Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Changing one's mind

The end of the year is a traditional time to review things, take inventory, make resolutions, etc. 

If you (or someone you know) still believe and advocate M2C, take a moment to consider this: you don't have to accept M2C to be a faithful Latter-day Saint.

The great Russian author Leo Tolstoy observed, “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

_____

We're past due for a major reframing of Book of Mormon historicity/geography. 

The prevailing Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs (M2C) theory is based on a mistake in Church history. It requires elaborate, complicated rationalization, a key component of which is that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah. Yet, as Tolstoy explained, the credentialed class of LDS intellectuals largely adheres to M2C--except the many who, having spotted the fallacies of M2C, no longer believe the Book of Mormon is an actual history.

There is a third option. It took me a while to learn about it.

Because people often ask how and why I embraced the "Heartland" framework that reconciles Church history, the teachings of the prophets, and Book of Mormon historicity/geography, here's a brief explanation.

_____ 

For decades, I believed what my BYU teachers taught about Book of Mormon geography in Mesoamerica. I read the FARMS materials, attended conferences, accepted the two-Cumorahs theory and all the rest. The citation cartel was convincing because of their status as BYU faculty, their credentials, their conviction, their devotion, and their unanimity and consensus. I deferred to their expertise to the point that I didn't recognize the logical and factual fallacies that M2C is based on. 

A few years ago, I learned new information, both about Church history (Letter VII, etc.) and about the ancient inhabitants of North America. It became apparent that the extrinsic evidence corroborates the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah and related issues. It all makes sense. 

With the Heartland framework, there's no need to put issues "on the shelf" or to characterize Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah, the translation of the plates, etc.

And it's all very simple.

Nevertheless, the citation cartel, particularly the Interpreter, Book of Mormon Central, and FAIRLDS, continues to double-down on M2C. They persist in repudiating the prophets and promoting M2C by (i) censoring information that contradicts M2C, (ii) asserting their credentials and expertise to obscure their logical and factual fallacies, and (iii) spreading disinformation about alternative faithful interpretations of Church history and the Book of Mormon, particularly the "Heartland" scenario.

The "Heartland" explanation

You can find more information at https://www.mobom.org/, the Museum of the Book of Mormon, which is a nonprofit organization that offers a variety of perspectives.
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Ed Latimore
@EdLatimore
You're allowed to change your mind. In fact, if you don't, you're probably not living enough to learn. But some of you get so ego invested in your position of ignorance that you'd rather be wrong than admit you were wrong.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Rivers remember

An article about the Mississippi River quotes Toni Morrison's observation:

“You know, they straightened out the Mississippi River in places, to make room for houses and livable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places. ‘Floods’ is the word they use, but in fact it is not flooding; it is remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was” (Morrison, 198-199). 

She connects the movement of the river to the act of writing, saying, “Writers are like that: remembering where we were, what valley we ran through, what the banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place. It is emotional memory—what the nerves and the skin remember as well as how it appeared” (Morrison, 199)

https://www.southernliving.com/travel/meander-maps


Perhaps the Mississippi River is remembering where it used to be in Book of Mormon times.

For those Latter-day Saints who believe the Book of Mormon took place along the rivers in North America, the spaghetti of Mississippi river courses helps explain the futility of seeing one particular spot as a Book of Mormon site. Settlements along this river have been flooded regularly for thousands of years as the river changed course.

Kaskaskia, the initial capital of the state of Illinois (in 1818), was a regional center in the 1700s, with a population of 7,000. French missionaries built a Catholic church there in 1714. But the area was flooded in 1881 as the Mississippi River changed course. Today, the former capital of Illinois is on the west side of the Mississippi, an enclave of Illinois adjacent to Missouri. It has a population of only 14 people.

This propensity to change course may appear in passages of the Book of Mormon.

In the Bible we read about people who build without a foundation, or who build on sand:

48 He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.

49 But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great. (Luke 6:48–49)

_____ 

 24 ¶ Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:

25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.

26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:

27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24–27)

The Book of Mormon instead refers to a "sandy foundation," a nonbiblical term used by Jonathan Edwards and other Christian authors. E.g., 

His work shall be destroyed: the building that he hath built on a sandy foundation shall fall and perish, and he shall perish in it. 

When there are contending parties that contend by argument and search and inquiry, time greatly helps that party that have truth of their side, and weakens the contrary side. It gradually wears away their sandy foundation, and rots away the building that is not made of substantial materials. 

One explanation for Joseph's translation is the influence of Edwards and other Christian writers whose works Joseph had "an intimate acquaintance" with. Naturally, their terminology became part of his syntax as he translated the characters on the plates.

