Some slides from my presentation at the Book of Mormon Evidence conference on September 16, 2023, where I was the concluding speaker.
long ago ideas
Friday, September 29, 2023
Tuesday, September 26, 2023
I often say that about 80% of what Book of Mormon Central (and Scripture Central) do is great work.
Here's a good example. Kudos to Scripture Central and Tad Callister.
God's Hand in America | A Special Message by Tad R. Callister
Monday, September 25, 2023
The 200th anniversary of Moroni's first visit to Joseph Smith reminds us that the entire controversy about Cumorah depends entirely on which assumption you make.
It's very simple.
All we need is clarity, charity and understanding.
1. Everyone agrees on the basic fact that President Oliver Cowdery, as Assistant President of the Church, declared it is a fact that Cumorah/Ramah in the Book of Mormon is the same hill Cumorah in western New York where Moroni deposited the plates.
2. Everyone agrees that Oliver's declaration was republished in Church newspapers during Joseph's lifetime and copied into Joseph's journal as part of his life history.
1. Some people assume Oliver told the truth.
2. Other people assume Oliver did not tell the truth. These people include both nonbelieving critics and believing LDS scholars who advocate the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C).
1. Those who assume Oliver told the truth infer he had good reason to know about Cumorah, such as his visits to the repository in the hill Cumorah and his interactions with divine messengers.
2. Those who assume Oliver did not tell the truth infer he was either (i) a liar or (ii) an ignorant speculator who misled the Church as a result of his identification of Cumorah/Ramah.
The ensuing theories are supported by evidence consisting of
- interpreting the text
- finding supporting historical references
- finding supporting archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography, etc.
Graphically, it looks like this:
Those who assume Oliver was wrong end up either (i) rejecting the historicity of the Book of Mormon or (ii) following the M2C logic as spelled out by Sidney Sperry, L.E. Hills, John Sorenson, and their followers.
Friday, September 22, 2023
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."
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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
E. D. Howe
Lucy Mack Smith
L. E. Hills
John W. (Jack) Welch (Book of Mormon Central)
Heber C. Kimball
John Dehlin (Mormon Stories)
Joseph F. Smith
James E. Talmage
Jeremy Runnels (CES Letter)
Dan Peterson (Interpreter)
Marion G. Romney
Sandra Tanner (Utah Lighthouse ministry)
Thursday, September 21, 2023
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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:
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Friday, September 1, 2023
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:
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?8:44Or 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: