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.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Skousen/Carmack and Early Modern English theory (EMET)

I'm among those few remaining Latter-day Saints who still believe Joseph Smith translated the Nephite plates with the Urim and Thummim. Some claim that makes me a "fundamentalist" or even a heretic, but I think there is strong extrinsic evidence to support what Joseph and Oliver claimed.

Nevertheless, the trend in the Church is toward embracing the new narrative that Joseph Smith didn't translate the Book of Mormon.

For example, this week Dan the Interpreter is going to interview Stanford Carmack. Carmack and Royal Skousen have worked together to create the "Early Modern English theory," or EMET.

I don't know how many ordinary people are interested in this topic, but it's not as difficult or complex as it is made out to be. Because it has important implications, I think Church members need to become familiar with EMET.

You can read the announcement here:

We have great respect for scholars such as Stanford, Royal, Dan, etc., even though they promote M2C, SITH, EMET, etc. They are all fine people, faithful Church members, etc. They make important contributions in many ways. But that doesn't mean we agree with everything they teach.*

EMET is a natural progression from M2C. M2C teaches that Joseph Smith didn't know much about the Book of Mormon and merely speculated about the New York Cumorah, the plains of the Nephites, Zelph, etc., and that he learned about the ancient civilizations in America not from Moroni and Nephi, but from scholars such as Stephens and Catherwood (hence the anonymous 1842 Times and Seasons articles that M2C relies upon).

Such theories enable the credentialed class to attract followers, fame and funding.

As we've seen the Academic Cycle insures that eventually, academic theories become mainstream. It has happened with M2C and SITH and will undoubtedly happen with EMET. There will be Ensign articles. There will be references in the Gospel Topics Essays. Eventually it will be in the manuals and missionary lessons.

Before EMET becomes mainstream, it's important for people to understand it so they can make informed decisions.

EMET teaches that Joseph Smith could not have translated the plates because the Book of Mormon text includes grammar elements of "Early Modern English" that were obsolete in Joseph's day. Joseph could not have known or imitated these elements.

Royal Skousen sums up their approach in the Foreword to his book The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon: Part Five: The King James Quotations in the Book of Mormon, (FARMS, BYU Studies, 2019), p. 6.

All of this quoting from the King James Bible is problematic, but only if we assume that the Book of Mormon translation literally represents what was on the plates. Yet the evidence in The Nature of the Original Language (parts 3 and 4) argues that the Book of Mormon translation is tied to Early Modern English, and that the themes of the Book of Mormon are connected to the Protestant Reformation, dating from the same time period. What this means is that the Book of Mormon is a creative and cultural translation of what was on the plates, not a literal one. Based on the linguistic evidence, the translation must have involved serious intervention from the English-language translator, who was not Joseph Smith. Nonetheless, the text was revealed to Joseph Smith by means of his translation instrument, and he read it off word for word to his scribe. To our modern-day, skeptical minds, this is indeed "a marvelous work and a wonder."

In my view, the evidence they provide is interesting and useful for many purposes, but their conclusion is flawed for two basic reasons. (I have written more detailed critiques that I haven't posted or published yet.)

1. They assume that the only evidence we have of how Joseph Smith, Jr. spoke--the verbatim manuscript of the Book of Mormon--is not evidence of how he spoke. Or, even more illogically, it is evidence of how he did not speak.

2. They assume that published materials in their database reflect the speech patterns, grammar, vocabulary, etc., of people in rural Vermont and western New York in 1828-9, including Joseph Smith, Jr.

To support their assumptions, they claim that Joseph's writings in that period, such as his 1832 history, don't contain the same EME elements that are found in the Book of Mormon. However, by 1832 Joseph was in Kirtland, learning from better educated people (such as Frederick G. Williams, who shared writing duties on the 1832 history). We don't even know if the 1832 history was dictated or copied from a previous written document.

Speaking and writing are separate skills. People can speak even when they cannot write. We are familiar with the people of Zarahemla when Mosiah first encountered them. They had no written records but they could communicate verbally and recite their history and genealogy from memory.

People don't speak the way they write; writing is slower and more deliberative. Published materials typically involve editing. Plus, we don't have physical or electronic copies of everything ever published in English. Published material can document changes in written language that may relate in some ways to spoken language, but even today in the United States, where everyone reads the same materials, people speak differently in different parts of the country.

Regarding English specifically, colonists in various parts of the world tended to retain the English from their places of origin in England, and different regions of England had different dialects. Even today, there remain 37 dialects in England.

Because of this "colonial lag," Americans in the 19th century understood Shakespeare more easily than their British cousins, whose language changed more rapidly. For an overview, see

I realize there are academic responses to these observations, and I encourage you to consider them. I just don't find them persuasive at all because Joseph Smith's explanation is far more persuasive and far better supported by the evidence.

If people are interested, I'll explain more in upcoming posts.

