The significance of this point cannot be overstated.
Recall that Brother Sorenson had published two lengthy articles in the Ensign the year before this book was published by Deseret Book and heavily promoted by FARMS and LDS intellectuals generally.
Beginning in the 1970s, but especially after this book was published in 1985, thousands of students at BYU/CES have been carefully trained to reject the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, solely to establish M2C (Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory).
By now, it's considered quasi-heretical to believe what the prophets have taught about Cumorah.
If you get to the end of this post, you will see how the M2C intellectuals, their followers, and the M2C citation cartel have intentionally misled members of the Church about Church history and the teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah. This includes BYU/CES staff and their fantasy maps.
They have edited several key statements by Church leaders, taken others out of context, and omitted others completely to persuade members of the Church to believe them, the M2C intellectuals, instead of the prophets and apostles.
As usual, quotations from the text are in blue, my comments in red.
We'll look at the first five pages of the book, starting with page 1.
The Book of Mormon Mapped
Before any other type of investigation, we must establish where the Book of Mormon story took place within the western hemisphere. p.1.
I think most LDS agree with this, although settings outside the western hemisphere have also been proposed, based on the text alone. That's why it's irrational to concoct an "internal" map based solely on the text.
IMO, you could find a setting for the Book of Mormon just about anywhere in the world in just about any ancient human culture, so long as you are willing to supply definitions of terms that suit your preferred setting. Those who refuse to heed the words of the prophets are "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (2 Timothy 3:7)
If it occupied all the two American continents, we should know that. If a restricted territory was the scene, then that fact is essential. To mistake the geography would involve us in a set of entrained errors that would inevitably flaw any conclusions we made.
Let's repeat that last sentence: To mistake the geography would involve us in a set of entrained errors that would inevitably flaw any conclusions we made.
In my view M2C is a set of cascading errors, starting with mistakes in Church history and compounded by ignoring/suppressing historical evidence that contradicts M2C, inventing "requirements" that point to Mesoamerica using circular reasoning, re-defining and conflating terms in the text so they support M2C, making illusory "correspondences" between Mayan and Nephite culture, etc. All of these are on display in Brother Sorenson's book, as well as the other materials published by the M2C citation cartel.
If we were not to know where, and of course when, to find our comparative data, we might as well attempt to shed light on the Book of Mormon by assuming a setting in Spain or Siberia.
The irony of this statement is, we could find illusory correspondences in Spain, Siberia, or wherever else we looked, just as easily as M2C intellectuals find such illusory correspondences in Mesoamerica.
In a sense, this is a feature, not a bug; i.e., if people anywhere in the world want to liken the scriptures to themselves, they can relate to the Book of Mormon by making this type of comparison.
|BYU fantasy map that portrays the Book of Mormon|
as a fictional parable
But that approach comes with the risk of converting the Book of Mormon into a sort of parable, the way the BYU/CES fantasy maps do. If the Book of Mormon could have taken place anywhere, and the "best fit" is a fantasy map the way BYU/CES claim, then how could it be an actual history of actual people?
If we stick with what the prophets have taught about Cumorah, at least we know the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient history. That's why President Cowdery was so specific about the New York setting, actually; he was refuting anti-Mormon claims that the book was fiction. Today, Letter VII refutes the BYU/CES fantasy maps.
People anywhere in the world can still liken the text to themselves, the same way they do with the Bible. But at least we know the events actually took place on planet Earth, and that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in western New York at the hill Cumorah.
A Map by Authority?
Many Latter-day Saints facing problems like Book of Mormon geography automatically turn to the leaders of the Church for answers.
Not merely automatically, but with good reason, since these Church leaders have consistently taught that Cumorah is in New York.
It seems appropriate, then, to begin by determining whether or not Book of Mormon geography has already been settled by these leaders.
Here is the first hint of what's coming. The question is a red herring, framing the question as an appeal to extremes; i.e., no one suggests that "Church leaders" have "settled" "Book of Mormon geography." Everyone involved with this issue knows that this question, framed this way, has not been answered. If it had, we wouldn't be reading Brother Sorenson's book.
