Monday, January 31, 2022

Nationalism, M2C, critics, and other topics

Last week I did an interview on various topics on the youtube channel Mormon Book Reviews (MBR).

 You can see the interview here: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hI3OfJENWFc&t=2s

Steve Pynakker, the host, is a remarkable interviewer who is well-informed on the issues, eager to understand what people think and why they think it, and happy to let people explain themselves in the spirit of creating unity from diversity

He is building bridges of understanding and empathy among:

(i) various Restoration groups/movements

(ii) traditional Christians and Restoration groups

(iii) LDS with different opinions/perspectives

(iv) believers and critics. 

He's demonstrating that we don't all need to think and believe alike to understand and empathize with one another. Instead, we can enjoy the diversity while we find common ground and unity of purpose as we aspire for and work toward a better world.

MBR is a refreshing, much-needed venue that everyone should be familiar with.

It is a stark contrast to the LDS apologists who consider themselves "Interpreters" for the rest of us.*

During this interview, we discussed these topics, among others:

- How M2Cers use charges of nationalism to deflect from their repudiation of the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah

- The utility of a Cumorah-centric analysis of Book of Mormon setting (culture, geography, etc.)

- The 1990 Watson letter about Cumorah

- The role of assumptions in filtering evidence 

- How critics are making a living by blaming the Church for human problems that are found throughout the world and throughout history

- The FAITH model of belief (mechanics of confirmation bias)

- The ultimate goal of establishing Zion

In a wide-ranging interview, we can't cover all the topics in depth. For those interested, I've written/spoken about these topics in depth elsewhere, and will continue to do so. 

As I've said repeatedly, I'm fine with people believing whatever they want. Ideally, people make informed decisions so they are not threatened by what others think. But that requires a little effort and some mind expansion, as well as empathy, mutual respect, and understanding.

Some of the comments on youtube reflect the basic psychology that people feel threatened by alternative perspectives. MBR is all about dialog, not debate. No one is trying to convince or convert anyone else. 

Many people are unwilling (or unable) to see things from different perspectives, but for those who are, MBR is awesome.

_____

* Many LDS and Christian apologists have produced some tremendously effective arguments and evidence (even when they don't all concur). For example, I think Jonathan Edwards was amazing. C.S. Lewis, awesome. Neal Maxwell, great.

In recent decades, though, certain LDS apologists (the Interpreters) have labored under a siege mentality as they have sought to defend the faith with narrow, twisty logic, manipulated "correspondences," and arrogant delusions of superiority. That mentality has led them to attack not only critics of the Church, but faithful alternatives to their own theories such as M2C and SITH.

MBR is what FAIRLDS, the Interpreter Foundation, and Book of Mormon Central would be if they were legitimate academic endeavors, or legitimate defenders of the faith, or even just followed the Church's policies of neutrality on these issues. 

Instead, these organizations are facades for the M2C citation cartel that seeks to convince the Latter-day Saints that the prophets, starting with Joseph and Oliver, were wrong about fundamental truth claims.

And I'm fine with them presenting their ideas. 

I actually agree with much of what they teach on several topics, but whether or not I agree doesn't matter. The First Amendment freedom of speech should apply to everyone in the world. We need more speech, not less speech. Cancel culture is intellectual cowardice, both in society at large and within the Restoration.

I think the LDS intellectuals who spend millions of dollars promoting their own views while excluding alternative faithful views are doing a disservice not only to the Latter-day Saints but to everyone in the world who might be interested in learning more about the Restoration.




Thursday, January 27, 2022

Rejecting the witnesses

The material for my upcoming book on LDS apologists keeps accumulating. The other day, one of my favorites, Dan the Interpreter, added some more when he recommended four specific books.

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2022/01/my-list-of-four-basic-books-to-strengthen-faith.html

They're all great books in many respects, especially if you believe/teach M2C and SITH. But only one of them is completely faithful to the witnesses. 

That fits with the approach taken by Dan and the rest of the M2C citation cartel (along with the SITH-sayers). They want people to accept the witnesses as reliable and credible--except for what they said about Cumorah. 

When it comes to Cumorah, our M2C scholars, such as Dan, want people to think the witnesses were ignorant speculators who misled the Church until they, the scholars, came along to straighten things out.

It's a patently self-serving, arrogant position for these scholars to presume they know more than Joseph, Oliver, their contemporaries and successors. But what can we expect from a group of intellectuals who publish under the The Interpreter rubric?

There is no word in the English language that more perfectly describes academic arrogance than interpreter

Yet, despite their assertion of superiority over the rest of us, the M2C scholars apply inconsistent, outcome-oriented rationales to manipulate and obfuscate the evidence because they know, like everyone else, that the actual historical evidence contradicts their M2C theory.

Sentient students spot the problems with M2C once they learn about the Cumorah references in Church history. That's why our M2C scholars work so hard to revise Church history by censoring the Cumorah references.

_____

After quoting Farrar ("Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish," etc.), Dan describes the M2C citation cartel:

Farrer’s words long served as a kind of unofficial motto for several of those who were associated with the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), which later became the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and then, well, transferred the baton to FAIR, Book of Mormon Central, and the Interpreter Foundation.  I think that motto was entirely appropriate.

"Transferred the baton" is Dan's euphemism for when the Maxwell Institute rejected Dan's belligerent form of apologetics and became a legitimate scholarly institute. That's when Dan took his followers to the Interpreter Foundation.

The FARMS logo, which explicitly teaches M2C as the only acceptable (and de facto official) position on Book of Mormon geography, accompanied FARMS to the Maxwell Institute for a while. 

The Maxwell Institute, which wisely jettisoned M2C in favor of the Church's position of neutrality regarding Book of Mormon geography, also jettisoned the M2C logo.

Now Book of Mormon Central features the logo. They spend millions of dollars annually to promote M2C, plastering their logo on everything they can. 

And, amazingly, FARMS is still publishing, as I mentioned in my paper on the agenda-driven content in the Joseph Smith Papers. 

https://www.academia.edu/67756647/Agenda_driven_editorial_content_in_the_Joseph_Smith_Papers

_____

I've discussed these four books before, but let's take a quick look.

1. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses. This excellent book argues strongly in favor of the credibility and reliability of the witnesses. In an important chapter, Brother Anderson also specifically addresses "The Case Against the Witnesses," showing the logical and factual fallacies that critics depend upon.

