I posted part 3 of my peer review of Royal Skousen's preliminary manuscript on the Witnesses of the Book of Mormon.
Part 4 is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept 7th.
Part 3 includes Skousen's astonishing conclusion:
“Joseph Smith’s claim that he used the Urim and Thummim is only partially true; and Oliver Cowdery’s statements that Joseph used the original instrument while he, Oliver, was the scribe appear to be intentionally misleading.”
That sentence is the take-away from Skousen's book. It is the inevitable result of faithful LDS scholars embracing the SITH narrative without even considering all the evidence, or the context, or how the evidence actually supports and corroborates what Joseph and Oliver taught.
Many Latter-day Saints have anticipated (and dreaded) this result ever since the Gospel Topics Essay on the Translation was published. Once Saints and the Ensign endorsed SITH, it was really game over. We might as well make David Whitmer's Address to All Believers in Christ part of the curriculum directly instead of just quoting from it.
Skousen's sentence will undoubtedly become a Mormon Stories podcast and a featured addition to CES Letter and all the other critical websites.
To be clear, I don't agree with those who claim all the SITH witnesses were liars. That approach is the mirror image of Skousen's, and neither is historically legitimate.
Instead, I think the witnesses accurately reported what they observed, but they also mingled their factual testimony with hearsay and their own assumptions and inferences, which makes their testimony confusing. Every trial lawyer knows this happens all the time with witnesses, and without cross-examination, it's difficult to sort the facts from the opinion/hearsay. I understand why people have fallen for the SITH narrative, but it is possible to sort through the evidence and realize that no one was lying. They were just talking about different things, and Joseph and Oliver told the truth about the translation.
We can all see why critics, starting with Mormonism Unvailed in 1834 and continuing through CES Letter today, perpetuate the SITH narrative. SITH undermines the Restoration in a fundamental sense.
What is inexplicable is why LDS scholars embrace that narrative, particularly because of the way they do it. As I've shown in my peer review, Brother Skousen (i) simply omits relevant, critical evidence, (ii) discredits evidence that contradicts his SITH bias, and (iii) allows only one interpretation of the remaining evidence.
It's no wonder that the Interpreter and the rest of the M2C/SITH citation cartel love this stuff; they say the same things about the New York Cumorah.
Which leads to the latest from FAIRLDS.
In their ongoing (and futile) battles with CES Letter, FAIRLDS posted another entry.
I say "futile" because FAIRLDS and the rest of the M2C/SITH citation cartel members laid the groundwork for CES Letter. It was the assumptions and teachings of the M2C/SITH citation cartel that generated the questions that prompted CES Letter in the first place.
[For those new to this blog, SITH=stone-in-the-hat and M2C=Mesoamerican/two Cumorahs theory.]
Usually when the apologists try to rebut CES Letter, they make things worse.
However, at the end of this piece, I wrote this:
Here is a hint of progress. FAIRLDS has been adamant about M2C since its inception. Is this conclusion opening the door for other faithful interpretations of the text and the extrinsic evidence that supports and corroborates, instead of rejecting and repudiating, the teachings of the prophets?
If so, someone from FAIRLDS needs to email me ASAP.
Let's look at the latest entry. I'm not critical of the author, who is merely repeating what the M2C/SITH citation cartel scholars have been teaching. This is a "greatest hits" compilation that everyone has seen before--including Jeremy Runnels.
This FAIRLDS "rebuttal" is not only unpersuasive. It unintentionally demonstrates why CES Letter, Mormon Stories, and the other critics are so successful in their efforts to persuade Latter-day Saints to question their faith.
FAIRLDS in blue, CES Letter in green, my comments in red.
Diving back in, today we’re talking about archeological evidences. I’ve been looking forward to this one. We’ll get to discuss some of the coolest evidences we have supporting the Book of Mormon’s authenticity.
[What follows is a quotation from CES Letter.]