The legitimate question is not whether Church leaders have "settled Book of Mormon geography," but whether they have settled any element of Book of Mormon geography. As we'll see, the answer to that question is unequivocally YES.
The historical sources give no indication that Moroni's instructions to young Joseph Smith included geography, nor did Joseph Smith claim inspiration on the matter.
There is no point speculating about Brother Sorenson's motives are here, but we can say this statement ignores inconvenient facts that contradict M2C and thereby misleads his readers. Of course, Brother Sorenson does not claim to be an expert in Church history, but these are two unequivocal statements that don't withstand scrutiny. Yet they are part of the foundation of M2C. You will hear these claims still repeated today by M2C intellectuals and their followers.
Lucy Mack Smith said Joseph referred to the hill in New York as Cumorah even before he got the plates. http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/lucy-mack-smith-history-1845/111 Joseph could only have learned that name from Moroni, of course. People can confirm their M2C bias by rejecting what Lucy wrote as her bad or conflated memory, but the only reason to doubt what she wrote--and notice, she was quoting Joseph--is M2C dogma.
Parley P. Pratt, in Chapter 8 of his autobiography, described his mission to the Lamanites with Oliver Cowdery in 1830-1831. He related how he described the Book of Mormon to the Indians: "This Book, which contained these things, was hid in the earth by Moroni, in a hill called by him, Cumorah, which hill is now in the State of New York, near the village of Palmyra, in Ontario County."
Here we have Moroni himself calling the hill Cumorah. Again, people can confirm their M2C bias by rejecting what Parley wrote as his bad or conflated memory, but the only reason to doubt what he wrote is M2C dogma.
John Corrill met these missionaries in Ohio in 1830. Here is his account: "Sometime in the fall of 1830, Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Peter Whitmer [Jr.] and Tiba [Ziba] Peterson, came through the county of Ashtabula, Ohio, where I then resided, on their way westward. They professed to be special messengers of the Living God, sent to preach the Gospel in its purity, as it was anciently preached by the Apostles. They had with them a new revelation, which they said had been translated from certain golden plates that had been deposited in a hill, (anciently called Camorah,) in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New York."
This corroborates what Pratt said, but people can confirm their M2C bias by rejecting what Corrill wrote as his bad or conflated memory. As always, the only reason to doubt what he wrote is M2C dogma.
The argument that Joseph did not "claim inspiration on the matter" is puzzling. Joseph didn't claim inspiration when he related what Moroni told him--he simply related what Moroni told him. President Cowdery's Letter IV has Moroni telling Joseph that the record of the Nephites was written and deposited not far from his home. That would mean Mormon and Moroni lived not far from Palmyra when they abridged the record. Oliver could have learned this only from Joseph himself. People can confirm their M2C bias by rejecting what President Cowdery wrote, but the only reason to do so is to protect M2C dogma.
Brother Sorenson's claim that Joseph did not "claim inspiration on the matter" is all the more bizarre when we remember that Joseph and Oliver, and others, actually visited Mormon's depository of Nephite records in the hill Cumorah in New York. You can see several accounts of this here. My commentary is here: http://www.lettervii.com/2017/07/mormons-repository-in-cumorah-explained.html
Again, people can confirm their M2C bias by rejecting what Brigham Young and others taught about the depository by framing it as a vision of a hill in Mexico, or as his bad or conflated memory, or maybe as lies told by Oliver Cowdery and Hyrum Smith, but the only reason to doubt these accounts of the depository is M2C dogma.
You see the pattern. Confirmation bias requires M2C proponents to disregard everything that contradicts their beliefs in M2C.
The point: Brother Sorenson either didn't know about or for some reason chose not to mention these historical accounts that contradicted his preferred narrative. Other M2C intellectuals and their followers have followed this course to confirm their M2C bias, but it's easy for those of us who don't share the M2C bias to see how important and credible these historical accounts are, at least with respect to locating the Book of Mormon Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) in western New York.
Ideas he later expressed about the location of events reported in the book apparently reflected his own best thinking.
This is a fascinating claim. First, Brother Sorenson ignored what the historical accounts said. Now he's speculating about Joseph's thought process. He doesn't mention Joseph's famous letter to Emma, when, from the banks of the Mississippi River on his way to Missouri as part of Zion's Camp, Joseph wrote, "The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest men and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionaly [sic] the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity." You can read the letter here:
Guessing at Joseph's mental state is a variation in the pattern: people can confirm their M2C bias by rejecting what Joseph wrote as his speculation or "best thinking," but the only reason to doubt what he wrote is M2C dogma. In this case Joseph was writing to Emma, who had acted as scribe and who, presumably, knew something about the Nephites.
To give you an idea of how strong confirmation bias can be, one M2C intellectual claims that Joseph couldn't have been referring to the Book of Mormon setting because the specific term "plains of the Nephites" doesn't appear in the text. Just go to your digital Book of Mormon and search for "plains" and see how many references there are to Nephite "plains."
What looks like the first consensual interpretation of Book of Mormon geography among him and his associates was sweeping: The land southward was the whole of South America; the land northward, the North American continent.
This is clever M2C rhetoric. There are no historical accounts of Joseph ever once embracing the hemispheric model. In fact, when he wrote the Wentworth letter, Joseph apparently used Orson Pratt's pamphlet, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, as a template or source. Pratt had spent considerable space discussing the hemispheric model. Joseph removed all of that and replaced it with the statement that "the remnant are the Indians who live in this country."
Long-time readers will recognize that as the passage in the Wentworth letter that the Curriculum Committee edited out when they prepared the lesson manual, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith. I explained this fascinating work here:
You ought to read the way the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers ignored this point and instead claimed that Joseph embraced M2C: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/appendix-orson-pratt-an-interesting-account-of-several-remarkable-visions-1840/22#historical-intro
It's true that some of Joseph's associates discussed the hemispheric model. In particular, the Pratt brothers did. Others, such as Benjamin Winchester, focused more on Central America. But there was always a big difference between speculation about Book of Mormon locations such as Zarahemla or Lehi's landing spot on one hand, and the location of Cumorah on the other. Not only did Joseph and his associates consistently and repeatedly identify the New York Cumorah as the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6, but not a single one of them ever questioned that location.
BTW, I discussed the hemispheric model briefly here:
One indicator of that is an 1836 record in Frederick G. Williams's handwriting attributing the statement to Joseph Smith that "Lehi and his company... landed on the continent of South America, in Chile, thirty degrees, south latitude." Church leaders B. H. Roberts and John A. Widtsoe, both careful critics, were hesitant to accept the statement's origin with the Prophet, yet it certainly wouldn't be surprising if the Prophet had once held this view, since other early Church members seem to have believed it. (Williams later claimed that the statement about Chile was made to him by an angel rather than by Joseph.) p.2.
Notice this: "It certainly wouldn't be surprising if the Prophet had once held this view." This is a way to prepare readers to reach the conclusion that Joseph was an ignorant speculator who misled the Church about Book of Mormon geography. As Brother Sorenson points out, not even Williams claimed Joseph told him about Chile! So why would we impute this to Joseph? You can see this piece of paper here. Oliver Cowdery's copy of some of the same material, but not the part about Chile, is here. (FWIW, for other reasons I think Lehi landed around the 30 degrees of latitude north (Florida). It's possible Williams heard something about 30 degrees and inferred it was 30 degrees south, but that's pure speculation at this point.)
In view of the fact that the Prophet's ideas matured on other subjects over time, his thinking on Book of Mormon geography could also have undergone change.
This is core, fundamental M2C dogma. There is not one shred of evidence that Joseph's teaching about Cumorah in New York ever changed or even wavered. By now, I hope readers know about the context of Letter VII, that Joseph's scribes copied into his personal history, the book that he kept with him until he died. Joseph's own brothers reprinted Letter VII; in fact, William Smith reprinted Letter VII in the New York City newspaper titled The Prophet, on June 26, 1844--just two days after the martyrdom. Joseph and the New York Cumorah were linked from before he even obtained the plates until after his death. The only "change" in "his thinking" about the New York Cumorah is in the imagination of M2C proponents, a product of M2C confirmation bias.
