Monday, April 19, 2021

Lazy learners and the M2C citation cartel

In the April 2021 General Conference, President Nelson used the term "lazy learners." He encouraged each of us to "Become an engaged learner." He pointed out that "It takes faith to follow prophets rather than pundits and popular opinion."

There are lots of implications for his message, but I'd like to apply it to the ongoing problem of deference to the credentialed class of LDS scholars who purport to be "Interpreters" for the rest of us. 

One category of "lazy learners" are those who don't study, but another category is those who think they are studying when they read/watch the teachings of scholars instead of original source material, particularly the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets, including Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

Deferring to an intellectual because of his/her credentials, affiliation with BYU or CES, résumé including Church service, or popularity, is a form of lazy learning because all we're doing is learning what that intellectual thinks. We're not thinking for ourselves.

This is particularly true when we defer to the M2C citation cartel who have been promoting their M2C theory for decades and continue to do so. They enforce their M2C theory through a variety of rhetorical techniques we have discussed many times on this blog.

The members of the M2C citation cartel are all fine scholars, faithful Church members, nice people, etc. They are all doing what they think is right. But that doesn't entitle them to assign your opinions to you. And they shouldn't have to bear the responsibility for your choices.

Fortunately, Church leaders have made it clear that individual members are not only entitled to, but are responsible to, make up our own minds on these issues.

We can each chose to be "engaged learners" by studying original sources for ourselves. Then we can make informed decisions. Faithful, informed Latter-day Saints end up supporting the teachings of the prophets instead of repudiating teachings they happen to disagree with.

Presumably, that's why you read this blog.

The alternative to being "engaged learners" is choosing to be "lazy learners" by reading and watching the words of the intellectual "interpreters" in the M2C citation cartel who digest and filter the original sources to promote their own theories.
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From time to time, I still hear objections to the term "M2C citation cartel."

Let me explain once again. 

I didn't invent the term "citation cartel," although if you google "citation cartel" images, you'll see several images of the M2C citation cartel among the first results. The term is widely used in academic circles to describe an ongoing problem with published scholarship. The term does not refer to drug or criminal cartels. 

A citation cartel is any group of like-minded scholars (and their followers) who cite one another to bolster the impression that their groupthink is both widely accepted and the best theory regarding whatever topic they write about. It can be considered "peer approval" masquerading as "peer review."

Here's one way to identify a citation cartel:

In our experience, a citation cartel differs from the ordinary in that it usually involves one or more or all of the following: 

i) a small number, often just two or three, journals are involved; 

ii) similarly, the diversity of authors involved is small, i.e., smaller as one would expect for a healthy research community; 

iii) often there is a large overlap of editors in the journals that sustain a particular cartel. 

The M2C citation cartel easily satisfies these criteria. 

i) We are dealing with two basic journals: (i) BYU Studies, and (ii) the various publications that arose from FARMS, including the current Interpreter, which Dan Peterson started after he was removed from FARMS, but which continues publishing the same type of material that the FARMS journals, led by Brother Peterson, did. 

To the extent Book of Mormon Central could be considered a journal because of its "kno-whys" and other content, it is merely another branch of FARMS anyway.

Both BYU Studies and the FARMS publications have long promoted M2C exclusively. We could hardly expect otherwise, since Jack Welch founded FARMS and was the long-time editor of BYU Studies. The FARMS logo included a Mayan glyph to represent the Book of Mormon. 


Now Book of Mormon Central, also led by Brother Welch, uses the same M2C logo. 


This logo demonstrates the antithesis of academic inquiry by imposing the outcome--M2C--on anyone who hopes to publish in these journals. That's why we see peer approval in these journals instead of actual peer review.

ii) The research community publishing in these journals consists of a handful of influential authors, all of whom promote M2C, plus their students and followers. Anyone who proposes an alternative to M2C, especially anyone who still believes and corroborates what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught, is not only unwelcome, but the target of derision and censorship.

iii) The overlap of editors in the journals is obvious. Now Steven Harper edits BYU Studies, but as we've seen, he continues to promote M2C, both at BYU Studies and through his other work, including the Saints book. 

I've referred to the M2C citation cartel as a Potemkin village because the same content surfaces in other venues, such as FairMormon (nkn FairLatterdaySaints), Meridian Magazine, and various blogs. But at the core, all of this content originated from the handful of M2C scholars we know and love. 

We cannot expect them to adjust, let alone change, their views on M2C. We can only humor them, try to sift out the M2C influence in their content (because they have produced some fine research on other topics), and let them continue to confirm their biases while the rest of us move on to better understand and corroborate the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, the translation of the plates, and related topics.

_____

Most LDS members think most LDS intellectuals have accepted the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C). They may be right, but I've heard from enough LDS intellectuals who disagree with M2C but dare not challenge the M2C citation cartel to know that, despite the image of consensus conveyed by the Potemkin village, plenty of people have peered around the corner and have seen that M2C is little more than wishful thinking.

