Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Responses to the Interpreter and BMC's $250 Moroni Day

More episodes of "Under the Banner of the Interpreter" are coming, but for a break, below are some representative comments from the Moronisamerica page that reposts my blogs. These are typical of the reactions I'm hearing from everywhere.

I don't think the intellectuals in the M2C/SITH citation cartel realize how they are ruining whatever is left of their reputations. Their arrogance combined with their disdain for "ordinary" Latter-day Saints is eye-opening, isn't it? 

The tragedy: when Latter-day Saints see these things coming from the citation cartel, they are repulsed  and mistakenly think these intellectuals and their tactics represent the Church. That's why it is important for us to call out these intellectuals and what they teach.

As for me, I don't need thick skin when self-appointed apologists who publish in the Interpreter have to put words in my mouth and misrepresent my positions. That's the straw man logical fallacy that the Interpreter is famous for. 

We can't blame Spencer Kraus, of course. Although I've never met him, I'm sure he's a great guy, a faithful, devoted Latter-day Saint, etc. As a student and researcher for Book of Mormon Central, he's yet another useful tool of senior LDS intellectuals who remain "above the fray" by training and encouraging young apologists to employ a variety of logical and factual fallacies to persuade the Latter-day Saints that Joseph and Oliver misled the Church about Cumorah and the translation until they, the modern scholars, corrected the prophets. 

#1. I’ve read both your books and enjoyed them. Like with any work, I turn to the source of all truth for confirmation. I’m satisfied that I am not being mislead. To the contrary, your analysis has opened the door to further light and knowledge. I completely ignore BYU apologetics these days. Ain’t nobody got time for that! You must have some pretty thick skin. The citation cartel wouldn’t leave you alone if you weren’t hitting the nail on the head.

#2 I am 77 years old and have a very strong testimony of the Book of Mormon. I find that now a days if you do not agree with those scholars you are treated like an unbeliever. I can not discuss where the Book of Mormon took place if I do not agree with the central America idea. If I try to discuss any doctrine that the intellectuals teach you are treated badly. I don’t know what happened to the church I use to belong to.

#3 Wow! Mean spirited to say the least! It’s seems that Brother Kraus enjoys writing derogatory statements that will win approval from his coworkers and employers. I appreciate your “Wait a minute!” articles that provide an alternate source of information about historical events and are actually more plausible than what is presented by the M2C group. I was in their camp for many years but there were sooo many questions that have been answered by your contributions...

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BTW, get out your checkbooks. Although Book of Mormon Central has already raised and squandered millions of dollars to promote M2C and SITH, including with these articles in the Interpreter, they want you to spend $250/plate to attend their "Moroni Day" celebration.





Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Under the Banner of the Interpreter, episode 2

I planned to publish my observations about LDS apologetics and apologists in episode 2, but I'll publish that one later. 

To quote the Captain from Cool Hand Luke, "What we've got here is failure to communicate."

It's funny, in a way. I've said from the outset that if people are upset or threatened by my ideas, my blogs, my books, etc., they shouldn't read them. 

What I offer is an alternative to the SITH narrative that I find unbelievable. I don't think SITH accounts for the entirety of the historical evidence, and I think it contradicts common sense, the scriptures, and what Joseph, Oliver, their contemporaries and successors consistently taught.

Others, such as Brother Kraus, disagree. That's great. 

I think it's awesome to have multiple working hypotheses based on the same facts, but my position on that (as well as my particular hypothesis) is intolerable to the SITHsayers, particularly those in the citation cartel.

Last year I was at BYU and a friend of mine told me people were being employed to read and analyze my work. I still can't understand why the M2C and SITH citation cartel spend so much time and effort on this, especially when all we'd have to do is have a conversation (which they refuse to have).

What they don't get is, I'm happy for people to believe whatever they want. Unlike the Interpreter, I encourage people to make informed decisions and not defer to self-appointed experts to tell them what to think.

_____


While I appreciate the attention Brother Kraus has brought to my books, I don't know how many people still read the Interpreter after so many years of publishing flawed apologetics and the theories of men, mingled sometimes with some good work. 

On top of that, because his reviews of my books are so lengthy, I doubt many readers will wade through them.

Feel free to do so if you want. I'm happy to have everyone see the type of apologetics our scholars engage in.