Archaeology: There is absolutely no archaeological evidence to directly support the Book of Mormon or the Nephites and Lamanites, who were supposed to have numbered in the millions. This is one of the reasons why unofficial apologists have developed the Limited Geography Model (it happened in Central or South America) and claim that the Hill Cumorah mentioned as the final battle of the Nephites is not in Palmyra, New York but is elsewhere. This is in direct contradiction to what Joseph Smith and other prophets have taught. It also makes little sense in light of the Church’s visitor’s center near the Hill Cumorah in New York and the annual Church-sponsored Hill Cumorah pageants.
Every sentence in this paragraph is incorrect, so let’s go through them one at a time.
Actually, some of these sentences are correct, which everyone can see (except, apparently, the M2C/SITH scholars and their followers), which is why FAIRLDS is not credible. This is an example of how the citation cartel teed up the CES Letter in the first place.
There is absolutely no archaeological evidence to directly support the Book of Mormon or the Nephites and Lamanites, who were supposed to have numbered in the millions.
False. There’s actually quite a lot of archaeological evidence that directly supports the Book of Mormon and the Nephites and Lamanites. In a previous entry, I mentioned the LIDAR scans of Mesoamerica, which show that its populations did in fact number in the millions during the time periods in question.
Here is the first example of how FAIRLDS embraces the same false premise that the critics have. Both FAIRLDS and CES Letter agree that the Book of Mormon describes a population in the millions. But that's not what the text says, nor is it what the archaeology/anthropology says. Consequently, the apologists are defending a false narrative and all CES Letter is doing is pointing that out.
The largest enumerated Nephite army in the text is only 42,000 men. I've discussed this before so I won't repeat the details, but this is a perfect example of how M2C has led to an interpretation of the text that not only doesn't make sense, but is not supported by textual or extrinsic evidence.
To make it worse, FAIRLDS cites the LIDAR evidence, which if anything proves the Book of Mormon could not have taken place in Mesoamerica. I discussed this when the LIDAR results were announced, so no need to get into the detail here, but you can read about it if you're interested here:
Skipping a few meaningless paragraphs ...
Jeremy Runnells is doing the same thing as the atheist who frequently tries to debate Peterson on his blog: conflating evidence with proof. They’re not the same thing. No one can prove that the Book of Mormon is true. Only the Spirit can teach you that. But, as I said previously, there is quite a lot of evidence mounting, and it’s only getting stronger with time.
It's bad enough to quote Dan the Interpreter (whose style of ad hominem apologetics has embarrassed every serious scholar for years) for an axiom about evidence vs proof which everyone already knows. That's condescending rhetoric. But if "only the Spirit can teach you" that the Book of Mormon is true, why cite evidence in the first place?
Besides, the evidence FAIRLDS cites is not evidence of the Book of Mormon; it's evidence of M2C bias confirmation, as we'll see.
Take, for example, the Interpreter articles demonstrating the volcanic eruptions around the time of Christ’s crucifixion in Mesoamerica, as well as the drought and famine from Helaman 11, which has a direct correlation to a drought in Mesoamerica during the same time period. Those are evidences supporting the narrative of the Book of Mormon. They are not direct proof.
FAIRLDS quoting the Interpreter is demonstrating the Potemkin village nature of the citation cartel. FAIRLDS, the Interpreter, Book of Mormon Central, BYU Studies, etc., are all storefronts for the same M2C/SITH mindset. They have interlocking management and contributors who have worked closely together for years to enforce M2C/SITH assiduously.
The volcano evidence is a perfect example. The Book of Mormon, despite 1,000 years of history in (allegedly) Mesoamerica, never once mentions volcanoes. The destruction in 3 Nephi is not volcanic, nor are there any other instances of volcanic action. Yet the citation cartel keeps insisting there really were volcanoes in there somewhere, if you read between the lines. What they're citing is evidence of their M2C theory, not evidence of the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
As for drought, it is common human experience (even in our day) almost everywhere in the world to experience dry spells, crop failures, etc. This is another problem with the M2C apologetics. They frequently find "correspondences" with ordinary and ubiquitous human activities in most societies.
The next section delves into Old World evidence, which is fine because it doesn't involve M2C or SITH. But it's not responsive to the CES Letter paragraph this response is supposedly addressing. It's a diversion.