Dan and the rest of the M2C citation cartel ought to re-read this book. 

For one thing, Brother Anderson demonstrates the consistency and credibility of Oliver Cowdery. In our day, the harshest critics of Oliver Cowdery are Dan and the rest of the M2C-sayers. They teach their students, readers and followers, that Oliver misled the Church about the New York Cumorah when, as Assistant President of the Church, he declared it is a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah in western New York (Letter VII). http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/90

On page 30, Brother Anderson relates the account of the messenger taking the plates from Harmony to the Hill Cumorah. He notes that Joseph Smith "said that it was one of the Nephites, and that he had the plates." David described the messenger in some detail and said that the messenger who shoed the plates to his mother Mary was "the same old man (judging by her description of him)." 

Because of M2C, Dan and his followers insist David Whitmer was wrong about this because the real Cumorah is in southern Mexico, so the messenger would have no reason to go to any Cumorah in New York. (Below we'll see how Jack Welch changed this history as well in his Opening the Heavens book.)

Those of us who actually believe the witnesses have another explanation. 

Joseph had finished with the abridged plates in Harmony. The Lord told him not to retranslate the Book of Lehi, but to translate the plates of Nephi instead (D&C 10), the "other records" the Lord had promised Oliver he would assist to translate (D&C 9:2). We can tell the plates of Nephi were not included in the set of abridged plates because they aren't listed in the Title Page, so how was Joseph going to get these original records? 

Before leaving Harmony, Joseph gave the abridged plates to the messenger who returned them to the repository in Cumorah, from whence he picked up the plates of Nephi and took them to Fayette. That's why Joseph translated the plates of Nephi in Fayette.

It's all very simple and clear. It explains lots of open questions in Church history. But it also is a problem for our M2C-sayers because they have tried for years to persuade the Latter-day Saints to disbelieve the prophets about Cumorah.

But that's not all. Dan and his followers insist this messenger was Moroni, despite the obvious disparity between David's description and the description we have of Moroni elsewhere (taller than average, etc.) David is the only one who left a record of having a conversation with both this messenger and Moroni, and he knew the difference between them.

On page 31, Anderson quotes Mary's grandson John C. Whitmer who said "I have heard my grandmother say on several occasions that she was shown the plates of the Book of Mormon by an holy angel, whom she always called Brother Nephi." Brigham Young explained that Joseph interacted with both Moroni and Nephi, and here we have a clear example of that. 

Dan and his followers have made a big deal about the messenger being Moroni instead of Nephi, but the historical record, along with common sense, tells us that Moroni, as a resurrected being, would not be a shape-shifting, short, old man in some settings and someone quite different in other settings.

While I agree with Dan that this is an excellent book, I think it's more important to accept what the witnesses actually taught than to reject what they said because it contradicts a particular theory of geography (in this case M2C).

2. Opening the Heavens.

Portions of this book are available online here:

https://byustudies.byu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/chp-welch-opening-2-sec2.pdf

This is an excellent reference book that would be even better if it didn't manipulate the historical record to accommodate M2C and SITH. 

The section on the translation is very helpful, but it omits some key references. This excerpt on pages 79-80 has the same problem as the Joseph Smith Papers. 

While the embedding had occurred centuries earlier, the unfolding process commenced in September 1823, when Joseph Smith Jr. was visited several times by the angel Moroni, who informed him that God “had a work for [him] to do” (JS–H 1:33). The angel went on to state that a book written upon gold plates containing the fullness of the gospel was deposited in a stone box in a nearby hill, and that in due time he, Joseph Smith, would be given stewardship over that book.

The "nearby hill" phrase is a concoction that obfuscates the historical record which refers to the hill as Cumorah. I discussed that in my analysis of Volume 5 of the JSP referenced above. Lucy Mack Smith and Parley P. Pratt both separately explained that it was Moroni who identified the hill as Cumorah. Lucy explains that Joseph later referred to the hill as Cumorah before he even got the plates. Readers of Opening the Heavens learn none of that.

On page 134, the book provides an excerpt from Oliver's Letter IV.

19. Joseph Smith, as recorded by Oliver Cowdery (1835) 

[The messenger] said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain, and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record.19

This puts Mormon and Moroni in western New York when they abridged the Nephite plates. Again, this is simple, clear, and fits with the rest of the narratives, both in terms of Church history and the text of the Book of Mormon.

Unfortunately, this excerpt omits the preceding sentences from Letter IV, including this one: "He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigenes of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham." 

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/68 

Readers should know what Joseph had been instructed by Moroni because it goes to the question of how Joseph translated the text; i.e., it is evident from the terms Joseph used that he was not thinking about (or seeing in the plates) references to massive stone pyramids, jaguars, jungles and jade. Instead, he saw what Moroni told him to expect and translated the engravings accordingly.

To be sure, the book does not omit every historical reference to Cumorah. Page 31 goes on to explain that "After appending his abridgement of the Jaredite records, a few ecclesiastical documents, and his own farewell, Moroni finally deposited the plates in the Hill Cumorah in modern-day western New York." But without giving citations for this claim or referring to it elsewhere in the book, readers could infer that (i) there is no support in the historical record for the New York Cumorah and (ii) this reference fits within the M2C teaching that the New York hill was called Cumorah because of a false tradition, while the "real" Cumorah is in southern Mexico.

The sole historical reference to Cumorah in Opening the Heavens is on page 140: 

34. Joseph Smith, as recorded by Joseph Curtis (1881) 

[Joseph Smith] saw an angel with a view of the hill Cumorah & the plates of gold had certain instructions got the plates & by the assistance of the Urim & Thumin translated them by the gift & power of God.34

That's a solid reference that corroborates all the other accounts related to Cumorah and the translation with the Urim and Thummim, but because Opening the Heavens omits the other Cumorah references, readers cannot put this one in context.

Otherwise, though, the book is devoid of references to Cumorah (apart from a citation to an article in the Saints Herald titled “The Hill Cumorah, and the Book of Mormon.”) 

