Friday, June 25, 2021

Witnesses movie review

On June 11th, I wrote, "Maybe the people telling me about it are wrong and the Witnesses movie relates everything the witnesses said.
I can't wait to see."

Well, now I've seen.

Witnesses is a movie that E.D. Howe would have made, or at least admired, because he basically wrote the script in 1834.
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We arrived in Utah Thursday morning and managed to catch a showing of Witnesses. (Now having contributed $20 to the Interpreter Foundation, less whatever cut goes to the theater, distributor, and others, does that make me an honorary "interpreter" too?)

I left the theater wondering what the purpose of the movie was. 

Everyone familiar with the Book of Mormon already knows the witnesses stayed true to their testimony. 

Even E.D. Howe acknowledged the witnesses' fidelity to their testimony. That was never the question. Instead, Howe argued that their testimony about the plates was irrelevant because Joseph didn't use the plates anyway.

Which is also what Witnesses teaches.

The images on the left are from Howe's 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed.

You can see these pages here:


On page 18, Howe wrote the script for Witnesses about the mode of translation:


Throughout the movie, the Witnesses filmmakers emphasized SITH (stone-in-the-hat). I can't figure out what these SITH-sayers hope to accomplish by introducing Howe's argument to modern audiences.

We do see Joseph fighting off attackers to protect the plates, hiding them under the floor, etc. 
We see people curious about the plates, eager to see them.
But then the film emphasizes the SITH-saying claim that Joseph never actually used them, or the Nephite interpreters, aka the Urim and Thummim (U&T).

Which as you can see above was Howe's point. 
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Over 50 years, ago, BYU produced a film written by Carol Lynne Pearson that, while definitely dated in terms of pacing, was more historically accurate than Witnesses.

That film showed Joseph translating the plates. Oddly, it didn't show the Urim and Thummim, possibly because of the inconsistent descriptions of the instrument.

But at least the 1968 film didn't teach SITH.

You can see it for free on youtube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbI_po3aPgc

We'll have to wait longer for a historically accurate update to the 1968 film. Ironically, Witnesses was dedicated to Richard Lloyd Anderson, who was a consultant on the more accurate BYU film. 

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Witnesses goes out of its way to misinform viewers about key historical facts. For example, it shows David Whitmer saying it took 3 months to translate, when he actually (and accurately) said it took 8 months. The film depicts Oliver coming up with the idea of asking David Whitmer to pick them up from Harmony, when it was the Lord who commanded Joseph through the Urim and Thummim to contact David--a man he had never seen before, but whom Oliver knew.

When we read Lucy's account of the events, we can see why the SITH-sayers keep omitting it. Instead of describing a seer stone in a hat, Lucy describes Joseph applying the U&T to his eyes and looking on the plates, which is what Oliver, Joseph and the scriptures always said, but SITH-sayers insist those sources are all wrong.


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 was accordingly done and the letter received and Mr Whitmore showed it to his Father mother sisters and brothers and asked their advice as to what it would be best for him to do... 

Rather than inform people about the historical facts, SITH-sayers such as the Witnesses movie create a revisionist history to support the E.D. Howe version of events.

I'm not going to list all the historical errors in the film; after all, it was only "based on true events." 

But I don't understand the point of a film that tells us what we already knew--the the witnesses remained true to their testimony--while both 
(i) emphasizing the SITH narrative that undermines the relevance of their testimony and 
(ii) omitting testimonies from the witnesses that explain and corroborate the literal historical reality of the events.

They never show Oliver Cowdery's consistent teaching that Joseph translated with the Urim and Thummim. 

In 1834, Oliver responded to Mormonism Unvailed by writing the famous passage that is now a footnote in Joseph Smith--History in the Pearl of Great Price.

You can see the original here:


Even when the film depicts Oliver's famous discourse upon rejoining the Church, Witnesses omits what he said about the translation.

It's not easy to avoid what Joseph and Oliver taught about the Urim and Thummim, but Witnesses manages to accomplish that, just like the rest of the revisionist history we're being fed today.
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Naturally, we all know that David and Emma and Martin made statements that, on their face, relate the SITH narrative. But those statements are always quoted out of context, the context being the Solomon Spalding explanation for the Book of Mormon that Mormonism Unvailed first published.

Howe was clever, but why are our scholars so unable to figure this out? 

Howe set them up by stating SITH as a fact (while also clearly distinguishing between the "peep stone" and the "Urim and Thummim," a distinction our modern scholars seek to blur). 

Then Howe proposed the Spalding theory as an explanation for the Book of Mormon. 

The Spalding theory required Joseph to be dictating from behind a screen or curtain because he was supposedly reading from the Spalding manuscript. 

Obviously, the Spalding theory contradicted SITH, but that was exactly the point

It was a set up. 

(a) If Joseph, Oliver and his scribes explained that Joseph dictated from behind a screen or curtain because he couldn't show anyone the plates or U&T, that would corroborate the Spalding theory.

(b) If Joseph, Oliver and his scribes claimed Joseph merely read words off a seer stone, that meant (i) he didn't really translate the plates, (ii) the plates (and the U&T) were not evidence of the antiquity of the text, and (iii) the entire narrative collapsed on itself. 

Joseph and Oliver (and their successors), as well as the scriptures, solve the dilemma by teaching the truth and letting people infer the circumstances. They emphasized that Joseph translated the engravings on the plates. Joseph said he actually copied and translated the characters. They all testified that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates. And they also testified that Joseph could not show the plates or U&T to anyone except designated persons. Thus, it is obvious to those who believe Joseph that he had to translate in a concealed manner (except, presumably, with Oliver who had been authorized to translate as well).

The key point: It was Joseph's translation of the plates and use of the U&T that made the testimony of the witnesses relevant. 

But years later, in their effort to defeat the Spalding claim which had dominated the media in the 1800s, David, Martin and Emma taught SITH, based, IMO, on a demonstration Joseph conducted in the Whitmer home.

This is all a simple, clear explanation that reconciles all the evidence without adopting the Howe position.

But Witnesses chose Howe instead. 

Incredible.
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As of yesterday, the film has reportedly grossed $538,797. Hopefully that's what the producers expected. At an average ticket price of about $10, let's say that's around 50,000 people who have seen the film. 

Presumably most viewers have been LDS in Utah, Idaho, and Arizona. If so, they've already been taught SITH (stone-in-the-hat) by the Saints book, the Gospel Topics Essay, and the January 2020 Ensign (none of which address what Joseph and Oliver and the scriptures say). 

In that sense, the movie will confirm a few biases and reinforce the revisionist historical narrative that rejects the traditional narrative based on what Joseph, Oliver, Lucy Mack Smith, and the scriptures taught. That means it won't do much more damage. 

True, John Dehlin and other critics can cite Witnesses as another evidence to support their claim that Church leaders "covered up the real history," but those who read actual history instead of the revisionist spin can see that Church leaders always taught the truth about the translation.

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There are lots of ways to review a movie. Filmmakers make innumerable choices and second-guessing them is part of the fun of writing and reading reviews. 

