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.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Origin of M2C Fantasyland

People often ask why our leading LDS scholars continue to teach students (as well as missionaries and new members) that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah

These scholars teach instead that there are "two Cumorahs." The one in New York, they claim, is a false tradition, while the real Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is somewhere in southern Mexico. This is the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C).

Here's a short explanation of the intellectual genealogy of M2C.
(click on images to enlarge)

RLDS scholar L.E. Hills decided that Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and their successors in the LDS church were wrong about Cumorah in New York. He rejected Letter VII and the teachings of Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, and every other LDS leader who ever addressed the topic.

Hills published a map in 1917 showing Cumorah in southern Mexico. 

L.E. Hills 1917 map

Over the objection of LDS leaders, LDS scholars copied the map published by L.E. Hills, moved Cumorah a few miles east, called it their own, and published it everywhere, including on the BYU Studies web page, where you can still see it today. 

BYU Studies map

Church leaders asked the scholars to stop teaching a specific geography, so CES took the BYU Studies map and turned it into a fantasy map, continuing to teach students that the prophets were wrong about Cumorah in New York.  

CES fantasy map

Then BYU scholars who work with Book of Mormon Central used computer graphics to make the CES map look more like a real-world setting. 

Book of Mormon Central continues to insist that the only viable and permissible interpretation of the text is M2C. They've embedded M2C in their logo by using a Mayan glyph to represent the Book of Mormon.

Nevertheless, some people wonder why faith in the Book of Mormon is declining, both among young people who are taught this fantasyland version of the Book of Mormon and among nonmembers contacted by the missionaries (who have been taught M2C).

For more info, see http://www.lettervii.com/2017/12/lessonfireside-material.html

Monday, August 30, 2021

Eat your M2C

 Mmmm, delicious.

(click to enlarge)

See the original M2C map, which teaches students the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah, at https://bom.byu.edu/

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Back when LDS intellectuals were intellectual

Back in 1984, when the Ensign published the first M2C articles, LDS intellectuals were still open to new ideas. 

Now, though, they are so sure of themselves that they insist only their interpretations are correct and they aggressively fight new ideas. They even incorporate their dogmatic conclusions in their logo!*

They especially resist new ideas that corroborate the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.


M2C originated with RLDS scholars Stebbins and Hills. Hills published the first M2C map in 1917. Hill submitted his map and theory to RLDS leaders, but they rejected it.

So did LDS leaders. 

Joseph Fielding Smith specifically denounced it, pointing out that this theory would cause Latter-day Saints to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.**

Nevertheless, over the objections of LDS leaders (including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference), LDS scholars gradually accepted Hills' theory. 

Now M2C is part of the Book of Mormon curriculum at BYU and throughout CES.

The BYU fantasy map at the left is a version of the CES map. They both teach LDS students to understand the Book of Mormon as taking place in a fantasy world.

The de-correlation of the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah was a gradual process that took decades. 

The game changer was probably John Sorenson's 1978 an Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, David Palmer's 1981 book In Search of Cumorah, and the two M2C Ensign articles published in 1984. 

I give Brother Sorenson a lot of credit for incorporating science into the study of the Book of Mormon. I dedicated my book Moroni's America to him, among others. 

Look at his introduction in the first Ensign article. This is the antithesis of what current LDS intellectuals believe and practice, particularly those affiliated with Book of Mormon Central.

The sciences that study ancient civilizations have undergone significant changes. In the early decades of this century, science was still thought of as the search for and discovery of permanent and infallible truth. Today, scientists and philosophers admit the nature of their enterprise requires that they regularly reinterpret their theories and data.1 Karl Popper’s view of science as “tentative forever”2 has become widely accepted. So even though perhaps a thousand times as much information now exists about the early cultures of America as was available only half a century ago, nowadays the best scholars are far less dogmatic in picturing what happened in the pre-European New World. 

Sorenson was awesome to have written this. If his followers today embraced this approach, we wouldn't have so much confusion about the Book of Mormon.

However, the intellectuals affiliated with Book of Mormon Central, along with their employees and followers, are far more dogmatic than ever before. They cannot write or endorse Popper's view today. They insist that the only viable setting for the Book of Mormon is their Mesoamerican theory, that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah, and that anyone who disagrees with them is ignorant, uneducated, mercenary, or an apostate. 