BTW, that article is interesting because the author describes his visit to Palmyra to see/experience "the place of the last great decisive conflict between the Nephites and Lamanites... [who] pitched their tents around the hill Cumorah." He explains how the description given by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery "was almost perfect." He wrote, "Whatever may be thought of the truth or falsity of the narrative by men, it is certain that the face of the country sustains the record in a wonderful manner." 

http://www.latterdaytruth.org/pdf/100195.pdf 

Opening the Heavens quotes or cites Lucy Mack Smith 47 times but omits her important references to Cumorah. It refers to Letter VII once in the notes, but omits the Cumorah reference from the narrative.

On page 86, we read this typically generic reference to "the hill." 

Joseph (leaving Emma with Joseph Knight’s carriage) then went after midnight to the site on the hill, which was two to three miles southeast of the Smith home, and received the plates from Moroni.8 [emphasis added]

Note 8 lists Letter VII among the citations and even cites the page numbers where Oliver explained it was a fact that this hill is the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6. But why bury the reference instead of being historically accurate in the narrative by referring to the hill as Cumorah?

Another problem with the book I've discussed previously here:

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2017/12/opening-heavens-but-censoring-history.html

3. Remembering Joseph: Personal Recollections of Those Who Knew the Prophet Joseph Smith

This is another useful reference book that, unfortunately, manipulates the evidence. It omits Lucy's recitation of what Moroni told Joseph the first night they met (although it does include her recollection that he referred to the "hill of Cumorah" in early 1827 when he returned late from Manchester).

The book provides an editorial introduction to David Whitmer's account of taking Joseph and Oliver to Fayette, but it labels the messenger as "Moroni."

Excerpt: "he also tells of going to Pennsylvania and of Joseph's seeric recital of his journey; he also saw Moroni 'going to Cumorah'; Moroni later appeared to Whitmer's mother. 

The gratuitous use of scare quotes around "going to Cumorah" isn't too bad; at least the book mentions that important statement. But anyone can read what David said and see that he never said, implied, or even suggested that the messenger was Moroni. Later in this interview he specifically referred to the Three Nephites. 

In a separate interview inexplicably omitted from this book, David explained that Joseph "said their visitor was one of the three Nephites to whom the Savior gave the promise of life on earth until He should come in power. After arriving home, David again saw this personage, and mother Whitmer, who was very kind to Joseph Smith, is said to have seen not only this Nephite, but to have also been shown by him the sealed and unsealed portions of the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated."

[You can read that interview here: http://www.lettervii.com/p/trip-to-fayette-references.html]

Obviously, Joseph's explanation makes sense. We would expect these 3 Nephites to assist the production of the Book of Mormon in any way they could. We don't need a shape-shifting resurrected being who contradicts basic teachings about resurrected bodies.

What doesn't make sense is the way our M2C scholars manipulate the evidence to accommodate M2C, when the evidence of the New York Cumorah is so obvious. Well, it makes sense because they need to change the history to fit their theories, but it doesn't make sense in terms of historical accuracy.

The book also includes the accounts from Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young about the repository of Nephite records in the hill Cumorah that Joseph and others visited. Now that Cumorah has been de-correlated, students don't find this information about Cumorah in current seminary/Institute materials the way we used to, so it's nice to see it here, even though the book omits David Whitmer's account about Oliver's visit to the repository along with several other accounts. 

4. Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide

Grant Hardy's work is insightful and helpful, but would be much improved if he stuck with the historical evidence instead of assuming a Mesoamerican setting.

E.g., “The danger of starting with nineteenth-century controversies [or with Joseph Smith’s unmet adolescent needs, or with the religious debates of the Burned-over District, or with Mesoamerican archeology, or, closer to home, with manifestations of the truth of the Church or evidences of Joseph Smith’s prophetic status] and then mining the narrative for relevant verses is that such a procedure may distort and misrepresent what the book actually says; it ignores the underlying logic of the text.” (184).

Even though M2C is not a focus of his book, he simply takes it for granted here and in his other books. Consequently, his fellow M2Cers are comfortable sharing his work.

_____

I'm happy to read and consider all points of view about the Book of Mormon. 

If our M2C scholars did likewise, their work would be more credible and useful. As it is, everyone can see how they manipulate the evidence to fit their geography theories, which not only undermines their credibility as scholars but undermines the faith of those they persuade to believe the prophets were wrong.


 


Friday, January 21, 2022

Understanding Church History by Study and Faith - part 2


A few years ago I wrote a short book titled Mesomania. I discussed how the obsession with Mesoamerica has shaped the worldview of LDS intellectuals, including Church historians. Recently we've seen how Mesomania has led even the Joseph Smith Papers to manipulate the historical record to accommodate modern theories of geography.

Part 1 of this blog series discussed the Ensign article "Understanding Church History by Study and Faith" by Keith A. Erekson, Church History Library Director: 

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2017/02/understanding-church-history-by-study-and-faith?lang=eng

We discussed how so-called problems in Church history arise from bad assumptions made in the present, such as the M2C assumption that Cumorah cannot be in New York. There is nothing--zero--in the historical record that even suggests a problem with or a question about the New York Cumorah. 

Instead, the entire historical record supports the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. It is unprofessional and unconscionable for LDS historians to manipulate the historical record by censoring Cumorah--especially when their only justification is to accommodate the M2C geography theory promoted by their colleagues. 

In today's Part 2, we'll consider another excerpt from the article:

Today, we can learn about the past only indirectly through the pieces that remain. Information is always lost between the past and the present. We must study the records that do survive while remembering that they do not represent the entirety of the past.

One of the records that does survive is Lucy Mack Smith's history, which I discussed here:

http://www.lettervii.com/2022/01/lucy-mack-smith-was-solid-except.html

Faced with the historical accounts, such as Lucy Mack Smith relating that Moroni identified the hill by name the first night he met Joseph Smith, our M2C scholars respond by saying Lucy had a poor memory or was influenced by a false tradition (although they accept everything she wrote about other events). 

Our M2C scholars and the Church historians who accommodate them claim that Joseph Smith never taught that Cumorah was in New York. But Lucy explained that she specifically related things which Joseph never wrote or published.

From the article:

Consider one example: When Joseph Smith preached a sermon to the Saints, he typically had no prepared text, and no audio or video recording was made. Though a few in attendance may have written notes or reflections, even fewer of those notes survive. Thus, we cannot claim to know everything Joseph Smith ever said, though we can, for instance, quote Wilford Woodruff’s notes about Joseph’s sermon.

