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.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Fun with Dr. John L. Lund

Before I start, let me reiterate what I say about all the individuals who engage in the discussion on this topic: I like Dr. Lund, I think he's a good guy, and I'm not criticizing him as a person or making fun of him in any way. I'm focusing solely on the written words, as I do when I review everyone else's material and edit my own writing. When I say I'm having fun, I mean it in a sense of collegiality. There is nothing I would like more than to collaborate with Brother Lund on a research project on this topic, if he's willing.

That said, the canon of Mesaomerican literature includes a wide variety of material, and for this post, I'm taking a look at Brother Lund's book, Joseph Smith and the Geography of the Book of Mormon. You can get a copy here.

Brother Lund is a staunch advocate of the Mesoamerican theory. He has taken hundreds--perhaps thousands--of people on "Book of Mormon Land" tours to Central America. I've heard from many of them. Some of them accept the Mesoamerican setting because they've never heard anything different, from Primary through BYU and beyond. Others tell me the visit to Mesoamerica left them with more questions, which in turn led them to do more research, which inevitably brings them to the North American setting.

As expected, the book is an attempt to justify Brother Lund's position on geography.

The web page summarizes the book this way: "Drawing upon his expertise in author identification, Dr. Lund researched editorials ascribed to Joseph Smith in an early LDS Church newspaper called the Times and Seasons. A Comprehensive Author Identification Study revealed that Joseph Smith did indeed author the editorials which identified Guatemala as the Book of Mormon land of Zarahemla and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec as the “small or narrow” neck of land spoken of in the Book of Mormon."

In the arena of historical analysis, there are few tools more delightful than stylometry (aka, wordprint analysis or "Author Identification Studies"). When used objectively to figure out who wrote an unattributed piece, it can be effective and useful. However, when used to prove or disprove a particular theory, the technique is pretty much worthless because of the many variables that can be tweaked to get a desired result.

The best way to use stylometry is to publish your results without sharing your database, your manipulation of the data, your assumptions, or even your software. That way no one can replicate your results--or challenge them. Of course, you might have a problem with people believing such results, but those who already agree with your predetermined outcome will be delighted by this confirmation of their bias. In fact, if you follow this procedure, you can undoubtedly get your results published in the Interpreter, so long as your results confirm the biases of those editors.

For some time, people have been using stylometry to prove or disprove that Joseph Smith and/or his associates wrote the Book of Mormon. You can pick any result that suits your preferred bias. For a good summary of the problems, look on wikipedia here.

Brother Lund's book is a collection of Mesoamerican greatest hits. The second heading in the Introduction is classic: "Regarding Central America and Guatemala as the Place for the Volcanic Events Recorded in the Book of Mormon." It's fun to add Guatemala to Central America, but I'm left wondering what definition of Central America excludes Guatemala? Brother Lund is also using the "volcano translation." You know, the one in which volcanic events are recorded in the text! If anyone can get a copy of that translation, please send me one too. (Sometimes I wonder if the Spanish translation of the text uses the term volcán.)

There's an excellent, if puzzlingly ironic, passage on p. 6: "Separating one's bias from the research is difficult. There is a tendency for researchers to sometimes ignore, minimize, or set aside information that is counter to their bias. Ignoring facts that disagree with one's opinion may be a great debate technique, but it is poor scholarship and an enemy to the truth."

As predicted by that passage, you can read Brother Lund's entire book and find not one mention of Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII, Joseph's letter to Emma referring to the plains of the Nephites, etc.

How does he justify ignoring facts that disagree with his self-admitted bias that Mesoamerica is the primary land of the Book of Mormon? He explains this way, immediately after pointing out the problem of bias.

This is an actual quotation from page 6: "This bias [for Mesoamerica] results from two "Supreme Sources." One "Supreme Source" is the actual and verifiable words of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The other "Supreme Source" is the Book of Mormon itself."

It's brilliant. The best part of Brother Lund's approach is, anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons are the "actual and verifiable words of the Prophet Joseph Smith." IOW, whoever wrote those anonymous articles didn't want his/her name attached, but now Brother Lund insists those are the only words that Joseph Smith intended for us to rely on. And because these are the "actual and verifiable words of the Prophet," you can ignore things he merely wrote to his wife, or had copied into his journal, or explicitly endorsed--because they contradict Brother Lund's bias.

Because Brother Lund's bias is the good bias.

And other biases, along with open minds, are ungood.*

The entire book is an effort to paste Joseph's name onto these anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons. Nowhere does Brother Lund observe that if Joseph Smith wanted his name attached to these articles, the way he attached his name to such items as the Wentworth letter and the letters that were canonized as D&C 127 and 128, he could have done so. It's a very strange--one might say Orwellian--exercise to attach the Prophet's name and influence to articles he specifically did not want attached to his name and influence (and that's assuming he had any actual involvement with the Times and Seasons in the first place, an assumption which is not supported by historical evidence either).

Brother Lund's rationale relies primarily on the boilerplate at the end of each issue of the Times and Seasons from Feb 15-Oct 15 1842. The boilerplate was altered beginning with the July 1 issue, but the main idea didn't change.

The Times and Seasons is edited, printed and published about the first and fifteenth of every month, on the corner of Water and Bain Streets, Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, by Joseph Smith

Brother Lund refers to this boilerplate as "Joseph's signature" and a "signature block." Of course, the whole point of boilerplate is that it avoids having to reset the type for material that is the same in every issue. It's used for headings and recurring advertisements. Brother Lund thinks it means Joseph personally edited and approved everything in every issue that featured this boilerplate, an assertion Joseph himself rejected in the March 1 issue.

Worse, Brother Lund's position leads to absurd results. The boilerplate claims not only that Joseph edited and published each issue, but that he printed it. Does anyone believe Joseph spent his time at the Print shop, setting type, spreading ink, and manipulating the printing press hundreds of times a day to strike off each issue of the Times and Seasons? Brother Lund doesn't address this, but I suspect his bias, as strong as it is, would not lead him to insist Joseph actually printed each issue. But if he didn't print each issue, why should we conclude from the same boilerplate that he edited each issue?

At one point, Brother Lund claims "Joseph Smith instantly recognized the architecture, the Maya temples, the stone monuments, and the ruins of Catherwood's detailed drawings, because Joseph had seen them in vision... Joseph identified the ruins of Palenque and the ruins of Quirigua and other Mesoamerican ruins as cities formerly occupied by the people of the Book of Mormon." (p. 77). Stephens himself recognized that these ruins were more recent than Book of Mormon times, a fact modern archaeology has confirmed. Brother Lund is basically arguing that Joseph Smith saw in vision something that wasn't true. Does he really want to pursue that line of argument to its logical conclusion?

I won't belabor these points. You can read the book yourself to see how often these arguments are repeated. I think you've gotten the sense of what's going on here. The entire book is explained by the passage about bias from page 6 I quoted above.

That said, Brother Lund makes some good points about author identifiers, using eleven discriminators. The first is "Words Exclusive to One Author." I think this discriminator makes sense. However, Brother Lund makes two big mistakes. First, he only assessed three people: Joseph Smith, Wilford Woodruff, and John Taylor. There were a dozen or more people working in the printing shop; William Smith was editing the Wasp, which was edited, published and printed in the same shop on the same press; and there is no evidence that Joseph wrote anything for the Times and Seasons that he didn't also specifically sign. Joseph isn't even a viable candidate to consider, while there are many viable candidates that Lund ignores.

The second mistake is that Brother Lund does not share his database. He claims he has "over 300,000 words from each candidate," taken from the 2005 LDS Collector's Library. The news that we have "over 300,000 words" written by Joseph Smith is significant. Sadly, Brother Lund doesn't reveal where these words were published. Presumably they are compiled from Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith or an equivalent source, which means Brother Lund is using circular reasoning. TPJS includes several of the anonymous Times and Seasons editorials.

I like this book because it gathers the Mesoamerican arguments into one place where they can be fully enjoyed. The only drawback to the book is that readers uneducated in Church history, basic logic, and the text of the Book of Mormon itself, may simply read the conclusions and think that, because the book is over 200 pages long, the conclusions flow from the facts and rational argument.

Of course, that's far from the case.

* Bad. One of the rules of newspeak is that any word can be turned into its antonym by adding the prefix "un-". This allowed the removal of repetitive words such as horrible, terrible, great, fantastic, and fabulous from the language. Definition from this useful dictionary of terms.

This reference to Newspeak is from George Orwell's 1984. In my college classes over the years, I've found that the rising generation has never read 1984. It stopped being taught in the high schools about 10 years ago, apparently. Consequently, the students are unable to detect Newspeak when they see it.

Which itself is an Orwellian outcome.

Anyone who hasn't read 1984 needs to stop whatever you're doing and read it now. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Don't give up on Book of Mormon Central - yet

I keep hearing frustration about Book of Mormon Central (BOMC), and I understand what you mean. So far, it has been Book of Mormon Central America.

The staff at BOMC are great people. I agree they are wearing the Mesoamerican lenses, but let's be patient. Give them some time. Encourage them to take off the lenses if you get a chance. Maybe, eventually, they'll follow the Church's official policy of neutrality and at least allow presentation of alternative perspectives on a fair, concurrent basis.

Meanwhile, I'll try to comment when they miss really big opportunities such as this one. Let me know when you see something you want to discuss, as well.

I'm still optimistic that someday, they'll realize we all share the same belief in the Book of Mormon and the same objectives in sharing its message. Along with that, I hope they'll realize there should be room at the table for faithful LDS who don't accept the Mesoamerican setting.

All we can do is keep trying.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Approaching Antiquity: blogs vs books

A few months ago, in 2015, Deseret Book published a book titled Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith and the Ancient World. It's a collection of papers presented at the 2013 Church History Symposium at BYU. You can watch the presentations here. There is some excellent material in the book, and I recommend it.

The title, of course, refers to how Joseph approached antiquity, but it has a double-entendre because it contains material that is already out of date.

This is the problem with books now. When I had the first manuscript of Lost City of Zarahemla, I met with a well-known publisher of LDS books and was told it would take 18 months to go through the publication process. IOW, had I gone with that publisher, the book would still not be out.

Instead, that book is already in the second edition. Letter VII has been out for eight months. Moroni's America for five months, Brought to Light one month (although the final version won't be released for another week or so), The Editors will be out in May, and Moroni's History will be out in June.

Besides these books, I've published hundreds of blog posts on the topic--such as this one.

In a sense, this is all easy: the citation cartel has provided an abundance of material. It's just a question of how often I click the Publish button on the posts I have already written or discuss the hundreds of notes I've made.

I'm told that more than one post a day is a waste, that one a week is ideal, etc. However, this blog is really for my own use, something I can refer to wherever I am if I get an idea or need to get a reference. I'm glad thousands of viewers read along, but even if no one did, I'd be posting here.

People want me to organize the blogs by subject matter and publish them in a book. Maybe I will some day. (I do have a draft manuscript titled Because of this Theory that focuses on the greatest hits from the citation cartel, but I'm more interested in collaboration than confrontation, so I don't think I'll publish that one). In the meantime, the search function works quite well. I can find everything I need in the archives, and I'm sure readers can too.

What I'm saying is there is an overabundance of material showing 1) the Mesoamerican theory contradicts fundamental criteria and 2) the North American theory integrates all the available evidence. The open question is how best to present it, if at all. It would be far better to discuss all of this privately, as I've tried to do without success. With few exceptions, the citation cartel won't sit down and discuss these issues. Why should they? They have decades of publications in the archives and they've achieved complete dominance of the LDS infrastructure, including BYU, CES, Church media, etc. Their position is understandable, but I don't think it's defensible, so I keep blogging.