Technically, Witnesses was fine, with good cinematography, sets, and music. The editing was mostly fine, although the long opening scene was repeated in full later in the film, which felt like padding. Audiences expect a setup and payoff, but in this case, the payoff was a dud because everyone watching the film knew David would survive beyond 1833. That's not even a spoiler alert because it was made clear in the movie from the outset (when the reporter comes to visit the much older David Whitmer).

I was quite surprised with all the emphasis on the Kirtland banking collapse. The history there was muddled and the film left viewers confused. Given the constraints of filmmaking, I was very surprised they chose to focus on such an arcane and uncinematic episode from Church history. Maybe it looked okay in the script, but on the screen, it was a mess.

As I said before I saw the movie, I hoped/expected them to show some of the important corroborating details the witnesses gave us, including the messenger who took the abridged plates from Harmony to Cumorah before taking the small plates of Nephi to Fayette. 

I hoped/expected them to show Joseph and Oliver visiting the repository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah, since both Oliver and David spoke about that important confirmation of the historical reality of these events.

But being a film from the Interpreter Foundation, a member of the M2C citation cartel, we already expected they would present revisionist history that accommodates M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). 

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Monday, June 21, 2021

Clarifying issues: SITH vs U&T

This is an excellent time to discuss the best methodology for assessing issues of Church history. The Witnesses movie, along with the Saints book, Gospel Topics Essays, and related curriculum and media from both faithful and critical sources, have brought this all to a head through social media.

In his book First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins, Steven Harper does a great job explaining how historical narratives are created. That book is an admission, really, of how our scholars have changed the narratives and imposed a single interpretation of Church history that is a legitimate working hypothesis but not the only one and not, in my view, the best one.

That's not to say anyone is correct or incorrect, but the methodology based on a single authoritative interpretation does not empower people to make their own informed decisions.

Despite the claims of my critics, I also don't think the changing narratives we see today are the result of any conspiracies. I don't think the citation cartel is a conspiracy. It's more of a Groupthink that evolved step-by-step. We can observe that evolution in the pages of the historical record of academia. 

The process is similar to the evolution of legal theories, as I used to discuss in my books on U.S. constitutional law and other legal fields. One decision logically leads to the next and the next, and yet even the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court often strongly disagree about what the next step should be. 

But at least the Justices set out their multiple working hypotheses so everyone can see them and make informed decisions.

That's not what is happening now regarding Church history. Instead, we have a handful of scholars "interpreting" the facts for everyone else on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

The current approach leads to tribalism and emotional attachment to one's beliefs that clouds reason and prevents people from communicating effectively, openly, and cordially.

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In my view, the optimum approach consists of three steps:

1. Lay out all the known facts. Everyone should be able to agree upon what those facts are. This includes distinguishing between statements of fact (documents, first person eyewitness accounts, etc.) and statements of opinion, hearsay, inference, etc. Opening the Heavens was a great start, but editorial decisions there altered key facts and omitted others. Maybe a third edition could fix these problems and also distinguish between facts and hearsay.

2. Offer multiple working hypotheses, or interpretations, of those facts. Every interpretation should be included, from both faithful and critical perspectives. Because of the natural human tendency to seek approval and confirmation from others, people are uncomfortable when others interpret the same facts differently. But hopefully, everyone can rise above that insecurity and seek first to understand, then to be understood. Let everyone interested contribute, without editing. It's easy to argue for and against every hypothesis; that's not the point. We want to consider all of them.

3. Encourage those interested to make their own informed decisions. People adopt an interpretation or hypothesis for their own reasons, each thinking they are "following the facts" when in reality they are confirming their biases. It boils down to faith in one thing or another. But sometimes, seeing new facts or seeing old facts through new filters does change minds. We see this process with the "reveal" in every episode of mystery shows, every mystery novel, and even, sometimes, with every new discovery of an artifact or historical document.

So far, I know of no resource such as this, apart from a few comparison tables I've posted over the years. Both faithful and critical sources resort to choosing facts that they think support their respective beliefs and then making arguments based on those facts. You can take any topic and see examples from FairLDS, MormonThink, the Interpreter, CES Letter, Book of Mormon Central, MormonStories, etc. They all talk past each other because they don't even agree on the facts, let alone what alternative interpretations are available. 

Maybe it's too much to ask. Even within the LDS community, there is tremendous reluctance to follow this methodology.

The "faithful" sites not only don't accurately present critical arguments, but they don't even allow alternative faithful arguments. Worse, they embed their intolerant positions in their logos and enforce them through their control of the citation cartel. It's sad for many of us who believe in the Restoration to see so many people rejecting the Restoration because of changing narratives, implausible explanations they're told they must believe, feeling they've been lied to, etc. 

MormonThink and CESLetter cleverly purport to show "both sides" to persuade readers they are "neutral," but instead they emphasize a critical agenda by omitting facts and interpretations that contradict their respective narratives. 

Incentives. The obvious problem is neither the dominant "faithful" sites nor the dominant "critical" sites have an incentive to pursue the model I propose. Instead, both focus on fortifying their respective adherents and demonizing the other "team." Such team-building enables them to attract donors and followers. 

Maybe those incentives, combined with the psychology of bias confirmation, are too powerful to overcome. But I'm an optimist, and I think there are lots of people who want what I'm describing here.

We can't expect people to agree on the interpretations, but we can expect them to agree on the body of facts. Then everyone can choose whichever interpretation they prefer and agree to disagree if they differ. 

And then everyone can proceed accordingly, with no animosity, contention, hurt feelings, etc.

But as I pointed out at the beginning, the current approach leads to tribalism and emotional attachment to one's beliefs that clouds reason and prevents people from communicating effectively, openly, and cordially.

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One example in the news now is the Witnesses movie. 

The Interpreter Foundation is following up the Witnesses movie with a longer documentary. It "will also feature interviews with scholars, both Latter-day Saint and non-LDS, and others to shed light on the events covered in the theatrical movie." 

What remains to be seen is whether the documentary will feature anyone who still believes what Joseph and Oliver (and others) said about Joseph translating the plates with the Urim and Thummim. Such individuals are apparently difficult to find among LDS academia, based on what we read in the citation cartel. I saw recently where one of our prominent scholars said he doesn't even like the word "translate" in connection with the Book of Mormon. 

But surely the Interpreter Foundation will find at least one person to make a case for Joseph actually translating the plates. If no one else, I volunteer.

Not that they'd even consider that. Apparently Dan the Interpreter was upset over the weekend. Links here

Besides providing more material for my upcoming book on LDS apologetics, this semi-controversy based on being offended raises the larger question of why apologists mingle emotions with rational thinking. I've discussed that many times before. I'll have a chapter or two in the book.

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One reason for optimism is a growing number of people who like the idea of multiple working hypotheses.

Once we all agree on the facts, we can agree there are multiple working hypotheses to choose among, allowing people to make informed decisions.

To use the current vernacular, "Heartlanders" tend to favor this model, while M2Cers don't. It's a surprising but unambiguous difference between the two "tribes" that plays out daily on the respective web pages and social media. 

