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.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

M2C is purely metaphorical

Today I realized that M2C is purely metaphorical.

Think about it.

M2C is founded on two premises:

(i) we cannot take the teachings of the prophets literally and

(ii) there are "similarities" between the Nephites/Lamanites and the Mayans, which they call "correspondences."

These similarities or correspondences are the sum total of the evidence for M2C, but of course similarities are not actually evidence. 

Thinking of M2C as a metaphor has all kinds of benefits. People don't have to infer volcanoes (or what I like to call the three Js-jungle, jade, and jaguars). They don't have to change the text to fit. Best of all, they don't have to repudiate the prophets.

But we can learn useful things from the M2C metaphor, such as how ancient people actually lived. This helps give context and meaning to the text, whether we are studying ancient Mayans, Chinese, or Egyptians.

Maybe this is the best way to salvage what is useful from M2C.

To understand M2C as a metaphor, take a common example of a metaphor: "the city is a jungle." Would anyone understand such a statement to mean that a city is literally a jungle? Of course not. Would any court accept such a statement as evidence that a city is actually a jungle? No.

But the metaphor helps us understand attributes of a city, such as a functioning chaos, fierce competition, domination by certain people (who are compared with dominant species), etc.

In the same way, M2C simply compares similarities between different things--the Mayans and the Nephites. This is the definition of a metaphor.

In this sense, M2C is a useful metaphor. We could have used ancient Chinese society as well, but the metaphor helps us recognize characteristics of ancient societies that were also found among the Nephites and Lamanites.

An elaborate metaphor
This has always been the great contribution of John Sorenson, as I recognized in my book Moroni's America years ago. What we learn about the Mayans (or the ancient Chinese, or ancient Egyptians, or any other ancient culture) helps us learn about the Nephites.

Not because the Nephites were Mayans or Chinese, but because they had similar levels of technology, similar principles of organizing, similar agricultural practices, etc.

It should be obvious that such metaphors do not mean the Nephites lived among the Mayans, Chinese or Egyptians.

The big mistake of M2C was taking this metaphorical comparison and trying to transform it into factual evidence that the Nephites were literally Mayans (or vice versa). 

To do so, they had to reject Joseph's translation and supply their own, both by interpreting the language in the text in odd ways (tapirs = horses, west = north, etc.) and by making non-textual inferences such as the presence of volcanoes. Plus, and maybe worse, they had to repudiate the clear, unequivocal, repeated teachings of the prophets that there is one Cumorah and it is in New York.

In a way, we could say there is a fine line between reality and metaphor. Comparing Thing One to Thing Two would not be a metaphor if both Things were actually the same thing.

But then, of course, it wouldn't be a comparison. It would be a description.

How does the M2C metaphor far in reality?

Not a single Nephite/Lamanite or even Hebrew artifact dating to Book of Mormon times has ever been found in Mesoamerica.

Every "correspondence" is not only not factual evidence, but the interpretation is highly subjective. M2C is the purest form of confirmation bias possible.

This is also true of the North American setting, as the M2C intellectuals are eager to point out. I readily agree there are plenty of subjective "correspondences" between the Nephites and the archaeology, anthropology, etc. of North America, just as there are correspondences between the Nephites and the Mayans. In both cases, people are confirming their biases when they interpret these correspondences.

But in terms of Book of Mormon historicity, there are some facts. The only definite Nephite artifacts we know of were found in New York:

(i) those in Moroni's stone box on the Hill Cumorah in New York (the only specimen of Nephite cement we have) and

(ii) those in Mormon's depository of Nephite records in the same hill.

(Note: If you're an M2C follower, you'll object that there was no depository in New York because Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Wilford Woodruff were not speaking literally when they related how Joseph, Oliver and others entered that hill. That's the first indication that M2C is purely a metaphor; i.e., they don't take the teachings of the prophets literally.)

Beyond these two facts, there are the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, which would not satisfy those who don't believe the prophets. But for those who accept the prophets, the New York Cumorah is a given.

This may all be obvious to you, but it wasn't to me until recently, when one of the M2C intellectuals objected to my observation that the Mesoamerican setting is metaphorical. (That's not even counting the 2C (two-Cumorahs) component, which is even more fanciful and which directly contradicts the teachings of the prophets.)

Actually,*I had been referring to the BYU/CES fantasy map, which may not even rise to the level of metaphorical because it is pure fantasy; i.e., not comparable to any real object.

The M2C scholar insisted "There's absolutely nothing "metaphorical" about a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon. The dirt and stones there are as real as they are anywhere else."

The first sentence struck me as a nonsequitur because of the point made by the second sentence. Here's how.

Everywhere on the planet we find "dirt and stones" (except on the surface of the sea, but no one thinks the Book of Mormon describes Waterworld.) Consequently, every theory of Book of Mormon geography is "real" in the sense that it ties the Book of Mormon to the real world.

The only exception is the very one I referred to: i.e., the fantasy map being taught by BYU and CES.

Consequently, it could be that this M2C intellectual was distinguishing the BYU map from the Mesoamerican setting, which would be a fascinating separate discussion because the map was developed and is being taught by members of the M2C citation cartel and this particular intellectual has never, so far as I known, objected to the fantasy map.

Come to think of it, why would he object?

BYU fantasy map showing Cumorah anywhere
but New York, thereby teaching the students to
believe the scholars instead of the prophets.
After all, the fantasy map was developed by using the Sorenson translation and the M2C interpretation of the text and is designed to groom students into accepting M2C once they're out from under the constraints of the BYU administration which has told the professors to stop teaching M2C (although they continue to do so anyway, according to students who report to me what's going on in their Book of Mormon classes at BYU).

Look at the fantasy map and you'll see what the M2C scholars wish Mesoamerica looked like.

Of course, it looks nothing like the real Mesoamerica. It looks nothing like anyplace on the actual planet Earth.

For the "real-world" interpretation, you have to go to BYU Studies, which features a link right on its home page to the "plausible" setting for the Book of Mormon, which, no surprise, is Mesoamerica.

BYU Studies version of Cumorah, designed to teach
readers that the prophets are wrong, so students should
believe the scholars instead.
BYU Studies gets away with this because... I'm not sure why, apart from pure Groupthink and confirmation bias.

The reason doesn't matter because everyone who reads BYU Studies, and certainly everyone who contributes to it, is expected to believe M2C.

The map serves to confirm their biases.

It also serves to groom the "seasoned" members of the Church who have never learned the BYU or CES fantasy approach to the Book of Mormon.

But now, thinking of M2C as a metaphor, we don't have to conclude that the prophets are wrong. We can look at these maps and see how ancient people moved around, what they ate, how they organized, etc. Then we can look for similarities in Nephite culture that help us understand the text.

What we need to stop doing is pretending a metaphor is a reality.

Those interested can look at the definition of a metaphor and see how it applies. Here's the Oxford Dictionary definition:

A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. ‘when we speak of gene maps and gene mapping, we use a cartographic metaphor’

Grammarly explains it this way:

A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn’t literally true, but helps explain an idea or make a comparison.

Here are the basics:

A metaphor states that one thing is another thing
It equates those two things not because they actually are the same, but for the sake of comparison or symbolism
If you take a metaphor literally, it will probably sound very strange (are there actually any sheep, black or otherwise, in your family?)
Metaphors are used in poetry, literature, and anytime someone wants to add some color to their language

*I'm not providing the link for several reasons, but mainly because the original conversation is irrelevant to this post, once it provided the seed for this thought.

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