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.

Monday, July 22, 2024

No-wise #740

Our good friends at Book of Mormon Central ("BMC," aka "Scripture Central" and "SC") are at it again. They've released #740 in their series of essays that they call "Kno-Whys."

We're going to spend some time on this one because it's a good example of several of the common rhetorical tactics BMC/SC uses to promote its ideology. 

Essay #270 (and especially the last paragraph) is a long-winded way of repeating the fundamental editorial position of Scripture Central and Book of Mormon Central:

(i) the text of the Book of Mormon is wrong and unreliable to the extent it contradicts M2C;

(ii) we need to look to the M2C scholars at BMC/SC for guidance and direction; and

(iii) alternative faithful interpretations of the text are not permissible for purposes of comparison and education of the Latter-day Saints if they don't support M2C.

_____

We love our brothers and sisters at BMC/SC and we want BMC/SC to successfully fulfill its stated objectives "to illuminate and defend divine truth." We're also happy for people believing whatever they want. But we can all see that as long as BMC/SC operates only within its M2C* bubble, the organization will continue to produce content such as #740 that is counterproductive to these objectives. 

[*M2C is the acronym for the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory of Book of Mormon geography and interpretation.]

Scripture Central's M2C bubble

Most of these "Kno-Whys" are harmless enough. Some are insightful and useful. Some, though, are so problematic that when people send them to me for my reaction, they would be better named "No-wise." (See more examples at the end of this post.)

The BMC staff creates these "No-wise" inside their little M2C bubble, apparently unaware that the entire rest of the world is on the Internet, eager to make informed decisions by comparing and contrasting different perspectives. This includes Latter-day Saints who don't appreciate the tactics BMC uses to promote its M2C ideology.     

No-wise #740, which you can see here, https://scripturecentral.org/book-of-mormon/knowhy/what-kinds-of-swords-did-book-of-mormon-peoples-use?, is designed to persuade readers to "see" Mesoamerica when they read the Book of Mormon. The No-wise turns the scriptures inside-out to promote the BMC narrative that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah/Ramah. 

We'll discuss No-wise #740 in more detail below after we consider what BMC is doing with these essays. 

_____

If it was a legitimate academic organization, BMC would follow the example of https://www.kno-why.com/, which declares its approach on its website:

(click to enlarge)

But BMC takes the opposite approach.

Instead of transparency and collaboration, BMC believes in obfuscation and exclusion.

Someone looking at the self-appointed "Center" for Latter-day scripture ("Scripture Central") might think the organization represents and accommodates, or at least recognizes and respects, the views of all faithful Latter-day Saints. That's what a "Center" should be.

But many of us are disappointed that Scripture Central is merely an advocacy organization that spends millions of dollars to persuade Latter-day Saints that the prophets are wrong about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon. 

Like me, many Latter-day Saints wonder why BMC rejects transparency and collaboration. Since its inception several years ago, I've offered to work with BMC by providing editorial input, at my own expense, to help them improve their content and make it more inclusive.

They've always refused, even as recently as within the last week.

Instead, BMC exists in a Mesoamerican bubble, promoting M2C as the only permissible approach to the Book of Mormon.

BMC restricts its content to promote the specific views of a small group of like-minded academics whose insular worldview is reinforced by spending millions of dollars on marketing and content creation, all to create a narrative that competes with the legitimate, straightforward teachings of Church leaders and authentic historical sources.

This is easy to understand when we know the origin of BMC, which is merely a dba (doing business as) of Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, a long-time M2C advocacy group. http://bmaf.org/

BMAF logo depicting Mesoamerica

From the BMC website: Is BMC a legitimate non-profit? 

Yes. Book of Mormon Central (BMC) is a dba of Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, Inc., a Utah non-profit corporation organized in 2004. Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, Inc. (BMAF) is a 501 (c)(3) public charity whose final determination letter from the IRS was received in 2007.

If BMC pursued a policy of transparency and collaboration, they would encourage people to make informed decisions instead of promoting one narrative. They would pursue clarity, charity and understanding.

And BMC would welcome comparisons. People make informed decisions by comparing alternative perspectives. A good method is to apply the FAITH model of analysis (separating Facts from Assumptions and Inferences to create Theories that lead to overall Hypotheses). 

The FAITH model clarifies the origins, rationales, and implications of multiple working hypotheses, empowering people to make informed decisions.

Instead of collaborating with other Latter-day Saints to develop and apply the FAITH model for the setting of the Book of Mormon, BMC relies on rhetorical tricks and obfuscation.

This latest no-wise is as good an example as any, so let's discuss it.

Original in blue, my comments in red.

______________

KnoWhy #740 | July 9, 2024

What Kinds of Swords Did Book of Mormon Peoples Use?


This is a reasonable question. So far, so good.

But now look at the illustration.

(click to enlarge)

BMC answers its question with an illustration "from the 16th century Florentine Codex." The entire No-wise #760 is an exercise in sophistry to persuade readers to promote M2C by ignoring the plain language of the text of the Book of Mormon.  

This illustration reminds us that the basic message of BMC is a simple meme:


The illustration in No-wise #740 is followed by this passage:

“And now it came to pass that when the king had made an end of these sayings, and all the people were assembled together, they took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth.” Alma 24:17

This verse from Alma makes us all wonder, if the "swords" referred to in this passage were wooden sticks with small pieces of obsidian embedded in them, why didn't they just burn their sticks? Burying the weapons deep in the earth makes sense if they were difficult to replicate (such as metal swords), but not if anyone could pick up another stick, insert some obsidian, and start fighting again.

The Know

The Book of Mormon mentions swords 156 times in both literal and figurative senses.1 

Wordcruncher tells us that "sword" and "swords" appear in this frequency, respectively: OT (393) (18) NT (31) (6)  BM (115) (42) DC (17) (0)  PGP (92) (0). 

Footnote 1, like all the other footnotes in this No-wise, refers to members of the M2C citation cartel. I had stopped using that term because some people asked me to do so, but this No-wise is an example of the M2C bubble these experts inhabit; i.e., their citation cartel is an insular group that monotonously cites one another in a continuous loop. 

Notice too that these "No-wise" are anonymous, suggesting that the author(s) are merely citing themselves! 

Because the Book of Mormon is not available in its original language, its modern readers may envision a long, double-bladed metal weapon with a hilt, like those used by medieval European knights, when reading the English word sword. 

Here, BMC starts by employing its common tactic of "finding" Mesoamerica in the text on the theory that Joseph Smith didn't translate the plates correctly. The No-wise makes the argument that the "swords" in the Book of Mormon were actually the wooden stick with embedded obsidian depicted in the included illustrations.

This is the same tactic that has generated the popular memes about tapirs; i.e., when Joseph translated the word "horse" he should have used the supposedly more accurate word "tapir" but he was too ignorant to do so.

[Notice how this tactic merges with the stone-in-the-hat (SITH) theory. According to M2Cers, (most of whom are also SITH sayers) SITH gave Joseph the "wrong word" because the stone didn't realize the text was a Mesoamerican Codex.]

