Friday, May 7, 2021

Inertia and Book of Mormon historicity

Recently on this blog we discussed the importance of having an open mind and adapting to new developments, incorporating new ideas, etc.

President Nelson has told us as Latter-day Saints to become "engaged learners" instead of "lazy learners." 

A "lazy learner" is one who defers to others instead of making informed decisions. Their opinions and beliefs are assigned to them by others. By contrast, an "engaged learner" makes informed decisions by studying and evaluating the evidence "by study and by faith."

Given the topic of this blog, it's easy to see how anyone who accepts the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C) just because that is what they've been taught is a lazy learner. And that's fine, if they're satisfied with that. No one can study everything.

There are also engaged learners who accept M2C. They make informed decisions. One of those decisions is to reject the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.* Again, that's fine. People can believe whatever they want.

In my experience, though, both interpersonal and in reviewing the materials produced by the M2C citation cartel, most believers in M2C not only don't know what the prophets have taught, but they don't know about the abundant extrinsic evidence that corroborates those teachings.

It's a fascinating issue because our ability, as Latter-day Saints, to be engaged learners instead of lazy learners has far-reaching implications.

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Another way to look at the difference between "lazy learners" and "engaged learners" is something the physicist Richard Feynman said years ago.

The problem is not people being uneducated.

The problem is that people are educated just enough to believe what they have been taught, and not educated enough to question anything from what they have been taught.

Because of information overload in the modern world and the prevalence of fake news from all sides, most people simply accept whatever they're taught. We don't have enough time, energy, or expertise to question everything. We decide which news silo to accept and stick with it.

Plus, people can and will believe whatever they want anyway. Facts don't really matter much. 

Generally, people accept the religion they inherited from their parents. (click to enlarge)


We see similar regional affiliation in the states in the United States.

There is tremendous intellectual and emotional inertia that prevents people from accepting new ideas and beliefs. Otherwise, religious affiliation would be more evenly distributed around the world and throughout the United States.

The foundation of missionary work is the idea that people can and will change their minds when presented with new information. But as every missionary knows, such people are an exception to the rule. 

Missionaries seek people who have an open mind and are willing to listen to new information and a version of reality that differs from what they have known. 

As President Nelson put it, missionaries seek people who are engaged learners instead of lazy learners.

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We should ask, how do we as Latter-day Saints apply the counsel to become engaged learners instead of lazy learners?

The Gospel is a seamless web of interconnected ideas, information, doctrine, history, and practice. Some things matter to some people more than other things, and each person is different. We prioritize among them according to our individual needs and interests.

Most Latter-day Saints accept the premise that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. Some accept the Book of Mormon entirely on faith, whether because they inherited that belief from their families or because they had a spiritual witness that convinced them. 

Of course, most people in most religions share similar convictions about their respective beliefs. They, too, inherited their beliefs and have had spiritual experiences that affirm their beliefs. 

People of all religious beliefs generally accept their beliefs. Some wonder why others don't have the same beliefs and spiritual experiences they do. Others question their beliefs and seek alternatives. People convert from and to a variety of beliefs for many different reasons.

Preach My Gospel explains that "The Book of Mormon, combined with the Spirit, is your most powerful resource in conversion.... the first question someone should answer is whether Joseph Smith was a prophet, and he or she can answer this question by reading and praying about the Book of Mormon." https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/preach-my-gospel-a-guide-to-missionary-service/what-is-the-role-of-the-book-of-mormon?lang=eng

Some Latter-day Saints accept the Book of Mormon because of the power of its teachings. Again, that's the same basis upon which people of all religions accept their respective religious texts; i.e., they recognize the power of the teachings of their texts.

The Book of Mormon differs from other religious texts, however, because it was written specifically to convince people that Jesus is the Christ. Its origin as an ancient record of a long-lost civilization distinguishes it from all other religious texts. Joseph Smith recognized this when he identified extrinsic evidence as "proof of its divine authenticity."

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letter-to-emma-smith-4-june-1834/3 

For the vast majority of the world's population, the Book of Mormon has not been convincing because asking them to trade one set of beliefs for another is a non-starter. SITH--the stone in the hat theory-- creates another impediment by reframing the Book of Mormon as a revelation instead of a translation, akin to other religious texts.  

Many Latter-day Saints whose faith is inherited and/or based on spiritual confirmations also confirm or corroborate their faith by historical events. They accept the Book of Mormon because Joseph Smith said he translated it from an ancient record. They accept the teachings of the prophets about its historicity. They engage in learning about the evidence that corroborates the teachings of the prophets.

These Latter-day Saints consider the work of the scholars, but they don't defer to the scholars without first considering the biases and agendas those scholars promote. 

That makes them engaged, instead of lazy, learners.

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Right now, BYU and CES students are being taught an interpretation of the Book of Mormon based on the M2C interpretation. These conceptual maps groom students to accept M2C as the only plausible setting for the Book of Mormon.

Look at how BYU justifies its map. [https://bom.byu.edu/]

The Church and BYU stay neutral in questions of exactly where the Book of Mormon took place. [One glance at the BYU and CES maps shows they are anything but neutral. They incorporate, and functionally canonize, the M2C interpretations of the text, including the hourglass shape and the declaration that Cumorah cannot be in New York. The only reason they don't outright show Mesoamerica is because they've been told to remain "neutral," but these scholars all accept M2C.] The Lord could have removed all questions regarding the exact locations of these events but he did not. [The scholars blame the Lord for not revealing these locations, but they have rejected the New York Cumorah. Pursuant to the principle of Alma 12:9, we can hardly expect more light when we've rejected the light we once had.] For that reason, our design team has chosen to develop an internal map that shows relational directions and approximate distances that match the approximately 550 geography descriptions in the text as closely as possible. [This is the message: following the text "as closely as possible" means embracing the M2C interpretation. But the maps also depict the Book of Mormon in a fictional setting.]

