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, June 19, 2019

Does the Book of Mormon matter?

Yesterday Jana Reiss published an important article about how the Church addresses people in their 20s and 30s.


She concludes: "I don’t think they will move the needle back to the way things used to be, for three reasons." Her reasons are (i) social issues, (ii) disaffiliation in society overall, and (iii) young people resist centralized authority.

I found this interesting because two words never came up in her article: truth, and Book of Mormon.

People still respond to truth.

Gospel living has always entailed some contrast with society as a whole.

It seems to me that skepticism about truth claims is a more basic problem than the reasons Reiss identified, and the 20 changes she listed have little to no bearing on the truth claims.

In fact, the Saints book (#16 on her list) created a false historical present purely to accommodate M2C.

We've seen how half of Millennials and even some BYU professors no longer believe the Book of Mormon is an authentic history.

That's an easily predictable outcome when BYU and CES teach the Book of Mormon with fantasy maps, especially when those maps are a pretext for teaching the M2C hoax.

Here's another change Reiss should have mentioned: The Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography.

Now, "the Church’s only position is that the events the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas."

That is a big change from the past and seems to be another accommodation to younger people who have been taught M2C their entire lives, but it's not exactly a reaffirmation of what the prophets have taught. It is difficult to see how this watering down of the teachings of the prophets will build faith.

Thanks to employees at BYU, CES and COB who believe in and promote M2C, very few Millennials or GenXers are familiar with the following teachings that have long been part of the Church's truth claims:

"The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon."

"This modernistic theory (M2C) of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years." 

"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."

"At about one mile west rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former, leaving a beautiful vale between. The soil is of the first quality for the country, and under a state of cultivation, which gives a prospect at once imposing, when one reflects on the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.

By turning to the 529th and 530th pages of the book of Mormon you will read Mormon’s account of the last great struggle of his people, as they were encamped round this hill Cumorah."

"In the western part of the state of New York near Palmyra is a prominent hill known as the “hill Cumorah.” (Morm. 6:6.) On July twenty-fifth of this year, as I stood on the crest of that hill admiring with awe the breathtaking panorama which stretched out before me on every hand, my mind reverted to the events which occurred in that vicinity some twenty-five centuries ago—events which brought to an end the great Jaredite nation."

The point of the Restoration was bringing truth to the world and establishing Zion. The Book of Mormon was a critical element. The keystone, actually.

And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem.
(Moses 7:62)

Moving away from truth claims about the Book of Mormon seems to be the opposite of sweeping the earth with truth. Replacing those truth claims with M2C and fantasy maps is even worse.

And what about establishing Zion? Everyone seeks a just, fair, and loving society, with no poor among us and everyone seeking to serve and honor others.

The world has shown itself unable to establish Zion, despite an abundance of resources, teachings, and aspirations. That's because establishing Zion requires a change of heart. It's a process, not a goal, and the gospel can make it a reality.

But hardly anyone even knows about this because no one talks about it any more.

That's a topic for another time and place.

Let's get back to the Book of Mormon.

Yesterday we saw how the underlying premise of M2C is fake. That's why I call it a hoax.

The M2C hoax reminds me of this: Whatever you think and believe will very much shape your reality." -

M2C advocates have long maintained that the Mesoamerican setting is evidence of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon because Joseph could not have known about ancient civilizations in Mesoamerica.

The premise is fake because long before Joseph translated the plates, the ancient civilizations in Mesoamerica were well known. (Plus, the Book of Mormon doesn't describe Mesoamerica anyway, but that's a separate topic.)

The originator of M2C, an RLDS scholar named H.A. Stebbins, recognized that the premise of M2C would be invalid if, in fact, Joseph knew about ancient Mesoamerican civilizations before he translated the plates. In 1897, Stebbins wrote an article attempting to rebut the evidence that these civilizations were well known. Basically, he claimed the Europeans didn't know about the Mesoamerican ruins until after 1830, which may or may not be true but it's irrelevant because, as we saw yesterday, Humboldt's book was on sale in Palmyra in 1819. This is getting too far into the weeds, but if you're interested, email me and I'll email you the reference.