*Some of their employees and followers take our criticisms personally, a common emotional approach. You'll see them post on the Internet as anonymous trolls. We recognize their adoring attachment to their mentors and empathize with them, and we consider their comments in that context. They are a good example of this observation: "If you believe people use reason for the important decisions in life, you will go through life feeling confused and frustrated that others seem to have bad reasoning skills." Scott Adams, How to Fail In Everything and Still Win Big.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Revisionist history and new narratives

It is fascinating to observe how quickly new narratives can be embraced and old ones forgotten.

Yesterday the NY Times published an interview with Chan Koonshung who wrote a novel about how societies have short memories.

How quickly can a whole nation forget about a catastrophe?

In Chan Koonchung’s 2009 dystopian novel “The Fat Years,” China endures a huge, fictional crisis. Two years later, nobody seems to remember it.

In reality, Mr. Chan realized, it took less than two months for many people in China to leave behind their anger and despair over the coronavirus crisis and the government’s bungled response. Today, they believe China triumphed over the outbreak.

“It’s like nothing had happened,” Mr. Chan said in an interview. “I’m dumbfounded. How could they make a U-turn so fast?

We are all observing, in real time, how media drives public opinion. Fake news become real news, and facts don't matter, especially when they get in the way of a popular narrative.

Many members of the Church are wondering the same thing about the U-turn involving the translation of the Book of Mormon.

From the beginning of the Restoration until 2007, Church leaders and members embraced the narrative that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery repeatedly set forth; i.e., that Joseph Smith translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates.

Now, we're told that Joseph didn't really use the plates or the Urim and Thummim. Instead, he just read words that appeared on a seer stone that he found in a well long before he got the plates. He would put the seer stone into a hat and read the words out loud to his scribe.

We're told that when Joseph and Oliver said Joseph "translated" the plates, they didn't really mean "translate" in the ordinary sense of the word as a synonym for "interpret" (which is why they were called "interpreters").

We're supposed to believe that, as used by Joseph and Oliver, "translate" really means to read words off a stone in the hat (SITH).

Now Royal Skousen is trying to persuade people that the text of the Book of Mormon was created in the 16th century by an unknown individual who somehow transmitted the text to the seer stone. We'll discuss this more tomorrow.

Scholars strive to discuss Church history in context to help explain past teachings and practices. Regarding seer stones, for example, historians say lots of people used them in Joseph's time, so it was not unusual for him to use them. Ideas about race in Brigham Young's time may explain the priesthood restrictions. Beliefs about Native Americans and the ancient ruins in Central America drove the development M2C, and so on.

What is the modern context? What would future historians say about the influences of our culture? Certainly one element is the "credentialed class" who expect others to defer to their expertise and judgment.

It's apparent that the "credentialed class" among LDS scholars think there is no greater sin than to accept what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught, even when it contradicts the theories and revisionist history promoted by the scholars.

The intellectual evolution of SITH is fascinating. All the accounts cited to support SITH were known in the 19th century. As early as 1834, the book Mormonism Unvailed proposed SITH as an alternative to the Urim and Thummim explanation of the translation. It was in response to that book that Joseph and Oliver wrote the eight essays on Church history, starting with Letter I that includes this declaration:

“These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’


For decades, Church leaders have reaffirmed what Joseph and Oliver taught, despite being fully aware of SITH. The so-called "Last Testimony" of Emma Smith was published in the late 1800s, along with David Whitmer's statements about the seer stone. But those who personally knew Joseph, Oliver, Emma, and David continued to teach that Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim, reiterating it over and over in General Conference.

In General Conference from 1971-2007, speakers discussed the Urim and Thummim 14 times, including by Elders Packer, Perry, Hales, Romney, Petersen, and Hinckley.

After 2007, though, there has been a change. In General Conference from 2008-2019, the Urim and Thummim has been mentioned only twice, neither time reaffirming that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon by means of the Urim and Thummim. 

I was curious what changed in 2007. The book Rough Stone Rolling, which promoted SITH, was published in 2005. That book cites the evidence for SITH but not for the use of the plates with the Urim and Thummim, such as Lucy Mack Smith's account.

In January 2007, Richard Bushman was interviewed by John Dehlin of Mormon Stories. This excerpt from a transcript of that interview claims that it was a mistake to teach that Joseph translated with the Urim and Thummim. John said someday the Ensign would have to set the record straight by showing the stone in the hat. 

With the January 2020 issue of the Ensign, that has come to fruition. 

Before looking at the transcript, let's discuss a possible explanation for the new narrative.

Some people say this embrace of SITH is a result of the ongoing "Restoration." Yet no one claims the change is a result of new revelation. Some historians claim that we've overcome the animosity between, say, Brigham Young and Emma Smith that caused Church leaders to reject her testimony. 

Another interpretation is that Brigham Young knew better.  

We also have the strange technique of taking part of Emma's "Last Testimony" as pure truth, while rejecting other parts (dealing with polygamy) as outright falsehood. It's the same with David Whitmer's statement. Historians quote what he said about the seer stone as pure truth, while they reject what he said about Joseph Smith. Such cherry picking is not a persuasive approach.

As most readers here know, my explanation for SITH is that Joseph did perform a demonstration, but I won't take the time to discuss that now.

Notice in the transcript how the participants frame these issues and see how their approach has become mainstream, 13 years later. 

January 22, 2007
around 50:00:00

JD (John Dehlin): So Martin begins helping out with the translation. What do we know about the actual mechanics of the translation?

RB (Richard Bushman): Not a lot. There are all these various theories about what’s going on. I think what is quite evident is that Joseph Smith was not looking at the plates. We do have a number of descriptions of him, the plates, sitting on the table wrapped in a linen cloth, he looking at his seer stone, not the Urim and Thummim, but his seer stone, which is in a hat, which he uses to darken the space right around the stone which presumes that there was some light coming from the stone, so that you had to read something that was faint, and if there were other lights it would obliterate the shape of the letters. So we know that much. There are these theories that the stone or the inspiration would plant ideas in Joseph’s head and then he would find the words, so it’s very much his language, it’s his story as he’s inspired to dictate it. 
That’s one theory.
The other theory, which is the Royal Skousen theory now, is that the words of the translation actually appeared to Joseph Smith in the stone and he just dictated them off and they remained there until they were written down and then they disappeared and new words came. David Whitmer describes the process somewhat this way.
Lacking a real explanation from Joseph Smith himself, I think we just have to leave it like that. There are these two accounts. We don’t know which one is accurate.

[Comment: there is also the unmentioned "theory" taught by Joseph and Oliver that Joseph actually translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates; i.e., "by means of the Urim and Thummim." Joseph's mother and brother both testified that Joseph looked on the plates and turned them as he translated. The SITH accounts can be easily explained as a demonstration in the Whitmer home to satisfy curiosity.]

JD: I was under the understanding that when Martin Harris was involved, there wasn’t a hat, and that he
used what we would traditionally understand was the Urim and Thummim, which is these crystals.

RB: Well, there is some evidence of that. That is true, and I have said as much in things I have written.

People who have looked at that evidence, scrutinized it carefully, say you don’t really have evidence that you had the Urim and Thummim because they use this word “Interpreters,” which could refer to the seer stone as well. Later on, Joseph Smith did call the stone a Urim and Thummim. So the Urim and Thummim is a type of an instrument. It wasn’t necessarily that specific instrument with the stones set in the breastplate.

[Except Joseph and Oliver specified that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates.]

JD: So we don’t know if these crystals set in the breastplate were ever used. There’s no account of them ever being used.

RB: I don’t think so. No.

JD: This begs a really interesting question, and I’m sure you get this a lot. Why ask the Book of Mormon prophets to spend all this time and energy creating gold plates, writing on them, handing them down through generations, make Moroni walk all the way to Hill Cumorah from wherever he was to deposit them in the hill, have Joseph Smith go through all this pain to hide them, and then when he gets to the time to actually create the book, he doesn’t seem to use them.

RB: Yeah, that is a mystery. And it’s a mystery that carries over to the Book of Abraham. Did he need those scrolls or not, in order to translate? And I don’t really have an answer with any authority behind it at all. It actually points toward the need for speculation about why… Let’s begin by accepting as a fact that the plates were necessary, that all that effort was not symbolic. They had to be there with the words written on them. Why would that have to be?
I don’t really know except that it seems to indicate some relationship between the physical and the spiritual. For words to come into this man’s head, you needed the presence of the physical object that was laden with the physical efforts and thought of so many prophets preceding him. I reach for analogies. The one that comes to me is induction, by which if you move a magnet across a wire, you don’t have to touch it, but just pass it across the wire, it makes the electrons in the wire move in a certain direction. That’s the way electricity is generated, by making wires cross magnets. There you have some force radiating from the physical object that has an effect on the electrical current. That’s just a fairly lame analogy.
But when it comes right down to it, I don’t have an answer to that question.

JD: Most people would be just stunned to know that there’s no real evidence that the plates were used materially in the translation, and that the Urim and Thummim, meaning the crystals in the breastplate, weren’t used either. That’s real different from the accounts that we kind of grow up with in primary and Sunday School and seminary.

RB: Well, that’s the account that’s in the historical records, though, so we just have to live with it.

[Or, we can accept what Joseph and Oliver taught and explain SITH as a demonstration.]

JD: Isn’t it completely dishonest, or disingenuous, to ever use the word translate or translation. Aren’t those just the wrong words? Why do we even call it a translation?

RB: Nibley has discoursed on that subject. What does it mean to translate, to carry over from one culture or one time to another. We use the word translated to talk about bodies being resurrected or carried about one way or another.
I don’t think you could call it dishonest. It certainly has misled us into thinking… I used to think that Joseph Smith learned Reformed Egyptian peering at those plates and coming up with the words, and that of course is beside the point if you see it this way.
Maybe we do need to have another word. I think we certainly need to make clear to our children as we teach them or whoever that when we refer to a translation is carrying a message from one language or culture into another, not necessarily by using a dictionary. You do have to generalize or change the meaning of translation from its ordinary usage.

JD: Do you think we need to change the art and the pictures and the graphics and the motion pictures
that we are using to depict the process? Do you think it’s disingenuous to continue having the curtain,
and using some kind of spectacles and showing Joseph staring at the plates, thinking earnestly and then
dictating? Do you think that’s something we need to change, maybe.