Of course, people can believe whatever they want. I'm not trying to persuade anyone to reject M2C. My hope is for everyone to make informed decisions instead of having their opinions assigned to them by dogmatic members of a citation cartel.

I have no problem with people who embrace M2C with full knowledge of all relevant facts. 

The problem I see is that people embrace M2C based on incomplete knowledge, just as people leave the Church because of incomplete knowledge (combined with poor apologetics, a topic for another day). In both cases, people think they know everything on a given topic, but even cursory discussions with them shows they have huge gaps. I've spoken to many M2C believers who have never heard of Letter VII and its content, let alone its pervasiveness during the lifetimes of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

_____

The reason the M2C citation cartel has dominated is not because of careful analysis of Church history; as we've seen repeatedly, the opposite is true, because M2C is based on rejecting early Church history about the Hill Cumorah and related topics.

The reason is also not because of careful analysis of the text of the Book of Mormon, or of careful analysis of archaeology, anthropology, etc., because the opposite is also true in those cases. The M2C advocates continually revise their interpretation of the Book of Mormon text to align with whatever the latest science tells them about Mesoamerica. They've admitted they "can't unsee" Mesoamerica when they read the Book of Mormon. They read into it all kinds of Mesoamerican culture that no one else sees.

M2C was originally developed by the RLDS scholar LE Hills, who published the basic M2C map in 1917. 

LDS scholars such as John Sorenson, Jack Welch, and Dan Peterson adopted the Hills map and began promoting it as the only approved setting for the Book of Mormon.

Then, through FARMS, BYU Studies, the Interpreter, FairMormon/FairLDS, Meridian Magazine, and Book of Mormon Central, these scholars created the M2C citation cartel to promote and reinforce M2C. 

They taught it to generations of LDS students.

Now, BYU and CES formally teach M2C, all the while proclaiming "neutrality."



To repeat: The members of the M2C citation cartel are all fine scholars, faithful Church members, nice people, etc. They are all doing what they think is right.

Fortunately, Church leaders have made it clear that individual members are not only entitled to, but are responsible to, make up our own minds on these issues.

We can each chose to be "engaged learners" making informed decisions based on all the evidence instead of "lazy learners" who consume the digested and filtered opinions of agenda-driven intellectuals.






Friday, April 16, 2021

What are we reading when we read the Book of Mormon?

What are the implications of embracing SITH (stone-in-the-hat) as the explanation for the origin of the Book of Mormon?

For the first 200 years of the restoration, believers accepted the claims of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery that the Book of Mormon was a translation of ancient records kept on metal plates. They rejected the claims of critics that Joseph merely read words that appeared on a stone he put in a hat (SITH).

About 20 years ago, LDS scholars re-interpreted the historical evidence to reject what Oliver and Joseph said in favor of SITH. Lately, SITH has gained more widespread acceptance.

Nevertheless, many Latter-day Saints (including me) still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught. 

Some of us think Joseph used SITH solely to demonstrate the process to a handful of supporters to whom he could not show the Urim and Thummim or the plates. Decades later, after Joseph and Oliver had died, some of the eyewitnesses transformed the demonstration into the translation, as I've described in my book, A Man that Can Translate.

Does it make a difference what we believe about the origin of the Book of Mormon?

I think it does, but apparently others do not think it matters. For them, it's the words in the book, not their origin, that matter. That explains much of recent apologetics, but it also explains why recent apologetics are so ineffective, as I'll discuss in my upcoming book on LDS apologetics.

I'm curious what people think about this topic, because it raises the question, what are we reading when we read the Book of Mormon?

1. A translation of a history of a small group of Hebrews living within Mayan culture?

2. A translation of a history of the moundbuilders in North America?

3. A spiritual vision?

4. Words, provided by an unknown source, that appeared on a stone that only Joseph could read?

5. A composition by Solomon Spalding and/or Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, etc.?

6. A compilation of Christian teachings in the framework of a faith-promoting narrative unrelated to any actual people?

7. Something else?

_____

In my view, the evidence points to #2, which also happens to corroborate the teachings of the prophets.

And yet, many believers accept alternatives, including #1, #3, #4, and #6. It is their underlying assumption about these alternatives that drive apologetic arguments such as M2C.

I'm fine with people believing whatever they want, of course. 

But I don't see much discussion of the implications of replacing #2 with the other alternatives. We'll discuss the alternatives in upcoming posts.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Puzzles instead of battles

Such issues as the translation of the Book of Mormon and the historicity/geography of the Book of Mormon make people run to their ideological team and prepare for battle. They arm themselves with well-worn words and phrases and arguments that confirm their respective biases.

