seems to support transcription. [The believing scholar, Royal Skousen, claims Joseph Smith is not the translator.] Judging from the way Cowdery wrote down the words, Joseph saw twenty to thirty words at a time, dictated them, and then waited for the next twenty to appear. Difficult names (Zenoch, Amalickiah) were spelled out.57 By any measure, transcription was a miraculous process, calling for a huge leap of faith to believe, yet, paradoxically, it is more in harmony with the young Joseph of the historical record than is composition. [Others disagree with this opinion, noting that it was not that unusual for people of the day to relate long stories, or for ministers to speak for hours without notes, in both cases using mnemonic rhetorical devices to keep their place.] Transcription theory gives us a Joseph with a miraculous gift that evolved naturally out of his earlier treasure-seeking. The boy who gazed into stones and saw treasure grew up to become a translator who looked in a stone and saw words. [Again, realize that this is advocacy, not reporting, despite how it's written.]

Whatever the process, the experience thrilled Oliver Cowdery. "These were days never to be forgotten,” Cowdery reflected in 1834. “To sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom!” [Careful readers will spot the omission of the next sentence from the actual quotation: "Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, 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.’"] The young prophet more than fulfilled Cowdery's expectations. On the other hand, the shock of the sudden immersion in a supernatural work now and then gave Cowdery pause, and like Harris he needed further reassurance.58 [This is speculative mind-reading, not reporting, but as long as readers understand that, it's not a problem.]

That is one of many such examples. Here is one more. I trust you can find others if you're so inclined, but the point is, those who claim Rough Stone Rolling is a reliable reference are misleading others, intentionally or not.

People have asked me to provide a supplement to Rough Stone Rolling to point out more examples of editorial decisions. I'd be happy to if I had the time...

:)

In late May, 1829, Oliver Cowdery wrote to David Whitmer to ask David to come pick up Joseph and Oliver in Harmony so they could finish the translation at the Whitmer farm in Fayette, NY.

Lucy Mack Smith wrote (dictated) this: 

In the mean time Joseph was 150 miles distant and knew naught of the matter e[x]cept an intimation that was given through the urim and thumim for as he one morning applied the<​m​> latter to his eyes to look upon the record instead of the words of the book being given him he was commanded to write a letter to one David Whitmore [Whitmer] this man Joseph had never seen but he was instructed to say him that he must come with his team immediately in order to convey Joseph and his family <​Oliver [Cowdery]​> back to his house which was 135 miles that they might remain with him there untill the translation should be completed for that an evil designing people were seeking to take away Joseph’s life in order to prevent the work of God from going forth among the world 


This is an unambiguous statement that Joseph applied the "Urim and Thummim" to his eyes to look upon the record. Nothing is mentioned about a stone or a hat. Also, the letter to David Whitmer was a commandment received through the Urim and Thummim.

Here is the alternative account presented in Rough Stone Rolling:

Joseph's activities had not gone unnoticed in the neighborhood. He and Cowdery said nothing publicly about the vision of John the Baptist, but people knew about the translating. “We had been threatened with being mobbed, from time to time,” Joseph said, “and this too by professors of religion.” He had won over the Hale family far enough to receive their protection, but he needed uninterrupted time to complete the translation. 70

Sometime in the latter part of May 1829, Cowdery wrote David Whitmer to ask if they could work in his father's house in Fayette. [RSR provides background information on the Whitmers here.]
Joseph and Cowdery began to translate the day after they arrived at the Whitmer farm.

In this version, it was Joseph or Oliver who came up with the idea of contacting David Whitmer. The Urim and Thummim had nothing to do with it.

Alert readers will notice that Brother Bushman omitted the account of the trip from Harmony to Fayette, which included meeting the messenger who was taking the Harmony plates (the abridged plates) to Cumorah before giving the plates of Nephi to Joseph in Fayette.

This is one of many such examples. Brother Bushman believes Joseph used a seer stone to produce the Book of Mormon and he selected historical evidence to support that belief. There is nothing wrong with that; as we say previously, that's how books are written. 

This is an observer problem. Any reader who thinks Rough Stone Rolling is either objective or history is mistaken. The book, like all history books, relates the author's interpretation of selected historical evidence. 

You can agree or disagree, but it is irrational to blame the author if he/she doesn't agree with you.

Make up your own mind.

Now, here is a link to the article that created the attention to SITH on the last day of 2020.


Excerpts

"The Book of Mormon is a problem right now. It’s so baffling to so many that Joseph was not even looking at the gold plates [to translate them]. And there’s so much in the Book of Mormon that comes out of the 19th century that there’s a question of whether or not the text is an exact transcription of Nephi’s and Mormon’s words, or if it has been reshaped by inspiration to be more suitable for us, a kind of an expansion or elucidation of the Nephite record for our times. I have no idea how that might have worked or whether that’s true. But there are just too many scholars now, faithful church scholars, who find 19th-century material in that text. That remains a little bit of a mystery, just how it came to be.. . . .

You are completing a book about the plates, which Smith claimed to have but then returned to an angel. What is your fascination with them?
All they are is an imaginary object. We can’t see them or touch them, but they’re in our heads. Gold plates figure in the imagination of modern Mormons and especially educated Mormons. They’re one of our great fantasies, one of the most fabulous and unbelievable parts of our history.