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.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Decision Tree analysis

One way to think about Book of Mormon geography is a series of decisions. Decision tree analysis lets people see their choices, and the consequences of their choices.

Start with the Hill Cumorah (the one described in the text, where the Jaredites and Nephites fought their final battles).

Oliver Cowdery's eight letters to W.W. Phelps contained the first detailed descriptions of many early Church history events, including the discussion of the Hill Cumorah in Letter VII. Oliver introduced the letters with this statement in the October 1834 Messenger and Advocate, which is online here:

"That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. SMITH jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensable. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative, well worth the examination and perusal of the Saints.-To do justice to this subject will require time and space: we therefore ask the forbearance of our readers, assuring them that it shall be founded upon facts."

Letter VII starts on p. 159, which is online here. If you believe what Oliver Cowdery wrote in Letter VII, then you think the Hill Cumorah is in New York. If you don't believe Letter VII, then you think the Hill Cumorah is elsewhere.

It's a simple choice.

The way you proceed through a decision tree makes a difference. Some people decide that the Hill Cumorah is not in New York before they even consider Letter VII. When they read Letter VII, they immediately realize that Letter VII contradicts their belief. They are faced with a decision: do I stick with my beliefs about the Hill Cumorah and reject Letter VII, or do I accept Letter VII and change my beliefs about the Hill Cumorah?

Others read Letter VII first and decide whether to accept or reject it. Then they move on from there.

I think the second approach makes more sense; i.e., ask what Oliver (and Joseph) said about the topic, and decide whether to reject or accept what they said. After all, they were the ones who translated the text. Together, they interacted with Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John, Elijah, Elias and the Lord Himself. Oliver wrote Letter VII, but Joseph endorsed it fully. In fact, he wrote Oliver a brief letter in response to the first of the letters to clarify a few points about his "life and character." Oliver published the letter in the Messenger and Advocate. Joseph was free to comment on the other letters, but he never did. Instead, he had his scribe copy them into his journal as part of his story.

No one says you have to accept or reject Letter VII. We all make up our own minds, based on the evidence. But the decision tree analysis lets us clearly see the decisions we make.


Whether you accept or reject Letter VII, you can next consider David Whitmer's statement that he heard about Cumorah from a heavenly messenger before the translation of the Book of Mormon was even completed. If you believe him, you think the Hill Cumorah is in New York. If you don't believe him, then you think it is elsewhere.

You can proceed in this fashion through all the different Church history statements, the text itself, and the various applicable sciences.

[cross-posted here]


  1. The problem with your decision tree Jonathan is your starting premise is completely wrong. You start out with since Joseph and Oliver believed it then it has to be true. Then you twist and bend all over the place to make it true.

    Still nobody here is able to answer the question that I posed. Where did the Jaredites live and how could they live anywhere on the North American continent during the Ice Age. According to the BOM the Jaredites lived North of the narrow neck. If your narrow neck is between the lakes then the theory is completely wrong because it would be impossible for them to live there at that time.

    Do you folks believe in Noah's flood? BYU does not believe in Noah's flood because to do so would mean there grads would not be able to find a job is what they told me. You have to believe in an old earth, no Noah's flood, and evolution to grad from BYU. I went to Utah State and of course they believed the same thing. I never believed any of that stuff they taught. I've talked to lots of BYU folksthat do not believe in Noah's flood which I find interesting coming from a so-called religious school.

    I just got through reading an excellent book by Bill Cooper called "After the Flood". Bill found evidence from the ancient records that the ice age lasted from the time of the flood to 1,500 BC. It's in the ancient records folks. And that is why I ask the question how could the Jaredites live in the North when the North was covered with ice. Can't be done. Ira

  2. I can only speak for myself, not "BYU" (as if that's a single point of view). True, I do accept what Joseph and Oliver wrote. You don't. That's fine with me, just so we're clear on that.

    The New York Cumorah is not only consistent with what Joseph and Oliver wrote, it happens to be the simplest explanation and leads to the simplest geography, which also happens to be consistent with the text and all relevant sciences. There are plenty of other theories on all of this, but all of them require more complicated explanations and assumptions, starting with the assumption that Joseph and Oliver were wrong.

