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.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Podcast notes Feb 19-20

These are some notes on recent podcast interviews I've done.

The Last Dispensation: Cumorah's Elephant in the room

In this podcast, we discussed the Gospel Topics entry on Book of Mormon Geography, which includes both Joseph Smith's letter to Emma (crossing the plains of the Nephites in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois) and the 1842 Times and Seasons articles (ruins in Mesoamerica were left by the Nephites).

I used a white board to show how everyone can weigh the evidence on the scale however they want. 

But the bizarre thing about the Gospel Topics entry is how it completely ignores the elephant in the room: the Hill Cumorah.

Fun discussion!

On Ward Radio, we discussed the top 3 reasons for Heartland and the problem of censorship.

There are more than 3 arguments for Heartland, of course, but this interview was a good introduction for people new to the topic. I showed the "pocket edition" of Moroni's America, which is an abbreviated version of the longer book.

In the next interview, we discussed the problem of academic censorship, all in the pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding. Censorship is the antithesis of clarity. To eliminate contention (nomorecontention.com), we need clarity (accuracy, openness, candor, etc.), charity (assuming people act in good faith), and understanding (seek first to understand and avoid the compulsion to demand agreement).

The specific example we discussed was from the Church History Department, actually, and involves the Wentworth letter.

Several years ago, the lesson manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith included a chapter on the Wentworth letter, originally published as "Church History" in the Times and Seasons on March 1, 1842.

Here is the chapter in the manual:

As we discussed in the video, Joseph started the letter with a simple request:

As  has taken the proper steps to obtain correct information all that I shall ask at his hands, is, that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation.

It turns out, Joseph didn't need to worry about Mr. Bastow or Mr. Wentworth. 

It was the Church History Department (and/or Curriculum Department) who refused to "publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation."

Instead, the lesson manual censored important sections of Joseph's letter by replacing important material with ellipses in all the dozens of languages it was translated into. 





For the vast majority of Latter-day Saints around the world, this manual is the principal, if not only, source of Joseph Smith's teachings in their native language. I'm not aware that the entire Wentworth letter has ever been officially translated into other languages.

Thus, this censorship has deprived most Latter-day Saints of Joseph's actual teachings in this important letter. 

English readers can still read the account entire in the Joseph Smith Papers (if they can find it), but the vast majority of Latter-day Saints will never know what Joseph wanted people to know when he wrote this letter.

Obviously, this is an easy fix. Most Latter-day Saints use these lesson manuals digitally today, whether online or downloaded. The lesson manual could be easily corrected to provide the account "entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation" for the benefit of everyone.

But this has been going on for years, the Church History Department knows it, and they won't correct it.


Next, let's look at what was censored. The part censored by the ellipses is in bold below:

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 Saviour made his appearance upon this continent after his resurrection,

I've been given various reasons for this censorship, including the so-called "DNA problem" that led to the rewording of the Introduction to the Book of Mormon. 

As I read this passage (others may disagree), Joseph accomplished several important things. To appreciate the significance, it's important to recognize that much of the Wentworth letter was adapted from an 1840 pamphlet by Orson Pratt, as I've discussed many times.

Some key takeaways.

1. He corrected Orson Pratt's error about the Israelite identity of Lehi's people by explaining they were "principally" Israelites, suggesting there were non-Israelites among them.

2. He refuted Orson Pratt's extensive musings about the identity of the Lamanites by explaining that the "remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country," which is consistent with both D&C 28, 30 and 32 and Joseph's direct teachings to the Native Americans he met.

3. He did not claim or imply that the Book of Mormon peoples were the only inhabitants of the western hemisphere.

4. He explained that ancient America was inhabited by two distinct races, a concept that was not only contrary to popular belief but the basis for an anti-Mormon book called Cumorah Revisited that led to the development of the two-Cumorahs theory. Not surprisingly, Joseph's explanation has been vindicated by modern archaeology and anthropology.

While scholars can debate the significance and relevance of the Wentworth letter, Joseph expressly declared it contained "correct information." He wrote it and published it in the Times and Seasons so that all the Latter-day Saints would have access to it. 


Another topic we discussed in the podcast was the book Opening the Heavens, which I've discussed before here:

Basically, the book omits the documented statements from David Whitmer in the 1870s about the messenger taking the plates to Cumorah before going to Fayette, and about Joseph identifying the messenger as one of the Three Nephites (which is consistent with David's mother saying the messenger identified himself as "Brother Nephi"). 

Instead, the book cites a typewritten document from 1918 that it attributes to Joseph F. Smith (whose contemporaneous account from the 1870s differs on these points) and claims the messenger took the plates to Fayette, which contradicts the entire narrative. David explained that the messenger specifically declined a ride to Fayette because he had to go to Cumorah first.

The problems I identified there are also easy fixes that will likely never be made. Readers deserve to have all the relevant references.

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