Most Heartlanders, like me, were brought into these issues after recognizing that the prevailing M2C hypothesis not only doesn't make sense from a narrative or scientific perspective, but it contradicts the unambiguous, consistent and persistent teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.

That "second reality" awakening led us to take a closer look at other things the M2C scholars were teaching, including SITH.

That's not to say we object to people believing M2C. People can believe whatever they want. 

We just want people to know that there are faithful alternatives to M2C and SITH. 

The critics are having a lot of success focusing on M2C and especially SITH. John Dehlin says SITH is the number one reason why people leave the Church. I don't know if that's quantifiable because people  leave for a variety of reasons, but clearly SITH is among the main reasons. It's also a major impediment for people listening to the missionaries.

When faithful members think their only option is to believe SITH (or M2C), they are susceptible to the critical arguments. But when members learn about faithful alternatives to SITH that rely on all the historical evidence, they can deal with the facts and make fully informed decisions. 

The internal problem is that faithful alternatives to SITH are disallowed by the citation cartel's cancel culture. 

I realize that many members of the credentialed class, especially participants of the citation cartel, have been offended by things I've said or written. I've explained before that I don't relate to emotional attachments to intellectual arguments. I underestimated how attached people are to their theories. I naively thought people would welcome new approaches, new interpretations, and alternative working hypotheses.

I certainly didn't realize how insecure and defensive our intellectuals are. It's a shame, because they're all great people, smart, dedicated, faithful, etc. It would be awesome if we could have an open dialog and establish the analysis model I described above, but I don't see that happening.

Well, there are exceptions, so anything is possible. I know of one exemplary open- and fair-minded scholar who is also influential and may make a difference.

In the meantime, to contribute one working hypothesis, here is my summary of the SITH vs U&T issue. I'm not saying this is the correct interpretation of the facts, only that it is one of multiple working hypotheses that everyone, faithful or critical, should consider and deal with.

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It's very simple. (The details are in my book, A Man that Can Translate.) The confusion arose because of a misunderstanding of what happened at the Whitmer home.

1. Joseph used the U&T to translate the engravings on the plates. He started by copying and translating the characters one by one and progressed to translating the engravings on each plate. He wasn't allowed to show the plates or U&T to anyone, so he used them behind a screen, blanket, or other concealment. He didn't "translate" anything with the plates covered or with a stone in a hat. 

2. Joseph used SITH to conduct a demonstration in the Whitmer home to explain the process to his supporters because he couldn't show them the plates or the U&T.

(We can see evidence of all of this in the Original and Printer's manuscript, as I explained in detail in the book.)

3. As early as August 1829, witnesses to the demonstration reported what they observedSome incorrectly inferred they saw the translation, but none of them reported what Joseph actually dictated. Consequently, we can't say whether anything he dictated on that occasion made its way into the text (although, based on the manuscripts, I think he dictated some of the Isaiah chapters in 2 Nephi from memory). 

4. In 1834, Mormonism Unvailed set out the Spalding theory. That book also explained SITH and U&T as distinct alternatives (not different names for the same seer stone), but it claimed Joseph didn't use the plates under either scenario. 

5. In response, Oliver and Joseph affirmed that Joseph translated the plates with the U&T.

6. Nevertheless, the Spalding theory was widely accepted by the public. That theory relied on the accounts of Joseph dictating from behind a screen or blanket; i.e., he was reading the Spalding manuscript to his scribes.

7. Consequently, to support their testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon, David, Emma, and others described the demonstration to refute the Solomon Spalding theory; i.e., Joseph "had nothing to read from" and used SITH in front of witnesses.

8. Church leaders, including Joseph's contemporaries, consistently taught U&T, despite knowing what David, Emma, and others said about SITH. 

9. Those Church leaders were correct, but so were David and Emma, regarding what they observed (but not what they inferred); i.e., Joseph did a demonstration with SITH but never translated with SITH. 

10. Critics claimed Church leaders were "covering up the truth" by not adopting SITH.

11. Modern scholars bought into the "cover up" narrative because they didn't take into account the demonstration or the Spalding problem, so they assumed David and Emma were correct about both what they observed and what they inferred. They proposed that Joseph and Oliver misled people by referring to the "seer stone" as the "Urim and Thummim." This revisionist interpretation contradicts the plain distinction in Mormonism Unvailed, but it became the accepted working hypotheses.

12. Anonymous Church materials defer to the expert historians and now teach the new narrative that SITH = U&T (Saints book, Gospel Topics Essay, etc.). The Witness movie reportedly teaches SITH to broad audiences.

13. Critics such as John Dehlin and the CES Letter encourage people to read the Gospel Topics Essays, etc., to persuade people to leave the Church and/or reject the missionaries. They use the same rationale that Mormonism Unvailed did; i.e., Joseph didn't even use the plates, the whole text came from a peep stone, and therefore the Book of Mormon is anything but a translation of ancient records.

14. Some faithful LDS authors others claim SITH was an occult conspiracy concocted by Kirtland apostates inspired by Satan, but historical evidence shows SITH starting within a month of the time Moroni showed the plates to the witnesses (in the 1829 newspapers). By framing the witnesses as liars, the SITH conspiracy theory corroborates the critics .

15. Some faithful LDS authors claim it doesn't matter how the Book of Mormon was produced because the words of the book are evidence that it is true, and people can get a spiritual confirmation. But adherents of every religion make the same claim. Joseph and Oliver taught about the historicity of the text and its origin as an actual translation of ancient records because they recognized that was what distinguished the Book of Mormon from other texts.

16. Some faithful members will accept SITH. And that's great. It's awesome.  

17.  Most people, inside and outside the Church, are skeptical that Joseph would say he translated the plates if he didn't even use them. The SITH narrative did not originate from any additional revelation or any new historical information. It's merely a modern rehash of Mormonism Unvailed, accompanied by skepticism about what Joseph and Oliver claimed (similar to skepticism about what they taught about Cumorah and other topics), as well as skepticism about what is recorded in the Book of Mormon and D&C.

18. Having multiple working hypotheses regarding a complete set of facts empowers people to make informed decisions, which is what most people want to do in the first place. 

Scriptural elements:

Joseph said he copied and translated the characters. (JS-H)
The Lord told him to translate the engravings on the plates. (D&C 10)
Moroni told Joseph not to touch the sealed portion "in order that ye may translate." (Ether 5:1) 
None of that makes sense if Joseph was merely reading words off a stone, whether it was the U&T or SITH.


Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Witnesses, SITH, and the tipping point

A few notes (trigger warning for SITH/M2C promoters):

The Witnesses movie is generating a lot of discussion on social media because of SITH (the stone-in-the-hat). The movie adopts the approach taken by Mormonism Unvailed, the 1834 anti-Mormon book that claimed Joseph never even used the plates but produced the Book of Mormon by reading a "peep stone" he put in a hat. 