Here's the example that prompted this post. Chapter 6 in Approaching Antiquity is an article titled "Joseph Smith,Central American Ruins, and the Book of Mormon." (For unexplained reasons, Andrew Hedges' response is not included in the book, but you can watch it on the video starting about minute 24).

The chapter contains enticing claims, such as this one on p. 143: "he [Joseph Smith] read and enjoyed the volumes by Stephens and Catherwood, shared the excitement these discoveries generated among his friends and associates, and believed that they contained information both consistent with and supportive of the Book of Mormon." [7]

Eager to see the evidence for this claim, I turned to footnote 7. It reads, "There is no indication that Joseph Smith considered his ideas about Central America and the Book of Mormon to be revelatory."

Besides being a non sequitur, this footnote does nothing to support the claim in the article. Apparently that claim is based entirely on the anonymous letter to Bernhisel dated 16 November 1841 (which the article incorrectly claims John Taylor wrote). As the Joseph Smith Papers show, no one knows who wrote that brief thank-you note. The handwriting remains unidentified and the circumstances under which it was written a mystery.

In the upcoming book The Editors: Joseph, William, and Don Carlos Smith, I have an entire chapter on the Bernhisel letter that demonstrates, I think pretty convincingly, that Wilford Woodruff drafted that letter. I submitted it to Book of Mormon Central as a stand-alone piece. If they don't publish it, I'll put it on my blogs. But some of that material was in Lost City already. The point here is, American Antiquities was published months after Lost City and it doesn't even respond to the historical facts presented there, let alone more recently discovered material.

Consequently, the entire book industry is itself "approaching antiquity."


That said, I will continue to publish the books because they remain the best way to present information in a coherent format that can be shared, annotated, discussed, debated, etc. But we all need to recognize, thanks to this example from Approaching Antiquity, that books are a product of their times. Although it was published in 2015, Approaching Antiquity is a product of 2013--ancient history by today's standards.

Just to be clear, I'm not criticizing books generally or Approaching Antiquity specifically. It's a wonderful resource. But I caution people not to believe everything they read. You can trust if you want, but be sure to verify.

More fun with Cumorah: 50-year-old hearsay vs. Joseph Fielding Smith

While commenting on a chiasmus article, I started explaining my views on Cumorah and ended up digressing so much I decided to put that analysis here. The Cumorah discussion is a classic case of what you'll find if you read the citation cartel's publications carefully and unpack them.

Those who have read the book on Letter VII, available here and online here, know that Joseph Fielding Smith specifically rejected the two-Cumorah theory on which the Mesoamerican theory depends. (This is the theory that the hill in New York was merely where Joseph found the plates, and not the scene of the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites.)

Here is a summary of how the issue has been addressed over the years. (The detail is later in this post for those interested.)

In 1938, as Church Historian and a 28-year member of the Twelve, Joseph Fielding Smith writes an extensive analysis rejecting the two Cumorah theory and declaring that it has led members of the Church to "become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith of the Book of Mormon."

In 1956, now as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, President Smith releases Doctrines of Salvation, compiled by Bruce R. McConkie, that includes the republication of his analysis rejecting the two-Cumorah theory.

In 2010, the Citation Cartel claims that President Smith told Sidney Sperry he could write whatever he wanted, including the two-Cumorah theory, and from that they conclude "It seems clear, then, that Elder (later President) Smith did not regard his views as the product of revelation, nor did he regard it as illegitimate to have a different view of the matter."

What is the basis for this rejection of what President Smith wrote?

Are you ready?

"Recollection of John Fugal of Orem, Utah, to Matthew Roper, 15 May 2010. Fugal was a student in a BYU Book of Mormon class where Sperry recounted the experience."

I am not making this up. All the citations are listed below, with online links.

To reject Joseph Fielding Smith's analysis, Brother Roper recounts what Brother Fugal told him that Brother Sperry said President Smith told him sometime in the 1960s.

You pick which side has more credibility.

Better, follow President Smith's analysis and add more recent discoveries from the Joseph Smith papers, then contrast that with the multiple layers of hearsay that the citation cartel relies upon.

(For new readers, the citation cartel consists of FARMS, FAIRMORMON, the MAXWELL INSTITUTE, THE INTERPRETER, BYU STUDIES, BMAF, AAF, CES, and, to a large degree, BOOKOFMORMONCENTRAL. All of these cite one another and exclude alternative viewpoints that challenge the Mesoamerican theory.)

Hopefully by now everyone reading this blog knows that Letter VII unequivocally states, as a "fact," that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York. Readers also know that Joseph Smith helped Oliver Cowdery write the letters, that Joseph had his scribes copy them into his journal as part of his history, and that Letter VII was published with the other letters in the Messenger and Advocate, the Times and Seasons, the Gospel Reflector, and in a stand-alone pamphlet in 1844.

IOW, during Joseph's lifetime, it was universally accepted, as a fact, that the Hill Cumorah--both Mormon's and Moroni's--was in New York. It was in his context that Joseph wrote D&C 128: "Glad tidings from Cumorah!"

No student of the Book of Mormon should ignore Letter VII. I hope every member of the Church today reads it, as they did in Kirtland and Nauvoo when Joseph was alive.


I began my analysis of Book of Mormon geography decades ago as a seminary student while living in Germany. Then I went to BYU and learned the Mesoamerican theory in more detail. For decades, I accepted it by default, but the two-Cumorah theory on which it depends never felt right. I didn't realize until much later that Joseph Fielding Smith had specifically addressed that theory in the 1930s, stating that "because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith of the Book of Mormon."

No truer words about this topic have ever been written. The evidence of that is all around us today.

President Smith went on to write, "It is for this reason that evidence is here presented to show that it is not only possible that these places could be located [in New York] as the Church has held during the past century, but that in very deed such is the case."

Among other things, he cited Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII and notes that the letters "were written at the Prophet's request and under his personal supervision." He points out that Letter VII was published in the Messenger and Advocate and the Times and Seasons. Apparently President Smith didn't know that Joseph had also instructed his scribes to copy the letters into his journal (something I didn't know until I searched in the Joseph Smith Papers) and had given Benjamin Winchester express permission to publish them in the Gospel Reflector.


As I noted at the outset, I realize FairMormon explains away President Smith's comments. I'm going to take a moment here to illustrate why you need to carefully analyze everything the citation cartel publishes.

In this case, look here for an awesome display. The anonymous article states: "Although Elder Smith would later become president of the church in 1970, his article arguing for a New York location as the scene of the final battlefield was written many years before he assumed that position..." [when Elder Smith wrote about the two-Cumorah theory in 1938, he had been an Apostle for 28 years and Church Historian and Recorder for 17 years] "and he apparently never revisited the question as president of the church." [The analysis was republished in Doctrines of Salvation vol. 3, compiled by Bruce R. McConkie, in 1956, five years after President Smith became President of the Quorum of the Twelve. Normally, one would think that a definitive, declarative statement made in 1938 and republished in 1956 would not need to be "revisited" later--unless it needed to be corrected.]

Then FairMormon cites an anecdote about Sidney B. Sperry, who decided the Hill Cumorah could not be in New York but did not want to contradict "Elder Smith" and asked him about it sometime "during the 1960s." Here's what FairMormon's anonymous author writes: "Sperry said that Elder Smith then lovingly put his arm around his shoulder and said, 'Sidney, you are as entitled to your opinion as I am to mine. You go ahead and publish it.'" [3]

Footnote 3 is this: Matthew Roper, "Losing the Remnant: The New Exclusivist "Movement" and the Book of Mormon (A review of "Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America" by: Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum)," FARMS Review 22/2 (2010): 87–124.

I went to that link (a FARMS Review article, another example of the citation cartel's incestuous citation practices) and searched for Sperry and Fielding and entitled. Not there. So I googled the phrase and if popped up at fairmormon, bmaf, and the Deseret News (another charter member of the citation cartel that I haven't posted about yet, but I will soon enough.) [NOTE: I later discovered that the problem appears to be two versions of a similar article by Brother Roper, both designated as FARMS Review 22/2 (2010). One is posted at the Maxwell Institute here, while the other is posted at the Maxwell Institute here. The articles have different names, but both are reviews of the same book, Prophecies and Promises. I've discussed that review before.]

The BMAF article finally gets to the bottom of this in an article by Stephen L. Carr, BMAF Senior V.P. and Editor, titled "General Authority Comments Regarding Book of Mormon Geography" here. He repeats the story:

"Sperry, who was very familiar with what Joseph Fielding Smith had previously written, told Elder Smith that he did not feel comfortable publishing something that contradicted what the apostle had written, but that he and other sincere students of the Book of Mormon had come to that conclusion only after serious and careful study of the text. Sperry said that Elder Smith then lovingly put his arm around his shoulder and said, “Sidney, you are as entitled to your opinion as I am to mine. You go ahead and publish it.” (1, 10)"

Footnote 1 is this: 1- Roper, Matt, Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography, FARMS Review: Volume - 22, Issue - 2, Pages: 15-85. A review of Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America by Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2010. [This article appears to be the uncredited source of the FairMormon article, which, although published anonymously there, is actually a direct quotation from Brother Roper's article here.]

Footnote 10 is this: 10- Recollection of John Fugal of Orem, Utah, to Matthew Roper, 15 May 2010. Fugal was a student in a BYU Book of Mormon class where Sperry recounted the experience.

This is the identical footnote numbered 17 Brother Roper's article, and the only source for the Sperry story.


It should be obvious to any Latter-day Saint familiar with Article of Faith 11 that even if the compound self-serving 50-year-old hearsay is accurate, Joseph Fielding Smith was merely recognizing Brother Sperry's own free agency and academic freedom. Nothing in this recollection implies that President Smith changed his mind on this topic, but he wasn't insisting everyone think the same way he did. He presented his analysis in some detail so anyone could follow it. Unlike the Mesoamerican activists, President Smith accepted Oliver Cowdery as a credible witness.

It should also be obvious to anyone who has attended BYU--or Institute, Seminary, or even Primary--that what someone says in a class is not necessarily reliable. Of course, the citation cartel makes an exception for when you get some good hearsay that confirms your biases.

Although then you have to consider what Lehi and Benjamin said about the importance of written records...

The evidence of the accuracy of President Smith's characterization of the two-Cumorah theory is all around us.


The famous "late" objection. My favorite part of the citation cartel's approach is they reject the New York Cumorah because Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and others gave "late" recollections and statements. In Oliver's case, 1831 was "late" because he didn't mention Cumorah until he was teaching the Lamanites on his mission. In Joseph's case, 1835 was "late" because he waited too long to help Oliver write Letter VII, publish it in the Messenger and Advocate, and have it copied into his journal. [This is apparently "late" because Joseph had plenty of time to do all of this between 1830 and 1835 and just chose not to do it--a proposition I suspect most historians would disagree with.] And then 1841 was "late" because Don Carlos waited too long to republish Letter VII in the Times and Seasons when he could have published it in the first issue in 1839. And 1841 was also "late" because Benjamin Winchester waited until March to republish Letter VII in the Gospel Reflector. He could have published it in January 1841 when he started the paper.

David Whitmer was "late" because he didn't give direct testimony to Joseph F. Smith about when he first heard the word Cumorah--from a heavenly messenger, before he'd even read the text (and before the translation was complete)--until September 1878. That was 49 years after it happened, after all! (Okay, a memorable event, but doesn't everyone misremember what angels tell you when you're young?)