Perhaps the best example of this is the statement attributed to Joseph Smith in the Introduction to the Book of Mormon in the current LDS edition.

Concerning this record the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”

That's a manufactured quotation, adapted from Wilford Woodruff's summary of what Joseph Smith taught on a particular occasion. While it's bizarre to see Woodruff's third-person observation converted into a direct first-person quotation, we accept it because we assume it's "close enough" to what Joseph taught, even though Woodruff did not put it in quotation marks as he often did when recording a direct quotation.

And yet, when we have Lucy's direct quotation of what Joseph said, our historians say she must have been wrong because our scholars insist that Cumorah cannot be in New York.

One historian estimates that Joseph gave around 200 sermons for which we have no record, notes, or journal entries. We can't know what Joseph taught in those sermons, but what we do know is that those closest to him who left records, including his mother, David Whitmer, and Oliver Cowdery, all referred to the New York Cumorah as a matter of fact.

Actually, all of Joseph's contemporaries taught that Cumorah was in New York. It was common knowledge, published in all the Church newspapers during Joseph's lifetime, and copied directly into his own history.

http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/90

By any standard of historical analysis, historians know there is no justification for manipulating the historical record to censor the New York Cumorah.

Yet our top LDS historians do it anyway.

In an upcoming video, we'll look at how Keith A. Erekson contradicts his own article when it comes to Cumorah. 

In Part 3, we'll continue our review of this article.


"Free education is abundant, all over the internet. It’s the desire to learn that’s scarce."

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Understanding Church History by Study and Faith - part 1

In 2017, the Ensign published an article titled "Understanding Church History by Study and Faith" by Keith A. Erekson, Church History Library Director: 

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2017/02/understanding-church-history-by-study-and-faith?lang=eng

Excerpt:

Frequently, so-called problems with the past are actually just bad assumptions made in the present.

A good example of this is the treatment of the New York Cumorah. 

The historical record is clear and unambiguous regarding the New York Cumorah. 

However, the record contradicts the modern assumptions made by our M2C scholars, who insist Cumorah cannot be in New York but must be somewhere in Mesoamerica.

Therefore, these scholars, and the Church historians who accommodate the M2C theory, cast doubt on the historical sources. 

Worse, they censor them, as we've seen in the Saints books and the editorial content of the Joseph Smith Papers. 

_____

More tomorrow.


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Neurophysiology and M2C

Many readers of this blog have noticed that whenever the topics of the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C) or the stone-in-the-hat (SITH) arise in a conversation, the M2C/SITH-sayers resort to rote statements such as "the Book of Mormon doesn't mention snow" or "Emma said Joseph used SITH." 

These are programmed responses, the type of thing an NPC (non-player character) would say. We don't blame or criticize NPCs; they are unable to think for themselves, by definition.

But it's not merely M2C NPCs who speak this way.

Readers here are also puzzled at the way the M2C scholars and their followers deal with Cumorah. We would think they would welcome all faithful interpretations of the Book of Mormon and Church history.

And they would, if they were legitimate scholars. Legitimate scholars are eager to consider multiple working hypotheses based on known, relevant facts. They engage in respectful conversations and dialog. They invite various points of view to participate in their journals and conferences.

But that's not the case with the M2C/SITH citation cartels. 

Book of Mormon Central, FAIRLDS, the Interpreter, and the rest of the M2C citation cartel continue to insist that M2C is the only viable theory. Lately they've also adopted SITH.

These scholars continue to misrepresent the issues involving Cumorah, they castigate "Heartlanders" with straw man arguments, and they manipulate the historical record to accommodate M2C. As we've seen, even the Joseph Smith Papers manipulates Church history to accommodate this theory of Book of Mormon geography.

Why?

Why would well-educated, experienced scholars cling to M2C and SITH, knowing that these theories repudiate the teachings of the prophets they claim to honor, respect and follow?

Maybe it's simple Groupthink; they're in a bubble because they've been trained/educated by M2C/SITH sayers, and everyone they work with thinks alike.

Maybe it's traditional, ordinary academic arrogance, the not-invented-here syndrome. 

And maybe it is a result of neurophysiology. 

_____

For M2C/SITH-sayers, the idea that Cumorah really is in New York is unfamiliar and even threatening. The implications: a New York Cumorah means that these faithful LDS teachers have been misleading generations of Latter-day Saint students. 

The idea that Joseph Smith actually translated the plates is also unfamiliar and threatening for the same reasons. 

An excerpt from Whole Brain Living explains how people who are threatened cannot access their rational thinking brains. 

When something does not feel familiar, however, our amygdalae tend to label that unfamiliar thing as dangerous, and they respond by triggering our fight-flight-or-play-dead fear response. If it has been your natural tendency to fight, you probably rage, get big and loud, go on the attack or try to shoo the thing away. If it is your style to run like the wind or play dead, then that response may be your best choice.

When our amygdalae are triggered and we feel fear, we are not able to run the learning and memory circuitry of our hippocampi. Until we push the pause button and take a moment to calm down and feel safe again, we will not be able to think clearly. This is why anyone who is freaking out with test anxiety tends to perform poorly, regardless of how well prepared they are. When our limbic anxiety circuit is triggered, we are neuroanatomically cut off from accessing our higher cortical thinking centers, which is where our learned knowledge is stored.

When we understand the physiological connection between these parts of the brain, we can re-assess the work of the M2C/SITH-sayers with greater understanding and empathy.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Free energy and multiple working hypotheses

Two miles north of my house here in Oregon, a research project is underway that holds the potential for producing constant, carbon-free, and inexpensive energy. 

It relies on the principle of multiple working hypotheses. Several methodologies are being tested.


https://pacwaveenergy.org/south-test-site/

This is a good metaphor for understanding Church history and Book of Mormon historicity/geography. 

When we're open to new ideas, we discover that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were right all along. 

There is one Cumorah and it's in New York. Joseph Smith actually translated the engravings on the plates.

It's simple, clear, direct. Just like the message of the Restoration.

We have new, clean energy that solves old problems.

The future is bright and exciting. 

_____

On the other hand, the M2C/SITH* citation cartel is stuck with old "technology" because they are so deeply invested in M2C and SITH they cannot even imagine a scenario in which Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery told the truth.