As far as the New World evidences go, John Sorenson wrote an 850-page book detailing all of the evidence he’d personally compiled, with approximately 400 correlations between the Mesoamerican peoples and the peoples of the Book of Mormon. Obviously, I can’t go through them all here, but he gave a brief overview of several of them in this article.
It's funny, I've had people cite me this book based on its size and weight as well, as if that matters in the least. Sorenson is an awesome guy, smart and faithful, etc., but Mormon's Codex is an exercise in blatant bias confirmation. Much of it involves the "Sorenson translation" of the text, where he inserts his own opinions about what the text means or should have said to correspond with Mayan culture and geography. I don't have to ask Michael Coe for all the reasons why the Book of Mormon doesn't fit Mesoamerica; all I have to do is read the text and observe the absence of jungles, jaguars and jade, not to mention pyramids and Mayans. Then, like everyone else, I can read Mormon's Codex and see the semantic gyrations Sorenson resorted to (e.g., his "narrow neck") to cram the Nephites into Mayan society. And, of course, Mormon's Codex contains the infamous passage in which Sorenson ridicules the prophets who have taught the New York Cumorah.
Even things as random as Coriantumr’s history being engraved on stelae, infant baptism, Chiasmus, Ammon cutting off the arms of the robbers and the servants delivering them to the king, Abinadi being scourged with burning sticks, etc., all have precedent in Mesoamerica.
Such "correspondences" have "precedent" in many, if not most, human cultures.
Brian Stubbs even found over 1,000 correlations in the Uto-Aztecan language family with Egyptian and Semitic languages. That Uto-Aztecan language family includes languages spoken in Mesoamerica. This work is still being studied and evaluated, but if it’s true, it’s remarkable.
Stubbs found correlations with Algonquin languages as well, but not Mayan languages.
And these things are only scratching the surface. There’s so much out there that I just don’t have space to include. There’s a ton of direct evidence supporting the Book of Mormon. There’s just not any direct proof.
This is a fair statement, so long as we're discussing "correspondences," because there is literally no end once you start looking, especially when you're free to interpret the text to fit whatever you find in your chosen setting, as Mormon's Codex does. But for those who stick with what the text actually says, there is "a ton of direct evidence" right in North America.
This is one of the reasons why unofficial apologists have developed the Limited Geography Model (it happened in Central or South America) and claim that the Hill Cumorah mentioned as the final battle of the Nephites is not in Palmyra, New York but is elsewhere.
Nope. Putting aside the snide comment about “unofficial apologists”—a qualifier Runnells conveniently omits from his own unofficial sources to give them more weight—limited geography models, particularly those in the Central American region, have been circulating since 1842, and the Mesoamerican model in particular since 1917. Matthew Roper tracked the evolution of thought on the subject in this article.
How is it a "snide comment" to call unofficial apologists "unofficial apologists" here? Is FAIRLDS now claiming status as official apologists?
More to the point, CES Letter is correct about the reason why apologists developed the limited geography model. This article by FAIRLDS makes that very point! They defend, promote, and seek evidence of M2C precisely because they claim Cumorah cannot be in New York.
Regarding the "evolution of thought on the subject," FAIRLDS needs to re-read the history. Limited geography models did not originate until the early 1900s, when Stebbins and Hills came up with it. The book Cumorah Revisited was published in the early 1900s and prompted their limited geography theory. (Ironically, Cumorah Revisited relied on false archaeological information that was outdated when the book was published, although the author didn't realize that, which means M2C was developed to respond to a false accusation.)
Hills published the first M2C map in 1917 that M2C scholars have followed ever since. The 1842 date alludes to the anonymous editorials in the Times and Seasons, as well as Orson Pratt's 1840 pamphlet. Matt Roper's article omits critical sources and facts involving the geography because his paper was designed to show that the limited geography had earlier antecedents. He doesn't tell his readers that Joseph Smith, in the Wentworth letter, replaced all of Orson Pratt's speculation about Lamanites in Central America with the simple declarative statement that "The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country." He doesn't tell his readers that Oliver declared it was a fact that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in New York, or that Joseph Fielding Smith denounced M2C because it would case members to "become confused and disturbed in their faith," a result we see througout the Church today.