Here's what is not "late" for Mesoamerican advocates: compound, self-serving hearsay from sometime in the 1960s, first recorded in 2010. Fifty years for such evidence is not too late. No, to the citation cartel that evidence is so credible and fresh that they cite it everywhere to justify the two-Cumorah theory.

Good thing we're still having fun.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

More fun with Brother Clark

Recently I posted about Brother John Clark's article in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. This is the one Brother Gardner cited as containing "the reasons that the New York hill could not have been the location of the final Nephite battle."

Brother Clark cited a report from an archaeological survey conducted before highway construction in the Genesee Valley of New York in the 1970s. Curious, I obtained a copy of the report. Not surprisingly, I found some things readers of this blog might be interested in.

Brother Clark's long citation (footnote 9) ends with this sentence: "This implies that a population decline took place during the Middle Woodland Period." (The Middle Woodland Period, as defined in the report, is 500 BC-AD 1000.) However, Brother Clark omits the final sentence from the original paragraph, which is this: "At present there is no apparent explanation for such a decline."

Had Brother Clark removed his Mesoamerican lenses, he might have seen the connection between the final war between the Nephites and Lamanites in the area and the "unexplained" decline in population in western New York.

The report also notes that "Mortuary ceremonialism declined during the Late Woodland Period, as shown by the lack of grave goods or burial mounds following the Middle Woodland cultures." These burial practices were "patterned after those found in Ohio (Hopewell Tradition)." In Book of Mormon terms, Ohio was Bountiful, the Hopewell were the Nephites. If we read the text, we would expect the Nephite traditions to decline after they were vanquished by the Lamanites.

[Note: The term Hopewell comes from the last name of the man who owned the property upon which a particular mound was excavated. Had his last name been Nephi instead of Hopewell, archaeologists would be referring to these people as the Nephi culture.]

I also found Brother Clark's description of the highway survey interesting:

"For the nearby Genesee Valley in New York, Neal L. Trubowitz gives detailed information from an intensive survey carried out in conjunction with the construction of a recent highway.For the wide strip of land involved, there is 100 percent coverage, so the information for relative changes in occupation is unusually good, as such things go in archaeology."

Trubowitz himself has a different perspective. He first explains that the report is his PhD dissertation. Then he notes that when he returned for a visit, "I found that the entire Genesee Expressway had gone to construction since I left, and that a major proportion of the archaeological sites identified in our research, notably the concentration of sites at the junction of the Genesee River with Canaseraga Creek, had been destroyed by that construction without the benefit of any research beyond the work noted in this study.

"The history of highway salvage archaeology peculiar to New York, in combination with the political power structure within the state government at that time, contributed to the loss of many sites in the Genesee Valley that doubtless were eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places and deserved further research. These sites cannot be replaced and their loss represents a serious depletion of of the archaeological record. Yet, the Genesee Expressway investigations still represent a quantum leap in quality over the highway archaeological research that was possible before 1973 in New York. At least with this expressway, archaeologists were able to undertake systematic reconnaissance and some minimal test excavations, as compared to the almost nonexistent levels of research that were done on older major highways."

To Brother Clark, Trubowitz's dissertation represents detailed information of an intense survey of 100% coverage of the area. To Trubowitz himself, though, there were only "minimal test excavations" followed by destruction of "the concentration of sites," which cannot be replaced. Trubowitz says "their loss represents a serious depletion of the archaeological record," to which Brother Clark responds, "Possibilities and probabilities of destroyed evidence have become an excuse for avoiding serious archaeological research altogether."

Trubowitz also notes that while Ritchie, the other author Brother Clark cited, "did investigate mounds and other non-Seneca sites, very little organized research on cultures earlier than Late Woodland Period had been undertaken" prior to the highway study. He also notes that "Practically every landowner who has any close connection with his or her property (farming, etc.) has a collection ranging from a few stray projectile points to thousands of artifacts. Many collectors are known to have found sites which have not been recorded at any institution. Some of the earlier private collections have been broken up at auctions and are no longer available to researchers... It would take the lifetime of a number of investigators to track down all the extant collections, and any survey of these collections would suffer from the collecting biases of those people who accumulated them."

Yet, based on the Trubowitz study, Brother Clark reaches this conclusion: "sufficient information is available for the surrounding regions to make a critical assessment. Mormon’s hill and Moroni’s hill are not one and the same... Archaeologically speaking, it is a clean hill. No artifacts, no walls, no trenches, no arrowheads. The area immediately surrounding the hill is similarly clean."

The author of the study Brother Clark cites says there are innumerable landowners who have collections that number in the thousands of artifacts, but Brother Clark doesn't mention that. Instead, he tells his readers that there are no artifacts.

As I say, reviewing the publications of the citation cartel is a lot of fun.

I invite anyone with the time and interest to read this stuff for yourself. You'll be amazed.

Objectives and Methodology

Lately I've had some questions about my objectives in writing this blog and the methodology I'm using. My objectives are spelled out in the masthead, but a lot of people pass right by that.

What I've tried to do here is offer my peer reviews of articles, books, and presentations that promote the Mesoamerican theory. I wish this entire discussion could be done on an anonymous basis, but of course in reality, individuals write and publish, and they put their names on their work. As I constantly reiterate, I have great respect and admiration for the scholars who have published their research. I don't question their motives or abilities, but I do assess the facts cited and the arguments made.

Here is my view: the Mesoamerican model of Book of Mormon geography is based on a historical mistake (the assumption that Joseph Smith wrote or approved of the anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons). Ever since, faithful and talented LDS scholars have sought to vindicate what they thought Joseph Smith taught and believed.

It was a reasonable premise, actually, and one that I accepted for decades. But then the Joseph Smith Papers and digital research technology made it possible to uncover previously unknown facts.

There was a time when many faithful LDS were leery of detailed Church history. Books such as Rough Stone Rolling have helped put historical events and personalities in context, and certainly the Joseph Smith Papers have given more people access to more documents than ever before. As a result, we're correcting a lot of historical mistakes. See this article in the October Ensign as a great example. The subtitle: "The historical record clarifies how Joseph Smith fulfilled his role as a seer and translated the Book of Mormon."

This historical record is also clarifying what happened in 1842 Nauvoo with the Times and Seasons (the equivalent of today's Ensign). However, the idea that Joseph Smith wrote anonymous articles for the Times and Seasons persists, largely because the Mesoamerican theory depends on those articles.

There are obvious reasons why the idea is ill-conceived.

1. Joseph was never much of an author. He had little formal education; he never prepared written speeches (with one exception); he used scribes to write down what he said and did; and most of the material written in his own handwriting that we do have was written in the early 1830s. Even as late as January 1841, the Lord told him to get help writing (D&C 124:12).

2. Joseph was pressed for time. He had to deal with governing Nauvoo and the Nauvoo legion, organizing and educating the Relief Society, responding to legal action including extradition to Missouri and bankruptcy, handling real estate developments, building the temple and associated doctrines, including baptisms for the dead and the endowment, managing the integration of new coverts from Europe and the Eastern States, overseeing the missionary work, arbitrating conflicts among Church members, responding to hostile media, and more. And yet, the anonymous articles reflect some serious research and reading. There is no evidence that Joseph spent time reading and studying the books cited in these anonymous articles. In June 1842, Wilford Woodruff observed that Joseph hardly had time to sign his name to documents that were prepared for his signature. The assertion that Joseph would write anonymous articles in the midst of all this activity is simply ahistorical nostalgia.

3.  The content of the anonymous articles is problematic. Some of the content contradicts other contemporary teachings that are clearly attributable to Joseph. In other cases, the articles are irrational and counterfactual.

Much of what has passed for historical analysis on this issue suffers from presentism, which is "the anachronistic introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past." It's a common fallacy of historical writing, whereby historians interpret the past to validate their own beliefs.

In this case, we have Mesoamerican theorists (those who believe the Book of Mormon events took place in Central America) interpreting the historical record to justify their beliefs. One primary example is the way they discredit the writing of Oliver Cowdery about the Hill Cumorah in New York in his Letter VII. Although Joseph Smith helped him write that letter, had his scribes copy it into his own journal as part of his history, and explicitly approved the re-publication of the letter (it was published at least 4 times during Joseph's lifetime), Mesoamerican scholars continue to insist that Joseph never said anything about Cumorah except for Section 128--and some even claim that SEction 128 pays homage to a hill in Mesoamerica!

Presentism also appears in the insistence by Mesoamerican proponents that Joseph wrote anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons. They use those articles to claim Joseph merely speculated about Book of Mormon geography, that he changed his mind, and that he thought scholarship would answer the questions. How much more self-serving could historical interpretation be than that?

I'm not arguing against scholarship; to the contrary, I think scholarship is essential. We are to "seek learning, even by study and also by faith." In this context, I interpret that to mean neither of those elements should be used in isolation.

In my own analysis, I started with a hypothesis based on faith that 1) the Hill Cumorah is in New York (D&C 128 and Letter VII) and that 2) Zarahemla was in Iowa, across from Nauvoo (D&C 125). Then I tested the hypothesis "by study" of the text and relevant disciplines of geography, geology, anthropology, archaeology, and history (both of the Church and of North America). In my view, everything fits the North American setting.

In stark contrast, the Mesoamerican theory requires people to jettison what Oliver Cowdery said about Cumorah, to reject Joseph's explicit endorsement of Oliver's work, and to resort to what I consider sophistry to explain away everything else Joseph said or wrote about the topic (as well as David Whitmer's testimony about Cumorah). Instead, people are expected to accept articles in the Times and Seasons that are so unreliable and counterfactual that even the original author left them anonymous. Then, as "evidence," we are expected to accept a series of "correspondences" between Mayan culture and the descriptions in the text, even though such "correspondences" are ubiquitous in human cultures around the world and throughout human history.

What accounts for the persistence of the Mesoamerican theory? So far, I've identified two key points.

First, there is a tremendous amount of intellectual inertia. Generations of Mormons have been raised with the Arnold Friberg illustrations of Central America, the "hourglass" depiction of the "abstract" map of Book of Mormon lands, and the waves of publications by LDS scholars that uniformly endorse and promote the Mesoamerican theory to the exclusion of alternatives. The theory has acquired a life of its own. I've had Mesoamerica proponents tell me recently that the Times and Seasons articles have nothing to do with the Mesoamerican theory, which is like saying Thomas Jefferson had nothing to do with the Declaration of Independence. It takes tremendous energy to swim upstream against the Mesoamerican current, and will take even more to divert the flow of scholarship into the North American channel, but I think LDS scholars will find this new course far more rewarding.

Second, to a significant degree the Mesoamerican theory was a response to the anti-Mormon argument that the Book of Mormon merely articulates the old Moundbuilder legends; i.e., that Joseph Smith was simply retelling stories he'd heard growing up of an ancient advanced civilization that was destroyed by savages. I think there may be an element of concern among modern LDS scholars that a focus on North America will revive that old argument, but I also think they will soon realize there's nothing to fear on that account.

Overall, I'm optimistic that there will be open-minded LDS scholars who will take another look at what has happened over the last 50 years or so. Like me, I think they will be surprised at how superficial much of the scholarship has been. There has been a tremendous amount of confirmation bias, and scholars have been much too quick to dismiss what Oliver Cowdery wrote. As I indicated at the outset, this has largely been due to a historical mistake. I hope we can correct the errors and move forward with greater unity.

