long ago ideas

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

Friday, September 22, 2023

200th anniversary of Moroni's visit

Today marks the 200th anniversary of Moroni's first visit to Joseph Smith. It was on this day in 1823 when Moroni told Joseph Smith that the record had been "written and deposited" not far from his home and that it was in the "hill of Cumorah."

(click to enlarge)

Moroni's identification of the hill as Cumorah was well known to Joseph Smith and his contemporaries. Joseph's successors in Church leadership reaffirmed it repeatedly. No Church leader has ever repudiated what Joseph and Oliver taught. 

But many scholars have rejected the New York Cumorah/Ramah. Today, as a result of the teachings of these scholars, fewer and fewer Latter-day Saints know about the history of Cumorah/Ramah and why the New York setting is so important. 

And yet, the historical record is readily available for everyone to see. For an overview of Cumorah, see: https://www.mobom.org/cumorah-overview


Lots of people are commemorating the event. 

Last Saturday I spoke about Cumorah at the Book of Mormon Evidence conference in Salt Lake City. 

Today, FAIR is holding a virtual conference:


In the interest of clarity, charity and understanding, we note that the speakers include some of the usual suspects awesome scholars who promote M2C (Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory) and SITH (stone-in-the-hat theory), but there's always a possibility that we will see some diversity of faithful views at FAIR. Maybe someday FAIR will even include speakers who still believe what the prophets have taught about Cumorah/Ramah and the translation of the Book of Mormon. We remain optimistic.

Book of Mormon Central (BMC) is hosting its annual $250/plate fundraising dinner so they can spend more millions to promote M2C and SITH. Donors have their choice of Filet Mignon with gratin potatoes, lemon asparagus, and crispy leeks or Miso Glazed Salmon with horseradish whipped potatoes, baby carrots and roasted shallots. 

BMC touts itself as the "largest producer of Come, Follow Me enrichment material outside the official Church, and the largest producer of Book of Mormon content in the world." They claim to "reach more than million [sic] people each week across 3 languages via websites, videos, social media channels, email, and the acclaimed ScripturePlus mobile app," all to elevate the SITH and M2C theories of scholars over the plain, unambiguous teachings of the prophets. 

The people at BMC are awesome, and we remain optimistic that BMC, too, will someday recognize that many Latter-day Saints still believe what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah/Ramah. Maybe someday they will even host a side-by-side comparison so everyone, Latter-day Saints and otherwise, can compare the different views about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon.


In the meantime, here's a reminder of who teaches what:

People who taught/teach that:

Cumorah/Ramah is in New York

Cumorah/Ramah is not in New York

Joseph Smith

E. D. Howe

Oliver Cowdery

Charles Shook

Lucy Mack Smith

L. E. Hills

David Whitmer

John Sorenson

Brigham Young

John W. (Jack) Welch (Book of Mormon Central)

Heber C. Kimball

John Dehlin (Mormon Stories)

Joseph F. Smith

Dan Vogel

James E. Talmage

Jeremy Runnels (CES Letter)

LeGrand Richards

Dan Peterson (Interpreter)

Marion G. Romney

Sandra Tanner (Utah Lighthouse ministry)

Thursday, September 21, 2023

2 conferences in Salt Lake City

Last week (Friday and Saturday) we attended two conferences in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Joseph Smith Papers conference (https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/articles/2023-joseph-smith-papers-conference-registration) was held at the Conference Center.

The FIRM Foundation conference (https://bookofmormonevidence.org/events/) was held at the Hilton Hotel, about half a mile from the Conference Center.

The conferences were obviously much different. Both had wonderful presentations. It was fun to renew friendships with people at both conferences. 

I was the final speaker at the FIRM Foundation and I pointed out that both conferences were full of awesome, faithful Latter-day Saints who are interested in Church history. The two groups often have different interpretations and approaches to Church history, but they can and should all get along, respect one another, and learn from one another. 

I encouraged everyone to pursue clarity, charity, and understanding.

There are many positive indications of movement toward mutual respect and a sincere desire to understand the different worldviews. That's why I think everything is awesome.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Fun with Cumorah on the Church website

The Church has a website about Cumorah.


It's no wonder so many people are confused about Cumorah. Look at this fun quotation:

In the 1820s, the hill did not have a name. It later became known as Hill Cumorah because Moroni, the Book of Mormon’s final author and the angel who met with Joseph Smith, wrote that he had hidden the gold plates in a hill called Cumorah (see the introduction to the Book of Mormon).

Who writes this stuff? Seriously, what are we supposed to think when we read such opinion written as if it was fact.

The first statement in bold is not factual; it is merely an opinion that the documented accounts of the hill being referred to as Cumorah in the 1820s were false. This includes statements from Joseph Smith, Lucy Mack Smith, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris.

Of course, anyone even vaguely familiar with Church history and basic logic knows this statement cannot be shown to be true anyway. At most, we can say "we have no contemporaneous historical documents from the 1820s that identify the hill as Cumorah." But that's a far cry from saying the hill did not have a name in the 1820s, and that it became known as Hill Cumorah only "later."

