Those who care about Book of Mormon geography and historicity need to answer this question:
Is the Book of Mormon Hill Cumorah in New York or not?
The answer is really a referendum on the credibility and reliability of Oliver Cowdery, who stated in no uncertain terms that it was in New York (See Letter VII). I have a detailed blog on that in the LetterVII blog today.
For me, it's a simple decision. I go with Oliver Cowdery.
I realize that others reject Oliver Cowdery because the New York Cumorah is incompatible with their preferred geography. There really is no other reason to reject Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII.
True, there have been some poorly researched, bias-confirming articles about how Cumorah is a "clean hill" in terms of archaeology. But those were transparent efforts to give people a pretext to dismiss Oliver Cowdery. I've addressed those in detail.
I also realize that emotional attachments are not affected by facts. The geography references in the Book of Mormon are vague and fluid enough to accommodate just about anywhere on the planet, especially if you operate under the assumption that Joseph Smith translated the text wrong (e.g., he should have dictated headwaters of Sidon instead of head of Sidon). In a sense, this vagueness is an advantage. It allows people anywhere in the world to apply the text to their own lands. And, in a very real sense, it's true that the Lord's covenants apply to everyone everywhere.
In that sense, an abstract map is as good as anything else.
People can believe whatever they want. But of course we have to recognize that a universal approach has the downside of transforming the Book of Mormon into a parable instead of an actual history of actual people who lived in an actual place.
As a parable, the Book of Mormon may work for some people, but it lets people off the hook. People don't have to confront the harsh reality that Joseph Smith translated it by the power of God, and that the book is, literally, true.
As an actual history, the Book of Mormon forces people to confront this reality; i.e., that it could only exist because of divine intervention. Its origin makes it unique in human history.
I think the Book of Mormon can only fulfill its purpose if it is an actual history of actual people who lived in an actual place.
That's why I keep coming back to the geography question.
Once we're out of the parable realm, let's get real.
There are dozens (maybe hundreds) of ideas about where the Book of Mormon took place. In my view, any idea that puts Cumorah outside of New York fundamentally undermines the credibility and reliability of Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith, which in turn pushes the text over into the parable column.
I realize there are people who accept the literalness of the text and also believe it took place in Peru, Chile, Baja, Mesoamerica, Panama, Africa, Southeast Asia, and who knows where else. But when you examine the foundations for those theories, they boil down to a belief in a whole list of questionable assumptions that don't compensate for the rejection of Joseph and Oliver.
The Mesoamerican theory has one thing going for it: the 1842 Times and Seasons articles that, for over 140 years, gave scholars a pretext for claiming Joseph approved, or at least was interested in, the Mesoamerican setting. I've shown from abundant evidence and from a variety of perspectives that Joseph had nothing to do with those articles, but traditions die hard.
The question of historicity and geography really boils down to Mesoamerica vs. Moroni's America.
Consequently, I'm going to continue examining the Mesomerican theory on a new blog I'll announce tomorrow.
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