For ordinary members of the Church, this is an important, even critical issue. We're approaching the one-year anniversary of Book of Mormon Central and it's time to review what has happened in the last year. There's a lot of great stuff on that web page, especially the research material by Royal Skousen. There is a lot of potential to do good with all the resources at their disposal. The people who work there and contribute are all great, etc.
Then why do I say anti-Mormons love Book of Mormon Central?
Because Book of Mormon Central and its affiliates such as FairMormon, the Interpreter, BMAF, and all the rest, are adhering to the two-Cumorahs theory that underlies their obsession with Mesoamerica. They're not only adhering to it, but they're emphasizing it, as I've observed on this blog and elsewhere. And they refuse to let their readers even learn about alternatives to their two-Cumorahs theory because they are not neutral about Book of Mormon geography.
In my opinion they are doing far more damage than good.
Short of claiming Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were frauds about everything, the best an anti-Mormon can hope for is a claim by LDS scholars that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church for 100 years until these LDS scholars exposed their errors.
And that's exactly what Book of Mormon Central has been teaching the youth of the Church for the last year.
Joseph Fielding Smith warned that this two-Cumorahs theory would cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. The scholars not only ignored him, but now they say he didn't know what he was talking about and even as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, he was speaking as a man and he was wrong because they, the scholars, know better.
And yet, one of the greatest gifts to anti-Mormon activists is the two-Cumorahs theory and the limited geography Mesoamerican setting of Book of Mormon geography.
Look at what it has accomplished.
Thanks to Mesomania, we have LDS scholars (and the educators they've trained) teaching members of the Church, all around the world, these gems:
1. Oliver Cowdery was unreliable and not credible.
2, David Whitmer was unreliable and not credible.
3. Joseph Smith didn't know much about the Book of Mormon and speculated about its setting.
4. Joseph Smith changed his mind between 1829 and 1842. He was wrong in the 1830s, and in the 1840s, he gradually came to "realize" the setting was in Mesoamerica.
5. Joseph Smith adopted a folk tale about Cumorah in New York that was created early in the Church by unknown persons at unknown times. In D&C 128, Joseph was referring to a hill in Mexico.
6. Joseph Smith said we have to rely on scholars to figure out the setting for the Book of Mormon.
7. When Joseph said Moroni taught him about the early inhabitants of the country, Moroni forgot to say anything about where they lived and didn't show them in vision to Joseph.
8. When Joseph and Oliver and others told Brigham Young they had visited a room in the Hill Cumorah in New York that contained the Nephite records, they were actually describing a vision of an unknown hill somewhere in Mexico (or Baja, or Panama, or Chile, or somewhere else--actually, anywhere but New York).
9. Church leaders and members were wrong about the New York Cumorah during Joseph's lifetime and for 100 years afterward.
10. The New York hill can't be the Book of Mormon Cumorah because a) a student asked farmers on the north and east of the hill about artifacts, and they said they hadn't found any and b) a highway survey 20 miles away didn't uncover evidence of ancient cities.
11. The "two-Cumorahs theory" correctly explains how Joseph, Oliver and David were wrong and how the modern LDS scholars are right.
12. When Joseph Fielding Smith denounced the two-Cumorah theory because it caused members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon, he was speaking as an uninformed individual, not as the Church Historian and a 20-year member of the Quorum of the Twelve.
13. When Joseph Fielding Smith repeated his warning as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, he still didn't know what he was talking about.
14. When Marion G. Romney and Mark E. Petersen identified the New York hill as the scene of the final battles in General Conference in the 1970s, they were perpetuating a false tradition, misleading members of the Church.
15. Modern prophets and apostles rely on the scholars at BYU for advice, so these scholars should also be followed by the Church membership instead of all the prophets and apostles who have affirmed the New York Cumorah.
16. When the Book of Mormon speaks of a choice land and a promised land from which the gospel would go to the world, it refers to southern Mexico and Guatemala.
17. Church media correctly depicts Nephites living among Mayan pyramids and stone palaces, in jungles full of jaguars and tapirs, and in the midst of a far larger and more sophisticated Mayan civilization that absorbed Lehi's descendants without a trace. The Church spent hundreds of thousands of dollars looking in Central America, to no avail, but now people should spend millions of dollars teaching this theory to the world. BYU and CES have sent professors and staff on "Book of Mormon" tours to Central America and BYU faculty continue to take people on "Book of Mormon" tours to that area.
18. No non-LDS Mesoamerican scholar finds any evidence that supports the Book of Mormon, but that's because they are not seeing all the "correspondences" between the text and the archaeology. For example, the Mayans had banners, and Captain Moroni had a banner, so Captain Moroni was a Mayan.
19. A council of scholars can determine the correct interpretation of Book of Mormon geography passages so long as they are trained in the ministry.
20. Anyone who questions the Mesoamerican theory is ignorant, deceptive, and only in it for the money.
21. The exception to #20 is people who question the Mesoamerican theory but agree Cumorah cannot be in New York, such as those who promote the Baja, Panama, Chile, and other theories. IOW, as long as you portray Joseph and Oliver as ignorant speculators who misled the Church, you're okay with the scholars.