An alternative explanation is that the original authors, in this case Nephi and Mormon, used the concept of a "sandy foundation" when they wrote. This is distinct from the biblical concept of building directly on sand or without a foundation. When people build directly on sand or without a foundation, they have no expectation of permanence.

By contrast, a foundation requires planning and effort, implying an expectation for permanence and stability. Thus, one interpretation of the text has the Book of Mormon referring to people building on a sandy foundation, hoping for a long-term habitation, only to be washed out by flooding rivers.

28 And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall. (2 Nephi 28:28)

40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them. (3 Nephi 11:40)

13 But whoso among you shall do more or less than these are not built upon my rock, but are built upon a sandy foundation; and when the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow, and beat upon them, they shall fall, and the gates of hell are ready open to receive them. (3 Nephi 18:13)



Thursday, December 23, 2021

let all hearken to the call of Christ

 Jonathan Edwards,  from Sermons, Series II, July-December 1740 


So let all hearken to the call of Christ, 

by his word, 

and in his providence, 

and by his spirit, this day: 

young men and maids, old men, middle aged, and little children, both male and female, both black and white, high and low, rich and poor together; 

great sinners, sinners against great light, against convictions of conscience, backsliders, old sinners and old seekers, self-righteous murmurers, and quarrelers with God; 

those that are under convictions, and those that are senseless and secure, moral and vicious, good and bad, poor, maimed, halt, and blind, prodigals eating husks with swine, vagabonds and beggars in the highways and hedges, 

persons of every condition, 

and all parties, 

and every denomination whatsoever.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Stocking stuffers and Church history

The MormonBookReviews youtube channel suggested Lemurs, Chameleons and Golden Plates as a stocking stuffer.

https://youtu.be/F3rOTcf5L5c?t=164

I heartily agree! Thank you, Mormon Book Reviews!


The printed book is available in English at Costco in Idaho, Utah and Arizona, as well as at Deseret Book, Amazon, and Digitalegend, and BookofMormonEvidence

The printed French edition is available only on Amazon.

More descriptions, including sample pages, can be seen here: 

https://www.mobom.org/african-book

It's a great book for kids, but also for parents and grandparents because the inside back cover includes citations to the Joseph Smith Papers and other original sources for further study.

The book is also available on Kindle in English, Spanish and French. The graphic novel format lets readers view the entire page or one frame at a time, which is a cool feature.

The foreign-language editions can be easily given as gifts because you don't need a Kindle to read them. The Kindle app can be installed free on every smart phone, tablet and computer.

For people living outside the US, you can buy the books from your local country's Amazon site. 

back cover

This is a cool way for returned missionaries to send gifts to people they have met on their missions. 

For example, if you live in France, or want to buy a copy for someone who lives in France, go to https://www.amazon.fr/ and search, or go to this link:

www.amazon.fr/Lémuriens-caméléons-plaques-dor-rétablissement-ebook/dp/B09MC8BR58/

If you live in Mexico, or want to buy a copy for someone who lives in Mexico, go to 

https://www.amazon.com.mx/Lemures-Camaleones-Planchas-Oro-restauracion-ebook/dp/B09LS6H41Y/

Other languages will be available in the next few months.

_____

I have a blog dedicated to LDS church history where I post details about little-known events. Recently I posted comments about John Whitmer's testimony about the translation. He corroborated what Joseph and Oliver said, contrary to the SITH-sayers (then and now).

http://www.ldshistoricalnarratives.com/2021/12/june-1835-foolish-reports-in-circulation.html


Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Sad news: John L. Sorenson passed away

There is a wonderful obituary of a great man, John L. Sorenson, here:

https://www.utahvalleyfuneral.com/obituaries/John-Sorenson-5/#!/Obituary

Brother Sorenson was awesome. I dedicated my book Moroni's America to him (along with Jack Welch, Wayne May, and Rod Meldrum). 

John did a tremendous service by researching and publishing on the topics of transoceanic influences and the historicity of the Book of Mormon. While I disagree with some of his assumptions and conclusions about the setting of the Book of Mormon, I deeply appreciate his focus on the text as an actual history. 

He laid the groundwork for ongoing research on Book of Mormon anthropology, archaeology, geology, geography, etc.

My condolences to his family.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

The name of Zarahemla

Many of the Latter-day Saints who still believe what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah also find it significant that the Lord named the site to be built across the Mississippi River from Nauvoo.