The models were developed because that’s what the text of the Book of Mormon dictates. The distances described are only a few days’ journey on foot in any direction. You can’t traverse the entire length of North and South America in only a few days while on foot.
The second and third sentences make a good point I think everyone agrees with. The early speculative hemispheric models never made sense. But the first sentence is nonsense to the extent it refers to M2C. It is the M2C interpretation of the text, not the text itself, that dictates the Mesoamerican setting.
This is in direct contradiction to what Joseph Smith and other prophets have taught.
Only partially. It’s certainly true that some of our leaders over the years have given different opinions on this matter, and many of them did indeed support a hemispheric model for the Book of Mormon, but many didn’t.
This is the big lie that FAIRLDS perpetuates.
We can all understand why the M2C/SITH citation cartel doesn't like being called out for repudiating the teachings of the prophets, but CES Letter is spot on here.
Everyone can read the sources. None of this is a secret. Not a single Church leader has ever repudiated what Joseph, Oliver, their contemporaries and successors taught about the New York Cumorah, which is the specific point that CES Letter raised. CES Letter is correct that M2C is a direct contradiction to what Joseph and the other prophets have taught.
It's awesome that FAIRLDS continues to try to confuse people by repeating this lie, but the lie is so blatant that it undermines everything else they say. They would be far better off to simply and honestly admit they think Joseph and Oliver deceived the world about Cumorah, the way Royal Skousen is doing with his SITH theory.
There are two major models today, the Mesoamerican Model, and the Heartland Model. There are tons of other ideas, but those are the two largest camps right now. There’s been a lot of back and forth between the two camps over what exactly Joseph knew by revelation and what he was opining. The fact remains that no revelation on the location of Book of Mormon geography has ever been definitively given.
This is a red herring borrowed from L.E. Hills, who at least recognized what the prophets had taught. First, no one can say it's "a fact" that "no revelation" about the setting has ever been definitively given. At most, we can say there is no canonized statement about the geography (although even that's debatable).
To say there was no revelation on the topic assumes we have records of every revelation, but we don't. Joseph and Oliver both mentioned revelations that they never recorded. Joseph gave around 200 sermons that no one wrote down. Joseph taught lots of things that he didn't claim specific revelation for, including some of the sections of the D&C (such as D&C 128). We infer that, because he taught these things, they originated with revelation. And Oliver, as an apostle and Assistant President of the Church (meaning he was Joseph's spokesman) declared it was a "fact" that the hill in New York was the setting for the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites.
Furthermore, Lucy Mack Smith reported that Moroni identified the hill as Cumorah the first time he visited Joseph and that Joseph referred to the hill as Cumorah ever since. Others affirmed that identification.
Notice the word thinking in this M2C argument. Why would Joseph or Oliver have to claim revelation when they knew the location by personal experience? The restoration of the Priesthood and the keys were not "revelations." They were experiences. Do we debate whether the Priesthood was restored because it was not a "revelation" or do we accept the report of the experience?
We have more details about the New York Cumorah than we do about the restoration of the Priesthood. We have a date and approximate location for John the Baptist, but neither for Peter, James and John. Yet Oliver Cowdery related details about the visits he and Joseph made to the repository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah, described in Mormon 6:6. David Whitmer affirmed that Oliver told him about that--but he denied knowing about the restoration of the Priesthood.
We’re not going to get into a discussion of different geography models at this time. Most of the evidences I mentioned do point toward Mesoamerica as the right location, because that’s simply where most of the scholarship is being done right now. That could be the wrong location, though I and others don’t think it is. However, that is a big conversation and there just isn’t time or room to discuss it now. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which model you support, as long as you recognize that nothing is definitive and the matter has not been settled by revelation.
This is nonresponsive to CES Letter's point about Cumorah. M2C explicitly and unambiguously repudiates the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. Trying to obfuscate by pretending the prophets were speculating or confused doesn't respond to the point.
But, as for what Joseph Smith had to say, his opinion seemed to change over time. And he wasn’t alone in that. The simple fact is, opinions varied, even back in the early days of the Church.