The "English word sword" is also found in the English-language Bible. If modern readers envision "medieval European knights" because of the Arnold Friberg paintings, that's a legitimate problem to bring up. 

But the Arnold Friberg paintings are problematic not only because of the European influence. They are equally, if not more, problematic because of the Mesoamerican influence. 

Reasonably informed and thoughtful modern readers would recognize the Old Testament origins of the Book of Mormon people and thus would envision a sword in the Old Testament sense. 

Such European-style metal swords have not been found in the ancient Americas, causing some critics to see Book of Mormon swords as an anachronism.2 

Now the No-wise conflates the Friberg problem with the anti-Mormon argument "no evidence" problem. Instead of pointing out that the text does not specify "European-style metal swords," the No-wise embraces the anti-Mormon argument which ignores the Middle-Eastern origins of the Book of Mormon people. 

Worse, the No-wise ignores the explanation in the text itself for why we don't see "European-style metal swords" in the ancient Americas; i.e., they were "cankered with rust," as we'll discuss below. 

However, weapons that are in many ways functionally equivalent to swords and that have been called swords historically and in academic literature were used throughout pre-Columbian America.3

As one of multiple working hypotheses, we recognize that the "functionally equivalent" argument is not irrational. It makes sense that Joseph Smith would use his own vocabulary to translate the text "after the manner of his language." (D&C 1:24) 

We can't tell how closely Joseph stuck to what was written on the plates. He said the Title Page was a literal translation, but he didn't say that about the rest of the text. Many so-called "anachronisms" would be expected if, as he said, Joseph translated the plates.

The "functionally equivalent" argument is elastic. It's one thing for Joseph to have converted an ancient text into the English language he knew and spoke. But it's something else entirely for Joseph to have mistranslated the text, such as by dictating "horse" when the original text said "tapir."

And, to be sure, "sword" is a somewhat generic term. But as we'll see, the English text uses terminology that fits the Middle-eastern origins of the people. To "see" Mesoamerica in the English text requires adding new language and ignoring the plain meaning of ordinary English.

The M2C scholars justify their revised translation of the text on the ground that Joseph (or SITH) did not correctly translate the plates. That it is not an irrational assumption. But it should be clearly identified as such as that everyone can compare it with the assumption that many Latter-day Saints still share; i.e., that the translation is correct.

The best candidate—among many—for Book of Mormon swords is probably something like the Aztec macuahuitl, also sometimes referred to more generally as a macana.4

This may be the "best candidate" according to John Sorenson's Mormon's Codex, which is basically M2C propaganda, replete with "correspondences" between Mayan civilization and Sorenson's interpretation of the Book of Mormon. Note 4 even suggests the Mayan language has Hebrew roots: "The Maya called the macuahuitl a hatzab, perhaps connected to the Hebrew hsb, meaning 'to hew.'”

The No-wise would be more useful if it identified multiple working hypotheses; i.e., what are the "many" candidates besides the macuahuitl?

Now, let's look at the how the No-wise describes this weapon. 

It consisted of a flat stick of hard wood lined with obsidian or flint blades, positioned either in a straight or serrated fashion. These were referred to as swords (espadas) by the Spaniards and are still called swords by many modern scholars.5 Similarly, the Aztecs called the Spanish swords tepuzmacuauhuitl, meaning “metal macuahuitl.”6 Clearly, both of those cultures saw a similarity between the two weapons. The straight-bladed version of the macuahuitl is best known among the later Aztecs, but variations of the weapon can be traced back to early Book of Mormon times.7 Because these weapons broke down so rapidly, almost none survive today and so our knowledge must be gleaned primarily from inscriptions, artwork, and colonial accounts.8

This is all fine. People can believe whatever they want. But as this paragraph points out, "these weapons broke down so rapidly" that there would be little point in burying them deep in the ground.

The no-wise proceeds to use illustrations of "Mesoamerican codices show images of human heads and limbs being cut off by these weapons," which the no-wise claims "accords well with the Book of Mormon, which describes both arms and heads being sliced off by swords (see Alma 17:37–39; Ether 15:30–31)."

Of course, Nephi cut off Laban's head with Laban's own sword. David decapitated Goliath with his sword. John the Baptist was beheaded. Judith famously decapitated Holofernes. 

None of these were done with Mesoamerican weapons.

...

Identifying the Book of Mormon sword with the macuahuitl raises a few questions but also answers many others. 

Looked at from another perspective, the M2C interpretation raises many questions and answers none. We can all see that the Book of Mormon text never states or implies that the Nephites used wooden clubs lined with obsidian or flint. Instead, it refers to rust, hilts, drawing swords, etc.  

For example, what might the word “hilt” refer to in Alma 44:12 and Ether 14:2 if we understand the swords to be macuahuitls? 

The term "hilt" is nonbiblical. The common definition of "hilt" is in connection with a sword, such as this example from an 1822 Palmyra newspaper:

Western Farmer, Palmyra, NY, Wednesday, March 20th 1822

"one of the British demanded his watch and some other jewelry that he possessed at the same time; after he had received the plunder demanded, and laid his sword under his right arm, he stepped back one pace in the rear, seized his sword by the hilt, cut off five inches of his skull one way, and two and a half coming down in a point towards his forehead, and many of his brains flew out; he had there at that time neither sword nor pistol of his own, but fought with his adversaries own weapons, which he had got from him..."

The term "hilt" shows up three times in the Book of Mormon, all with the connotation of the ordinary use of the term:

And I beheld his sword, and I drew it forth from the sheath thereof; and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, (1 Nephi 4:9)

as he raised his sword, behold, one of Moroni’s soldiers smote it even to the earth, and it broke by the hilt (Alma 44:12)

every man kept the hilt of his sword in his right hand (Ether 14:2)

The No-wise ignores the first use of the term because it unambiguously refers to Laban's steel sword. 

For the other two verses, the No-wise offers this dubious explanation:

In this case, the hilt would simply refer to the unbladed portion of the weapon, and drawing a sword (like in Mosiah 19:4; Alma 1:9; 19:22; and 20:16) would mean raising it or pulling it from a bag, belt, or covering since sheaths did not seem to be used in the New World.15

We saw how Nephi explicitly "drew [Laban's sword] forth from the sheath thereof." All the other passages in the Book of Mormon are consistent with Nephi's usage of the term. 

In the Old Testament, there are references to drawing a sword: "I will draw my sword," "will draw out a sword," "draw thy sword," "draw out a sword," "draw forth my sword out of his sheath," "draw their swords," etc. People "drew sword." 

In a book that frequently quotes directly from the Old Testament, written by people whose origins were in the world of the Old Testament, the most plausible and rational way to interpret the text is through the lens of the Old Testament. 

A useful "Kno-Why" would analyze the text by comparing the Old Testament worldview with a Mesoamerican worldview (and a North American worldview). But this No-wise offers only the M2C interpretation, which undermines its credibility.  