Once LDS intellectuals adopted the Stebbins M2C theory, they ran with it. Let's look at some of the LDS intellectual background for M2C.

Extract from John Lloyd Stephens,
one of the displays at the "Worlds of Joseph Smith"
symposium at the Library of Congress
The M2C hoax was on full display at the disastrous Library of Congress event in 2005. That event, titled "The Worlds of Joseph Smith," portrayed the Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican document. Speakers described Joseph Smith as ignorant, speculative and dependent on intellectuals. I discussed that conference here.

Here is an excerpt from a presentation at that conference:

Consequently,  what  Joseph  Smith  knew  and  understood about the book ought to be research questions rather than presumptions. Thanks  in  large  part  to  his  critics,  it  is  becoming  clear that Joseph Smith did not fully understand the geography, scope, historical scale, literary form, or cultural content of the book.

What is clear is that Joseph did not understand the M2C interpretation of the text. Having been tutored by Moroni, and having visited the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah in New York, the plains of the Nephites in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, the site of Zelph's burial, etc., Joseph understood the content of the book quite well. 

He explained what Moroni taught him: "I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity,  about the culture, mode of transportation, and other features."   

For  example,  early  Mormons  believed  Book  of  Mormon  lands stretched  throughout  all  of North  and  South  America,  a  presumption clearly at odds with the book itself (fig. 1a).⁸

Some early Mormons believed that, but only a handful wrote about that theory. Projecting the ideas of a few onto an entire population is a logical fallacy, of course. Here, it's even worse than usual because Joseph Smith explicitly rejected the hemispheric model. 

When he wrote the Wentworth letter, he based it on Orson Pratt's pamphlet, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions. In that pamphlet, Pratt had spent several pages outlining the hemispheric model. Joseph crossed out that section and replaced it with this: "the remnant [of the Nephites and Lamanites] are the Indians that now inhabit this country." Recall that he was writing from Nauvoo Illinois to an editors in Chicago Illinois. When he wrote "this country" he was not writing about Mesoamerica.

BTW, if you google "Wentworth letter," don't go to the first link. That one goes to the lesson manual, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith. The curriculum committee (which is dominated by M2C believers) edited out Joseph's teaching about the Indians. Fortunately, the full Wentworth letter slipped past the censors into the Ensign in 2002, and you can still find it here.)]

The book speaks specifically only of a limited land about the size of Pennsylvania. 

Anyone can read the text and see that its descriptions of geography are anything but specific. The M2C interpretation confines it to a small area because that's the only way the M2C intellectuals can make it fit. (Ironically, Pennsylvania is a lot closer than southern Mexico.)

In 1842, after reading about ancient cities in Central America, Joseph speculated that Book of Mormon lands were located there (fig. 1b). 

Joseph as speculator, the framing every intellectuals loves because it elevates the scholars above the prophets. This sentence is a double hoax because ancient cities in Central America were known from at least 1804, when von Humboldt visited President Thomas Jefferson and told him about the ruins there, and because Joseph had nothing to do with the anonymous 1842 Times and Seasons articles.

I derive two lessons from his speculation: First, Joseph did not know exactly where Book of Mormon lands were; second, he considered their  location  an  important  question  addressable  through scholarship.

Here is the self-serving repudiation of the prophets accompanied by the inevitable demand for full employment of scholars. 

BTW, almost every time you attend an academic conference such as this, at least one speaker will emphasize how important it is to continue more research. Scholars are understandably dependent on the financial support (and gullibility) of ordinary people, but in many cases, they are spending your money on rabbit holes that lead nowhere.

I'm all in favor of more information, but the M2C hoax has consumed millions of dollars and untold hours of wasted effort, all because the scholars decided the prophets were mere speculators, misleading the Church with their incorrect opinions. 

You can go through the work of the M2C citation cartel and find nothing but M2C all the time. The cartel includes FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, BYU Studies, Meridian Magazine, and everyone who supports and reproduces their M2C materials.

The cartel resorts to censorship, obfuscation, and similar tactics to maintain M2C. But ultimately, they can't suppress the teachings of the prophets forever.

Or, maybe they can.

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