    The reason you're not getting answers to your questions is that you're just making stuff up here. All the areas inhabited by the Jaredites and Nephites have archaeological sites that date to the time periods described in the Book of Mormon.

  3. I'm not making anything up Jonathan and these are simple questions that I'm asking. Okay - you've found some Arch sites. That's great. But is the dating accurate? That is the next question that has to be asked. There is very good evidence that the dating system now used in not accurate at all and that will also lead to great errors in your discoveries. There are many Arch sites in South America and Meso America - that doesn't prove anything one way or another at this point. The point I'm making is that if you believe in Noah's flood then you know that the ice age occurred after the flood. With that in mind Canada and New york state were covered in ice when the Jaredites arrived. That isn't making anything up. This is a fact and so the question is where did you find your Arch sites and if they are in Canada or New York State then they cannot be Jaredite because they could not live there until after the end of the ice age.

    I don't accept what Joseph and Oliver said as fact because of what I am telling you now. Do you have another explanation? I rather doubt you wrote about any of this in your book. I'm sure this is new information to you. If not then how about a simple explanation. Thanks, Ira

    1. Let me explain what I am getting at a little bit more Jonathan. The Hill Cumorah in Upper State NY geologically is a drumlin. A drumlin is a hill created by the action of glaciation. In this case the Hill Cumorah was under a continental size glacier from the time of the flood around 2300bc until around 1,500 or more like 1,000bc. And another thing you need to know is as the glaciers retreated there was a massive amount of water released through streams flowing out of the glaciers which would also make it very difficult to live. So the question is when did this glacier occupy upper state NY? According to the Institute for Creation research (ICR) the glaciation occurred after Noah's flood. They've done some very impressive studies to explain why the earth was plunged into a massive Ice-age. So the point I'm making is the Jaredites lived North of the narrow neck and if you define the narrow neck as between the Lakes then it is impossible for them to live there until after the ice age was over. There isn't even any mention in the BOM about ice or snow and this would have been present in North America if your model is to be believed. So where did the Jaredites live and how could Canada support millions of people during and shortly after the ice age. That is the question I'm raising. This is a legitimate question and I'm not making anything up. Thanks, Ira

  4. Hi Ira. This is another example of you inventing criteria that support your theory and exclude others. Let me see if I follow your argument. I'm familiar with ICR. They make stuff up, such as their "hot oceans" theory. So you're using an imaginary ice age theory to deny the archaeological evidence so you can reject Joseph and Oliver in favor of the dubious F.G. Williams note. Ironically, the only thing that gives the F.G. Williams note a hint of credibility is the remote possibility that it originated with something Joseph Smith said. Yet you reject what Joseph explicitly said on multiple occasions.

    I can't make sense of the idea that the F.G. Williams note is more credible and reliable than Letter VII, but if it works for you, that's fine with me.

    As I've said all along, people can believe whatever they want. I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything here. I'm just explaining what I think and why. I favor simple, direct explanations over convoluted series of assumptions. In my view, everything Joseph said is consistent and accurate; everything that contradicts what Joseph said (e.g., the Times and Seasons articles) cannot be directly linked to him and is inaccurate anyway.

    If I understand your theory, it is based on the premise that most of South America was flooded as recently as 600 B.C., that all the archaeology is wrong because of dating errors, that the entire BoM took place in the Andes mountain range (even though the text hardly mentions mountains--and never mentions volcanoes), and that everything Joseph said on the topic was wrong--except for what he secretly told F.G. Williams. If I've misstated anything, I apologize in advance and welcome your clarification.

    BTW, the snow and ice argument is a red herring. The New Testament never says it snowed, but Paul supposedly lived in Turkey, where I've experienced a snowstorm myself. Does that mean the New Testament is wrong?

    The text says virtually nothing about weather, except that they had whirlwinds, rain and "some seasons" when people got fevers and diseases, "by the nature of the climate." That all fits the North American setting.