In 1842, an editorial in the Church newspaper the Times and Seasons (September 15, pages 921-22) asserted that "Lehi... landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien (Panama)." Joseph Smith had assumed sole editorial responsibility for the contents of the paper six months before (page 710), although John Taylor was the formal editor. The location mentioned is, of course, about three thousand miles north of the point in Chile mentioned in the Williams note.
I've written three entire books about the history of the Times and Seasons and the authorship of these anonymous editorials, but to summarize, Joseph was no more an actual editor of the paper than he was an actual printer. No one suggests Joseph went to the print shop and operated the printing presses; he is just as unlikely to have actually edited the paper.
There is not a single reference in his journal, or the journals of his associates, that show him editing anything other than his personal history (although we infer from his signature and the content that he edited/wrote the Wentworth letter). There is considerable evidence that he had no involvement at all with the Times and Seasons beyond articles/letters that he specifically signed.
I think Joseph's brother William was the acting editor, probably assisted by W.W. Phelps. William was editing and publishing the Wasp, another Nauvoo paper printed on the same printing press in the same print shop. Several times, William published the same items in both papers. One of William's friends, Benjamin Winchester, was a prolific author who had other anonymous articles published in the Times and Seasons. Because Winchester lived in Philadelphia, he was mailing material to William to publish. I don't think Joseph ever saw this material until he read the newspaper like everyone else--after it was printed.
Within a few weeks, another geographical item appeared in the newspaper. A remarkable bestseller of the time was John Lloyd Stephens' Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, published in 1841. The September 1842 issue of the paper gave an enthusiastic review of the Stephens book, with long extracts from the fascinating account, which described the wonders of the Maya ruins for the first time in a readily available English-language source. In commenting on the first extract, the unnamed writer stated that the Nephites "lived about the narrow neck of land, which now embraces Central America, with all the cities that can be found" (page 915). Two weeks later (October 1, 1842, p. 927), the writer reached a new conclusion:
"Since our "Extract" was published from Mr. Stephens' "Incidents of Travel" etc., we have found another important fact relating to the truth of the Book of Mormon. Central America, or Guatemala is situated north of the Isthmus of Darien and once embraced several hundred miles of territory from north to south. The city of Zarahemla, burnt at the crucifixion of the Savior, and rebuilt afterwards, stood upon this land." p. 3.
The editorialist added, with picturesque phrasing but commendable caution,
"We are not going to declare positively that the ruins of Quirigua [in Guatemala] are those of Zarahemla, but when the land, and the stones, and the books tell the story so plain, we are of the opinion, that it would require more proof than the Jews could bring to prove the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb, to prove that the ruins of the city in question, are not one of those referred to in the Book of Mormon."
M2C intellectuals and their followers like to attribute these articles to Joseph Smith, but they don't mention that these same issues of the Times and Seasons contain letters from Joseph that he sent to the actual editor for publication because he was in hiding. The letters became D&C 127 and 128. Remember that D&C 128:20 refers to Cumorah in the context of other events taking place in New York. Again, this Cumorah reference is consistent with everything else Joseph wrote or did regarding Cumorah, but because it contradicts the M2C narrative, the M2C intellectuals and their followers never tell you about it. When someone brings it up, they say Joseph was either confused or he was referring to a hill in Mexico!
We lack assurance that the newspaper statements were actually made by Joseph Smith, although he had taken editorial responsibility for the paper.
Here is commendable candor from Brother Sorenson--in a way. But look how it is phrased. "We lack assurance..." means we can't prove it for sure, but he was in charge, after all.
Neither can we be sure from any other source exactly what Joseph concluded on the matter.