In fact, I'm posting his conclusions at the end of this episode for everyone to see.

Lots of people have asked me to continue my interlinear notes, so as I get some time, I'm addressing his specific points on my Interpreter Peer Reviewed blog,
_____

The overall question is how to reconcile historical accounts of SITH vs historical accounts of the Urim and Thummim. 

My two books, A Man that Can Translate and Infinite Goodness, make a case for Joseph Smith as the actual translator of the ancient Nephite plates by means of the Urim and Thummim, meaning specifically the spectacles or interpreters that came with the plates. That's my user interface as I engage with historical documents.

To put it mildly, Brother Kraus interprets the evidence differently from the way I do. 

Because of our different approaches, throughout his reviews Brother Kraus puts words in my mouth and misrepresents my positions to reach his conclusions. 

Even better, he exhorts readers of the Interpreter not to read my books--exactly the type of censorship we expect from the Interpreter. 

As a researcher for Book of Mormon Central and contributor to the Interpreter, Brother Kraus has been well trained in the citation cartel's mantra: "We're the scholars designated to interpret and enforce conformity to our own opinions, so trust us. There's no need for anyone to make their own informed decisions." 

Anyone who still reads the Interpreter will probably take his advice. Which is fine with me. 

_____

Below are Brother Kraus' conclusions. From the perspective of the Interpreter, this is exemplary writing. This is the type of writing that built Dan Peterson's reputation for LDS apologetics and that everyone at the Interpreter aspires to. It's so typical of the Interpreter that I hope someone did a plagiarism check against other Interpreter articles.

Surely Brother Kraus' father, family, and other collaborators are just as proud as Dan Peterson with the way Brother Kraus misinterprets my work and tells his readers what to think.

More on that in upcoming episodes.

Brother Kraus' conclusions, verbatim:

The ideas presented in this book [A Man that Can Translate] are troubling. Neville’s Demonstration Hypothesis makes Joseph Smith a liar. He systematically tries to dismiss all sources and witnesses to the translation of the Book of Mormon that do not support his thesis, and Neville accepts and even defends the use of sources that stand in opposition to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Neville’s claim that Joseph Smith recited Isaiah from memory is unsustainable in light of the Hebrew text and other manuscripts that have been transmitted to us today. Sources regarding Joseph Smith’s seer stone are treated dishonestly, and Neville misrepresents the Church and its leaders’s position regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon.

This book is not a book to turn to if you need answers to questions or want to study the history of the Church in greater detail. Neville’s work is something that comes almost entirely out of his own imagination, punctuated by a few brief but fleeting contacts with actual evidence. More often than not, that evidence is deformed in the collision, only to have the story veer off into fantasy again.

History, on the other hand, is written through the careful analysis of documents in their context and against a wide array of evidence. Neville has not done his due diligence, and his theses reflect either a poor understanding and treatment of history or a ruthless willingness to distort the facts. This book, in short, should not be found in any serious Latter-day Saint’s library, save as a cautionary tale.

and

Infinite Goodness is a poor book to add to any Latter-day Saint’s library because of its many historical inaccuracies. It is further weakened by its continued insistence on his Demonstration Hypothesis, which claims that Joseph Smith merely feigned translation by reciting Isaiah from [Page 89] memory, despite the textual and historical evidence to the contrary.121 It also serves as a poor model of how to do history, how to argue honesty, and even the use of logic. It is a pseudo-historical work that gives undue credence to many attacks originally formulated by critics of the Church regarding the origins of the Book of Mormon, and its arguments can be devastating to faith for unprepared members of the Church who do not know beforehand the claims made within. We can only debate whether its effect on the reader will be worse because of the false ideas it teaches, or because of the dreadful example that it sets.


Monday, June 27, 2022

Under the Banner of the Interpreter, episode 1

Under the Banner of the Interpreter
As expected, Dan "the Interpreter" Peterson published a review of Infinite Goodness last Friday under the banner of the Interpreter.

[I don't know whether they will also publish a review of my book Between these Hills: a case for the New York Cumorah (although they should).]

It's fitting that these reviews were published "Under the Banner of the Interpreter" during June 2022, the month when the final episode of FX's Under the Banner of Heaven first aired.* 

The Interpreter has again revealed itself as the self-appointed arbiter of permissible thought that it has been since its inception.