John Dehlin of MormonStories is delighted. SITH is one of his key points, as he explains on TikTok (31.7k views in one day, 800 views on twitter)


There's no pushback against SITH from any Church leaders or prominent scholars. 

Instead, Kawku promotes SITH as a feature, not a bug. Our scholars fall all over themselves trying to justify SITH (much as they did with the Hoffman documents decades ago).  

Like other intellectual trends, we can see the origins of SITH among LDS academics even before Rough Stone Rolling came out, but that book pushed it into the mainstream. I think Rough Stone Rolling is an exceptional, timely, and useful book, but it portrayed some interpretations as fact and overlooked other facts, as I indicated in Part 1 of my summary, here: 


Saints and the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation formalized SITH, mainly by ignoring historical sources that corroborate what Joseph and Oliver taught and instead relying on sources that, on a surface level, contradicted what Joseph and Oliver taught. The Essay never even quotes what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation with the Urim and Thummim. Instead, it focuses on the theories of various academics.

The Urim and Thummim is essentially de-correlated. 

No one is claiming any revelation about what happened in Church history to overturn what Joseph and Oliver taught. The new narrative is based purely on revisionist historical interpretation of the same facts everyone has known for over 150 years. People today, looking at some historical evidence while ignoring other evidence, thereby conclude Joseph's contemporaries and successors were wrong. 

This is the same process by which Cumorah was de-correlated.  

Consequently, SITH has become the prevailing narrative in our day. 

And that's great for those who believe it. If you think it's awesome that the Book of Mormon is the product of words appearing on a stone in a hat, and not a translation of the ancient Nephite plates (as Joseph and Oliver claimed), good for you. I'm not going to say you're wrong. People can and will believe whatever they want.

But it seems likely (and statistics indicate) that most people will not accept that narrative, whether they are inside or outside the Church. In 1834, Mormonism Unvailed promoted SITH because the author knew it undermined the credibility of Joseph and Oliver. Detractors today promote SITH for the same reason. 
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There are alternative interpretations of the evidence.

For example, the Stoddards and others reject SITH by saying David Whitmer, Emma, Martin Harris etc. were liars. However, that plays into the critical narrative that the witnesses were dishonest. 

This is the mirror image of the SITH/M2C approach; i.e., we can believe some of what the witnesses said, but we have to reject other things they said, based on what we want to be true. 

Similarly, our M2C scholars (M2C=Mesoamerican/Two-Cumorahs theory) reject what the witnesses said about Cumorah because they want Cumorah to be in Mexico to fit their theories. But they still expect people to believe SITH based on what the witnesses said. It's transparent cherry picking.

Now you see why I've been saying that:

Interpreter=CESLetter=FAIRLDS=MormonStories=BookofMormonCentral=BYUStudies.

They've all reached a consensus that the prophets are wrong any time they disagree with the prophets.

If they disagree, they disagree only with regard to which things the prophets were wrong about--a distinction without a difference.
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I realize there are numerous interpretations of the evidence, ranging from Joseph seeing the words on a stone (or in vision) to Joseph composing, memorizing or reading the text. Some even say that when Joseph and Oliver testified about the Urim and Thummim, they deliberately misled people because they knew they were really referring to the stone Joseph found in a well; i.e., they used misleading terminology.

People can believe whatever they want, and that's fine with me.

But I've looked at all these explanations and none of them make sense to me. That's why I looked at the evidence for myself.

So far, the only explanation I'm aware of that reconciles Joseph and Oliver as credible, and David and Emma as credible, is the demonstration narrative I set out in A Man that Can Translate.

I'm completely open to any better explanations. If you know of one, email me at lostzarahemla@gmail.

There are still some Latter-day Saints who believe what the prophets have taught about both the translation and the historicity of the Book of Mormon, including the New York Cumorah. This is not "blind faith" or "blind obedience." This is recognizing that the people involved with the events are more credible than arm-chair commentators distant in time and space. It is also recognizing science- and fact-based, rational analysis supports and corroborates the teachings of the prophets.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Origins: M2C and COVID

Many Latter-day Saints (LDS) are surprised to learn about the origins of the Mesoamerican/Two Cumorahs theory (M2C.)

M2C originated in the "lab" of RLDS scholar L.E. Hills. Hills developed the theory about 100 years ago and published it in a book that included a map which our current M2C scholars have followed ever since.

M2C is a leak from that lab. But unless you're paying attention, you'd never know that because most modern LDS have been led to believe that M2C was developed by the credentialed class at BYU, the self-appointed "experts" on the Book of Mormon who knew more about the Book of Mormon than the rest of us. 

Actually, they claim they know more about the Book of Mormon than Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery did, to the point where our modern scholars reject what Joseph and Oliver said.

Such an origin story is not without parallels.

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This week, the Wall St. Journal published an article about COVID origins that parallels the M2C origins.

A Scientist Who Said No to Covid Groupthink

Many experts aggressively denied a lab leak was possible and only now admit it. It took courage to make the case a year ago.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-scientist-who-said-no-to-covid-groupthink-11623430659?mod=trending_now_opn_1

The article profiles Filippa Lentzos, who was one of a group of scientists who "asked these questions “not because we are conspiracy theorists. This is our profession,” Ms. Lentzos, 44, says in a video interview from her home in Switzerland. As the coronavirus and alarm about it spread, nonexperts started asking similar questions—only to be mocked or silenced by journalists, social-media companies and prominent scientists."

That "COVID cartel" has a parallel in the LDS community: the M2C citation cartel, consisting of Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, BYU Studies, etc. 

The M2C citation cartel does the same thing with alternatives to M2C. Lately, they've been deploying their followers on social media to promote M2C as well.

An excerpt from the article:

The most significant problem came from the scientific community. “Some of the scientists in this area very quickly closed ranks,” she says, and partisanship wasn’t their only motive: “Like most things in life, there are power plays. There are agendas that are part of the scientific community. Just like any other community, there are strong vested interests. There were people that did not talk about this, because they feared for their careers. They feared for their grants.”

Ms. Lentzos counsels against idealizing scientists and in favor of “seeing science and scientific activity, and how the community works, not as this inner sacred sanctum that’s devoid of any conflicts of interests, or agendas, or any of that stuff, but seeing it as also a social activity, where there are good players and bad players.”

Latter-day Saints who recognize what's going on with the M2C citation cartel also see how the community works.

Ms. Lentzos and her colleagues published an article that pointed out the circumstantial evidence about the lab-leak origins of COVID, but it got no traction because the COVID cartel controlled the narrative.

As the article points out:

That began to change early this year. Media outlets published articles considering the possibility of a lab leak. At least five of the Lancet signers have distanced themselves from the letter. Anthony Fauci and the World Health Organization’s Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said the theory merits further study. President Biden ordered the intelligence community to investigate the question. Even Facebook reversed its ban.

Maybe in the LDS community we will reach a point where the narrative changes.

Maybe, just maybe, someday we will honor, respect, and even believe what Joseph and Oliver said about the Book of Mormon, the translation, the Hill Cumorah, etc.




Friday, June 11, 2021

The Witnesses movie, etc.