M2C and SITH are the dirty coal of the Restoration.

It's time to move on from M2C and SITH.

*M2C is the Mesoamerican/Two Cumorahs theory promoted by Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, FAIRLDS, and the rest of the citation cartel.
SITH is the "stone-in-the-hat" theory promoted by the same cartel, which claims that Joseph Smith not only didn't translate anything, but he didn't even use the plates.




Monday, January 10, 2022

Original Manuscript: Vol 5 of JSP, but full of agenda-driven content

The long-anticipated volume of the Joseph Smith Papers containing the Original Manuscript was released in December 2021. It's available at Deseret Book here.

The description: 

Volume 5 of the Revelations and Translations series presents all extant fragments of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon. For the first time ever, researchers will have access to a photograph and color-coded transcripts of each fragment of the manuscript, showing every change made and which scribe make it.

I bought one of the first copies when I was in Salt Lake in December. With high-resolution images and an excellent transcript, this is a spectacular volume, even better than I hoped for.

Except for the commentary.

IMO, the Introduction manipulates the historical sources to promote the editors' theories about Book of Mormon geography (M2C) and the translation (SITH). It's inexcusable for such a professional, beautiful book to be tainted by this type of editorial interference.

I faced a choice. Should I say nothing and watch as these editorial decisions continue to obfuscate the historical sources in favor of modern theories, or should I comment about my observations in the hope that our scholars will adopt a more serious academic approach? I chose the latter, and I posted a detailed analysis here: https://www.academia.edu/s/5728ebc3d7?source=link. The Abstract is at the end of this post.

I hope the scholars at the Joseph Smith Papers will take my observations as I intend them; i.e., I want the Joseph Smith Papers to present accurate history from the perspective of the people who lived that history. Readers should be able to trust the editors to provide useful insights and background that illuminate, but do not taint, the historical documents. Context is obviously important and welcome, but not when it is manipulated to accommodate modern theories, particularly about Book of Mormon geography and the manner of translation. 

Or, if they insist on accommodating modern theories, they should at least acknowledge multiple working hypotheses, including the possibility that Joseph, Oliver and their contemporaries told the truth.

_____

Readers often contact me to ask why the dominant LDS scholars continue to promote M2C and SITH. I've discussed the intellectual genealogy of those theories, but the origins of M2C and SITH are well know. Their persistence is more inexplicable.

From all my discussions and reading, the best explanation I can come up with is academic inertia.

Groupthink among scholars is a perennial problem. Scholars typically seek to make a name for themselves by finding a new historical source or proposing a new theory. That's how we ended up with the "New Mormon History." But once accepted, theories such as M2C and SITH become entrenched. Scholars devote their time and energy defending and upholding their theories, particularly when they've taught them for decades. 

Their admiring students naturally incorporate their mentors' theories as mental filters through which they see the world.


I've referred to this as the academic cycle.

This problem seems to be exacerbated in the LDS community, partly because students are primed to believe their LDS teachers at BYU and CES, and partly because some LDS scholars claim they've been hired by the prophets to guide Church members in these areas. 

Thus, we have a journal titled The Interpreter, as if "the scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20), along with other members of the M2C citation cartel that tell us such things as how the teachings of the prophets "are to be understood and used."

We have the Saints books that change Church history to accommodate M2C and SITH. We have notes in the Joseph Smith Papers that promote M2C and SITH. I've blogged about this problem since 2018, and the problem is getting worse.

IMO, the worst demonstration of this editorial agenda is in the notes and commentary in volume 5 of Revelations and Translations: The Original Manuscript. 

A far healthier academic approach would be to acknowledge multiple working hypotheses, always subject to revision and improvement as new information comes forward. 

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Abstract of paper:

Abstract: This volume is a monumental achievement. The eagerly awaited publication of high-resolution images of the extant pages of the Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, with detailed transcripts, enables students of the Book of Mormon to explore the earliest text for themselves. The volume editors, Royal Skousen and Robin Scott Jensen, also edited the equally impressive Volume 3, parts 1 and 2, which contained the Printer’s Manuscript. The bulk of Volume 5 consists of the documents and transcripts, which speak for themselves. Appendixes (226 pages) provide additional images and information. All of this is excellent. The 16-page Volume 5 Introduction provides historical context about the discovery, translation, and usage of the material. However, the editorial content in several instances impedes an objective analysis because the editors have manipulated the historical record to reflect their own editorial positions on controversial topics, specifically the manner of translation and the historicity of the narrative of the Book of Mormon. This paper points out numerous specific examples. Like other volumes in the Joseph Smith Papers, the editors here have gone to extraordinary measures to avoid mentioning the hill Cumorah, consistent with the editorial effort throughout the Joseph Smith Papers to accommodate the prevailing academic theory that the events of the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, aka M2C). The editors also skew their quotations and citations toward the academic theory that Joseph Smith didn’t really translate the plates but instead merely read words off the stone in the hat (the SITH theory). Because the Joseph Smith Papers are published by the Church Historian’s Press and should be held to a high standard of scholarship and objectivity, agenda-driven editorial manipulation of historical sources is inappropriate. A future addendum, or perhaps revisions in the digital version of this volume, could alleviate these problems by providing a more comprehensive and accurate historical context for understanding the Original Manuscript.  



Classic Post #4 - Why does Cumorah matter?

Why does Cumorah matter?

Some people new to this blog ask why I focus on the New York Cumorah. It's a good question, and recent events have prompted a clearer explanation. 

The simple answer: 

The New York Cumorah is the only known touchstone between the real world and Lehi's promised land. 

By repudiating the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah, M2C scholars have 

(i) distorted the text of the Book of Mormon, 

(ii) cast doubt on the credibility and reliability of the prophets, and 

(iii) misdirected the pursuit of evidence to support the claims of the Book of Mormon.

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Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said Cumorah was in western New York because (i) they learned it from their personal experience visiting the repository of Nephite records (Mormon 6:6) and (ii) they knew Cumorah's location was an essential fact to refute the claim that the Book of Mormon was fiction. 

Understanding these key points, Joseph's contemporaries and successors as Church leaders frequently reiterated the New York location of Cumorah.  

But--and this is a key point--we don't even have to take their word for it. The New York Cumorah is consistent with the text itself and with extrinsic evidence including archaeology, anthropology, geography and geology. 

