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.

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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

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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.

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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.


 


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