One great strength of this identification is the Ammonites’ powerful concerns about stained swords (Alma 24:12–15). While this staining could simply be an idiom or figure of speech, wooden weapons literally absorb blood and become permanently stained unlike metal weapons, which can be easily wiped clean.16 

This not only "could be" an idiom or figure of speech, it explicitly is: 

"Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins." (Alma 24:13)

This passage is actually an argument in favor of metal swords. The people did not want to "stain our swords again," implying that they were once stained but then cleaned. Now they don't want to stain them again because they could no longer be washed bright (as they once were), but this time through the blood of Christ.

The metaphor wouldn't make sense if they were referring to wooden clubs because such clubs, once stained, could not be cleaned and stained again. The text would say, "stain our swords more" instead of "stain our swords again."

The figurative nature of this passage is obvious because no sword stained with blood is going to be literally washed bright through more blood. 

Besides, metal weapons are stained by blood when it dries. To remove the stain on the sword after the blood dries takes effort (which helps the metaphor).    

At the same time, obsidian blades could give Book of Mormon swords the shiny brightness they are described as having.17

Now the No-wise shifts its argument. First, it claims the wooden swords can be stained permanently. Now it claims they can be shiny because the obsidian can be wiped clean. The result: swords that are both stained and washed bright, thereby defeating the entire point of the metaphor.

Let's look at the actual verses:

And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby.

16 And now, my brethren, if our brethren seek to destroy us, behold, we will hide away our swords, yea, even we will bury them deep in the earth, that they may be kept bright, as a testimony that we have never used them, at the last day; and if our brethren destroy us, behold, we shall go to our God and shall be saved. (Alma 24:15–16)

Note: The Old Testament mentions the "bright sword and glittering spear" in Nahum 3:3.

Certainly, the Book of Mormon asserts that some metal swords were used. However, only a small fraction of Book of Mormon swords are specifically said to be made of metal.18 

This transparent sophistry is typical of BMC/SC rhetoric. The No-wise doesn't quantify the references, yet it uses the phrase "small fraction" as if it had, thereby misleading readers. 

We can all read the text and see that there are: 

- explicit references to metal swords, 

- implications of metal swords in the other references, and 

- zero references to wooden swords or obsidian.

In other words, while the text specifically refers to metal swords and describes their use, there is not even a "small fraction" of references to wooden swords!

The sword of Laban is explicitly said to be steel, which is archaeologically attested in the ancient Near East in Nephi’s era.19 The only other explicitly metal swords in the Book of Mormon are the steel swords made by Shule a few generations after the Jaredite migration from Mesopotamia to the New World. The early Jaredites were familiar with metal working, but it is not stated how many steel swords Shule (a great-grandson of Jared) made and whether they were an early anomaly or somehow remained the norm in Jaredite culture.20

When a text refers naturally to an attribute of culture without remarking that it is an anomaly, we usually assume or infer that the attribute is not an anomaly. 

Other passages hint at the possibility of other metal swords as well: for example, Nephi said that he made swords after the manner of Laban’s sword, weapon making is mentioned in conjunction with metallurgy several times, and Jaredite weapons whose blades were “cankered with rust” were discovered.21 

The use of the term "hilt" with Laban's sword at least implies that the additional uses of the term "hilt" refer to similar metal swords.

Yet these statements can be interpreted in different ways. Nephi’s swords may have been stylistically modeled on Laban’s swords without being made of the same material. The mention of metallurgy and weaponry together only occurs a few times and could represent a limited and elite industry.22 

Here we see how tenuous the M2C interpretation is. The "few" references to metallurgy and weaponry contrast with the complete absence of references to wooden swords or even obsidian.

Similarly, the discovery of Jaredite metal weaponry and armor was probably noted precisely because it was so rare. 

This characterization makes no sense. First, the explorers brought the swords "for a testimony that the things they had said are true," not because the swords were a rare, unknown, curiosity.

Nothing in the text suggests or implies that swords were rare. To the contrary; the people knew exactly what they were.

And again, they have brought swords, the hilts thereof have perished, and the blades thereof were cankered with rust; (Mosiah 8:11)

They "brought swords," not mysterious, unknown objects made of unknown material. These swords were missing "hilts" that had perished, showing that the people knew what a hilt was. The swords had "blades." The blades were "cankered with rust," so we can all see that the people knew what rust was and what it did to the blades of swords.   

The difference in archaeological evidence between dozens of metal swords and several million metal swords would be astronomical and could help explain why metal swords have not yet been discovered in ancient America.23

Here we see another straw man argument; i.e., the claim that there should be "several million metal swords."

Apparently that is based on the obviously false claim that two million people died at Cumorah, which contradicts the text (despite the ridiculous graphic in BYU Studies here:

https://byustudies.byu.edu/online-book/charting-the-book-of-mormon/chart-138-the-two-final-battles).

 1 And it came to pass when Coriantumr had recovered of his wounds, he began to remember the words which Ether had spoken unto him.

2 He saw that there had been slain by the sword already nearly two millions of his people, and he began to sorrow in his heart; yea, there had been slain two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children.

(Ether 15:1–2)

Coriantumr's rumination took place years before the battle at Ramah/Cumorah. Whether he was reflecting on "two millions" who died during his lifetime, or he was thinking of the entire history of his people (the way we say over a million Americans have died in war since 1774), there is no requirement for "several million metal swords."  If the "two millions" died over the entire Jaredite history, that amounts to a few thousand per year. 

And they didn't all die by swords.

As modern translations show, the Biblical phrase "by the sword" is a figurative term meaning to "die in battle." Swords are only one weapon of war. Book of Mormon warriors had "their swords and their cimeters, their bows and their arrows, their stones and their slings" (Alma 43:20), all of which would kill people and all of which existed in ancient North America. 

Which brings up the point about "why metal swords have not yet been discovered in ancient America." We've seen that the text provides an obvious explanation: the metal swords were "cankered with rust."  

That should be all the explanation anyone needs; IOW, there is no need to "see" in the text any Mesoamerican wooden sticks with obsidian inserts. 

Nevertheless, there are reports of the discovery of rusted remains of swords from ancient North American mound excavations, such as this one: 

Out of a mound near the circle of the large fort at Circleville, was found the elkhorn handle of a small sword or long knife. Around the end where the blade had been inserted, was a ferule of silver; no iron was found, but an oxyde remained. 

https://archive.org/details/naturalaborigina00hayw/page/342/mode/2up?q=sword

Another related this discovery:

Near the side of the human body was a plate of silver, the upper part of a sword scabbard, six inches long, two wide, weighing one ounce. Three longitudinal ridges were on it, which perhaps corresponded with the edges or ridges of the sword. It had been fastened to the scabbard by three or four rivets, the holes of which yet remain in the silver. Two or three pieces of a copper tube were also found, filled with rust. These compose the lower end of the scabbard, near the point of the sword. There is no sign of the sword itself, except this appearance of rust. Near the feet was a piece of copper weighing three ounces. 

https://archive.org/details/naturalaborigina00hayw/page/346/mode/2up?q=sword 

Many of the Book of Mormon weapons, including swords, daggers, and axes are also mentioned in the King James Version of the Old Testament. In the Old World, these weapons were indeed made with metal in many cases.24 However, we need not assume that Lehites or Jaredites continued to use Old World weaponry throughout their separate existences—these groups would likely have adapted to their new environments rapidly. 