Let them build up a city unto my name upon the land opposite the city of Nauvoo, and let the name of Zarahemla be named upon it. (Doctrine and Covenants 125:3)

There are three key points here. First, it was to be a city. Second, it was to have the name of Zarahemla. Third, the name was given by the Lord through revelation. This was nothing like the situation in Utah, when settlers named their communities after Book of Mormon places (Lehi, Nephi, Bountiful, etc.).

No one says there is only correct interpretation of D&C 125:3, but the Iowa Zarahemla does fit within the overall geography, as well as extrinsic evidence.
_____

Naturally, the M2C scholars insist that Zarahemla cannot be in Iowa. When we read their justifications, though, they rely on their own interpretations of the text, not the text itself. While there is nothing inherently wrong with their interpretations, there is nothing inherently correct, either. Their M2C hypothesis is merely the logical result of their assumptions and interpretations. It's axiomatic that if you believe the M2C interpretations, you'll conclude that Zarahemla must be in Mesoamerica.

Next week I'll propose a model that will clarify how we reach different hypotheses from the same facts, but for now, let's just say that, even starting with the same facts, people reach different conclusions because of their different assumptions about the facts. 

Ideally, we'd all recognize, respect and appreciate multiple working hypotheses. I emphasize repeatedly that I'm fine with people believing M2C. I understand it quite well having accepted it by default for decades. M2C thrives on ignorance, but even those who are well informed choose to believe M2C. That's all great. Most readers of this blog understand that approach, but there are still a handful of critics that are so devoted to M2C they still cannot acknowledge alternative faithful interpretations, let alone understand or accurately explain them.
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A lot of people don't realize that Joseph Smith purchased far more land on the western side of the Mississippi than on the eastern side. In the map from the Joseph Smith Papers, I circled Nauvoo with the red circle below.



Some people wonder how Zarahemla on the Mississippi could fit within the geography described by the text of the Book of Mormon. It fits easily, as we'll discuss below after reviewing the name Zarahemla.
_____

The phrase "name of Zarahemla" brings to mind a passage in Alma:

Now it was the custom of the people of Nephi to call their lands, and their cities, and their villages, yea, even all their small villages, after the name of him who first possessed them; and thus it was with the land of Ammonihah. (Alma 8:7)

Because the Lord instructed Joseph Smith to call the site across from Nauvoo by "the name of Zarahemla," it's logical to assume that site was first possessed by Zarahemla.

The scriptures don't tell us much about Zarahemla, either as a person or as a title. When Mosiah and his people left the land of Nephi, they "they discovered a people, who were called the people of Zarahemla. Now, there was great rejoicing among the people of Zarahemla; and also Zarahemla did rejoice exceedingly, because the Lord had sent the people of Mosiah with the plates of brass which contained the record of the Jews." (Omni 1:14)

We see that the leader of these people was named "Zarahemla," but we don't know if he was the first Zarahemla or one in a line of leaders. Maybe those people followed the same custom as the people of Nephi:

Wherefore, the people were desirous to retain in remembrance his name. And whoso should reign in his stead were called by the people, second Nephi, third Nephi, and so forth, according to the reigns of the kings; and thus they were called by the people, let them be of whatever name they would.
(Jacob 1:11)

Because they were called the people of Zarahemla, and they lived in the land of Zarahemla, it seems likely that Zarahemla was a honorific name, similar to the way the Nephites used the name Nephi for their kings. Otherwise, the people would have to change their name and the name of their lands every time they got a new king.

No "city of Zarahemla" is mentioned in the text until Alma 2:26. This could be because the city was founded after Mosiah showed up, because Mormon didn't think to mention it, or any number of other reasons. However, the people did have a temple somewhere in the land of Zarahemla (Mosiah 2:1).

This is important to recognize because some people assume that when Mosiah traveled to Zarahemla, he arrived at the city of Zarahemla instead of the land of Zarahemla. 

_____

The Book of Mormon Onomasticon offers these possibilities for the name Zarahemla. I don't have an opinion about this speculation, but it deserves consideration because for Mulek to come to the New World, presumably it was some Phoenicians who built and navigated the ship(s).