With those 21 principles well understood, let's look at how the anti-Mormons use the Mesoamerican theory. My purpose here is not to address the anti-Mormon arguments but to show how the two-Cumorahs theory plays into their hands and effectively helps them make their anti-Mormon arguments.
We are naive if we think investigators, youth, and even long-time members do not look at these sources for another perspective on LDS teachings. Don't read through these if you aren't comfortable, but if you want to know what's out on the Internet, these are just a few examples.
If you do read them, think how much more effective the pro-LDS arguments would be if our scholars and educators were united in supporting what Joseph and Oliver and their successors taught about Cumorah.
First, of course, the anti-Mormons all attack the 3 Witnesses. Here's an example of the criticism, which the Mesoamerican theory helps support. In the sections below, my comments are in red.
"Overview of Critics' position
"The witnesses, by their own admission, seemed to have only seen the angel and plates in a 'visionary state' in their minds as Joseph suggested to them and not really with their natural eyes as members are taught. Why would real, metal plates need to be seen in a vision or with 'spiritual eyes' as many of the witnesses later testified?
"Critics also point out several issues that call into question the witnesses' reliability and trustworthiness. For example, all the witnesses had close ties to Joseph and his family. Martin Harris, had a substantial financial stake in the success of the Book of Mormon. Moreover, in the upcoming years, many of the witnesses ended up leaving the church and following other leaders and religions. By 1847, not one of the surviving eleven witnesses was part of the LDS Church. If they believed Joseph Smith's miraculous revelations from God were true, why would they have left the Church?"
[Comment: LDS scholars say that when he wrote Letter VII, Oliver was merely speculating about Cumorah, but Oliver actually wrote it was a fact that the final battles took place there. The argument of LDS scholars reinforces the anti-Mormon claim that Oliver would say anything, regardless of truth. The LDS scholars also support the anti-Mormon claim that David Whitmer was superstitious and prone to incorporating others' ideas as his own testimony. The LDS scholars compound the problem and reinforce the anti-Mormon claims by insisting that Joseph and Oliver merely had a vision of the cache of Nephite records, because the Hill Cumorah is actually in Mexico.]
[By contrast, in Moroni's America, all of these accounts are reconciled. Letter VII is correct; David Whitmer did see a messenger who took the plates to Cumorah to exchange them for the plates of Nephi; Joseph and Oliver (and others) did enter the records repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York, on multiple occasions; and David Whitmer knew they moved the plates to another location. The Mesoamerican setting relies on visionary superstition, while Moroni's America relies on actual physical realities, plainly described by the early brethren.]
Here are examples of how the Mesoamerican theory itself is addressed by anti-Mormons:
1. Sandra Tanner of the Utah Lighthouse Ministry points out on this web page how the LDS scholars claim to be more reliable than the President of the LDS Church and an apostle. She also points out how the LDS scholars reject the story of Zelph. She notes there is still no viable archaeology to support the Book of Mormon.
2. The CES letter discussion gets a lot of mileage out of the Mesoamerican theory here. [search for "Mormon apologists" on that page and go to 6 of 7.] He points out that "Mormon apologists are currently warring with each other over hemispheric vs. limited geography. Limited geography apologists cannot even agree on the location or even its compass direction. Here are just a few examples of the different proposed Limited Geography Maps, just to illustrate the lack of consensus among “Limited Geography” apologists." He then gives six examples of Mesoamerican models that conflict with each other. He also shows the obvious conflict between what Joseph Smith said and the limited geography Mesoamerican model. (To make his point, he incorrectly claims Joseph taught the hemispheric model, but his observations about the Mesoamerican model are spot on. The only response to date that I'm aware of is the "Hinterlands" idea that Joseph was actually recognizing and identifying Nephite sites outside the narrative of the text, but of course that presents as many problems as the Mesoamerican model itself.)
|Cartoon from CES letter
As shown by these examples, Limited Geography apologists cannot even agree on where the events of the Book of Mormon took place. They have no real geographical setting in which to set the Book of Mormon. Not only do they have to ignore the similarities in town names in Joseph’s backyard but they have to ignore Joseph Smith and other “prophets, seers, and revelators” who taught that the Book of Mormon took place in New York, Illinois, and elsewhere on the North American continent. Joseph even pointed to the Hill Cumorah as the actual Hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon. This is not good enough, however, for Limited Geography apologists who insist they know better than Joseph Smith, latter-day “prophets, seers, and revelators” and the Church itself."
The CES Letter uses a lot of straw-man arguments about geography and Church history, but the criticisms of the Mesoamerican setting are insightful. In response to one point, FairMormon even quotes from Letter VII, the very letter that FairMormon itself considers false!
The CES letter also notes this about the two-Cumorahs theory: "Neither is Hill Cumorah in New York, according to the “Limited Geography Model” espoused by both FairMormon and the Neal Maxwell Institute. Never mind that Joseph Smith and “prophets, seers, and revelators” have taught it’s in New York. Never mind that Joseph Smith was, in turn, taught about the Book of Mormon civilizations by an angelic Moroni who himself deposited the plates in Hill Cumorah."