_____

With these two reviews, we've now come full circle with the Interpreter, as I'll explain below after my introduction to this series of discussions about LDS apologetics. 

As always, this post is subject to revision pending better information and ideas.

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In all my writings, building Zion is my primary interest. 

There are many ways to accomplish this. For example, yesterday I participated in an awesome zoom training with President Brian K. Ashton of BYU Pathway Worldwide. He emphasized that the Pathway program is an important part of building Zion. 

He quoted this passage, with which I completely agree: 

If we would establish Zion in our homes, branches, wards, and stakes, we must rise to this standard. It will be necessary (1) to become unified in one heart and one mind; (2) to become, individually and collectively, a holy people; and (3) to care for the poor and needy with such effectiveness that we eliminate poverty among us. We cannot wait until Zion comes for these things to happen—Zion will come only as they happen.

(2008, October, D. Todd Christofferson, ‘Come to Zion,’ Ensign, November 2008, ¶ 18)

My wife and I are Pathway missionaries. We conduct weekly gatherings and we train Pathway missionaries throughout South America (except Brazil). Separately we teach Institute classes on zoom, serve in our ward and stake callings, etc.

Another important aspect of building Zion is becoming unified in one heart and one mind. How can we do that when there are so many different beliefs and backgrounds, even among faithful Latter-day Saints?

President Dallin H. Oaks has explained that "we seek unity in diversity." Elder Quentin L. Cook taught "With our all-inclusive doctrine, we can be an oasis of unity and celebrate diversity. Unity and diversity are not opposites. We can achieve greater unity as we foster an atmosphere of inclusion and respect for diversity." 

Such unity flourishes when people who have a diversity of views and backgrounds unite through mutual respect and even enjoyment of alternative perspectives while pursuing a common goal--the establishment of Zion. I feature aspects of this on my HowToZion blog. 

https://howtozion.blogspot.com/

Unity comes from seeking to understand and exchange views instead of insisting on compliance with someone's particular interpretation of history and doctrine. For that reason, I encourage people to consider a wide range of views--multiple working hypotheses--including those published by the citation cartel. As I've said, around 80% of what the cartel publishes is great. Even the Interpreter sometimes publishes good work.

I'm happy for people to believe whatever they want. I trust people to make the best decisions for themselves when they have "good information."

In my experience, most Latter-day Saints--actually, most people everywhere of whatever religious persuasion--feel the same way. While confirmation bias is a ubiquitous obstacle to achieving unity of belief, it doesn't prevent people from allowing others to think whatever they want without feeling compelled to demand compliance with their own beliefs.

After all, it's one of our articles of faith: "11 We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."

The exceptions arise when motivated reasoning sets in. 

In the arena of politics, we see tremendous efforts to create narratives to elicit support for one political agenda or another. Businesses use advertising to tout the benefits of their products and services compared with the competition.

In the context of the Restoration, we have critics who are highly motivated to reject the truth claims for various reasons. But we also have intellectuals who are highly motivated to defend their own theories and agendas, particularly when they are reinforced by insular groupthink.

That's inimical to both the 11th Article of Faith and the establishment of Zion.

_____

By assuming for themselves the title and role of "the Interpreter," the intellectuals in the Interpreter Foundation have formally declared their opposition to the very concept of "unity in diversity." 

That said, we can't fault them for their sincerity. Some of them I've met, others I haven't, but I assume they are all awesome, faithful, devoted Latter-day Saint who want to help build Zion. 

I just disagree with their approach, which in my opinion is counterproductive. Instead of strident advocacy, they could hosts respectful exchanges among faithful Latter-day Saints who have a variety of interpretations. That would be a valuable service that would contribute to unity in diversity.

But they won't.  

_____

Here's what I mean about coming full circle. It was the work of certain LDS apologists involved with these articles that led me to embark on a detailed study of Church history and Book of Mormon historicity. While I thought they made some good points worthy of consideration and discussion, I was appalled at both the tone and content of their publications. 

Most disturbing was the way their work led people I know to question their faith and, in some cases, leave the Church. 

A surprising aspect of the work of these apologists was (and remains) how they agree with the harshest critics; i.e., that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery misled everyone about the New York Cumorah and the translation of the Book of Mormon.