Etymology

Possibly hypothetical HEBREW *zerʿa-ḥemlâ "Seed of Compassion" (JH, JAT), or "Merciful scattering," employing ḥemlâ "mercy, compassion, pity, commiseration" (Genesis 19:16), and the same Semitic root is a loanword (ḥml) in 20th Dynasty EGYPT as ḥa-ma-nra "Be merciful, Have Compassion!"[1] PYH argues that ḥemlâ looks like a feminine participle from the verb "to pity." If so, the preceding element in the name would probably not be a verb, thus perhaps leaving us with the meaning "Merciful-scion." This proposed name is structured somewhat like HEBREW zeraʿ hammělûkâ, zeraʿ hammamlākâ "royal descendant" (Jeremiah 41:1, 2; 2 Kings 11:1; 25:25; Ezekiel 17:13; Daniel 1:3),[2] and like HEBREW zeraʽ ʼĕlōhîm "progeny of God, godly offspring" (Malachi 2:15),[3] and the Neo-Babylonian PN Zer-babili,[4] the PN of the late biblical prince and governor Zerubbabel "Scion/Offspring of Babylon, Seed-of-Babylon, Born-in-Babylon" (1 Chronicles 3:19, Ezra 3:2 = Sheshbazzar, Ezra 1:8; NT Zorobabel Matthew 1:12-13).[5] Note also that each is a royal descendant of the House of DAVID. Word-play based on this etymology has been found by Pedro Olavarria and David Bokovoy at Mosiah 9:2, and 3 Nephi 8:24 (based on use of ḥml "spared" at 1 Samuel 15:9).[6]

Cf. also Semitic zhr, zrʿ "to sow" in Demotic ḏrʿ, ḏl3 "spread, scatter" (> Coptic ḏōōre, ḏar, ḏar=, ḏare=, ḏēr, čer=),[7] as the possible prefix of the name.

Alternatively, Jo Ann Hackett compared the King James Bible PNs Zarah (Genesis 38:30; 46:12), Zerah (Genesis 36:13, 17, 33; 1 Chronicles 1:37; Nehemiah 11:24), Zara (Matthew 1:3), all based on HEBREW Zaraḥ, Zeraḥ, "Shine foroth, Light up; Dawn; Risen-Like-the-Morning-Sun" (hypocoristic PN for KJV Zerahiah Zeraḥ-Yah "YHWH has Risen Like the Morning Sun"[8] HEBREW Zrḥy = LXX Zaraei, and that HEBREW Zryh = LXX Zaraia.[9] Cf. the ASSYRIAN practice of naming a land for its capital city.

Less likely is hypothetical HEBREW *zĕrōʿ-ḥemla "Arm of mercy," an English phrase used three times in the Book of Mormon, including once by JESUS at 3 Nephi 9:14, which could be a play on words (pun) on the name of ZARAHEMLA (using a folk etymology), whose destruction he had just mentioned (JAT). Cf. for example, the reading zeraʽ in MT, which is not supported by LXX Greek omos "shoulder" and Vulgate brachium "forearm," which means that the correct reading should be zĕrōʿa "arm."[10]

Less likely is hypothetical HEBREW *Zārâ-ḥemlâ "Scattering of mercy," employing piel HEBREW zrh "to scatter, spread," i.e., the scattering of JUDAH among the nations (RFS).[11]

Margaret Barker combines several of these meanings into complex wordplay designed to communicate the deeper meaning of the Servant Songs of ISAIAH: "To whom has the arm [zĕrōʿa] of the LORD been revealed?" can also mean "To whom has the seed/son [zeraʿ] of the LORD been revealed?" (Isaiah 53:1 ||Mosiah 14:1; cf. Mosiah 15:31 "The Lord hath made bare his holy arm") without changing the HEBREW consonantal text - especially since the next line reads "he grew up before him as a suckling child" (Isaiah 53:2 [ RSV "young plant"; LXX "little child"] ||Mosiah 14:2) - and this coheres with Isaiah 53:10||Mosiah 14:10 "he shall see his seed/offspring, " which can also be read "he shall be revealed as the son."[12] This is merely part of the much broader liturgical and esoteric content of First Temple Israelite religion jettisoned by Deuteronomistic revisionism - according to Barker - a revisionism which did not infect the Book of Mormon.
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How Zarahemla fits.

The text tells us little about the geography of Zarahemla, but we can tell the city was located along the river Sidon and that people would go "down" into the city and "up" out of the city. Thus we infer the city was lower in elevation than the land surrounding it. 

Some claim the river Sidon must flow north because the "head of the river" was south of Zarahemla, but the text reads "head of the river," not "headwaters of the river." The phrase "head of the river" is somewhat ambiguous; we can find usage and definitions that include both a conjunction and a source. 

I've discussed this issue several times.

For example, unfortunately some foreign language editions of the Book of Mormon have adopted the M2C interpretation, as I discussed here: http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2017/05/more-on-sidon-flowing-north-and.html

I included a side-by-side table of assumptions here:

I've also discussed the issue of the "head of the river" with examples from Church history:

And, of course, Jonathan Edwards referred to Binghamton as the head of the river, as I discussed in Between these Hills.