More obfuscation. Joseph never changed his opinion about Cumorah. There was never any debate or "varied opinions) about the location of Cumorah. Even the 1879 footnotes in the Book of Mormon declared the New York Cumorah as a fact while acknowledging other sites were speculative ("believed to be," etc.).
As far as things like the Zelph prophecies go, those weren’t published until after Joseph’s death, and all seven accounts contradict one another on various points. No one knows exactly what was said, especially since the word “Lamanite” seemed to mean “anyone of native, indigenous ancestry” to the early Saints.
First, FAIRLDS complains that there was no revelation. When faced with an actual revelation, they parse it for inconsistencies instead of accepting the overall context and implications.
It's not a question of publication, either. The accounts were recorded contemporaneously. This is one of the few instances where multiple people witnessed the revelation. Naturally they recorded it differently. In other situations, we take Wilford Woodruff's words on their face because his is the only record. If we did that in this case, there wouldn't be a debate.
Additionally, there are a few theories flying around that suggest that both models have merit. Mark Wright wrote a really interesting paper for the Interpreter suggesting that some of the Heartland evidences are actually evidences of the northward migrations in the Book of Mormon, and that both major models are entwined as one. Even John Sorenson, who is basically the poster child for the Mesoamerica model, points out that there’s a ton of evidence suggesting the peoples and cultures of Mesoamerica spread throughout North America over time. Tyler Livingston connected this evidence to the revelation regarding Zelph, suggesting that he belonged to the descendants of those who migrated northward, and pointing out that there had been known trade between Mesoamerica and the Eastern US since approximately 200 BC. Therefore, it was entirely possible for Lamanites and Nephites to have spread throughout parts of North America. They surely had their own prophets and leaders after they migrated.
This is a clever "solution" for M2C, but it still avoids the Cumorah issue that CES Letter properly raised.
So, it’s just not true that the Mesoamerican theorists are in “direct contradiction” to what the prophets have taught. Many prophets have supported the limited geography models, and many have supported hemispheric models. Opinions vary in the absence of direct revelation.
This is a classic rhetorical diversion. CES Letter did not ask about the various opinions. The question was about the New York Cumorah specifically. There is no getting around the reality that the M2C scholars and their followers directly repudiate the teachings of the prophets on that question.
It also makes little sense in light of the Church’s visitor’s center near the Hill Cumorah in New York and the annual Church-sponsored Hill Cumorah pageants.
It makes perfect sense, since the hill in Palmyra is significant and important to our Church’s history. It’s where the plates were buried and later found, and it’s where Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith at least on a few occasions. Why wouldn’t there be a visitor’s center near where the plates were found? And why wouldn’t a pageant celebrating the coming forth of the Book of Mormon take place where that book actually came forth? (R.I.P. to the now-shuttered Hill Cumorah and Manti pageants.) The answers to both of those questions seem obvious to me.
This is another rhetorical diversion. The hill is named Cumorah because that's what Moroni named it and because Joseph and Oliver said it was the location of the final battles. Also, Moroni told Joseph that the text was "written and deposited" near Joseph's home, which contradicts the narrative that they wrote it in Mesoamerican and hauled the plates thousands of miles to western New York. It was never named Cumorah because Moroni deposited the plates there.
We read about two major war battles that took place at the Hill Cumorah (Ramah to the Jaredites) with deaths numbering in the tens of thousands – the last battle between Lamanites and Nephites around 400 AD claimed at least 230,000 deaths on the Nephite side alone. No bones, hair, chariots, swords, armor, or any other evidence of a battle whatsoever has been found at this site.
They haven’t been found at the site in Palmyra, sure. Because that almost certainly wasn’t the Hill Cumorah/Ramah described in the Book of Mormon. Benjamin Jordan and Warren Aston wrote a fascinating article for the Interpreter discussing why the hill in Palmyra was the perfect spot for Moroni to have built the box and buried the plates. However, that hill in Palmyra is a drumlin formed by a glacier, and as John Tvedtnes points out, “It is comprised of gravel and earth. Geologically, it is impossible for the hill to have a cave, and all those who have gone in search of the cave have come back empty-handed.” It’s geologically impossible for the hill to support a cave the size needed to hold all of the Nephite records that Mormon buried in the hill. (This heavily suggests that the cave Joseph and Oliver Cowdery reportedly saw was a vision of the real cave, not a physical location.)