Finally, CES letter observes the impact of the two-Cumorahs theory: If the Book of Mormon’s geography is limited and based in Central/South America, why is Hill Cumorah, where two great battles that resulted in the deaths of millions and where Moroni buried the plates, in New York? FairMormon and unofficial apologists attempt to get around this problem by proposing their unsupported theory that there is another Hill Cumorah. This is in direct conflict to the teachings of latter-day prophets and the Church."
3. Lots of letters on ex-Mormon sites mention the problems with Mesoamerica. While many of these objections are themselves based on fallacies, others make good points. Here's an example: "In addition, there are too many things mentioned in the Book of Mormon which should not ever be there: silk, steel, horses, chariots, wheels, swords, animals, plants, wheat, barley, Greek words and Greek personal names like Timothy and Jonas, direct quotes from Paul and from the New Testament, quotes from the book of Isaiah and other parts of the Old Testament written after Lehi left Jerusalem, numerous anachronistic terms like synagogue and cimeter, Christian practices (like baptism and missionary work) during the Law of Moses time--well before Jesus came to the earth, and many others. There are also many things not mentioned, which most likely should have been mentioned: the Law of Moses and other Jewish customs and practices; there is no mention of Passover or any feasts; common Mesoamerican crops and animals are never discussed.
Some other major problems with the Book of Mormon include: the American Indian races genetic structure is Mongoloid in origin--not Jewish; the written and spoken Indian languages ( both the original language stocks and language families) do not have any resemblance to Jewish or Egyptian whatsoever; and not one Mesoamerican city or location has been identified as a match to a Book of Mormon location.
Mormons either ignore the facts (and hope they go away), or they stretch their imaginations in order to explain these facts away. I read many pro-Mormon theories, books, and articles (such as from FARMS and Hugh Nibley) and I tried my hardest to explain these problems away for a number of years; but there was always something in the back of my mind or the pit of my stomach which told me otherwise. I wanted so much to believe in the Book of Mormon and for the church to be true. I remember the day clearly when I announced to myself that all of these BOM problems go away if I simply realize that the Book of Mormon is nothing more than inspired fiction. Poof, I suddenly felt enlightened about the matter, and it felt like a huge burden was lifted from my soul. I felt like the truth had been manifested to myself, and that the truth had "made me free" of these BOM problems.
4. A typical Christian web site challenges the Book of Mormon this way:
According to the Smithsonian Institute of Washington, D.C., USA, the following items (which, according to The Book of Mormon, existed in the Americas between 600 B.C. and 421 A.D.) have absolutely no evidence for existing in the America's during the time in question:
Silk—Alma 4:6, Nephi 13:7, Alma 1:29
Horses—Enos 1:21, Alma 18:9, 3 Nephi 3: 1, Nephi 18:25
Steel—Jarom 1:8, 2 Nephi 5:15,16, 1 Nephi 4:9, 16:18
Iron—2 Nephi 5:15, 20:34, Jarom 1:8, Mosiah 11:8
Donkeys—1 Nephi 18:25, Mosiah 5:14, 12:5
Cattle, Cow, and Oxen—Enos 1:21; 3 Nephi 3:22, 6: 1 Nephi 18:25
Pigs—3 Nephi 7:8
Grain and Wheat—Mosiah 9:9; Helaman 11:17
If The Book of Mormon is true, certainly some evidence for the items mentioned above should have been unearthed by modern-day archaeologists. But where are the objects of steel, iron, and brass that are mentioned throughout The Book of Mormon? Has the Mormon church uncovered even one coin as mentioned in the book of Alma? Mormon 6:9-15 states that many thousands of men fought a great battle armed with swords, bows, arrows and axes, but have archaeologists discovered any of these items dating back to that time period on this continent? According to Ether 15:2, two million Jaredite peoples (men, women and children) were killed in battle, yet there is not a trace of this battle anywhere. Ether 15:15 claims that men, women, and children armed with shields, breastplates, and headplates, fought a great battle with much loss of life—yet not one article of battle has been found to date.
[There are problems with this criticism, such as the text doesn't mention coins. But the archaeological evidence in North America fits much better than the evidence in Central America. Throughout North America, thousands of arrows, atlatl heads, axes, etc. have been found in the areas expected in the Moroni's America setting. All the evidence of ancient horses is in North America, as is silk and grain. In North America, there are species that compare with cattle, cows and oxen, and there is evidence of ancient smelting.]
[This is the end of my analysis of anti-Mormon material]
The New York Cumorah should be a given. That location doesn't determine the rest of Book of Mormon geography, anyway, except in the minds of the LDS scholars who promote the two-Cumorahs theory.
At this point, the best outcome is that LDS people see through what Book of Mormon Central is doing and choose the prophets and apostles over these scholars.
If you're a member of the Church, ask yourself this simple question: how does it help the cause to have LDS scholars at Book of Mormon Central and its affiliates insist that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church, and that the modern prophets and apostles have perpetuated a false tradition about Cumorah?