RB: Yeah, I definitely think we need to change it. It’s not because it’s a horrible mistake because the guys
who drew those pictures are not trying to deceive anyone. That’s what they think actually happened. It’s
just a matter of accuracy. The problem is, if you’re not accurate, then you, down the line, put your own
credibility in jeopardy. I just think all of our young people should feel they are really getting the straight
story on Joseph Smith, or they’re going to go through the experience you had. Disillusionment. Anger.
It’s a very sad thing and it’s unnecessary, so we do need to avoid that.

JD: Is it possible that somehow the mechanics were never really known and so someone in the 1850s or
1860s and let’s say 19th century correlation sort of just came up with this story and even subsequent
apostles and prophets sort of understood that to be the way the translation happened? When did we
learn about the hat in the stone? Have we always known it and just never talked about it? How did this
creep in, and how did it get allowed to creep in the way that it did?

RB: That’s actually an interesting historiographical question. The stories of the hat in the stone were recorded very close to Joseph Smith’s lifetime by the people who were there: Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Emma Smith. So it’s not like that we’ve sort of made up this new version. It’s been there.
But I think what threw us off was our own embarrassment about Joseph Smith.
We so wanted him to be kind of a 19 th century Protestant view of a prophet. A noble soul. Sort of partly ethereal, who speaks only spiritual wisdom, and not someone who’s involved in magical practices, which is superstition, and which Protestants are dead set against in the 19 th century.
That effort to kind of suppress anything that would scandalize Joseph Smith or turn him into a scandal I think motivated the desire to make it all sort of lovely and common sensical rather than anything that would be magical.

JD: So someone along the way maybe felt embarrassed, or said people aren’t going to buy this, or people aren’t going to believe it, or people are going to think we’re goofy, and so let’s re-write history and depict it in a way that is a little bit more palatable.

RB: I’m not sure it’s quite that calculated, but it has that effect, that you kind of just kind of bowdlerize the story, you kind of whitewash it and it ends up this way.

JD: I know that life is more complex than this, but I know a lot of people, it seems like a lot of the people who leave, they don’t leave because they’re weak or they’re sinners or adulterers, they leave because they’ve got this view of what integrity and honesty is. They’ve always bought that integrity and honesty is absolute. There are blacks and whites, there is good and bad, and a lot of people say to me, John, Look, if the Church knows that they’re depicting the translation process inaccurately, it is their duty and obligation to stand up, do it in General Conference, and tell everybody, all right, here’s the deal, we were saying it wrong, here’s how it is, and from now on, whenever it is depicted in a motion picture or in the Ensign, we’re going to stick his face in a hat with a stone in it. I know you can’t answer for them, but do you have any thoughts on that, or is that something you just have to leave to the way things are in life?

RB: I think your depiction of the disillusioned person is probably quite accurate. It’s the absolutist, it’s that personality that sees things as black and white that is going to be shocked and deeply offended by this whole thing. A personality that can’t tolerate ambiguity and realize people get caught in situations and all sorts of strange things come out that is going to feel like you’ve got to lay down the law one way or another, and the Church has failed to do that, so while I was thoroughly devoted to it at one time in my absolutist way, I’m not thoroughly against it in my absolutist way.
I don’t know what to do about that kind of personality because they’re going to have troubles with the Church. That’s quite true.

[Or, maybe they're not absolutist but consider all the evidence and choose what Joseph and Oliver said over the explanations from their opponents and today's credentialed class. Their problems are not with the Church but with the revisionist historians.]

JD: I guess the Church is in a bind. We’re all speculating, but they can’t just come out and say we were wrong and here’s the right way because one, people may still think it’s goofy, and that might cause them to leave, and also they’ll wonder why there was the deception and then what else have we been deceived about.

RB: There are all sorts of middle grounds. You could just begin to straighten up and tell the story as the records tell it and say well, our artists previously had a different view of things and now we’re in a better position.

I know there are still a lot of people who are averse to the magical thing. They think my book gives altogether too much credit to magic. I hope we can overcome that. There’s nothing malicious about magic. It’s a form of supernaturalism that people the world over have believed in. People who study magical practices from times past find much that is admirable in them like there is in free masonry. It’s not the devil’s tool. It’s a form of human questing for powers beyond themselves.

There are fewer and fewer references to what Joseph and Oliver taught. The Gospel Topics Essay on the Translation is only one example. Here's a passage from the Liahona in 2017:

For example, from our perspective in the present, Joseph Smith’s use of a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon appears very different. In his time, however, many people believed that physical objects could be used to receive divine messages. These beliefs were based, in part, on biblical stories in which objects were used for divine purposes (see Numbers 17:1–10; 2 Kings 5; John 9:6). A revelation Joseph received for the organization of the Church explained that God “gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon” (D&C 20:8). Though the “means” included a seer stone as well as the Urim and Thummim, we can still discern the doctrinal message “that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age … ; thereby showing that he is the same God yesterday, today, and forever” (D&C 20:11–12).