What if we looked these issues as puzzles to solve instead of as battles to be fought?

I discussed this on my consensus blog, here:

https://bookofmormonconsensus.blogspot.com/2021/04/a-puzzle-not-fight.html

We can easily solve the puzzle once we recognize we're on the same team.


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

More fun with SITH and M2C

FYI, I started a series on agenda-driven history on my LetterVII blog.

https://www.lettervii.com/2021/04/steven-c-harper-and-agenda-driven.html

_____

One of the issues that our M2C scholars debate is the translation of the Book of Mormon. 

Anyone who reads the Book of Mormon knows it describes nothing like Mayan culture. There are no references to jade, jungles and jaguars, nothing about massive stone pyramids, nothing about volcanoes, nothing about ubiquitous stone engravings relating the history of the people beginning long before Lehi arrived, etc.

This leads our M2C intellectuals to conclude that Joseph didn't translate the plates literally, or even close to literally. They think the Book of Mormon is a "loose" translation.  

Basically, the M2C proponents insist that Joseph Smith mistranslated the Book of Mormon. Here's how Brant Gardner, one of the more prominent M2C proponents, puts it: "We have evidence that Joseph dictated 'north.' What we do not have evidence of is what the text on the plates said." 

Did you catch that? According to our M2C scholars, Joseph Smith's translation is not evidence of what the plates said!

This is why, despite the language in the text, they "cannot unsee" Mesoamerican culture when they read it. A "horse" is a "tapir," a "tower" is a "massive stone pyramid," etc.

Such a "loose" translation seems to conflict with the idea of an "iron-clad" translation promoted by various LDS scholars; i.e., the idea that Joseph read words that appeared on the stone in the hat (SITH). 

LDS scholars such as Royal Skousen say Joseph was not the translator. This excerpt discussing SITH is from his book on the King James language in the text. 

What this means is that 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. Nonetheless, the text was revealed to Joseph Smith by means of his translation instrument, and he read it off word for word to his scribe. To our modern-day, skeptical minds, this is indeed "a marvelous work and a wonder." 

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2020/01/royal-skousen-translation-and-m2c.html 

SITH depends on the theory that the Mysterious Unknown Supernatural Translator (MUST) somehow translated the plates into English and caused the words that they should appear on the stone in the hat. 

To reconcile SITH with M2C, our M2C scholars have to conclude it was not Joseph who mistranslated the plates, but the MUST, who provided a "creative and cultural translation" but forgot to include all the elements of Mayan culture.

To many of us, this sounds ridiculous, but that is what M2C boils down to. 

Of course, people can believe whatever they want. That's fine with me. All we do on this blog is discuss the facts and ramifications of the various theories.

_____

Previously, we've discussed the awesome Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation (GTE).

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2020/06/review-of-gospel-topics-essay-on.html 

The GTE forgot to even quote (let alone discuss) what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation with the Urim and Thummim.

Instead, the GTE mingles the theories of scholars with quotations dated decades after the events from people such as David Whitmer and Emma Smith.

For example, here's a screen capture from the essay:

That quotation comes from Oliver Cowdery's Letter I, an excerpt of which is found in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith-History, note 1. Here it is in context, with the omitted portion in red.

Oliver Cowdery describes these events thus: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, 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.’

(Joseph Smith—History, Note, 1) also at https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/49

Many faithful Latter-day Saints find it astonishing that a Gospel Topics Essay on the Translation of the Book of Mormon would not even inform readers what Joseph and Oliver had to say. 

But many of us also find it astonishing that the GTE on Book of Mormon Geography is silent about Cumorah, precisely the same way that the Saints book, volume 1, is silent on Cumorah.

That's one of the topics I'll be discussing in the series on the Letter VII blog.

https://www.lettervii.com/2021/04/steven-c-harper-and-agenda-driven.html











Thursday, April 8, 2021

Oliver forgot to mention...

Oliver Cowdery had this "seer stone" with him when he rejoined the Church and testified that Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim. 

No one reported him taking the stone out and displaying it to prove the truthfulness of what he was saying. 

And yet, now our historians claim it's "likely" that Joseph used this stone to produce the Book of Mormon.


Joseph Smith likely used his brown seer stone while translating the Book of Mormon. His wife, Emma Smith, is believed to have made the leather pouch for the stone’s safekeeping.

 Church Museum of History and Art.

Apparently Oliver didn't get the memo that he and Joseph were wrong about the Urim and Thummim because we now "know" that Joseph didn't actually use the Urim and Thummim. Instead, he just stared at this stone in the hat (SITH) and didn't use the plates.

Either that, or Oliver just forgot to mention the stone in his pocket because he knew Joseph didn't use it to translated the plates.