Naturally, the LDS scholars who have constructed these maps claim they rely on the best scholarship. But that only makes the problem worse.

These conceptual maps (which I call fantasy maps) teach students that the Book of Mormon does not fit any real-world location. 

Consequently, fewer and fewer students coming out of CES and BYU believe the Book of Mormon is an authentic history.

As Patrick Mason pointed out in his recent fireside in Logan, Utah, according to The Next Mormons, only 50% of Millennials still believe the Book of Mormon is a literal, historical account. (click to enlarge)

The percentage of those who believe it's a literal history is declining over time. The trend is similar regarding other doctrines, but none of the other doctrines on this list involve external evidence. In fact, the other doctrines rely mainly on the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, as we saw from Preach My Gospel.


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Everyone who reads the Book of Mormon wants to refer to a map. But what message are we sending to the world if the "best" maps our scholars can produce are fictional fantasy lands?

I've pointed out the futility of constructing an "internal geography" based on the text of the Book of Mormon. Without a starting point, the generic geographical references in the text leave us with nothing but assumptions and speculation. The references are so vague that we can confirm any bias we want.

In an upcoming post, we'll discuss the importance of a starting point.

For now, let's look at the example of the term "narrow neck of land" which appears only in Ether 10:20. The terms could refer to any number of features. Some people infer it's the same geographical feature as the "small neck of land" and the "narrow neck," but why assume that different terms refer to the identical feature? 

In Joseph Smith's day, Panama was often referred to as a "neck of land," which explains why the Pratt brothers taught the hemispheric model (North America was the "land northward" and South America was the "land southward"). When he wrote the Wentworth letter, Joseph Smith deleted Orson Pratt's hemispheric model, which never really made sense anyway. Few people noticed what Joseph did there and the hemispheric model persisted until it became untenable. Today, few Latter-day Saints believe Panama was the "narrow neck of land" of Ether 10:20, let alone the "small neck" or the "narrow neck."

Despite rejecting the Panama scenario, our M2C scholars still teach that these three terms must apply to the same isthmus between two large land masses. Hence, the hourglass shape in the BYU and CES maps.

While an isthmus is one possible meaning of the term "neck of land," other meanings also exist. As I pointed out in Between these HillsGeorge Washington, in a letter to Congress dated November 19, 1776, described his army’s precarious position between two rivers in New Jersey.

Yesterday morning a large body of the enemy landed between Dobbs’s ferry and Fort-Lee. Their object was, evidently, to enclose the whole of our troops and stores that lay between the North [now called the Hudson] and Hackinsac rivers, which form a very narrow neck of land

This "very narrow neck of land" between two rivers is not an isthmus. It ranges between 2 and 5 miles across. And yet, we have LDS scholars who still claim the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is a "narrow neck of land."

William Hubbard, who wrote A narrative of the troubles with the Indians in New-England, published in Boston in 1677, used the term “neck of land” to refer to several of the peninsulas in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. 

On Friday July 15. Our Forces Marched for, and araived at Rekoboth where having no intelligence of the Enemy nearer then a great Swamp on Pocasset, eighteen miles from Taunton; they marched next day twelve miles to an House at Matapoiset (a small Neck of Land in the bottome of Taunton Bay, in the mid-way between Mount-hope and Pocasset Neck) from whence they marched for Taunton.

Warwick, a town near Providence seated upon a neck of land, environed by the sea, was all of it burned by the enemy at several times.

These are just a few of many such examples of how these terms have been used. Yet our M2C scholars, including the purveyors of the CES and BYU maps, don't consider multiple working hypotheses for these terms. They still insist that these three terms all apply to the same isthmus between two large land masses.

It's astonishing, really. 

But lazy learners can be persuaded to believe anything.

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Engaged learners will not be satisfied with what they're told. They want to explore these issues in depth by studying the scriptures, the teachings of the prophets, Church history, and related evidence.

Instead of seeking evidence to repudiate the teachings of the prophets, they seek evidence to corroborate the teachings of the prophets.

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*M2C believers today frequently claim the living prophets (including apostles) no longer teach the New York Cumorah. I'm unaware of any living prophet who has taught anything about Cumorah, one way or another, let alone any who has repudiated the teachings of his predecessors about Cumorah. 

Given the success of the M2C citation cartel in using the academic cycle to impose M2C as the de facto consensus and the only acceptable interpretation of the text, by now it would be highly disruptive for Church leaders to reaffirm the teachings of their predecessors.  

Instead, the living prophets repeatedly encourage Church members to be "engaged learners" who study the scriptures, the teachings of the prophets, and authentic Church history. 

It's up to us, as intelligent, faithful, informed Latter-day Saints, to reach our own conclusions. Although some of the M2C scholars claim they've been hired by the prophets to guide us in these matters, Church leaders have always taught that it is our responsibility to seek the truth. We cannot delegate this responsibility to the credentialed class, no matter how much the intellectuals want and even expect us to.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Adapting and an open mind


Last Sunday, Elder Gary Stevenson and his wife presented an awesome devotional.

https://www.thechurchnews.com/leaders-and-ministry/2021-05-02/elder-stevenson-worldwide-devotional-balance-vision-212164

Speaking of his own professional career, Elder Stevenson said that vision adjusts with time and experience. This aligns with President Nelson's teaching that we should be engaged learners instead of lazy learners.

