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.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Getting real about Cumorah - Part 4a, what should happen at BYU Studies

People wonder what I think the outcome of "getting real about Cumorah" should be. It's an excellent point, so I'll list a few of the things that would happen if we all decided to get real about Cumorah and reject the entire M2C narrative (M2C stands for Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory).

In this post, we'll look at BYU Studies. It's a good place to start because BYU Studies not only promotes M2C, it doesn't even acknowledge alternative points of view. In fact, it rejects them out of hand.

This is an absurd approach for a supposedly academic journal to begin with, but it's even worse when the editorial point of view requires readers to reject the consistent and clear teachings of LDS prophets and apostles for over 150 years.

If we got real about Cumorah, BYU Studies would begin by changing its web page by removing maps of Mesoamerica showing "Cumorah" in southern Mexico as the "plausible" location. Look at this link:


We have to give them credit for clever semantics. Consider the heading:

Plausible Locations of the Final Battles

By implication, Cumorah locations other that those shown here, such as the New York Cumorah, are "not plausible." At a minimum, the title should read "Some Plausible Locations of the Final Battles once you reject Letter VII" or "Possible Locations of the Final Battles assuming LDS prophets and apostles are wrong."

At least those titles would explain in what sense the locations shown are "plausible." I think many, hopefully most, LDS would not agree with the premise that Letter VII is wrong. They would not consider these M2C locations plausible at all.

Nor should they.

The web page shows this map:

Here is the justification published along with the map, with the original in blue and my comments in red:

Though evidence from the Book of Mormon is not conclusive, (this is their nod to neutrality, but the rest of this sentence betrays them) final battles of the Nephites and the Jaredites probably took place not far north of the narrow neck of land. Basic M2C interpretation conflates "narrow neck" (Alma 63:5) with "small neck" (Alma 22), "narrow neck of land (Ether 10:20), and "narrow passage." (Mormon 2:29). Most students of the Book of Mormon find significance in the use of terminology. They wouldn't think of substituting words for what appears in the text, except maybe where explicit synonyms are explained, as when Nephi explained that Irreantum means both sea and many waters. But to make their geography theories work, M2C proponents such as BYU Studies have to assume these different terms all relate to the same geographic feature. Maybe they do. I won't exclude that as a possibility. But maybe they don't, and if your reason for rejecting Letter VII is that you conflate these terms as a given, then you need to rethink your approach. This is one of the reasons why I think the M2C promoters make such a hash out of Book of Mormon geography.

As shown, the Nephites marched from Angola, through David, and eventually came to the city of Joshua (see Mormon 2:4–6). Nephite defense lines lay in Joshua for fourteen years; finally they collapsed, and Nephites retreated across the narrow neck of land, fleeing to various sites (see Mormon 2:16). You can read Mormon 2 as many times as you want but you won't find a reference to the "narrow neck of land." The only reference in the entire text to that feature is Ether 10:20. It was a Jaredite term. Of course, BYU Studies wants people to think the "narrow neck of land" is the 137-mile wide, 120-mile long Isthmus of Tehuantepec. This is the kind of evidence that, shall we say, falls a wee bit short of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. When you rely on this sort of flimsy evidence as the reason why you reject the prophets and apostles, it appears you're trying extra hard to reject the prophets and apostles.

The hill Ramah/Cumorah, upon which both the Jaredites and Nephites fought their last battles (see Ether 15:11; Mormon 6:4–6), is shown here on the northwestern edge of the Tuxtla Mountains in Mexico, about ninety miles from a narrow pass (see Mormon 3:5). Other Jaredite locations, including Omer's flight to Ramah (see Ether 9:3), are also shown here. Again, these locations are plausible, but not definite. These locations are only "plausible" once you reject the prophets and apostles. For that reason, if we're going to get real about Cumorah, BYU Studies needs to remove these maps and everything else on its page that reflects M2C.

There is an alternative that BYU Studies could consider. If they want to align with the Church's neutrality policy (whatever that really means), they could include the New York Cumorah as an alternative to their M2C theory.

IOW, they could let their readers know that maybe, just maybe, there's a teeny tiny outside chance that Letter VII and all the prophets and apostles who have affirmed the New York Cumorah had it right after all.

Actually, I'd like to see this dual approach displayed not only at BYU Studies but throughout the world of LDS intellectuals. Let the people see that there are two choices about Cumorah. Either it's in New York as the prophets and apostles have said, or it's somewhere else.

In my view, if it's somewhere else, it doesn't really matter where that somewhere else is, but I recognize that many people have other settings for Cumorah that are important to them.

I won't take the time to examine the editorial slant in the content of BYU Studies, but you can peruse it and see for yourself whether it supports or opposes the prophets and apostles on the Cumorah question.

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