When Cowdery returned to Church membership in 1848 he spoke to an Iowa conference. His words there were recorded by Reuben Miller: “I wrote with my own pen the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet as he translated it by the gift and power of God by means of the Urim and Thummim, or as it is called by that book, holy interpreters. I beheld with my eyes and handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated. I also beheld the Interpreters. That book is true. … I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the Prophet.”

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1977/09/by-the-gift-and-power-of-god?lang=eng


Some of us still believe it's more 'likely" that Joseph and Oliver told the truth when they repeatedly explained that Joseph translated the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim. 

For example, the Pearl of Great Price includes Oliver's testimony:

* Oliver Cowdery describes these events thus: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, 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.’
(Joseph Smith—History, Note, 1)

The 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed explained that there were two explanations for the Book of Mormon. One was a "peep stone." The other was the Urim and Thummim. 

It was in response to Mormonism Unvailed that Oliver wrote the statement found in Joseph Smith-History.

But our historians prefer the alternative "peep stone" explanation.
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It's even more fun that the sources historians now rely on to justify SITH came decades later than the sources who claimed the real Hill Cumorah is in New York. Yet the historians embrace the later SITH sources while they reject the earlier Cumorah sources.

Awesome.




Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The first Mission to the Lamanites

This week's Come Follow Me lesson focuses on D&C 30-36. Sections 30 and 32 discuss the Mission to the Lamanites.

Because Church members hold a variety of theories about the identity of the Lamanites, it's always useful to review the scriptures on this topic, as well as what Joseph Smith taught, and then compare the teachings of other theories, such as the hemispheric theory and M2C. 

People can believe whatever they want, but they should at least make informed decisions.

And we know from long experience that people will confirm their biases regardless of the facts. But sometimes there are people who are willing to change their minds when they learn new information, especially when the new information comes from the scriptures and from authentic Church history instead of spin from the scholars.

For those few who have open minds, here are some facts to consider.
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There are 12 references to the Lamanites in the D&C. Five of these focus on the mission to the Lamanites.

8 And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and inasmuch as they receive thy teachings thou shalt cause my church to be established among them; and thou shalt have revelations, but write them not by way of commandment.

9 And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites.

14 And thou shalt assist to settle all these things, according to the covenants of the church, before thou shalt take thy journey among the Lamanites.
(Doctrine and Covenants 28:8–9, 14)

6 And be you afflicted in all his afflictions, ever lifting up your heart unto me in prayer and faith, for his and your deliverance; for I have given unto him power to build up my church among the Lamanites;
(Doctrine and Covenants 30:6)

2 And that which I have appointed unto him is that he shall go with my servants, Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, Jun., into the wilderness among the Lamanites.
(Doctrine and Covenants 32:2)

There is a nice summary of the Mission to the Lamanites here:


Separately, the Lord referred to Missouri as the borders of the Lamanites.

8 And thus you shall take your journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites.
(Doctrine and Covenants 54:8)

These verses are the only scriptural references that identify specific people as Lamanites; i.e., the Lamanites include the Indian (Native American) tribes these missionaries visited in New York, Ohio, and Missouri/Kansas. These are the tribes Joseph Smith met with when he told them the Book of Mormon told them about their ancestors. These tribes are predominantly haplogroup X2, not the Asian haplogroups ABCD that predominate in Latin America.

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Outside of the scriptures, several traditions have arisen in the Church about the identity of the Lamanites. Orson Pratt, especially, taught that the native peoples of Latin America were Lamanites. 

For example, in his 1840 pamphlet, Orson Pratt spent several pages of commentary to describe his hemispheric model of the Book of Mormon:

This remnant of Joseph were also led in a miraculous manner from Jerusalem, in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah. They were first led to the eastern borders of the Red Sea; then they journeyed for some time along the borders thereof, nearly in a south-east direction; after which, they altered their course nearly eastward, until they came to the great waters, where, by the commandment of God, they built a vessel, in which they were safely brought across the great Pacific ocean, and landed upon the western coast of South America.

In the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah, at the time the Jews were carried away captive into Babylon, another remnant were brought out of Jerusalem; some of whom were descendants of Judah. They landed in North America; soon after which they emigrated into the northern parts of South America, at which place they were discovered by the remnant of Joseph, something like four hundred years after.

... The persecuted nation emigrated towards the northern parts of South America, leaving the wicked nation in possession of the middle and southern parts of the same. The former were called Nephites... the Lord gave unto them the whole continent, for a land of promise...

The second colony, which left Jerusalem eleven years after the remnant of Joseph left that city, landed in North America, and emigrated from thence, to the northern parts of South America; and about four hundred years after, they were discovered by the Nephites, as we stated in the foregoing.
They were called the people of Zarahemla....

And in process of time, the Nephites began to build ships near the Isthmus of Darien, and launch them forth into the western ocean, in which great numbers sailed a great distance to the northward, and began to colonize North America. Other colonies emigrated by land, and in a few centuries the whole continent became peopled. North America, at that time, was almost entirely destitute of timber, it having been cut off by the more ancient race, who came from the great tower, at the confusion of languages...

