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.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

2017 year end review - "to the convincing"

Moroni explained in the Title Page that the Book of Mormon was written "to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations."

This blog and all my other LDS-related work is intended to help fulfill that purpose.

So far, I've been pretty low key in discussing Church history and Book of Mormon historicity. The more I learn about these topics, the more convincing the narrative is. The New York Cumorah, the two sets of plates, confidence in the reliability and credibility of Joseph and Oliver (Letter VII, etc.), Joseph's consistency throughout his life--all of these and more are important for people to know, both believers and non-believers.

In the last two years, my blogs have had over 200,000 page views from around the world, plus many more views on other sites that replicate the blogs, including Facebook, Amazon, MoronisAmerica.com, and others, but that is low key compared with what is coming.

In the last 2-3 years, I've had ten books on these topics published, but I've done little to promote them--so far.

I wanted every member of the Church to read and understand Letter VII in 2016. And again in 2017. Many thousands have, but there's a long way to go.

There are a lot of things underway that will make 2018 an awesome year for the Book of Mormon.

I've been low key because I've hoped to work with LDS scholars and educators privately to change the paradigms that, in my view, are counterproductive.* But I've learned in these last couple of years that there is tremendous inertia, resistance to new ideas, and other obstacles to overcome. Consequently, the old paradigms still prevail, at least among many members of the Church.

Here's the basic story from my perspective.

Even before he got the plates, Joseph knew the "hill in New York" was Cumorah because Moroni called it that. But Joseph didn't know the details until he translated the Harmony plates in Pennsylvania. Later, he and Oliver and others visited Mormon's depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah in New York; i.e., they learned from actual experience that this was the hill spoken of in Mormon 6:6.

After the Book of Mormon was attacked as a fictional work based on an unpublished manuscript by Solomon Spalding, Joseph** and Oliver wrote Letter VII and published it in July 1835 in the official Church newspaper, the Messenger and Advocate. In that letter, they outright declared it was a fact that the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites occurred at the Hill Cumorah in New York. This removed the taint of fiction from the Book of Mormon. This teaching prevailed at least through the 1970s when it was taught in General Conference.

In the 1970s, the decades-old theory invented by RLDS scholars about a limited geography in Mesoamerica took hold among LDS scholars. David Palmer published In Search of Cumorah in 1981, Sorenson published An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon and a couple of Ensign articles along the same lines, and the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory reached a tipping point. The artwork in the missionary editions of the Book of Mormon was changed in 1981, replacing the Friberg painting of Mormon and Moroni together on the New York Cumorah with the painting of Moroni alone on the New York hill, and adding the painting of Christ visiting the Nephites among Mayan ruins.

The New York Cumorah was framed by certain LDS intellectuals as an incorrect folk tradition, partly because it didn't meet the "criteria" established by these same Mesoamerican-promoting intellectuals. These criteria are transparently self-serving, but they became enshrined even in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. The intellectuals said all the prophets and apostles who had affirmed Letter VII were wrong.

The Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory was taught in innumerable presentations, articles, books, blogs, etc., supported by reference to illusory "correspondences" between the text and archaeological discoveries in Central America. I consider these illusory because they are characteristic of most human societies around the world and throughout time.

The illusory nature of these "correspondences" explains why there are so many theories of Book of Mormon geography. When the intellectuals cut us free from the prophetic constraints Joseph and Oliver imposed by situating Cumorah in New York, we entered a phase of geographic relativism.

But at least we were looking for a real-world setting.

In recent years, the situation has gone from bad to worse.

BYU and CES are now teaching students an "abstract" fantasy map that frames the Book of Mormon as a fictional account akin to the Chronicles of Narnia or the Lord of the Rings, with their associated "abstract" fantasy maps.

The narrative that Joseph and Oliver were wrong has been taught for decades now, so that Church employees, scholars, and many Church members accept it as a given. As a result, we see the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory incorporated into Church media and artwork, the Joseph Smith Papers and the Church History Museum, the visitors centers, and chapels worldwide.

I'm informed that officially, the Church has no position on Book of Mormon geography. We are each entitled to our own opinions, based on our own research, spiritual, intellectual, and physical.

But we're not entitled to our own facts.

One thing all members of the Church share is Church history. It's our common heritage, no matter when we joined or how old we are. Interpretations of historical events are subjective, but the more we know about the historical facts, the better informed our opinions are.

But the intellectuals have effectively suppressed any discussion of Letter VII and its context, as well as the real-world evidence that supports the New York Cumorah. I've documented plenty of examples in this and other blogs, and I could document plenty more.

I think geography relativism undermines the goal of using the Book of Mormon to convince people that Jesus is the Christ--especially when it is based on the repudiation of what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah.

I disagree with the current notion that undermining the reliability and credibility of the prophets and apostles helps build faith in those prophets and apostles.

The more people learn about Church history and the relevant archaeology, anthropology, geography and geology, the more they shift away from the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory and toward the New York Cumorah.

2018 is going to be an amazing year for education.

*What current paradigms are counterproductive?