    1. Pretty close Jonathan I think you have it pretty much accurate. So in summary you reject Noah's flood as an actual event that covered the entire earth. The Christians and the Bible just made that story up and so it's something that you cannot accept. ICR has done extensive research that shows that the dating systems are a bunch of crap but that's okay with you because you don't believe in Noah's flood anyway.

      Yes I accept FG Williams statement over that of what Oliver wrote. Did Joseph Smith actually say anywhere else where Lehi landed? As far as I know he did not. Here we have an exact location that fits pretty darn good with the oceanic currents and wind directions coming out of Arabia. We all agree that is where Lehi sailed from. And So YES I believe this statement of FG Williams trumps anything and everything Oliver and Joseph said about where they thought they lived. They were in the business of getting the restoration going. You would have made the same claim. This was their opinion based on nothing more than they were in the possession of a book that said that people lived in the land of Promise which is North and South America.

      As far as mentioning snow and ice. You still haven't told me where the Jaredites lived in North America and I assume it is in Canada based on the fact that they lived North of the narrow neck which is the Great Lakes in your theory. The Great Lakes were carved after Noah's flood and if the Jaredites actually lived there how could they not mention snow and ice. It would be a glaring error and shows how completely ridiculous your theory is.

      So tell us all Jonathan do you believe in Noah's flood? I now know you don't accept anything ICR teaches. BYU does not believe in the flood of course and so I wouldn't be surprised if you don't believe in the event.

      As far as Mountains of Exceedingly Great Height is concerned you are correct they of course are not mentioned at all in the BOM other than 3 Nephi 8;10, 1 Nephi 12:4, Helaman 14:23, Helaman 14:23, Ether 3:1. Where are your mountains of exceedingly great heights? This does not fit North America at all and it fits South America perfectly.

      Oh one more thing the description of the uplift of South America is perfectly consistent with Earthquake and volcanic activity. Anciently there was no word in Hebrew for volcano and so this is perfectly consistent with the description. Explain what happened here in North America that caused the great earth quaking for 3 hours and what mountains were cast up? I would love to hear to fantasy explanation of that one in North America.

      Thanks Jonathan, at least I understand your thinking a little bit better. Ira

    2. haha, good one, Ira. This is another example of how you make stuff up. I don't reject the flood, and never said or implied that I did.

      As I've said all along, I don't mind that you accept the F.G. Williams' note. I want everyone to decide for themselves, based on full disclosure. That's why I object to you continuing to make stuff up, as you have in this very post. You're causing confusion, not clarification, with posts such as this.

      "BYU" doesn't believe anything; it's an institution with no formal position on any of this. There are a variety of views among professors and students there, past and present. So you're making up what "BYU" thinks as well.

      ICR is a mixed bag. Some of their stuff is sound, but some is imaginary (like the warm seas).

      You've finally cited some scriptures. Look at Hel. 14:23 (I don't know why you cited it twice) in the context of all of Helaman 14. These prophecies apply to "the whole earth." I agree that Samuel prophesied that mountains of great height would be formed, but because they are not mentioned in 3 Nephi, these mountains were explicitly not where the Nephites were living. Instead, we have the single mountain mentioned in 3 Nephi 8:10, which was not "cast up" but formed by the earth covering the city from above.

      So even if your theory that the Andes mountains were created at the time of Christ's death, we know from the scriptures the Nephites could not have been living there.

      I don't follow your Ether 3:1 reference, as that event occurred in the old world. Your 1 Nephi 12:4 reference says "mountains tumbling into pieces," the opposite of your claim about the Andes.

      So if we can stick to Joseph's translation of the Book of Mormon, and not your own translation, I think we can at least clarify the points of disagreement about interpretation.

      Your last point leaves me wondering if you really don't know that the largest recorded earthquake in North America was right where we think the Nephites were living. Is that the case?

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    1. Rory, you're kidding me of course. You mean to tell me that you cannot tell the difference between a description of the geography of the land and a vision? So is the BOM all nothing more than a cute little Sunday school tail to you then? You really aren't serious about where they lived if that were the case.

      You should take a look at the visions of Ezekiel in the Old Testament. Ezekiel said he was taken by the spirit from Babylon back to Jerusalem to preach to the Jews there before the destruction.