In the height of irony, that article included this:

Joseph Smith provided an example of how to evaluate storytellers and facts. In 1838, he observed that there were already “many reports which have been put in circulation by evil-disposed and designing persons, in relation to the rise and progress of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” As a result, he wrote a history intended to “put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts, as they have transpired, in relation both to myself and the Church, so far as I have such facts in my possession” (Joseph Smith—History 1:1).

The "many reports" included the claims about the seer (peep) stone. The "facts" he reported included the fact that he translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim. But now we're being told that the claims about the seer stone were true.

As Joseph wrote in the Wentworth letter,

With the records was found a curious instrument, which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim,” which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rims of a bow fastened to a breastplate. Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God.

Joseph Smith--History, in the Pearl of Great Price, explains it this way.

35 Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.

52 Having removed the earth, I obtained a lever, which I got fixed under the edge of the stone, and with a little exertion raised it up. I looked in, and there indeed did I behold the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate, as stated by the messenger.

62 By this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pennsylvania; and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them...

Note to verse 71*Oliver Cowdery describes these events thus: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’

That's the old narrative. Now we're learning the revisionist history. Here's how Saints, volume 1, teaches this.

Buried with the plates, Moroni said, were two seer stones, which Joseph later called the Urim and
Thummim, or interpreters. The Lord had prepared these stones to help Joseph translate the record.... Beneath the boulder was a box, its walls and base made of stone. Looking inside, Joseph saw the gold plates, seer stones, and breastplate.... Moroni appeared, and Joseph lifted the gold plates
and seer stones from the stone box....   Assisted by Emma, he copied many of the strange characters from the plates to paper. Then, for several weeks, he tried to translate them with the Urim and Thummim. 

Joseph was growing into his divine role as a seer and revelator. Looking into the interpreters or another seer stone, he was able to translate whether the plates were in front of him or wrapped in one of Emma’s linen cloths on the table....  Sometimes Joseph translated by looking through the interpreters and reading in English the characters on the plates. Often he found a single seer stone to be more convenient. He would put the seer stone in his hat, place his face into the hat to block out the light, and peer at the stone. Light from the stone would shine in the darkness, revealing words that Joseph dictated as Oliver rapidly copied them down.

Monday, May 25, 2020

How priming works

BYU fantasy map that primes
students to think M2C
Many Church members are asking, "Why have so many LDS intellectuals repudiated the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah?"*

Others ask, "Why have so many LDS people followed the M2C** intellectuals?"

One answer is priming and imprinting. 

Thanks to CES, BYU, and the M2C citation cartel, the M2C interpretation of the Book of Mormon is imprinted on the minds of the Saints throughout their lives. The next step--persuading faithful Saints that the prophets are wrong about the NY Cumorah--follows fairly easily.

To see how priming and imprinting works, try this experiment. The links go to short audio clips.

Assume I have a device that doesn't connect to your body but can send speech in an inaudible way using sine-wave speech.

If you do the experiment, you see how a meaningless noise suddenly sounds like speech once you are primed. 

Once people have been primed by the M2C interpretation, they read the Book of Mormon with that interpretation in mind. As one of the M2C promoters said, he "can't unsee" Mesoamerica when he reads the Book of Mormon.

That doesn't mean the Book of Mormon describes Mesoamerica; far from it. But once you are primed to understand it a particular way, it is difficult to become unprimed and read it afresh.

Then, when people learn more about how Mesoamerica doesn't fit with the Book of Mormon, they conclude the Book of Mormon must not be true. It's a travesty because the problem is not the Book of Mormon; the problem is M2C.

*Lately, some of the intellectuals have begun saying the location of Cumorah "doesn't matter." They resent me pointing out that they are repudiating the teachings of the prophets. Others say the prophets never actually taught that Cumorah is in New York, as if the historical record doesn't exist. Church historians have actually changed Church history to purge the New York Cumorah from the record by censoring it in the Saints book, volume 1.

**M2C is the acronym for the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, which teaches that the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Cumorah: land of mounds and waters

Land of many waters, but
what about mounds?
Yesterday we looked at some observations from Kirk's blog post about "many waters."

Today we'll consider the opinion of a linguist that the word "Cumorah" has a double meaning. It could refer to both "land of mound(s)" and "land of water."

It's pretty easy to see how the Great Lakes overall, and western New York in particular, are areas of "many waters." But what about the second meaning?

It turns out that western New York is one of only two areas in North America that have an abundance of natural mounds. Cumorah is, literally among both "many waters" and "mounds."

Here is the last paragraph of Kirk's post that we considered yesterday:

For 30 other detailed textual criteria this correlation satisfies, see the blog article "Ramah/Cumorah." For an independent corroboration of this correlation, see the blog article "Linguistic Cumorah."

Today we'll discuss the article "Linguistic Cumorah."

[The article "Ramah/Cumorah" is a fascinating example of bias confirmation for those interested in the psychology of M2C. Our M2C friends have a variety of techniques to justify their repudiation of the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. In this article, the 30 "textual criteria" are outcome-driven interpretations of the text, designed to explain the "2C" part of M2C.]