And yet, they are so insecure in their theory that they continue to refuse to tell their followers about alternative faithful interpretations of the Book of Mormon, Church history, and the teachings of the prophets because they know that most members, were they able to make informed choices, would reject M2C in favor of the teachings of the prophets.

1. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).

2. Karl R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Basic Books, 1959), p. 280. “The old scientific ideal of episteme—of absolutely certain, demonstrable knowledge—has proved to be an idol. The demand for scientific objectivity makes it inevitable that every scientific statement must remain tentative forever. It may indeed be corroborated, but every corroboration is relative to other statements which, again, are tentative. Only in our subjective experiences of conviction, in our subjective faith, can we be ‘absolutely certain.’” (Italics in the original.)


Here's an example from a 1979 FARMS paper. Notice how the M2C theory is stated as a fact.

The Book of Mormon is the religious chronicle of a small group, descendents [sic] of a common ancestor, who migrated to Mesoamerica and flourished for nearly 1000 years before being culturally assimilated and then militarily annihilated by the larger and more powerful native civilization.  

In 1984 the FARMS newsletter titled Insights explained why their logo, now used by Book of Mormon Central, incorporates a Mayan glyph:

WHAT DOES THE F.A.R.M.S. LOGO STAND FOR? Many people have asked what the F.A.R.M.S. logo means. Here is a brief explanation. The logo is composed of characters from Hebrew, Creek, Mayan and Egyptian, which are four of the main ancient languages and cultures relevant to Book of Mormon reseach [sic]. The characters are set in four stone blocks, symbolizing archaeology and ancient reseach [sic].

Click here for more background.

**President Joseph Fielding Smith, originally published in 1934, repeated in Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3:232–243.

"Within recent years there has arisen among certain students of the Book of Mormon a theory to the effect that within the period covered by the Book of Mormon, the Nephites and Lamanites were confined almost entirely within the borders of the territory comprising Central America and the southern portion of Mexico-the isthmus of Tehauntepec probably being the "narrow neck" of land spoken of in the Book of Mormon rather than the isthmus of Panama.

"This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. It is for this reason that evidence is here presented to show that it is not only possible that these places could be located as the Church has held during the past century, but that in very deed such is the case."


Friday, August 20, 2021

BYU Ed Week - Translation simplified

"And he has translated the book, even that part which I have commanded him..." (Doctrine and Covenants 17:6) "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)

Many people say the manner of translation doesn't matter because the Book of Mormon is true regardless of how it came to be. That's fine with me. People can believe whatever they want. Most adherents of most religions accept their sacred books on faith, and that's great.

However, the Book of Mormon stands apart from all other books because Joseph presented the text as an actual translation of an ancient record that he obtained by divine intervention, the Book of Mormon is unique evidence of divine origins. The ancient plates came from a resurrected being and Joseph translated the engravings on the plates. 

Lately, some faithful scholars have begun teaching that the Book of Mormon was purely a revelation, whether Joseph received it in a vision or through words that appeared on a seer stone he placed in the hat (SITH). In either case, these scholars say, Joseph didn't actually use the plates. The plates were covered with a cloth during the translation--if they were even present in the room.

If that's the case, then the Book of Mormon is on a par with other revealed books. Instead of unique evidence of God's involvement in the world, the text becomes one of many such texts, sacred because of the belief of adherents but not because it is actually a translation of an ancient record. 

The translation of the Book of Mormon should be a simple concept. Joseph said he copied the characters (presumably because the engravings were so small) and, by means of the Urim and Thummim, translated them. JS-H 1:62.

One way to think of this: the "interpreters" interpreted the characters, which provided a basic meaning. Joseph then used that interpretation to translate the meaning into coherent English, using his own lexicon (mental language bank) that he had acquired during his lifetime. (I think the Lord prepared him for his role from an early age, as I discussed in A Man that Can Translate and Infinite Goodness.)

Joseph's contemporaries claimed lots of things about the translation. David Whitmer, Emma Smith, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, Lucy Mack Smith, and others offered various explanations over the years. With the possible exception of Oliver, who was authorized to translate, the others necessarily related hearsay regarding the method of translation, so it's no wonder their accounts differ and even contradict one another. 

