BYU Education Week (schedule) offers a tremendous variety of classes. Because many readers live far away and don't have a chance to attend, I'll report on some of the events relevant to this blog.
[Note: I'm going to complete the series on the DNA issue, but Brother Perego is speaking today at Education Week and I'll update my posts based on what he says. You can get a pretty good idea from his topics:
Ugo A. Perego
Genetics, Genealogy, and Gentiles: The Use and Abuse of DNA in Mormon Studies
Ballroom, Wilkinson Student Center (WSC)
Wed- Book of Mormon and DNA Studies: The Genetic History of the New World
Th- Genetic Genealogy: Finding Your Distant and Recent Ancestry through DNA
Fri- Science and Religion: Can They Coexist?]
On Monday, I was observing the total eclipse in Idaho so I missed Ed Week that day. (BTW, if you haven't seen a total eclipse, you need to get ready for 2024 when you can observe it at the real Hill Cumorah.)
On Tuesday, I attended classes on Church history, the geography of Israel, and geography in the scriptures. All were excellent. The one most readers will be interested is described here:
Scriptures Brought to Life through Technology: Free Tools to Breathe New Life into Your Study
Pardoe, Harris Fine Arts Center (HFAC)
Tues- Questions of Geography in the Scriptures: Exploring Possible Locations to Enhance and Not Distract from Intended Messages
Wed- Jerusalem in Jesus’ Day: A Virtual, Immersive, 3D Experience
Th- The People, Places, and Plates of the Book of Mormon: A Virtual, Immersive, 3D Experience
Fri- Technology Tools for Unlocking the Words of the Bible
Thursday's presentation will focus on the abstract map I've blogged about several times, such as here and here. As I've explained, I think it's a huge mistake to teach people (not just BYU students but missionaries, investigators, youth, and anyone else) that the best way to understand the Book of Mormon is to put it into the fantasy world depicted by this map. I have three main reasons.
1. The map rejects what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII about Cumorah being in New York. A student attending BYU will never even learn about these important historical letters.
2. The fantasy map removes the text from the real world and puts it into the realm of fiction.
3. Although the faculty are apparently prohibited from referencing real-world settings (more on that later), they created this map using the Mesoamerican interpretations of the text and turned everything 90 degrees so it doesn't look like Mesoamerica (wink, wink), but in doing so, they are standardizing those interpretations.
Tuesday's presentation focused on Geography "to enhance and not distract from intended messages." The presenter did an excellent job giving examples, which I'll discuss in a moment.
First, he explained that when it comes to the Book of Mormon, faculty are not allowed to refer to any real-world setting. Obviously, this is a big improvement from when I attended BYU and was taught the Mesoamerican setting, and possibly this is some sort of transition to gradually, eventually, returning to what Joseph and Oliver taught. If so, great.
But in the meantime, every year BYU refuses to teach students what Joseph and Oliver taught, we'll have thousands of students (and missionaries) being taught this fantasy land version. Once this image is imprinted in their minds, it will be difficult for them to transition to what Joseph and Oliver taught, and they will naturally think, "If my BYU professors didn't tell me about Letter VII, what else did they keep from me?"
In the presentation Tuesday, several maps were shown, including the one I have on the splash page of this blog, but Letter VII was never mentioned. It is unbelievable to me that in a BYU Education Week Class about Book of Mormon geography, the audience is never told what Joseph and Oliver said about the Hill Cumorah in Letter VII.
As I point out on my Letter VII blog, the New York Cumorah was not some random, obscure teaching. Joseph made sure it was republished several times (including by both of his brothers, Don Carlos and William, who edited Church newspapers). It was universally known and accepted during Joseph's day and accepted by all of his contemporaries and successors.
But now, you can't even mention it at BYU.
Another class I attended Tuesday started by displaying this quotation on the screen:
“Gone are the days when the history of the Church is just interesting. Gone are the days when it is only important. In our day, the history of the Church is urgent." Elder J. Devn. Cornish, asst. executive director, Church History Department
There is a very strange dichotomy at BYU between history and geography that apparently forbids BYU faculty from mentioning Letter VII in either realm. It's as though Letter VII has fallen into a deep crevice and no one can find it.
The speaker in the other session went on to say, "Today Church history is urgent because our history can either bless us as LDS and strengthen us or it can be used against us."
This is definitely the case with Letter VII. If you search, you can find Letter VII in the Joseph Smith papers because Joseph had his scribes copy it into his history. You can find it in the following Church newspapers: The Messenger and Advocate, the Gospel Reflector, the Times and Seasons, The Prophet, the Millennial Star, and the Improvement Era.
Students and investigators who research questions on the Internet will find Letter VII on many anti-Mormon sites. This site, for example, asks the question, "Who are we to believe? Is a BYU professor more reliable than the President of the LDS Church or an Apostle?"
When they wrote Letter VII, Joseph was President of the Church and Oliver was Assistant President, but our BYU professors reject what they wrote and ask students to believe them, the professors, instead. When asked, these professors actually tell students that Church leaders, even when speaking in General Conference, were merely expressing their private opinions and were wrong.
