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.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The M2C triumvirate: hallowed hands throwing Joseph under the bus

President Nelson has asked us all to prepare for General Conference. "What does that look like? You may wish to begin your preparation by reading afresh Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price....  It is your personal preparation that will help April’s general conference become for you not only memorable but unforgettable. The time to act is now."

"Reading afresh Joseph Smith's account" of all of his experiences is an ideal way not only to prepare for General Conference but to understand the Restoration so we can all fulfill what President Nelson encouraged us to do. "God is trusting us, all of us, to play an important role in the Restoration of His gospel."

But if you "read afresh" Joseph Smith's accounts, you will discover that much of what he taught is missing from the M2C-inspired materials we see today. 

In his message, President Nelson quoted from the Wentworth letter. Another part of that letter provided the titles for the Saints books about Church history (discussed below): "the Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing."

We can all agree with Joseph's promise that "no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing."

But what about hallowed hands?

Today, we'll look at some of the ways in which the M2C triumvirate and their followers have managed to throw Joseph Smith under the bus.

[Note: there are several embedded links in this article if you'd like more information.]

First, some brief history for context. Then we'll look at specific examples of throwing Joseph under the bus.

When the triumvirate set up F.A.R.M.S. at BYU in 1980, the group had a significant obstacle.

Committed to the M2C theory that the "real Cumorah" was in southern Mexico, they had to find a way to persuade Church members that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah.

However, just two years before, in the October 1978 General Conference, Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had reaffirmed what prior prophets had consistently taught about the New York Cumorah.

Moroni’s father was commander of the armies of this ancient people, known as Nephites. His name was Mormon. The war of which we speak took place here in America some four hundred years after Christ. (See Morm. 6.)

As the fighting neared its end, Mormon gathered the remnant of his forces about a hill which they called Cumorah, located in what is now the western part of the state of New York.

Their enemies, known as Lamanites, came against them on this hill....

When finished with the record, Moroni was to hide it up in that same Hill Cumorah which was their battlefield. It would come forth in modern times as the Book of Mormon, named after Moroni’s father, the historian who compiled it....

So this is the message of Moroni. He came back from the dead to deliver it—in these modern times.

His people were Americans, too. His words constituted a people-to-people message, ancient Americans speaking to modern Americans.


Three years previously, President Marion G. Romney had also testified about the New York Cumorah in the October 1975 General Conference.

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.

This second civilization to which I refer, the Nephites, flourished in America between 600 B.C. and A.D. 400. Their civilization came to an end for the same reason, at the same place, and in the same manner as did the Jaredites’.

How did the triumvirate overcome the teachings of the prophets, which stood as an obstacle to M2C?

They employed the academic cycle. 

The wikipedia article on F.A.R.M.S. frames it this way:

Scholars, such as John L. Sorenson, say that the publications of FARMS represented a new trend within Mormonism: the emergence of progressive forms of Mormon orthodoxy. While its scholars are committed to literal interpretations of Mormon faith claims, they are willing to rethink traditional understandings of those claims. For example, FARMS has published a limited geography model for the Book of Mormon. This suggests that the events chronicled in the Book of Mormon occurred in a much smaller region than the traditional understanding, which argues the same events occurred across the entire Western hemisphere.

The conflation of a "hemispheric model" with the New York Cumorah is a red herring. The prophets always taught two things: The Hill Cumorah is in New York, and we don't know where the rest of the events took place. Some leaders (but never Joseph Smith nor Oliver Cowdery) speculated about a hemispheric setting, but it was never taught as a fact the way the New York Cumorah has been.

[Key point: Joseph did identify specific burial sites in the Midwestern U.S. as Jaredite and Nephite, respectively, a topic we'll discuss below.]

I was a student at BYU in the 1970s. They put me in an "Honors" program, apparently because I was a National Merit semifinalist (the only LDS and only boy from my high school in Arizona).

Brother Sorenson taught a group of us about anthropology and the Book of Mormon, focusing on Mesoamerica with the "progressive" slant. I didn't realize it then, but in retrospect I realize I was being groomed to trust the scholars instead of the prophets.

I was a willing subject, of course. I was enthralled with the Mesoamerican setting. Years later a friend of mine was an archaeologist who did a peer review of Brother Sorenson's early draft of what became An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. I still have a copy of that draft around here somewhere.

Like most LDS students today, I was dazzled by the credentials, confidence, and erudition of the M2C scholars. I was completely convinced by the M2C triumvirate, and F.A.R.M.S. in general, that they were right and the prophets were wrong.

Thanks to the academic cycle, M2C progressed right through the Church as we students entered the workforce and used our resources and abilities to further the work of the Restoration. We became leaders at various levels of the Church. We went out with the missionaries, we taught the youth, and we discussed all of these things with anyone who was interested.

