Some time ago I was in a conversation with several well-known M2Cers. The topic of alternative models of Book of Mormon geography arose. During the discussion, one M2Cer asked, "Why don't we just create a comparison chart that shows all the major models, with pros and cons?"
Their leader shook his head. "I'll never allow that," he said.
"Why not?" she asked.
"Because most people would go with the Heartland."
It's easy to see why most Latter-day Saints would "go with the Heartland" when we watch the defense of M2C that Brant Gardner provided on the CWIC Media show the other day.
At the outset, I emphasize that Brant is an awesome guy. I like him. He's nice and personable, as well as a smart, knowledgeable, faithful Latter-day Saint who has written as much as anyone about Book of Mormon origins (translation) and setting (Mesoamerica). He undoubtedly means well and is obviously convinced of his worldview. His M2C theory is a legitimate working hypothesis.
However, before considering the CWIC Media interview, we need to provide some context. Brant is a regular participant in the M2C citation cartel, which continues to misrepresent the so-called Heartland theory and tries to deter people from considering it by falsely linking it to racism.
Last year, during an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, he repeated a deplorable stereotype about the so-called Heartlander theory: “It has allowed a very jingoistic, very racist approach to the Book of Mormon,” Gardner said. “And there are a lot of people that resonates with.”
The article continued:
Offline support [for the Heartlander ideas] also appears to be gaining ground, according to Brant Gardner, a Book of Mormon scholar who has written numerous books in defense of the Mesoamerican model. “I see it frequently in wards and talking to people,” Gardner, who lives in New Mexico, said. “It’s a lot more prominent than it was.”
Exactly how popular the Heartland model has become is hard to say. As a reference, [Wayne] May points to the crowds he is able to draw when speaking at private events, estimating anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 might attend the lectures over three days.
“There are a lot of Saints out there that are very, very interested in what we’re doing,” May said, “and they’re paying close attention.”
To this, Gardner grudgingly agreed. “We can’t get that many people to any of our conferences,” he said, referring to his own community of supporters of the Mesoamerican model. “It’s a point of envy.”
Envy explains a lot of the actions of the M2Cers. I discussed the interview here:
With that background, let's consider the interview.
If you don't want to read all of this, here's the summary:
The basic M2C rule of historical analysis: No matter who says it, or when, or in what context, if they say Cumorah is in New York, their claim is, by definition, misleading, ignorant, speculative, and definitely wrong.
Brant started right off with his racist worldview at 3:39: "we really would like selfishly to have the Book of Mormon be ours and and be in a place where frankly we white people have been."
Race a bizarre fixation of the M2Cers. Brant's not the only one, as you can see if you follow the writings of the M2C apologists. It's a goofy red herring fallacy.
Moving on, Brant next claims (4:31) "you have to have a narrow neck of land."
Of course, we can all see that the only "narrow neck of land" in the text is in Ether 10:20, but the M2Cers conflate that with a "narrow neck" without noticing the qualifier "of land," and also conflate it with a "small neck of land" without noticing the difference between "narrow" and "small." While it's not unreasonable to conflate these three features, it seems more reasonable to me that three different terms refer to three different features.
IOW, the traditional "hourglass" shape is not required or specified by the text, but instead by the conflation of three different terms. Again, not unreasonable, but also not a justification for excluding other interpretations of the text.
The M2C interpretation assumes that "land northward" and "land southward" are proper nouns referring to specific locations. I can only speak for my view, which is that these are relative terms depending on the reference point; i.e., the location of the speaker/writer using these terms. Thus, Salt Lake City can be a "land southward" if you are in Logan, or a "land northward" if you are in Provo. That seems so obvious to me that it is self-evident, but the M2Cers disagree.
Which is fine.
But this shows why a side-by-side comparison of these issues would be so productive and useful.
I won't detail all of Brant's theories, but you can see he is repeating the traditional M2C interpretation to constrain the possibilities to Mesoamerica instead of what the text actually says. I refer to this as the "Sorenson translation" of the Book of Mormon.
For example, he conflates the term "sea" with "ocean" instead of looking at the way the term is used in the KJV, where it means a large body of water (e.g., Sea of Galilee) as well as a "mighty river" (e.g., the Nile).
At 8:10, he ironically claims "you have to do some real interesting linguistic work to take the headwaters of the sidon and make it a Confluence of rivers," yet the text itself never uses the term "headwaters." That's another Sorenson translation. It's audacious "linguistic work" to change the text to fit your preconceived ideas and then pass that off as a requirement of the text!
Then he says, "the text of the Book of Mormon says that the land of Nephi is higher than the land of Zarahemla if you've got a river that's going between those two areas fluid dynamics tells you it has to go downhill which means it has to go north so the text says you need a North Flowing River."
This presents us with a dilemma. Is he merely ignorant of the Heartland model, or is he deliberately misleading his viewers/listeners?
Because Brant's a good guy, I chalk this up to ignorance. Most Heartlanders agree with the M2C inference that the land of Nephi is higher in elevation than the land of Zarahemla, and that there is a river between them. However, the M2Cers further infer that this must be the river Sidon, but the text doesn't say or imply that.
We've explained for years that you do get to the land of Zarahemla (Illinois) from the higher land of Nephi (Tennessee) by going downhill on a north-flowing river (the Tennessee River). It's an easy solution. I suspect not many M2Cers have lived in Tennessee (as I have) or are even familiar with the geography and river systems there, which may explain why they overlook this simple point.
He refers to Brian Hales' upcoming work that apparently states the obvious: it's easier and faster to go downstream than upstream. Brian's a great guy, and I'm sure his paper will be peer-approved by the Interpreter, but why bother?