Nevertheless, a handful of LDS scholars decided the prophets were wrong. These scholars adopted the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C) that had been developed by RLDS scholars in the early 1900s. Because of their privileged academic status at BYU and CES, these scholars have managed to impose their theories on Latter-day Saints throughout the world.

I think all of these scholars are honorable, fine people with good intentions. They make important and useful contributions to our knowledge base. I like them all personally, but that has nothing to do with the problem of scholars vs. prophets. We can trust, more or less, but we should also verify by making our own informed decisions.

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Some time ago on MormonStories.org, Jim Bennett discussed the "Heartlander thing." (If you don't know Brother Bennett, he is known for a lengthy response to the CES Letter, which we'll discuss below). Judging by Brother Bennett's comments, our LDS credentialed class continue to miss the point. 

Jim Bennett on MormonStories

During the interview, he said, "This is a huge controversy now. I don't know if you follow the whole "Heartlander thing." I think it's fascinating because you've got these guys that, the most important principle of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is the location of the Hill Cumorah. To me I think, what the heck is your problem? Who cares? It doesn't matter to me at all. That has nothing to do with anything." (see reference below)

Saying it doesn't matter is a natural response for someone experiencing cognitive dissonance. 

Despite Brother Bennett's pejorative characterization, those of us labeled by these scholars as "Heartlanders" spend most of our time serving in the Church, doing missionary and temple work, and testifying of Christ. We think the Book of Mormon is an authentic history, supported by strong evidence in addition to the teachings of the prophets, but we don't accept the speculations of scholars who repudiate those teachings. Naturally, the scholars are upset.

Those who follow this blog know how sensitive the M2C scholars are about the question of Cumorah. Their cognitive dissonance can't reconcile the inherent contradiction between claiming to believe and follow the prophets, but also repudiating what the prophets have taught about Cumorah (such as in Letter VII).

(click to enlarge)

On one hand, they openly say the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah, that they were speculating, expressing their own incorrect opinions as men, etc. Realize, they are talking not only about Joseph and Oliver, but members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference. 

On the other hand, these same scholars get upset when people point out they are repudiating the prophets. They get defensive. Some get aggressive. (Oddly, some of my critics try to debate these issues, as if I couldn't make their arguments as well as they do. My time is better spent seeking ways to support and corroborate the teachings of the prophets instead of seeking ways to undermine and disavow--repudiate--those teachings.) 

Cognitive dissonance is unpleasant. Usually people deal with it by telling themselves the issue, whatever it is, "doesn't matter," the way Brother Bennett did. In the LDS context, this is called "putting it on the shelf," meaning they'll set it aside and try not to think about it, hoping for a future resolution.

But the issue is not going away.

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The question of Cumorah is not a harmless bit of academic speculation. 

Many faithful Latter-day Saints can't understand why LDS scholars would speculate about Cumorah when we have the unambiguous teachings of the prophets on this topic. We can't read the minds of the M2C intellectuals, but we can read their publications. 

We can see that Book of Mormon Central is spending millions of dollars annually to persuade people that the prophets were wrong and the scholars are correct. There is nothing so predictable as scholars insisting their theories are correct because of their superior credentials. The credentialed class need people to be dependent on them to justify their employment (and fundraising). The handful of LDS scholars who promote M2C have created a facade of like-minded publications and organizations that publish and cite one another's work, which I call the M2C citation cartel. 

Their logo is a repudiation of the New York Cumorah; the Mayan glyph represents their insistence that the Book of Mormon is actually a  Mayan codex that Joseph (or whoever put the words on the stone in the hat) mistranslated because he didn't understand Mayan culture.

Their cognitive dissonance is evident in their disparate treatment of Oliver Cowdery. When discussing Oliver's teachings about the angel showing him and David Whitmer the plates, they scour every possible source. They examine every letter, newspaper article, or mention in third-party accounts. 

See https://evidencecentral.org/evidence/oliver-cowdery.

But when it comes to Cumorah, they ignore (or worse, reject as ignorant speculation) what Oliver explicitly wrote in his essays about Church history, particularly Letter VII. These essays were written with the assistance of Joseph Smith, copied into Joseph's personal history, and republished at Joseph's direction multiple times (Times and Seasons, Gospel Reflector, Millennial Star, the Prophet), but Book of Mormon Central claims Oliver's formal, explicit, and official teaching was wrong--solely because their academic theories contradict what Oliver taught.

_____

We've reached the point where BYU professors use the BYU fantasy map to teach students about the Book of Mormon, portraying the Book of Mormon as taking place in a fictional setting. Surveys show that more and more active Latter-day Saints think the Book of Mormon is not an actual history. That trend can only accelerate as the BYU fantasy map becomes de facto doctrine in the minds of BYU and CES students.

Modern LDS scholars claim Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah. They say Joseph "didn't know much about the Book of Mormon," and whatever he thought at first, by 1842 he changed his mind because of a popular travel book and came to depend on scholarship instead of what he learned directly from Moroni and his personal experiences.

Leveraging their positions of trust as teachers at BYU and CES, they have used the academic cycle to persuade several generations of LDS students to prefer their M2C theories over the teachings of the prophets--mostly by censoring Cumorah.

Influential scholars have sought to eliminate cognitive dissonance among Church members by censoring the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. They have managed to "disappear" references to Cumorah from curriculum, media, visitors centers, and even Church history, as we see in the Saints book. The current version of the Gospel Topics entry on Book of Mormon geography doesn't mention Cumorah; instead, it frames Joseph Smith as equivocal and uncertain, exactly how our M2C citation cartel wants him to appear. (That entry was revised after I pointed out obvious errors, and it could and should be revised again to address Cumorah.)

We even have the Interpreter Foundation, which completely rejects Oliver's teaching about Cumorah, creating a movie about the Three Witnesses--as if people won't see the absurdity of claiming Oliver was only correct when he agreed with what modern scholars believe. Actually, all three of the witnesses referred to the "hill in New York" as the ancient Cumorah, but you won't see that in their movie.

The problem is, the teachings of the prophets are available for everyone to see. People can read Letter VII right in Joseph's own history, right in the Joseph Smith Papers. 

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/90

Fortunately, there are faithful Latter-day Saints who still accept the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah and can help others understand them. (Not just me, but many others.)