The Nephites and Lamanites were all converted unto the Lord, both in South and North America...

The Lamanites, at that time, dwelt in South America, and the Nephites in North America.
A great and terrible war commenced between them, which lasted for many years, and resulted in the complete overthrow and destruction of the Nephites. This war commenced at the Isthmus of Darien, and was very destructive to both nations for many years. At length, the Nephites were driven before their enemies, a great distance to the north, and north-east; and having gathered their whole nation together, both men, women, and children, they encamped on, and round about the hill Cumorah, where the records were found, which is in the State of New York, about two hundred miles west of the city of Albany. 


When Joseph Smith wrote the Wentworth letter, published as "Church History" in the March 1842 Times and Seasons, he adapted some of Orson Pratt's pamphlet. The Joseph Smith Papers notes that "“Church History” echoes some wording from Orson Pratt’s A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records."


In writing the Wentworth letter, however, Joseph deleted all of Orson Pratt's speculation about the hemispheric model. Instead, he reiterated D&C 28, 30, and 32, as well as Moroni's explanation during his first visit.

"Church History" (aka the Wentworth letter):

"The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country."


"This country" is the same phrase Moroni used when he first explained the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith.

"He [Moroni] then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigenes of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham." 


Orson Pratt outlived Joseph Smith. Orson inserted his hemispheric theory into the footnotes of the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon, and many Latter-day Saints accepted the hemispheric model. 

Others accept the designation in D&C 28, 30, and 32; i.e., the Lamanites are the Indians who live in the U.S. circa 1830-1842 (the northeastern tribes and those who had been removed to the borders of Missouri).

In the early 1900s, RLDS scholar L.E. Hills proposed a limited geography based on Mesoamerica, with Cumorah in southern Mexico (M2C, or the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). Eventually, LDS scholars such as John Sorenson, Dan Peterson, and Jack Welch adopted M2C. They have been promoting it ever since.
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Orson Pratt's hemispheric model retains some vitality, however. Lots of people over the years have alluded to it. 

In the modern world, people have traveled and migrated so much that bloodlines and DNA are mingled everywhere in the world. In that sense, just as Abraham's descendants are everywhere, we could say Lehi's descendants are everywhere.

The demographics of Latin America show that, apart from the indigenous populations (Amerindians) whose ancestry is north Asian (mtDNA Haplogroups A, B, C, and D), the ancestors of most of the population originated in Europe. It was the incongruence between the DNA evidence and Orson Pratt's hemispheric model (Lamanites are the ancestors of all the Latin Americans) that caused such confusion and led to rewording the Introduction to the Book of Mormon from "principal ancestors" to "among the ancestors" of the American Indians. Introduction (churchofjesuschrist.org)

The studies summarized in Wikipedia indicate that "Whites presently compose the largest racial group in Latin America (36% in the table herein) and, whether as White, Mestizo, or Mulatto, the vast majority of Latin Americans have white ancestry."

In Latin America as a whole, 36% of the population is "white" (mainly Europeans from Spain and Portugal), 30% is Mestizo (mixture of European and indigenous), 20.3% is Mulattoes (mixture of African and European), and only 9.2% are Amerindians. 


You can see the data here (click to enlarge):



As we saw at the beginning of this post, people will confirm their biases no matter what the facts are. We have M2C scholars who claim the Book of Mormon took place entirely in a limited geography of Mesoamerica, yet who also claim the descendants of Lehi are found throughout Latin America. It's unclear why they designate Latin America to the exclusion of North America, but maybe this is merely the legacy of Orson Pratt living on.

Which is fine. 

People can and will believe whatever they want.

But if you look at this issue from the perspective of missionaries teaching nonmembers, Orson Pratt's theory is probably not the strongest argument in favor of the historicity of the Book of Mormon. 

You can decide yourself whether it is a strong argument to reject D&C 28, 30 and 32 by claiming that the X2 Haplogroup Indians to whom those sections refer are not Lamanites, because the Lamanites are the A, B, C, and D Haplogroup Indians in Latin America.

But again, people can believe whatever they want.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Preface to Between these Hills

This is the updated preface to my book Between these Hills.

Preface

 

Welcome to the magnificent world of the Book of Mormon. People everywhere are curious about the reality of its people and places.

I stipulate that the message of the Book of Mormon is more important than its geography or history. Believers rely on spiritual impressions more than physical evidence. But lingering questions about geography and history impede acceptance of the book as scripture.

Because many misconceptions about this topic exist, here are two important premises behind this book.

 

1. The location of Cumorah does not determine the settings of other Book of Mormon locations in the New World.

 

2. The Cumorah question is not so much about geography as it is about the reliability and credibility of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, their contemporaries, and their successors.