People are asking what I think of the Witnesses movie. Because it's not playing anywhere near where I live, I haven't seen it. 

I'm reserving judgment until I do (if I do).

Nevertheless, people tell me it heavily promotes the narrative from the 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed; i.e., the ideas that

(i) Joseph Smith didn't really translate anything; 

(ii) he didn't even use the plates or the Urim and Thummim, 

(iii) instead he merely read words that appeared on a stone in the hat (SITH).

IOW, the movie is assigning a belief in SITH to its viewers. 

I wrote about the psychology behind opinions and belief on my consensus blog, here:

_____

If it's true that Witnesses teaches Mormonism Unvailed, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised. Dan the Interpreter insists that SITH (the stone-in-the-hat) is a feature, not a bug. 

Dan's argument boils down to this: "Sure, Joseph and Oliver said Joseph translated the plates, but we don't believe that any longer because other people said he merely read words that appeared on a stone in the hat. And we have really cool linguistic evidence that proves Joseph and Oliver misled everyone."

I've explained many times why I think the linguistic evidence he cites does not support the conclusions. The idea that a mysterious unknown supernatural translator (MUST) must have been the actual source of the Book of Mormon strikes me as ridiculous. 

Sure, it's one of multiple working hypotheses. I like having multiple working hypotheses to explain facts. Just because I find one to be ridiculous doesn't mean I think it should not be considered; it was by considering it that I reached my conclusion.

As we accumulate more data, we can add, delete, and modify the hypotheses accordingly. (This is why Book of Mormon Central needs to change its "only one hypothesis allowed" logo.)

If people want to believe that someone from the 16th century translated ancient buried records in America that weren't discovered until 1823, that's fine with me. People believe all kinds of things. 

In a sense, MUST is useful; it is a superficially sophisticated justification for SITH. But, as Mormonism Unvailed explained in 1834, if SITH is the explanation, the plates are meaningless because Joseph didn't translate them anyway. If anything, MUST makes the plates even more superfluous. 

Oliver and Joseph responded to the Mormonism Unvailed argument by specifically refuting SITH (see JS-H for example). 

The SITH question is what we lawyers call "asked and answered." The question was posed by Mormonism Unvailed in 1834, Joseph and Oliver answered it promptly and repeatedly thereafter, so the case should be closed.

But that doesn't matter to our modern scholars. They depend on ongoing controversy to generate donations for "scholarly research." Continually rehashing old debates is a dream job and assures employment security. It's much more profitable to reject what Joseph and Oliver said in favor of what Mormonism Unvailed says. 

Hence, we have the Witnesses movie teaching the world to believe Mormonism Unvailed instead of Joseph and Oliver (and the D&C).

But I'm reserving judgment. 

Maybe the people telling me about it are wrong and the Witnesses movie relates everything the witnesses said.

I can't wait to see.


Thursday, June 10, 2021

Change the logo

 

SCIENCE: If you don't make mistakes, you're doing it wrong. If you don't correct those mistakes, you're doing it really wrong. If you can't accept that you're mistaken, you're not doing it at all.

_____





Wednesday, June 9, 2021

More fun with the origins of M2C

Yesterday on eBay an 1892 edition of the Book of Mormon sold for $510.01.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/324656049567?hash=item4b97022d9f:g:VFgAAOSwXrtgt6G8 

I didn't buy it, although I considered it. (I already have too many old books.) But this 1892 edition is special because it included an awesome map of Book of Mormon geography. 

It featured a version of the hemispheric model that shows the Jaredites crossing the Atlantic to the promised land, the way everyone does if they're coming from Europe, the Middle East, or Africa.

 Except is also shows the Mulekites and Lehites crossing the Pacific! 

That's the least feasible route to the New World, other than hiking across Antarctica.

Of course, our M2C friends still insist Lehi crossed the Pacific somehow. Which is fine; people can believe whatever they want.

_____

On that topic, some people still think our LDS scholars came up with the "limited geography Mesoamerican model," featuring the "two-Cumorahs theory." This is the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, or M2C, which teaches that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah because, according to these scholars, the "real" Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in southern Mexico.

Readers of this blog are more informed than that. They know that M2C originated with RLDS scholar L.E. Hill over 100 years ago.

There's a great blog that features the development of the theory. You should check it out because it has lots of links to original material that anyone can read, share, etc.

https://twocumorahsolution.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html

_____

Not to put too fine a point on it, but our friends at Book of Mormon Central still claim the Nephites were Mayans. Seriously, in June 2021 they still don't see the incongruity of keeping a Mayan glyph in their logo, juxtaposed with the definitely not Mayan writing on the plates?



And yet, supposedly the Book of Mormon is a Mayan codex.

We realize they are so deeply invested in M2C that they reject the Church's position of neutrality. They refuse to even inform their readers about alternatives to M2C based on the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.

But how does it build faith to insist on an explanation of the Book of Mormon that their own webpage shows is ridiculous?

They should change their logo to reflect the actual language of the Book of Mormon.


At the very least, they should use one of the characters that was apparently copied from the plates instead of a Mayan glyph.

If someone can explain how they retain a Mayan glyph, knowing that the characters on the plates were anything but Mayan, send me an email at lostzarahemla@gmail and I'll clear up the question on this blog.





 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Monday meme: The past keeps changing

Old Soviet joke: “The future is certain; but the past keeps changing.”



Summary of historical facts.

David Whitmer had conversations with both Moroni (as one of the Three Witnesses) and the divine messenger who took the abridged plates from Harmony to Cumorah before bringing the small plates of Nephi to Fayette. 

David said Joseph identified the messenger as one of the Three Nephites.

Joseph's contemporaries related that Joseph interacted with both Nephi and Moroni--two separate people.

David's mother Mary also had a conversation with the messenger, whom she called Brother Nephi.

The past keeps changing.

Mary's grandson assumed she was wrong. He surmised it must have been Moroni. 

The narrative changed.

Today, scholars who promote the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C) insist the prophets were wrong when they taught that Cumorah was in New York. 

Consequently, David Whitmer had to be wrong when he reported what the messenger told him. He was wrong when he reported what Joseph told him.

Mary Whitmer had to be wrong about the identity of the messenger. 

Oliver Cowdery had to be wrong about Cumorah.

Martin Harris had to be wrong about Cumorah.

Everyone who taught the New York Cumorah had to be wrong.

See http://www.lettervii.com/p/byu-packet-on-cumorah.html

Friday, June 4, 2021

More on the Witnesses movie

Last week I mentioned the Witnesses movie, and there have been some reactions online. 

I'm sure the Witnesses movie is awesome. It must be, given the amount of publicity going on. As I wrote last week, I'm suspending judgment until I see it, if I do. (It won't be playing anywhere near where I live.)

To inoculate viewers, I'll offer some things to watch for. 

- Maybe the movie will show the important encounter between David Whitmer and the messenger taking the abridged plates from Harmony to Cumorah. 

- Maybe it will show Joseph translating the engravings on the plates with the Urim and Thummim. 

