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.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Interview on Martin Harris' credibility

Martin Harris' story of the "stone-swapping incident" is a key element of the SITH narrative. In this video, James Lucas discusses the context of that account.


A link to the 1870 Iowa article:


(click to enlarge)


A WITNESS TO THE BOOK OF MORMON.—The main facts, or the fiction, as the case may be, relative to the discovery of the golden plates from which was translated the present Book of Mormon, are doubtless as familiar to many of our readers as to ourselves. None of us can claim to have been eye witnesses, and few have heard the incidents connected therewith related by those who do claim to have been there, to have seen and handled the tablets of gold, and afterwards, under Divine commission, to have assisted in the translation of the mystic characters inscribed upon them.

A few days since we acknowledged a call at our sanctum, from Martin Harris, who was on his way from Ohio to take up his residence at Salt Lake City, to spend the remainder of his days with the "chosen people." Mr. Harris is now in his 88th year, though still quite vigorous and sprightly, and he is a Mormon, soul and body. He, as he claims, and as Mormons claim, together with two others, Oliver Cowdery, desceased, and David Whitmore, now an apostate, living in Missouri, were the divinely appointed witnesses to the Book of Mormon. The old gentleman evidently loves to relate the incidents with which he was personally connected, and he does it with wonderful enthusiasm.

In September, 1828, as the story goes, Joseph Smith, directed by an angel, proceeded to a spot, about four miles from Palmyra, New York, and upon the point of a hill, extending northward, dug up a very solid stone chest, within which were the tablets of gold, inscribed with characters which no man could read. Joseph Smith was the first to handle the tables, and Martin Harris, one of the appointed witnesses, the second. Mr. Harris describes the plates as being thin leaves of gold, measuring seven by eight inches, and weighing altogether, from forty to sixty points. There was also found in the chest, the urim and thummim, by means of which the writing on the plates was translated, but not until after the most learned men had exhausted their knowledge of the letters in the vain effort to decipher the characters.

It had been revealed to Joseph Smith that the writings upon the tablets contained a history of the aborigines of this country down to the time of Columbus' discovery, and after, all human means had failed to secure a translation, Smith was commissioned to undertake the task. By means of the urim and thummim, a pair of large spectacles," as Mr. Harris termed them, the translation was made, and Mr. Harris claims to have written, of the translations as they were given by Smith, "116 solid pages of cap." The remainder was written by others.

Soon after the finding of these plates of gold, Mr. Harris sold his farm, of which he owned a large one, and consecrated himself to the new religion, to which he has advanced tenaciously throughout a long life, and still adheres to its tenets and advocates it genuineness with all the earnestness of an enthusiast. He believes in the visitations of angels in bodily form, for he has seen and conversed with them, as he thinks, and is satisfied.

The old gentleman related some incidents, which, could one feel that they were verities, would be interesting; but as they seem largely imaginative they lose interest.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Moroni's America channel

7 years ago I uploaded a few videos on the Moroni's America channel. I never did much with them.

Here's an example.


I'm thinking about a major upgrade to this channel. Email me at lostzarahemla@gmail.com if you have suggestions.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Friday, May 24, 2024

Legacy post from 8 years ago: Simplicity

On May 26, 2016, I posted this observation about Simplicity. It remains the most popular post on this blog, so I'm reposting it here with some updates.


William of  Ockham
The simplest explanation is usually the best, a principle often described as Occam's razor. "Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected."

On the topic of Book of Mormon geography, which setting requires the fewest assumptions?

Which explanation is the simplest?

A. The North American setting has one assumption.

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery knew that the Hill Cumorah/Ramah in New York was the place where the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations were destroyed. 

Everything directly attributable to them is consistent with that setting. Contrary ideas are not directly attributable to them; therefore, these contrary ideas were produced by other people who didn't know what Joseph and Oliver knew.

Extrinsic evidence corroborates what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah. Very simple and clear. This assumption explains all the historical references and the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.

B. The Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C), which teaches that Joseph and Oliver were wrong about Cumorah/Ramah because the "real" Cumorah is somewhere in southern Mexico, relies on a series of assumptions.

1. Joseph Smith didn't know where Book of Mormon events took place. 

2. Lucy Mack Smith was wrong when she said it was Moroni who identified the hill as Cumorah the first time he met Joseph in September 1823.