If the purpose of the Book of Mormon is to convince people that Jesus is the Christ, IMO it is counterproductive to teach people things that undermine faith in the Book of Mormon and the prophets and apostles. Few people read the Book of Mormon when they think it is fiction or some kind of pious fraud.

Nevertheless, there are several prevalent paradigms taught by LDS intellectuals that, in my view, undermine faith in just this way.

Right now, LDS students at BYU/CES (not to mention missionaries and investigators) are being taught that the best way to understand the Book of Mormon narrative is by studying an "abstract" fantasy map that portrays Cumorah as anywhere other than in New York. This frames the text as fiction and repudiates 150+ years of teachings by the prophets and apostles.

It is counterproductive to tell people that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church (and the world) about the Hill Cumorah being in New York when they wrote, published, and republished Letter VII.

It is counterproductive (but self-serving for the intellectuals) to tell people that Joseph Smith changed his mind about Book of Mormon geography during his lifetime and ended up learning about it from scholars, whose views he supposedly endorsed.

It is counterproductive to tell people that all of the prophets and apostles who reaffirmed the New York Cumorah were wrong. It is also counterproductive to tell people that the intellectuals know this because they have PhDs and "expertise" that outweighs what Joseph, Oliver, and their contemporaries and successors taught.

It is counterproductive to tell people that Cumorah cannot be in New York because it doesn't fit the criteria established by the intellectuals, especially when these criteria are not set out in the text and are designed solely to fit the Mesoamerican narrative.

It is counterproductive to censor and exclude ideas about Book of Mormon geography that contradict the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory favored by these intellectuals.

**Note: some people claim Joseph didn't help write Letter VII, but Oliver said Joseph helped write the letters, Joseph had them copied into his own history, and Joseph told at least his brother Don Carlos and Benjamin Winchester to publish them in their respective newspapers. In addition, Parley P. Pratt published it in the Millennial Star in England and in a special pamphlet consisting of all 8 of these historical letters, printed in response to strong demand by the British Saints. This was all during Joseph's lifetime. Two days after the martyrdom in 1844, Joseph's brother William Smith published Letter VII in his New York newspaper. I think this evidence demonstrates Joseph's repeated endorsement of Letter VII, whether he actually co-wrote it or not. I don't think there's any serious doubt that Joseph believed Cumorah was in New York. All of his contemporaries agreed.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

2017 year-end: A decision tree

Cumorah: A Decision Tree for Book of Mormon Geography

People often ask for a summary of Book of Mormon geography issues. This post includes a decision tree to help people make their own decisions.

My premise: Everyone who reads the Book of Mormon wonders where it took place. 

Moroni knew how important location was. 

During his first visit to Joseph Smith, Moroni "gave a history of the aborigines of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham... He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place," meaning Joseph's home near Palmyra, New York.

Today, people take three basic approaches to the geography question:

1. Some people don't care about the geography;
2. Some people think it's important to know the geography and culture to understand the text (as we do with the Bible); and 
3. Some people won't believe or even read the book unless they have a plausible reason, supported by evidence, to first believe it's an authentic history that took place in a real-world location.

Judging by the outcome of over 180 years of publishing the Book of Mormon to the world--over 150 million physical copies, plus millions of electronic versions--by far most people in the world fit into category #3

Aware of this, the early missionaries cited evidence. When confronted with the anti-Mormon claim that the Book of Mormon was fiction, Joseph and Oliver Cowdery wrote and published Letter VII, stating it was a fact that Cumorah was a real place. It was the very hill in New York where Joseph obtained the plates, where Mormon deposited the Nephite records, and where the Jaredites and Nephites had their final battles.

All the Church publications re-printed Letter VII to reaffirm the message that Cumorah was in New York.

The Church has no official position on the setting. It is up to each member, individually, to decide, based on the scriptures, the teachings of the prophets, and the available evidence. No one is obligated to believe what someone else believes or teaches, regardless of how much education a particular proponent has.

The question really boils down to this:

Do you think the Hill Cumorah is in New York or somewhere else?

The historical record is clear: Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, and all of their contemporaries believed and taught that the Hill Cumorah was in New York. In addition, all of the prophets and apostles who have spoken on this issue agreed, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference as recently as the 1970s. No prophet or apostle has said Cumorah was anywhere else.

Those who believe the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) is in New York think the rest of the geography flows from that point in the map. 

Those who believe the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) is somewhere else think (i) the New York "Cumorah" is a false tradition and (ii) the location of Cumorah can only be determined by reference to the location of other Book of Mormon settings (Mesoamerica, Baja, Panama, Chile, etc.) The most widely accepted non-New York Cumorah is somewhere in Southern Mexico. This is the Mesoamerican theory promoted by intellectuals affiliated with BYU, CES, etc. It is the theory displayed in most Church artwork, media, visitors centers, etc., although there are some depictions of the New York Cumorah, such as Arnold Friberg's painting.

To decide whether you agree with Central America or North America, you can check the box next to the proposition and then compare your responses to those of the Central and North American proponents. 1-17 are statements of historical fact; 18-20 are conclusions.