We can't revisit all of this here, but this map shows one interpretation of the text that shows how well the site in Iowa, named in D&C 125, fits the overall geography, specifically here where Mosiah left the Land of Nephi for the Land of Zarahemla.


Often, people ask "where is the narrow neck" because they've been conditioned to think of the "narrow neck" as an hourglass shape. That's not an unreasonable interpretation, but it's also not the only possible interpretation, or even the most probable. 

Another approach is to assume the text uses different words for different things; i.e., the small neck is not the narrow neck, and the narrow neck is not the narrow neck of land. The term "land northward" is not a proper noun but a relative term. 

This approach allows numerous possible real-world settings. The thousands of possible sites in ancient North America accommodate multiple working hypotheses.

But all in all, the Iowa Zarahemla fits well with the New York Cumorah.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

What matters most

Discussions of Book of Mormon historicity/geography and the manner of translation should never rise to the level of contention or disputation. People can believe whatever they want. 

What matters most is staying on the covenant path, striving to follow and emulate Christ, and helping to build Zion by serving one another. 

People have a variety of spiritual gifts. They have a variety of testimonies. They have a variety of beliefs, experiences, perspectives, etc. We seek unity in diversity, not unity in uniformity. We don't have to memorize a catechism or pledge allegiance to a particular interpretation of history or the scriptures. 

We've emphasized this repeatedly on this blog. I'm not trying to persuade anyone of anything, except that I want LDS intellectuals/scholars to stop misinforming Latter-day Saints. Instead, they should encourage people to consider all the facts, consider multiple working hypotheses, and then make informed decisions. On this blog, we trust people to make their own decisions.

I've used this image in my firesides and presentations:


The problem with the M2C citation cartel is that they don't trust Latter-day Saints to make informed decisions. Instead, they tell them what to think. They censor information that contradicts M2C and SITH. They tell them the prophets were wrong, etc. They won't allow their students, readers, donors, and followers to compare alternative working hypotheses.

This is a problem because too many sincere people are confused when they see LDS scholars explicitly repudiating the teachings of the prophets regarding historicity/geography and the translation of the plates. 

Some people will accept the M2C and SITH and remain on the covenant path. Some won't accept M2C and SITH, but they will stay on the path by adopting the BYU fantasy map, which teaches that the Book of Mormon is best understood in a fictional setting. Or they will put these issues on their "shelves" and avoid the cognitive dissonance that way. All of these can stay on the covenant path, no problem.

But many who reject M2C and SITH also reject the Restoration. Thanks to the M2C citation cartel, they have been taught that M2C and SITH are the only acceptable interpretations. They abandon the covenant path and reject the Restoration without ever learning there are alternative faithful interpretations that corroborate, instead of repudiate, the teachings of the prophets.

On this blog, we want to give people alternatives to M2C and SITH. We offer information that many people don't know about or haven't considered.

We're confident and happy with the interpretations that corroborate the teachings of the prophets, but we don't mind if others disagree. We just want them to make informed decisions.

We don't contend, we don't get angry, we don't dislike anyone, we don't get frustrated because someone else believes something different.

We're fine with people who believe the New York Cumorah as well as the Mesoamerican or any other "Two-Cumorahs" theory, including Baja, Panama, Malaysia, or any other setting. We're fine with people who believe the Book of Mormon is pious fiction. We're fine with people who reject the Book of Mormon because of their own religious traditions, or because they don't believe in God. 

We're fine with people who believe Joseph Smith translated the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim. We're fine with people who believe he read words off a stone-in-the-hat (SITH). We're fine with people who believe Joseph composed the text, memorized it, made it up as he went, or whatever else they want to believe.

Basically, We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

(Articles of Faith 1:11)

We just hope that all people, whatever their beliefs, can work together to attain Christ-like lives as they seek to establish a Christ-like society. 

We think the optimum way to do that is by following the guidance of the Spirit, however that is manifest according to a person's spiritual gifts and personal situation. (Moroni 10)



Monday, December 6, 2021

"Latter day Saintism" and the problem with Book of Mormon Central

Book of Mormon Central (BMC) could be an awesome organization if it was intellectually honest enough to acknowledge that there are alternative faithful interpretations of the Book of Mormon that have nothing to do with Mesoamerica.

BMC looks too much like Methodism and not like Latter day Saintism.

Joseph Smith, Jr., once observed,

I never thought it was right to call up a man and try him because he erred in doctrine, it looks too much like methodism and not like Latter day Saintism. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty of believing as I please, it feels so good not to be tramelled. 