Even if we didn't have statements from the people listed above, no one can say the "hill did not have a name" in the 1820s because that is proving a negative. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, etc. All it would take is one person giving it a name to make the statement false, and we have few documents from the 1820s that refer to the hill at all--except for recollections about events in the 1820s in which people refer to the hill as Cumorah.

The historical evidence we do have indicates the hill was "known as Cumorah" beginning in 1823 when Moroni first visited Joseph Smith. This is the most parsimonious explanation, and it explains all the other historical references.

As for the second sentence in the paragraph on the Church's website, this one is fun too because no one can point to any historical source that states or implies that the hill was named Cumorah because Moroni "wrote" that he had hidden the gold plates in a hill called Cumorah. In fact, the reason why the M2C scholars insist the "real Cumorah/Ramah" is in Mexico is because Moroni, when he wrote his portion of the text, did not identify the name of the hill where he buried the plates.

The sentence would at least be supported by historical evidence if it read, "Moroni, the Book of Mormon’s final author and the angel who met with Joseph Smith, told Joseph that he had hidden the gold plates in a hill called Cumorah," as reported by Lucy here

the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place remove the Grass and moss and you will find a large flat stone pry that up and you will find the record under it laying on 4 pillars <​of cement​>— then the angel left him

Few Latter=day Saints are familiar with this historical record because it contradicts the M2C narrative. Instead, we are given nonsensical statements such as the one on the Church's website first quoted above. 

As if that's not enough, the statement refers to the "Introduction to the Book of Mormon," but that reference doesn't support the claim in the second sentence either.

After Mormon completed his writings, he delivered the account to his son Moroni, who added a few words of his own and hid up the plates in the Hill Cumorah. On September 21, 1823, the same Moroni, then a glorified, resurrected being, appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith and instructed him relative to the ancient record and its destined translation into the English language.

The historical record supports the claim that Moroni identified the hill as Cumorah when he first visited Joseph Smith, but it does not support the claim made on the Church's website that Moroni wrote that he buried the plates in a hill called Cumorah.

Everyone familiar with the historical record knows the hill was named Cumorah because 

1) that's the name Moroni gave it the first time he met Joseph Smith, 

2) that's the name Joseph used for it even before he got the plates, 

3) that's the name used by the messenger who took the abridged plates from Harmony to Cumorah, and

4) that's the name by which Oliver Cowdery identified the hill during the mission to the Lamanites.

Plus, of course, Joseph explained in D&C 128:20 that the name of the hill preceded the time when he obtained the plates.

Readers of this blog know all these references, but the author of the sentences on the Church website apparently doesn't. The references are all available here:


Regardless of the inaccuracy of what the Church's website says about how the hill Cumorah was named, at least the maps on the Church's website accurately identify the hill as Cumorah.



Editing to change meaning

An article in the Wall St. Journal today points out that

You’ve probably heard the adage that “behind every great fortune is a great crime.” It’s attributed to the French novelist Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850), and it seems to come up whenever a prestige journalist wants to express disdain for capitalism.

The article gives examples from the NYTimes, Financial Times, and Bloomberg.


The supposed quotation is based on a passage in Balzac's novel “Père Goriot,” about a group of grifters in Paris in the early 1800s. The actual quotation:

“The secret of great wealth with no obvious source is some forgotten crime, forgotten because it was done neatly.”

Omitting the bolded clause completely changes the meaning. 

The journal explains that, in contrast to mainstream media,

Others who use Balzac as a moral touchstone are more conscientious. In “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (2013), the left-wing French economist Thomas Piketty juxtaposed his condemnation of modern economic inequality with extensive references to Balzac. Yet he avoids mythical quotes and makes a startling acknowledgment for someone who advocates extreme wealth redistribution: Steve Jobs, he offers, “is the epitome of the admired and talented entrepreneur who fully deserves his fortune.” For some Balzac fans, not every great fortune starts with a crime.


Selective editing to change the meaning of original material is an ongoing problem with many academics who seek to promote their own agendas. In this blog we've looked at several examples. We'll discuss more in upcoming posts.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

The golden plates - part 2

Richard Bushman's new book, Joseph Smith's Gold Plates: A Cultural History, is an excellent resource. 

For example, on page 171, Bushman describes the "two sets of plates" scenario, in which Joseph translated the abridged plates from Moroni's stone box when he was in Harmony, PA, and then Joseph translated the original plates of Nephi (the small plates) when he was in Fayette.

This explains why David Whitmer said the messenger said he was going to Cumorah. This is the messenger to whom Joseph gave the plates before leaving Harmony. David, Joseph and Oliver encountered him on the road when they were going from Harmony to Fayette. Joseph explained he was one of the Three Nephites and he had the plates.

More and more people think this messenger took the abridged plates to the repository in Cumorah, where he picked up the original plates of Nephi (the small plates) to bring them to Fayette for Joseph to translate.


Amazon description of the book: 


Renowned historian Richard Lyman Bushman presents a vibrant history of the objects that gave birth to a new religion.