1. When Moroni first visited Joseph Smith, he said the record was “written and deposited” not far from Joseph’s home.
2. Joseph Smith obtained the original set of plates from a stone box Moroni constructed out of stone and cement in the Hill Cumorah in New York.
3. Mormon said he buried all the Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah (Morm. 6:6), which was the scene of the final battles of the Nephites, except for the plates he gave to his son Moroni to finish the record.
4. Orson Pratt explained that Moroni deposited the plates in “a department of the hill separate from the great, sacred depository of the numerous volumes hid up by his father.”
5. Brigham Young said Oliver told him that he (Oliver) and Joseph had made at least two visits to a room in the Hill Cumorah in New York that contained piles of records and ancient Nephite artifacts.
6. Heber C. Kimball talked about Father Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and others seeing records upon records piled upon tables in the hill Cumorah.
7. When Joseph and Oliver finished translating the original set of plates in Harmony, PA, Joseph gave the plates to a divine messenger who took them to Cumorah.
8. In Fayette, NY, Joseph and Oliver translated the plates of Nephi.
9. Oliver Cowdery was the Assistant President of the Church and spokesman when he wrote that it was a fact that the valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York was the location of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites, as well as the site of Mormon's depository of Nephite records (Letter VII).
10. Joseph Smith had his scribes copy Oliver’s letters, including Letter VII, into his journal as part of his history.
11. Joseph Smith gave express permission to Benjamin Winchester to republish Oliver’s letters, including Letter VII, in his 1841 newspaper called the Gospel Reflector.
12. Joseph Smith gave Don Carlos Oliver’s letters, including Letter VII, to republish in the Church newspaper called the Times and Seasons (T&S) in 1840-41.
13. Letter VII was republished in the Millennial Star and in an 1844 pamphlet in England. It was republished by Joseph's brother William in New York City just two days after Joseph's martyrdom in The Prophet. It was republished in Utah in the Improvement Era, then edited by Joseph F. Smith. 
14. D&C 128:20 reads, “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed,” followed by references to other events that took place in New York.
15. To date, apart from Moroni’s stone box and the plates and other objects Joseph Smith possessed and showed to the Witnesses, no artifact or archaeological site that can be specifically linked to the Book of Mormon has been found anywhere, but there are archaeological sites that match the vague descriptions given in the text throughout the Americas.
16. Every LDS who was alive during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, and several prophets and apostles since, accepted the New York hill Cumorah as the scene of the final battles, including in General Conference addresses. No General Conference address has ever claimed Cumorah was anywhere but in New York.
17. As an Apostle and Church Historian, Joseph Fielding Smith said the two-Cumorah theory caused members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. He reiterated this when he was President of the Quorum of the Twelve in the 1950s in his book Doctrines of Salvation.
18. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were merely speculating about the location of Cumorah. They were wrong and they misled the Church by referring to the New York setting as a fact.
19. Joseph Fielding Smith was wrong when he criticized the two-Cumorahs theory and maintained that Cumorah is in New York.
20. President Anthony Ivins, President Marion G. Romney, and Elder Mark E. Peterson were all wrong when they spoke in General Conference about Cumorah being in New York.

If you agree with 1-20 (or disagree with some of 1-17 but agree with 18-20), then you reject the New York Cumorah and either (i) accept a Mesoamerican setting (or another non-New York Cumorah setting) or (ii) don't believe the Book of Mormon is a literal history.

If you agree with 1-17 but disagree with 18-20, then you accept the New York Cumorah and therefore probably reject the settings outside North America.

Now you know where you stand, at least with respect to the New York Cumorah, and you can proceed accordingly.

[I posted a more detailed comparison table in August, 2016, here. This one includes areas in which the two sides agree to disagree. So far as I know, it remains the most detailed and complete statement of the respective positions of those who advocate a Central American (Mesoamerican) setting and a North American (Heartland/Moroni’s America) setting.]

Monday, December 18, 2017

2017 year end - social-validation feedback loop

Because so many new people are reading the blog, this week we're republishing some of the more notable posts from 2017.

Social-validation feedback loop

BYU/CES teachers are talented, well-prepared, and eager to build faith. Because of that, people wonder why the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory is so widely believed and taught at BYU campuses and in CES. 

Wait, you say. They aren't teaching that.

Okay, for the last couple of years, it has not been taught, per se. Following decades of promoting the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, BYU/CES teachers have been asked not to promote any specific geography. Instead, they are promoting a fantasy map, based on the Mesoamerican interpretation of the text. I think this is even worse than the Mesoamerican map because it teaches not only that Cumorah is not in New York, but that it is nowhere in the real world.

But if you ask the teachers for their actual belief, they'll tell you they believe in the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory because that's what they were taught, that's what they think all the intellectuals believe, and that is the "safe" opinion in academic circles. If you want to do firesides in Church buildings, you can discuss Mesoamerica but not the New York Cumorah. If you want to publish in LDS journals, you have to support the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory. 

Plus, that is the theory taught in the Visitors centers, in art and media throughout the Church, and even in the artwork in the missionary editions of the Book of Mormon itself.

So why does it remain so prevalent?

It's a combination of ignorance and the social-validation feedback loop. We think education will fix the former and lead to changes in the latter.