The rest of Brant's interview replows the same old ground, but let's look at what he says about Joseph and Oliver.
at 17:15, Brant articulates the M2C approach of "Joseph Smith, follower" theory, based on the "Oliver Cowdery, deceiver" theory.
Seriously, look at this. They actually teach that Oliver Cowdery misled Joseph Smith about Cumorah!
He says, "the historians who've looked at Joseph Smith using terminology, he doesn't start using that until I think 1838 is the time we first get Joseph Smith recorded as saying it was, you know, the hill Cumorah, but why is he calling it The Hill Cumorah? Well because everybody else is. You know Oliver Cowdery was early doing that, so Joseph picked up on the vocabulary. It's the same thing we'll talk about with the Urim and Thummim, you know that's a late vocabulary Joseph didn't use it for a long time then eventually did. He picked up the language that everybody else was using he's no different than the rest of us he's lived in a community and when the community starts using a certain term for something he ended up using it.
This is the same theory Stebbins used back in 1911. I've written about this, and some people have challenged me to show where our M2C scholars teach it. They've spelled it out explicitly in several places, but it is implicit in everything they write about Cumorah.
Now you have Brant laying it out for everyone to see.
Here's how Stebbins explained it back in 1911, as I discussed here:
Stebbins claimed that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were speculating on Book of Mormon geography as an excuse for the actual Hill Cumorah being in Central America.
I know that in Doctrine and Covenants 10 : 20 it reads, "glad tidings of Cumorah," but it is in a letter from Joseph Smith, evidently after the idea had become fixed that because records were hidden in Cumorah therefore the one in New York must have been the same hill.
In his "Letters," pages 29, 33, Oliver Cowdery calls it Cumorah, evidently from the same idea, not from any divine or angelic statement that it was Cumorah. Certainly the idea did not originate with any careful student of the Book of Mormon. There may not have been any real study of the book at that time. The book appears to have been largely taken on trust by the old Saints, without great examination or study.
If you've read the writings of the modern M2C scholars, they have adopted the Stebbins rationale instead of accepting the teachings of the prophets.
The interviewer, Greg, pointed out to Brant that Lucy Mack Smith says Moroni identified the hill as Cumorah during his first visit: "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..."
Note: You can read this in the Joseph Smith Papers here:
Brant's response is to reject what Lucy wrote, not because she wouldn't have known, or is not a credible witness, but because it contradicts Brant's own narrative!
Brant, confronted with Lucy's explanation, says:
Brant: that is actually not known. The record of that comes late. the record of it speaking back to that period yeah and and that's part of the problem you...
Greg: so you say and I'm sorry to interrupt you but you were saying that Moroni doesn't say Cumorah?
Brant: at least we do not know exactly what he said because they say it later. You know, that later designation, by the time that gets written down everybody's saying Cumorah and that's the way everybody knows the hill and so that term gets put into the historical record.
According to the M2Cers, everything in Church history that contradicts M2C is a false narrative, while everything that somehow supports M2C is a true narrative--including Sorenson's revised translation of the text!
That's the basic M2C rule of historical analysis. No matter who says it, or when, if they say Cumorah is in New York, it is by definition misleading, ignorant, speculative, and definitely wrong.
You can go through the interview and find more of the same, but one we should spend a moment on is Brant misquoting the Wentworth letter. We'll end with this.
Brant claims Joseph wrote "continent" when he actually wrote "country," then he says there is "a big important difference between continent and country."
We can all agree with Brant that there is a big difference between continent and country, which is why the Wentworth letter is so important.
First, recall that Mr. Wentworth had learned about Cumorah in 1841, as I discussed here:
Second, we might wonder, how could Brant have made such an obvious error?
Maybe he relied on the M2C orientation of the lesson manual that deliberately omitted this portion of the Wentworth letter in a lesson focused on the Wentworth letter!
You can see how it is edited here:
You can see how this has been edited in all the language versions. For example, the French version is here:
I've been informed that the editors of the manual did this to avoid a discussion of the implications of this passage, which is another fascinating topic to discuss some day, but the omission in the lesson manual doesn't justify M2C scholars changing the language of the Wentworth letter (the way they do with the Sorenson translation).
This is a serious issue because non-English speakers have access to the teachings of the prophets mainly, if not exclusively, through this lesson manual. And most English speakers won't look beyond the lesson manual anyway, so they are susceptible to the M2C spin about the Wentworth letter.
This is the antithesis of the openness we've come to expect, but it is particularly egregious here because Joseph started the letter by writing "all that I shall ask at his hands, is, that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation.”
Joseph didn't need to worry about the editors in 1842. Today, in 2023, we can't even get the Curriculum Department to publish the account entire.
Here's the link where I discussed this before:
[My critics say I'm criticizing Church leaders when I criticize this lesson manual, but that's false. No Church leaders favor censoring the explicit teachings of Joseph Smith the way this chapter in this manual does.]
If you want to read the entire letter, you can see it in the Times and Seasons link above, or on lds.org at this link: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2002/07/the-wentworth-letter?lang=eng
But you can't read the entire letter in the lesson manual because the following passage was omitted:
Direct quotation from the lesson manual (note the ellipses):
“Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God.… This book … tells us that our Savior made His appearance upon this continent after His resurrection;"
Direct quotation from the original letter (with the omitted portions in red):
"Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God.
"In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the Tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country. This book also tells us that our Savior made His appearance upon this continent after His Resurrection;"
It turns out, Joseph didn't need to worry about Mr. Barstow declining to "publish the account entire." Instead, he needed to worry about the Curriculum Department.
It's bad enough that they deleted the important passage in red, but they even deleted the "also" so readers would have no idea that the Book told us something else important.