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After decades of thinking of the Book of Mormon in a Mayan (Mesoamerican) setting, in 2014 I learned two alternative concepts: the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is really in western New York, and Book of Mormon events took place in Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, and New York. I began blogging about what I was learning.

 

My premise: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught the truth.

The opposing view: Joseph and Oliver were wrong about Cumorah.

 

I’m only a minor participant and late comer compared with other well-known scholars, authors, speakers, and their organizations. For decades, they have produced numerous books, articles, web pages, blogs and videos. Yet my simple blogs have generated over 750,000 page views from all over the world.

Why the interest in Cumorah?

During his first visit to Joseph Smith, Moroni identified the location of the plates as “the hill of Cumorah.” In early 1827, before he obtained the plates, Joseph and his family referred to the hill by the name Cumorah.

Oliver Cowdery learned the name when he and Joseph translated the abridged plates in May, 1829, in Harmony, Pennsylvania.

In June 1829, David Whitmer learned the name for the first time from a divine messenger who was taking the Harmony plates back to Cumorah.

For all of Joseph’s contemporaries, the fact of Cumorah linked the Book of Mormon to the modern world. They expressed various opinions about other locations of Book of Mormon events, but the New York Cumorah was an established fact.

For many believers in the Book of Mormon,[1] Cumorah is part of the historical reality at the core of their belief in the divine authenticity of the book. Because they believe the book is true spiritually, they believe it must also be true physically.

Other believers think questions about Book of Mormon geography are irrelevant, troublesome, or contentious.

Nonbelievers claim there is no extrinsic evidence to supports its historical claims—at least, not the type of evidence they’ve been led to expect. For similar reasons, some believers accept the book as an inspirational text akin to the parables in the Bible; i.e., it teaches truth but is not a real history.

Belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon is declining, even among members. A survey published in 2019[2] indicated that younger members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are less inclined than previous generations to accept the Book of Mormon as an actual history—such as only 50% of Millennials.

 

Table 1.3 Mormons’ Certainty about LDS Teachings, by Generation

% who are “Confident and Know this Is True”

 

Boomers/

Silents

GenXers

Millennials

Delta

 

Born before 1965

Born 1965-1980

Born since 1981

 

The Book of Mormon is a literal, historical account

 

62%

 

53%

 

50%

 

-12

Figure 1 - Certainty about Book of Mormon

More surprising, perhaps, is that more than 1 in 3 of older generations question whether the Book of Mormon is a literal history.

Regardless of what you believe now, I hope this book will give you insights into why so many people (i) accept the Book of Mormon as an authentic history and (ii) still believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

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When Moroni first visited Joseph, he explained there was a “history of the aborigines of this country” that had been “written and deposited” not far from Joseph’s home near Palmyra, New York. Joseph’s mother explained that Moroni told Joseph the name of the hill was “Cumorah,” the name by which his family identified the hill thereafter.

After Joseph translated the abridged plates from Moroni’s stone box in the hill, he and Oliver visited Mormon’s depository of Nephite records (Mormon 6:6) in another part of the hill.[3]

Mormon chose that location because he knew the Jaredites had built defenses there. The Jaredites, who called the hill Ramah, had chosen the site because of its strategic location. Abundant external evidence corroborates this setting.

For decades, prophets and apostles reaffirmed these teachings about the New York Cumorah. For those of us who grew up in the LDS Church before the 1990s, the New York Cumorah was a well-established given. Newer members, however, know little or nothing about the New York Cumorah. For example, the Church history book Saints, volume 1, completely erased Cumorah from the historical record.

Why? What changed?

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In the early 1900s, a book titled Cumorah Revisited criticized the prevailing hemispheric model of Book of Mormon geography. This made sense, actually. In the 1842 Wentworth letter, Joseph had replaced Orson Pratt’s hemispheric speculation with the declaration that Lehi’s remnant were “the Indians that now inhabit this country,” a reprise of what Moroni told him the first night. People forgot or ignored that.

Consequently, in response to Cumorah Revisited, scholars rejected what Joseph and Oliver taught and decided that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 could not be located in New York but must be in southern Mexico. They developed what I call the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C), reasoning that the New York Cumorah was merely a tradition—a false tradition—based on ignorant speculation.

Naturally, the scholars taught M2C to their students, and through the academic cycle, pursuant to Alma 12:9, within two generations the New York Cumorah was forgotten and M2C became the de facto—and nearly ubiquitous—faithful explanation of the Book of Mormon. Bias confirmation has produced plenty of supporting evidence.

If you accept M2C, that’s fine with me. If you don’t think geography matters, that’s also fine with me. I won’t persuade you otherwise. I only encourage people to make informed decisions.