Thus, we have both John Dehlin (Mormon Stories) and the Interpreter agreeing that Joseph never really translated anything and never even used the plates or the Nephite interpreters that came with the plates.  

I thought there must be a better path through the thickets of controversy, with clearer, more rational reconciliation of what appeared to be inconsistencies in the historical record. 

Soon enough, I found what, for me, was a much better path than the one the apologists and critics shared. I wrote my first book about it, titled The Lost City of Zarahemla. The apologists, particularly those at the Interpreter, objected vociferously. And they still do, as we've seen in the last two weeks.

Which is fine. I'm happy to have a discussion and exchange of views with just about anyone. As I frequently reiterate, I favor the presentation and consideration of multiple working hypotheses.

But the "credentialed class" at the Interpreter don't. They claim, like the Lafferty brothers, to be doing the work of God by exterminating what they perceive to be threats to their agenda.

_____

As I mentioned above, we have the prevailing narrative from both the Interpreter and Mormon Stories that Joseph and Oliver misled everyone about the New York Cumorah and the translation of the Book of Mormon. 

I disagree with the prevailing narrative because I believe Joseph and Oliver both told the truth and that the historical record, as well as extrinsic evidence, corroborates what they taught.

I'm fine with people disagreeing with me; after all, I'm not trying to persuade anyone. I just share what I've found because people ask me about these things all the time. I eagerly embrace better information and explanations whenever I encounter them. 

A healthy market for ideas depends on competition. I emphatically favor the idea of multiple working hypotheses. As a starting point, everyone should be able to agree on the basic facts. Based on any given set of facts, however, people have various assumptions, inferences, theories, and hypotheses (the FAITH model). When the alternatives are laid out for everyone to see, people can intelligently and fairly choose among them, or offer yet another alternative.

As President Nelson taught, "Good inspiration is based upon good information." People can only make informed decision when they have good information. This is why I object only to censorship and other efforts to control narratives by depriving people of the ability to make informed decisions.

It's on that basis, and that basis alone, that I object to the citation cartel, including the self-appointed "experts" at the Interpreter.

_____

It was a decade ago this month when Dan Peterson was dismissed as editor of Mormon Studies Review, then published by the Maxwell Institute.

His colleague, William Hamblin, who was deeply offended by the action, explained:

I note, for the record, that none of the editors except Dan has had any direct communication with Bradford about this decision.  They were never informed that they have been dismissed.  Indeed, Lou Midgley is out of the country on vacation, and does not have internet access, and has no idea what’s going on.  Even if this change is a good idea, treating people this way, after years of service, is simply shameful.

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/enigmaticmirror/2012/06/22/dans-dismissal-is-official/

Gregory L. Smith, whose draft article about John Dehlin and Mormon Stories apparently was a major factor in Peterson's dismissal, later published his version of the events in the Interpreter. In that account, he described the tactics employed by Dehlin. 

Not knowing either individual personally, I assume Dehlin is well-intentioned from his perspective, the same way I assume Smith is well-intentioned from his perspective. That's not to say I consider them equivalent; I'm far more aligned with Smith than with Dehlin, based on Smith's analysis of Mormon Stories that was withheld from publication. It makes a lot of good points and holds up pretty well. 

In my view, however, Smith has assumed a role as a "defender of the faith" that leads to friendly fire.

Looking back over the ensuring decade, Smith's explanation of what happened served instead as a roadmap for the editorial course of the Interpreter

In the following quotation from his article, I've substituted some of the names to show how he set out the agenda.

Mormon Stories’ [the Interpreter's] need for a foil against which to define itself, however, can be amply filled by a subgroup within Mormonism—the apologists [Heartlanders] for whom Dehlin Smith makes his disdain so clear.20 Those who support the Church and offer substantive disagreement with Dehlin’s [the Interpreter's] claims can play the oppositional role for Mormon Stories [the Interpreter], many of whose sympathizers are certainly engaged in a disturbing period of change as they navigate their own individual crises of faith. Marginalizing those who differ also protects Dehlin’s [the Interpreter's] narrative from challenge. Silencing members of the putative opposition is not just excusable by Dehlin’s [the Interpreter's] account, but sometimes good and noble.21

Such tactics are hardly unique to Mormon Stories [the Interpreter]. Sociologists have long described “cult awareness groups” and their tactics. Such groups can be either sectarian or secularist, and aim—as Mormon Stories [the Interpreter] does—to align themselves in the public mind with science, reason, rationality, and socially approved views. They attempt to shape the public discussion and narrative surrounding a religious group and its views, and so prefer to silence or discredit any who differ with their portrayal. 

https://interpreterfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/SMITH2-Return-of-the-Unread-Review.pdf

Readers can review Smith's article to see for themselves how well the Interpreter has followed his roadmap. 