Guest post on Snow

[Introductory note. Probably the most frequent question I get about the North American setting is this: "If the Book of Mormon events took place in North America, why doesn't the text mention snow?"

Lately, I've been answering this by saying "If Paul traveled to Turkey (Galatia, Ephesus, etc.), then why doesn't he ever mention snow? Are you going to say he didn't actually travel where it snows because he didn't write about the snow?"

The Book of Mormon is hardly a weather report. However, it does mention multiple seasons (Mosiah 18:4 and Alma 46:40), which you get in a temperate latitudes but not in tropical zones (Mesoamerica has two seasons: dry (November-May) and rainy (June - October). The average high temperature for Guatemala City, for example, varies by only 3 degrees centigrade all year long.

A reader sent in this guest post, which is a much more complete answer. Well done!]

A Snowball's Chance

A persistent argument against a North American setting for the Book of Mormon is the lack of references to snow in the sacred text.  Of course, the text actually does reference snow (see 1 Ne. 11:8), but it never mentions snowfall, so this is an issue that should be examined.

And, counterintuitively, examination of the issue may actually present strong evidence for a North American setting.

First, let's consider how the Book of Mormon addresses rain.  There are eleven references to rain spread across ten verses in the Book of Mormon.  Here are those verses:

6 And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and a covert from storm and from rain.
    6 And I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
    13 O Lord, wilt thou hearken unto me, and cause that it may be done according to my words, and send forth rain upon the face of the earth, that she may bring forth her fruit, and her grain in the season of grain.
      17 And it came to pass that in the seventy and sixth year the Lord did turn away his anger from the people, and caused that rain should fall upon the earth, insomuch that it did bring forth her fruit in the season of her fruit. And it came to pass that it did bring forth her grain in the season of her grain.
      25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock.
        27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell, and great was the fall of it.
        24 For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.
        30 And it came to pass that there began to be a great dearth upon the land, and the inhabitants began to be destroyed exceedingly fast because of the dearth, for there was no rain upon the face of the earth.
        35 And it came to pass that when they had humbled themselves sufficiently before the Lord he did send rain upon the face of the earth; and the people began to revive again, and there began to be fruit in the north countries, and in all the countries round about. And the Lord did show forth his power unto them in preserving them from famine.

        The verses in 2 Nephi are from the prophet's quoting of the writings of Isaiah; those in 3 Nephi are from the Savior's Sermon at the Temple; and Ether 2:24 is a somewhat poetic statement of God's power over the elements.  None of these passages actually refer to it raining.  The only ones that reference rainfall are in Helaman 11 and Ether 9, and both of these following lengthy droughts that had produced dearth and famine.  We can be confident that it rained more than twice in the roughly 3,000 years of combined Jaredite/Lehite history, yet the only time it is mentioned in the text is when its occurrence was unusual.

        So how does this apply to snow in the Book of Mormon?  Well, either snow was common enough in regular seasons to not warrant any particular mention, or in those same 3,000 years it never snowed.

        I think the former scenario is more likely than the latter for two reasons:  

        First, although snow is exceptionally rare in Central America, every several generations it does snow there.  There was a snow storm in 2013: http://lovingarms.ca/snow-in-guatemala/.  The freezing temperatures necessary to produce snow are devastating to the tropical crops such as bananas or citrus fruits (see this article: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/cool-weather-tropical-plants-57280.html), which are commonly grown throughout Central America.  If snow was a rare occurrence (occurring maybe once every few generations), and devastating when it happened, don't you think that would have warranted a mention in the text?

        Second, from the scripture referenced at the beginning of this article, Nephi writes how the whiteness of the Tree of Life "did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow."  (1 Ne. 11:8.)  Recognizing that Nephi's principal audience is his own descendants (2 Ne. 33:3) [fn. though he also addresses "the House of Israel" and the "ends of the earth" (2 Ne. 33:13), it is clear that Nephi's record is meant first for his own people], that would be an odd analogy to include for a people who would never encounter snow.  If you were trying to describe the exquisite whiteness of the Tree of Life to your descendants, would you tell them that it was "more white than this really white thing that you'll never actually see and therefore have no context for appreciating how white it was.  But, wow!, it was so white!"?  That just doesn't make much sense to me.

        Wednesday, April 20, 2016

        Campus unicorns

        I posted this on the consensus blog and thought people here might also appreciate it.

        Campus Unicorns - photo: iStock from WSJ

        Another way to look at the problem of Mesoamerican dominance at BYU/CES is by analogy to the situation in universities generally with respect to political orientation. Most of academia is liberal. For example, only 6.6% of professors in the social sciences are Republicans.

        In a similar way, most of the BYU/CES faculty follows the Mesoamerican theory. The research groups--FARMS/Maxwell Institute, BYU Studies, BAMF, AAF, the Interpreter, and the other groups shown as links on the BOMC web page (the citation cartel)--are exclusively Mesoamerican in orientation. They refuse to publish anything that contradicts their Mesoamerican theory. This constitutes a serious impediment to the search for truth.

        Today's Wall St. Journal has a piece by Jon A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn Sr. titled "Campus Unicorns: Conservative Teachers."* They make an important point that relates directly to the problem with the Mesoamerican theory:

        "Political bias expresses an intellectual orientation—one that inclines us to find some questions more important and some explanations more plausible. Because of this, none of us can rely on our fellow partisans to identify flaws in our thinking. Building an academic community with varied biases, then, is essential to the very health of the social sciences. Political uniformity makes it difficult to converge on the best approximation of the truth.

        "It’s true that in some happy cases social science is self-correcting. But it can take a very long time. Sociologists spent decades playing down the importance of two-parent households before finally admitting that family structure matters. As a conservative in the field told us: “Basically, sociology had to be dragged kicking and screaming until it recognized that broken families aren’t a good thing. It’s like, if you have to spend decades and millions of dollars in [National Science Foundation] grants to convince astronomers that the sun rises in the east.”"

        The parallels should be obvious. Shields and Dunn could just as well have written that when you see social science through a liberal lens, you can't unsee it.

        A key analogy from the quotation is that Mesoamerican scholars cannot rely on their fellow partisans to identify flaws in their thinking. This is apparent to anyone who reads the material published by the citation cartel (as I show on this blog). These scholars convey a pretense of diversity by quibbling about which river in Mesoamerica is the Sidon, but they simply can't see the fundamental flaw in their basic premise or the logical errors in their thinking and writing.

        This Mesoamerican uniformity makes it difficult to seek the truth, let alone find it. The charters of BMAF and BOMC don't even pretend to be seeking the truth; instead, they focus on "research and evidences regarding Book of Mormon archaeology, anthropology, geography and culture within a Mesoamerican context," thereby limiting themselves to a flawed and narrow agenda.

        The quotation Shields and Dunn provide about two-parent households and the sun rising in the east has an exact analogy in Book of Mormon studies. The Mesoamerican scholars who dominate BYU/CES have to be dragged kicking and screaming until they recognize that Joseph and Oliver put Cumorah in New York all along.

        Shields and Dunn "hope to persuade more liberal professors of the importance of viewpoint diversity—something that would require them to cultivate a distrust of their own reason and impartiality." That's exactly what I've been trying to do for the last 16 months, so far to no avail. The Mesoamerican seers are not only convinced of the correctness of their theory, they don't see any need to "distrust their own reason and impartiality." In fact, they don't want to be impartial.

        Their minds are made up. Thanks to their Mesoamerican lens, they can't unsee it.

        Parents of students at BYU/CES--and the students themselves--should be aware of this situation. They should resist being indoctrinated in Mesoamerican theory without at least a fair and equal presentation of alternatives.
        *Mr. Shields is an associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. Mr. Dunn is an associate professor of political science at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. They are the authors of “Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University” (Oxford University Press, 2016).

        Scholarship: A matter of degrees

        One question that arises often is "How could all the Book of Mormon scholars be wrong?"

        To this, I answer they're not all wrong. There is a tremendous amount of scholarship on Book of Mormon topics that is informative, enlightening and inspiring. In fact, I'd say Book of Mormon scholarship is in good shape on most topics except for the geography question.

        But that's a big problem.

        Scholarship builds on itself, which can be good or bad. If the underlying premise is sound, the scholarship can be sound. But if the underlying premise is faulty, the scholarship will also be faulty--unless someone points out the error and the scholars respond.

        Scholarship based on a faulty premise is like a GPS with a bad map: it can be technically accurate and even precise, but it will take you on a non-existent road and lead you off a cliff.

        Another approach is is the famous quotation by Richard Feynman: "Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts." In the context of BYU/CES scholarship on Book of Mormon geography, there may be an element of ignorance about Church history involved, but in my opinion, based on the articles I've been reviewing on this blog, it's more a case of choosing to see the text through a Mesoamerican lens and then being unable to unsee Mesoamerica. This lens has set them on a course that is off by a few degrees.


        There's a famous talk by President Uchtdorf titled "A Matter of a Few Degrees" that describes the problem of a faulty premise:

        "In 1979 a large passenger jet with 257 people on board left New Zealand for a sightseeing flight to Antarctica and back. Unknown to the pilots, however, someone had modified the flight coordinates by a mere two degrees. This error placed the aircraft 28 miles (45 km) to the east of where the pilots assumed they were. As they approached Antarctica, the pilots descended to a lower altitude to give the passengers a better look at the landscape. Although both were experienced pilots, neither had made this particular flight before, and they had no way of knowing that the incorrect coordinates had placed them directly in the path of Mount Erebus, an active volcano that rises from the frozen landscape to a height of more than 12,000 feet (3,700 m).

        "As the pilots flew onward, the white of the snow and ice covering the volcano blended with the white of the clouds above, making it appear as though they were flying over flat ground. By the time the instruments sounded the warning that the ground was rising fast toward them, it was too late. The airplane crashed into the side of the volcano, killing everyone on board.

        "It was a terrible tragedy brought on by a minor error—a matter of only a few degrees."


        Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery set a clear course on the topic of Book of Mormon geography. Letter VII is unequivocal: Cumorah is in New York. Letter VII is contained in the personal journal Joseph kept with him in Nauvoo, which he had with him when he wrote the letter that became D&C 128 ("Glad tidings from Cumorah!"). Letter VII had been republished in the Times and Seasons the year before.

        Had the scholars stayed on that course, they would not have crashed into Mesoamerica. 

        For the current and future generations, though, it's not too late to change course.

        (Speaking of Mesoamerica, it's ironic that in President Uchtdorf's talk, the airplane crashed into the side of a volcano, much as the Mesoamerican advocates keep insisting the text talks about volcanoes.)

        At this point, the only question is whether the BYU/CES scholars are willing to change course. That remains to be seen.

        One good indicator to watch is Book of Mormon Central. A course correction there would be allowing presentation of concurrent geography ideas on an equal basis. A continued focus exclusively on the Mesoamerican setting would mean more crashes.

        There are about 100,000 airline flights every day, each of them following a specific course to deliver passengers to their intended destinations. If airlines can figure this out, surely LDS scholars can correct their courses and deliver accurate and useful knowledge about Book of Mormon geography to their students and readers.

        Monday, April 18, 2016

        Fun with David Palmer

        I previously discussed Brother Palmer's book In Search of Cumorah. This is such a fundamental text for the Mesoamerican seers that it is quoted with approval by both Sorenson in Mormon's Codex and Gardner in Traditions of the Fathers.