In recent times, historians seem to have forgotten that Joseph translated behind a curtain or screen. He emphasized that "Again, he told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken—for the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled—I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed." (Joseph Smith—History 1:42)

Joseph wasn't destroyed, which means he kept this commandment, which means he didn't show the artifacts to anyone (except presumably Oliver) until after the translation was complete. That means no one saw Joseph use these items during the translation. Some of them inferred, assumed or speculated about what was behind the screen and then related their opinions as fact. 

If there was no screen, then Moroni's commandment to Joseph made no sense. The book Mormonism Unvailed realized this. The whole point of the book was to explain what was behind the "vail" when Joseph was dictating. The book ridiculed the stone-in-the-hat (SITH) explanation (and pointed out that it doesn't matter whether Joseph put a stone or U&T in the hat if he wasn't using the plates) because of the obvious point that if Joseph didn't actually translate the plates, witnesses of the plates would serve no purpose. 

It was precisely because Joseph dictated from behind a screen that the Solomon Spalding theory was possible. The Spalding theory persuaded most of the world in the 1800s, which was why Oliver specifically refuted it when he rejoined the Church in 1848 by reaffirming that Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim.

I wrote, with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the 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 transcribed. I also beheld the Interpreters. That book is true. Sidney Rigdon did not write it. Mr. Spaulding did not write it. I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the prophet.

You can see Reuben Miller's journal entry here:

Oliver's testimony is all the more significant because when he spoke, he had in his possession the seer stone Joseph had given him, the one published in the Ensign a few years ago. 

He did not hold it up and display it as the means of translation. 

Instead, he reaffirmed that Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim.

That said, we do have accounts of SITH (although Martin, Emma, and David didn't agree on the details). In my view, the best explanation for these accounts is that Joseph gave a demonstration of the translation process using SITH, which was the closest approximation he could come up with without violating the commandment to not show the artifacts. All along, historians have merely assumed that whatever Joseph dictated during the demonstration(s) made it into the Book of Mormon, but we can't know that because no one (other than the scribes) recorded what, exactly, Joseph dictated, and there is no chain of custody of the scribal work during the demonstrations. None of the pages of the Original Manuscript indicate where and when they were written. (In A Man that Can Translate I propose what Joseph dictated during the demonstrations.)

The table below breaks down the alternatives. No shading shows theories that necessarily involve divine origins. The dark shading shows theories that exclude divine intervention. The light shading shows theories that involve supernatural intervention, whether divine or not, depending on one's preference, belief, conviction, etc.

Book of Mormon origin theories

All theories can range from loose, tight, or iron-clad control

Used the plates

Did not use the plates


No Curtain


No Curtain (catalyst)

Translation. Joseph studied the characters, copied them, then translated them by means of the U&T that came with the plates, studying it out in his mind, using his own lexicon

Translation. Joseph learned the characters engraved on the plates and translated from behind the curtain, but also conducted one or more demonstrations using the seer stone in the hat

Composition. Joseph read the Spalding manuscript, supplemented with Rigdon’s Christian sermons, except when conducting demonstrations

Transcription. Joseph read words that appeared on a seer stone (and/or the spectacles) that he placed in a hat, with the plates serving as a catalyst to the process

Transcription. Joseph looked on the plates with the U&T and dictated the exact words that appeared in the U&T


Composition. Joseph and/or others composed the text, wrote it out, and read the manuscript

Transcription. Joseph read words that he saw in vision as he looked on a seer stone in the hat




Transcription. Joseph dictated words as they came into his mind




Composition. Joseph recited from memory a text he invented




Composition. Joseph related the text as a story he invented using memory clues

Thursday, August 19, 2021

BYU Ed. Week - Why Mesoamerica (M2C)

Those familiar with Church history and the teachings of the prophets are puzzled as to why so many LDS scholars teach that Cumorah is in Mexico. (This is the Mesoamerican/Two Cumorahs theory, or M2C, described below.) The short answer: M2C has become a tradition, supported by bias confirmation.

Bottom line: people can believe whatever they want. Basic psychology requires people to confirm their biases by selectively filtering the information they accept.

Those who seek to corroborate the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah have an abundance of evidence to support their views, including evidence from Church history, the text itself, and extrinsic scientific evidence.

Those who seek to reject the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah also have an abundance of evidence to support their views, including evidence from Church history, the text itself, and extrinsic scientific evidence. 

Some who reject the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah still accept the Book of Mormon so they push M2C instead.