Unfortunately, there are many critics and nonbelievers who use the futile censorship efforts of the M2C citation cartel to sow confusion among new and young Latter-day Saints who have been taught M2C exclusively and have never heard the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.

Which brings us to the CES Letter. 

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Some time ago, Brother Bennett wrote a response to the CES Letter that (according to Bennett) Book of Mormon Central spent a lot of money promoting. That's not surprising because in his response, Brother Bennett promoted both M2C and SITH. He claimed M2C started with the anonymous 1842 editorials in the Times and Seasons. 

Outside of the M2C bubble, informed Latter-day Saints know that the 1842 editorials said nothing about Cumorah. They know that in 1841, the Times and Seasons published the essays about Cumorah that unambiguously placed the site in western New York. They know that in 1842, in two signed letters published in the Times and Seasons, Joseph Smith refuted Orson Pratt's theory about Central America and referred to Cumorah in New York.

Those living inside the M2C bubble, however, either don't know these details of Church history or have rationalized them away. 

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Let's look at how Brother Bennett dealt with the Cumorah question in his response to the CES Letter. Here (in green) are the passages from the CES Letter. Brother Bennett's responses are in blue. My comments in red. (To see this in the original, go to https://canonizer.com/files/reply.pdf and search for "Cumorah.")

6. 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.

Short Answer: Nonsense. There is a great deal of direct Old World archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon, as well as a growing body of archaeological evidence in the New World, too. 

[Brother Bennett discusses the Old World evidence, then says] I’ll get to the New World evidence as I address the rest of your question. 

This is one of the reasons why unofficial apologists have developed the Limited Geography Model (it happened in Central or South America)… 

No. The theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Central or South America can be documented to have been around since at least 1842, when the Times and Seasons, the Church paper edited by Joseph Smith at the time, published three unsigned editorials detailing Mesoamerican Book of Mormon theories. 

[These are the anonymous articles that say nothing about Cumorah and, contrary to Brother Bennett's representation here, reflected the hemispheric model. IOW, CES Letter was correct, and Bennett was wrong. 

Ironically, just a few months earlier, the Times and Seasons published Joseph Smith's signed Wentworth letter, in which Joseph rejected Orson Pratt's hemispheric model (including Central America) by emphasizing that the remnant of Lehi's posterity are "the Indians that live in this country." 

Bennett also cited the equivocal Bernhisel letter that was obviously drafted by Wilford Woodruff and not even signed by Joseph Smith. Nevertheless, he writes...] 

To say that the idea of the Book of Mormon in a Central American setting is a late product of “unofficial apologists” is to ignore the words of the prophet himself.

… 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 is not, in fact, in direct contradiction to anything Joseph Smith taught. Joseph never made reference to the hill in New York as Cumorah. 

[The M2C citation cartel simply censors historical evidence that contradicts their theories. Again, CES Letter is correct and Bennett is wrong. Joseph's mother quoted Joseph referring to the Hill Cumorah in 1827, before he even got the plates. He could only have learned that from Moroni. In 1831, Parley P. Pratt explained that Moroni called the hill Cumorah anciently. And, of course, Joseph helped write Letter VII, had it copied into his history as part of his life story, etc.]  

No identification of the drumlin in New York as Cumorah can be found in the Doctrine and Covenants or any canonized revelation.

[D&C 128:20 was published in 1842 in the Times and Seasons as a letter from Joseph Smith to the Church. "And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed." 

A year earlier, the Times and Seasons had published Letter VII, declaring it was a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the valley west of the "drumlin in New York" named Cumorah. Joseph's contemporaries who read the Times and Seasons knew what the term "Cumorah" referred to. It was common knowledge. And if the "glad tidings" did not refer to the Book of Mormon that came from the "drumlin in New York," to what was Joseph referring by the phrase "the book to be revealed" in this verse? Why would Joseph refer to "glad tidings from Cumorah" if Cumorah was a hill in southern Mexico that contained the repository of Nephite records but not the abridged plates?]

Even a cursory reading of the Book of Mormon makes it clear that the Hill Cumorah isn’t the hill in upstate New York where Joseph got the plates. 

[Notice, instead of a reading here, cursory or intense, Brother Bennett gives us his own M2C speculation, about what Moroni "presumably" did.]

In Mormon 6:6, Mormon states that he “hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni.” [Emphasis added.] So the plates Moroni had after the massive bloody battle at Cumorah were specifically not plates that had been buried there. Moroni then spends decades wandering with these plates, presumably getting as far away from Cumorah as possible, and then buries them up for Joseph to find in an area far removed the Cumorah carnage.

[Orson Pratt explained that the repository was in a separate department of the hill from where Moroni constructed his stone box. This is consistent with what David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery said. But our M2C citation cartel has to persuade us that two of the three witnesses misled the Church about Cumorah. Actually, Martin Harris also referred to the hill as Cumorah in 1830 as well.]

It is correct to say that many Church leaders have equated the New York Hill with Cumorah, but the Church’s official position on Book of Mormon geography has always been one of neutrality, and they have scrupulously avoided officially jumping in to the long-running debate over where the Book of Mormon took place. 

[This is revisionist history and rhetorical commingling. Church leaders have always taught that Cumorah is the hill in New York where Joseph found the plates--no prophet or apostle has ever questioned that teaching. That's separate from the question of where other events took place, a topic about which Church leaders have not taken a position. The Gospel Topics entry on this conflates the two issues by omitting any reference to Cumorah, but that does not negate the clear historical record.]

Now is it true that many – but not all – prophets, apostles, and members have long believed, and many still believe, that the New York his [sic] is the BoM Cumorah. We keep coming back to infallibility and the lack thereof, and so many of your objections are rooted in the idea that if even apostles make mistakes like this, the Church can’t be true. 

[This isn't a question of "making mistakes." We have specific declarations that the New York Cumorah is a fact, repeated by many Church leaders for over 150 years. The M2C citation cartel asserts these are mistakes solely because they disagree with the Church leaders and disbelieve what Joseph and Oliver said, based on their personal experience. People can believe and disbelieve whatever they want, but everyone should make informed decisions, not just rely on the obfuscation of the M2C citation cartel.] 

That’s not just wrong; it’s bad doctrine. 