The link to "Linguistic Cumorah" goes to another post on Kirk's blog that starts this way:

David Richins has a degree in linguistics from BYU. He has lived most of his life in Ohio. He authors a fascinating blog on Mormon topics entitled "The Lunch is Free" which is a nod to a famous essay by Hugh Nibley entitled "Work We Must, But the Lunch is Free." I find Richins' work on Book of Mormon etymologies insightful and highly creative. He corroborates and extends the impressive work Robert F. Smith, Paul Y. Hoskisson, Stephen D. Ricks, and John Gee have done in their Book of Mormon Onomasticon.

The rest of that article is more boring justification for M2C, so let's look at what Richins himself has to say. I don't know Richins personally and I don't endorse everything on his web page, but because Kirk considered his work "insightful and highly creative," it's worth a look.


It's a long article, so let's look at just a few excerpts.

As I thought about the name Moroni, I realized that Moroni is linguistically related to Mormon and Cumorah. All three words have the root mor....

Mor appears to be related to the ancient Egyptian root mr, which means “collection of water.” This is represented in hieroglyphics by the sign of the hoe, followed by the canal, thus depicting irrigation. The root mr refers to all bodies of water, including lakes, rivers, streams, canals, etc. It is the likely source of modern Indo-European words for “sea” such as the Spanish mar and the French mer....

The other word that the Egyptians used to define themselves is khem, which means “black.” This refers to the dark fertile land surrounding the Nile. It might also refer to dark-skinned people. Khem is related to the Biblical name Ham, who was the son of Noah.

In the Book of Mormon, the word khem appears as kum or cum. So as we look at the word Cumorah, we can see that it contains the word khem (land) and also the word mor (water). Without any context, we could guess that Cumorah means “fertile land with water” or “land of water.” Mormon actually gives us the meaning of Cumorah right in the text:

And it came to pass that we did march forth to the land of Cumorah, and we did pitch our tents around about the hill Cumorah; and it was in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains; (Mormon 6:4)...

The ancient Egyptian word for “pyramid” is mer, from the root mr. This sounds the same as the word for “water,” but the pyramid mr in hieroglyphics begins with the chisel instead of the hoe. Our English word pyramid comes from the Greek pyramidos, meaning “fire within” or “fire in the middle.”

The origin of the English word is irrelevant, really; the Egyptians didn't call it a pyramid. Some say the Greek word was a transliteration of the Egyptian word, which has nothing to do with fire. You can usually find lots of debate about the origin and meaning of words.



Richins then explains why he thinks the pyramids represent volcanoes. He thinks the "original" Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 was a Central American volcano. That doesn't make sense to me; I've visited lots of volcanoes and I wouldn't describe any of them as a "hill." Nor does it seem possible that all of the Nephite authors would have forgotten to mention volcanoes in 1,000 years of living in Central America. And, of course, the text never mentions pyramids.

He discusses the common creation myth of a mound of earth rising out of the watery abyss. (The Bible itself describes "dry land" appearing out of the earth that was without form and void--a water planet.)

Skywoman's descent to Turtle Island
These creation stories are common among Native Americans. Not far from Cumorah in New York, the Haudenosaunee tribe explains their story of Creation. They say the world was formed on the back of a giant turtle that rose out of the water. The place, Turtle Island, is now called North America. Skywoman, who was pregnant, fell through the sky dome and was saved by a flock of water birds that gently set her down on the turtle's back.

Richins explains that the Egyptian version of the creation myth started with a mound but evolved into a volcano motif.

It is understandable that the Egyptians would want to be buried in the mound of creation. They were obsessed with death and resurrection. They believed that if their bodies were placed within the mound, then they would become alive again.

Knowing the Egyptian creation myth helps us understand the origins of the pyramid. The first stage in the evolution of the pyramid was the simple burial mound, in which bodies were placed in a heap of earth. This gave rise to mastabas, rectangular tombs made of clay bricks. The mastabas then developed into step pyramids, and eventually into the large pyramids which were tombs for the pharaohs.

You can find debates about whether the pyramids were originally meant as tombs or not, but the next point seems legit to me.

Cumorah’s Double Meaning

In the Egyptian creation myth, everything begins with the primordial waters. The god of these primordial waters is Nu (meaning “abyss”), so we could call them the “waters of Nu.” In ancient Egyptian, this would be pronounced as mr (water) + n (Nu) or mrn. So the name Moroni, in its most fundamental sense, means “waters of Nu” or “watery abyss.” But because water became associated with the story of creation, Moroni came to refer to the mound itself. We can trace the evolution of mr as follows:

water → mound, heap → tomb → pyramid → king → beloved, favored

As I mentioned before, the name Cumorah contains the two words by which the Egyptians identified themselves: khem (land) and mor (water). So what is Cumorah? It is the land of Egypt. It is a fertile land with many waters. The Egyptians saw the watery land around the Nile as being representative of the primordial waters of Nu. The pyramid is the mound that rose up out of the waters. Because mr means both water and mound, that means that Cumorah has two meanings. Not only is it a “land of many waters,” but it is also the “land of the mound,” or “land of the hill.”

In all of North America, there are only two areas that are characterized by extensive formations of natural mounds: central Wisconsin and western New York. These are the drumlins.