Others who reject the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah reject the Book of Mormon so push their theories that the Book of Mormon is fiction instead. 

As always, belief is a choice. People who claim they are "following the evidence" are deluding themselves because in every instance, they choose to follow whatever evidence confirms their bias and reject whatever evidence contradicts their bias.

It shouldn't require much thought to realize that rejecting the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah undermines faith in the rest of the teachings of those same prophets. Long ago, Joseph Fielding Smith warned that M2C would cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith. We see the evidence of that all around us. 


Teaching M2C is not only puzzling, but when BYU and CES faculty teach M2C, it is a direct challenge to the Gospel Topics Entry which says, "the Church’s only position is that the events the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas."

Of course, that position is not based on the text of the Book of Mormon, which never mentions America. It is based on the teachings of the prophets, and the same prophets who taught that the Book of Mormon took place in the ancient Americas also taught that Cumorah is in New York. 

Nevertheless, these Church employees continue to teach M2C by telling students that the prophets, beginning with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, were wrong about Cumorah.

Book of Mormon Central (BMC) has raised and spent millions of dollars to promote M2C. 

M2C is an integral part of their logo, which depicts a Mayan glyph to represent the Book of Mormon. BMC uses this logo to imprint M2C on the minds of everyone who reads their materials or watches their videos.

We love everyone at BMC. They have good intentions and most of what they do is awesome. They have accumulated lots of material to confirm their M2C bias. But M2C is unpersuasive to many faithful Latter-day Saints (not to mention to non-LDS Mayan experts, not to mention most of the world). 

We continually encourage BMC to drop their dogmatic insistence on M2C and instead embrace the Church's position that accommodates multiple working hypotheses by all faithful Church members.

Past experience teaches that the BMC scholars will continue to promote M2C as the only acceptable setting for the Book of Mormon, but we can always hope for improvement.


Back to the original question: why do these faithful LDS scholars continue to promote M2C?

The simple answer is the scholars (beginning with RLDS scholars Henry A. Stebbins and memorialized in a map by L.E. Hills in 1917, later adopted by LDS scholars) assumed Joseph Smith taught that the Nephites lived in Central America, that the New York Cumorah doesn't meet their own subjective criteria for Cumorah, and that therefore Cumorah must be in southern Mexico. This leads them to conclude that the New York Cumorah was a false tradition that Joseph and his associates adopted, thereby misleading the Church and its members for over 150 years until the scholars figured out the truth.

Thus, they have "two Cumorahs," a false one in New York and the true one somewhere in southern Mexico. 

Those who know Church history and read the text carefully can see the fallacies of the M2C assumptions, but that doesn't matter. M2C is now widespread because our LDS scholars have taught M2C for decades at BYU and in CES. M2C has become the filter through which BYU and CES students read the text.

The scholars effectively canonized the John Sorenson maps by publishing them widely and keeping them on the BYU Studies web page, where they still reside. For years they were on the splash page, but now at least they're buried under "Further Study," where you can see them here.


This one shows you exactly where (in Mexico) Cumorah is supposed to be. It is definitely not in New York.


These LDS scholars have persuaded themselves not only that the prophets were wrong, but that they, the scholars, should change and modify the text to incorporate such essential elements as volcanoes and Mayan temples.

When told to stop teaching a specific geography, BYU faculty developed an "internal map" that implemented the M2C interpretations of the text in a computer-generated fantasy world. 

The fantasy map corrects one of the major problems with M2C (the north/south orientation) but still teaches students that the prophets have been wrong about the New York Cumorah.

Worse, though, it teaches students to think of the Book of Mormon as taking place in a fantasy world, not even on the American continent.


Some historians overlook what was once common knowledge. Common knowledge becomes lost when people don't document it, or when historians ignore the documents. Some years ago I was teaching college students who had to look on their phones to figure out if the Vietnam war was before or after World War II. Both were history to them, something you read in books. To those citizens who lived during the Vietnam war, it was common knowledge that the Vietnam war was after WWII.

The New York Cumorah was so well known during Joseph Smith's lifetime that people didn't make a point of reporting about it, except in passing. Even in Letter VII, Oliver Cowdery declared it a fact but did not see the need to explain how he knew it was a fact because it was such common knowledge. Same with Joseph when he wrote what became D&C 128:20.