For the Interpreter and its affiliates in the citation cartel (Book of Mormon Central, FAIRLDS, etc.), the target "subgroup within Mormonism" consists of faithful Latter-day Saints who still believe what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah and the translation of the Book of Mormon. They portray this subgroup of "Heartlanders" as delusional, ignorant, and even apostate, and they assiduously "prefer to silence or discredit any who differ with their portrayal" of this subgroup of faithful Latter-day Saints. 

In additional excerpt, Smith complains about Dehlin's attacks on "Mormon apologists" including himself, Dan Peterson, and other followers whom Dan took with him to the Interpreter. In so doing, however, Smith acknowledged that Dehlin's point was valid--that "mean-spirited or ad hominem-laden review is clear an ill"--albeit inadequately demonstrated. 

In the same vein, Dehlin repeatedly attacks Mormon apologists—his oppositional foil—for being mean-spirited, nasty, and engaging in ad hominem. Writing a mean-spirited or ad hominem-laden review is clearly an ill—to society and scholarship generally, and particularly within the micro-society of the Saints. Some apologists somewhere have likely done so. But, if it is pervasive, institutionalized, or systemic, this must be demonstrated, not just asserted. My review ought not to be condemned simply by association, even though such condemnation may prove convenient to those being reviewed.

In the ensuing decade, however, the Interpreter has demonstrated exactly what Smith claimed would be "clearly an ill."

Smith claimed that "the evils of defamation, nastiness, ad hominem, and the rest are not nearly as widespread in Mormon apologetics as Dehlin’s narrative implies and requires."

Yet it was actually Gregory Smith's own "mean-spirited, ad hominem-laden review" that prompted me to start looking into the work of the M2C apologists in the first place.

BMAF logo depicting M2C

Smith published an article in the FARMS Review in 2010, which is now found on the infamous BMAF.org site. [Note that BMAF is the corporate owner of Book of Mormon Central, another example of the Potemkin village nature of the citation cartel.]

The title of Smith's article exemplifies his approach: 

"Often in Error, Seldom in Doubt: Rod Meldrum and Book of Mormon DNA"

While I hardly recommend the article, if you're interested in seeing his tone and approach you can read it here: http://bmaf.org/articles/often_error_seldom_doubt__smith

Thus, we don't have to condemn Smith's review "simply by association." We can read his work for ourselves.

_____

In his article about Mormon Stories, Smith wrote something that I completely agree with:

My working assumption has been that readers’ judgment about Mormon Stories—or any topic—will be more nuanced when they have accurate information which they can verify for themselves.

Neither Smith nor the Interpreter (nor the rest of the citation cartel) embraces this "working assumption" in practice. 

Not to belabor the point, but the name of the journal speaks for itself: the Interpreter. Readers of the Interpreter have long been conditioned to defer to the "experts" and the credentialed class. 

If you've a regular or even occasional reader of the Interpreter, ask yourself why you've never read an article making a case for the New York Cumorah. Ask why you've never read an article making a case for Joseph Smith as the actual translator of the plates, or making a case that Joseph did actually use the Nephite interpreters and not the stone he found in a well.

Maybe I'm wrong about this. I don't read everything published by the Interpreter. As I've shown in my blog InterpreterPeerReviews, much of the work they publish is a waste of time. 

If the Interpreter has published articles that make a case for the New York Cumorah and/or the translation of the plates with the Nephite interpreters, someone send me a link. I'll happily edit this post accordingly.

_____

In the decade since Dan Peterson took those who followed him and started the Interpreter, and in the five year since Gregory Smith published his "Review of 'Mormon Stories,'" what has happened to LDS apologetics?

That will be the topic of episode 2 in Under the Banner of the Interpreter.