According to Joseph Smith, in September of 1823 an angel appeared to him and directed him to a hill near his home. Buried there Smith found a box containing a stack of thin metal sheets, gold in color, about six inches wide, eight inches long, piled six or so inches high, bound together by large rings, and covered with what appeared to be ancient engravings. Exactly four years later, the angel allowed Smith to take the plates and instructed him to translate them into English. When the text was published, a new religion was born.

The plates have had a long and active life, and the question of their reality has hovered over them from the beginning. Months before the Book of Mormon was published, newspapers began reporting on the discovery of a "Golden Bible." Within a few years over a hundred articles had appeared. Critics denounced Smith as a charlatan for claiming to have a wondrous object that he refused to show, while believers countered by pointing to witnesses who said they saw the plates. Two hundred years later the mystery of the gold plates remains.

In this book renowned historian of Mormonism Richard Lyman Bushman offers a cultural history of the gold plates. Bushman examines how the plates have been imagined by both believers and critics--and by treasure-seekers, novelists, artists, scholars, and others--from Smith's first encounter with them to the present. Why have they been remembered, and how have they been used? And why do they remain objects of fascination to this day? By examining these questions, Bushman sheds new light on Mormon history and on the role of enchantment in the modern world.


Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Webinar on youtube

The webinar from last Sunday is now on youtube:


We had some good questions and conversations!

BTW, I hear more and more about the two sets of plates as an accepted explanation for the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. It makes sense because it explains the various historical accounts. Plus it shows that Joseph was actually translating the engravings on the plates. 

If he wasn't using the plates (as the SITH sayers and Mormonism Unvailed claimed), then he not only wouldn't have needed the two sets of plates, but he wouldn't have any idea which plates the stone-in-the-hat was supposedly translating.

Monday, September 11, 2023

The golden plates - part 1

This week we'll have a few posts on the golden plates.

I recently updated my book Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates? with some new info and links.


Tagline: Everyone wonders what happened to Joseph Smith's gold plates after he translated them. Using original sources, this book proposes a new scenario. 


Here's the description of the gold plates in the Joseph Smith Papers.


Gold plates


A record engraved on gold plates, which JS translated and published as the Book of Mormon.1 The text explained that the plates were an abridgment of other ancient records and were written by an American prophet named Mormon and his son Moroni.2 The plates were buried in present-day Manchester, Ontario County, New York, in what is now known as the Hill Cumorah.3 JS’s history explained that JS received the plates in September 1827.4 According to signed statements published in the Book of Mormon, in June 1829 three witnesses were shown the plates by an angel, and an additional eight witnesses were shown the plates by JS.5

The third sentence (in bold) is fun, as is Note 3.

"what is now known as the Hill Cumorah." Anyone who reads the actual Church history sees that the sources tell us it was Moroni who identified the hill the first time he met Joseph Smith, but the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers apparently don't like that narrative so they don't cite or link to those references. Instead, they cite two sources that don't explain the origin of the name. 

Note 3. JS History, ca. Summer 1832, 4; “The Book of Mormon,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Jan. 1833, [1]–[3].  

The first reference, Joseph's 1832 history, says:

he revealed unto me that in the Town of Manchester Ontario County N.Y. there was plates of gold upon which there was engravings which was engraven by Maroni & his fathers


It's always fun the way the historians cite this to support their claim that Joseph never referred to the hill as Cumorah. (Obviously, they could have cited D&C 128:20). And then they go to great lengths to point out that the description of the First Vision in this history was just a cursory overview which is why it doesn't have all the details of later versions. I agree with their take on the First Vision, but Joseph Smith omitting the name Cumorah from this 1832 history is not evidence that the name wasn't known before then, just as his omitting the details from the First Vision is not evidence that the vision didn't happen the way he later said it did.

Next they cite this one, published by W.W. Phelps in 1833. 

In the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty seven, the plates came forth from the hill Cumorah, which is in the county of Ontario, and state of New-York, by the power of God.

(Evening and Morning Star I.8:57 ¶5)

Presumably they cite this one because it's the first extant published reference to Cumorah. But of course that's not evidence that the name wasn't known before then. In 1830, Oliver Cowdery and Parley P. Pratt were telling the Lamanites (their mission to the Lamanites) that the hill was called Cumorah by their ancestors. 

"This Book, which contained these things, was hid in the earth by Moroni, in a hill called by him, Cumorah, which hill is now in the State of New York, near the village of Palmyra, in Ontario County." 

Or, they could have cited Lucy Mack Smith's account. She said that the angel "the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place remove the Grass and moss and you will find a large flat stone pry that up and you will find the record under it laying on 4 pillars <​of cement​>— then the angel left him."

Or, they could have quoted D&C 128:20, which explains that Moroni announced the name of the hill while the book was "yet to be revealed," thereby corroborating his mother's account.

Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. 

(Doctrine and Covenants 128:20)

Friday, September 8, 2023

Hadley account, podcasts, and webinar

I added more material to my post on the Hadley account (the one MacKay, Dirkmaat and Smoot use to claim Joseph Smith started SITH), including material in the Joseph Smith Papers where the editors also forgot about Hadley's 1842 explanation of what happened.



Mormonism with the Murph is going to post the second part of our interview this weekend.