We can see from the historical documents that Moroni identified the hill in New York as Cumorah the very first night he met Joseph Smith. Joseph's family, all of the Three Witnesses, and early members such as Parley P. Pratt, Heber C. Kimball, and Brigham Young all knew the hill where Joseph found the plates was the same Cumorah mentioned in Mormon 6:6. Church leaders who succeeded Joseph taught the New York Cumorah consistently and persistently through at least the 1970s, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.

If you ask around, you'll see that many Church members don't realize what LDS scholars are teaching about Cumorah. It's one thing to see a depiction of Book of Mormon events in Latin America. For many years, Church authors and authorities referred to Central and South America as lands of the Book of Mormon (the "hemispheric model"), but they always emphasized those references were speculative. The only certain location was the New York Cumorah. We can see this distinction in the 1879 footnotes in the official LDS edition of the Book of Mormon.

The hemispheric model was abandoned because it never aligned with the text or relevant archaeology, anthropology, etc. But scholars instead embraced a "limited geography" in Mesoamerica. Now, every time you see a depiction of Book of Mormon events in Central America (Mesoamerica) you are seeing a depiction of the Mesoamerican/Two-Cumorahs theory (M2C). 

M2C is the theory that claims 

(i) Joseph adopted a false tradition that the hill in New York was the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6. 

(ii) The "real" Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is somewhere in Southern Mexico.

(iii) This means there are "Two Cumorahs," a false one in New York and a real one in Mexico. 

Remember, every time you see the logo of Book of Mormon Central you are seeing M2C.


Wednesday, August 18, 2021

BYU Ed Week-Hearts Knit together

Elder Uchtdorf's devotional talk at BYU Education Week focused on Mosiah 18:21, one of the favorite passages in the Book of Mormon.


Mosiah 18:21 also happens to be a focus of understanding the translation. Here is an excerpt from my book, A Man that Can Translate. I developed this approach in much more depth in my latest book, Infinite Goodness, which focuses on non-biblical intertextuality.

In my view, the appearance of non-biblical intertextuality is solid evidence that Joseph Smith actually translated the engravings on the plates.


p. 225. ... passages in the text include bits of New and Old Testament phrases joined together to compose a single verse in the Book of Mormon. Royal Skousen describes this as “blending.”


[Blending] is quite different from a paraphrastic quoting of a single King James passage (or a midrash-like commentary on it). It is as if the translator knows the King James Bible so well that hardly anything can be translated without using biblical phrases and expressions. Thus the Book of Mormon translation is much more than a literal rendition of what was originally on the plates. It is a highly creative translation affected by a thoroughly absorbed knowledge of the King James Bible.[1]


The concept of blending is comparable to the concept of chunking. In both cases, the author or speaker rearranges terms, phrases and concepts drawn from his/her mental language bank to express his/her thoughts that often have little or nothing to do with the original source.

The blending in the Book of Mormon is fluid. The manuscripts show no evidence of trial-and-error dictation or collaboration. And this is exactly how language works in our minds. We formulate thoughts by arranging and rearranging chunks of language we have heard or read elsewhere, converting those chunks into our own unique expressions.

The first example of blending Skousen offers is from Mosiah 18:21, “having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.”

This passage contains the only usage of the term knit in the Book of Mormon. The term appears seven times in the KJV. Three of these involve the term heart(s).

Epistle Dedicatory. “is that which hath so bound and firmly knit the hearts of all Your Majesty’s loyal and religious people unto You…”

1 Chronicles 12:17. “If ye become peaceably unto me to help me, mine heart shall be knit unto you…”

Colossians 2:2. “That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love…”

Skousen demonstrates the blending this way:[2]


Mosiah 18:21    having their hearts                 knit together in unity and in love one towards another

Colossians 2:2          their hearts   being knit together                    in love


Skousen points out that other writers used similar phrases.

1652, John Clarke, “and had their hearts knit together in a more than ordinary bond of love.”

1656, Alexander Grosse, “and to have our hearts knit together in love.”

Of course, both of these authors postdated the 1611 King James Version and the Epistle Dedicatory, so they represent blending of biblical passages themselves.