        The citation cartel is oblivious to the following fun aspects of Palmer's book.

        1. On p. 20 of the 1981 edition, Palmer writes "There is no record of Moroni having told Joseph Smith that the place where the abridgment was buried was Cumorah, or that the hill was once a great battleground. If this had been the place of those great battles, it would be rather surprising that it was not mentioned. We have only the scantiest of inferences that Joseph ever called the hill "Cumorah." (D&C 128:20). However, he does not appear to have corrected Oliver Cowdery, who may have been the one to first name the New York hill "Cumorah." (Cowdery, 1835)."

        Every sentence here is great fun.

        First sentence: we have a record of Joseph referring to the hill as Cumorah even before he got the plates (in his mother's history). Who else but Moroni could have told him this? Then we have David Whitmer's recollection of hearing the name Cumorah in 1829 from a heavenly messenger (in the presence of Joseph and Oliver) before he even read the manuscript (and before Joseph and Oliver had even finished the translation). To the citation cartel, though, these don't count as "records" because
        they contradict their thesis that the location of Cumorah was never revealed.

        Second sentence: Brother Palmer has a good point that it would be surprising if the New York location was not mentioned; but since we have accounts that Moroni did mention it, what is actually surprising is that Palmer ignores the records of Joseph and 2 of the 3 witnesses knowing about Cumorah even before the text was published.

        Third sentence: It's fun to read that the canonized scriptures are "scanty inferences." D&C 128:20 was written in the context of universal knowledge among Mormons of the day that the New York hill was Cumorah. Oliver's Letter VII made this as clear as possible. It was published in the Messenger and Advocate in 1835, in the Gospel Reflector in 1841, and in the Times and Seasons in 1841. No Mormon alive during Joseph's lifetime could have not known what he meant by Cumorah when he wrote this letter to the Church. There was such demand for Oliver's letters that they were republished in England as a separate pamphlet in 1844.

        Fourth sentence: You have to love this: Joseph "does not appear to have corrected Oliver Cowdery." Why would he correct Oliver when he helped him write the letters that identified Cumorah in New York, and then had his scribes copy those letters into his own journal as part of his history? Far from correcting him, he embraced these letters!

        In fairness, Palmer revised his book a little in later editions. In the 1999 edition (7th Printing, Feb. 2005), the first two sentences are the same, but the third and fourth are different: "The first record we have that identifies the hill in New York with the last Nephite and Jaredite battleground was written by Oliver Cowdery (referencing Letter VII in the Messenger and Advocate). In a revelation given seven years later there was a hint of a possible connection. "And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven declaring the fulfillment of the prophets--the book to be revealed." (DC 128:20).

        Obviously, this isn't much of an improvement. Palmer ignores the reprinting of Letter VII in the Times and Seasons and Gospel Reflector, and in Orson Pratt's pamphlet. He tells readers there was a 7-year gap between Letter VII and D&C 128:20, instead of the "gap" of a year and a half in the Times and Seasons itself, or six months if you count the Wentworth letter. Issues of the Times and Seasons and Gospel Reflector containing Letter VII were bound and on sale in Nauvoo right through the publication of D&C 128. D&C 128 is hardly a "hint of a possible connection." With the full historical context, there is no doubt that in D&C 128. Joseph was referring to the New York hill.

        What I find amazing about this is that in 24 years, from the first edition in 1981 to the latest printing in 2005, no one pointed out this basic error to Brother Palmer. Either that, or he declined to correct it. Worse, as I'll show next, the Mesoamerican seers adopt Palmer's approach!

        Another fun part of this book is on pages 84-86 when he discussed Ritchie's book on New York archaeology. I'm guessing this is where John Clark got the idea to cite Ritchie. Like Clark after him, Palmer concludes Cumorah cannot be in New York because there were no large cities dating to Book of Mormon times near Cumorah. Of course, the text doesn't say the Nephites had large cities near Cumorah, so Ritchie's findings actually corroborate the Book of Mormon text. Apparently the Mesoamerican translation describes large Nephite cities near Cumorah though.

        Another link between Palmer and Clark is on page 21. Palmer writes, "A 'two-Cumorah' theory is thus more appropriate, since records were hidden in both Mormon's Cumorah and Moroni's Cumorah. Therefore, it matters little whether it was Joseph Smith or one of his associates who called the hill in New York 'Cumorah.'"

        John Clark, in the article I had fun with here, wrote "Mormon’s hill and Moroni’s hill are not one and the same."

        Of course, both of these authors are misleading their readers with this false distinction between Mormon's hill and Moroni's hill. In Letter VII, Oliver Cowdery unequivocally declared that it was a fact that the final battles took place in the valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York (Mormon's Cumorah)--the same hill from which Joseph retrieved the plates (Moroni's Cumorah).

        Mesoamerican seers are free to say Oliver Cowdery was mistaken (or deceived, or even dishonest, or whatever excuse they're giving lately); they are even free to misinform their readers about what he wrote. But when they do, I'll point it out here.


        A third fun aspect of this book is its treatment of the book by McGavin and Bean titled Book of Mormon Archaeology. On p. 81, Brother Palmer writes, "McGavin and Bean presented significant amounts of data on antiquities of New York state in support of their position. From that I conclude that there msut have indeed been some wars in western New York among the Indians. I will also grant that there might have been scores or even hundreds of drumlin hills with stoneworks that might have served as fortifications.

        "What I am not prepared to accept is an age for those remains going back to Nephite times, much less Jaredite times. McGavin and Bean (1949) did not have the advantage of modern dating techniques when they published. Radiocarbon dating was just around the corner, but in its absence even the best of the archaeologists made gross errors in assigning dates to early American cultures. Today, we are in a much better position to evaluate the archaeological data from the state of New York. In doing so, we will first look at the archaeology of the eastern half of the United States, and then will examine the specifics of archaeology in New York to see whether there is consistency with the Book of Mormon model."

        This is fun first, because Palmer at least recognizes he's "not prepared to accept" data that conflicts with his preferred theory, and second because Palmer doesn't discuss a single one of the specific sites mentioned by McGavin and Bean. He cites not a single radiocarbon date from any of those sites. Instead, he generalizes from Ritchie's own generalizations.

        McGavin and Bean quoted excerpts from several books by early explorers who personally witnessed the extensive ancient forts the Europeans found when they arrived in western New York. These were so well known, and so ancient (as shown by trees growing over them for hundreds of years), that critics contemporary with Joseph Smith claimed he merely used well-known Indian legends and common knowledge of antiquities in the area to write the Book of Mormon. (In fact, one of the motivations for looking at Mesoamerica was to respond to the early critics, some of whom said Joseph just related well-known legends and others who said the Indians were too savage to have ever lived the way the text described.)

        If Palmer and other Mesoamerican advocates want to cite radiocarbon data to refute the New York Cumorah, they should at least be specific and relate the dating of the ancient fortifications identified by the French (the first Europeans to arrive there) and other explorers.

        Sunday, April 17, 2016

        Fun with BMAF

        Yesterday I attended the annual conference of BMAF (Basically Mesoamerican Archaeological Forum) and people wonder what I thought. (At the UVU conference, I had encouraged people to attend the BMAF conference to hear different points of view. There were several "Heartlanders" at the BMAF conference, but most stayed away, so here's my report.)

        The presentations were good, and I really like the people in BMAF, so I'm glad the group is merging with Book of Mormon Central (although I'm not sure what that really means--I just hope it doesn't mean even more Mesoamericanism at BOMC.)

        NOTE: For those new to the blog who don't know where I'm coming from, I'm serious about the people at BMAF--I really like them and think they do good work. In my opinion their premise is flawed because it's based on a mistake in Church history, but it's difficult for people to change their minds, so I'm offering my perspectives on some of their publications in this blog. I think they all realize I'm just having a little fun with the articles on their site, in a good natured way, as I seek to encourage them to take another look at the Book of Mormon text, at Oliver's Letter VII, and at the archaeology, geology, anthropology, etc. in North America.


        I'm doing a more serious analysis over at http://bookofmormonconsensus.blogspot.com/. Here I just want to point out that the conference was much more about Mesoamerica than the Book of Mormon, as we would expect from their mission statement (which focuses on finding Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon, not searching all the evidence for the actual setting for the Book of Mormon).

        I'll miss BMAF as an organization, though. For one thing, it's fun to have a group so dedicated to a specific geographic theory that they 1) disregard contrary evidence (including what Joseph, Oliver and David said about the subject) and 2) offer their own translation of the text (tapirs, mountainous terrain, volcanoes, north doesn't mean north, etc.). To be fair, they don't all agree on these various translations, but BMAF refuses to publish anything that doesn't support the Mesoamerican setting (or that criticizes that setting). This means there are no BMAF-approved geographies that stick with Joseph's translation.

        Fortunately, we still have the Interpreter and the Maxwell Institute and the old FARMS publications to have fun with. But actually, BMAF isn't really going away; I understand that BMAF is going to put all their material on the BOMC web page, where it can be enjoyed for years to come.

        One other point. There were some fun criticisms of the "Heartland" model. One question asked how the Heartlanders can explain 3 Nephi when there aren't any volcanoes in the Midwestern U.S. I wanted to submit this question: "What verses in the text mention volcanoes?" I might have done it, too, except I suspect everyone other than hardcore Mesoamerican seers has the same question, and the answer is, none. Not a single verse in the text mentions volcanoes.

        CES and BYU people keep reading "volcano" in the text, but you have to be specially trained in the (should I say ministry?) to see it there. Even apart from the absence of the term in the text's detailed accounts of the supposedly volcanic eruptions in 3 Nephi, does anyone seriously believe that people living in Mesoamerica for 1,000 years would never once mention volcanoes? (Some might say this is the mirror image of the "snow" argument against North America. I'll do a separate post on that.)

        I posted on volcanoes recently, but to reiterate, here's why the Mesoamerican seers insist on volcanoes. The only way to explain the 3 Nephi destruction in a Mesoamerican setting is if there were volcanic eruptions. The only way to explain why Samuel the Lamanite and Mormon didn't simply write "volcanoes erupted" is... well, I have no idea. If they lived their whole lives in Mesoamerican, one would think the Book of Mormon authors would know the term for a big mountain that periodically erupts and kills people and destroys property. But it's not in the text, so the Mesoamerican seers supply the term that Samuel or Mormon (or Joseph Smith) overlooked, and then establish that as a requirement in the text, so they can say the North American setting doesn't work because there are no volcanoes there.

        I realize how crazy that sounds, but that's their argument, and it came up several times during the BMAF conference.

        More fun, one group had a poster and handouts about the spread of ancient maize labeled "Maize Map answer to Heart Lander Hoax (Ancient America Foundation)." To their credit, when I pointed out that "Hoax" wasn't exactly a collaborative (or even humorous) term, they whited it out (although you can still see the word under the white out). Of course, the poster had nothing to do with Book of Mormon geography, unless you want to believe Nephites lived in Buenos Aires, Lima, and El Paso, Texas. I know some of the people at AAF, and I like them, too. I chalk up this poster/handout to ignorance about the proposed North American setting for the Book of Mormon.

        IOW, they need to read this blog.


        Fun with John E. Clark--Archaeology and Cumorah Questions

        Original cover from
        Journal of Book of Mormon Studies

        As near as I can tell, the primary source that the Mesoamerican proponents rely on to reject the New York Cumorah from an archaeological standpoint is an article by John E. Clark titled "Archaeology and Cumorah Questions," published by the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 13/1-2 (2004): 144-51, 174.