The webinar for ScriptureNotes will be this coming Sunday.


Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Podcast with the Murph!

Our interview on Mormonism with the Murph will be released tomorrow. 

We had an awesome discussion. Stephen is one of the best-informed and most insightful interviewers on YouTube.

Whether you agree or disagree, it's important to understand all sides of this issue.


Monday, September 4, 2023

Webinar on Sunday, Sept 10

I'm doing another webinar for ScriptureNotes on Sunday, Sept 10 at 3 pm Mountain time. I hope to see you there.

Here's the announcement:

(click to enlarge)



Friday, September 1, 2023

Richard Bushman and M2C, plus friendship by Joseph Smith

Today is the official publication date of Richard Bushman's awesome new book on the gold plates that we'll discuss next week. 

He did an interview with Oxford Academic that's on YouTube, here:

Below is an excerpt that illustrates why Bushman is currently the most credible LDS scholar. He considers and presents all the evidence and interpretations, unlike most other LDS scholars/historians who prefer to promote their own agendas. 

8:35 There's a lot of scholarship on where the plot of the Book of Mormon went on. Was it in North America, in upstate New York? Is that where all the events recorded there went on? 
Or was it in Central America? So there are some people who think there were two Cumorahs, one in Central America where Moroni buried the plates, another in New York. And so the speculation, you know, just goes on endlessly.

Book of Mormon Central (Scripture Central), FAIRLDS and the Interpreter could be awesome if they followed his example. Latter-day Saints want to make informed decisions. They deserve more of this type of even-handedness.

We love everyone in these organizations and respect their scholarship and objectives. We see things differently, but that's not a problem for us. We value intellectual diversity. Think how much healthier it would be for them to embrace all their fellow Latter-day Saints and acknowledge multiple faithful interpretations. 

Instead, Jack Welch, Scott Gordon and Dan Peterson, along with their employees and followers (and donors) set themselves up as the de facto "interpreters" who expect everyone else to follow their M2C/SITH agenda because of their credentials. 

Nevertheless, we continue to hope they will someday embrace the principles of no more contention and unity in diversity.


In a related topic, I posted Joseph Smith's comments about Friendship here:


Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Fun with BMC buying ads

A friend sent me this search result recently. It shows Book of Mormon Central spending money to promote itself under "Book of Mormon Evidence."

By spending some of their millions of dollars, they've been able to supplant Rod Meldrum's Book of Mormon Evidence site in the google listings.

I'm sure their donors are proud, right?

But it looks a little desperate to me.

Click to enlarge

Of course, all Book of Mormon Central would have to do is live up to its purported purpose as the central place for all faithful interpretations, but instead they're merely an advocacy group for M2C and SITH.


Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Oxford mathematician on Christianity

Ten years ago Professor John Lennox spoke at the Oxford Union about why he is Christian. In those 10 years, the video got 1.5 million views. But Oxford Union has 1.83 million subscribers.


Two weeks ago, the Daily Dose Of Wisdom channel repurposed the original video with commentary and has already attracted 2,368,630 views--with a base of only 183,000 subscribers.


The presentation is excellent. If you haven't seen it, you should.

But this may tell us that interest in religion is rising again, just as President Nelson said it would.

Monday, August 28, 2023

SITH origin: Dehlin, Smoot, MacKay, Dirkmaat

No one has a problem with historians (or anyone else) proposing interpretations of the historical record. We all understand the concept of multiple working hypotheses, and we all agree people can believe whatever they want.

But we expect people to at least be clear about the facts and the assumptions, inferences, and theories that lead to their hypotheses and conclusions. 

When we pursue clarity, charity, and understanding, we start with clarity for a reason. Obfuscation and misdirection don't lead to understanding but to confusion. People can't make informed decisions when they don't have clarity about the facts--and about the difference between facts and assumptions, inferences, etc. When people simply omit facts to persuade others to accept their hypotheses, we all want an explanation for why they omitted those facts. 

IOW, don't just omit relevant facts without at least explaining why. We may or may not agree with your explanation, but we want to know you have one.


In the pursuit of clarity, we've seen previously how M2C originated with a map published in 1917 (and 1918, 1919, and 1923) by an RLDS scholar named L.E. Hills* whose theory that the "real Cumorah/Ramah" was in Mexico was promptly rejected by both RLDS and LDS leaders who reaffirmed what Joseph and Oliver taught. But LDS scholars who rejected what the prophets taught about Cumorah persisted in promoting Hills' M2C theory. They've raised and spent millions of dollars from faithful Latter-day Saints to all but erase the New York Cumorah/Ramah from the collective memory of the Church.

Fortunately, no amount of money can erase what everyone can read right in the Joseph Smith Papers.

And, as always, if anyone thinks I've erred or misstated anything, feel free to email me at lostzarahemla@gmail.com and I'll make the corrections. 


A similar process is underway to establish SITH (the stone-in-the-hat theory), particularly by John Dehlin, Stephen O. Smoot, Michael Hubbard MacKay, and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat.