There is another element of Mosiah 18:21 that has a relationship to a Biblical passage. The phrase “in unity” appears only once in the Book of Mormon and once in the Bible. Psalm 133:1 reads, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”

Adding this passage to the blending gives us a more complete accounting for the passage:


Mosiah 18:21    having their hearts                   knit together in unity and in love one towards another

Colossians 2:2          their hearts     being knit together                   in love

Psalm 133:1                                …dwell            together in unity


Whether he composed the text or translated it, Joseph could have blended Colossians and Psalms subconsciously, by randomly choosing passages from different parts of the Bible, or by coincidence.  The combination of Old and New Testament verses is problematic for a literal translation because the Book of Mormon authors presumably had no access to New Testament texts. That’s why this is good evidence of both composition and translation. Note, however, that we still must omit much of Colossians and Psalms to make the blending work.

Skousen treats KJV blending as evidence that Joseph did not translate the text.


It is as if the translator knows the King James Bible so well that hardly anything can be translated without using biblical phrases and expressions… Each example provides an extraordinary demonstration of linguistic gymnastics. Of course, all of this is quite amazing, perhaps even miraculous, if one assumes that Joseph Smith must have been the one responsible for all of this textual manipulation.[3]

 Without discounting the spiritual element involved with the translation (“the gift and power of God”), there is a source of blending in the Book of Mormon that Skousen did not consider. That is, the text of the Book of Mormon could blend not only the KJV, but also the writings of prominent Christian theologians such as Jonathan Edwards and James Hervey.

2. 18th century theologians.

 As a rule, preachers and theologians quote, paraphrase, and rearrange passages from the Bible. The blending in the Book of Mormon is different, though, in the sense that passages (chunks) of biblical and theological language are used not to borrow authority from the original, but instead to repurpose the chunks for an entirely different document. That distinction is key to understanding how Joseph translated the text.

Let’s start with Jonathan Edwards, the “father of American theology.”[1] He introduced Colossians 2:2 with his own preface and paraphrased the rest.[2]  Separately, he spoke of counsel to live in unity and love one another. His work offers a simpler and cleaner blending than one derived solely from the KJV.

Jonathan Edwards: “and seemed, by their discourse and behavior after public worship, to have their ‘hearts knit together in love’ Colossians 2:2.” Also: "giving of them counsel, to live in unity and love one another, as one that was going from them…”

Combining these quotations, we see a closer fit than the KJV verses, and without the omissions those verses require. Plus, the Edwards phrase starts with a form of the verb have.


Mosiah 18:21    having their hearts                 knit together in unity and in love

Colossians 2:2        …  their hearts…   being knit together                    in love

Psalm 133:1                                      … dwell    together in unity


Mosiah 18:21    having their hearts                 knit together in unity and in love

Edwards              have their hearts                  knit together                   in love

Edwards                                                                      in unity and    love


To be sure, Edwards used the Bible here, but he did so in chunks, putting biblical passages in his own construction to paraphrase rather than directly quote the Bible, much the same way that the Book of Mormon does. Because the original chunks are so diverse, I suggest this blending in the Book of Mormon is not evidence of copying from the Bible (or from Edwards) but instead is evidence of composition or translation from Joseph’s lexicon, his mental language bank.

[1] Wilson (2012): 132.

[2] For the original source, enter search terms at http://edwards.yale.edu/.

[1] Skousen, Part 4 (2018): 1031.

[2] Skousen, Part 4 (2018): 1032.

[3] Skousen, Part 4 (2018): 1031.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

BYU Ed Week - Why Cumorah matters Part 2

Readers here know that we're happy for people to believe whatever they want. But, as they say, decisions have consequences.

In my view, extrinsic evidence (historical analysis, archaeology, anthropology, etc.) corroborates the traditional teachings of the prophets regarding the origins and historicity of the Book of Mormon. However, in recent decades, those traditional teachings have been largely abandoned by many LDS intellectuals, including some of the most influential intellectuals in the Church. 

That is not a criticism of anyone; it's merely a factual observation that anyone can see in the literature. I assume that everyone involved with these topics, whether students, teachers, intellectuals, leaders, members or nonmembers, acts in good faith to the best of their understanding. 

This post just considers the impact of changing narratives, not their validity. 

By now, most Latter-day Saints know that the growth of the Church has slowed considerably in recent years. There are myriad factors, including declining birth rates, decreased interest in religion generally, as well as doctrinal, historical, cultural, and social conflicts.

Still, the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. The prophets have consistently taught that the core message of the Restoration, that Jesus is the Christ, is based on the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and its witness of Christ, which in turn validates the calling of Joseph Smith as the prophet of the Restoration.