Maybe we "need not assume" Old World weaponry, but that doesn't mean we "need to assume" Mesoamerican weaponry to explain the text of the Book of Mormon. Multiple working hypotheses should be considered.

But if BMC/SC was a legitimate scholarly organization instead of an M2C advocacy group, this No-wise would inform readers by spelling out the various assumptions and inferences to enable and encourage people to make informed decisions instead of resorting to rhetorical tactics to obfuscate and confuse.

John L. Sorenson asserts, “Their eventual encounters with warfare likely involved largely experimental or borrowed measures in the new land since the record lacks any indication that the immigrant generation brought firsthand knowledge of warfare with them.”25

Again, one of multiple working hypotheses. Given Nephi's proficiency with Laban's sword, we can question Sorenson's assertion about the immigrants lacking "firsthand knowledge of warfare." The amount of Old Testament material in the text prompts us to reasonably assume that the immigrants learned a lot about warfare from the Hebrew record.

It is also likely that the English weaponry words used in the Book of Mormon translation are linguistic approximations since modern English-speaking people had no exactly similar weaponry to the Nephites. 

Every reader can decide whether or not such an assumption is "likely," but Joseph could have easily translated the Nephite term as "wooden sword" or "wood and obsidian." 

The functions of Nephite weapons, however, were probably similar to what English speakers would call swords, though their shape and composition could have varied quite widely. Even modern definitions of swords vary, with some emphasizing the function, some the shape, and others the composition.26 One study of the worldwide history of swords uses the broad term “hilted cutting weapon” and notes that “the nomenclature of ancient weapons is a controversial area.”27

That the No-wise relies on such tortured rhetoric to "find" Mesoamerican weaponry in Joseph's use of common English language is a good indication that no Mesoamerican weaponry was involved in the first place.

But again, BMC/SC owes it to its readers to provide useful comparisons of multiple working hypotheses instead of resorting to confusion and obfuscation to promote M2C. 

The Why

Three points can be raised in light of this information. First, if it is indeed the case that the Ammonites were using razor-sharp, flint-studded wooden weapons, then the symbolism of these weapons’ representing the Ammonites’ complete forgiveness becomes all the more vivid because of the permanence of bloodstains indelibly left on wooden weapons.28 

Scripture teaches that Jesus is the only means through which our sins may be forgiven, and so the imagery of Jesus removing permanent stains is beautiful and powerful. The Ammonites, former killers and murderers, proved to be some of the most penitent and zealous believers.29 Like them, if we will bury the swords of our spiritual rebellion or outright transgressions, we can know that our words and deeds, our swords and souls, can be found spotless and bright at the last day.

We've already seen how the symbolism works better with metal swords instead of this bizarre mixed metaphor of wood and obsidian.

Second, some readers of the Book of Mormon or Bible may be discouraged when unambiguous evidence has not yet surfaced for an aspect of Book of Mormon or biblical archaeology, but it is important to remember that true faith is not based upon material evidences. Neal A. Maxwell said,

All the scriptures, including the Book of Mormon, will remain in the realm of faith. Science will not be able to prove or disprove holy writ. However, enough plausible evidence will come forth to prevent scoffers from having a field day, but not enough to remove the requirement of faith. Believers must be patient during such unfolding.30

The text itself explains why we should not expect to find metal swords. To compound the problem of "no evidence" by reading Mesoamerica into the text is irresponsible and frames Joseph Smith (or SITH) as a poor translator.

The search for metal swords in the New World presents just that sort of opportunity to exercise faith. Absence of evidence is not unconditional evidence of absence, and archaeological discoveries that overturn previous anthropological paradigms occur regularly. If we are willing to allow that most Book of Mormon swords may have resembled hilted, bladed weapons from pre-Columbian America, the difficulties disappear considerably. Many difficulties for modern readers may result from forcing available evidence to fit preconceived notions instead of allowing scripture and available evidence to speak for themselves.

Instead of allowing the scripture to speak for itself, this No-wise claims the scripture was translated wrong, that we have to insert new terminology and impose new interpretations from the self-appointed experts at BMC/SC to understand the text, and that we should therefore defer to and depend upon these experts instead of the plain words of the text and the teachings of the prophets.

Now, look at the image they insert in the "Know" part of the No-wise, as if all the other M2C illustrations in this essay were not enough.

A stela from Tonina (613 AD), shown in Matthew Roper, “‘To Inflict the Wounds of Death,’” 2016 FAIR Conference presentation

A stela from Tonina (613 AD), shown in Matthew Roper, “‘To Inflict the Wounds of Death,’” 2016 FAIR Conference presentation, accessed June 18, 2024, online at https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/conference/august-2016/inflict-wounds-death.

Third, it pays rich dividends to look more closely at the Book of Mormon and our assumptions about what it says. All readers do well to let both archaeology and scripture speak their case and then, after considering all available sources of knowledge and truth, decide how to interpret worldly data and apply divine statements. In the present case, concluding that most Book of Mormon swords are well understood as being similar to a macuahuitl exemplifies a faithful way to affirm the historicity of scripture while reckoning with archaeological evidence. 

This No-wise has gone from claiming (contrary to the text) that only a "small fraction" of the swords in the text were made of metal, to now claiming that "most Book of Mormon swords are well understood" as being wooden sticks with obsidian blades.

Even in the spirit of multiple working hypotheses, that is a laughable assertion, particularly when there is not a single reference or hint of wooden swords anywhere in the text.

To repeat the opening of this post, this paragraph is a long-winded way of repeating the fundamental editorial position of Scripture Central and Book of Mormon Central:

(i) the text of the Book of Mormon is wrong and unreliable to the extent it contradicts M2C;

(ii) we need to look to the M2C scholars at BMC/SC for guidance and direction; and

(iii) alternative faithful interpretations of the text are not permissible for purposes of comparison and education of the Latter-day Saints if they don't support M2C.

_____________

Examples of common terminology.

Wayne Sentinel, published in Palmyra, New York on Tuesday, January 24th, 1826

The Brazilians continued advancing in a canter till within twenty yards, when they fired, but before they could throw their carbines over their shoulders and draw their swords, the Patriots, at full speed, were upon them, sword in hand.

Wayne Sentinel, published in Palmyra, New York on Friday, February 13th, 1829

The revolutions, or enterprises of different chiefs or parties, in Mexico, Colombia, Central America, Peru, Chili and Bueno Ayres, the new republics of the south, with the prodigal waste of human life and human happiness that have accompanied or followed them, should impress the people of the United States with a solemn sense of the benefits which they enjoy, in the existence of that invaluable moral power, which has, ever yet given that mastery to the ballot box which is obtained only by the sword in nearly all of the rest of the nations of the world....

