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.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

More on the Church History Museum.

The reaction to my post yesterday about the Church History Museum suggests that I should explain my position clearly. By now readers here know that I value clarity, charity, and understanding because those principles lead to no more contention (Mosiah 1:1).

First, I'm fine with people believing whatever they want. I'm fine with multiple working hypotheses. I assume everyone involved is acting in good faith (charity). If the Church History Department wants to present the SITH narrative, that's fine with me. But they cannot do so without violating the basic standards of professional conduct of the American Historical Association unless they also explain the historical documents and evidence in favor of the Urim and Thummim narrative. 

Second, I'm not fine with obfuscation, censorship, and misdirection, or anything else that contradicts clarity. Without clarity as a beginning point, and an agreement on the facts by everyone involved, there is no basis for legitimate analysis. I realize many people, perhaps most, resist clarity. Clarity challenges biases, narratives, and even beliefs. But without clarity, people are engaging in bias confirmation, not rational analysis. 

Third, I seek and encourage understanding instead of conformity, convincing, coercing, or any other effort to compel, or even to seek to compel, compliance with one particular interpretation.


For these reasons, I object when the Church History Department, through publications, visitors centers, museums, etc., refuses to present authentic Church historical documents to the public and to Latter-day Saints on the basis that those documents contradict the narratives favored by certain historians and scholars. In particular, I refer to SITH and M2C. 

The documents I specifically refer to are the published teachings of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on these topics.

Regarding SITH, it is appalling that the Church History Museum depicts the claims of David Whitmer and Emma Smith while omitting the claims of Joseph and Oliver. 

Look at this again. How is this exhibit remotely legitimate from a purely historical perspective?

SITH in the Church History Museum
(click to enlarge)

We all know this painting repudiates the published accounts by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, as well as various unpublished accounts, journal accounts, etc., all from the 1830s and 1840s. 

And we all know this painting reflects the dubious accounts from Emma Bidamon and David Whitmer from the 1870s and 1880s, as well as other early anti-Mormon critics such as Jonathan Hadley and Mormonism Unvailed

We also know that the modern iteration of SITH was promoted not by any new discoveries in Church history--after all, the SITH accounts were all published in the 19th century and were well known to the contemporaries of Joseph and Oliver--but by a shift in deference to, and confidence in, what Joseph and Oliver taught.

In other words, critics long taught SITH, while Joseph, Oliver and their faithful followers and successors taught U&T. 

Joseph, Oliver, faithful followers and successors 
gave more weight to U&T

Anti-Mormon critics always
gave more weight to SITH

The "New Mormon History" reweighed the evidence in favor of the critics. Soon, a few, and then many, LDS historians adopted the narrative of the critics, and now it's on display in the Church History Museum.


Church History Department joins anti-Mormon critics
to give more weight to SITH

To repeat: If the Church History Department wants to give a voice to the SITH narrative, fine. But they cannot do so without violating the standards of professional conduct of the American Historical Association unless they also explain the historical documents and evidence in favor of the Urim and Thummim narrative.


As a reminder, here are some excerpts from the Standards of Professional Conduct from the American Historical Association:

A great many dilemmas associated with the professional practice of history can be resolved by returning to the core values that the preceding paragraphs have sought to sketch. Historians should practice their craft with integrity. They should honor the historical record. They should document their sources. They should acknowledge their debts to the work of other scholars. They should respect and welcome divergent points of view even as they argue and subject those views to critical scrutiny. They should remember that our collective enterprise depends on mutual trust. And they should never betray that trust.


Professional integrity in the practice of history requires awareness of one’s own biases and a readiness to follow sound method and analysis wherever they may lead. Historians should document their findings and be prepared to make available their sources, evidence, and data, including any documentation they develop through interviews. Historians should not misrepresent their sources. They should report their findings as accurately as possible and not omit evidence that runs counter to their own interpretation. They should not commit plagiarism. They should oppose false or erroneous use of evidence, along with any efforts to ignore or conceal such false or erroneous use.

Historians should acknowledge the receipt of any financial support, sponsorship, or unique privileges (including special access to research material) related to their research, especially when such privileges could bias their research findings.


Even if the Church History Department does not provide visitors with all the relevant historical information (including the published statements by Joseph and Oliver), they should at least show the history of the translation narrative, including paintings such as these:

(click to enlarge)

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