As we'll see, Smoot/MacKay/Dirkmaat omitted highly relevant facts about SITH and invented an opposite narrative instead that they've promoted heavily. In the pursuit of charity, we can assume they have a good faith reason for doing so, but it's difficult to imagine what that might be. At any rate, they should have disclosed the facts and explained why they omitted them.

Here's the problem. Not only did they publish this false narrative years ago with no pushback from the LDS scholarly community, but as recently as this year--2023--they persuaded Deseret Book to promote the false narrative with additional embellishments--all to establish SITH as the only acceptable explanation for the Book of Mormon.


Some people think SITH became prominent among Latter-day Saints because of Richard Bushman's book Rough Stone Rolling, published in 2007. But Bushman accurately reported the historical accounts. He could/should have clarified a few things and added additional references, as suggested here, https://www.mobom.org/rsr-review, but he didn't change the historical record to promote an agenda. 

John Dehlin's 2013 "Faith Crisis Report" took SITH a step further by claiming SITH was the actual origin of the Book of Mormon and that there was a "gap" between the "true" SITH accounts and the "false" teachings of the Church regarding the Urim and Thummim. Dehlin's Mormon Stories podcast has repeated that theme ever since.

(click to enlarge)

Dehlin's report led to the publication of the Gospel Topics Essays, including the essay on Book of Mormon Translation which adopted Dehlin's narrative. The essay doesn't even quote what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation; instead, it selectively quotes from other sources to promote the Dehlin narrative. For an analysis, see https://www.ldshistoricalnarratives.com/2022/09/analysis-gospel-topics-essay-on-book-of.html.

The 2015 book From Darkness Unto Light, by Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, quoted original sources and wove a narrative that further persuaded many Latter-day Saints to accept SITH (the stone-in-the-hat theory). However, without explaining why, the authors omitted original sources that contradicted SITH. Worse, they also falsified the historical record to promote SITH. 

Specifically, they invented a narrative around Jonathan Hadley, who published the first known account of the translation. 

Smoot/MacKay/Dirkmaat claim Joseph Smith visited Hadley to ask if he would publish the Book of Mormon. They claim Joseph related the SITH account to him. They claim that Hadley was initially amiable toward Joseph Smith, and that Hadley's account should be accepted on its face.

Yet in an account they don't even cite (let alone quote), Hadley himself said it was Martin Harris alone who visited him. Hadley never said Joseph visited him. He never said he ever met Joseph. And he explained that he not only refused to have anything to do with the publication, but that he would "expose" the "whole Mormon gang" if they succeeded in publishing the Book of Mormon.

IOW, Smoot/MacKay/Dirkmaat claim SITH originated with Joseph Smith, when the historical record shows us that it originated with an avowed antagonist who had never even met Joseph Smith.

Stephen O. Smoot wrote an enthusiastic review in the Interpreter.

But perhaps the most fascinating insight to be found in this section of the book is the discussion of Jonathan A. Hadley’s 1829 account of his visit with Joseph Smith. Printer of the Palmyra Freeman, Hadley reported in August 1829 that the Prophet had recently come to him seeking to contract the publication of the Book of Mormon. Although he contemptuously dismissed his account of the recovery of the plates, Hadley nevertheless reported Joseph’s description to him of the physical dimensions thereof. 

This is the type of "peer approval" at the Interpreter that we've all come to know and love. It's what happens when people rely on what others write without looking at the original sources.

MacKay and Dirkmaat were so enamored with their Hadley narrative that they included it on the first page of their latest book, Let's Talk About the Translation of the Book of Mormon, published in 2023 by Deseret Book.

Consequently, Deseret Book is officially on record for promoting the false narrative that SITH originated with Joseph Smith.

I posted a detailed analysis about all of this. It's an excerpt from the appendix in an upcoming book about LDS apologetics. You can read it here:


Here's a brief example of the Smoot/MacKay/Dirkmaat narrative, compared to what Hadley actually said. 

Smoot, MacKay, Dirkmaat


Though Hadley's small-time operation could not accommodate the herculean project of printing the Book of Mormon, he went from amiable to incensed after Joseph eventually agreed to terms with the recalcitrant Grandin rather than Hadley's more well-positioned friend in Rochester.

Joseph had described to Hadley many of the remarkable events that had let him to the plates and how they were translated. Now Hadley determined to undermine Joseph Smith by relating the fantastical events Joseph had told him.

Soon after the translation was completed, I was one day waited upon by Harris, and offered the printing of the Book of Mormon. This was in the summer of 1829, at which time I was carrying on the printing business at Palmyra. Harris owned a good farm in that town, and offered to mortgage it to secure the expense of printing. Though he was a subscriber to my paper, and had frequently "labored" to convert me to the Mormon faith, I was so sceptical as to utterly refuse to have any "part or lot" in the imposition, telling him at the same time, that if he proceeded with the publication, I should feel it my duty, as the conductor of a faithful public journal, to expose him and the whole Mormon gang. He took the work, however, to the other office in the village, and it was soon put to press. It was then I wrote and published an article, which you may recollect, headed "THE GOLDEN BIBLE," giving a history of the humbug up to that time. This article was extensively copied, it having been the first ever published about the Mormons.