If we can't "be sure" about the New York Cumorah, there is little we can be sure about what Joseph "concluded" on any matter. For example, there is less uncertainty and diversity about the New York Cumorah than there is about what happened during the First Vision, thanks to the 4 varying accounts about that event. Not only do we have the historical accounts I mentioned, among others, but we have the definitive declarations of Letter VII that Joseph endorsed multiple times and that were published during his lifetime and beyond. There is not even a hint in the historical record that Joseph ever questioned or speculated about the New York Cumorah.
Whether the Prophet Joseph personally believed that the Nephite lands were in Central America or not, leaders in daily association with him felt that this was the best answer to the question "where?"
While it's true that Joseph's associates had varying opinions about the rest of Book of Mormon geography, every one of those leaders taught that Cumorah was in New York.
Even more important for Latter-day Saints may be to realize that they considered it an open question, one to be pondered and researched, and they supplemented their scriptural study with the best resources from the limited secular scholarship available to them at that time.
This is a fair statement about all the non-Cumorah sites people speculated about, but it's not true of the New York Cumorah itself. The New York Cumorah was never an "open question" among Church leaders. At least, not through 1990. It has only been an "open question" among M2C intellectuals and their followers, for the obvious reasons stated by M2C dogma; i.e., the New York Cumorah is "too far" from Mesoamerica.
For those who do not share the M2C bias, the M2C complaint that New York is "too far away" is reason enough to reject Mesoamerica as the setting of any Book of Mormon events.
Twenty-one months after the Times and Seasons statements Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were dead. The events crowded into that hectic period before the martyrdom left the Prophet scant leisure for studies on the question of geography. However, an 1848 statement of Orson Pratt's shows the continuing influence of the ideas voiced in the Times and Seasons six years before. The Nephites, said Pratt, "inhabited the cities of Yucatan" at the time they were attacked and driven from the land southward; this obviously ruled out Panama as "the narrow neck of land."
|Orson Pratt's Cumorah footnote|
But for Cumorah, he expressed no equivocation. He stated affirmatively that "The hill Cumorah is in Manchester, Ontario County, N. York."
These footnotes were published from 1879 until 1920, when they were removed. Nevertheless, they demonstrate that while most aspects of Book of Mormon geography were considered to be "an open question," the New York Cumorah was definite.
Sheer survival was the chief concern of the Saints for the next generation. When, later in the nineteenth century, interest in Book of Mormon geography revived, Church leaders were careful not to let the Saints divide into camps on the question or to turn opinion into dogma. Elder George Q. Cannon, one of the intellectual forces of the Church at the time, said in 1890,
"There is a tendency, strongly manifested at the present time among some of the brethren, to study the geography of the Book of Mormon.... The brethren who lecture on the lands of the Nephites have often been asked to prepare a suggestive map illustrative of Nephite geography, but have never consented to do so. Nor are we acquainted with any of the Twelve Apostles, who would undertake such a task. The reason is, that without further information they are not prepared even to suggest [a solution]." 6
Because I think it's important to read President Cannon's statement in full, I published it here:
If you read it, you notice that he points out that "no two of [the brethren who lecture on the topic] are agreed on all points.... What is told us of the situation of the various lands... is usually simply an incidental remark... and almost invariably only extends to a statement of the relative position of some land or city to contiguous or surrounding places."
President Cannon clearly explains the futility of trying to derive a so-called "abstract model" from the text alone. The information given is simply too vague. And yet, BYU/CES are teaching the youth exactly such an "abstract model" that repudiates the prophetic teachings about the New York Cumorah.
M2C proponents at BYU/CES justify their fantasy maps as "the closest fit" to the text, based on the consensus of scholars who are experts on the Book of Mormon. Of course, when the text is inherently vague as President Cannon pointed out, the only way to reach consensus is by imposing it by means of authority of some kind. This is what M2C is all about; imposing their dogma on others by asserting the superiority of their training, experience, and intellect.
Besides, and more importantly, President Cannon said nothing about Cumorah. Remember, while he was First Counselor in the First Presidency, the official edition of the Book of Mormon contained Pratt's footnotes that speculated about the geography except for the New York Cumorah.