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/discourse-8-april-1843-as-reported-by-william-clayton-b/3

BMC spends millions of dollars annually to promote M2C and indoctrinate Latter-day Saints to think that M2C is the only permissible interpretation of the Book of Mormon. Somewhere around 85% of their internet views/interactions are with Latter-day Saints, mostly through their M2C-approved Come Follow Me presentations.

Potential donors correctly wonder what's the point of giving money to an organization whose primary activities are 

(i) asserting their academic credentials as authority to tell members of the Church what to think, 

(ii) promoting M2C as the only possible setting for the Book of Mormon, and 

(iii) supplanting individual Come Follow Me study and ward/branch Sunday School discussions by creating and presenting professional Come Follow Me videos. 

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As a subsidiary of Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF), BMC continues to present its Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C) as the only acceptable interpretation of the text. To anyone familiar with the history of BMAF this is no surprise.


BMAF is a long-time advocate of M2C, as we can all see in its logo and the content on its site. 

BMC, of course, has retained the notorious FARMS logo that tells the world the Book of Mormon is a Mayan codex.



Whenever we see BMC, we should think BMC/BMAF. An honest logo would look like this:


Now, BMC/BMAF is extending its M2C dogma beyond the the context of the Book of Mormon. They are indoctrinating Seminary students, Latter-day Saints who speak other languages, and everyone who watches their Come Follow Me podcasts.


BMC/BMAF raises millions of dollars to promote M2C. Look how its Come Follow Me lessons for the Doctrine and Covenants incorporate their M2C logo. The lessons themselves teach M2C and SITH (stone-in-the-hat), while disallowing alternative faithful interpretations.  





Friday, December 3, 2021

Friday fun

I'm fine with people believing whatever they want. Belief is a choice.

But those Latter-day Saints who still believe what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah generally seem more confident, peaceful and happy about their decision than those who reject those teachings.


The M2Cers, judging by the way they talk and write about the New York Cumorah, are defensive about their claims. Some get angry at the mere mention of Letter VII and the other teachings compiled here.

They need to chill. 

We're all on the same bus.

But the view on this side of the aisle is awesome.


Thursday, December 2, 2021

Origins of M2C-1973


In 1973, Michael Coe, a Yale expert on Mayan culture and archaeology, discussed M2C and spelled out the problems that still exist nearly 50 years later. Coe described two categories of Latter-day Saints: the "Iron Rods" who accept the Book of Mormon as an actual history set in Mesoamerica, and the "Liahonas" who "tend to view the Book of Mormon as a source of mores and guidance and for whom Book of Mormon archaeology would probably represent a waste of time and effort." That is Coe's euphemism for people who believe the Book of Mormon is 19th century fiction, albeit inspired and devotional like a parable.

In 1973, Coe claimed the Liahonas "would seem to be concentrated in the liberal wing of the Salt Lake City Church." Today, because of the "M2C or bust" approach of the most prominent LDS scholars and historians, Liahonas are increasingly common even among BYU/CES faculty and Church leaders. I have a friend who has been a Mission President twice while he didn't believe the Book of Mormon is actual history. 

Understandably, Coe considered the Book of Mormon only in the context of M2C. Like our M2C citation cartel today, the idea that the prophets were correct about the New York Cumorah never entered the conversation. 

I posted an analysis of his article here: https://www.mobom.org/michael-coe-1973-annotated

_____

Excerpt (Coe's original in blue, my comments in red):

The bare facts of the matter are that nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon, as claimed by Joseph Smith, is a historical document relating to the history of early migrants to our hemisphere.

What Coe said in 1973 remains true as of 2021—at least with respect to Mesoamerica.

The archaeological data would strongly suggest that the Liahonas are right about the Book of Mormon. To me, as a sympathetic and interested outsider, the efforts of Iron Rod archaeologists to go beyond the moral and ethical content of the Book of Mormon arouse feelings not of superiority but of compassion: the same kind of compassion that one feels for persons who are engaged on quests that have been, are now, and always will be unproductive.

From Coe’s perspective, he is being empathetic, not condescending. From the perspective of those Latter-day Saints who still believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, however, there is more a sense of betrayal than of empathy for the LDS scholars who have rejected the teachings of the prophets and have taught their students for decades to do likewise.