Cumorah in the land of mounds and water
When you look at the map with the modern water features removed, you can see the ancient water courses. The drumlins surrounding Cumorah served as natural defenses. An attacking army would have to conquer a series of defended hill tops, or else try to circumvent them while being observed and attacked from a higher elevation. To the south of Cumorah is a valley through which, at one time, water from the finger lakes flowed north toward Lake Ontario.

From Cumorah, you are surrounded by natural defenses of mounds (drumlins) and water (lakes, rivers, and marshes).
Cumorah with water removed to see ancient water courses

Although Richins accepts M2C because of the volcanoes, he makes an interesting point here:

Some LDS scholars, in trying to discredit North American geography models, have pointed out that the Hopewell mounds in the eastern United States were used for ceremonial purposes and not for defense. Therefore, they couldn’t be connected to Moroni’s fortifications. 

[Archaeologists in Ohio have discovered that walls were built to encircle inhabited areas well after the living structures were built, as described in Alma 48:8.]

Many of the Hopewell mounds were burial mounds, and it has been claimed that there is no mention of burial mounds in the Book of Mormon. 

[Note: When preaching at a funeral in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith said the Book of Mormon mentioned the sacredness of the burial mounds, an indication he was referring to material on the lost 116 pages.]

But what we learn from connecting the name Moroni back to Egypt is that the mound is first and foremost a tomb. This is the place where the people wanted to be buried. And the Book of Mormon does mention burial mounds.

Nevertheless, after many days their dead bodies were heaped up upon the face of the earth, and they were covered with a shallow covering. (Alma 16:11)

And there was great calamity in all the land, for they had testified that a great curse should come upon the land, and also upon the people, and that there should be a great destruction among them, such an one as never had been upon the face of the earth, and their bones should become as heaps of earth upon the face of the land except they should repent of their wickedness. (Ether 11:6)

The word that the Nephites used for “heap up” may have been related to the Akkadian kamaru, which ties back to Cumorah.

This means that the mound building activity of the Hopewell people is exactly what we would expect.

You can read the entire article and make up your own mind. I think there's some interesting word connections here. Plus, we can see why the Jaredites, and later the Nephites, would choose a "land of mounds and waters" to establish a last defense.

Today, most of the fortifications and man-made mounds have long since been destroyed, plowed under, etc. But in the early 1800s, they were well known.

After he joined the Church, Heber C. Kimball went to see the hill Cumorah for himself. He recorded that he could still see some of the ancient embankments. He also mentioned the numerous hilltop fortifications in the area.

Close up of the area around Cumorah
If you get a chance to visit Palmyra, be sure to check out the ancient civilizations who lived in the area.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Cumorah: many waters

Sometimes our M2C friends unintentionally make a strong case for the New York Cumorah without realizing it. A good example is a recent post titled "Zeroing in on Cumorah" on the Book of Mormon Resources blog, here:

I've mentioned before that Kirk, who writes this blog, is a great guy, reasonable and easy to talk with. He's sincere and does a lot of good. His M2C bias confirmation is well entrenched, however, as we'll see in this post.

Tomorrow we'll look at another aspect Kirk raises involving mounds and waters.

Keep this map in mind as you read this post.

The red circle is the location of the Hill Cumorah. The huge body of water to the north is Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes. The largest of the finger lakes are Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake.The lake to the east is Oneida Lake. Each of these lakes has more surface area than the Sea of Galilee.

The blog says this:

Mosiah 8:8 adds an additional element to the list of textual criteria that will help us identify the land of Cumorah. The land where we will find hill Ramah/Cumorah was not just a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains Mormon 6:4. (The term "many waters" as used by Book of Mormon authors refers to salt water ocean as in 1 Nephi 17:5 and Psalm 93:4. See the blog article "Many Waters.")

Notice the M2C filter?

The term "many waters" can refer to oceans, but it does not connote salt water. 

We discussed this before, http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2019/06/an-m2c-blog-tells-truth.html, and http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2018/01/getting-real-about-cumorah-part-3-many.html,
but Kirk raised some additional points that help us understand the New York Cumorah even better.

The biblical use of the term many waters comes from both Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). It appears with this frequency: OT (11) NT (4) BM (12) DC (2) PGP (1).

The Hebrew words rabbim (many) and mayim (water) have nothing to do with salt. The Hebrew  word for "sea" (1 Nephi 17:5) also refers to size, not salt vs. fresh water. We have a Red Sea (salt water) and a Sea of Galilee (fresh water).

The first use is in Number 24:6-7.

Numbers 24:6 As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river’s side, as the trees of lign aloes which the Lord hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters.
7. He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.

The context is a river valley and agriculture. The Hebrew here is be-ma-yim rab-bim, meaning "of waters many." It has nothing to do with salt. Alternative translations show the term cannot mean "salt water" at all:

New International Version: Water will flow from their buckets; their seed will have abundant water.
Contemporary English Version: You and your descendants will prosper like an orchard beside a stream.
Good News Translation: They will have abundant rainfall And plant their seed in well-watered fields.
GOD'S WORD® Translation: Water will flow from their buckets, and their crops will have plenty of water.