The MacKay/Dirkmaat narrative as it appears on the first page of Let's Talk About:

Smoot promoting SITH in the Interpreter:


*The simulation winked at us by having a guy named "Hills" promote the idea of "two hills Cumorah" or M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). We should have known all along it was fake news.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Two new "can't miss" podcasts

Mormon Book Reviews interviewed me in my studio in Oregon about my own story. Steve always asks great questions to prompt conversations. 

He labeled it "A Faith Journey: Book of Mormon and Murder."


Description: Jonathan Neville returns to MBR to discuss with Steven Pynakker some of his life's story. Did you know that Neville was almost murdered and he had an out of body experience? Did you know that his half-brother was murdered and it was a cold case for 25 years before there was a conviction? This was a very fascinating conversation where Jonathan talks about things in his life that very few people know. We also talk about his faith and discuss the Book of Mormon and the Meso/Heartlander situation.

And, part 5 of our interview with Gospel Tangents is "Why Translation of the Book of Mormon matters." It's on YouTube here:


Description: Many people don't care whether Joseph used a seer stone or a Urim & Thummim to translate the Book of Mormon. Why does it matter so much to Jim Lucas & Jonathan Neville? They answer in our next conversation!

Friday, August 25, 2023

The fundamental flaw of Evidence Central

In the pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding, we all recognize that Evidence Central (https://evidencecentral.org/recency) is a laudable effort to accumulate, organize and present extrinsic evidence that corroborates the truth claims of the Restoration, including the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

They are a useful resource on many topics.

However, much of the "evidence" published by Evidence Central is designed to promote that narrative that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery misled everyone about the origin (SITH for stone-in-the-hat) and setting (M2C for Mesoamerican/two Cumorahs) of the Book of Mormon. 

I'm fine with people believing whatever they want. But Evidence Central purports to be a faithful organization. Look at its Purpose statement: "Evidence Central strives to increase faith in Jesus Christ by making evidences of the Restoration more accessible, understandable, and defensible."

But instead of recognizing and supporting multiple faithful approaches, Evidence Central is an advocacy group for SITH and M2C.

This is the fundamental flaw of Evidence Central: 

Evidence Central promotes the critical narratives that Joseph and Oliver misled everyone about the origin (translation) and setting (the hill Cumorah) of the Book of Mormon.

It's a tragedy because Evidence Central could fulfill its stated purpose by presenting evidence that supports all the faithful interpretations, including those that support and corroborate what Joseph and Oliver taught. By so doing, they would educate and unify Latter-day Saints, recognizing the principle of unity in diversity.

As currently led by its principals, Evidence Central insists on causing division and confusion by promoting only one interpretation--an interpretation that the opponents of the Restoration initially developed and continue to promote today.


The 2019 "Faith Crisis Report" by John Dehlin and others, which anyone can read at this link, surveyed thousands of people and concluded that 

the top factors for loss-of-belief are highly correlated to each other and pertain specifically to the Church’s key historical truth claims: 1) Joseph Smith, 2) History, 3) Doctrine / theology, 4) Book of Mormon.

A key element throughout that report is the purported "gap" between the SITH narrative, which the report deems accurate, and the traditional Urim and Thummim narrative taught by Joseph and Oliver, which the report deems false. 

Evidence Central has adopted Dehlin's "gap" theory as the only acceptable interpretation of Church history.

Again, that's fine. People can believe whatever they want. But in the interest of clarity, they owe it to their readers (and donors) to be clear about what they are teaching; i.e., that they are promoting the narrative from Mormonism Unvailed, John Dehlin, and other critics. 

And they owe it to their readers (and donors) to explain that they do not accommodate faithful interpretations and narratives that corroborate and support what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Let's look at a recent example.


This "evidence" entry discusses the "Purpose of the Plates." 


Naturally, anyone who reads what Joseph and Oliver wrote would conclude that Moroni gave Joseph the plates so he could translate the engravings on them. [See sample references below.]

But not Evidence Central.

In the Abstract of their "evidence" article they state, as a fact, that "the plates of the Book of Mormon weren't directly used in the process of their translation." 


It is sometimes claimed that because the plates of the Book of Mormon weren’t directly used in the process of their translation, then they served no meaningful purpose. To the contrary, in a variety of ways the plates played a valuable role in the unfolding drama of the Restoration.

They say "it is sometimes claimed... they served no meaningful purpose." 

By using the passive voice, Evidence Central avoids informing readers that this is precisely the claim made by Mormonism Unvailed back in 1834 when it described SITH.

The plates, therefore, which had been so much talked of, were found to be of no manner of use. After all, the Lord showed and communicated to him every word and letter of the Book. Instead of looking at the characters inscribed upon the plates, the prophet was obliged to resort to the old "peep stone," which he formerly used in money-digging. 


Joseph and Oliver denounced and refuted Mormonism Unvailed, but Evidence Central embraces and amplifies the SITH claims in that book. 


Next, let's look at the "variety of ways the plates played a valuable role." 

This section is a mass of confusion and sophistry that betrays their cognitive dissonance as they promote SITH while keeping one toe in the water of the traditional narrative--just in case Joseph and Oliver told the truth after all.  