The revolutions, however, in the south, bold up an awful lesson to certain persons in the United States proposing to "calculate the value of our union," and ready to draw the sword because of imaginary wrongs--unjustifiably, if ever they were real, and self-destructive. For, until the mass of the American people shall become corrupt, we esteem it impossible that a bad government can be long sustained. 

Wayne Sentinel, published in Palmyra, New York on Friday, July 14th, 1826

Religious tyranny; no good man but shudders at its consequences, no brave man but draws his sword against it.

_____

For more examples of BMC's "no-wise," I've discussed a few here:

https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2022/01/classic-post-3-letter-vii-and-no-wise.html

https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2019/01/no-wise-497-land-of-promise.html

https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2022/01/classic-post-1-no-wise-489-where-is.html

https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2018/11/no-wise-489-where-is-hill-cumorah.html

https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2018/07/no-wise-245.html

https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2018/12/no-wise-493-artifacts.html



Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Knowns, unknowns, and the M2C Bubble

The M2Cers* have constructed an elaborate theoretical scaffolding inside the M2C bubble to support their theory that the prophets were wrong about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon. 


To understand how and why, we first have to clarify that the question of Book of Mormon geography has two knowns and one unknown.

Known #1: The prophets have always taught that the New World setting for the Book of Mormon is "the Americas," which is a modern term that encompasses the terms used in Church history sources, including General Conference: "this country," "America," "this continent," the "Western Hemisphere," etc.

Known #2: The prophets have always taught that the hill Cumorah/Ramah (Mormon 6:6, Ether 15:11) is the same hill that Moroni identified as the location of the record that was "written and deposited" not far from Joseph's home near Palmyra, New York. There are multiple working hypotheses based on the known location of Cumorah/Ramah.

Unknowns. All the other locations in the New World that are mentioned in the text of the Book of Mormon. Apart from a few indications from Church history (the plains of the Nephites, Zarahemla, etc.), the prophets have always taught that we don't know the specific locations of Book of Mormon cities and features. This makes sense because so many archaeological sites throughout the Americas have been destroyed, disturbed, overbuilt, etc. 

It is the unknowns that have led to a wide range of theories about "Book of Mormon geography," as the entry on Book of Mormon geography explains. 

https://www.ldshistoricalnarratives.com/p/book-of-mormon-geography-essay.html 

_____

Key point: because Known #2 (Cumorah/Ramah) does not fit their models, the M2Cers have transferred Known #2 into the realm of the Unknown. They have accomplished this through a series of cascading assumptions, starting with the premise that Joseph and Oliver and their contemporaries and successors must be wrong about Cumorah because...

well, because the New York Cumorah just doesn't fit the geography models based on the M2C interpretation of the text!

There is no other reason to reject what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah/Ramah.

We are happy for people to believe whatever they want. But the M2Cers claim to be the intellectual superiors among Latter-day Saints. In any other context, the irrationality of the M2C approach would be quickly recognized and M2C would be rejected.

The New York Cumorah/Ramah doesn't eliminate Mesoamerica, per se, as one of multiple working hypotheses. I've seen several hypotheses about Book of Mormon geography that include both the New York Cumorah/Ramah and Mesoamerica.

But as for M2C itself, we are reminded of what George Orwell once wrote: "One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool."

_____

*M2Cers are those scholars and their followers who have adopted the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory that originated with RLDS scholar L.E. Hills in 1917.

RLDS scholar L.E. Hills, 1917


BYU Studies map

CES map
BYU fantasy map

Scripture Central map




Thursday, July 11, 2024

Podcast with Backyard Professor

I've been on several podcasts in the last year. I'm happy to have conversations with anyone about any topic because conversations are one way we can pursue clarity, charity and understanding.

Some podcasters, both believers and nonbelievers, don't welcome faithful views that differ from their own agendas. Such podcasters focus on confirming their biases. They seek conformity instead of encouraging their listeners and viewers to make informed decisions by considering multiple working hypotheses.

Fortunately, other podcasters are interested in clarity, charity, and understanding. Those are the ones I enjoy having conversations with.

For example, I recently had a conversation with the "Backyard Professor."


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYeZGZb3xBg&t=18s

The Backyard Professor, Kerry Shirts, was one of the founders of FAIR (FAIRLDS) and their director of research. Then he came to disbelieve the truth claims. He knows lots about the Restoration, although he sees it through the FAIR lens (M2C, SITH), a lens that many people find difficult to believe.

That's why I offer reframes in my book The Rational Restoration.

Kerry and I disagree about lots of things, and that's fine. As I always say, I'm fine with people believing whatever they want. Kerry and I are more interested in understanding one another than in trying to change one another's minds. I'd like to see more of that everywhere.

In this video, we discussed the FAITH model (Facts, Assumptions, Inferences, Theories and Hypotheses), as well as the recent Tyler Griffin interview with Pastor Jeff and other topics.

We'll probably have more conversations in the future.

_____

And who knows? Maybe someday even our scholars at the Interpreter, Scripture Central, and their allies would be interested in having a conversation.

So far, they've declined when I've offered. But hope springs eternal...

:)

 

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Update to "What if Oliver told the truth"

I updated my post to incorporate the graphic on the BYU Studies website, created by John W. Welch, that claims 2 million people died at Ramah.

https://www.lettervii.com/2024/07/what-if-oliver-cowdery-told-truth.html


"as plain as words can be"

By now, most Latter-day Saints presumably understand the distinction between "Book of Mormon geography," which is subjective and speculative, and the well-known and established prophetic teachings about the Americas and Cumorah.  

The Essay on Book of Mormon Geography focuses on the subjective and speculative aspects, as I discussed here:

https://www.ldshistoricalnarratives.com/p/book-of-mormon-geography-essay.html

Simply put, the prophets have long taught that (i) Book of Mormon events in the New World took place in "the Americas" and (ii) the Hill Cumorah/Ramah is the hill in western New York where Joseph obtained the plates. Thus, neither of those elements is the subject of speculation and are not encompassed by the term "Book of Mormon geography" as used in the essay.

In other words, the prophets have established these two elements "in plainness, even as plain as word can be" (2 Nephi 32:7).

The question every Latter-day Saint should ask is whether we will or will not "understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be." (2 Nephi 32:7)

_____

One of the "plain and precious" truths regarding the Book of Mormon relates to its divine authenticity as an actual history.

In 1835, President Oliver Cowdery spelled out this truth "as plain as words can be" when he wrote the first detailed history of the Restoration with the assistance of Joseph Smith. Responding to critics who claimed the Book of Mormon was fiction, President Cowdery emphasized the fact that the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the hill where Moroni had deposited the plates; i.e., the hill Cumorah in western New York. 

We can all read this account right in Joseph Smith's own history, here:

The contemporaries of Joseph and Oliver knew about Cumorah because Moroni had identified the hill as Cumorah when he first met Joseph, as Joseph's mother Lucy Mack Smith explained when she related what Moroni told Joseph. 

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


One of the reasons we know the events took place in the Americas and that Cumorah is in New York is because Moroni explained that to Joseph Smith the first night they met. 

He [Moroni] gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigenes of this country...
He 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.