“Vision needs to be adjusted regularly and routinely,” he said. “Starting as a small importer of brass giftware and then growing to become a large provider of fitness products required a lot of luck and adjustment to our vision in between. Abandoning and creating a new plan, reinvention and adjustment is a strength, not a weakness.”

This type of reinvention and adjustment is what I hope we see someday with our M2C and SITH intellectuals, who so far are so invested in their theories they can't adapt to new information.

Instead of repudiating the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah and the Urim and Thummim, these intellectuals could and should abandon their approach and create a new plan that supports and corroborates the teachings of the prophets.

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Even Twitter knows more about an open mind and the pursuit of truth than our M2C and SITH intellectuals.

Twitter insights about an open mind.

You can't lose a debate if you have an open mind.

Either you find confirmation or you find the truth. 

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With an open mind you'll always learn something new.

With a closed mind you'll always reinforce your false beliefs.

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The best way to build your self esteem is not on what you think you know, or have.

Rather an open mind or being a "learner" as you're always learning from others.

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Any organization whose very logo decides the outcome of the questions they are supposedly studying is a farce.

If Book of Mormon Central was a legitimate academic endeavor, they would immediately change their M2C logo. 

But they won't because their are obsessed with 

(i) proving their M2C theory with illusory "correspondences," 

(ii) convincing people the prophets were wrong about Cumorah, and, lately, 

(iii) persuading people that Joseph Smith didn't really translate anything but just read words that appeared on the stone in the hat.





Thursday, April 29, 2021

Enforcing fake orthodoxy

People often ask why current LDS intellectuals and apologists are so obsessed with enforcing their own theories as orthodoxy that everyone must accept. Of course, their theories are fake orthodoxy, except in their own minds.

This is a topic in my upcoming book on LDS apologetics. Almost daily now, well-known LDS apologists supply more material. 

Ordinary Latter-day Saints might think that people who are smart and well educated would be open to alternative perspectives and interpretations, but we see exactly the opposite outcome among many LDS intellectuals, particularly LDS historians and self-anointed experts on the Book of Mormon. 

An upcoming book titled The Bias that Divides Us discusses the reason why highly educated people more readily delude themselves into thinking they have "thought their way to their viewpoints" by making informed, objective decisions. 

The reality is that instead, they derive their beliefs from their peers.

The M2C citation cartel is a perfect example of how this works. 

Here's an excerpt from the book:



For readers of this blog, the two most obvious examples are SITH and M2C. (See the guide to acronyms here: https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/p/acronyms-used-in-this-blog.html)
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For example, the Church has expressed a position of neutrality regarding Book of Mormon geography. That's the only viable policy at this point, given that for several decades now LDS intellectuals who repudiated the teachings of the prophets have trained students at BYU and CES to also repudiate those teachings. By now, generations of Latter-day Saints either don't know what the prophets have taught about Cumorah, or have been persuaded that the prophets were wrong.

Neutrality is anathema to the intellectuals at Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, BYU Studies, FAIRLDS, Meridian Magazine, etc. 

Instead, they all insist that only the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory is acceptable. Anyone who dares to question M2C is the target of their criticism, ad hominem attacks, and the other logical and factual fallacies typical of their approach to apologetics. They have a long history of this.

The M2C citation cartel thrives on "lazy learners" who defer to the M2C intellectuals instead of making their own informed decisions.

We've seen before that Book of Mormon Central's very logo is the antithesis of neutrality. It rejects not only the New York Cumorah, but any working hypothesis that involves South America.



In a very real sense, the situation is hopeless with respect to these intellectuals. We can't hope, let alone expect, that they will ever embrace or even accommodate neutrality. It would require a psychological adjustment they are inherently incapable of.

But that's okay.

Latter-day Saints have the opportunity and obligation to become "engaged learners" who study these things for ourselves. 

We don't have to rely on the credentialed class to tell us what to think.

We can all make informed choices when we study the scriptures, the teachings of the prophets, authentic and original Church history documents, and extrinsic evidence that corroborates those teachings.

By contrast, the M2C citation cartel focuses on their own interpretations and any evidence they can find to repudiate the teachings of the prophets. 





Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Watching General Conference with M2C intellectuals

I've been reminded of a video I did a few years ago. Go to https://www.youtube.com/ and search for "watching general conference with BYU professors."

I need to rename it. Instead of BYU professors, it should say M2C intellectuals, because there are lots of BYU professors who still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Plus, not everyone in the M2C citation cartel is a BYU professor.



Monday, April 26, 2021

Neutrality promotes harmony and unity

Most Latter-day Saints accept the Church's position of neutrality regarding Book of Mormon geography, which recognizes multiple working hypotheses. We think that position best promotes harmony and unity in the Church.

On this blog, we support the Church's policy. 

We encourage people to make informed decisions by evaluating multiple working hypotheses while we await further knowledge. 

To make informed decisions, we encourage people to become "engaged learners" as they study the scriptures, the teachings of the prophets, authentic Church history, and relevant extrinsic evidence including anthropology, archaeology, etc.