        Brant Gardner cites it on p. 377 of his 2015 Traditions of the Fathers, introducing the second part of the quotation below with this: "Countering the force of traditional association is the archaeological data for the hill and the surrounding area. John E. Clark discusses the reasons that the New York hill could not have been the location of the final Nephite battle." (emphasis added)

        In this article, Brother Clark reaches a definitive conclusion: "I am unaware of any archaeological investigation of the hill itself, but sufficient information is available for the surrounding regions to make a critical assessment. Mormon’s hill and Moroni’s hill are not one and the same... Archaeologically speaking, it is a clean hill. No artifacts, no walls, no trenches, no arrowheads. The area immediately surrounding the hill is similarly clean. Pre-Columbian people did not settle or build here. This is not the place of Mormon’s last stand. We must look elsewhere for that hill."

        Brother Gardner's deference to Clark's article appears typical among Mesoamerican advocates. "Archaeology and Cumorah Questions" is cited on the FairMormon page here. It is found on the BMAF page here. It's not on BookofMormonCentral.org, but probably will be once BOMC merges with BMAF.

        When you read the article along with me, I think you'll be as astonished as I was that scholars would even cite the article, let alone defer to it. But then again, we're dealing with Mesoamerican seers who are content with bias confirmation and can't unsee their theories. If I haven't offered enough examples of that yet, you'll enjoy this one. It's a lot of fun.

        original illustration
        As always, my comments in red.