Church leaders who knew Joseph and Oliver, as well as those who succeeded Joseph, reiterated the truth about the Americas and Cumorah repeatedly and consistently. A partial list is here: https://www.mobom.org/modern-prophets-on-cumorah

With all this "great knowledge," we repeat the question every Latter-day Saint should ask: will we or won't we "understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be." (2 Nephi 32:7)


Monday, July 8, 2024

Kno-Why 739

This Kno-Why 739 deserves a separate post. The pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding requires us to focus on clarity first precisely because without clarity, there can be no understanding. (Charity always applies, and we assume here, as always that the authors of this Kno-Why are acting in good faith.)

I first commented on it at the end of my previous post, but it's a little buried there. And I didn't point out another important point.

Let's look at KnoWhy 739, released just a few days ago.

Here's the link:

https://scripturecentral.org/knowhy/what-counsel-have-church-leaders-given-about-the-study-of-book-of-mormon-geography?

Actually, there's no need to read the whole thing. Just search for "Cumorah" and you'll see it's exactly what I predicted in my previous post.

It's all about "Book of Mormon geography" and never once explains or even cites the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.

Instead, we get these two references.

Even the location of the Hill Cumorah, where the Jaredites and the Nephites were destroyed, was not considered a settled matter—certainly many assumed it was at the hill in New York, but at least one person proposed that it was in Honduras.[4]

[4] See “Mormonism,” Fredonia Censor, New York, 7 March 1832; Plain Facts, [1887], 3, [5]. Plain Facts is the earliest published suggestion that the Hill Cumorah, traditionally assumed to be in New York, may have been in Central America.

This KnoWhy, like so many others, is an insult to our intelligence. 

Rather than quote or even cite the teachings of the prophets, the KnoWhy dismisses Cumorah by saying "many assumed it was at the hill in New York." 

As if the prophets are a bunch of know-nothings who merely assume things they teach as facts.

It's beyond ridiculous, but it's consistent with the way some LDS historians violate their standards of professional ethics by refusing to cite, quote, or even address historical sources that contradict their theories.

Even the sole reference to Cumorah is laughable. The authors can't be bothered to give us a link so we can see the cited source in context, but it doesn't matter because we can all see it's absurd. 

In fact, if the article from 1887 accurately quotes the article from 1832, it should be obvious that when President Cowdery wrote Letter VII in 1835, specifically declaring it is a fact that Cumorah/Ramah is the hill in New York where Joseph obtained the plates, he was not only refuting the claim in Mormonism Unvailed that the Book of Mormon was fiction but was refuting this non-Mormon claim that Cumorah was in Honduras.

And yet, this Kno-Why passes for scholarship in some circles....

Now you know why I used to call these "No-wise" instead of Kno-Whys.

_____

Here's the clincher. Look at their graphic:


Not only do they feature the M2C fantasy map, but they actually quote 3 Nephi 26:9!

As if the Lord is promising us "the greater things" if we will only accept this fantasy map!

It's astonishing. Maybe the pinnacle of M2C hubris.

(We hope.)

The M2C cognitive dissonance blinds them to the simple reality that this verse applies directly to the setting of the Book of Mormon. 

Instead of traipsing around southern Mexico in search of the "real Cumorah" and concocting myriad theories about why the prophets were wrong about Cumorah/Ramah in New York, what if these scholars actually received and believed what the prophets have taught?

In my view, Joseph and Oliver taught the New York Cumorah originally because that's what Moroni told Joseph the first time they met and because they had visited the repository of Nephite records in the same hill. It's simple. We can all read the historical sources for ourselves.

Then, in response to claims the Book of Mormon was fiction (the Spaulding theory), Oliver and Joseph memorialized Cumorah as a fact in Letter VII, which was copied into Joseph's personal history and republished in all the Church-affiliated newspapers during Joseph's lifetime.  

Then, Joseph's successors in Church leadership reiterated the New York Cumorah, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.

In terms of 3 Nephi 26:9, we could say "this" refers to the New York Cumorah, which the prophets gave us to try our faith. But because our scholars have rejected the prophets, and because many Latter-day Saints have chosen to follow the scholars instead of the prophets, "the greater things" have not been made manifest, just as the scripture warns.

But there is still time for all of us, as Latter-day Saints, to embrace the teachings of the prophets, with or without the scholars, in the hope and expectation that if/when we do so, the greater things will be made manifest unto us.

BMC's cognitive dissonance

All Latter-day Saints seek "no more contention." We all recognize that living and sharing the gospel is far more important than whether we agree on particular interpretations, theories, etc.

Yet BMC (the umbrella acronym for Book of Mormon Central, Scripture Central, ScripturePlus, etc.) continues to produce social media and other content that accentuates differences of opinion. They plant their social media with triggers that lead people ask me about the content. I usually ignore the BMC content because it's so repetitive, but when enough people ask me about it, I take a look. 

Lately, the cognitive dissonance BMC exhibits is becoming maybe worse than ever.

Let's discuss the latest content in the pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding.

_____

Last week we saw Tyler Griffin's cognitive dissonance on display during his interview with Pastor Jeff.

https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2024/07/tyler-griffins-cognitive-dissonance.html

The script for another media production by BMC's ScripturePlus is another example of BMC's cognitive dissonance.

Which very much resembles Tyler's cognitive dissonance.

This gives us an opportunity to specifically discuss the "Book of Mormon geography" meme.

_____

The first thing to note is the content is from ScripturePlus.

For those who may not know what ScripturePlus is, it's a superfluous app developed by BMC that 

(i) directly competes with the Church's Gospel Library app (which, by focusing on scripture instead of narrative, is actually neutral on geography) and

(ii) adamantly promotes M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory that claims the "real Cumorah/Ramah" is somewhere in southern Mexico, as opposed to what they deem to be the "false tradition" that the hill in New York was the actual Cumorah/Ramah).

Featured M2C art from ScripturePlus

Now let's look at the script.

_____

ScripturePlus July 5

The original transcript in blue, my comments in red.

I find it concerning that so many members of the church make Book of Mormon geography such a point of contention. 

As the host of the nomorecontention website, I fully agree with this concern. But the BMC script ignores on the source of the contention.

It's easy to eliminate contention when we value clarity, charity and understanding. But clarity seems to be the most difficult pursuit, so let's start with clarity in terminology.

Contention. We should point out that the term "contending" is often used in a pejorative sense to imply that "contention" is negative, counterproductive, etc. A common definition: "Contend means to compete for something or to claim something is true." Thus, we are commanded to contend:

Contend thou, therefore, morning by morning; and day after day let thy warning voice go forth; and when the night cometh let not the inhabitants of the earth slumber, because of thy speech. (Doctrine and Covenants 112:5)

It is contention "with anger" (3 Ne. 11:29) that is problematic, and surely that's what BMC's script means. When people have different ideas, a collaborative discussion, exchange, or comparison is productive, not contentious. 

Ideally, we would all seek "no more contention" through understanding instead of seeking to convince or coerce. That's why we encourage, instead of resist, comparisons and cordial dialog. We wish every individual and group would seek such dialog and comparisons in the pursuit of understanding.  