This is one of the most outrageous of the M2C arguments. Instead of refuting the erroneous assumptions of the CES Letter, they embrace them!
First, FAIRLDS insists "almost certainly" that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah.
Second, FAIRLDS cites another irrelevant Interpreter article, invoking the Potemkin village again.
Third, it's not impossible for these drumlins to contain a cave. There is an extensive cave system through western New York, some of which have been developed into tourist attractions.
Fourth, no one said the repository was a natural cave. It's not only possible to dig and build up a chamber or room inside these drumlins, it has been done. They are not piles of gravel and earth, anyway. They are largely clay deposits.
Fifth, The idea that Oliver "saw a vision" when he described physically entering and engaging with objects is wishful thinking that contradicts the plain language of the accounts. It would require multiple shared by multiple people that constituted precisely the type of revelation FAIRLDS just insisted never happened. Worst of all, dismissing this experience in the repository as a mere "vision" undermines the credibility and reliability of Joseph and Oliver regarding everything else they described as facts.
John E. Clark, director of BYU’s archaeological organization, wrote in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, “In accord with these general observations about New York and Pennsylvania, we come to our principal object – the Hill Cumorah. Archaeologically speaking, it is a clean hill. No artifacts, no walls, no trenches, no arrowheads. The area immediately surrounding the hill is similarly clean. Pre-Columbian people did not settle or build here. This is not the place of Mormon’s last stand. We must look elsewhere for that hill.”
Yep. He’s absolutely right. It’s the only logical explanation, hence the reason why Book of Mormon scholars have been pointing away from the hill in New York for decades now. One wonders why Jeremy seems intent on arguing that Clark is wrong when it’s the explanation that makes the most sense.
One wonders how FAIRLDS could make it any worse, but here it is. Now they cite another storefront in the Potemkin village and insist that "what makes the most sense" is that Joseph and Oliver misled the world.
I've addressed Brother Clark's articles in detail. They were superficial, outcome-oriented apologist arguments for M2C, not serious scholarly analysis. After he joined the Church in 1832, Heber C. Kimball visited Cumorah and reported that he could still see the embankments around it. He described the numerous hilltop fortifications in the area, replete with artifacts. There are plenty of archaeological sites in western New York that corroborate the Book of Mormon, including Hopewell sites where people from Ohio migrated before vanishing around 400 AD.
He goes on to discuss other battle sites with more physical evidence and other civilizations who have left a strong archeological mark on the areas they inhabited, like the Roman occupation of Great Britain. All of that is interesting from a historical perspective, but none of it is relevant to the discussion. Nobody ever argued that those things don’t leave strong evidence behind. What we’re arguing is that Jeremy is demanding evidence come from the wrong location, while ignoring the strong evidence coming out of other locations.
Archaeologists have never even found the site of the Battle of Hastings. It's a question of what we expect as much as what evidence exists. Jeremy is not demanding evidence from the wrong location; he's demanding evidence that no one should expect to find because it's not in the text, which doesn't mention chariots, armor, or hundreds of thousands of warriors at Cumorah.
Admittedly, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but where are the Nephite or Lamanite buildings, roads, armors, swords, pottery, art, etc.? How can these great civilizations just vanish without a trace?
Easy: they didn’t vanish without a trace. But how can we possibly tell Nephite/Lamanite buildings, roads, armors, swords, pottery, art, etc., from Mayan and Olmec buildings, roads, armors, swords, pottery, art, etc.?
Again, FAIRLDS simply adopts the premise of CES Letter and then buries the evidence in the Mayan culture. Then they claim that the absence of evidence of Nephite (Christian) culture in Mesoamerica is because it vanished without a trace.
And they don't see the irony in their own arguments.