What has gone wrong, therefore, with Mormon archaeology? Even the Soviets, wedded as they are to a nineteenth century doctrine of social and economic evolution, have not remained so far removed from the mainstream of archaeological and anthropological thought as the Iron Rod archaeologists. Mormon intellectuals, it seems to me, have taken three ways to extract themselves from the dilemma. The more traditionalist, such as my friend John Sorenson, have tried to steer their stern elders away from Book of Mormon archaeology on the grounds that not even the best and most advanced research has ever been able to establish on purely archaeological grounds the historical details of the Bible, for instance the very existence of Jesus Christ. According to Sorenson, all one can hope to do is to "paint in the background," which in his case has meant building up a convincing picture of trans-Atlantic diffusion by presenting New World-Old World parallels.[1] This is of interest to non-Mormon archaeologists, and Sorenson has done much to work out the methodology of such comparisons, but few non-believers have been swayed when faced with the indigestible cattle, horses, wheat, and so forth.

Sorenson’s work on diffusion has been helpful regardless of where in the western hemisphere one thinks the Nephites and Jaredites lived. But Coe (and Sorenson) set up a false comparison here. No one suggests, implies or even hopes that archaeology can establish the existence of any individual. But if there was no archaeological evidence of the Bible’s narrative—no known Jerusalem, no Sea of Galilee, etc.—few people would take the narrative seriously. The Bible has a real-world setting everyone can see, even if many biblical sites remain unknown and even the location of Sinai is subject to multiple working hypotheses. The real-world setting establishes the credibility of the text, lending plausibility to the narratives.

For the Book of Mormon, plausibility is no less essential. Joseph and Oliver left us the key of Cumorah, from which we can unlock both the interpretation of the text and a range of plausible settings. As with the Bible, we will likely never identify all the specifically named sites, which have been lost to history. But we can at least establish the credibility of the Book of Mormon as a real history, which in turn will lend plausibility to the narratives. As Joseph said, the archaeology in the midwestern United States is “proof of its divine authenticity.”

The second escape is to take a Liahona approach to the problem. This is obviously Green's way, as it is that of several other Mormon archaeologists of my acquaintance. But then what does one do with the Book of Mormon itself? Even the most casual student will know that the LDS ethic is only slightly based upon the Book of Mormon, which has very little in it of either ethics or morals; rather, its ethic is heavily dependent upon such post-Book of Mormon documents as the Doctrine and Covenants.[2] And what does one do with Joseph Smith, great man though he was, with his outrageous claims to be able to translate "Reformed Egyptian" documents, with the ridiculous Kinderhook Plates incident, with the "Book of Abraham," with Zelph the "white Lamanite," and with all the other nonsense generated by a nineteenth century, American subculture intellectually grounded in white supremacy and proexpansionist tendencies?

Coe’s argument omits his underlying assumption that M2C is the only “approved” setting. Given M2C, the Liahona approach is the only viable faithful alternative. But M2C is only one of multiple working hypotheses, and because it rejects the New York Cumorah, it compounds the problem by undermining the teachings of the prophets.

Coe’s pejorative interpretation of the events he lists confirm his biases, but other interpretations of the same historical facts don’t support his biases. Evidence of 19th century influences does not undermine Joseph’s claims; those influences corroborate Joseph’s claim that he translated the plates. Evidence of composition is also evidence of translation because translators necessarily uses their own lexicon and cultural understanding.  

The third way out of the dilemma is apostasy. I will not dwell further on this painful subject, but merely point out that many unusually gifted scholars whom I count as friends have taken exactly this route.

Coe put his finger on the problem. The “M2C or bust” approach of the M2C citation cartel, symbolized by Book of Mormon Central’s Mayan logo, leaves faithful Latter-day Saints with a stark choice.

M2C requires them to either

(i) believe the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah and that there is no evidence of the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica apart from “correspondences” that are mostly common to all human societies,

Or

(ii) reject the Book of Mormon as an actual history.

Faced with this Hobson’s choice, apostasy has become an increasingly prevalent response.

And for outsiders investigating the Church, the dilemma posed by M2C is a nearly insurmountable impediment that obscures the larger message of the Restoration. This will always be the case so long as the Book of Mormon remains the keystone of our religion.

Unless and until LDS scholars recognize the alternative that the prophets were correct about Cumorah after all, and that there is extrinsic evidence to corroborate those teachings, Coe’s three alternatives will remain the only options most people will consider.

[continued at https://www.mobom.org/michael-coe-1973-annotated]

[1] John L. Sorenson, "Ancient America and the Book of Mormon Revisited," Dialogue, 4 (Summer 1969), 80-94.

[2] See Thomas F. O'Dea's The Mormons (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), pp. 119-154.




Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Graham's Hierarchy of Disagreement

Some people wonder why I often annotate M2C and SITH articles in the form of a peer review. (I have an important new one on the origins of M2C that I'm going to post tomorrow.)