3. Lucy Mack Smith was wrong when she said Joseph referred to the hill as Cumorah in early 1827 and she and her husband knew what he meant.

4. Parley P. Pratt and Oliver Cowdery were wrong when, during their mission to the Lamanites in 1830, they taught that Moroni referred to the hill as Cumorah anciently.

5. Some unknown person) at some unspecified date started a folk tradition that Cumorah was in New York, based on an incorrect assumption.

6. Joseph misled his wife Emma when he wrote to her about crossing the plains of the Nephites after he'd crossed Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

7. Oliver Cowdery misled the Church (and the world) when, as Assistant President of the Church, he declared in Letter VII (1835) that it's a fact that the hill in New York is the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6. IOW, he falsely memorialized the incorrect folk tradition.

8. Joseph, for unexplained reasons, passively adopted Oliver's speculation, had it copied into his own journal, and had it widely published.

9. Joseph himself misled the Church and the world in D&C 128:20 when he wrote "Glad tidings from Cumorah! ... The book to be revealed..." indicating he learned about Cumorah before he got the plates, just as Lucy Mack Smith described.

10. Joseph, who wrote very little himself, nevertheless wrote a series of  articles in the Times and Seasons about Central America that he left anonymous for unknown reasons.

11. David Whitmer, late in life, conflated his own specific memory of the first time he heard the word "Cumorah" with Oliver's folk tradition.

12. Joseph's successors in Church leadership (prophets, seers and revelators) who reiterated what Joseph and Oliver taught were all expressing their own private opinions and they were wrong, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.

13. Extrinsic evidence that corroborates the New York Cumorah is invalid because Cumorah/Ramah cannot be in New York, but various aspects of ancient Mesoamerican culture "correspond" to M2C interpretations of the text of the Book of Mormon and therefore corroborate M2C (although no Mesoamerican scholars outside the M2C bubble agree, and most observers note that the "correspondences" cited by M2C scholars are common to most ancient societies around the world).

14. Latter-day Saints who still accept what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah are ignorant, gullible, politically driven, and anti-science. Their views should be misrepresented, censored, ridiculed and opposed whenever and wherever possible.

Which set of assumptions makes the most sense to you?


Here are some relevant quotations about simplicity.

“If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.”
― Albert Einstein

To which Groucho Marx replied:

“A child of five could understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.”
― Groucho Marx

“Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.”
― Isaac Newton

“Why did they believe? Because they saw miracles. Things one man took as chance, a man of faith took as a sign. A loved one recovering from disease, a fortunate business deal, a chance meeting with a long lost friend. It wasn't the grand doctrines or the sweeping ideals that seemed to make believers out of men. It was the simple magic in the world around them.”
― Brandon Sanderson, The Hero of Ages

“People who pride themselves on their "complexity" and deride others for being "simplistic" should realize that the truth is often not very complicated. What gets complex is evading the truth.”
― Thomas Sowell, Barbarians inside the Gates and Other Controversial Essays

“..things are never as complicated as they seem. It is only our arrogance that prompts us to find unnecessarily complicated answers to simple problems.”
― Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty

“I am not a genius, I am just curious. I ask many questions. and when the answer is simple, then God is answering.”
― Albert Einstein

Monday, May 20, 2024

1840 Edition of the Book of Mormon

Promoters of SITH (the stone-in-the-hat theory) and the related EME theory (the "Early Modern English" theory) usually don't mention the cover of the 1840 edition.


(click to enlarge)

The cover says "Translated by Joseph Smith, Jr." and "Third Edition, Carefully Revised by the Translator."

SITH/EME promoters see this as just another example of Joseph Smith misleading everyone about the origin of the Book of Mormon. 

While Joseph (and Oliver) always explained that Joseph actually translated the engravings on the plates by using the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates, the SITH/EME promoters say Joseph didn't really translate anything.

He didn't even use the Urim and Thummim (except maybe, they say, for the lost 116 pages).

Instead, Joseph merely read words that appeared on a stone he put in a hat. 

To many of us, the SITH/EME narrative is absurd.

But we can all see it proudly on display when we visit the new exhibits at the Church History Museum.