Brother Sorenson published two articles in the Ensign about Mesoamerica. F.A.R.M.S. published numerous books, newsletters, and articles promoting M2C. Faculty at BYU and in CES taught it explicitly.

There was a bit of a setback in 1990. A ward member from Oklahoma wrote to President Hinckley, inquiring about the Hill Cumorah. Presumably he was trying to reconcile M2C with what he had always been taught.

In response, the Office of the First Presidency wrote this, dated October 16, 1990:

Dear Bishop ___: l have been asked to forward to you for acknowledgment and handling the enclosed copy of a letter to President Gordon B. Hinckley from Ronnie Sparks of your ward. Brother Sparks inquired about the location of the Hill Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon, where the last battle between the Nephites and Lamanites took place. 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. The Brethren appreciate your assistance in responding to this inquiry, and asked that you convey to Brother Sparks their commendation for his gospel study.  
Sincerely yours,

F. Michael Watson
Secretary to the First Presidency

The letter had been personally approved by each member of the First Presidency, consisting of Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas S. Monson, with their personal stamps, before it was sent out.

Obviously, it was a personal letter not intended for widespread dissemination, but it is a simple statement of fact, easily verified by consulting conference reports and other materials.

Yet it didn't slow down F.A.R.M.S. or the triumvirate at all.

In 1991, Brother Welch became Editor-in-Chief of BYU Studies. From then until the present, the journal has promoted M2C, featuring the map I posted yesterday and lots of M2C articles, book reviews, etc.

Numerous Ensign covers and other artwork depict M2C. Even the North Visitors Center on Temple Square teaches M2C.

Over the years, there were occasional setbacks, such as the "shake-up" at the Mormon Studies Review, reported here:
https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=54358137&itype=CMSID, and the eventual destruction of F.A.R.M.S., discussed here:

Despite the ups and downs, M2C has successfully indoctrinated millions of Latter-day Saints, few of whom even know what the prophets have taught on this subject.

Here are some examples of what the M2C academic cycle has produced as M2C followers have assumed various responsibilities in the Church.

1. Joseph Smith Lesson Manual. Remember the Wentworth letter from the beginning of this post? President Nelson quoted it in his message. The Saints books are named after phrases from the letter.

You can find the Wentworth letter in the lesson manual titled Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith.


If you go there, you will see that Church employees edited Joseph's words to omit (censor) material that contradicts M2C.

Original letter in blue (with the omitted portions in red): 

"Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God.

"In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the Tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country. This book also tells us that our Savior made His appearance upon this continent after His Resurrection;"

Because the employees deleted this important passage, very few members of the Church today know what Joseph Smith taught. 

True, you can find the original version of the Wentworth letter in the Joseph Smith Papers or in another (English) source, but the lesson manual is the principal source of Joseph's teachings for most members of the Church. It has been translated into most of the languages in the Church, including Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, German, etc.

Church members speaking those languages have no other source for the Wentworth letter than this edited and censored source!

You might ask, how did M2C influence this censorship? In two ways.

First, the statement bolded above--The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country--teaches that the Indians in the United States are the descendants of Lehi. This is consistent with D&C 28, 30 and 32. It is consistent with everything Joseph told those Indian tribes directly about their ancestors. But it isn't consistent with M2C because the Indians in the northeastern U.S. differ genetically from the indigenous tribes of Latin America (which includes Mesoamerica).

Second, the manual was published about the time when the DNA controversy surfaced. DNA demonstrates that the indigenous inhabitants of Latin America have Asian ancestry. (We'll save the discussion of DNA for another time.) Obviously, that discovery contradicted the claim that all the indigenous people of Latin America were Lamanites.

IOW, the manual omitted Joseph Smith's teachings because M2C-believing employees thought that science contradicted Joseph's teachings.

But as we just saw, the Indians Joseph identified as Lamanites--the Indians the Lord identified as Lamanites in D&C 28, 30 and 32--are distinct genetically from the indigenous people in Latin America.

It turns out that Joseph's teaching here was prophetic. At the time, no one knew there were two distinct ancient civilizations in what is now the United States. People knew there were mounds everywhere; hundreds of thousands of them were raided for treasure and plowed up for farmland. 

It wasn't until decades later that archaeologists and anthropologists determined there were two distinct civilizations. The older one, now called Adena, corresponds with Jaredite time frames. The less old one, now called Hopewell, corresponds with Nephite time frames.

Furthermore, on other occasions Joseph Smith personally identified burial ruins of what we now know as Hopewell as Nephites. He also personally identified burial ruins of what we now know as Adena as Jaredites.