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One thing that attracted me to this topic was what I considered academic abuse of faithful Church members who still believed what the prophets taught. For years, the credentialed class attacked and ridiculed those who disagreed with them about Book of Mormon geography. They sought to censor alternative ideas and evidence that contradicted M2C. I investigated, concluded the scholars were defensive because their work was riddled with logical and factual fallacies, and blogged about the problems I saw. But blogs have limited usefulness.

This presented a dilemma. On one hand, I’m happy for people to believe whatever they want. I don’t want to disturb the faith of those whose beliefs are interwoven with M2C. They deserve respect—as do those who disagree with them.

On the other hand, people are troubled by the rejection of the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah and related topics. The logical and factual fallacies in apologetic M2C arguments turn people off. Believers seek an explanation of the Book of Mormon that corroborates and vindicates the teachings of the prophets.

I don’t see this as a case of right vs. wrong. Instead, the topic calls for recognizing multiple operating hypotheses. That will lead to mutual understanding and respect, despite disagreement.

Harmony in diversity leads to the establishment of Zion.

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From my perspective, just as the Book of Mormon is “the keystone of our religion,”[4] the New York Cumorah is the keystone of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. It is the only specific New World touchstone between the modern era and the ancient Jaredites and Nephites that has been identified by prophets and apostles.

This is not a book about Book of Mormon geography, per se. Originally, I contemplated writing a detailed, evidence-based presentation on why people should embrace the New York Cumorah. There is plenty of material. But by now, we all can see that facts don’t really matter. People believe whatever they want and then find facts to reinforce their beliefs.

Instead, I use Cumorah as a case study. You can adapt the principles of analysis and thinking described in this book to explore other topics. I won’t try to persuade you or tell you what to think. Naturally, we will review internal and external evidence about the New York Cumorah, but this is not a comprehensive resource.[5] I’ll offer information and interpretations you might not have considered. Then you’ll make up your own mind by making informed decisions.

Let’s review the two key points.

 

Key point #1: the New York Cumorah does not determine where other events took place.

 

The teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah are consistent and persistent. But they have also taught that we cannot specifically identify where other events took place. That makes sense because there are many ancient sites in the real world that fit the text.

 

Key point #2: The Cumorah question is not so much about geography as it is about the reliability and credibility of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

 

The historical record is clear: Oliver Cowdery’s explicit declaration that it was a fact that the hill in New York is the Cumorah of the Nephites and the Ramah of the Jaredites was universally accepted by Joseph’s contemporaries for the reasons we’ll review in this book. We have to consider the ramifications of repudiating those teachings.

 

Still, people can believe anything they want. Whatever our beliefs, let us all strive to humbly “receive knowledge from time to time.” D&C 1:28. There is surely more to discover—if we’re open to it.



[1] Numerically most believers are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), but there are thousands of believers in other faith traditions, including traditional Christian denominations as well as the Community of Christ, the Church of Jesus Christ, The Restoration Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, etc. I use “Church” to refer to all of these.

[2] Jana Reiss, The Next Mormons (Oxford University Press, New York, 2019), Table 1.3.

[3] All these references are cited in the body of this book. For one of many detailed discussions, see Cameron J. Packer, “A Study of the Hill Cumorah,” https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6007&context=etd

[4] Quotation from the journal of Wilford Woodruff, attributed to Joseph Smith, Jr.

[5] The Bibliography lists some resources. A visual resource is https://www.mobom.org/known-bom-locations. A comprehensive reference is https://stepbystep.alancminer.com/. If you’re interested in my explanation of how the text of the Book of Mormon describes a geographical setting consistent with the New York Cumorah, see my book Moroni’s America.


Thursday, April 1, 2021

The greatest student is...

Yesterday, I posed the question, "Who is the greatest student of the Book of Mormon?"

The answer: L.E. Hills.

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Here is the quotation with the name filled in.

Brother Hills is a student of the Book of Mormon, the greatest I have ever met, and his contribution to the geography of that book will be handed down to generations unborn as one of the grandest discoveries of the age.

Reference: Daniel MacGregor, "Book of Mormon Geography," The Saints' Herald, volume 68, 1921, p. 811. (See image at the end of this post.)

http://www.latterdaytruth.org/pdf/100235.pdf

Here we are, 100 years later, and we see that MacGregor's praise of Brother Hills was prophetic. 

If it hasn't already happened, soon enough every Latter-day Saint's understanding of the Book of Mormon will be directly influenced by L.E. Hills.

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Many people don't know L.E. Hills. 

It was Brother L.E. Hills who, in 1917, first published a map depicting the "two Cumorahs" theory that LDS scholars later popularized (see maps below).

(And yes, the simulation cleverly delivered the perfect last name for the originator of "two hills Cumorah" which we now call M2C for the "Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.)