Terminology. "Book of Mormon geography" has become a euphemism for avoiding the underlying topic of Cumorah. We saw Tyler avoid the topic, and now this BMC script is doing the same.

"Book of Mormon geography" is a hobby, basically. Lots of people have lots of ideas on the topic. To the extent anyone is "contending" about geography, it's an intellectual clash of egos that can be easily alleviated by simple comparisons, combined with the pursuit of understanding and informed decisions instead of the pursuit of conformity, compliance, deference to scholars, etc. 

It's possible that BMC was referring to the internal M2C contention about which river in Mesoamerica is the Sidon, etc. Maybe Tyler's fantasy map, which incorporates the basic M2C beliefs, is a way to mitigate or minimize the internal M2C contention. If so, that's none of my concern.

But given this script comes from BMC, it more likely is referring to the same differences that Tyler did; i.e., Heartlanders vs M2Cers. 

Ideally, to avoid contention, we would have collaborative discussions, exchanges, and comparisons among the different ideas. But the BMC script glides right over the reality that BMC refuses to provide or accommodate such comparisons. 

That's why, in this context, the term "Book of Mormon geography" is a red herring that obfuscates the specific topic of Cumorah.

Backdrop. In one production, they used a map of the world along with Tyler Griffin's BYU fantasy map, which is based on the M2C interpretation of the text. For a discussion of that, see the end of this post.

It’s not a matter of salvation. 

In a sense, this statement is axiomatic--or should be. But BMC does not treat the topic this way. 

The BMC problem. If BMC is really concerned about contention, they should start by changing the organization's methods.

Far from deeming "Book of Mormon geography" as unimportant, BMC spends millions of dollars to promote M2C.  M2C is embedded in Scripture Plus. BMC refuses to acknowledge alternative faithful interpretations that embrace, instead of repudiate, the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. If BMC didn't think the geography was so important, there's no justification for their obsession with M2C. 

And that gets to BMC's cognitive dissonance.

Like Tyler and BMC generally, this script fails to point out that to the extent there is "contention" it revolves around the credibility of the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.

But even that is not really the source of contention. People can believe whatever they want. Some Latter-day Saints still believe what the prophets have taught; others don't. There's no reason for anyone to contend angrily about the topic. Everyone can simply own their beliefs. Live and let live.

The contention arises partly from the lack of clarity; i.e., the obfuscation generated by Tyler and other M2Cers who avoid clarity on the issue.

This is why the primary instigator of contention on this topic is BMC, including its management, employees, and donors. BMC insists that the prophets were wrong about Cumorah. The M2Cers have convinced themselves that (i) the Mesoamerican setting is the only permissible one and (ii) the "hill in New York" is too far away from Mesoamerica to be Cumorah/Ramah. 

In the memorable words of John Sorenson (co-founder of FARMS), 

"There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd. Hundreds of thousands of Nephites traipsing across the Mississippi Valley to New York, pursued (why?) by hundred of thousands of Lamanites, is a scenario worthy only of a witless sci-fi movie, not of history." 

Mormon's Codex, p. 688.

BMC still adheres to this portrayal of the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. It should be obvious to every Latter-day Saint why some of us find that portrayal objectionable.

Most of us who still believe the teachings of the prophets don't feel a need to contend about it. We're fine with people believing whatever they want. But we also face the reality that BMC has set itself up as the "experts" on Book of Mormon and other scriptural topics, and we're frequently confronted by M2Cers who vociferously complain that we disagree with the scholars. And we also face the reality that BMC employees/affiliates publicly misrepresent what we believe.

[Note: It is a common motif for scholars to set themselves up as authorities. Think about the name Scripture Central. It declares itself the "center" for the scriptures, as if the Church (and the scriptures themselves) should not be the central source for studying the Gospel. And we can't forget the Interpreter, as if those scholars are the ones authorized to interpret the scriptures for the rest of us who are not part of the "credentialed class."] 

Contrary to their claims of neutrality, BMC still refuses to accommodate alternative faithful interpretations.

For more on BMC, see the end of this post.

To reiterate, if BMC sincerely seeks to eliminate contention, BMC (including Scripture Central and ScripturePlus) will:

1. Readily, openly, and unambiguously acknowledge that they reject, repudiate, and otherwise supplant the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah/Ramah because those teachings contradict their own theories of Book of Mormon geography; and

2. Readily, openly and unambiguously acknowledge that other faithful Latter-day Saints can and do accept, embrace, and rely upon the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah/Ramah, which they consider corroborated and supported by extrinsic evidence of anthropology, archaeology, geology, geography, etc.

We can all see that such changes at BMC would eliminate the source of all contention on this topic. 

It does not affect the truth claims of the church, or Joseph Smith’s calling as a prophet. 

This framing skirts the issue. It's axiomatic that modern ideas about geography have no bearing on historical facts. But that's not the point.

We can all see that Oliver Cowdery, as Assistant President of the Church and with the assistance of Joseph Smith, declared it is a fact that the hill in New York is the Cumorah/Ramah of the Book of Mormon. By repudiating what he wrote, BMC is directly undermining the credibility of both Oliver and Joseph. 

Likewise, we can all see that Moroni told Joseph the record was "written and deposited not far from" Joseph's family home near Palmyra, that it was Moroni who told him the record was deposited in the "hill of Cumorah," etc. References.

The M2C cognitive dissonance arises from the inconsistency between these twin beliefs: 

(i) Joseph and Oliver were reliable, credible, and honest witnesses of the restoration but 

(ii) Joseph and Oliver misled the Church (and the world) about the New York Cumorah/Ramah (as well as the translation; i.e., SITH).

And the Church has made its position on Book of Mormon geography exceptionally clear. 

Here, BMC uses the term "Book of Mormon geography" to obfuscate the issue. The script proceeds to discuss "geography" without mentioning Cumorah, just as the article being quoted does.

In the earliest days of the Church, most members and leaders subscribed to what we call a hemispheric geography, meaning they supposed the Book of Mormon may have taken place all over the Americas, with central America acting as the “narrow neck” of land the text describes. 

By now I'm sure everyone can see how this is a red herring. While some Church authors wrote about the "hemispheric" geography, it was never stated as a fact. 

Even when Orson Pratt created the footnotes in the 1879 official edition of the Book of Mormon, he clearly differentiated between speculation (e.g., it is believed...) and fact (the Hill Cumorah is in New York). See https://www.mobom.org/orson-pratts-1879-footnotes

That distinction was always in effect. That's why people refer to "Book of Mormon geography" as a speculative topic separate from Cumorah, which is a topic the prophets have explicitly taught. 

It took time and serious study to determine that based on the text of the Book of Mormon, it had to have taken place in a much smaller geographical area. 

M2C theory: Joseph Smith studying Stephens and Catherwood instead of the plates
 
Here, BMC's cognitive dissonance is evident. First, because BMC has repudiated what Joseph and Oliver taught about the New York Cumorah/Ramah, here BMC implies that we can reject what they said because they lacked "time and serious study," as if their personal experiences were irrelevant.