To reiterate: long before archaeologists did, Joseph Smith distinguished between the two civilizations that lived anciently in what is now the Central and Eastern United States, and he specifically identified their bones as Jaredite and Nephite/Lamanite.

He taught this concisely and clearly in the Wentworth letter, but few Church members know it because the M2C censors edited Joseph's teachings out of the manual.

2. Saints book, volume 1.

By now, readers here are familiar with the censorship of Cumorah from the Saints book, volume 1.

The historians have admitted they changed Church history to accommodate modern concepts of historicity and geography, a euphemism for M2C. I've discussed all of this here:


The censorship of Cumorah is not the only M2C-driven change to Church history. I've described others in that blog, such as the fake story that it was Moroni who showed the plates to Mary Whitmer (It was one of the Three Nephites, and he called himself Nephi. Presumably this is the same Nephi who met with Joseph Smith numerous times, another topic for another day.)

Like the Joseph Smith manual, Saints has been translated into dozens of languages and is the only practical source of Church history for current and future generations.

Within a few years, no members of the Church will know anything about what the prophets have taught regarding the Hill Cumorah, except the historians and M2C scholars who have already censored it everywhere they can.

Well, there is an exception.

Many members of the Church learn what the prophets have taught from critics such as the CES Letter, Mormon Stories, the Tanners, various Christian ministries, etc.

Imagine being a youth, missionary, or ordinary member of the Church and learning for the first time from a critic of the Church what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah. Not exactly a faith-promoting scenario.

It's difficult to see how teaching "revisionist" Church history that omits these teachings because the M2C scholars disagree with them is preferable to teaching and embracing these teachings.

3. Saints book, volume 2. 

As I've pointed out, volume 2 of Saints is much better than volume 1.


However, there are obvious omissions driven by M2C that people should be aware of. I've discussed a couple here:



Long-time readers here know there are many other examples, including the fantasy maps used by BYU and CES.

We haven't even discussed SITH (stone-in-the-hat) and all the ramifications of that. We now have faithful scholars in the Church teaching that Joseph Smith didn't translate the plates. They say he didn't even use the plates. Others claim he used both the Urim and Thummim and the SITH, a claim that is unsupported by the sources. Still others support SITH by changing the meaning of the words Joseph used.

Of course, the SITH narrative contradicts the consistent and persistent teachings of the prophets over decades, just like M2C does.

I'll summarize the SITH issue with a table from my latest book, A Man That Can Translate:

There is another approach that is not purely historical in nature. It is the hierarchy of reliability, based on theological considerations. The following table categorizes the major witnesses/observers in descending order of reliability.

Evidence ranked by reliability
translation of 116 pages
translation of BofM

Moroni (Ether, JS-H, Letter IV, etc.)

D&C (Sections 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 14, 17)

Joseph Smith, Jr.

Oliver Cowdery

Lucy Mack Smith

Martin Harris

David Whitmer

Emma Smith

Mormonism Unvailed statements

Elizabeth Cowdery

William E. McLellin

Those who accept the scriptures as divine would by definition consider them reliable. Next would be Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, the principle participants in the translation.

The table shows that the most reliable evidence concurred that the Urim and Thummim—the Nephite interpreters—were provided by the Lord specifically for the purpose of translating the plates. They also concur that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim to translate the plates.

We'll continue this series next week, but in the meantime, I hope everyone takes the advice of President Nelson to read afresh the accounts of Joseph Smith.

Notice: President Nelson did not encourage us to read the commentaries. He did not encourage us to read scholarly interpretations.

He encouraged us to read the originals.

The originals contain the "good information" that leads to "good inspiration."

Read the account in the Pearl of Great Price (Joseph Smith--History). 

[Whatever you do, don't get distracted by the Gospel Topics Essay on Translation of the Book of Mormon that omits most of what Joseph said on the topic, including the relevant passages from Joseph Smith--History.\

Read what Joseph wrote in the Wentworth letter. 

[Just don't read the version in the manual. Read the original, entire and unedited (as Joseph specifically requested).]

You can still find a complete version in an old Ensign, here:

For the earliest detailed history of Joseph's experiences, read the eight essays he helped Oliver Cowdery write. You can find them in the Times and Seasons, the Messenger and Advocate, the Improvement Era, the Gospel Reflector, the Prophet, and the Millennial Star.

Notice: you won't find them in the Ensign. Yet.

But it's probably easiest to read them right in Joseph's own history, starting here:


Although they didn't discuss the First Vision in these essays, they did discuss the events leading up to Moroni's first visit through the restoration of the Priesthood, providing important details that are unfamiliar to many Church members.

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