1. Ignorance. Despite their knowledge of Church history and the Book of Mormon, few BYU/CES teachers know about Letter VII. They have never been taught about it themselves, but some may have discovered it on their own. In such cases, they are taught by BYU/CES to consider it an irrelevant and false statement by Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith, a historical artifact that should never be mentioned and certainly not taught at BYU/CES.

Consequently, these teachers do not know how frequently Letter VII was reprinted during Joseph's lifetime, or how consistently Church leaders have reaffirmed it, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference. But when they do learn the facts, these faculty tend to change their minds.

Data show the impact of Letter VII on LDS members' belief in the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory before and after learning about Letter VII. When we look at these numbers, we see why the intellectuals continue to suppress and oppose Letter VII.

[Note: Most of those who retain a belief in Mesoamerica after learning about Letter VII are intellectuals who have taught or written about the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory or are otherwise invested in that theory for various reasons. For a list of reasons they've given for rejecting Letter VII, see here.]

As more BYU/CES teachers learn about Letter VII, the data suggest that believing and sustaining Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery will become more acceptable than the current practice of repudiating them. 

They will then teach their students to sustain and believe the prophets and apostles by accepting Letter VII and all the consistent and repeated statements in support of the New York Cumorah.

Eventually, the North American setting will become the consensus view and social validation will switch.

2. Social-validation feedback loop. The Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory has been the popular theory for intellectuals to believe because it portrays Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as ignorant, uneducated men who changed their views when exposed to scholarly works. Their successors who affirmed Letter VII's teachings about the New York Cumorah, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference, were duped by the false tradition Joseph and Oliver started.

If you consider yourself an intellectual, you like to think your education and sophistication make your beliefs superior than those of mere Church prophets and apostles who started and perpetrated an ignorant folk belief about Cumorah being in New York. 

Plus, as an intellectual, you must continue the tradition. You have to read, listen to, and repeat what the intellectuals at BYU have been promoting through FARMS, BYU Studies, the Interpreter, FairMormon, BMAF (and its corporate subsidiary Book of Mormon Central), Mesoamerican Meridian Magazine, and the rest.

If you toe the line of the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, your students will think you are smart, your colleagues (and supervisors) will approve, and the scholarly, peer-approved publications (former known as the citation cartel) may even publish your articles.

But if you express any degree of support for what Joseph and Oliver (and all their contemporaries and successors) taught about the Hill Cumorah (i.e., that it's in New York), you will be deemed an ignorant rube and told not to discuss your quasi-apostate theories.

The great thing about social validation, though, is that once it switches, it can switch fast. We can only hope it happens sooner than later.

Lately, BYU and CES have apparently asked their teachers to not link the Book of Mormon to any real-world geography.

IOW, teachers are not supposed to do what Joseph and Oliver did.

Teachers are supposed to pretend that Church leaders have not consistently and specifically taught the New York Cumorah for over 150 years.

Because BYU/CES students are not supposed to know this.

Instead, they're supposed to study the Book of Mormon as taking place in a fantasy land.

This "abstract map" is creating a new social-validation feedback loop.

Students at BYU/CES will learn the map, teach it to investigators, and then, when they become teachers themselves (and staff employees in the Church), they'll teach the fantasy map to upcoming generations.

The Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory is being replaced by the fantasy map, which really teaches there is no Cumorah in the real world.

Or, maybe members of the Church will express their dismay and disgust at what the intellectuals have been doing and share their belief in and support of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Opening the Heavens but censoring history

Readers have asked my thoughts about the presentation given by Professor John W. (Jack) Welch in November 2017 titled "Hours Never to Be Forgotten: Timing the Translation of the Book of Mormon."

You can read about it and watch the video here: https://mi.byu.edu/watch-welch-lecture/. There is also a link to the handout, which you can see here: https://mi.byu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Willes-Lecture-Program-small-1.pdf

After watching the video, you may not immediately realize why people have asked about it. I'm writing this post to explain.

First, I highly recommend the presentation and the materials to anyone who wants to know more about the topic. The timeline included in the handout is worth printing and keeping with your scriptures as a reference. The video is an excellent overview and perfectly presented by Brother Welch, who has always been an awesome Book of Mormon scholar. I acknowledged him and his work in the Preface to Moroni's America. He is a prolific author/editor and has made important contributions far beyond his wonderful discovery of chiasmus in the text. On most topics, he is open-minded and fair.


There is an ongoing problem that, in my view, taints this presentation and the new book it features. It's the same problem we see at Book of Mormon Central, which is widely referred to as Book of Mormon Central America because it censors information that contradicts its editorial posture of promoting exclusively the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography. Book of Mormon Central (America) purports to be a neutral repository/clearing house for Book of Mormon research, but it is in really an advocacy group for the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory of Book of Mormon geography.*

Brother Welch is Chairman and Co-Founder of Book of Mormon Central, as you see here. They have a lot of people, including BYU professors, who are working hard to promote the Mesoamrican/two-Cumorahs theory throughout the Church, in English as well as Spanish.

It's unfortunate because their Mesomania affects pretty much all of the work they do, as we'll see now.