We accept the teachings of the prophets that the hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in New York. That is one working hypothesis. We recognize that teaching does not determine the locations of any other Book of Mormon events. The New York Cumorah accommodates theories ranging from a limited area around New York to the entire hemisphere and everywhere in between. We think extrinsic evidence supports the New York Cumorah and improves our understanding of the text.

But again, that is only one working hypothesis.

Other Latter-day Saints insist that the only possible setting for the Book of Mormon is in Mesoamerica. They teach that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah because they have decided that the "real Cumorah" of Mormon 6:6 is in Mexico. This is the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C).

We recognize M2C as a working hypothesis and we are fine with people believing M2C if they want to. We hope they are engaged learners and not merely lazy learners whose beliefs are assigned to them by scholars.

M2C believers understand and accept the M2C teaching that the idea of Cumorah in New York was a false tradition that Joseph Smith erroneously adopted, thereby misleading the Church for decades until RLDS scholar L.E. Hills figured out the truth. 

LDS scholars adopted Hills' theory, taught it at BYU and CES, and through the academic cycle have produced generations of Latter-day Saints who (i) don't know what the prophets have taught about Cumorah, and/or (ii) reject what the prophets have taught about Cumorah.

The M2C intellectuals formed the M2C citation cartel to aggressively enforce M2C. The biggest promoter of M2C is Book of Mormon Central, which has embedded M2C in its logo. Other members of the citation cartel include the Interpreter, BYU Studies, FAIRLDS, Meridian Magazine, etc. 

On this blog, we respect the scholars and their research and we embrace relevant facts they discover, but we don't blindly accept their theories. We're happy for people to believe whatever they want, but we prefer to support the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah and we think the evidence corroborates those teachings. 

The M2C citation cartel could bring about greater unity in the Church by changing course to embrace the Church's policy of neutrality, recognizing multiple working hypotheses.

A first step would require Book of Mormon Central to change its logo, which explicitly defies the Church's position of neutrality.



In the meantime, we see this (click to enlarge).




Friday, April 23, 2021

Complexity, solution, creativity

The easiest way to understand Book of Mormon historicity and related Church history is to accept what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said.

Those who reject their teachings about translating the engravings on the plates with the Urim and Thummim and the New York Cumorah embark on a life-long journey of complicated explanations and rationalizations.

I liked this graphic from Twitter:

Logic is seeing the dots. Action is joining the dots. Creativity is aligning the dots to unlock your simplest route.















Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Among the Lamanites

In Come Follow Me, we recently covered D&C 28, 30 and 32 which involved the Mission to the Lamanites who were living in New York, Ohio, Missouri and Kansas at the time.

http://comefollowme2021.org/

There's a phrase common to all three sections.

And thou shalt assist to settle all these things, according to the covenants of the church, before thou shalt take thy journey among the Lamanites. (Doctrine and Covenants 28:14)

And be you afflicted in all his afflictions, ever lifting up your heart unto me in prayer and faith, for his and your deliverance; for I have given unto him power to build up my church among the Lamanites;
(Doctrine and Covenants 30:6)

And that which I have appointed unto him is that he shall go with my servants, Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, Jun., into the wilderness among the Lamanites. (Doctrine and Covenants 32:2)

Regular readers of the Book of Mormon may recall that this same phrase appears 24 times in the Book of Mormon. Examples:

I, Zeniff, having been taught in all the language of the Nephites, and having had a knowledge of the land of Nephi, or of the land of our fathers’ first inheritance, and having been sent as a spy among the Lamanites that I might spy out their forces... (Mosiah 9:1)

And king Mosiah went and inquired of the Lord if he should let his sons go up among the Lamanites to preach the word.... And they took their journey into the wilderness to go up to preach the word among the Lamanites; and I shall give an account of their proceedings hereafter. (Mosiah 28:6, 9)

And the Lord said unto them also: Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; (Alma 17:11)

And thus the work of the Lord did commence among the Lamanites; thus the Lord did begin to pour out his Spirit upon them; and we see that his arm is extended to all people who will repent and believe on his name. (Alma 19:36)

Maybe the Lord used the phrase to refer to two entirely different groups of people, completely unrelated genetically, culturally, historically, geographically, etc.

Or maybe, as Joseph Smith declared from Nauvoo in the Wentworth letter, the remnant of Lehi "are the Indians that now inhabit this country."
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Monday, April 19, 2021

Lazy learners and the M2C citation cartel

In the April 2021 General Conference, President Nelson used the term "lazy learners." He encouraged each of us to "Become an engaged learner." He pointed out that "It takes faith to follow prophets rather than pundits and popular opinion."

There are lots of implications for his message, but I'd like to apply it to the ongoing problem of deference to the credentialed class of LDS scholars who purport to be "Interpreters" for the rest of us. 

One category of "lazy learners" are those who don't study, but another category is those who think they are studying when they read/watch the teachings of scholars instead of original source material, particularly the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets, including Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

Deferring to an intellectual because of his/her credentials, affiliation with BYU or CES, résumé including Church service, or popularity, is a form of lazy learning because all we're doing is learning what that intellectual thinks. We're not thinking for ourselves.

This is particularly true when we defer to the M2C citation cartel who have been promoting their M2C theory for decades and continue to do so. They enforce their M2C theory through a variety of rhetorical techniques we have discussed many times on this blog.

The members of the M2C citation cartel are all fine scholars, faithful Church members, nice people, etc. They are all doing what they think is right. But that doesn't entitle them to assign your opinions to you. And they shouldn't have to bear the responsibility for your choices.