People also wonder why I often emphasize that I respect and personally like the scholars whose work I review, even when I disagree with their conclusions. There's a big difference between accumulating facts and making them accessible, on one hand, and deriving conclusions on the other hand. There's no reason to be angry or upset with people because of their conclusions and beliefs. We should all be happy to recognize multiple working hypotheses (MWH) based on established facts. MWH enables people to make informed decisions for themselves. 

My approach has to do with Graham's Hierarchy of Disagreement.

In 2008, Paul Graham suggested a framework for understanding disagreement. He pointed out that the Internet makes disagreement easier and ubiquitous. 

"If we're all going to be disagreeing more, we should be careful to do it well. What does it mean to disagree well? Most readers can tell the difference between mere name-calling and a carefully reasoned refutation, but I think it would help to put names on the intermediate stages."

People can be persuaded at any level of the pyramid, so long as it confirms their bias. We see this in political debates all the time. Name-calling is one of the most popular tactics. We almost never see a politician, pundit, or media source actually refute a central point. Their economic model requires them to be as divisive and misleading as possible to attract viewers and votes. Consensus and agreement is boring and unprofitable (but productive and beneficial for society).

Graham's essay is worth reading as a useful way to categorize disagreements. Whenever you watch a video or read an article, blog post, book, etc., consider Graham's hierarchy of disagreement.

A key point: "The most convincing form of disagreement is refutation. It's also the rarest, because it's the most work. Indeed, the disagreement hierarchy forms a kind of pyramid, in the sense that the higher you go the fewer instances you find."

His hierarchy has been portrayed graphically with the pyramid he suggested. 


(click to enlarge)
adapted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Graham%27s_Hierarchy_of_Disagreement.svg

The easiest and most common form of disagreement is name-calling, while the most difficult and rarest is refuting the central point.

A criticism of Graham's hierarchy is the absence of humor, but humor is merely a means of applying one of the levels.

Graham observes that "To refute someone you probably have to quote them.... The most powerful form of disagreement is to refute someone's central point.... Truly refuting something requires one to refute its central point, or at least one of them. And that means one has to commit explicitly to what the central point is."

This is why I annotate or peer-review the actual words of the M2C and SITH advocates.

_____

With respect to Book of Mormon historicity and geography, the central point is the location of Cumorah, because Cumorah is the only known connection between the modern world and the world of the Book of Mormon. 

That's why I focus on Cumorah, and why our M2C friends try to avoid the topic.

When people debate various interpretations of the text and the extrinsic evidence (geography, geology, archaeology, anthropology, etc.) they are dealing with lower levels of the pyramid. Interpretations are inherently subjective and outcome-driven, while the extrinsic evidence can be explained to justify any interpretation one wants. People with different views often talk past one another, use word thinking (as if redefining a term is a legitimate argument), appeal to credentials, etc.

The core facts about the central point are not in dispute. 

Everyone can read Letter VII and the other original sources. We can all see that Oliver wrote that it is a fact that the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in New York, that Joseph assisted Oliver in writing the essays, had them copied into his own journal, and encouraged/directed them to be republished widely during his lifetime. 

We can all see that Lucy Mack Smith explained it was Moroni himself who identified the hill as Cumorah the first time he met Joseph, that Joseph referred to the hill as Cumorah before he even got the plates, that David Whitmer learned the name Cumorah from the messenger who was taking the abridged plates from Harmony to Cumorah, and so on. 

We can all see that every prophet/apostle who has ever publicly addressed the topic has reaffirmed the New York Cumorah, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.

And we can all see that our M2C scholars expressly repudiate these teachings.

It's very simple and clear. And that's fine; people can believe whatever they want. 

We can all see that the M2C rationale is driven by their own interpretation of the text. The M2C proponents insist the prophets were wrong because the M2C interpretation of the text puts the events in Mesoamerica, which they then say is too far from New York, so Cumorah cannot be in New York. They claim that the hill in New York was either named "Cumorah" in honor of the real Cumorah in Mexico, or was named "Cumorah" through a false tradition started by one of Joseph's contemporaries, a false tradition that Joseph simply adopted.

When the M2C scholars, their followers and donors, discuss their interpretations of the text, the correspondences with Mayan culture and geography, etc., they are well down the pyramid.    

Only when the M2C proponents specifically declare that the prophets were wrong--that the prophets were merely ignorant speculators who misled the Church with their erroneous personal opinions--are the M2C advocates addressing the central point.

And when they make their argument clear, Latter-day Saints can make an informed decisions about what they choose to believe.