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, January 5, 2016

Despite knowing...

Some years ago I was flying to the Middle East and had a conversation with a fellow passenger who, it turned out, was going on a pilgrimage to Mount Sinai.

"Are you going to the one in Egypt or the one in Saudi Arabia?" I asked, hoping to learn more about the Saudi location.

He looked puzzled. "What one in Saudi Arabia?"

"The one in the northwest, near the Gulf of Aqaba."

He had never heard of it. He was going to St. Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai peninsula, thinking it was Moses' Mount Sinai but unaware of the differences of opinion about the actual location. He seemed a little shaken to learn that he might not be headed for the actual Mount Sinai after all. I was sorry I'd asked the question and I hoped I didn't ruin his trip.

Anyone who has visited Israel knows there are plenty of, shall we say, "traditional" sites. They attract millions of pilgrims. Despite knowing these traditional sites have little to do with the events they commemorate, people enjoy visiting them. I've done so myself. These sites have historical significance of their own, actually, but we don't want to conflate that significance with the reality of the underlying historical events.

(As I mentioned on bookofmormonconsensus here, the Sinai controversy is a good example of the futility of creating an abstract map based on incomplete data from the scriptures. The issue is summarized pretty well by Wikipedia, here. More academic analysis is available here and here. A popular site is here.)

I was reminded of this by a recent blog post by a well-known Mesoamericanist who is visiting Central America. He's actually posting photos of Quirigua.

I know many people who have been on "Book of Mormon" tours to Central America. I've visited several of the proposed sites myself. It's always a good use of time to learn about other cultures, historical sites, etc. But why perpetuate the fantasy that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America?

Here's a quotation from the blog:

In particular, the mention of “a large stone brought … with engravings on it” (Omni 1:20) found at Zarahemla caught the attention of the Times and Seasons editor.
It is certainly a good thing for the excellency and veracity, of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, that the ruins of Zarahemla have been found where the Nephites left them: and that a large stone with engravings upon it, as Mosiah said.
Such “large stones,” or lakam-tuun (from Mayan, lit. large stone) are of course found throughout Mesoamerican ruins. However, the tallest are here, at Quiriguá.

The incongruity should be obvious. The reference in Omni refers to "a" large stone; i.e., it was unique and memorable, so unusual that it merits 10% of the highly condensed book of Omni (3/30 verses).

In North America, such a large engraved stone would be unique and memorable. By contrast, such large stones "are of course found throughout Mesoamerican ruins."

Had the Book of Mormon taken place in Mesoamerica, the stone brought to Mosiah would hardly be remarkable.

This is yet another example of:

1) how the text describes not Mesoamerican culture but North American culture;

2) how ridiculous the Times and Seasons articles are (the blogger admits, "Despite knowing it is not directly related to the Book of Mormon, it was fun seeing the ruins of Quiriguá and standing next to the largest known lakam-tuun in all of Mesoamerica. The role it played in early LDS thought—and very likely Joseph Smith’s own thinking about the Book of Mormon—makes it a significant site for Latter-day Saints and the intellectual history of Book of Mormon geography and archaeology.")

3) how people believe what they want to believe despite the evidence (in this case relying on the goofy black-box stylometry material as evidence that Joseph Smith wrote the Times and Seasons articles).

BTW, it's been over a year now and I'm still waiting for the data on the stylometry material, despite numerous requests. The authors have published their conclusions and presented it publicly to contradict the historical evidence, but they have refused to share their data, their software, or their assumptions. It's pure bias confirmation, in my opinion, which is why it persuades only those who want to believe it.



  1. Jonathan,

    I don't believe you'll ever get the stylometry data. I think it's clear that the Mesoamericanists at Mormon Interpreter (not necessarily other scholars or researchers writing on other topics. There are many articles which are fabulous.) only want to be peer reviewed by other Mesoamericanists. They also blacklist heartland research. They only seek articles confirming their bias.

    I don't think they want to answer the hard questions, such as why they didn't include Benjamin Winchester in their study, when he clearly had the time, means, and opportunity to have written the "Guatemala" article in the Times and Seasons. Or what software they used, the raw data, etc.

    It baffles me. You'd think that they'd be open and honest about such things. Why the secrecy?

    By the way, your book, Moroni's America, is your best book on the subject yet. Excellent research, and well thought out conclusions. While I may not agree with everything, you've written a fantastic book. I hope it gets the publicity it deserves. Anyone who is interested in Book of Mormon geography needs to read this book. Kudo's.

  2. Yes, I'm not holding my breath for the stylometry material. Only in the bias-confirmation world of FairMormon/FARMS/Maxwell Institute/Interpreter could any so-called scholar get away with publishing only results and not explaining methodology, data, etc. I've worked with stylometry enough to know that tweaking a few things can dramatically change results; people can get the statistical results they want out of black-box stylometry. That's why stylometric analysis is so unreliable, particularly on small samples. Samples under 2500 words hardly provide reliable results, and we're talking only around 300 words here. Both critics and believers use stylometry on the Book of Mormon to support their respective views.

    I'm getting a lot of feedback on Moroni's America already, and I'm making some changes before the real publicity launches later this month with the final release version.


  3. Johnathan, there doesn't appear to be a mystery of why the " meso clan" is holding onto any of their data. It's the same old attitude of the "dog in the manger". They have it and won't share it because the don't want to lose control of it. I'm sure they know that if you were allowed to see it that you could obviously use it against them. I wouldn't say they aren't great scholars but they have a lot of real estate and personal history to protect. I'm also sure they will be some of the first to get their hands on Moroni's America. It would be interesting to hear there comments. I appreciate your blog. Keep up the great work!