Fortunately, Church leaders have made it clear that individual members are not only entitled to, but are responsible to, make up our own minds on these issues.

We can each chose to be "engaged learners" by studying original sources for ourselves. Then we can make informed decisions. Faithful, informed Latter-day Saints end up supporting the teachings of the prophets instead of repudiating teachings they happen to disagree with.

Presumably, that's why you read this blog.

The alternative to being "engaged learners" is choosing to be "lazy learners" by reading and watching the words of the intellectual "interpreters" in the M2C citation cartel who digest and filter the original sources to promote their own theories.
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From time to time, I still hear objections to the term "M2C citation cartel."

Let me explain once again. 

I didn't invent the term "citation cartel," although if you google "citation cartel" images, you'll see several images of the M2C citation cartel among the first results. The term is widely used in academic circles to describe an ongoing problem with published scholarship. The term does not refer to drug or criminal cartels. 

A citation cartel is any group of like-minded scholars (and their followers) who cite one another to bolster the impression that their groupthink is both widely accepted and the best theory regarding whatever topic they write about. It can be considered "peer approval" masquerading as "peer review."

Here's one way to identify a citation cartel:

In our experience, a citation cartel differs from the ordinary in that it usually involves one or more or all of the following: 

i) a small number, often just two or three, journals are involved; 

ii) similarly, the diversity of authors involved is small, i.e., smaller as one would expect for a healthy research community; 

iii) often there is a large overlap of editors in the journals that sustain a particular cartel. 

The M2C citation cartel easily satisfies these criteria. 

i) We are dealing with two basic journals: (i) BYU Studies, and (ii) the various publications that arose from FARMS, including the current Interpreter, which Dan Peterson started after he was removed from FARMS, but which continues publishing the same type of material that the FARMS journals, led by Brother Peterson, did. 

To the extent Book of Mormon Central could be considered a journal because of its "kno-whys" and other content, it is merely another branch of FARMS anyway.

Both BYU Studies and the FARMS publications have long promoted M2C exclusively. We could hardly expect otherwise, since Jack Welch founded FARMS and was the long-time editor of BYU Studies. The FARMS logo included a Mayan glyph to represent the Book of Mormon. 


Now Book of Mormon Central, also led by Brother Welch, uses the same M2C logo. 


This logo demonstrates the antithesis of academic inquiry by imposing the outcome--M2C--on anyone who hopes to publish in these journals. That's why we see peer approval in these journals instead of actual peer review.

ii) The research community publishing in these journals consists of a handful of influential authors, all of whom promote M2C, plus their students and followers. Anyone who proposes an alternative to M2C, especially anyone who still believes and corroborates what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught, is not only unwelcome, but the target of derision and censorship.

iii) The overlap of editors in the journals is obvious. Now Steven Harper edits BYU Studies, but as we've seen, he continues to promote M2C, both at BYU Studies and through his other work, including the Saints book. 

I've referred to the M2C citation cartel as a Potemkin village because the same content surfaces in other venues, such as FairMormon (nkn FairLatterdaySaints), Meridian Magazine, and various blogs. But at the core, all of this content originated from the handful of M2C scholars we know and love. 

We cannot expect them to adjust, let alone change, their views on M2C. We can only humor them, try to sift out the M2C influence in their content (because they have produced some fine research on other topics), and let them continue to confirm their biases while the rest of us move on to better understand and corroborate the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, the translation of the plates, and related topics.

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Most LDS members think most LDS intellectuals have accepted the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C). They may be right, but I've heard from enough LDS intellectuals who disagree with M2C but dare not challenge the M2C citation cartel to know that, despite the image of consensus conveyed by the Potemkin village, plenty of people have peered around the corner and have seen that M2C is little more than wishful thinking.

Of course, people can believe whatever they want. I'm not trying to persuade anyone to reject M2C. My hope is for everyone to make informed decisions instead of having their opinions assigned to them by dogmatic members of a citation cartel.

I have no problem with people who embrace M2C with full knowledge of all relevant facts. 

The problem I see is that people embrace M2C based on incomplete knowledge, just as people leave the Church because of incomplete knowledge (combined with poor apologetics, a topic for another day). In both cases, people think they know everything on a given topic, but even cursory discussions with them shows they have huge gaps. I've spoken to many M2C believers who have never heard of Letter VII and its content, let alone its pervasiveness during the lifetimes of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

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The reason the M2C citation cartel has dominated is not because of careful analysis of Church history; as we've seen repeatedly, the opposite is true, because M2C is based on rejecting early Church history about the Hill Cumorah and related topics.

The reason is also not because of careful analysis of the text of the Book of Mormon, or of careful analysis of archaeology, anthropology, etc., because the opposite is also true in those cases. The M2C advocates continually revise their interpretation of the Book of Mormon text to align with whatever the latest science tells them about Mesoamerica. They've admitted they "can't unsee" Mesoamerica when they read the Book of Mormon. They read into it all kinds of Mesoamerican culture that no one else sees.

M2C was originally developed by the RLDS scholar LE Hills, who published the basic M2C map in 1917. 

LDS scholars such as John Sorenson, Jack Welch, and Dan Peterson adopted the Hills map and began promoting it as the only approved setting for the Book of Mormon.

Then, through FARMS, BYU Studies, the Interpreter, FairMormon/FairLDS, Meridian Magazine, and Book of Mormon Central, these scholars created the M2C citation cartel to promote and reinforce M2C. 

They taught it to generations of LDS students.