In another post, I pointed out that the other Counselor in the First Presidency at the time, Joseph F. Smith, republished Letter VII in the Improvement Era just 9 years after President Cannon made his statement about geography.
These Church leaders saw no inconsistency whatsoever between the certainty of the New York Cumorah and the uncertainty of everything else.
President Joseph F. Smith, Seventies President Anthony W. Ivins, and Apostle John A. Widtsoe were among later authorities who affirmed that the Church took no position on specific Book of Mormon locations.
You'll see below that contrary to Brother Sorenson's claim, Presidents Smith and Ivins both reaffirmed the New York Cumorah. It was the other locations that the Church took no position upon.
President Smith, for instance, when asked to approve a map "showing the exact landing place of Lehi and his company," declined, saying that the "Lord had not yet revealed it." 7
Notice, he was not asked about Cumorah. You can see the actual quotation in context here:
The comment is in a note at the end of an article about the route traveled by Lehi. Here's what it says:
"(Note. The present associate editor of The Instructor was one day in the office of the late President Joseph F. Smith when some brethren were asking him to approve a map showing the exact landing place of Lehi and his company. President Smith declined to officially approve of the map, saying that the Lord had not yet revealed it, and that if it were officially approved and afterwards found to be in error, it would affect the faith of the people.-- Asst. Editor.)"
With this in mind, consider that the same President Joseph F. Smith republished Letter VII in the Improvement Era. Was he concerned then that the New York Cumorah would afterwards be found to be in error? Would he have republished Letter VII if he was?
Of course not.
Elder Ivins cautioned in 1929, "There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles the question [of Book of Mormon geography]. So the Church says, yes, we are just waiting until we discover the truth."
This is the edited quotation that is perhaps the most misleading of all.
Brother Sorenson is not the only one to use this quotation this way; it is also used this way by the M2C citation cartel, including FairMormon, BMAF, the Intepreter, etc.
First, let's read it in context. President Ivins of the First Presidency spoke in General Conference in April 1929. You can read the report here:
Here's what he said.
"There is a great deal of talk about the geography of the Book of Mormon. Where was the land of Zarahemla? Where was the City of Zarahemla? and other geographic matters. It does not make any difference to us. There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question. So the Church says we are just waiting until we discover the truth. All kinds of theories have been advanced. I have talked with at least half a dozen men that have found the very place where the City of Zarahemla stood, and notwithstanding the fact that they profess to be Book of Mormon students, they vary a thousand miles apart in the places they have located. We do not offer any definite solution. As you study the Book of Mormon keep these things in mind and do not make definite statements concerning things that have not been proven in advance to be true."
Do you see the difference between what President Ivins actually said and how Brother Sorenson and the rest of the M2C citation cartel quote him?
He was not talking about "Book of Mormon geography" in the entirety; he was talking about the the city and land of Zarahemla and "other geographic matters."
But he was not referring to Cumorah!
Notice his language. "definitely settles" and "definite solution."
One year prior to this talk, President Ivins spoke in General Conference about the New York Hill Cumorah, which the Church had just purchased. He said the following facts were "definitely established:
"That the hill Cumorah, and the hill Ramah are identical.
"That it was around this hill that the armies of both the Jaredites and Nephites fought their great last battles.
"That it was in this hill that Mormon deposited all of the sacred records which had been entrusted to his care by Ammaron, except the abridgment which he had made from the plates of Nephi, which were delivered into the hands of his son, Moroni.
"We know positively that it was in this hill that Moroni deposited the abridgment made by his father, and his own abridgment of the record of the Jaredites, and that it was from this hill that Joseph Smith obtained possession of them."
Here, within one year, President Ivins of the First Presidency declares that
(i) we know positively that the hill Cumorah in New York is the hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6, and
(ii) the rest of the Book of Mormon geography remains a matter of individual study.
The New York Cumorah is "definitely established," just as much as the other locations are not "definitely settled."
I discussed this talk here: http://www.lettervii.com/2017/01/the-hill-cumorah-by-president-anthony-w.html
The prophets have been consistent, explicit and clear regarding both the New York Cumorah and the uncertainty about the rest of the Book of Mormon locations.