        Archaeology and Cumorah Questions

        If known truth were accepted, Joseph Smith’s recovery of the golden plates from the Hill Cumorah would rank as one of the greatest archaeological finds of all time; coupled with the subsequent translation of this golden record into the Book of Mormon, there is nothing comparable in the annals of history. [Very well said.] The story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon reveals a constant tension between the miraculous and the mundane—angels and inscribed golden plates on the one hand, and on the other the work of lifting and carrying heavy objects, periodically hiding the plates, and translating a portion of them character by character. Surely there must have been easier ways. If divine intervention were necessary, why not have an angel just hand young Joseph an English copy of the sacred text and be done with it? Why the drudgeries of exhumation, translation, and transcription, line for line? Was it necessary that Joseph deal with ancient artifacts and spend months with palpable relics dictating paragraphs to scribes? Apparently so. [This is an excellent point. I've addressed this specific question elsewhere, but for now I suggest that Joseph Smith was an empiricist. He feared being deceived in spiritual things, as he expressed to Emma, which is why he needed the plates to know the history he was reading off the seer stone was real. (King Benjamin told his sons the same thing in Mosiah 1.) One lesson from this is the importance of evidence to enable and encourage faith. It's why the historicity of the Book of Mormon is such an important issue.] 
        We await answers for most questions evoked by this miracle of divinely supervised archaeological toil. What we do know is that Joseph Smith Jr. found the golden plates and other relics in a stone box in a hill near his home, a prominence now known as Cumorah. And as many believe, Cumorah was also the place of the final battles described in the Book of Mormon that destroyed the Nephites and, centuries earlier, the Jaredites. If any place merits archaeological attention, it is Cumorah. The very word elicits a series of empirical questions that can only be addressed through archaeology. [I completely agree with all of this.]
        Things are rarely as simple as labels make them appear. For the past 50 years, some scholars have suggested that common Latter-day Saint usage of Cumorah confuses two different places and that the modest hill where Joseph Smith recovered the plates is not the eminence of the genocidal battles. [Fair enough; some scholars have suggested that. But it's a direct contradiction to what Oliver Cowdery said was a fact in Letter VII.] Further, the Cumorah battlefield is seen by many scholars as the key for identifying the location of the ancient lands described in the book. Hence, much rests on its correct placement. [That makes sense.] All these observations lead to a paradox explored here: before archaeology can reveal Cumorah’s secrets, it must first be employed to identify its location. [It's only a paradox if we disregard what Oliver and Joseph and David Whitmer said. Each of them had personal encounters with Moroni, unlike any archaeologist. They gave us a specific pin in the map: the Book of Mormon Cumorah is in New York.] The hill the plates came from is not at issue; the question is whether this final resting place is the same hill where the ending battles occurred. [That's the specific question Oliver answered in Letters VII and VIII. This is not a new question; it arose early on, which is why Oliver answered it and why Joseph had it republished so often while he was alive.] Many serious scholars have attempted to prove that the Palmyra hill was the battle hill, [Oliver Cowdery said the battle took place in the valley west of the hill, not on the hill, but Brother Clark ignores this to insist battles took place on the hill.] but to little avail, largely because they do not understand archaeology as an inexact science. [This vagueness is problematic on two grounds: first, who are these "serious scholars" and second, why is their work unsuccessful? I'd like citations here because I'm not aware of any such attempts to prove this.] They argue that the Palmyra hill and its surrounding area once had tons of convincing evidence that has long since been destroyed or carted away. [I'd like to see what publications he's referring to here, but there's nothing inherently irrational about the argument. Looting of archaeological sites is widely known throughout the world. Building over archaeological sites, tearing down stone structures for modern buildings, plowing over earthworks--all of this destruction is common behavior. ISIS is doing it today; the Taliban has done it in the recent past; and in the 19th century, it was a deliberate policy of the federal government to obliterate Native American earthworks. That's why governments eventually pass laws to protect sites. In New York, such laws weren't passed until several hundred years after the Europeans arrived, which was over 1,000 years after the final conflict at Cumorah. It's surprising anything survived to the present.]
        Most proposals for the location of Mormon’s final stand fall into one of two possibilities: either the Palmyra hill or one in Middle America 2,000 miles to the south. [There are other proposals, but I agree that the choice is between these two options.] Here I consider reasons for questioning the case for a New York location. I am unaware of any archaeological investigation of the hill itself, [in the previous paragraph,"serious scholars have attempted to prove that the Palmyra hill was the battle hill" but now no one has investigated the hill. This is the type of inconsistency that arises when authors are vague and don't cite sources.] but sufficient information is available for the surrounding regions to make a critical assessment. [I'm curious if Brother Clark would make such a claim based on two old books on Mesoamerica, plus one highway survey. Somehow I suspect not.] Mormon’s hill and Moroni’s hill are not one and the same. [It's fun to have a declarative statement here, as we'll see.]
        What does archaeology reveal about the immediate environs of the New York hill? Is there evidence of habitation by the millions involved in the final battles? [Is there evidence in the text that millions of people inhabited the area around Cumorah? Not in the text Joseph translated, but I'm not surprised that Mesoamerican seers find that requirement somewhere. This was a battleground, not a city.] Did ancient fortifications ever stand on the Palmyra hill? [Is there any suggestion of fortifications on Cumorah in the text? I'd like a citation if so. This is a classic straw man argument; i.e., you make up a requirement (fortifications on the hill) and then reject the hill because it has no fortifications.] Currently, few general works on the archaeology of Pennsylvania or New York exist, so serious students must consult local histories, articles, and technical reports for details. [Now we're getting into a semantic game. What constitutes few or general? As I'll show, there are numerous books on the archaeology of the area that Brother Clark neither cites nor quotes. And what does he mean by "serious students" here? Does he include himself?] These are particularly difficult to read and interpret. [Why would local histories and articles be difficult to read and interpret?] There is one old but excellent source for New York compiled by E. G. Squier in 1851.1 Another, which is almost 40 years old, was written by William A. Ritchie and most recently revised in 1994.2 [So far, Brother Clark identifies two books. Later in the piece, he will identify three more, two of which deal with Pennsylvania. At the end of my review, I'll show there are many others that should be known to every Book of Mormon scholar, given that they were cited and quoted in a book titled Book of Mormon Geography by Gavin and Bean, published in 1948 and republished in 2012. No "serious student" of this subject can be ignorant of that seminal book.] Overall, the paucity of published sources and archaeological projects in western New York reflects a lack of interest in this region by the archaeological community. [This is a stunning statement. The archaeological community has produced several substantial books on the subject that Brother Clark ignores. The lack of interest in this region is Brother Clark's, not the archaeological community's.] Perhaps one reason for the meager treatment and low interest is that the archaeology of this region for ancient time periods is relatively dull compared to that of adjacent regions to the south and west. [He could only reach this conclusion by ignoring the amount of work that has been done in western New York.] This circumstance is rather telling and involves considerable irony because western New York was one of the first regions to receive archaeological attention in the early 1800s, the time of the Smiths’ residence there. [Where's the irony? This attention persists.]
        Early settlers’ accounts of upstate New York describe numerous trenched and walled fortifications, weapons, and mass graves of disorderly bones—the latter presumably casualties of war. However, not all is as it seemed. One of the interpretive challenges is that apparently much of the evidence either has been destroyed or would not have survived normal processes of decay to the present day. In addition, it is possible that much of the evidence for early fortifications, battlefields, weapons, and war dead was destroyed when the lands in question were brought under cultivation. The plow destroys the sword in this case. [Good phrase, but Brother Clark started out criticizing previous scholars who have identified this very problem on the ground that they "do not understand archaeology as an inexact science." Setting aside the condescension of his original complaint, Brother Clark now recognizes that this pattern of destruction presents a very real interpretive challenge.] Possibilities and probabilities of destroyed evidence have become an excuse for avoiding serious archaeological research altogether. [An excuse? What is a professional archaeologist supposed to do when documented sites have been raided, obliterated or overbuilt?] But the early reports, which give glowing accounts of wonderful finds—and of the destruction of the sites from which they came—can only be considered as hearsay. [Hearsay is a person's statement about what someone else said. Direct evidence is what people relate about what they actually observed. As we'll see, the early accounts he dismisses are mostly direct evidence; i.e., people report what they observed. And note the irony; Brother Clark received a letter from a reader who related what a long-time resident on New York supposedly said--the very definition of hearsay. Because this hearsay supported Brother Clark's thesis, he submitted it to the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, which published it. I pointed out the fallacies in that letter here, but I didn't mention the hearsay problem. There's another irony here. By Brother Clark's definition, the Book of Mormon itself is hearsay. Why is he even writing about the topic?] William Ritchie’s work is telling. He provides a complete archaeological sequence for New York, with nothing missing. He relies on acceptable techniques of dating materials through radiocarbon and through changes in artifact styles. For our interests, Ritchie’s account shows that the Nephite-equivalent period in New York is one of relatively low population. [I'm not sure what to make of "for our interests," but since Brother Clark is writing for a Mesoamerican journal that is part of the citation cartel, he knows who his readers are. "Our" means "Mesoamerican seers." On the merits, the Book of Mormon never says people lived at Cumorah. If we stick with the text, we would expect a relatively low population around Cumorah because it was a battleground. So assuming Ritchie is correct, he corroborates the text.] Subsequent research in New York and adjacent regions is substantiating the historic patterns described by Ritchie.3 [Brother Clark cites Custer's book on eastern Pennsylvania. The prevalent North American setting has Zarahemla in Iowa, with Bountiful in Ohio. The Ohio and Allegheny rivers were the borders between the Nephites and Lamanites, placing eastern Pennsylvania squarely in Lamanite territory. The archaeological evidence there is consistent with what the text says about the Lamanites; i.e., Custer corroborates the North American setting.] Sites dating to Nephite times are represented in Ritchie’s work, but there are not that many of them, and they are unimpressive. His findings do not support expectations derived from the Book of Mormon. [Expectations is the key term here. What the text says and what Brother Clark expects are not the same thing. Speaking of Ritchie, though, it's interesting to read what Ritchie says about destruction of sites. Writing about Kipp Island, a site about 25 miles due east of the Hill Cumorah, Ritchie writes "Several futile attempts to obtain permission for excavations by the Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences on this key site, which gravediggers had molested off and on over a period of many years, were made by the writer in the early 1930s. When the land changed hands suddenly several years later, local collectors immediately seized the opportunity to virtually demolish the remainder of the site. The writer's account of the grave finds made here at that time is all that will ever be known about this unhappy episode of the site's history... Still later, the New York State Thruway appropriated for fill the entire northern two thirds of the island, which had contained the burial plots." According to Brother Clark, as you'll see in the next sentences, this type of destruction has no bearing on the archaeological record.]
        What about site destruction? Can we account for the discrepancies in the number and size of sites reported for New York and our expectations from the Book of Mormon account by considering how many were plowed under? No. [Again with the expectations. This entire article is really just a straw man argument, as we'll see.] In practical terms, the only way buried sites can be found is when they are partially destroyed during normal urban or rural activities, such as a sewer line encountering burials in downtown Salt Lake City. Archaeologists are drawn to land disturbance like moths to a light because they have a chance to view what is beneath the surface without digging blindly. [People have lived in western New York continuously since Book of Mormon time frames. The French arrived in the 1500s and the British took over in the 1700s, all the while cutting forests, plowing fields, and constructing roads, buildings, infrastructure, etc. The current population of Buffalo, NY, over 260,000, is less than half what it was in the 1950s. Currently, 2.6 million people live in western New York. How many archaeologists have been available to attend every land disturbance over these hundreds of years? This is not an undeveloped area like the jungles of Mesoamerica. Besides, Brother Clark ignores the actual accounts of what people have found during land disturbance in western New York.] Opinions among archaeologists on the benefits of destruction, such as those voiced by Squier in the opening lines of his early study on fortifications in western New York, are not uncommon:
        The Indian tribes found in possession of the country now embraced within the limits of New England and the Middle States have left few monuments to attest their former presence. The fragile structures which they erected for protection and defense have long ago crumbled to the earth; and the sites of their ancient towns and villages are indicated only by the ashes of their long-extinguished fires, and by the few rude relics which the plough of the invader exposes to his curious gaze. Their cemeteries, marked in very rare instances by enduring monuments, are now undistinguishable, except where the hand of modern improvement encroaches upon the sanctity of the grave.4
        [Okay, now I have to ask if Brother Clark actually read Squier's book. Squier's introduction, quoted by Brother Clark, is intended as a contrast to the ancient people who lived in New York! The very next paragraph in the book makes this clear. "But notwithstanding the almost entire absence of monuments of art clearly referable to the Indian tribes discovered in the actual possession of the region above indicated, it has long been known that many evidences of ancient labor and skill are to be found in the western parts of New York and Pennsylvania, upon the upper tributaries of the Ohio, and along the shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario. Here we find a series of ancient earth-works, entrenched hills, and occasional mounds, or tumuli, concerning which history is mute, and the origin of which has been regarded as involved in impenetrable mystery." Squier spent only 8 weeks on his survey. He writes, "In the short period of eight weeks devoted to the search, I was enabled to ascertain the localities of not less than one hundred ancient works, and to visit and make surveys of half that number. From the facts which have fallen under my notice, I feel warranted in estimating the number which originally existed in the State at from two hundred to two hundred and fifty." BTW, I have a chapter on Squier in my upcoming Moroni's History.] True, many features of these sites, such as posthole patterns and earth embankments, can eventually become too scrambled to detect. But evidence of the site will not vanish. The issue here is of visibility vis-a-vis site disturbance. Those who have collected arrowheads know that the best places to look are plowed fields, erosion channels, and other sites where surface vegetation is removed and where subsurface deposits are exposed or churned to the surface. [People have been collecting arrowheads in this area for hundreds of years. Eventually the supply will run out, but there are thousands of collectors who have many thousands of artifacts from this area. I attended a flint-knapping show in western New York in 2015 where artifacts from the area were on sale. These arrowheads are equivalent to money; how many farmers leave money lying in the fields? Especially when the market is bigger now than ever, thanks to the Internet.] The same principle applies to site visibility. Weekend collectors and pothunters tend to preserve and display in collections the artifacts they find. Such artifacts are removed from sites but not from sight—quite the opposite. In his study of New York, Ritchie makes frequent use of observations from private collections. [Recall that Ritchie published his book in 1965--50 years ago. Collectors continue to remove artifacts. Some put them on display, but many do not. One reason is the risk of theft and burglary. Another is concern about the impact of NAGPRA, which has been used to seize private collections that may contain remains of Native Americans. Nevertheless, there are thousands of artifacts from Western New York on display.]
        Naturally, one should not expect silk, linen, roast beef, perfume, honey, feathers, or lemonade—or the like—to survive long in the archaeological record under New York conditions. In turn, stone, bone, gold, copper, and shell survive under most conditions. Turning to the Book of Mormon, given the cultural features and events described in the record, what kinds of archaeological evidence would be preserved? What things were made of stone, shell, wood, gold, or cement? [In the text, the only things made of stone were walls. No stone temples, houses, etc. The only mention of building materials were wood (including King Noah's palace) and cement. In North America, the ancient use of cement with wood is well documented. By contrast, Mesoamerican seers find cement and stone structures in their translations of the text; otherwise they couldn't explain Mesoamerica. But here, I deal with the text Joseph translated.] And where should we find them on the Book of Mormon landscape, and for what time periods? Perhaps significantly, the archaeological record of New York is full of evidence for wooden structures, so claiming that buildings were of wood and would leave no traces is a poor argument. [I don't follow this argument. The text describes building with wood. The archaeological record of New York shows wood structures. If the archaeological evidence is full of evidence of wooden structures, why would anyone argue there are no traces of wood buildings?] Of course, most of the evidence consists only of floor plans as marked by postholes of ancient buildings rather than their superstructures. [Yes. And?]
        It is always possible that many sites have not been discovered because they have not had the dubious fortune of being partially destroyed. No archaeological record is completely known, so there are always sites, or features at known sites, yet to be discovered. An important concern in dealing with an archaeological record is its representativeness. Do sites of the various periods have an equal chance of coming to the attention of the archaeological community or of being reported in print? Clearly not. Archaeological reporting is biased to archaeological visibility. Large sites are easier to find than small ones, and most mound sites are easier to identify than non-mound sites. Sites with pottery and chipped stone are easier to find than those without such diagnostic artifacts. Sites with exotic artifacts and burials are reported more rapidly and frequently than those without. Sites in areas of frequent human activity are easier to find than those in remote places; thus, sites located in valleys, along river floodplains, on lakeshores, or on tilled land are easier to find because of increased human disturbance. Knowing these things, one can compensate for underrepresentation of some sites by assessing the ebb and flow of regional histories. Most places within the continental United States, however, have now had sufficient archaeological activity that the basic outlines of prehistory are known. Future efforts will be directed to filling in details and making minor adjustments. In short, what we see in the New York archaeological record is probably a representative sample of what once existed there. [All of this is pretty standard. It seems to be an argument against a proposition no one is making, though.]
        I am not an expert on New York archaeology, nor am I likely to be, but I took a few hours to peruse some of the literature and learned that the general course of prehistory outlined for New York fits comfortably and logically with the histories of adjacent regions and that it makes good anthropological sense. [Can there be a more succinct statement of confirmation bias than this? As we saw with the Squier quotation, Brother Clark looked for what confirmed his biases and stopped there.] The inferences made from archaeological observations appear reasonably supported by known facts. When we pay attention to time and to cultural context, it becomes clear that the events described in the Book of Mormon did not occur in New York. [Are we "paying attention" or are we "perusing some of the literature for a few hours?"]
        The Book of Mormon makes hundreds of clear cultural and chronological claims. Here it will suffice to touch on just a few principal ones. The dates inserted at the bottom of each page of the modern publication of the Book of Mormon provide the needed chronological frame. As to cultural practices, the Book of Mormon describes for all its peoples, even the Lamanites, a sedentary lifestyle based on cereal agriculture, with cities and substantial buildings. [I'd like the citations, of course, because as I read the text, as we enter the Cumorah period we have people who are "without civilization" (Morm. 9:11), engaged in cannibalism, etc. The accounts of peaceful city life are nowhere near Cumorah.] Thus, we should be looking for evidence of city dwellers, permanent populations, kings, farmers, and grains, among other things. These should start in the third millennium before Christ and persist at least until the fourth century after his death. There should be some climax and nadir moments in developments and demography, and these should occur in specific places on the landscape. [All of this is present in the lands of Zarahemla and Bountiful in the Midwest.] New York lacked cities and cereal agriculture until after AD 1000 and is thus not the place where the events described in the Book of Mormon took place. [? If Brother Clark is referring to the theories that the entire Book of Mormon took place in New York, I'd agree with him here. But we're supposed to be focused on whether the final battles took place in Cumorah, not whether the entire history of the Nephites took place in New York. He has switched topics--a classic red herring fallacy.] We are not missing archaeological evidence of indigenous peoples, their settlement patterns, or subsistence practices for the time periods under consideration. These are reasonably well known for each period from a variety of evidence, and they simply do not fit the requirements specified in the Book of Mormon.[This might be the most fun sentence in this entire piece. Two paragraphs ago, "No archaeological record is completely known, so there are always sites, or features at known sites, yet to be discovered." Now, "we are not missing archaeological evidence." Then, the known evidence does "not fit the requirements specified in the Book of Mormon," yet everything Brother Clark has presented so far exactly matches the requirements of the text for Cumorah; i.e., no permanent cities, no stone temples or large buildings, lots of evidence of wooden structures, lots of arrowheads and implements of war in private collections, etc. Finally, his footnote 5 claims Sorenson's Mesoamerica fits the requirements, but Mesoamerica is as stark a contrast to the text as one can find.]
        The largest Nephite cities and towns of the Book of Mormon narrative were located in valley settings, necessarily in areas with good agricultural land. [Of course, the text says no such thing. It's a reasonable assumption, though, so let's consider that. Which area has "good agricultural land" sufficient to support the large populations described in the text? Ohio or Guatemala? Indiana or southern Mexico? Those aren't rhetorical questions. Even today, farming in Mesoamerica is essentially subsistence level, while the Midwest has been the breadbasket for the world for decades.] Some areas were occupied for centuries and experienced periodic building and rebuilding. Some had temples and other religious structures, walls, gates, and dwellings. In archaeological terms, these sites should be spatially extensive and thick, with significant stratigraphy. These are the types of archaeological sites with the highest potential for visibility and the greatest probability of being located and consistently reported. We would not expect evidence of their size or date to be annihilated, even with several centuries of plowing. Rather, such activity would make them easier to find—more visible. [This is patently false, of course; substantial sites throughout the Midwest that were documented in the 1800s are invisible today except by LIDAR because of plowing.] They should have been part of the early settlers’ descriptions. New York and Pennsylvania lack sites that fit this description. [Exactly! That's what we expect to find around Cumorah. It was a battleground, not a city.] Finding a 2,000- to 4,000-year-old city in New York State would be so novel that it would be reported quickly in all scientific outlets. [It would also contradict the text, except in the Buffalo area, where ancient sites have long since been obliterated.] It has never happened, and it will not happen. [Fun contradiction to what Brother Clark wrote above, of course.] The most likely locations for such cities are already archaeologically well known because they are also the prime locations for modern occupation. [Is it a question of likelihood (this sentence) or impossibility (the previous sentence)?]
        The archaeology of the midcontinental and northeastern United States covers a long time period. The Book of Mormon time period corresponds to the archaeological phases of the Late Archaic (Jaredite), Adena (Jaredite and Nephite), and Hopewell (Nephite) periods. But evidence of prehistoric occupation at the right time is not the same as evidence of occupation by Book of Mormon peoples and their civilizations. Civilization is a technical term with a special meaning in archaeology, usually [a special term usually means something?] meaning societies complex enough to have lived in cities and to have been ruled by kings—a basic requirement that matches the Book of Mormon. [All good.]
        The term civilization is an appropriate interpretation of the text but not for northeastern U.S. archaeology. [This is fun. That red herring keeps jumping out of the water. Watch.]  For this area, the Adena and Hopewell cultures are particularly attractive candidates for Book of Mormon peoples because they represented the most sophisticated cultures on their time horizon in the United States. They were the first cultures in this area to build burial mounds and mound enclosures, they engaged in long-distance trade, and they fabricated artistic items that they buried with select individuals. According to reports, some individuals were buried with thousands of pearls. Adena and Hopewell peoples lived in Pennsylvania and western New York, but this region represented the impoverished fringe of their culture. [Isn't that exactly what the text says? First, Pennsylvania was Lamanite territory. Second, western New York was the battleground site, not the center of Nephite civilization. Even with his dismissal of the actual archaeological record in New York, what Brother Clark describes is exactly what we expect from the text.]
        What is the basic cultural sequence for this region? I take the following succinct summary statements of cultural periods and their typical cultural practices from a masterwork on Pennsylvania archaeology:[This is the previously cited article on eastern Pennsylvania--i.e., Lamanite territory--that received a mixed review that included this qualification that would be a good one to remember here: "Of course, the archaeological record is a matter of interpretation, not immutable fact. Any account of past human events involving archaeology or history is meaningful only in light of careful, up-to-date research, logical analysis of results, and continuing critical review. One might call it a matter of best opinions about the past. Those ideas that we are inclined to consider most meaningful are those that most closely match our own subjective efforts at research and logic." The review is available online here:  https://journals.psu.edu/pmhb/article/view/45198/44919 ]