      Yes Nephi was taken to an exceedingly high mountain which he had never seen before and yes at the time of the death of Christ Mountains were cast up where the Nephites were living as they said during a 3 hour period. Where Rory are you mountains of exceedingly great height where they lived in New York? The theory is absurd! Ira

    2. I was going to delete your contentious post, Ira, but I decided to leave it up for everyone to see.

      Only one mountain is mentioned in 3 Nephi 8, and that one was not cast up. "8:10 And the earth was carried up upon the city of Moronihah, that in the place of the city there became a great mountain.' Contrary to your claim that "mountains" were "cast up," this single mountain was formed from above, with earth being carried up upon the city.

      This is obvious to everyone who reads the text. It also explicitly contradicts your South American theory.

      If you have actual text to support your claim that "at the time of the death of Christ Mountains were cast up where the Nephites were living as they said," please share that in a polite post.

      In the meantime, since your theory contradicts the scriptures, I suggest you stop labeling others' ideas as absurd.

  6. Great points.

    Nephi had his experience in the Old World, presumably along the coast of Oman, where there are high mountains. (I once saw some high mountains in UAE that descend right into the ocean. Some people think UAE makes more sense than Oman for the old world Bountiful.)

    The Book of Mormon mentions mountains in Jacob through Alma only in a literary sense. Until Helaman, no one travels through mountains, lives in mountains, etc. Then, the Gadianton robbers inhabit the mountains and "sally forth" from them to attack. That raises the question, what is a mountain? D&C 117:8 refers to "the mountains of Adam-ondi-Ahman." We would call those hills by comparison, but there are mountains in Illinois as large as the ones in Adam-ondi-Ahman. I climbed to the top of one in southern Illinois from which you can see to the horizon in every direction. A mountain doesn't have to be all that high in absolute terms to be the highest in a given area.

    BTW, Joseph translated the book of Moses, but who wrote it down? Oliver Cowdery.

    1. Oh dang, didn't know that. You can see those mountains with google maps and google earth. You've really been there? Dude, I have to start writing books too.

      I've seen mountains in Central America, they can be high, high enough in Costa Rica to clearly see both the Atlantic and the pacific ocean at the same time. That is also exceedingly high.

      You just gotta know what's relative and relevant to the context, I guess, and keep in mind that things change.

    2. So now all of a sudden mountains in the BoM are a metaphor? Wow - Your theory becomes more absurd all the time.

    3. Ira, it is becoming more apparent why you are having trouble following. You don't read what people are writing. Instead, you make up your own version of what they are writing (a straw man), and then you criticize that. This is exactly what you've been doing all along with the North American setting. You invent your own version and then attack that. Straw man arguments are unpersuasive.

      For example, I never claimed mountains in the BoM are a metaphor. I wrote "The Book of Mormon mentions mountains in Jacob through Alma only in a literary sense. Until Helaman, no one travels through mountains, lives in mountains, etc." Then I noted the mountains mentioned in Helaman and 3 Nephi in connection with the Gadianton robbers.

      If you have citations to verses that contradict my statement, please post them.

    4. I understood that Jonathan but you and the other fellow brought in the fact that Nephi was taken into an exceedingly high mountain suggesting that somehow the exceedingly high mountains as mentioned in the BOM don't exist. I've asked you and others a number of times where are the exceedingly high mountains in North America where you claim they lived? Helaman 14:23 - And behold, there shall be great tempests, and there shall be many mountains laid low like unto a valley, and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become MOUNTAINS, whose height is great.

      If you look at the geology of the great lakes area Jonathan you don't find any of this kind of geology. You find features that are related strictly to glaciation that occurred after Noah's flood. It says in 3 Nephi 8:10 And the earth was carried up upon the city of Moronihah, that there became a GREAT mountain. Again, the features in upper state NY and surrounding area are glacial. There is not a scrap of evidence of this kind of destruction where you claim the Nephites and Lamanites lived. There isn't even any seismic activity of note in that region.