That's why any proposed geography that puts Cumorah somewhere else cannot possibly be correct.
Knowing this, the M2C intellectuals and their followers conflate the two issues. They try to persuade Church members that uncertainty about the rest of Book of Mormon geography extends also to Cumorah, but in so doing, they are repudiating the prophets.
This caution has been the consistent course followed ever since, leaving individuals free to examine and study the topic without getting Church authorities into the predicament of having to defend or refute someone's personal viewpoint.
This is another key point, but not in the way Brother Sorenson intends. The "consistent course" is a firm pin in the map--the New York Cumorah--with complete neutrality about all other locations.
By insisting that the location of Cumorah is as unknown and speculative as the rest of Book of Mormon geography, the M2C intellectuals and their followers have put Church authorities in the predicament of having to
(i) stay silent and let the words of their predecessors stand without additional comment,
(ii) reiterate yet again the words of their predecessors and thereby refute the personal viewpoints of the M2C intellectuals and their followers, or
(iii) agree with the M2C intellectuals, repudiate the words of their predecessors, and thereby refute not only past prophets and apostles but all the Latter-day Saints who believe the teachings of those prophets and apostles.
I think the M2C intellectuals and their followers have done and are continuing to do tremendous harm by putting Church leaders and members in the position of questioning the clear, unambiguous and consistent teachings of the prophets and apostles about the Hill Cumorah in New York.
This is why the M2C evidence has to be overwhelming and conclusive before we outright repudiate the prophets and conclude that they have been wrong.
Even from so brief an overview as this, it becomes clear that Church authorities from the time of Joseph Smith to the present have come to no consensus, made no authoritative statement, and reported no definitive solution to the question of Book of Mormon geography.
That's an outright false statement to the extent it includes the New York Cumorah.
Yet the problem has never seemed insoluble to them, only difficult. Elder Widtsoe felt that "out of diligent, prayerful study, we may be led to a better understanding of times and places in the history fo the people who move across the pages of the divinely given Book of Mormon." No, the Church authorities have not settled for us any of the major issues concerning the setting of the Book of Mormon. We must search elsewhere for answers.
Unless Brother Sorenson doesn't think the location of Cumorah is a major issue, he was either oblivious of what Church leaders have taught about the New York Cumorah, or his confirmation bias has blinded him to those teachings.
Either way, he has articulated here the basic M2C position: we should trust the scholars, not the prophets.
And the same claim is made by all the M2C intellectuals and their followers, including FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, BMAF, BYU Studies, etc.
As well as BYU, CES, etc.
Confirmation bias is a powerful psychological filter even when we're aware of it, and we all naturally tend to ignore information that contradicts our biases. Usually we don't even want to know about such information. Studies have shown that when people are faced with information that contradicts their biases, they find ways to rationalize it away, such as by questioning the legitimacy of the information, its source, or its relevance.
But the problem with M2C, as demonstrated by Brother Sorenson's highly influential book, is not merely confirmation bias.
M2C intellectuals have made a concerted, determined, and persistent effort to hide and suppress contradictory information that supports the teachings of the prophets.
If that sounds like crazy conspiracy talk, think a moment. Can you say that you learned about Letter VII at BYU or in CES?
I have yet to meet a single graduate from BYU/CES who was familiar with Letter VII before I told them about it (or before they read my books and blogs).
Most BYU/CES employees I've discussed this with had never heard of it before. Those few who have known about it immediately dismissed it as the product of ignorant speculation on the part of Oliver Cowdery.
In this post I have shown how Brother Sorenson set the table for M2C with a misleading presentation of Church history and the teachings of Church leaders.
All the M2C intellectuals have followed this approach. That's how we end up with displays of M2C on Temple Square, media images of M2C everywhere, fantasy maps at BYU and CES, etc.
In the next few weeks, we'll evaluate the evidence to see whether it is so overpoweringly conclusive that all members of the Church should repudiate the prophets the way the M2C intellectuals have.
And we'll see that, to the contrary, the evidence actually supports the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.
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