          • Archaic period (7000–1000 BC): “Bands of hunters and gatherers, following patterns of restricted seasonal wandering.”
        • Transitional period (1800–800 BC): “Far ranging bands of hunters and gatherers, occupying temporary hamlets; heavy dependence on riverine resources.”
        • Early Woodland (1000–300 BC): “Bands of family units living in scattered households; persistence of hunting and gathering, with a possible shift in some areas to semi-sedentary settlement due to a more stable economic base.”
        • Middle Woodland (500 BC–AD 1000): “Incipient tribal village life in western Pa. [Pennsylvania], supported by horticulture, hunting and gathering; bands in eastern Pa. living in scattered hamlets, practicing hunting and gathering.”
        • Late Woodland (AD 1000–1550): “Seasonally sedentary tribes; villages and hamlets (some stockaded villages); horticulture, hunting and gathering.”7
        For the nearby Genesee Valley in New York, Neal L. Trubowitz gives detailed information from an intensive survey carried out in conjunction with the construction of a recent highway.For the wide strip of land involved, there is 100 percent coverage, so the information for relative changes in occupation is unusually good, as such things go in archaeology. Trubowitz’s information is more recent than Ritchie’s summary.
        Hunting and gathering as a way of life continued into the Early Woodland Period [1000–300 BC], with land use still centered on the valley slope above the Genesee-Canaseraga junction as in the previous period. Very few data have been found on flood plain or lake plain sites during this time period. There are a number of camps recorded for the upland, though the site density there is still the lowest. The population probably remained stable. . . . The basic stability in lifestyle continued despite the adoption of new technology (including ceramic pots and smoking pipes) and ideology (as seen in the elaboration of mortuary ceremonialism of the Middlesex and Meadowood phases in line with influences reaching the Genesee Valley from the Adena Tradition heartland in Ohio).
        This pattern continued and intensified during the following Middle Woodland Period [500 BC–AD 1000]. Subsistence of the Point Peninsula Tradition was still based on hunting and gathering, and mortuary ceremonialism reached its fullest expression in exotic grave goods left in burial mounds of the Squawkie Hill phase, patterned after those found in Ohio (Hopewell Tradition). Verified mound sites are all on the valley slope overlooking the flood plain, as is often the case for contemporary mounds found in the Illinois and Ohio Valleys. Although only one site was found on the lake plain in the highway sample, others did exist in the lower Genesee River basin. . . . Point Peninsula site density was greatest on the flood plain as opposed to the valley slope. This could show a shift in subsistence focus, but small sample size may be a controlling factor here. However, the number of known sites and total site density drops from the Early Woodland Meadowood and Middlesex phases to the Point Peninsula Tradition and Squawkie Hill phase. This implies that a population decline took place during the Middle Woodland Period.9
        These findings support Ritchie’s earlier reports for New York. The population of the Genesee Valley was always small and dispersed in small bands. The food quest involved hunting and gathering of wild plants, fruits, nuts, and berries. During the key time period (ca. AD 100–400), the Genesee Valley suffered a decline in an already sparse population. [Isn't this exactly what we would expect from the text? The Cumorah area was not a setting for Book of Mormon events prior to the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites. In both cases, the defeated armies has retreated to this area for a last stand. This would mean a decline in population even of the few hunters/gatherers who lived there.] No large sites are found here for any time period. Corn agriculture did not become a significant factor here or elsewhere in the midcontinental or the southeastern United States until after AD 1000.10 With the commitment to corn agriculture, population and village sizes increased, and so did tensions. All the known fortified sites and villages in New York date to the latest time period, the Late Woodland (AD 1000–1550). Clearly there were many settlements, and reports of them go back to the beginning of colonization, with the best report being Squier’s 1851 study, complete with maps. It bears emphasizing that these fortified knolls and spurs were all quite small and would have accommodated only about 100 to 400 people each. They really do not fit large populations, even if they were of the right period. Fortifications are found associated with mass graves and large storage pits, some of which still have evidence of stored maize. These are all known features of late occupation. The archaeology of western New York forms a long record of small bands of hunters and gatherers (berry eaters) who lived there for millennia. The record is clear, and I accept it as it stands. [Anyone interested in the larger record can consult the excerpts in Bean's book from Turner's Pioneer History of the Holland Purchase of Western New York, Fairchild's Drumlin Hills of Western New York, Doty's History of Genesee County, and many others. Here's an example of a first-hand account that predates the Book of Mormon: "Reverend Samuel Kirkland was one of the first Protestant preachers to venture into the Indian country. He visited some of the ruins in 1788. He writes:, 'After leaving Kanawagas (an Indian village, now Avon, a town about 30 miles west of Cumorah) I traveled 26 miles and encamped for the night at a place called 'Joaki' on the river Tonawanda. With my Indian guide, I went six miles from camp where we found an open are which the Indians called Tegatainghque, which means a double fortified town or a town with a fort at each end. One fort contained about four acres and the other possibly twice that. There was a ditch four or five feet deep around the former fort. A small stream of water with a high bank circumscribes nearly one-third of the area. There were six avenues or openings in the fort and a dugway leading from the works to the water. Near the northern fortification, which is situated on high ground, are the remains of a funeral pile. The earth is raised about six feet above the natural surface. From many concurring accounts which I have been able to get from elderly Indian historians from several tribes, there are well defined traditions that long before the white man came here there was a great war in these parts that lasted many moons. An old gray-headed Indian told me that he and his progenitors for generations back had lived among these ruins. He said that many ages ago,k before his people knew anything about firearms, there was a great war in these parts. They then fought with bow and arrow, cutting swords, spear, javelin, war-clubs, death-mauls, slings, and other ways to kill. He also said they wore jackets or coverings for their bodies made of willows and split moon-wood and a thick pad on their heads and that the dead were so many that they could not be counted."]
        In summary, the archaeology of New York is persuasive evidence that Book of Mormon peoples did not live in that region. By implication, the Cumorah of the golden plates is not the Cumorah of the final battles. [This implication flatly contradicts the text itself. Cumorah was a battleground, not the land Bountiful.] These conclusions follow from a few basic points and assumptions. First, I presume that the archaeology of New York State, as currently published (2004), is a fair representation and adequate sample of what is there, and particularly that the evidence for some periods has not been systematically destroyed. Second, I presume that the evidence published for the various regions and time periods is accurate—that is, that the majority of archaeologists working in this region are competent and academically honest in terms of their archaeology. Third, I assume that additional research and discoveries will not significantly alter current understandings of the times or places of prehistoric occupation nor of the cultural practices involved; rather, such data will lead to minor adjustments to some of the details of prehistory. Fourth, the archaeological record lacks evidence for cities, sedentism, corn agriculture, fortifications, and dense populations during Archaic, Early Woodland, and Middle Woodland times. [Even if these points and assumptions are valid, they all directly corroborate the Book of Mormon text. It's Brother Clark's red herring and straw man arguments that are the problem, not the text or the archaeology.] In accord with these general observations about New York and Pennsylvania, we come to our principal object—the Hill Cumorah. Archaeologically speaking, it is a clean hill. No artifacts, no walls, no trenches, no arrowheads. [No artifacts or arrowheads? I'll have a lot more to say about that in a subsequent post. In the meantime, we don't expect walls or trenches on the hill itself if we believe Oliver Cowdery and the text.] The area immediately surrounding the hill is similarly clean. Pre-Columbian people did not settle or build here. This is not the place of Mormon’s last stand. [This conclusion is not supported by the evidence Brother Clark cited, nor by all the evidence he failed to mention. Instead, the archaeological evidence supports the text (and Oliver Cowdery) regarding Cumorah being in New York.] We must look elsewhere for that hill.11 The Palmyra hill is still a sacred place and was the repository of the golden plates and other relics placed there by Moroni. How Moroni made his way to this place and constructed his time capsule of artifacts is a historic adventure for another time.
        1. E. G. Squier, Antiquities of the State of New York (Buffalo, NY: Derby, 1851).
        2. William A. Ritchie, The Archaeology of New York State, rev. ed. (Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press, 1994).
        3. For Pennsylvania, see Jay F. Custer, Prehistoric Cultures in Eastern Pennsylvania (Harrisburg: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1996).
        4. Squier, Antiquities of the State of New York, 7.
        5. It is important to note that other places in the Americas do fit these requirements, and this is what most of the debate is about. See John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book, rev. ed. (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1992).
        6. Barry C. Kent, Ira F. Smith III, and Catherine McCann, eds., Foundations of Pennsylvania Prehistory (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1971).
        7. Kent, Smith, and McCann, Pennsylvania Prehistory, 4.
        8. Neal L. Trubowitz, Highway Archeology and Settlement Study in the Genesee Valley (George’s Mills, NH: Occasional Publications in Northeast Anthropology, 1983).
        9. Trubowitz, Highway Archeology, 144–45.
        10. Gary W. Crawford, David G. Smith, and Vandy E. Bowyer, “Dating the Entry of Corn (Zea Mays) into the Lower Great Lakes Region,” American Antiquity 62/1 (1997): 112–19.
        11. Consult John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 1–95; Mormon’s Map (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000); and The Geography of Book of Mormon Events, 209–315, 329–53; also David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah: New Evidences for the Book of Mormon from Ancient Mexico (Bountiful, UT: Horizon, 1981).