While you will find Letter VII in Church history and on the anti-Mormon sites, you won't find it in the Ensign, BYU Studies, Meridian Magazine, or any of the publications by modern LDS scholars and educators. You won't learn about it as a student at BYU or at Education Week.
Letter VII may be the very last "secret" of Church history that remains to be revealed to members of the Church.
The only reason I can think of--the only possible reason, really--is to protect the Mesoamerican ideology, which I label Mesomania. There is a relatively small group of LDS scholars and educators who are emotionally and academically wedded to the Mesoamerican setting and they don't want members of the Church to even know about Letter VII. So far, their influence has prevailed to the point of requiring BYU students to learn this abstract fantasy map instead.
And despite the official policy of neutrality, missionaries at the MTC are still being taught the Mesoamerican theory, the topic of another post coming next week.
Back to the topic of Tuesday's presentation on using geography "to enhance and not distract from intended messages."
The presenter established "three degrees of truth" this way:
Absolute: unassailable, complete, unchangeable, utter, unconditional, independent of belief, supreme
(not a very long list), e.g., God lives, Jesus is the Christ, God loves us
Probable: most likely, most credible, most reasonable, logically apparent
The problems arise when people take something that is probably true and elevate it to an absolute truth
Possible: plausible, feasible, conceivable, imaginable, believable
Lots of possible truths, leading to debates, etc.
Then he asked, "When it comes to scripture geography, how many absolutes do we have? We know where the Sea of Galilee is (absolute), but people fight about other sites in the area."
I was thinking, exactly! We know where Cumorah is thanks to Joseph and Oliver, but people can debate the rest of the geography.
The only reason these scholars don't accept Cumorah in New York as an absolute is because they don't accept what Joseph and Oliver taught.
Imagine what Biblical studies would be like if people were going to India looking for Jerusalem or the Sea of Galilee. I'm sure there are sites in India that fit the description in the Bible. That sounds absurd (I hope), but that's exactly what is going on with Book of Mormon studies, all because our LDS scholars reject what Joseph and Oliver taught.
Another class I attended Tuesday started with this quotation:
“Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books and the one you will find in the land they call Holy. Read the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open to you.” St. Jerome (347-420 AD). The speaker there said, “Make the scriptures real. When the people are real, we can apply them better and teach others better.”
We are in the bizarre situation of making the Bible and the Doctrine and Covenants real, but we are putting the Book of Mormon into a fantasy land, all because our LDS scholars refuse to believe--refuse to even tell their students about--what Joseph and Oliver taught.
With the Sea of Galilee as an absolute, we can better understand the Biblical messages even though we don't know the specific locations of all the other Biblical sites.
It is exactly the same situation with the Book of Mormon.
With Cumorah as an absolute, we can better understand the messages of the Book of Mormon even though we don't know the specific location of all the other sites.
In fact, accepting the New York Cumorah as an absolute is even more important for the Book of Mormon because it implicates the credibility and reliability of Joseph and Oliver (and David Whitmer, Lucy Mack Smith, Brigham Young, and many others).
One final point. The speaker pointed out that Alma told his son that Lehi's group "tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst because of their transgressions" in not exercising faith in using the Liahona. (Alma 37:38-43).
He said, "Maybe God has been giving us directions on our own Liahona, but we haven’t been heeding it, and God let us follow a circuitous route."
I think he's right about that.
I think God gave us directions through Joseph and Oliver, but we haven't been heeding them. Instead, we've followed a circuitous route through Mesoamerica, Baja, Panama, Chile, Sri Lanka, Eritrea, etc.
Eventually we'll reach the destination, but why continuing to waste time and effort just because we reject what Joseph and Oliver told us in the first place, way back in 1835? Think of how powerful a united Church membership would be, all supporting and sustaining Joseph and Oliver!
[Oliver liked exclamation marks.]
That would be a dramatic improvement over the current situation, when our own LDS scholars and educators reject what Joseph and Oliver taught, causing members (and investigators) to become confused and disturbed in their faith, just as Joseph Fielding Smith warned.
Consider the earlier passages in Alma 37, in which Alma teaches the importance of the records that were preserved. Alma said, "And now, it has hitherto been wisdom in God that these things should be preserved; for behold, they have enlarged the memory of this people, yea, and convinced many of the error of their ways, and brought them to the knowledge of their God unto the salvation of their souls.
Yea, I say unto you, were it not for these things that these records do contain, which are on these plates, Ammon and his brethren could not have convinced so many thousands of the Lamanites of the incorrect tradition of their fathers."
That sounds very much like Brigham Young, two months before he died (and he was very sick so he knew his time was short), telling the people about the experiences of Oliver and Joseph in Mormon's depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York. He said, "I relate this to you, and I want you to understand it. I take this liberty of referring to those things so that they will not be forgotten and lost."
Despite President Young's concern, these things have been forgotten and lost--they're down in that crevice, with Letter VII--solely because they contradict the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories.
We can paraphrase Alma this way: "were it not for these things that these records do contain, which are [in Letter VII], [we] could not have convinced so many thousands of [BYU students, investigators, LDS youth] of the incorrect tradition [Mesoamerican theory] of their fathers."