_____

*NOTE: the phrase "under the banner of heaven" was attributed to John Taylor by the Salt Lake Tribune, but that may have been a paraphrase because the phrase does not appear in the Journal of Discourses.  See https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/blog/2022/06/08/about-the-phrase-attributed-to-john-taylor


 




Continuing the Interpreter peer review

I've heard from lots of people who want me to continue my peer review of the latest Interpreter articles. Several have sent suggestions, etc. 

Because the Interpreter is well known and because they would never publish my response, I'll work on my review as I have the opportunity. I'll post it on the InterpreterPeerReviews blog: 

https://interpreterpeerreviews.blogspot.com/

When I update or expand the peer reviews I'll announce it here.

Because these articles open the door to a serious discussion about the state of LDS apologetics and the totalitarian approach taken by the citation cartel, I'll post a few episodes of what I call Under the Banner of the Interpreter so we can look at the issues and offer a better solution.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Interpreting the Interpreter


Last week Dan "the Interpreter" Peterson directed his blog readers to an article in his Interpreter journal that purports to review my popular book, A Man that Can Translate

I was happy to see the Interpreter publish this review for several reasons. Even better, they plan to publish a second review, perhaps as soon as tomorrow, this time of Infinite Goodness.

We welcome their interest and attention. I don't mind criticism and analysis; I welcome it. I'm a truth seeker who doesn't defer to the opinions of academics, partly because I'm not an academic with a long record to defend at all costs, nor a student who seeks to defend his mentors, nor a member of the citation cartel eager to please or at least support my peers. I'm willing and eager to change my mind about anything once I find better information and interpretations. 

I'm just a faithful Latter-day Saint who is interested in these topics and who finds the apologetics emanating from the Interpreter and the rest of the citation cartel unpersuasive. 

Particularly when alternative interpretations make more sense to me.

_____

Readers of this blog know that I find the very name "Interpreter" ridiculous as applied to an academic journal. It doesn't matter whether it's a reference to the actual Nephite interpreters, or merely a declaration that the "credentialed class" of the intellectuals who run the Interpreter Foundation assert the authority to "interpret" Church history and scripture for the rest of us. Either way, they enforce their "interpretations" through peer approved articles that tell everyone what to think, with allowance for some variation only within the narrow boundary of M2C and SITH, and usually featuring the rhetorical apologetic style Dan made famous.  

Again, I thank Dan, the Interpreter, and the various critics who take the time to read this little blog and my books and articles. I'm optimistic that the day will come when they and the rest of the citation cartel will recognize that (i) there are multiple faithful working hypotheses based on the same facts, (ii) most people in and out of the Church don't find your style of apologetics interesting, useful or attractive, and (iii) we can all work together to build Zion with faith in Christ regardless of differences of opinions.

Someday, the citation cartel may come to embrace the concept of unity through diversity. 

_____

Naturally, the review takes a critical position, predictably framing my book as "unfortunate." And that's fine, even great, because that's what Interpreter readers expect. But at least Interpreter readers will see that there exists an alternative faithful interpretation of Church history that supports what Joseph and Oliver always said.

Readers of the Interpreter are rarely exposed to anything that challenges M2C or SITH. Like the rest of the citation cartel, the Interpreter enforces adherence to the M2C and SITH dogmas.

My position that Joseph actually translated the plates, and that he used the Nephite interpreters to do so, may shock readers of the Interpreter. They have been indoctrinated into accepting M2C and SITH, two theories which lead inevitably to this classic claim published in the Interpreter by Royal Skousen:

“Joseph Smith’s claim that he used the Urim and Thummim is only partially true; and Oliver Cowdery’s statements that Joseph used the original instrument while he, Oliver, was the scribe appear to be intentionally misleading.”

That is what passes for the scholarly "consensus" at the Interpreter and the rest of the citation cartel.

Because I disagree with Brother Skousen and instead advocate in favor of the traditional fact claims made by Joseph and Oliver, the Interpreter labels my position "historical revisionism." This is a clever reversal of history, as you'll see if you read the article (link below). 

According to the Interpreter, because I still believe Joseph translated the plates, I'm the one who "fails to deal with the historical record seriously or faithfully." It's awesome. In a sense, I love the predictability of the Interpreter

As readers of this blog know, I'm just an old retired artist living on the Oregon coast. I'd rather be fishing, kayaking, playing golf or tennis, biking, painting, reading, teaching my Institute or Pathway classes, ministering and serving in my callings, or doing anything other than doing a peer review of yet another Interpreter article. Particularly one full of the type of logical and factual fallacies typical of Interpreter articles.