Now, BYU and CES formally teach M2C, all the while proclaiming "neutrality."



To repeat: The members of the M2C citation cartel are all fine scholars, faithful Church members, nice people, etc. They are all doing what they think is right.

Fortunately, Church leaders have made it clear that individual members are not only entitled to, but are responsible to, make up our own minds on these issues.

We can each chose to be "engaged learners" making informed decisions based on all the evidence instead of "lazy learners" who consume the digested and filtered opinions of agenda-driven intellectuals.






Friday, April 16, 2021

What are we reading when we read the Book of Mormon?

What are the implications of embracing SITH (stone-in-the-hat) as the explanation for the origin of the Book of Mormon?

For the first 200 years of the restoration, believers accepted the claims of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery that the Book of Mormon was a translation of ancient records kept on metal plates. They rejected the claims of critics that Joseph merely read words that appeared on a stone he put in a hat (SITH).

About 20 years ago, LDS scholars re-interpreted the historical evidence to reject what Oliver and Joseph said in favor of SITH. Lately, SITH has gained more widespread acceptance.

Nevertheless, many Latter-day Saints (including me) still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught. 

Some of us think Joseph used SITH solely to demonstrate the process to a handful of supporters to whom he could not show the Urim and Thummim or the plates. Decades later, after Joseph and Oliver had died, some of the eyewitnesses transformed the demonstration into the translation, as I've described in my book, A Man that Can Translate.

Does it make a difference what we believe about the origin of the Book of Mormon?

I think it does, but apparently others do not think it matters. For them, it's the words in the book, not their origin, that matter. That explains much of recent apologetics, but it also explains why recent apologetics are so ineffective, as I'll discuss in my upcoming book on LDS apologetics.

I'm curious what people think about this topic, because it raises the question, what are we reading when we read the Book of Mormon?

1. A translation of a history of a small group of Hebrews living within Mayan culture?

2. A translation of a history of the moundbuilders in North America?

3. A spiritual vision?

4. Words, provided by an unknown source, that appeared on a stone that only Joseph could read?

5. A composition by Solomon Spalding and/or Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, etc.?

6. A compilation of Christian teachings in the framework of a faith-promoting narrative unrelated to any actual people?

7. Something else?

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In my view, the evidence points to #2, which also happens to corroborate the teachings of the prophets.

And yet, many believers accept alternatives, including #1, #3, #4, and #6. It is their underlying assumption about these alternatives that drive apologetic arguments such as M2C.

I'm fine with people believing whatever they want, of course. 

But I don't see much discussion of the implications of replacing #2 with the other alternatives. We'll discuss the alternatives in upcoming posts.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Puzzles instead of battles

Such issues as the translation of the Book of Mormon and the historicity/geography of the Book of Mormon make people run to their ideological team and prepare for battle. They arm themselves with well-worn words and phrases and arguments that confirm their respective biases.

What if we looked these issues as puzzles to solve instead of as battles to be fought?

I discussed this on my consensus blog, here:

https://bookofmormonconsensus.blogspot.com/2021/04/a-puzzle-not-fight.html

We can easily solve the puzzle once we recognize we're on the same team.


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

More fun with SITH and M2C

FYI, I started a series on agenda-driven history on my LetterVII blog.

https://www.lettervii.com/2021/04/steven-c-harper-and-agenda-driven.html

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One of the issues that our M2C scholars debate is the translation of the Book of Mormon. 

Anyone who reads the Book of Mormon knows it describes nothing like Mayan culture. There are no references to jade, jungles and jaguars, nothing about massive stone pyramids, nothing about volcanoes, nothing about ubiquitous stone engravings relating the history of the people beginning long before Lehi arrived, etc.

This leads our M2C intellectuals to conclude that Joseph didn't translate the plates literally, or even close to literally. They think the Book of Mormon is a "loose" translation.  

Basically, the M2C proponents insist that Joseph Smith mistranslated the Book of Mormon. Here's how Brant Gardner, one of the more prominent M2C proponents, puts it: "We have evidence that Joseph dictated 'north.' What we do not have evidence of is what the text on the plates said." 

Did you catch that? According to our M2C scholars, Joseph Smith's translation is not evidence of what the plates said!

This is why, despite the language in the text, they "cannot unsee" Mesoamerican culture when they read it. A "horse" is a "tapir," a "tower" is a "massive stone pyramid," etc.

Such a "loose" translation seems to conflict with the idea of an "iron-clad" translation promoted by various LDS scholars; i.e., the idea that Joseph read words that appeared on the stone in the hat (SITH). 

LDS scholars such as Royal Skousen say Joseph was not the translator. This excerpt discussing SITH is from his book on the King James language in the text. 

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." 

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2020/01/royal-skousen-translation-and-m2c.html 

SITH depends on the theory that the Mysterious Unknown Supernatural Translator (MUST) somehow translated the plates into English and caused the words that they should appear on the stone in the hat. 

To reconcile SITH with M2C, our M2C scholars have to conclude it was not Joseph who mistranslated the plates, but the MUST, who provided a "creative and cultural translation" but forgot to include all the elements of Mayan culture.

To many of us, this sounds ridiculous, but that is what M2C boils down to. 

Of course, people can believe whatever they want. That's fine with me. All we do on this blog is discuss the facts and ramifications of the various theories.

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Previously, we've discussed the awesome Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation (GTE).

http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2020/06/review-of-gospel-topics-essay-on.html 

The GTE forgot to even quote (let alone discuss) what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation with the Urim and Thummim.