      But I want to get back to Noah's flood. I believe this is crucial to LDS understanding. I've talked to many a BYU grad that do not believe in Noah's flood. The Evang. Christians do believe in Noah's flood and I believe the work of ICR is ground breaking with regard to Noah's flood. If you accept Noah's flood then the fossil record was created by Noah's flood not over millions of years as the uniformatarians believe. If that is the case as I've stated then the ice age occurred after Noah's flood not before because the fossilized rocks are cut by glaciation. So the question I'm raising to you is as one who is putting forth the North American Model do you believe in Noah's flood? Is it or is it not a fact? This is also crucial to understanding the dating systems that you rely upon. Thanks, Ira

    5. Helaman 14:23 describes destruction around the world, not only among the Nephites. We know this because the list of destruction among the Nephites in 3 Nephi 8 mentions only one mountain: "10 And the earth was carried up upon the city of Moronihah, that in the place of the city there became a great mountain." It was not a valley that became a mountain, and the mountain was "great" but there is no mention of height.

      As you know, there are many high mountains in North America (throughout the Americas, actually).

      I don't know what upper state NY has to do with 3 Nephi. If you look at my map at the top of this blog, you can see that Zarahemla is on the Mississippi River, and the land of Zarahemla includes the area where the biggest earthquake in American history struck. Surely you know this.

      I know "many a BYU grad" who does believe in the flood, which is why I don't think it's fair to characterize "BYU" as having a monolithic position. The flood issue is not binary, either, in the sense that if you believe in the flood, you have to accept ICR's positions. That's a longer discussion for another setting, and outside the scope of this blog.

      Your argument seems to be that ICR's theories make a North American setting for the Jaredites impossible. I suspect ICR's position is that no setting for the Book of Mormon is possible in the first place. Your reliance on their work is akin to the way Del cherry picks quotations from various scientists while disregarding their conclusions.

      I'd be happy to discuss the flood issues, just not now or here. They're not relevant to the Jaredite question and I can show you why in a lot of detail.

    6. Jonathan, I think the ICR position on the flood is the correct position because sedimentation that took place during the flood. This does have direct consequences on your NA model because the ice age came after Noah's flood of 4,350 years ago. The ice age negates the idea that anybody could have settle here in North America during the time of the Jaredite occupation.

      I can understand why you would not want to discuss this issue with me because it does do great damage to your theory. I'll leave it at that.

      BTW the mountain idea you put forth is not scriptural as I pointed out with the destruction of the Nephite city what was buried by a mountain. I can tell that there is no common ground between us on this issue. I've found that the NA model is completely false and can be disproven in so many ways. Del has done an excellent job unlike the cherry picking you have done to make your model work. I've found no answers to any of the question that I've raised here. And as such it is a complete waste of time to continue. Good luck in peddling your false theory in the future. Ira

  7. So, Ira, I know this was probably unintentional, but you do realize that you are kind of proving the point of Jonathan's post here, right?

    You believe that the history related in the Book of Mormon took place in South America. You assert (correctly, I think) that Joseph and Oliver believed that the history took place in North America (at least as regards the Hill Cumorah; I don't want to stretch what you're posting). You understand that the history cannot have taken place in South America (at least within parameters of your pet theory) and the Hill Cumorah be in upstate New York. Therefore, you choose to reject Joseph and Oliver in favor of your pet theory.

    Radiocarbon dating on archeological remains in Brazil suggests that the Amazon basin had inhabitants at roughly the same time as, say, the Olmecs (so, before Peru). For your preferred model to work, the Amazonian basin must be underwater, so you reject the carbon dating.

    To "prove" the impossibility of a North American setting, you claim that the Ice Age occurred at roughly 1500 B.C. Of course, geologists and others tell us that the most recent ice age ended at roughly 10,000 years ago, but that doesn't support your preferred geography theory, so you reject it in favor of a theory postulated by a YEC advocate from the ICR.

    (And as an aside, I'm very curious, on what basis are you demanding that the flood predate the ice age? Why can't an ice age predate the flood? I'm not understanding the logic behind that contention.)

    You're free to accept and reject whatever you like, of course. But you ought to recognize that is what you are doing.

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  9. Ira, when you falsely accuse others, I have to delete your posts. If you want to continue, please maintain a courteous and respectful tone.