The book referenced in the presentation is the Second Edition of Opening the Heavens. The first edition of the book was important because it collected sources that most people don't otherwise have access to. I cited the first edition often in my own books. I highly recommend the book as a resource.

It's available online at BYU Studies, here:


The introduction to both editions explains the editorial intentions:

In submitting his Wentworth letter to the publisher of the Chicago Democrat, Joseph Smith made only one request: "All that I shall ask at his hands, is, that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation." In this book, we hope to have complied with this request. [emphasis added] Here are six major collections of key Restoration documents, in their full authenticity and veracity.


Obviously, Opening the Heavens is an editorial selection of material. The second edition is 507 pages long, plus the Index, and it includes a lot of commentary in addition to the original documents. Lyndon Cook's book David Whitmer Interviews alone is 262 pages long, so we can't expect the entirety of these interviews to be contained in Opening the Heavens. In fact, Opening the Heavens includes only about 15 pages of excerpts of David Whitmer's interviews and statements.

It's completely legitimate to edit the original material this way. But does this book do so in a manner that can be fairly said to "publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation?"

Not in my opinion.

And I think there is a very specific reason why the authors made the editorial choices they did: M2C (aka Mesomania, or an obsession with Mesoamerica as the only legitimate setting for the Book of Mormon).

You're thinking, not again!

And I'm thinking, I wish it wasn't the case, too. But let me show you.

First, it's ironic that the editors invoke the Wentworth letter. I've written before about the lesson manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith. The lesson on the Wentworth letter edited out the section of the letter that discusses the Book of Mormon people. In the original Wentworth letter, Joseph wrote about the Nephites: "The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country." Because that contradicts the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography (or because it was deemed "controversial" because it contradicts the Mesoamerican theory), that sentence was deleted from the lesson manual. You can see it for yourself by following the links in my previous blog post. The deletions appear as ellipses in the lesson manual.

Consequently, millions of Latter-day Saints who studied the manual have no idea what Joseph taught about the remnant of the Nephites.

On its face, this deletion (it's really censorship) violates Joseph's request of Mr. Wentworth--the same request cited in the introduction to Opening the Heavens. As I've said before, Joseph didn't need to worry about Mr. Wentworth not publishing his account "entire, ungarnished and without misrepresentation." Instead, he needed to worry about the Curriculum Committee.

One thinks of George Orwell's observation in 1984: "He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past."

As we'll soon see, a similar thing is taking place in Opening the Heavens.

Readers of this blog (and readers of Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates?) know that while traveling from Harmony to Fayette, David, Joseph and Oliver encountered an old man along the road. You can read either edition of Opening the Heavens and never learn about this event.

Here is what Opening the Heavens relates about the trip from Harmony to Fayette (p. 108).

June 1-4, 1829. Joseph and Oliver moved with David Whitmer from Harmony to Fayette, Seneca County, New York, to the home of Peter Whitmer Sr. The journey from Harmony to Fayette (ninety-eight miles direct) would have taken about three days.84 Emma came a short time afterward (document 91).

You can see this online here (just search for key words):


Here is note 84, added to the second edition (also in the online link above).

84. As reported by Joseph F. Smith, David Whitmer told him and Orson Pratt that Joseph prophesied to Oliver "a perfect description of what David did on the way" before David arrived. Joseph F. Smith, Statement, written April 25, 1918, transcript, 2, Church History Library, available on Church History Libraryhttps://dcms.lds.org/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE4987096. They traveled on "an ordinary wagon with two long poles in it at each end across the end gates of the wagon box, and then two boards laid across that for seats on those hickory poles. Joseph and Emma were on the hind seat and Oliver and David on the front seat." Joseph F. Smith, Statement, 2. The plates were carried to Fayette by Moroni in a bundle on his back. [emphasis added] Joseph F. Smith, Statement, 3. "Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844-1845," book 8, p. 10, does not include Emma on this trip to Fayette (Waterloo). See also Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 114-15, 197.

This passage and its footnote are fascinating for several reasons.

1. Both Opening the Heavens (OTH) and Brother Welch's presentation are supposed to be giving us important details about the timing of the translation, yet here the book entirely censors a very key point about the timing; i.e., the messenger taking the Harmony plates to Cumorah before going to Fayette.

This has to do with the order of translation and D&C 10. If Joseph started translating 1 Nephi when Oliver arrived in Harmony in April 1829, as some people thought in the past, then 1 Nephi would have been included in the Harmony plates. But Joseph didn't start translating 1 Nephi until he arrived in Fayette; i.e., he didn't translate any of the Fayette plates in Harmony.

On page 103, OTH notes that "the conclusion that Joseph and Oliver began on April 7 very near the beginning of the book of Mosiah is widely accepted." While this is possible, the earliest passage that bears Oliver's handwriting is Alma 10:31 because all of Original Manuscript from Mosiah through Alma 10:30 has been lost or destroyed. In my view, it is more likely that Emma scribed Mosiah for all the reasons I discussed in A Man that Can Translate

On page 110, we read "June 5, 1829. About this day, Joseph began translating the small plates of Nephi, beginning with 1 Nephi 1."

That's a reasonable conclusion because the Whitmer brothers began working as scribes in Fayette (starting with 1 Ne 3:7).