First, they contradict their entire premise by admitting there is evidence that Joseph used the plates to translate. 

1. Evidence That the Plates Were Used to Translate. Accounts about the plates not being directly utilized in the translation are likely accurate but incomplete.

Evidence Central deems the SITH accounts "likely accurate but incomplete." But Evidence Central started the article by declaring that "the plates... weren’t directly used in the process of their translation." How do they rationalize their SITH theory? Look at this.

Evidence suggests that during the early stages of Joseph’s translation efforts, a mode of translation was sometimes used which directly involved the plates.... [quoting the Coe account of Joseph using the plates and the Urim and Thummim]... If accurate, this method of translating may also help explain accounts of a blanket or screen being used to separate Joseph from his scribe 

Isolated evidence and evidence taken out of context can "suggest" anything. But as you'll see if you read the entire article, they simply omit what Joseph and Oliver said. And notice they're limiting evidence of actual translation to the undefined "early stages." 

Look at the disparity in deference as well. The SITH accounts are "likely accurate" but the Coe account, only "if accurate," may "help explain" other accounts. 

If Evidence Central sought to corroborate what Joseph and Oliver said instead of corroborating what the unbelieving critics said, they would have pointed out that the Coe account both (i) corroborates what Joseph and Oliver said and (ii) contradicts the SITH accounts.


There are other indications that Joseph Smith was at least occasionally aware of the relationship between the characters on the plates and the words he was dictating. He once explained that “the Title Page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left-hand side of the collection or book of plates.”

LOL. Joseph "was at least occasionally aware." This degree of imaginary mind-reading is another tell for cognitive dissonance.

This paragraph reminds me of the speaker at Education Week a few years ago who quoted Joseph's statement about the Title Page and said, "We don't know how he knew this because he never used the plates." 

People in the audience stifled a laugh. They immediately realized how foolish this statement was. 

The speaker hadn't considered the possibility that Joseph knew the Title Page was on the last leaf because he translated the engravings on the last leaf--just like he translated the engravings on every leaf.


[after quoting David Whitmer] This would have reinforced—at least to Joseph himself and perhaps to those, like Whitmer, whom he informed about the process—that even when using a seer stone Joseph’s dictation was indeed connected to the record in his possession.

More imaginative mind-reading. But this ephemeral "connection" directly contradicts what Joseph and Oliver said. 

To their credit, at least Evidence Central included an illustration of Joseph using the Urim and Thummim to look on the plates. They could and should have made this the focal point of the purpose of the plates; i.e., the purpose of the plates was for Joseph to translate them. 

Instead, they insisted that Joseph didn't use the plates, except during the undefined "early stages." 

Now look at their caption:

Artist’s rendition of Joseph Smith translating while wearing the breastplate with the attached interpreters or spectacles, later referred to as the Urim and Thummim. Illustration by Robert T. Barrett.

This caption teaches the critical narrative that Joseph adopted the term Urim and Thummim to make the interpreters sound more biblical. IOW, it's another example of Joseph and Oliver misleading everyone, because they both said Moroni used the term.


If Evidence Central lived up to its name, they would have included at least these following references as additional evidence about the "purpose of the plates." 

Moroni "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." (Messenger and Advocate I.5:80 ¶2, Times and Seasons II.4:243 ¶3, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/69)

Joseph said "I copied a considerable number of them [the characters off the plates], and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them." (Joseph Smith—History 1:62). 

Regarding the 116 pages, Joseph said "I took from the Book of Lehi." (Preface 1830 edition)

The Lord told Joseph "you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi."
(Doctrine and Covenants 10:41)

Joseph wrote, "I obtained them [the plates], and the Urim and Thummim with them; by the means of which, I translated the plates; and thus came the book of Mormon." (Elders' Journal, July 1838)

Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.
(Joseph Smith—History 1:35)

Instead, to promote their SITH agenda, Evidence Central withheld this evidence from their readers.


Evidence Central proceeds to invoke a series of metaphorical "purposes" of the plates that made them important despite the fact (in their view) that Joseph didn't really translate them. 

The additional purposes are fine in the sense of multiple working hypotheses, but they are insignificant compared to the stated purpose of the plates, which was for Joseph to translate them. But Evidence Central can't say Joseph translated the plates because they prefer the SITH narrative.

When Evidence Central explicitly (i) refutes what Joseph and Oliver claimed and (ii) omit what Joseph and Oliver claimed, they undermine the purported purpose of the organization. This is the opposite of making "the Restoration more accessible, understandable, and defensible."

This table shows how it works. 

Joseph Smith, Elders’ Journal, July 1838

The “real meaning” of Joseph’s statement, according to Evidence Central, the Interpreter, FairLDS, CES Letter, Mormon Stories, Book of Mormon Central, Meridian Magazine, RFM, LDS Discussions, the Joseph Smith Papers editors, etc.

"I obtained them [the plates], and the Urim and Thummim with them; by the means of which, I translated the plates; and thus came the book of Mormon."

"I obtained them [the plates], and the Urim and Thummim with them; but I didn’t actually use the Urim and Thummim or the plates. In fact, I only adopted the term Urim and Thummim after someone else made the analogy to the Bible. 

