I wish our LDS scholars and educators who continue to promote the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories would follow that example.
The withdrawal prompted an article in the Deseret News that included a quotation from Keith Erekson, director of the LDS Church History Library.
"Typically, any story is incomplete, and different tellings of the story become contradictory," he said. "The past is gone. We have just pieces of it in the form of stories. Whenever we encounter a piece of the past, we always have to ask, what is this piece? Who did it come from? How do I make sense of it today?"
These are excellent questions and I've tried to address them in my research into Church history and Book of Mormon issues.
Recently I was asked to provide a clear statement of what I think about all of this. I've done so before, but I keep learning new things.
Because so many new readers keep coming to this blog, I'm posting the latest version below. It's a little long, but I think it gives a good idea of what my blogs and books and presentations and videos are all about.
Here is an excerpt from the concluding paragraphs:
Just to be clear: I think the Mesoamerican theory is false, and CES teachers should abandon it as soon as possible. I think everyone who has promoted the Mesoamerican theory ought to reject it publicly and reaffirm the credibility and reliability of Oliver Cowdery.
As always, I welcome input, corrections, suggestions, etc.
Summary and thesis
Years later, Joseph gave express permission to Benjamin Winchester to republish the letters, including Letter VII, in the Gospel Reflector. Winchester published the entire collection in his Philadelphia newspaper in March 1841.
In the fall of 1840, Joseph gave the letters to his brother, Don Carlos, to republish in the Times and Seasons. Don Carlos published them in several issues in 1840 and 1841.
The following year, 1842, Joseph referred to Cumorah in D&C 128. By then, the location of Cumorah in New York was universally understood by members of the Church. Not only had Joseph and Oliver taught it explicitly in Letter VII, but, as Brigham Young explained, Joseph and Oliver had been inside Mormon's depository in the Hill Cumorah multiple times.
In response to strong demand for Oliver's letters, they were also republished in England in February 1844.
Joseph’s brother William republished the letters again in The Prophet, a Church newspaper based in New York. The publication date was June 29, 1844--two days after Joseph was murdered in Carthage.
Another criticism focused on the text itself. The Book of Mormon describes advanced civilizations, but everyone knew the Indians were savages. Critics claimed the Book of Mormon merely repeated the legends of ancient civilizations in North America that were destroyed by the savage Indians. Pratt, Winchester, and others responded to these criticisms by pointing to discoveries of long-lost civilizations in Central America that built great stone pyramids and cities.
Because Joseph was merely the nominal editor, in the spring of 1842, William soon became the acting editor of both newspapers (the Wasp and the Times and Seasons), with the uncredited assistance of Phelps (although it is very difficult to determine which of them contributed what editorial content). Winchester, who had been sending material to the Times and Seasons since its very first issue in 1839, continued sending articles to the paper.
Note: These issues also contained letters that Joseph Smith wrote and sent to the newspaper because he was in hiding. Obviously, someone else was running the Times and Seasons, and it wasn't John Taylor or Wilford Woodruff, both of whom were seriously ill in August and September.
If Joseph retracted the "Zarahemla is Quirigua" article, his critics would say D&C 128 was also false doctrine. He decided to let the article go without comment. It was never cited again or even mentioned (until the 20th Century by LDS scholars who sought to promote a Mesoamerican theory of geography--but even they reject the Quirigua claim).
- You can accept Letter VII and believe the Hill Cumorah is in New York.
- You can reject Letter VII and put Cumorah somewhere else. Where else doesn’t really matter.
In other words, they ask you to believe what Oliver said about the translation of the plates, the restoration of the Priesthood, and other key events, but they also ask you not to believe what he said about the depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York--even though he personally visited that depository.