Two critical components of the Book of Mormon's authenticity, as taught by the prophets, are 

(i) its origin as a translation of ancient records and 

(ii) its historicity as an authentic account of actual people in the real world.

Regarding historicity, the New York Cumorah--the only definitive pin in the map taught by the prophets--was well established until an RLDS scholar invented M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory) in the early 1900s. Over the objection of LDS leaders, LDS scholars adopted M2C. The New York Cumorah was taught in General Conference in 1975 and 1978, but scholars aggressively promoted M2C in the late 1970s, and because of their positions of influence at BYU, managed to replace the New York Cumorah with M2C in the 1980s, at first among scholars. In the ensuing decades, their influence over BYU and CES students prevailed over the long-held teachings of the prophets.

A similar cycle occurred with respect to the translation of the Book of Mormon. The traditional teaching by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery that Joseph translated the engravings on the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim prevailed among LDS Church leaders until 2007, which was the last time it was taught in General Conference. LDS scholars have largely abandoned the Urim and Thummim in favor of the "stone-in-the-hat" narrative (SITH), which claims Joseph didn't really translate anything but mere dictated, or transcribed, words that appeared on a stone he put in a hat.

We're all open to new information, multiple working hypotheses, etc. I can only relate my own experience and what the data shows. 

In my experience, people respond less receptively to the Book of Mormon when told it originated from a stone in the hat (SITH) than when told that Joseph translated engravings on ancient plates. While the U&T is outside ordinary experience, at least it's what Joseph claimed. For people to accept SITH, they have to not only accept an even less plausible explanation (words appearing on a stone in a hat), but they have to also reject what Joseph himself taught. But since SITH has prevailed lately, I assume other people must be having success finding people who readily embrace SITH. 

Likewise, in my experience people more readily accept the unambiguous teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah than the musings of scholars about an unknown hill in Southern Mexico, but apparently others have different experiences. 

And again, I'm fine with people believing whatever they want. 

The following graphic depicts a correlation between historical events and Church growth rates. We can all compare growth rates during times when the New York Cumorah and Urim and Thummim narratives dominated, versus times when M2C and SITH narratives dominate.

Of course, correlation does not prove causation. There are lots of factors. However, it's worth considering the impact of changing the narratives regarding the origins and historicity of the Book of Mormon.

(click to enlarge)


A.      1975, 1978. The last time New York Cumorah was taught in General Conference

B.      1978 Sorenson's Ancient American Setting published, promotes M2C

1979 CES manual on Book of Mormon reaffirms NY Cumorah 

1979 FARMS organized, promotes M2C

C.      1990 In response to increasing confusion about Cumorah, a letter from office of First Presidency reaffirms NY Cumorah and is widely circulated, but criticized by scholars

D.      1997 FARMS joins BYU; FairMormon (now FairLatterdaySaints) organized

E.       2000 CES drops the NY Cumorah from curriculum

F.       2004 BMAF organized to promote M2C 

2004 This Land: Only One Cumorah teaches NY Cumorah

2005 Rough Stone Rolling teaches SITH

2006 BYU Studies teaches M2C

G.      2007 The last sermon in General Conference to teach the Urim and Thummim

H.      2011 Book of Mormon in America's Heartland teaches NY Cumorah

2012 Interpreter founded by leading LDS scholars to teach M2C and SITH

2012 FairMormon agrees with CES Letter re: M2C and SITH 

2013 Gospel Topics Essay (GTE) on Book of Mormon Translation teaches SITH, doesn't even quote Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery regarding the Urim and Thummim

I.       2015 Ensign teaches SITH, publishes photos of "seer stone"

2015 Book of Mormon Central (BMC, a subsidiary of BMAF) organized, begins spending millions of dollars to teach M2C and SITH

2015 BYU and CES adopt a fantasy map based on M2C to teach the Book of Mormon

J.       2018 Saints, Vol. 1, teaches SITH and censors New York Cumorah to accommodate M2C

2019 GTE on Book of Mormon geography ignores Cumorah, accommodates M2C

2020 January Ensign quotes David Whitmer's "To All Believers in Christ" and depicts Joseph using SITH with plates covered

2020 BMC introduces SeminaryCentral to promote M2C and SITH to younger students