Instead, the GTE mingles the theories of scholars with quotations dated decades after the events from people such as David Whitmer and Emma Smith.

For example, here's a screen capture from the essay:

That quotation comes from Oliver Cowdery's Letter I, an excerpt of which is found in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith-History, note 1. Here it is in context, with the omitted portion in red.

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.’

(Joseph Smith—History, Note, 1) also at https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/49

Many faithful Latter-day Saints find it astonishing that a Gospel Topics Essay on the Translation of the Book of Mormon would not even inform readers what Joseph and Oliver had to say. 

But many of us also find it astonishing that the GTE on Book of Mormon Geography is silent about Cumorah, precisely the same way that the Saints book, volume 1, is silent on Cumorah.

That's one of the topics I'll be discussing in the series on the Letter VII blog.

https://www.lettervii.com/2021/04/steven-c-harper-and-agenda-driven.html











Thursday, April 8, 2021

Oliver forgot to mention...

Oliver Cowdery had this "seer stone" with him when he rejoined the Church and testified that Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim. 

No one reported him taking the stone out and displaying it to prove the truthfulness of what he was saying. 

And yet, now our historians claim it's "likely" that Joseph used this stone to produce the Book of Mormon.


Joseph Smith likely used his brown seer stone while translating the Book of Mormon. His wife, Emma Smith, is believed to have made the leather pouch for the stone’s safekeeping.

 Church Museum of History and Art.

Apparently Oliver didn't get the memo that he and Joseph were wrong about the Urim and Thummim because we now "know" that Joseph didn't actually use the Urim and Thummim. Instead, he just stared at this stone in the hat (SITH) and didn't use the plates.

Either that, or Oliver just forgot to mention the stone in his pocket because he knew Joseph didn't use it to translated the plates.

When Cowdery returned to Church membership in 1848 he spoke to an Iowa conference. His words there were recorded by Reuben Miller: “I wrote with my own pen the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet as he translated it by the gift and power of God by means of the Urim and Thummim, or as it is called by that book, holy interpreters. I beheld with my eyes and handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated. I also beheld the Interpreters. That book is true. … I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the Prophet.”

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1977/09/by-the-gift-and-power-of-god?lang=eng


Some of us still believe it's more 'likely" that Joseph and Oliver told the truth when they repeatedly explained that Joseph translated the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim. 

For example, the Pearl of Great Price includes Oliver's testimony:

* 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.’
(Joseph Smith—History, Note, 1)

The 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed explained that there were two explanations for the Book of Mormon. One was a "peep stone." The other was the Urim and Thummim. 

It was in response to Mormonism Unvailed that Oliver wrote the statement found in Joseph Smith-History.

But our historians prefer the alternative "peep stone" explanation.
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It's even more fun that the sources historians now rely on to justify SITH came decades later than the sources who claimed the real Hill Cumorah is in New York. Yet the historians embrace the later SITH sources while they reject the earlier Cumorah sources.

Awesome.




Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The first Mission to the Lamanites

This week's Come Follow Me lesson focuses on D&C 30-36. Sections 30 and 32 discuss the Mission to the Lamanites.

Because Church members hold a variety of theories about the identity of the Lamanites, it's always useful to review the scriptures on this topic, as well as what Joseph Smith taught, and then compare the teachings of other theories, such as the hemispheric theory and M2C. 

People can believe whatever they want, but they should at least make informed decisions.

And we know from long experience that people will confirm their biases regardless of the facts. But sometimes there are people who are willing to change their minds when they learn new information, especially when the new information comes from the scriptures and from authentic Church history instead of spin from the scholars.

For those few who have open minds, here are some facts to consider.
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There are 12 references to the Lamanites in the D&C. Five of these focus on the mission to the Lamanites.

8 And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and inasmuch as they receive thy teachings thou shalt cause my church to be established among them; and thou shalt have revelations, but write them not by way of commandment.

9 And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites.

14 And thou shalt assist to settle all these things, according to the covenants of the church, before thou shalt take thy journey among the Lamanites.
(Doctrine and Covenants 28:8–9, 14)

6 And be you afflicted in all his afflictions, ever lifting up your heart unto me in prayer and faith, for his and your deliverance; for I have given unto him power to build up my church among the Lamanites;
(Doctrine and Covenants 30:6)

2 And that which I have appointed unto him is that he shall go with my servants, Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, Jun., into the wilderness among the Lamanites.
(Doctrine and Covenants 32:2)

There is a nice summary of the Mission to the Lamanites here:


Separately, the Lord referred to Missouri as the borders of the Lamanites.

8 And thus you shall take your journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites.
(Doctrine and Covenants 54:8)

These verses are the only scriptural references that identify specific people as Lamanites; i.e., the Lamanites include the Indian (Native American) tribes these missionaries visited in New York, Ohio, and Missouri/Kansas. These are the tribes Joseph Smith met with when he told them the Book of Mormon told them about their ancestors. These tribes are predominantly haplogroup X2, not the Asian haplogroups ABCD that predominate in Latin America.

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Outside of the scriptures, several traditions have arisen in the Church about the identity of the Lamanites. Orson Pratt, especially, taught that the native peoples of Latin America were Lamanites. 