The praise for Hills was prescient in the sense that yes, "generations unborn" did inherit M2C. Some think M2C is not just "one of the grandest discoveries of the age," but the grandest discovery about the Book of Mormon.

Take another look at the quotation.

Brother Hills is a student of the Book of Mormon, the greatest I have ever met, and his contribution to the geography of that book [M2C map] will be handed down to generations unborn [including LDS students taught by CES and BYU] as one of the grandest discoveries of the age. [M2C is the unifying "consensus" among LDS scholars, the foundation for the M2C citation cartel, the underlying assumption that drives the interpretation of the Book of Mormon by LDS scholars, and the basis for depictions of the Book of Mormon in academic, artistic and media presentations.]

Except it's not really a discovery.

It's an disastrous repudiation of the teachings of the prophets.

Relying on Hills' map, LDS M2C scholars have "discovered" that Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, their contemporaries and their successors were speculators who misled the Church about the New York Cumorah by expressing their ignorant, incorrect private opinions. 

M2C scholars have "discovered" that Joseph didn't accurately translate the plates because he forgot to include descriptions of and references to Mayan culture and settings, such as jaguars, jungles, and jade. Once  

The Hills M2C map has become the basic assumption for Book of Mormon Central and the rest of the M2C citation cartel. It is the basis for the M2C fantasy maps that CES and BYU use to teach the Book of Mormon to Latter-day Saint students around the world.

Because today is April 1, it's a good day to discuss a hoax--the M2C hoax.* 

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Below is the map Hills published in 1917. Notice the placement of Cumorah far from New York.



Below is the map that John Sorenson popularized. This is the one featured by BYU Studies. It remains the basic framework that Book of Mormon Central continues to promote exclusively.


You'll notice that there are slight differences, such as the specific location of Cumorah in Mexico. The M2C believers continue to debate which river in Mesoamerica is the Sidon, etc. 

But they all agree with Hills that the "real Cumorah" is in southern Mexico and that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah.

Below are the BYU and CES maps that teach M2C to Latter-day Saint students around the world. You can see how they rotated the Mesoamerican maps 90 degrees and put Cumorah in the same area that Hills and Sorenson did, near the "narrow neck of land" by the "sea east." Both maps teach unambiguously that Cumorah is not in New York. Modern LDS students are never told what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah.

The BYU and CES maps have the additional feature of framing the Book of Mormon as taking place in a fantasy land. Is it any surprise that most LDS Millennials no longer believe the Book of Mormon is an actual history?




The Maxwell Institute has its own fantasy version of the Hills/Sorenson map, which you can see here:

https://byumiuploads.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/2020/02/MISE-BOM-MAP.pdf



Truly, Hills "contribution to the geography of that book [has been and is being] handed down to generations unborn as one of the grandest discoveries of the age."

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We should clarify that we don't blame Hills for anything. He was a great student of the Book of Mormon. I've discussed why he did what he did in my book, Between these Hills. We don't question his faith, devotion, sincerity, motivations, etc. He was undoubtedly awesome and exemplary. And, to his credit, he helped focus attention on the historicity issues. 

But it's useful to compare the way our modern LDS scholars have enthusiastically embraced Hills' M2C theory against the way the RLDS and LDS churches responded to that theory.

The Saints' Herald was a publication of the RLDS Church. Elder L.E. Hills was an Elder of that Church. 

Later that year, the RLDS First Presidency published a "Notice" in The Saints' Herald.

Inasmuch as numerous reports and inquiries have reached this office touching the recent activities of Elder L.E. Hills in lecturing on Book of Mormon geography and traditional history, we take this opportunity to inform the Saints who are interested in this matter. Brother Hills is not under church appointment as a general representative or missionary; neither is he acting under appointment from the Presidency in this matter, as rumor which has come to us has it. So far as the general church is concerned, he is carrying on his work mentioned above entirely on his own initiative. 

“Notice,” The Saints Herald, December 13, 1921, online at http://www.latterdaytruth.org/pdf/100235.pdf , page 1199.

A few years later, the LDS Church purchased the Hill Cumorah in New York. In General Conference, President Ivins of the First Presidency discussed the acquisition, explaining that this was the actual Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6. The following year, President Ivins clarified that we don't know the location of other Book of Mormon events, which makes sense because there are hundreds of archaeological sites that could qualify as Book of Mormon locations.

M2C nevertheless persisted. 

In the 1930s, Church Historian and Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith warned that the idea of Cumorah in Mexico would cause members of the Church to "become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon." He repeated that warning when, as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, he published Doctrines of Salvation.

President Smith's warning has proven to be as prescient as MacGregor's prediction about the influence of L.E. Hills.

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*I've discussed this hoax before:

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2019/04/time-to-expose-m2c-hoax.html

BTW, the origin of April Fool's Day is worth reviewing: 

https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/april-fools-day.

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