Instead, I took a stone I found in a well years earlier, put it in a hat, and then read words that appeared on the stone; and thus came the book of Mormon."


Obviously, the entire narrative of the Restoration of the Gospel depends on the credibility and reliability of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. 

- Together, they produced the Book of Mormon (as translator and scribe, respectively) and the early revelations. 

- They received the Priesthood (Aaronic and Melchizedek). 

- They produced the first published accounts of these events (the eight essays/letters found in the Joseph Smith Papers here: https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/48

- They received the keys of the gathering and of temple work (D&C 110, based on the record of Oliver's brother Warren: https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/journal-1835-1836/194). [Note: some Church materials misleadingly claim Joseph Smith conferred the Priesthood on others, but everyone who bears the Priesthood can see that the line of authority goes through Joseph and Oliver. And, actually, it was Oliver, not all of the Three Witnesses, who ordained the original Twelve Apostles.

If Joseph and Oliver lied or even misled people, the narrative of the Restoration implodes and there is nothing left but a handful of scholars trying to rationalize why Joseph and Oliver might have been deceivers, but they were deceiving people to cover up an underlying truth.

Good luck with that.


Recently I spoke with someone about the origin of the Book of Mormon. This is a lawyer who has served multiple missions and in various leadership positions.

He mentioned that a niece had left the Church after hearing that Joseph produced the Book of Mormon by reading words that appeared off a stone he put in a hat (SITH, or the stone-in-the-hat theory). He couldn't understand why that was a problem.

I said it was a problem because that's not a translation, and it's not what Joseph said about the origin of the Book of Mormon.

He said Joseph Smith said he used a stone in a hat.

I asked where Joseph ever said that, because Joseph (and Oliver) always said Joseph translated with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates, and never said he read words off a stone in a hat.

He said "reputable scholars" say Joseph used SITH. Presumably he was referring to the SITH sayers who claim Joseph was referring to the seer (peep) stone when he used the term Urim and Thummim, which of course contradicts the historical record, as we've seen.

And then he said it doesn't matter how Joseph produced the Book of Mormon because it's true regardless.

No wonder his niece left. 


Evidence Central is part of the network of interlocking "central" sites, funded by millions of dollars of donations, all designed to promote M2C and SITH in English, Portuguese and Spanish.





Seminary Central even features the ridiculous and offensive FARMS logo that presents the Book of Mormon as a Mayan text.

Young Latter-day Saints don't stand a fair chance against this onslaught of academic sophistry and misdirection coming at them from both the critics and the M2C/SITH scholars.


A case in point.

Evidence Central contains this entry on Oliver Cowdery:



In these letters, Oliver expressed a desire to live his life in a way that his credibility as a witness would not be called into question.15 

“I have cherished a hope,” he wrote to Phineas Young in 1846, “that I might leave such a character, as those who might believe in my testimony … might not blush for the private character of the man who bore that testimony.”16 Similarly, in a letter to David Whitmer, his fellow Book of Mormon witness, Oliver wrote that the Church “must arise in a measure upon our testimony, and upon our characters as good men. … Let the Lord vindicate our characters, and cause our testimony to shine, and then will men be saved in his kingdom.”17

Yet Evidence Central (and the entire "Central" network) teaches people that Oliver Cowdery lied when he wrote that it is a fact that here, between these hills...

Evidence Central teaches that Oliver Cowdery lied when he wrote that Moroni said the "record was written and deposited not far from" Joseph's home near Palmyra and when he declared it is a "fact that .

Another excerpt that carefully omits a critical part of Oliver's testimony:

When Oliver returned to the Church, several witnesses remembered him testifying of the Book of Mormon.18 According to a “verbatim report,” taken down as Oliver Cowdery spoke at Council Bluffs, Iowa in October 1848, he declared, “I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands, the gold plates from which [the Book of Mormon] was transcribed.”19

The footnote explains that Reuban Miller, who recorded Oliver's words, was a reliable minute-taker.

19 Journal of Reuban Miller, October 21, 1848, as printed in “Last Days of Oliver Cowdery,” Deseret News, April 13, 1859, in Morris, Documentary History, 351. Miller had considerable experience in accurate minute-taking when he recorded Oliver’s speech, and thus his report is generally taken as a reliable report of Oliver’s words. See Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Reuben Miller, Recorder of Oliver Cowdery’s Reaffirmations,” BYU Studies 8, no. 3 (1968): 377–392; reprinted in Oliver Cowdery, 401–419.

Despite emphasizing Miller's reliability, Evidence Central misleads readers by omitting what Oliver said about the Urim and Thummim. Here is the full quotation, with the part Evidence Central omitted in bold:

“I wrote with my own pen the intire book of mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the Lips of the prophet. As he translated it by the gift and power of god, By means of the urum and thumum, or as it is called by that book holy Interperters. I beheld with my eyes, And handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated, I also beheld the Interperters. That book is true, Sidney Rigdon did not write it, Mr Spaulding did not write it, I wrote it myself as it fell from the Lips of the prophet.” (Miller, Journal, 21 Oct. 1848.)