Now, what about D&C 10? D&C 10 tells Joseph not to re-translate the Book of Lehi and instead to translate the "plates of Nephi." Aside from the obvious point that this commandment was pointless if Joseph was reading words off a stone instead of translating the plates, I think the Lord told Joseph he would have to translate the plates of Nephi precisely because he didn't have the plates of Nephi when he was in Harmony.

Among other reasons, we can tell Joseph didn't have the plates of Nephi in Harmony because the Title Page--the last leaf of the plates--refers only to abridged plates. The plates of Nephi were original writings, not abridgments.

In other words, in D&C 10 the Lord is telling Joseph he has to translate other plates--plates he didn't have at the time. These are the records alluded to in D&C 9:1-2, in which the Lord tells Oliver Cowdery, "I would that ye should continue until you have finished this record, which I have entrusted unto him. And then, behold, other records have I, that I will give unto you power that you may assist to translate."

In my view, "this record" refers to the plates Joseph got from Moroni's box on the Hill Cumorah, which he took to Harmony and translated there, from the Book of Lehi through the Title Page, except for the sealed portion. "Other records" refers to the plates of Nephi, which Joseph did not have at Harmony but received in Fayette. In fact, Oliver did have power to assist to translate these "other records" in Fayette.

Here's the key point. If Joseph received D&C 10 after he arrived in Fayette, then D&C 10 would make less sense because by then, he already had the plates he needed to translate; i.e., the plates of Nephi. In that case, it would not have made sense for the Lord to tell him to translate different plates.

(NOTE: this whole narrative contradicts the current fashionable theory that Joseph didn't actually translate the plates. This is the idea that he merely looked at a stone in a hat, with the plates sitting under a cloth on the table, or out in the woods. If that were the case, it would have been pointless for the Lord to tell Joseph in D&C 10 to translate the engravings on the plates of Nephi. D&C 10 would have said, in effect, "Just keep reading the words on the stone.")

On page 106, OTH discusses the dating of D&C Section 10. "During the lifetime of Joseph Smith the date was consistently reported as May 1829." Of course, this is before they left Harmony on or around June 1. Some people have suggested D&C 10 was received about the time Joseph translated 3 Nephi.

The question involves the first part of D&C 10, which appears to have been received in 1828. But everyone agrees that the latter portion, in which the Lord tells Joseph he's going to have to translate "the plates of Nephi," was received in May. In other words, D&C 10 is a combination of two separate revelations. This makes sense, but it could also be a single revelation received in May.

Either way, D&C 10 appears to be direction given by the Lord once Joseph neared or reached the end of the Harmony plates and was wondering whether he should return to the beginning and re-translate the Book of Lehi that Martin Harris lost. OTH seems to agree with this scenario.

However, in the "Day-by-Day Translation" chart on page 123, OTH makes this observation under June 4: "Travel to Fayette and unpack. About this time D&C 10 was finalized, telling Joseph to translate the plates of Nephi (D&C 10:41)."

IOW, the chart claims D&C 10 was not finalized until after Joseph arrived in Fayette, which doesn't make sense with the rest of the chronology.

Joseph said the Title Page was on the last leaf of the plates. He translated that before he left Harmony (because he had to get it printed and sent or delivered to the federal court). (BTW, I think I know where he got it printed but that's another blog post.)

The question is, given that D&C 10 is direction to Joseph when he was considering re-translating the Book of Lehi, at what point would Joseph consider that? Naturally, it would be when he neared or reached the end of the plates. That would put the receipt of D&C 10 before they left Harmony. So the narrative in OTH is correct, but the chart is wrong.

2. OTH's Footnote 84 quotes from an undated typewritten account of minutes from a meeting on April 25, 1918, purporting to relate Joseph F. Smith's account of his 1878 interview with David Whitmer here. The account varies in some respects from the contemporaneous formal report JFS submitted to President John Taylor and the Twelve 40 years previously. Here is the entire passage in blue, with the part quoted and paraphrased in Opening the Heavens in fuchsia and significant omissions in red.

When they started for New York Joseph told them how they would travel over the rolling country and over the prairie. He came to one of those rolling prairies as they were driving along and he described his wagon just as an ordinary wagon with two long poles in it at each end across the end gates of the wagon box, and then two boards laid across that for seats on those hickory poles. Joseph and Emma were on the hind seat and Oliver and David on the front seat

In the middle of this prairie, all of a sudden, there appeared a man walking along the road, and David said he raised his hat and rubbed his brow, as if it were a little warm, and said good morning to them, and they said good morning. Oliver and David looked at each other and began to marvel and wonder: Where did he come from, what does it mean? David described him saying he had on something like an old-fashioned knapsack, but of course a little differently formed, right across his shoulders, and on his back he was carrying something of considerable weight. 

They looked round to Joseph inquiringly: What does it mean? And Joseph said, "Ask him to ride." So David, who was teamster, asked him if he would get in and ride with them. He said, "No, I am just going over to Cumorah." David said, "Cumorah? Cumorah? What does that mean?" He had never heard of Cumorah, and he said, I thought I knew this country all around here, but I never heard of Cumorah" and he inquired about it. While he was looking around and trying to ascertain what the mystery was the man was gone, and when he looked back he did not seem him any more. Then he demanded, "What does it mean?" 