The list of SITH promoters includes most of the most prominent LDS apologists and critics alike.

We'll take a closer look soon.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Church corrects heading to Words of Mormon and other topics

People are wondering why I haven't posted much lately. There are two main reasons. 

First, I want to see how the collaborative effort involving the Phoencia plays out. I'm optimistic, but also realistic. FWIW, I have over 300 unpublished posts on various topics, along with a couple of books that I may or may not release depending on how things go.

Second, I've been busy with travel, artwork (painting), and other activities. But as time allows, I also post things on my other blogs and websites. 


For example, I posted a new article on mobom.org about the Words of Mormon.

Go to https://www.mobom.org/church-history-issues. The last article under "Origin of the Book of Mormon (translation)" discusses Words of Mormon.


This article updates and augments Chapter 11 of Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates?

I'm continually updating my blogs, articles, and books in response to feedback and further reflection. 

And so is the Church.


The heading to Words of Mormon has changed to more accurately reflect the language in the text. Notice the significant change from the old "He inserts the plates of Nephi into the abridgment" to the new "He puts the small plates with the other plates."

Here is the heading in my printed (analog) version of the scriptures. This is the 1981 edition.

Here is the current heading in the online edition, which is based on the 2013 edition:


This change follows the text instead of making an assumption, which is refreshing. 

It also happens to accommodate the two sets of plates narrative. 

Friday, May 3, 2024

Toward no more contention: the Phoenicia

Extrinsic evidence of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon continues to come forth. Here's an outstanding example of Latter-day Saints working together to present such evidence.

Scripture Central and FIRM Foundation Explore Evidence of Phoenician Connections to the New World

Post contributed by Scripture Central
Scripture Central's picture
April 23, 2024
Phoenician ship Carved on the face of a sarcophagus. 2nd century AD. Original image by Elias Ziade. CC BY-SA 3.0.
Phoenician ship Carved on the face of a sarcophagus. 2nd century AD. Original image by Elias Ziade. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Saturday evening, April 20, 2024, Richard Ferguson accepted the gracious invitation to speak alongside Rod Meldrum at the FIRM Foundation conference. Both agreed that the most important purpose of the Book of Mormon is to bring people to Jesus Christ, and the volume’s role as a witness to His divinity. 

Both discussed how contention over geographic models is not only unproductive, but destructive in furthering the Restoration’s progress. They agreed that faithful people can have different interpretations of early church leader statements and of scientific evidence. 

Rod and Richard discussed what specific areas the two groups have in common, namely: 

  • The Book of Mormon is real history.
  • Old World connections, such as Lehi’s travel along identifiable points of the spice trails through Arabia before reaching Oman to build a ship in a place called Bountiful.
  • Hebraisms and other clear indications of the book having been written by ancient scribal prophets.
  • Transoceanic voyages.
  • Potential Phoenician contact to help Mulek arrive to the new world.
  • Seed of Lehi over North and South America.
  • Prophecies and promises in the Book of Mormon are true.

In an effort to collaborate in these areas of common agreement, Scripture Central agreed to work with FIRM Foundation to publish findings regarding the potential Mulekite and Phoenician connections, by exploring evidence for transoceanic voyages and contact prior to Columbus. Though other strictly potential avenues for collaboration were discussed on stage, Mr. Ferguson also affirmed that for now, Scripture Central will concentrate only on areas of agreement. Future events may present opportunities for expanding cooperation. 

Rod and Richard also stressed the importance that all believing members of the church should avoid contention or judging the characters of various writers or speakers, and communicate respectfully, reasonably, and cordially. They should refrain from using any pejorative or derogatory language. 

“We hope this will be the beginning of a new era of mutual respect, regardless of opinions as to where the Book of Mormon events occurred. We believe that this joint research can lead to further opportunities for collaboration. In the meantime, Scripture Central will continue its mission to illuminate and defend divine truth, its central mission,” said Richard Ferguson, Volunteer Executive Director, Scripture Central. 

Thursday, May 2, 2024

boil down to fundamental truths

A good explanation for the reason to refocus on what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon:

“Don’t just follow the trend... boil things down to the most fundamental truths you can imagine and you reason up from there. This is a good way to figure out if something really makes sense or if it’s just what everyone else is doing.” | Elon Musk