For example, in his 1840 pamphlet, Orson Pratt spent several pages of commentary to describe his hemispheric model of the Book of Mormon:

This remnant of Joseph were also led in a miraculous manner from Jerusalem, in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah. They were first led to the eastern borders of the Red Sea; then they journeyed for some time along the borders thereof, nearly in a south-east direction; after which, they altered their course nearly eastward, until they came to the great waters, where, by the commandment of God, they built a vessel, in which they were safely brought across the great Pacific ocean, and landed upon the western coast of South America.

In the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah, at the time the Jews were carried away captive into Babylon, another remnant were brought out of Jerusalem; some of whom were descendants of Judah. They landed in North America; soon after which they emigrated into the northern parts of South America, at which place they were discovered by the remnant of Joseph, something like four hundred years after.

... The persecuted nation emigrated towards the northern parts of South America, leaving the wicked nation in possession of the middle and southern parts of the same. The former were called Nephites... the Lord gave unto them the whole continent, for a land of promise...

The second colony, which left Jerusalem eleven years after the remnant of Joseph left that city, landed in North America, and emigrated from thence, to the northern parts of South America; and about four hundred years after, they were discovered by the Nephites, as we stated in the foregoing.
They were called the people of Zarahemla....

And in process of time, the Nephites began to build ships near the Isthmus of Darien, and launch them forth into the western ocean, in which great numbers sailed a great distance to the northward, and began to colonize North America. Other colonies emigrated by land, and in a few centuries the whole continent became peopled. North America, at that time, was almost entirely destitute of timber, it having been cut off by the more ancient race, who came from the great tower, at the confusion of languages...

The Nephites and Lamanites were all converted unto the Lord, both in South and North America...

The Lamanites, at that time, dwelt in South America, and the Nephites in North America.
A great and terrible war commenced between them, which lasted for many years, and resulted in the complete overthrow and destruction of the Nephites. This war commenced at the Isthmus of Darien, and was very destructive to both nations for many years. At length, the Nephites were driven before their enemies, a great distance to the north, and north-east; and having gathered their whole nation together, both men, women, and children, they encamped on, and round about the hill Cumorah, where the records were found, which is in the State of New York, about two hundred miles west of the city of Albany. 


When Joseph Smith wrote the Wentworth letter, published as "Church History" in the March 1842 Times and Seasons, he adapted some of Orson Pratt's pamphlet. The Joseph Smith Papers notes that "“Church History” echoes some wording from Orson Pratt’s A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records."


In writing the Wentworth letter, however, Joseph deleted all of Orson Pratt's speculation about the hemispheric model. Instead, he reiterated D&C 28, 30, and 32, as well as Moroni's explanation during his first visit.

"Church History" (aka the Wentworth letter):

"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 country" is the same phrase Moroni used when he first explained the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith.

"He [Moroni] then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigenes of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham." 


Orson Pratt outlived Joseph Smith. Orson inserted his hemispheric theory into the footnotes of the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon, and many Latter-day Saints accepted the hemispheric model. 

Others accept the designation in D&C 28, 30, and 32; i.e., the Lamanites are the Indians who live in the U.S. circa 1830-1842 (the northeastern tribes and those who had been removed to the borders of Missouri).

In the early 1900s, RLDS scholar L.E. Hills proposed a limited geography based on Mesoamerica, with Cumorah in southern Mexico (M2C, or the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). Eventually, LDS scholars such as John Sorenson, Dan Peterson, and Jack Welch adopted M2C. They have been promoting it ever since.
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Orson Pratt's hemispheric model retains some vitality, however. Lots of people over the years have alluded to it. 

In the modern world, people have traveled and migrated so much that bloodlines and DNA are mingled everywhere in the world. In that sense, just as Abraham's descendants are everywhere, we could say Lehi's descendants are everywhere.

The demographics of Latin America show that, apart from the indigenous populations (Amerindians) whose ancestry is north Asian (mtDNA Haplogroups A, B, C, and D), the ancestors of most of the population originated in Europe. It was the incongruence between the DNA evidence and Orson Pratt's hemispheric model (Lamanites are the ancestors of all the Latin Americans) that caused such confusion and led to rewording the Introduction to the Book of Mormon from "principal ancestors" to "among the ancestors" of the American Indians. Introduction (churchofjesuschrist.org)

The studies summarized in Wikipedia indicate that "Whites presently compose the largest racial group in Latin America (36% in the table herein) and, whether as White, Mestizo, or Mulatto, the vast majority of Latin Americans have white ancestry."

In Latin America as a whole, 36% of the population is "white" (mainly Europeans from Spain and Portugal), 30% is Mestizo (mixture of European and indigenous), 20.3% is Mulattoes (mixture of African and European), and only 9.2% are Amerindians. 


You can see the data here (click to enlarge):



As we saw at the beginning of this post, people will confirm their biases no matter what the facts are. We have M2C scholars who claim the Book of Mormon took place entirely in a limited geography of Mesoamerica, yet who also claim the descendants of Lehi are found throughout Latin America. It's unclear why they designate Latin America to the exclusion of North America, but maybe this is merely the legacy of Orson Pratt living on.

Which is fine. 

People can and will believe whatever they want.

But if you look at this issue from the perspective of missionaries teaching nonmembers, Orson Pratt's theory is probably not the strongest argument in favor of the historicity of the Book of Mormon. 

You can decide yourself whether it is a strong argument to reject D&C 28, 30 and 32 by claiming that the X2 Haplogroup Indians to whom those sections refer are not Lamanites, because the Lamanites are the A, B, C, and D Haplogroup Indians in Latin America.

But again, people can believe whatever they want.