Joseph informed him that the man was Moroni, and that the bundle on his back contained plates which Joseph had delivered to him before they departed from Harmony, Susequehanna County, and that he was taking them for safety, and would return them when he (Joseph) reached father Whitmer's home. There was a long talk about this.

Opening the Heavens paraphrases the last two paragraphs this way: "The plates were carried to Fayette by Moroni in a bundle on his back." 

In both Joseph F. Smith's contemporaneous 1878 statement and the typed 1918 statement, the messenger (whether it was Moroni or not) specifically said he was going to Cumorah, not Fayette. David related this on other occasions as well, as I've discussed here.

[as for the Moroni claim, I've discussed that here: https://saintsreview.blogspot.com/2018/09/the-mary-whitmer-problem.html]

Notice how perplexed David was when he heard the word Cumorah for the first time. Yet Opening the Heavens makes no mention of this. Unwary readers will conclude that the messenger said he was taking the plates to Fayette, not Cumorah, which contradicts the main point of the encounter because the messenger actually declined the ride to Fayette.

We wonder, why would Opening the Heavens censor and misrepresent David's account this way?

Because if the messenger was going to Cumorah, it means Cumorah is in New York.

That detail contradicts the premise for the entire Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C).

If you read the work of the intellectuals who promote M2C, you will see that they all treat this account as anathema. According to them, David Whitmer's memory was poor--after all, he made this statement in 1878--and he was incorporating the false tradition about the New York Cumorah started by Oliver Cowdery in 1835 when he wrote Letter VII.

Think about that a moment.

When you read Joseph F. Smith's account, you realize Oliver Cowdery was also present. Even if this was the only experience Oliver had with Cumorah (it wasn't), then this alone may have justified Oliver in concluding that the real Cumorah was in New York. In this sense, Letter VII corroborates David's account. Letter VII was first published in 1835, which contradicts the argument that David made up the Cumorah reference in 1878.

Historical interpretation is subjective, especially when there are conflicting accounts of an event. Like any jury, we try to reconcile such accounts based on the facts we have and our understanding of human perception and behavior. We end up choosing among the accounts and drawing inferences to derive a plausible explanation.

But here, regarding the Cumorah reference, there are no conflicting accounts. On multiple occasions, David Whitmer related this account of the messenger who said he was going to Cumorah. There are variations in the details about what the wagon was like, what Joseph said in response, and who was present (as the note says, other accounts say Emma was not there). This 1918 account by Joseph F. Smith itself varies in some details from his original report of his 1878 interview with David Whitmer, which he submitted to John Taylor. But in every case, the messenger said he was going to Cumorah and David did not know what that meant.

Interpreting history is fair game, but censoring important facts solely because they contradict one's preferred theory about Book of Mormon geography should not be condoned.

3. One could make the argument that the Cumorah reference is irrelevant to the timing of the translation, so omitting it is not censorship; i.e., it's an editorial decision. No harm, no foul. After all, everyone agrees the plates of Nephi did end up in Fayette. Does the Cumorah detour make a difference?

Obviously it makes a difference. A big difference. 

For one thing, Joseph gave the plates to the messenger before he left Harmony. Yet they encountered the messenger en route. This means Joseph, David and Oliver were traveling faster than the messenger. Plus, the messenger had the Cumorah detour. This means it is unlikely that the plates were available immediately when Joseph arrived in Fayette. He could have had a day or two or more in Fayette without any plates to translate.

According to the data in OTH and the presentation, Joseph translated the following number of pages in each location:

                    Harmony    Fayette
#words        201,143      68,367
#days                    53             21
words/day        3,795       3,256

OTH proposes that the speed of translation was slower in Fayette than in Harmony, even though Joseph was living with the Whitmer family and presumably had his physical needs met (unlike in Harmony when he had to seek help from Colesville, etc.).

It's possible that the additional scribes (two of the Whitmer brothers) worked slower than Oliver. Maybe there were other disruptions.

But it's also possible that he had fewer than 21 days because the messenger did not bring him the plates of Nephi for a few days. At least, this is a factor to consider.


Now, we know that the messenger did bring plates to Fayette because Joseph translated 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon 1:11 there. The question is, why did the messenger take a detour to Cumorah? And does this have anything to do with the timing of the translation beyond what I wrote above?

For me, the answer to the first question is obvious. Joseph took the original plates--the "original Book of Mormon" that he obtained from Moroni's stone-and-cement box on the Hill Cumorah--from Palmyra to Harmony. He translated them in full (except the sealed portion) when he was in Harmony. That's why he translated the Title Page--the very last leaf of the plates--when he was in Harmony. He was finished with "this record," as suggested in D&C 9.

Joseph gave the Harmony plates to the messenger, who returned them to the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6).

Then, because the Lord told Joseph to translate the original plates of Nephi (which we call the small plates), the messenger picked these up where Mormon had left them and brought them to Fayette. Joseph translated the plates of Nephi in Fayette.

This scenario explains many other anomalies in Church history. It's simple and straightforward.