- Maybe it will show Joseph and Oliver visiting the repository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah in New York, about which both Oliver and David Whitmer testified.

- Maybe it will relate what Oliver wrote about Moroni's first visit (Letter IV) and the fact that the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is the hill in New York (Letter VII), which anyone can read in the Joseph Smith Papers (click on the links).

Because the movie comes from the Interpreter Foundation, though, I wasn't surprised to hear from some who have seen the film that instead of the above scenes, we can expect to see plenty of SITH (stone-in-the-hat), little of U&T (Urim and Thummim), and nothing about Cumorah.

_____

As readers here know, there is no more delightful name for a group of self-appointed experts than the "Interpreter Foundation." It is the nature and disposition of almost all scholars, as soon as they get a few credentials, they will begin to interpret the scriptures for everyone else.

The Interpreter Foundation, along with the other structures in the Potemkin M2C village such as Book of Mormon Central, BYU Studies, and FairLDS, famously and completely reject what all three witnesses said about the New York Cumorah. 

Just yesterday, our favorite "Interpreter" republished an earlier article in which he wrote this:

The founding events of the Restoration took place in the literal material world. They were not metaphorical. They were not merely symbolic. Accordingly, they are of immense significance to all of humanity.

Oliver Cowdery’s unwavering eyewitness testimony of them, through persecution, suffering, illness, disappointment, anger and even excommunication, is powerful evidence of their reality. This book, “Oliver Cowdery: Scribe, Elder, Witness,” provides powerful scholarly evidence that his testimony can be trusted.

I agree with all of that. If only our scholars did...

Instead, Dan and the other M2C "interpreters" completely reject Oliver's testimony about the New York Cumorah. Most of them reject Oliver's testimony about the Urim and Thummim, preferring SITH.

For these "Interpreters," Oliver's testimony can be trusted only if it agrees with their theories. 

But let's suspend judgment. Maybe the movie will inform people about what the witnesses actually said about Cumorah and the translation.

Maybe we'll have a sea change among the M2C Interpreters because of the new focus on the witnesses.

_____

The rejection of what Joseph and Oliver said about the U&T* in favor of SITH has the obvious problem of rendering irrelevant the testimony of the witnesses anyway. 

Back in 1834, the book Mormonism Unvailed discussed the alternative explanations for the translation. The author had heard about both the "peep stones" and the Urim and Thummim. They were definitely not the same thing. Merging the two, the way our modern scholars do, produces exactly the problem Mormonism Unvailed identified all those years ago--a problem that Joseph and Oliver specifically resolved.

The author pointed out that "The plates, therefore, which had been so much talked of, were found to be of no manner of use. After all, the Lord showed and communicated to him every word and letter of the Book. Instead of looking at the characters inscribed upon the plates, the prophet was obliged to resort to the old "peep stone," which he formerly used in money-digging. 

[Note that contrary to the assertion in Mormonism Unvailed, Joseph explained he not only looked at the characters inscribed upon the plates, but he copied and translated them.] 

This [the "peep stone"] he placed in a hat, or box, into which he also thrust his face.... 

Another account they give of the transaction, is, that it was performed with the big spectacles before mentioned, and which were in fact, the identical Urim and Thummim mentioned in Exodus... and finally buried up in Ontario country, some fifteen centuries since, to enable Smith to translate the plates without looking at them!"

[Even by late May 1829, when Joseph and Oliver were finishing the translation of the abridged plates in Harmony, Joseph was looking on the plates with the Urim and Thummim. But we don't hear about that in SaintsOpening the Heavens, or other recent books by our scholars who are pushing SITH.] 

...

We are informed that Smith used a stone in a hat, for the purpose of translating the plates. The spectacles and plates were found together, but were taken from him and hid up again before he had translated one word, and he has never seen them since--this is Smith's own story. 

[That actually contradicts Smith's own story.]

Let us ask, what use have the plates been or the spectacles, so long as they have in no sense been used? or what does the testimony of Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer amount to? They solemnly swear that they saw the plates, and that an angel showed them, and the engravings which were upon them. But if the plates were hid by the angel so that they have not been seen since, how do these witnesses know that when Smith translated out of a hat, with a peep-stone, that the contents of the plates were repeated and written down? neither of the witnesses pretend that they could read the hieroglyphics with or without the stone; and, therefore, are not competent testimony--nor can we see any use, either in finding the plates or the spectacles, nor of the exhibition of them.

Oliver Cowdery specifically responded to this commingling of translation instruments, and the argument that the Three Witnesses were not competent, by explaining that he "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)

Joseph explained that he copied and translated the characters on the plates. The Lord instructed Joseph to "translate the engravings" on the plates. This is why the plates were so important. They were not merely a talisman that sat covered up while Joseph read words from a stone in a hat. Joseph and Oliver always said Joseph translated with the Urim and Thummim. They never said he used a seer stone without using the plates. Even when Oliver rejoined the Church, he reiterated this testimony about the Urim and Thummim. Despite having the seer stone in his possession on that occasion, he did not produce it or mention it.

Meanwhile, nowhere do the scriptures (Book of Mormon, D&C, Pearl of Great Price) describe Joseph producing the Book of Mormon by dictating words from a vision in a stone or hat. Joseph's contemporaries and successors consistently rejected SITH in favor of U&T. They taught about it in General Conference and elsewhere.

Why, then, did David and Emma describe SITH?

The simple explanation, supported by detailed historical analysis as I explained in A Man that Can Translate, is that Joseph translated the engravings on the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim, but he also conducted a demonstration in the Whitmer home using SITH. Those present inferred they were observing the translation, but the demonstration differed from the actual translation in several respects. Decades later, David Whitmer and Emma cited the demonstration to refute the Spalding theory.

But our modern scholars nevertheless "interpret" the historical evidence the same way Mormonism Unvailed did, thereby rejecting what Joseph and Oliver and the scriptures say about the translation, the same way these "interpreters" reject what the witnesses said about the New York Cumorah.

Nevertheless, we can remain optimistic that someday, even the Interpreter Foundation may change course and actually accept what the witnesses said. 

We'll see.
_____

 *Notice that the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation never even quotes what Joseph and Oliver taught. It certainly doesn't reaffirm what they taught. Some revisionist scholars say SITH and U&T were the same thing; i.e., they claim that when Joseph and Oliver wrote about the Urim and Thummim, which the Nephites called interpreters, they were really referring to a seer stone (or "peep" stone) that Joseph found in a well years before he dictated the Book of Mormon. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The Worlds of Joseph Smith updated


Six years ago today I posted comments about The Worlds of Joseph Smith on one of my old blogs. This was an important conference held at the Library of Congress in 2005. Leading scholars, LDS and non-LDS, presented Joseph Smith to the world.

Not surprisingly, given the organizers and participants, they portrayed the Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican document, thereby framing Joseph Smith and his associates as ignorant speculators who misled the Church, and the world as a whole, about such teachings as (i) Cumorah is in New York, (ii) the Indians of this country are Lamanites, and (iii) the midwestern United States are the "plains of the Nephites." 

