long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Back when LDS intellectuals were intellectual

Back in 1984, when the Ensign published the first M2C articles, LDS intellectuals were still open to new ideas. 

Now, though, they are so sure of themselves that they insist only their interpretations are correct and they aggressively fight new ideas. They even incorporate their dogmatic conclusions in their logo!*

They especially resist new ideas that corroborate the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.


M2C originated with RLDS scholars Stebbins and Hills. Hills published the first M2C map in 1917. Hill submitted his map and theory to RLDS leaders, but they rejected it.

So did LDS leaders. 

Joseph Fielding Smith specifically denounced it, pointing out that this theory would cause Latter-day Saints to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.**

Nevertheless, over the objections of LDS leaders (including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference), LDS scholars gradually accepted Hills' theory. 

Now M2C is part of the Book of Mormon curriculum at BYU and throughout CES.

The BYU fantasy map at the left is a version of the CES map. They both teach LDS students to understand the Book of Mormon as taking place in a fantasy world.

The de-correlation of the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah was a gradual process that took decades. 

The game changer was probably John Sorenson's 1978 an Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, David Palmer's 1981 book In Search of Cumorah, and the two M2C Ensign articles published in 1984. 

I give Brother Sorenson a lot of credit for incorporating science into the study of the Book of Mormon. I dedicated my book Moroni's America to him, among others. 

Look at his introduction in the first Ensign article. This is the antithesis of what current LDS intellectuals believe and practice, particularly those affiliated with Book of Mormon Central.

The sciences that study ancient civilizations have undergone significant changes. In the early decades of this century, science was still thought of as the search for and discovery of permanent and infallible truth. Today, scientists and philosophers admit the nature of their enterprise requires that they regularly reinterpret their theories and data.1 Karl Popper’s view of science as “tentative forever”2 has become widely accepted. So even though perhaps a thousand times as much information now exists about the early cultures of America as was available only half a century ago, nowadays the best scholars are far less dogmatic in picturing what happened in the pre-European New World. 

Sorenson was awesome to have written this. If his followers today embraced this approach, we wouldn't have so much confusion about the Book of Mormon.

However, the intellectuals affiliated with Book of Mormon Central, along with their employees and followers, are far more dogmatic than ever before. They cannot write or endorse Popper's view today. They insist that the only viable setting for the Book of Mormon is their Mesoamerican theory, that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah, and that anyone who disagrees with them is ignorant, uneducated, mercenary, or an apostate. 

And yet, they are so insecure in their theory that they continue to refuse to tell their followers about alternative faithful interpretations of the Book of Mormon, Church history, and the teachings of the prophets because they know that most members, were they able to make informed choices, would reject M2C in favor of the teachings of the prophets.

1. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).

2. Karl R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Basic Books, 1959), p. 280. “The old scientific ideal of episteme—of absolutely certain, demonstrable knowledge—has proved to be an idol. The demand for scientific objectivity makes it inevitable that every scientific statement must remain tentative forever. It may indeed be corroborated, but every corroboration is relative to other statements which, again, are tentative. Only in our subjective experiences of conviction, in our subjective faith, can we be ‘absolutely certain.’” (Italics in the original.)


Here's an example from a 1979 FARMS paper. Notice how the M2C theory is stated as a fact.

The Book of Mormon is the religious chronicle of a small group, descendents [sic] of a common ancestor, who migrated to Mesoamerica and flourished for nearly 1000 years before being culturally assimilated and then militarily annihilated by the larger and more powerful native civilization.  

In 1984 the FARMS newsletter titled Insights explained why their logo, now used by Book of Mormon Central, incorporates a Mayan glyph:

WHAT DOES THE F.A.R.M.S. LOGO STAND FOR? Many people have asked what the F.A.R.M.S. logo means. Here is a brief explanation. The logo is composed of characters from Hebrew, Creek, Mayan and Egyptian, which are four of the main ancient languages and cultures relevant to Book of Mormon reseach [sic]. The characters are set in four stone blocks, symbolizing archaeology and ancient reseach [sic].

Click here for more background.

**President Joseph Fielding Smith, originally published in 1934, repeated in Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3:232–243.

"Within recent years there has arisen among certain students of the Book of Mormon a theory to the effect that within the period covered by the Book of Mormon, the Nephites and Lamanites were confined almost entirely within the borders of the territory comprising Central America and the southern portion of Mexico-the isthmus of Tehauntepec probably being the "narrow neck" of land spoken of in the Book of Mormon rather than the isthmus of Panama.

"This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. It is for this reason that evidence is here presented to show that it is not only possible that these places could be located as the Church has held during the past century, but that in very deed such is the case."


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