So why is it not more widely known?

Because certain intellectuals in the Church insist there was no depository in the New York hill.

Promoters of the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory say David Whitmer made up the story, or was forgetful, but either way, he was wrong. They also say Oliver Cowdery was wrong when he said it was a fact that the final battles and Mormon's depository were in the same hill where Joseph got the plates. They say Joseph Smith perpetuated this false tradition. They say that when Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, and others related Oliver's account of actually visiting the depository in the New York hill, they were actually speaking of a vision Oliver had of a hill somewhere in Mexico. Actually, multiple visions. They say all the other prophets and apostles who have specifically affirmed Letter VII's teaching about the New York Cumorah, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference, were also wrong.

Any time you see the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, you are seeing a repudiation of the prophets and apostles.

And they seek to censor all of these historical accounts and prophetic teachings, just as they've done in OTH.

Notice the logo for the Neal A. Maxwell Institute that is on the podium of the first photo in this blog. It incorporates a Mayan glyph to represent the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory. I've discussed this here.

Every time you see this logo, you are looking at the repudiation of the prophets and apostles who have declared that Cumorah is in New York.

Ironically, this doesn't have to be. It is these intellectuals themselves who have insisted that Cumorah is not in New York because of their limited geography theory.
The podcast logo emphasizes the
Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory

I happen to agree that the events in the Book of Mormon could not have taken place throughout the western hemisphere, but if you have to choose between a Mesoamerican setting and a New York Cumorah, the choice is easy for me.

All the prophets and apostles who have spoken on this issue have said Cumorah is in New York.

And most important of all, the people who had actual experience there--Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery--taught this.

The intellectuals think they know more than the prophets and apostles. They like to say Joseph himself changed his mind over time and relied on scholars to determine where the Book of Mormon took place. They teach their students that Joseph, Oliver, and all their contemporaries were wrong about Cumorah because the New York hill "doesn't fit" the criteria the intellectuals have developed to support their Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.

This example of Mesomania is not the most egregious, but it is important for people to know how subtle Mesomania is. An otherwise outstanding presentation and reference book misleads its readers about the covered events solely to promote a particular agenda; i.e., promoting the Meosamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.

I'm grateful to the readers who asked about this presentation. I learned from it, and from the second edition of OTH.

But I also realized, sadly, that we have a lot of work left to do if we want people to know what the prophets and apostles have actually taught about the New York Cumorah.

*Book of Mormon Central (BMC) is a subsidiary of Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF), which announces its goals here: http://bmaf.org/about/mission_statement.

"Our goals are (1) to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex, 
(2) to correlate and publish works of LDS and CofC scholars, 
(3) to help promote unity and cooperation among scholars and students of the Book of Mormon, and 
(4) to provide a forum where responsible scholars can present current ideas and discoveries."

[Note: after I publicized their goals, they modified their website somewhat, but retained all the M2C-promoting content.]

Goals 2-4 are subservient to goal 1; i.e., they not only refuse to correlate, publish or provide a forum for scholars and students who disagree with the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, they go out of their way to attack any such scholars and students and refuse to publish responses to their attack articles.

Naturally, BMC fulfills its owner's mission statement. You can look at its web site and see how it promotes the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory exclusively in its "kno-why" articles, the material it puts in its archive, and its social media outlets.

I give BMC credit for one effort at honesty and neutrality: they put the first edition of my little book, Letter VII, in their archive. Of course, they followed that with a lengthy article attacking the book and refused to post my response to the attack article. But at least people who go to the site have one chance to learn about Letter VII. This one exception to their editorial policy prevents them from being a 100% censor. They only censor about 99.5% of the material that contradicts their Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.

[Note: After I wrote this blog, BMC removed my Letter VII book from their archive.]


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Letter VII #5 bestseller - Mormonism new releases

Some readers might like to know that the new preview edition of Letter VII: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery Explain the Hill Cumorah is currently #5 on Amazon's new releases in Mormonism. It was higher a few days ago but I didn't capture the screenshot.

Thanks to everyone who purchased a copy and I hope you share it with people you know.

Monday, December 11, 2017

New edition of Letter VII book

I'm giving readers of the blog a preview of a new version of Letter VII that will be released in 2018. The new subtitle is "Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery Explain the Hill Cumorah."

This version incorporates some new research and feedback.

While Oliver wrote and signed the letters, Joseph helped him and had his scribes copy the letters into his own journal as part of his life story. The letters are not formally considered "Joseph Smith Documents" because he didn't write them per se, but he wrote very little himself. These letters are so closely related to Joseph, and endorsed by him on multiple occasions, that I thought the new subtitle is was more accurate.

Also, as I've mentioned before, when Joseph ordained Oliver as Assistant President of the Church in December, 1834, he explained the calling included the role of spokesman. That's why Oliver was the one who ordained the first Twelve Apostles and gave them their Apostolic Charge. It was in that role, as Assistant President of the Church, member of the First Presidency, and spokesman, that Oliver wrote Letter VII.

You can see the new version here at this link.

Or you can go to Amazon and search for "letter VII joseph and oliver"

Until Christmas, it's on a promotional price of $5.99 on Amazon.