If we stick with the text, we can see the difference between reasonable expectations based on the text, and unreasonable expectations based on trying to fit the Nephites within Mesoamerica. The Book of Mormon describes a relatively small population (only 7 Churches in Zarahemla), spread out along rivers. It doesn't mention pottery or art, although there is plenty of that in the Hopewell culture, as well as headplates and the other weapons, roads, buildings, etc. The archaeology and anthropology in North America aligns with the text, and we don't have to keep changing the text to fit whatever is discovered in Mesoamerica.
Next FAIRLDS provides a series of typically bizarre apologetics, which I won't bother to dissect because they are nonresponsive and unpersuasive anyway. I'll skip to the key point:
Taken together, all of these problems mean that we will most likely never be able to learn the Pre-Classic names for most ancient Mesoamerican sites. Barring further discoveries, we will therefore never learn from inscriptional evidence how the names of Mesoamerican cities were pronounced in Book of Mormon times.
Everything about M2C is, basically, ridiculous. The more we learn about Mesoamerican culture, the less it resembles what the text actually describes. The M2C supporters keep reinterpreting the text to match new discoveries in Mesoamerica, but it's a losing battle because the text simply never mentions anything about Mayan culture.
Latter-day Saint Thomas Stuart Ferguson was the founder of BYU’s archaeology division (New World Archaeological Foundation). NWAF was financed by the LDS Church. NWAF and Ferguson were tasked by BYU and the Church in the 1950s and 1960s to find archaeological evidence to support the Book of Mormon. After 17 years of diligent effort, this is what Ferguson wrote in a February 20, 1976 letter about trying to dig up evidence for the Book of Mormon: “…you can’t set Book of Mormon geography down anywhere – because it is fictional and will never meet the requirements of the dirt-archaeology. I should say — what is in the ground will never conform to what is in the book.”
The NWAF was not founded “to find archaeological evidence to support the Book of Mormon.” In fact, that was expressly forbidden, and Thomas Stuart Ferguson was a lawyer and student of political science, not an archaeologist. He was also not in charge of the archaeology program at BYU.
CES Letter should adopt these technical corrections if they're accurate.
The NWAF was first established as an independent, amateur organization, and Ferguson was its chief fundraiser until it was absorbed by BYU, and Ferguson was demoted from President to Secretary.
Okay, so what?
While I sympathize with a self-taught enthusiast realizing he doesn’t know as much as he thought he did—as I’ve said, I’m a self-taught layperson when it comes to Church history and apologetics too, and I have no formal training in any of these subjects—recognizing the limitations of your knowledge is important. There’s much I can learn from actual experts in these areas, and that’s why I study their research. I try to keep up-to-date on as much of the latest scholarship I can, and if I discover that I had something wrong, I try to swallow my pride and digest the new information. It seems that Ferguson didn’t do that. According to John Sorenson:
Okay, so what?
[Stan] Larson implies that Ferguson was one of the “scholars and intellectuals in the Church” and that “his study” was conducted along the lines of reliable scholarship in the “field of archaeology.” Those of us with personal experience with Ferguson and his thinking knew differently. He held an undergraduate law degree but never studied archaeology or related disciplines at a professional level, although he was self-educated in some of the literature of American archaeology. He held a naive view of “proof,” perhaps related to his law practice where one either “proved” his case or lost the decision; compare the approach he used in his simplistic lawyerly book One Fold and One Shepherd. His associates with scientific training and thus more sophistication in the pitfalls involving intellectual matters could never draw him away from his narrow view of “research.” (For example, in April 1953, when he and I did the first archaeological reconnaissance of central Chiapas, which defined the Foundation’s work for the next twenty years, his concern was to ask if local people had found any figurines of “horses,” rather than to document the scores of sites we discovered and put on record for the first time.) His role in “Mormon scholarship” was largely that of enthusiast and publicist, for which we can be grateful, but he was neither scholar nor analyst.
This is all legitimate criticism, but I don't see how it is responsive.
Ferguson was never an expert on archaeology and the Book of Mormon (let alone on the Book of Abraham, about which his knowledge was superficial). He was not one whose careful “study” led him to see greater light, light that would free him from Latter-day Saint dogma, as Larson represents. Instead he was just a layman, initially enthusiastic and hopeful but eventually trapped by his unjustified expectations, flawed logic, limited information, perhaps offended pride, and lack of faith in the tedious research that real scholarship requires. The negative arguments he used against the Latter-day Saint scriptures in his last years display all these weaknesses.