In the ensuing six years, there have been hundreds of thousands of page views of my blogs, so for all those new readers, I'm updating and reposting that piece today.

_____

The Worlds of Joseph Smith

In 2005, BYU Studies published The Worlds of Joseph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress. [All page references here are to BYU Studies Vol. 44, No. 4 2005.] There are some excellent articles, of course, but there is also one by John E. Clark titled "Archaeological Trends and the Book of Mormon" that I want to review here. Brother Clark is one of the principal promoters and defenders of M2C, along with the usual suspects (Welch, Peterson, Sorenson, et al.), all of whom are fine scholars, exemplary people, etc.

Before doing so, I point out the volume contains a "Gallery Display" of items that were "mounted in the foyer and display cases of the Coolidge Auditorium by the Library's Exhibition Office." p. 119. Here are some of the items on display reproduced in BYU Studies:

p. 130: Page of the Original (Dictation) Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, 1829.
p. 131: Diary of William Wines Phelps, Containing a Transcription of Moses 1, 1835.
p. 132: A Page from John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (New York, 1841).
p. 133: "Zarahemla," Times and Seasons (October 1, 1842, p. 927).

The next time some M2C proponent tells you the 1842 Times and Seasons article isn't really all that important, ask why it was put on display in the Smithsonian along with the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon. Ask why they displayed the illustration from Stephens' book instead of Letter VII.

Far better would have been to display something Joseph actually wrote, such as the Wentworth letter, or Joseph's letter to Emma during the Zion's Camp march, than to display an article Joseph didn't even claim.

------

Clark's article starts on page 83. I'm not going to reproduce the whole thing here, just a few sections in blue that I'll comment on in red. Bolded emphasis is mine.

p. 85: Most Mormons fall into a more subtle error that also inflates Joseph's talents; they confuse translation with authorship. They presume that Joseph Smith knew the contents of the book as if he were its real author, and they accord him perfect knowledge of the text. This presumption removes from discussion the most compelling evidence of the book's authenticity--Joseph's unfamiliarity with its contents. To put the matter clearly: Joseph Smith did not fully understand the Book of Mormon. I propose that he transmitted to readers an ancient book that he neither imagined nor wrote. 

This paragraph is full of logical fallacies and fact avoidance. 

Let's start with the first sentence which claims that Mormons are falling into "a more subtle error" when they "confuse translation with authorship." A translator has to understand the original source well enough to restate it in the target language (in this case English). While it's true that many M2C promoters don't believe Joseph translated the text--they're adopting SITH instead--those who still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught reject the idea that Joseph authored the Book of Mormon. That position is the opposite of confusing translation with authorship.

Next, Clark accuses these hypothetical Mormons of presuming "Joseph knew the contents of the book and had a perfect knowledge of the text." 

That accusation reflects Clark's own confusion of translation with authorship. Any translator necessarily knows the contents of the book he/she translates. How could they translate if they didn't know the contents of the book they are translating?

As for Joseph's knowledge of the text, Joseph re-read the text many times and made thousands of corrections for the 1837 and 1840 editions. In 1842, he re-read it again (I think because Benjamin Winchester was challenging it), yet he made no corrections at that point. Modern scholars like to think they are more familiar with the contents than Joseph Smith was, presumably because they have analytical software that does word counts and finds Early Modern English artifacts, but not one of them can authoritatively make corrections to the text based on their understanding of what was on the plates the way Joseph did.  

There is zero historical evidence that Joseph was unfamiliar with its contents. No one surprised him by quoting a passage he didn't know about; no one educated him on the doctrine in the text; no one corrected him when he explained the text. Instead, what Joseph was unfamiliar with is the theoretical Mesoamerican setting the M2C scholars impose on the text. This is why Clark and other M2C proponents insist Joseph didn't understand the book. 

Prior to even beginning the translation, Joseph was taught by Moroni and Nephi. Joseph wrote: "I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people was made known unto me." Joseph knew far more about the cultural context than the book itself reveals. These M2C scholars are stuck with the text Joseph translated. Joseph wasn't that limited.

It is a logical fallacy to assert that because Joseph transmitted an ancient book he neither imagined nor wrote, he therefore could not understand the book. The assertion that one can only understand a book one writes is not just nonsensical; it defies the very purpose for writing.  

Clark wrote his article to convey his understanding of the topic. His argument would mean that because his readers did not write his article, they cannot understand it. This argument is akin to that made by the old Catholic priests who didn't want people having access to the Bible because they could never understand it, when the reality was they didn't want people reading the Bible because they would understand it differently from what the Catholic priests wanted them to.   

The M2C scholars set themselves up as the "Interpreters" specifically because ordinary people who read the text don't see anything having to do with Mesoamerica, but a lot having to do with the ancient people of North America--the moundbuilders whose ruins were identified by Joseph as both Nephites and Jaredites.

One thing all readers share with Joseph is a partial understanding of the book's complexities. Indeed, many things about the book were simply unknowable in 1830. Over the last sixty years, Hugh Nibley, John Sorenson, and other scholars have shown the Book of Mormon to be "truer" than Joseph Smith or any of his contemporaries could know. Consequently, what Joseph Smith knew and understood about the book ought to be research questions rather than presumptions. Thanks in large part to his critics, it is becoming clear that Joseph Smith did not fully understand the geography, scope, historical scale, literary form, or cultural content of the book. 

This is a euphemism for repudiating what Joseph taught. It's the premise for M2C; i.e., the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah because they were ignorant speculators, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.

There's nothing an academic likes more than "research questions" (aka, "employment security"). 

Far from "becoming clear," Clark's assertion is contrary to the evidence. One must reject what Joseph himself said about the tutoring he received to accept Clark's claim that Joseph didn't understand the geography, scope, etc. 

That said, it does make sense that Joseph didn't understand the literary form (i.e., chiasmus and Hebrew parallelisms). That is one area Joseph never identified as a topic of his training by Moroni. 

But Moroni did specifically train Joseph about the setting and culture. He told Joseph during his first visit in 1823 that the record had been "written and deposited not far from" Joseph's home near Palmyra, that it related the history of the aboriginal inhabitants of "this country," and that the name of the hill where the records were located was Cumorah.

It is possible that Joseph could not figure out Mormon's geography descriptions; i.e., he knew where the Book of Mormon events took place because he recognized them during his travels (having been shown them by Moroni), but he didn't see how the text described them because he was not familiar with Hebrew literary forms.  

For example, early Mormons believed Book of Mormon lands stretched throughout all of North and South America, a presumption clearly at odd with the book itself (fig 1a). 

This is one of the most important points of all because it attributes to Joseph Smith the opposite of what he actually taught. 

Joseph adapted the Wentworth letter from Orson Pratt's prior 1840 pamphlet. Pratt had detailed the hemispheric model Clark refers to here. Pratt went on for five pages explaining his theory about Lamanites in South America, Nephites in North America, the last battle starting in Panama, etc. Joseph deleted all of that and wrote, simply, "The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country." 