Second, the "time and serious study" that led to M2C was the work of L.E. Hills, an RLDS scholar who published the first M2C map in 1917. (See his map below.) The work of John Sorenson, Jack Welch, and the rest of the M2Cers was derivative of Hills' work.

Third, the script frames M2C as a fact ("it had to have taken place"), not one of many theories. 

But even then, church members have always had a diversity of opinions and have never declared a single official Book of Mormon map. 

This is true regarding "Book of Mormon geography" but not regarding the New York Cumorah, which was taught from the outset and repeatedly reaffirmed. Once we clearly define terms, we can all see how this deflection works. 

In 1890 First Presidency member George Q. Cannon said that the First Presidency has never consented to make a map and no one in the Twelve would undertake to do so without further information. 

This is another axiomatic statement that everyone can, or should, agree with. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of possible Book of Mormon sites, not even counting those that have been long since destroyed, plowed over, etc. But again, it's irrelevant to the question of Cumorah. 

In 1920 the Church removed modern geographical references to the Americas that Orson Pratt had added in 1879 because the Church felt it could not present as demonstrable fact any map of Book of Mormon lands. 

Another red herring. The committee was led by Elder James Talmage, who, like other Church leaders, repeatedly taught that Cumorah was in New York. Knowing Cumorah/Ramah is in New York does not resolve the locations of other sites, so no reliable map can be constructed based on the text alone. Every map ever created is based on a series of assumptions about what the text means, not on any facts. The only clear, unambiguous fact taught by the prophets is the New York Cumorah/Ramah.

Previous and current church leaders continue to emphasize that while we can and should study the text of the Book of Mormon and form our own opinions, we should not present them as definitively true or inspired. 

Everyone involved with this discussion follows this advice regarding our own opinions. But the teachings of the prophets are not our own opinions.

The Church’s most recent statement says, 

Individuals may have their own opinions regarding Book of Mormon geography and other such matters about which the Lord has not spoken. However, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles urge leaders and members not to advocate those personal theories in any setting or manner that would imply either prophetic or Church support for those theories. All parties should strive to avoid contention on these matters. 

This is a 100% accurate and awesome statement that fully applies to personal theories; i.e., the question of "Book of Mormon geography." 

To the extent that is a topic of contention, we all agree it is more of a sport that no one should take too seriously, and certainly not as a question of truth vs error because it's based on assumptions.

But notice that the statement never mentions Cumorah. This reiterates and enforces the clear distinction between "Book of Mormon geography" and Cumorah.

After all, the First (initial) First Presidency wrote and endorsed Letter VII, and every member of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve who has ever publicly addressed the issue has reaffirmed the New York Cumorah/Ramah, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference. 

Anything beyond the New York Cumorah/Ramah is "Book of Mormon geography" that consists of personal theories, as the statement clearly recognizes and we should all embrace.  

To dive in deeper on the Church’s history with Book of Mormon geography, read KnoWhy 739 at Scripture Central. 

Again with the reference to Scripture Central as the authority. 

Before reading KnoWhy 739, I can predict its content. But we already know that because it comes from BMC, the KnoWhy will (i) promote M2C and (ii) implicitly repudiate the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah/Ramah without actually mentioning those teachings.

BTW, it's cool that the website kno-why.com, which is not affiliated with BMC, includes a mission statement that BMC would do well to emulate. I remain ever hopeful to see the day when BMC actually comes to believe in transparency and collaboration!

We believe in transparency and collaboration.

There are no “black-box” approaches to our work.  A lot of what we do is specialized and takes training to understand, and we will always work with you to make sure you see how things were done, why they were done that way, what the tradeoffs or limits might be, and what steps we took to address those limits.  Every process we engage in is open, and everything we produce is the result of a collaboration between us and our clients.   With this approach, our reports and findings remain useful and understandable long after the projects are completed. 

I'm also curious who BMC considers as its "clients." At least so far, BMC has rejected as "clients" all faithful Latter-day Saints who still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon.

Hopefully that will change one day.

_____

Okay, now let's look at KnoWhy 739, released just a few days ago.

Here's the link:

https://scripturecentral.org/knowhy/what-counsel-have-church-leaders-given-about-the-study-of-book-of-mormon-geography?

Actually, there's no need to read the whole thing. Just search for "Cumorah" and you'll see it's exactly what I predicted in this post.

It's all about "Book of Mormon geography" and never once explains or even cites the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.

Instead, we get these two references.

Even the location of the Hill Cumorah, where the Jaredites and the Nephites were destroyed, was not considered a settled matter—certainly many assumed it was at the hill in New York, but at least one person proposed that it was in Honduras.[4]

[4] See “Mormonism,” Fredonia Censor, New York, 7 March 1832; Plain Facts, [1887], 3, [5]. Plain Facts is the earliest published suggestion that the Hill Cumorah, traditionally assumed to be in New York, may have been in Central America.

This Kno-Why, like so many others, is an insult to our intelligence. 

Rather than quote or even cite the teachings of the prophets, the Kno-Why dismisses Cumorah by saying "many assumed it was at the hill in New York." 

It's beyond ridiculous, but it's consistent with the way some LDS historians violate their standards of professional ethics by refusing to cite, quote, or even address historical sources that contradict their theories.

Even the sole reference to Cumorah is laughable. The authors can't be bothered to give us a link so we can see the cited source in context, but it doesn't matter because we can all see it's absurd. 

In fact, if the article from 1887 accurately quotes the article from 1832, it should be obvious that when President Cowdery wrote Letter VII in 1835, specifically declaring it is a fact that Cumorah/Ramah is the hill in New York where Joseph obtained the plates, he was not only refuting the claim in Mormonism Unvailed that the Book of Mormon was fiction but was refuting this non-Mormon claim that Cumorah was in Honduras.

And yet, this Kno-Why passes for scholarship in some circles....

__________________

Additional material:

M2C background of BMC

 


From its inception, even going back to its predecessor at FARMS, BMC used a logo that represented the Book of Mormon with a Mayan glyph. Recently they changed the logo, but it still adorns their publications and some of their websites.

BMC's corporate owner, Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF.org) is a long-time Mesoamerican advocate that still hosts articles attacking alternative faithful interpretations.




BMC features a Spanish-language site that explicitly teaches M2C.

The fantasy map.

For one example of how the fantasy map uses the M2C definition, it portrays the "narrow neck" as an isthmus that connects continents and conflates the scriptural terms "narrow neck," "small neck," and "narrow neck of land." Other interpretations treat different terms as different features, and incorporate the ordinary usage in Joseph Smith's time, such as how George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others used the terms to describe local features.

The fantasy map portrays the Hill Cumorah/Ramah as being located along a seacoast in proximity to the isthmus that connects two continents; i.e., definitely not in New York.

Cumorah according to Tyler's fantasy map

Cumorah according to the CES map

Cumorah according to BYU Studies, BMC, and the rest of the M2Cers

The origin of M2C: the 1917 map by RLDS scholar L.E. Hills.