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 21, 2015

Pursuit of truth

I hope people who read this blog share my passion to pursue the truth, but I've met plenty of LDS scholars and ordinary members of whom I can't say that.

I've been doing presentations about once a week, plus numerous meetings with interested people, correspondence, blog posts, etc., all on top of working on my books and articles. Actually, I've been working on the topic of Book of Mormon geography for over 40 years, starting in my freshman year at BYU when I took an honors class from John Sorenson. Over that time, I've gone from complete ignorance to fascination with Mesoamerica, teaching Mesoamerica to investigators in France on my mission, extensive reading about Mesoamerica (including all of Sorenson, most if not all of FARMS, Welch, Maxwell Institute, Peterson, etc.), and then gradually realizing there is zero evidence in Mesoamerica to support the Book of Mormon. What "evidence" is cited by FARMS/Maxwell Institute is a combination of semantic gyrations, retranslating the Book of Mormon, attenuated "similarities," vague references to spiritual experiences, appeals to authority (general authority, that is) and wishful thinking. Their theories are completely dismissed as ridiculous by every non-LDS scholar (not to mention most LDS people who have visited the area and wondered how Mesoamerica is the promised land instead of the United States, but that's another topic).

Consequently, I completely agree with the Book of Mormon critics who say there is no evidence of the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica (or South America, or Central America generally, including Panama). [Note: by this I mean the Book of Mormon events described in the text. Certainly, all of Latin America qualifies as "hinterlands" to the text; i.e., the 99% of history not covered by the text could easily have taken place, at least in part, in Latin America.]

Over the years, and in this blog, I've observed how defenders of the Mesoamerican theory are very defensive. Lately I've also observed that defenders of the defenders of the Mesoamerican theory are also very defensive. I've actually had church leaders cite the DNA article on lds.org as evidence of the Mesoamerican theory! 

When I've pointed out the massive problems with both the Mesoamerican theory and the Times and Seasons articles that prompted it, the response from the Maxwell Institute and their supporters boils down to 1) don't confuse me with facts and 2) the Church endorsed their theory by publishing the DNA article on the website.

Here's a simple example of what is going on. There's an editorial in the Times and Seasons (Vol 3, No 13, May 2, 1842) titled 


This article has been listed among those Joseph Smith supposedly wrote and/or endorsed because he was editor at the time. It was even signed "ED" which the FARMS/Maxwell Institute/Church Curriculum Committee interpret to mean Joseph Smith.

The article is 580 words long. 350 words are direct (and unattributed) quotations from Josiah Priest's book, American Antiquities: Discoveries in the West, pages 110-112. The only editorial section consists of these 230 words:

Had Mr. Ash in his researches consulted the Book of Mormon his problem would have been solved, and he would have found no difficulty in accounting for the mummies being found in the above mentioned case. The Book of Mormon gives an account of a number of the descendants of Israel coming to this continent; and it is well known that the art of embalming was known among the Hebrews, as well as among the Egyptians, although perhaps not so generally among the former, as among the latter people; and their method of embalming also might be different from that of the Egyptians.

Jacob and Joseph were no doubt, embalmed in the manner of the Egyptians, as they died in that country, Gen. 1, 2, 3, 26. When our Saviour was crucified his hasty burial obliged them only to wrap his body in linen with a hundred pounds of myrrh, aloes, and similar spices, (part of the ingredients of embalming.) given by Nicodemus for that purpose: but Mary and other holy women had prepared ointment and spices for embalming it, Matt. xxviii. 59: Luke xxiii. 56: John xxx. 39-40.
This art was no doubt transmitted from Jerusalem to this continent, by the before mentioned emigrants, which accounts for the finding of the mummies, and at the same time is another strong evidence of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.-[ED.

I've shown elsewhere that this language is directly out of Benjamin Winchester's work. But here's another point. 

Winchester cited Priest specifically in connection with the Book of Mormon in the Gospel Reflector in March, 1841. Winchester is the only person in Church history for whom there is proof that he owned Priest's book. Winchester contributed it to the Nauvoo library in 1844. (Charles Thompson, who wrote "Evidences in Proof of the Book of Mormon, excerpted in January 1842 when Winchester was at the T&S, includes a reference to Priest's book, but Peter Crawley has noted Thompson's book is mostly taken from Winchester's own work--which explains why Winchester published the positive review of it in the T&S. That Thompson used quotes from Priest doesn't mean he even read Priest's book; I have several examples of people citing books they only read about in someone else's work.) There is zero evidence that Joseph Smith ever owned, read, or even heard of Priest's book. 

And yet the Mesoamerican proponents, including the Church Curriculum Committee, continue to insist that Joseph wrote and/or endorsed everything in the Times and Seasons between March and November 1842--including this article. 

So let's say that Joseph read and approved of Winchester's article here, and signed it as ED. In the very next issue of the Times and Seasons, the Quorum of the Twelve announce that Winchester is "silenced from preaching" for unspecified reasons. Is there any connection to the Mummies article? Nothing in the Mummies article seems controversial, unless one wants to conclude that claiming ancient Hebrews were in Kentucky was anathema (because Joseph changed his mind since the March Wentworth letter). But the Mummies article was not retracted. From this, one could reach one of more of these conclusions: 1) the silencing was unrelated to the article, whether Winchester wrote it or not; 2) Winchester didn't sign the editorial because he knew he was in trouble; 3) whoever the editor was knew Winchester was in trouble so he signed it as ED; 4) the Twelve knew Winchester wrote the article and didn't like it, but didn't retract it; or 5) the Editor (Joseph Smith? William Smith? anyone else?) wrote and signed the article but declined to put his name on it because....(anyone's guess). IMO, based on the evidence and past history, Winchester wrote the article and William published it because he liked Winchester's material but he couldn't put Winchester's name on it so he signed it as ED. (Note: W.W. Phelps may also have been involved, as I've documented elsewhere).

One could also say that despite the absence of evidence, Joseph had a copy of Priest's book, read it, and inserted the article. But then Joseph is specifically endorsing the North American geography. 

So the historical evidence supports the theory that Winchester was the only one who owned the book, that he had previously cited it in connection with the Book of Mormon, that the terms used in this editorial are terms Winchester used before and after the article appears in the Times and Seasons, and that Winchester was "at" the Times and Seasons until John Taylor took over November (even though he was physically in Philadelphia). This historical evidence also shows a complete absence of any connection between Joseph Smith and Priest's book, apart from an inference raised by the "ED" signature at the end of this article.

What standard of proof and system of evidentiary presumptions can possibly weigh this evidence and conclude that 1) Winchester did not write these editorial comments and 2) Joseph Smith did?

The only answer I've derived from Mesoamericans and their supporters (including the Curriculum Committee) is that Joseph Smith appears in the boilerplate as Editor and Publisher, so that trumps all other evidence.

I'm sorry, but I can't reconcile that position with the pursuit of truth.

BTW, the evidence also shows that a month before this article appeared, William Smith started publishing the Wasp in the same print shop. Elsewhere I've documented William's editorial input at the Times and Seasons, starting around this time. 

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