Mormons ought to realize that agency trumps infallibility every single time. In the absence of direct revelation, speculation fills the gaps. There is no direct revelation about the specific whereabouts of any Book of Mormon location, so prophets and anyone else are perfectly capable of acting in good faith and still reaching incorrect conclusions, which seems to be precisely what they did in this instance. Like it or not, that’s how agency works. That’s mortality. That’s life, in and out of the Church.

[This is clever rhetoric, but it's a straw man. No one is claiming that Joseph and Oliver taught the New York Cumorah based on revelation (although the absence of a written revelation does not mean they did not receive revelation on the topic). Instead, Joseph said he learned the name even before he translated the plates. Oliver said he and Joseph visited Mormon's repository of records in the "drumlin in New York" multiple times. David Whitmer said the messenger (one of the 3 Nephites) took the abridged plates from Harmony to Cumorah.]

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 a great deal of sense. It’s still the hill where Joseph got the plates, so it’s quite significant to Book of Mormon history.

CES letter makes more sense here. Why refer to the hill as Cumorah if it was just a drumlin in New York thousands of miles away from the "real Cumorah" in southern Mexico? The answer is, because the prophets declared this was the actual hill Cumorah. 

Thanks to the efforts of the M2C citation cartel, visitors to the Hill Cumorah today never learn why the hill is named Cumorah! There is no exhibit of the teachings of the prophets. Site missionaries are not allowed to even read Mormon 6:6 with visitors.  

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.

None in upstate New York, no, which is not at all surprising, as the Book of Mormon itself makes it crystal clear that that’s not where either Cumorah or Ramah actually was

[Now we see the serious problem our M2C scholars have created. CES Letter is merely repeating the expectations raised by the scholars, who have to inflate Book of Mormon populations to be consistent with their Mesoamerican setting. They continually reinterpret the text to fit whatever new discoveries are made in Mesoamerica.

The other approach is to look at the text to inform our expectations. 

The text points out that the bodies were not buried. Unburied bodies (including bones and hair) disintegrate rapidly; otherwise, our forests and fields would be full of carcasses of deer, elk, buffalo, etc.  

CES Letter exaggerates by mentioning chariots and armor. Mormon 6:9 explains that they had the sword, the bow, the arrow, the ax, and "all manner of weapons of war." Upstate New York has had abundant evidence of such weapons, dating to Book of Mormon time frames, which are found in museum and collections throughout the area. In the Cumorah area, farmers used to give them to tourists. The Bean children used arrowheads as skipping stones because they were so abundant. The exception, arguably, is "swords," but even there, the text describes swords "cankered with rust" which means iron, which means we wouldn't find them after a few years or decades.

In Letter VII, Oliver explained there were fewer than 10,000 Jaredites in their final battles and the numbers of Nephites and Lamanites were in the tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands. A careful reading of the text shows there were at most 20,000 Nephites killed there, and that's assuming the phrase "ten thousand" is a literal count and not a translation of a term such as "unit" or "patrols" like in the Old Testament. I compare this to the Battle of Hastings, where 10,000 men were killed without a trace.] 

The rest of this section continues with CES Letter repeating the expectations raised by the M2C scholars, with Brother Bennett pointing toward Mesoamerica as the answer. 

Instead, informed Latter-day Saints can point to museums and private collections throughout the midwestern and northeastern U.S. to show evidence of exactly the descriptions contained in the Book of Mormon. 

By repudiating the teachings of the prophets and refocusing our attention on Mesoamerica, our M2C scholars have created unnecessary problems. The have adopted their own interpretations of the Book of Mormon to fit Mesoamerica. They say Joseph (or whoever put the words on the stone in the hat) mistranslated the text by failing to describe pyramids, Mayans, tapirs, jaguars, jade, and jungles, so they "find" these elements of Mesoamerica themselves. They regularly contort the text to align with the latest archaeological discoveries in Mesoamerica.  

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To review:

The New York Cumorah was a specific, evidence-based rebuttal to the claim of critics that the Book of Mormon was fiction, composed by Joseph Smith and/or Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, Solomon Spalding, etc. Joseph and Oliver never claimed a revelation about Cumorah; instead, they claimed personal experience. Joseph learned the name from Moroni even before he translated the plates. Oliver explained that he and Joseph had visited the repository of Nephite records (Mormon 6:6) inside the hill in New York where Joseph found the plates in Moroni's stone box--a separate department of the hill (as Orson Pratt explained). 

But a handful of LDS intellectuals disagreed. They rejected what the prophets taught and instead sided with a couple of RLDS scholars who, in the early 1900s, had concluded that Cumorah was actually somewhere in southern Mexico. (This is M2C, or the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory).

Through the academic cycle (because they were teaching at BYU) and over a couple of decades they've managed to persuade most of their students to repudiate the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. Now, the New York Cumorah is being systematically disappeared (I call it de-correlated), to the point where even the Saints book revised Church history to eliminate Cumorah from the historical record.  

Consequently, it is critics such as the CES Letter who are educating Latter-day Saints about what the prophets actually taught.

Hopefully, future Latter-day Saints will learn what the prophets have taught about Cumorah within a framework that supports and corroborates these teachings, instead of learning from our M2C scholars that the prophets were wrong.

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Transcript of Brother Bennett's interview on MormonStories.org.


1:53:50

JB: This is a huge controversy now. I don't know if you follow the whole "Heartlander thing." I think it's fascinating because you've got these guys that, the most important principle of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is the location of the Hill Cumorah. To me I think, what the heck is your problem? Who cares? It doesn't matter to me at all. That has nothing to do with anything. The point is, they point to all of these statements that were made by all of these prophets, seers and revelators and insist that the Book of Mormon has a hemispheric geography, that Cumorah was in fact the drumlin in New York where Joseph Smith got the plates, and that Joseph claimed that. But Joseph never did. 

JD: He called it the Hill Cumorah.

JB: No, he never did. Oliver did. There was a letter from Oliver where he defines that. Joseph, the only time we have Joseph referring to Cumorah is in the 128th section of the Doctrine and Covenants where it talks about "glad tidings from Cumorah." But when he recounts his history he does not refer to the hill where he got the plates as Cumorah. I think he probably believed it was. But there was no statement by any prophet, seer or revelator that claims a revelation that delineates where Cumorah is or delineates a hemispheric model for the Book of Mormon.