IOW, Joseph expressly repudiated the prevailing hemispheric model. He established a "limited geography" before anyone else did--but he didn't place it in Mesoamerica! Instead, he placed it in the Midwestern United States, with Cumorah in New York. 

And, it turns out, the text describes this area very well. (See Moroni's America as an example.) 

[Note. Fig 1 in the article compares two maps: "Traditional 19th century Book of Mormon geography" with "Joseph Smith's 1842 Speculation of Book of Mormon Geography." The first map shows all of North and South America, shaded. The second shows Sorenson's Mesoamerican setting shaded.] 

The book speaks specifically only of a limited land about the size of Pennsylvania. 

Of course, the text "specifically speaks" of no such thing. Clark here is making inferences based on his guestimates of how far people could travel in Central American jungles and swamps (none of which the text ever mentions). Once we realize that ancient people used rivers for transportation, the scope of the events expands. Once we realize that "sea" means not only "ocean" but any large body of water, and that the terms "narrow neck," "small neck," and "narrow neck of land" refer to three different locations,  the geography descriptions in the text describe North America--with Cumorah in New York. 

In 1842, after reading about ancient cities in Central America, Joseph speculated that Book of Mormon lands were located there (fig. 1b). 

This is another critical mistake in Church history.

The only evidence that Joseph ever read these books is a polite, generalized thank-you note to Dr. Bernhisel, written (not in Joseph's handwriting) just a few days after Joseph could have (but may not have) received these two books totaling over 900 pages.

The only person who discussed having read these books was Wilford Woodruff, who picked them up from Dr. Bernhisel in New York and read them during the long journey to Nauvoo. (Bernhisel bought the books for Joseph Smith after receiving a visit from Benjamin Winchester.) 

The first time Woodruff mentions meeting Joseph was October 31, 1841. The letter to Bernhisel was written a few days later. No one mentioned Joseph having read the books, even if he had the time to do so. The letter uses words and phrases common to Woodruff. I've written an entire chapter about this in The Editors: Joseph, William, and Don Carlos Smith.

Another point: even if Joseph dictated the Bernhisel letter (instead of directing that Woodruff send a thank-you note), he wrote the Wentworth letter afterward, and the Wentworth letter expressly rejects the hemispheric model (including Mesoamerica). 

As I've shown elsewhere, Joseph did not speculate about Mesoamerica. The "Zarahemla" article in the Times and Seasons featured in The Worlds of Joseph Smith was not written by him. In fact, it would be a bigger problem if Joseph had written it; the article is nonsensical (what was "found" between September 15 and October 1, 1842?) and counterfactual (the Stephens ruins don't date to Book of Mormon times). 

M2C proponents want Church members to believe not only that Joseph Smith was speculating, but that he was factually wrong. Is there a single M2C proponent who believes Zarahemla is in Quirigua? How does a River Sidon flow past Quirigua? I've examined all of this elsewhere, but anyone reading these ridiculous articles can see the problems. 

I derive two lessons from his speculation: First, Joseph did not know exactly where Book of Mormon lands were; second, he considered their location an important question addressable through scholarship. 

Here is the crux of the M2C argument. Aside from deriving lessons from an article Joseph didn't write or even approve of, Clark here rejects Joseph's claim about revelation regarding these matters in favor of "scholarship," presumably scholarship of the type Clark engages in.  

These two "lessons" are another call for employment security. Scholars always insist people (taxpayers or tithing payers) fund more "scholarship," in this case about a topic Joseph Smith resolved a long time ago.

The book makes hundreds of claims about ancient peoples in the Americas. It has always been clear to people on both sides of the controversy that antiquities could be, and should be, used to corroborate or destroy the book's pedigree. 

This is a fair point. The problem is, Clark rejects the antiquities and locations Joseph actually invoked in favor for his own theory of Mesoamerica. Next we'll look at examples of how he does this. 

p. 89: These highly credible Book of Mormon lands are tucked away where Joseph Smith never saw them and would never have found them. Contrary to Reverend Lamb and subsequent critics, the Book of Mormon does have a place in the Americas--just not a place in Joseph Smith's experience. Book of Mormon geography fits a corner of the Americas Joseph did not know. Therefore, the book's geography could not have derived from his personal experience. It follows that he dictated a book with complexities beyond his own comprehension. 

This is a fascinating argument. Clark makes a valid point, but not the one he thinks he's making. The only places Joseph had seen before he translated the Book of Mormon were Vermont, Massachusetts, upstate New York, and upper Pennsylvania. Within that area, he did specifically identify the Hill Cumorah, but that's the only Book of Mormon reference to the area he was familiar with. It was not until years later that he moved to Ohio and then crossed the Midwest to Missouri and it was not until Zion's Camp that he recognized the "plains of the Nephites." 

Clark is right that "Book of Mormon geography fits a corner of the Americas Joseph did not know" when he translated the book. But when he saw it later, in Ohio and Indiana and Illinois and Missouri, he recognized it and identified it as such. 

Clark's argument here is akin to what I think motivated Winchester, John Page, and William Smith; i.e., they wanted to distance the Book of Mormon from the anti-Mormon claims that Joseph copied it from Ethan Smith and/or Solomon Spaulding. [Note: I address this point in detail in Moroni's History, to be published in 2021.] 

p. 90. As the consummate recordkeepers in Mesoamerica, the Maya erected numerous stone monuments in their cities that recorded the time elapsed since 3114 BC, their year zero. Maya calculations were based on counting by twenties instead of our practice of counting by tens. The major cycle of Maya time was a four-hundred-year period called a baktun. The Book of Mormon records several references to a significant four-hundred-year prophecy, [footnote 19 here says "See Alma 45:10, Helaman 13:9, 2 Nephi 26:9-10, Mormon 8:6, and Moroni 10:1]  consistent with this idosyncratic Mesoamerican calendar practice. 

This claim that a four-hundred year prophecy is evidence of a Mesoamerican connection is not only highly speculative, but it destroys the spiritual significance of the 400 year period. Four hundred years is an important date in Genesis 15:13-14: "And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that they seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance." 

The Children of Israel were in bondage for 400 years and delivered by Moses as the type for Christ. E.g., see 1 Nephi 17:24. Then the Book of Mormon people were delivered by Christ but after 400 years fell into bondage of sin. There are lots of interesting parallels here, but solely to justify the Mesoamerican geography, Clark replaces these important parallels and lessons from Genesis and the Egyptian bondage with a purported reference to Mayan calendars. 

I don't have time right now to go through the rest of Clark's article, but at least I've shown three things:

1) how central the Times and Seasons articles are to the Mesoamerican theory;

2) the need for Mesoamerican advocates to undermine Joseph's knowledge of the Book of Mormon and his explicit rejection of the hemispheric and Mesoamerican models; and 

3) the irrationality of replacing Old Testament references with allusions to Mayan culture. 

On this last point, the Mesoamerican advocates also de-emphasize the Nephite observance of the Law of Moses, to the point that they claim the Nephites sacrificed rodents instead of lambs!