Here's another example that shows "many waters" cannot refer to salt water because salt water is not going to make a vineyard fruitful. 

Ezekiel 19:10 Thy mother is like a vine in thy blood, planted by the waters: she was fruitful and full of branches by reason of many waters.

The Hebrew here is mim-ma-yim rab-bim, meaning "because of waters many." The same phrase is translated as "waters great" in Psalm 144:7 and as "because of the multitude of waters" in Ezekiel 31:5. None of these connote salt water. 

Most of the Book of Mormon references to "many waters" are found in 1 Nephi.
1 Nephi 14:12 says "the whore who sat upon many waters."
Revelation 17:1 says "the great whore that sitteh upon many waters."

The Greek words in Revelation are hydaton (water, from which we get the English hydration) pollon (many). There is no connection with "salt."

Consequently, the most we can say about "many waters" is that there are "many waters." The term can mean ocean, lake, river, or any other abundance of water. It says nothing about salt vs fresh water.

Kirk goes on to say this:

The OED says "among" derives from crowd or assemblage and means "surrounded by" locally.... Ether 9:3 tells us there was a seacoast due east of hill Ramah/Cumorah. Mosiah 8:8's use of the word "among" tells us salt water ocean surrounds the land of Cumorah on more than one side.

Ether 9:3 says Omer passed by Shim, came over by the place where the Nephites were destroyed [Cumorah], and from thence eastward to Ablom, by the sea shore. It doesn't say he went "due east." If you go "eastward" from Cumorah, you run into the finger lakes, lake Oneida, and (depending on where the coastline was thousands of years ago) Lake Ontario. 

[Recall that in his account of the Zelph vision, Wilford Woodruff wrote that Onandagus was known from the "Hill Cumorah on the East sea to the Rocky Mountains." Maybe he meant Onandagus was known from southern Mexico to the Rocky Mountains, but from the Rocky Mountains, Mexico is far more south than "east" and besides, the artifacts found in Zelph's mound came from the Rocky Mountains to New York.]

Mosiah 8:8 says Limhi's explorers "traveled in a land among many waters." 

Inexplicably, Kirk claims both that the term "among" means "surrounded by" (a correct definition) and also that it means "surrounds the land of Cumorah on more than one side" (a contradiction of the correct definition). You don't "surround" something by just being on "more than one side." 

Let's say an army captain used Kirk's definition. The general gives the order, "surround the enemy." The captain "surrounds" the enemy by setting up on "more than one side," leaving most of the perimeter unsecured. Would that general accept Kirk's application of the term?

Kirk compounds his bizarre definition with an illustration:

The Book of Mormon geographic correlation that passed a strict audit with a perfect score of 100% (see the blog article "Auditing Book of Mormon Geography Models") places the land of Cumorah in the Tuxtla Mountain region of southern Veracruz where it is literally surrounded by salt water on two sides.

Cumorah "surrounded" by many (salt) waters
Of course, that "audit" is a self-serving sham; it merely checks whether a model "fits" the M2C interpretation of the text. In my view, any model that scores well on that audit by definition contradicts the text. But look at this phrase: "literally surrounded by salt water on two sides.

How can something (A) "literally surround" something else (B) when you explicitly admit that A does not actually surround B?

This is the type of analysis we find throughout the M2C literature. They change definitions and expect everyone to salute and agree. But just because the fine young scholars they hire talk themselves into buying off on this approach doesn't mean anyone else has to.

In M2C-speak, "Surrounded" doesn't mean encircled, but only sort of bordering on two sides.
In M2C-speak, a "horse" is really a "tapir."
In M2C-speak, "wood and cement" really means "cut stone and cement"
In M2C-speak, "tower" is really a "massive stone pyramid."
In M2C-speak, "translate" really means "read words off a seer stone that were put there by someone from the 16th century."
And so forth.
And lest we forget, in M2C-speak, "north" means "west" and "south" means "east."

Which brings up the next part of Kirk's analysis that involves "north countries." 

According to M2C, the north country and south country, land northward and land southward, involve the areas circled on this map in red.

The M2C explanations of this work well if you're in the M2C bubble, apparently. But to an outside observer, it makes no sense.

In my view, the terms "northward" and "southward" are relative terms the fluctuate throughout the text depending on the context. 

If you prefer to interpret those terms as proper nouns, that's fine, too. But either way, they fit much better when applied to a New York Cumorah.

We've discussed that before http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2020/01/rules-of-interpretation.html, so we won't belabor it here.

Here's another way Kirk's blog points toward the New York Cumorah.

High water table 1.2
miles from Cumorah
"Among" also means "in or through the midst of." You can't get to Cumorah without passing through the midst of "many waters." 

Not only are there abundant lakes and rivers all around, but the water constantly flows in the sense of the "many waters" of Numbers 24:7. 

The water table around Cumorah is quite high; the forests on our farm about one mile from Cumorah are always full of pools of water and the springs flow year-round. 

It might be difficult to tell in this photo, but the water pools here all the time. It's almost a marsh (and, actually, we do have a marsh as well).