The problem with this response is that every non-LDS expert on Mayan culture (and some LDS experts) entirely reject any connection between Mayan culture and the Book of Mormon. Michael Coe was just one who agreed to discuss the issues.
And from the same link, Daniel Peterson and Matthew Roper add the following:
… We know of no one who cites Ferguson as an authority, except countercultists, and we suspect that a poll of even those Latter-day Saints most interested in Book of Mormon studies would yield only a small percentage who recognize his name. Indeed, the radical discontinuity between Book of Mormon studies as done by Milton R. Hunter and Thomas Stuart Ferguson in the fifties and those practiced today by, say, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) could hardly be more striking. Ferguson’s memory has been kept alive by Stan Larson and certain critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as much as by anyone, and it is tempting to ask why. Why, in fact, is such disproportionate attention being directed to Tom Ferguson, an amateur and a writer of popularizing books, rather than, say, to M. Wells Jakeman, a trained scholar of Mesoamerican studies who served as a member of the advisory committee for the New World Archaeological Foundation? Dr. Jakeman retained his faith in the Book of Mormon until his death in 1998….
This is another worthless appeal to authority, combined with a dash of ad hominem and self-praise typical of these two authors.
Ferguson’s amateur archaeological research stopped being published in 1962, and he died in 1983. The vast majority of scholarship in this area has only been coming out in the past few decades, well after 1962 and even much of it after 1983. It’s absolutely tragic that he lost his testimony, but one man’s experiences don’t speak for the whole. Many other trained archaeologists have retained and strengthened their testimonies through the research being done in Mesoamerica.
More appeal to authority, but not responsive to the CES Letter anyway.
Like Peterson and Roper said, it’s odd that the critics focus on one little-known amateur who lost his testimony, rather than the many professionals who have only strengthened their testimonies through their research. Perhaps we should all be asking why that is.
Obviously, CES Letter use Ferguson for persuasion purposes. It's fair to point out that tactic, but it works because most people can identify with amateurs, people don't buy what the credentialed class is saying, and we can all see that Ferguson worked hard on the problem, only to realize he was looking in the wrong place. Hence the defensiveness of the M2C proponents.
When the apologetic response is to say Ferguson was an amateur (essentially an ad hominem attack), while they, the apologists, have a handful of experts who find M2C compelling, that appeal to authority is doomed to failure because the vast majority of real Mayan experts completely reject the idea that the Book of Mormon has anything to do with Mayan culture.
Worse, of course, is that none of this responds to the CES Letter arguments about the New York Cumorah.
For what it’s worth, you don’t have to find the Mesoamerican research compelling. If you prefer the Heartland theory or the Baja Peninsula theory or any of the others, that’s great. But keeping on top of the research and knowing how to respond to these questions, whether you agree with the conclusions or not, is useful. These questions come up often online and it’s easy to become discouraged. But when you know what information is out there, you don’t have to let it overwhelm you.
As I wrote at the outset, here, finally, is a hint of progress. FAIRLDS has been adamant about M2C since its inception. Is this conclusion opening the door for other faithful interpretations of the text and the extrinsic evidence that supports and corroborates, instead of rejecting and repudiating, the teachings of the prophets?
If so, someone from FAIRLDS needs to email me ASAP.
In closing, remember the words of Neal A. Maxwell:
All of the Scriptures including the Book of Mormon will remain in the realm of faith. Science will not be able to prove or disprove holy writ. However, enough plausible evidence will come forth to prevent scoffers from having a field day, but not enough to remove the requirement of faith. Believers must be patient during such unfolding.
Awesome quotation. Why doesn't FAIRLDS apply that to the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah?
Don’t let “the scoffers [have] a field day,” and don’t give up. Be patient. Plausible evidence is out there, and more is coming all the time. It won’t replace your testimony, but it can give your firm foundation a little extra support.
They wouldn't have a field day if the apologists were not agreeing with the critics' false premises and then using poor rhetorical devices to obfuscate and misinform people.