However, people have asked me about it, and I suppose I owe it to readers to comment.

The author, unsurprisingly an earnest student and researcher for Book of Mormon Central which also enforces M2C and SITH, spent a lot of time on his article. 

I respect his time and effort. He merits some feedback, so I started a peer review of the article. You can read it here:

https://interpreterpeerreviews.blogspot.com/2022/06/review-of-unfortunate-approach-article.html

If enough people are interested, I'll wade through the rest of his review and comment further. Email me at lostzarahemla@gmail.com if you would like to see more.



 



Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Dealing with critics

Recent criticisms in comments and publications by the SITH-sayers and M2Cers have led people to ask how I respond.

Last General Conference, we were taught how to respond to critics. "How does a peacemaker calm and cool the fiery darts? Certainly not by shrinking before those who disparage us. Rather, we remain confident in our faith, sharing our beliefs with conviction but always void of anger or malice."

That's the approach I like to take. As readers here know, I don't think anger or malice has any place in discussions about Church history or Book of Mormon historicity. There's no cause for anger or malice when we are discussing different interpretations of facts.

Anger and malice arise from a sense of threat, arising from insecurity or fear of loss of status, income, or reputation, as when an academic/apologist sticks with and defends a theory he/she has taught for decades, to the point of censoring contrary information. 

We seek "good information" because, as President Nelson has taught, "good inspiration is based upon good information." 

This is why censorship is so destructive, and why I disagree with the censorship approach taken by the M2C and SITH citation cartels, including the Interpreter, Book of Mormon Central, and FairLDS.

_____

I prefer enabling people to make informed decisions, and I'm fine with people believing whatever they want because any set of facts accommodates multiple working hypotheses. In an ideal world, or even just a better world, the citation cartel would acknowledge and accommodate multiple working hypotheses that are faithful, without disparaging faithful Latter-day Saints who simply interpret the evidence differently.

We were also reminded that "There are times when being a peacemaker means that we resist the impulse to respond and instead, with dignity, remain quiet."

The question, then, is when to "not shrink" and share our beliefs, and when to remain quiet.

For example, recently I was reminded of an episode of Midnight Mormons titled "The TRUTH about Book of Mormon Geography | Oh Zelph! + The Heartland Model(s)."*

https://youtu.be/KU3yaQEDhIE?t=447

The performers on this show are entertaining but poorly informed on many of the topics they discuss, and this is no different. Here is simple example.

7:31 i want to shoot that down and just say so then what was the narrow neck of land that shows up in like 20 different books 

Of course, the only place in the Book of Mormon where the "narrow neck of land" shows up is Ether 10:20, but people who follow the M2C scholars don't know that.

_____

One approach would be to let it go. The Midnight Mormons don't seem interested in accuracy or in correcting errors, any more than FAIRLDS does,** so long as they can promote their agendas.

I don't suppose many people turn to these shows for information anyway. They are mere entertainment.

But they do reinforce the dogma of the citation cartels, so ignoring them leaves audiences without "good information" upon which to make informed decisions.

That also leaves people vulnerable to the arguments of the critics who take advantage of SITH and M2C to lead people into faith crisis.

Stay tuned...

:)

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*I discussed this episode previously:

https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2021/10/midnight-mormons-heartland-and-m2c.html 

** For an example of a FAIRLDS video that is full of errors that they refuse to correct, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vpu_nVL0Jg

the end 

Monday, June 20, 2022

The Phoenicia ship

Most readers here are probably familiar with the Phoenicia. This is the ship that was built based on an ancient Phoenician ship and sailed first from Arabia around Africa toward North America before they managed to turn it back toward Africa (Lehi's route).

On the second voyage, they sailed from the Mediterranean to Florida (Mulek's route).


The captain, Philip Beale, recently gave a presentation to the Explorers Club in Southern California at the Bowers Museum. He discusses the second voyage.

The video is on youtube here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhNeXXKKojw


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Painting by Danielle Eubank (https://www.danielleeubankart.com/atlantic):



Here's a website documenting the second voyage, the Atlantic crossing.


One of the participants wrote a fairly detailed blog about her experience circumnavigating Africa on the first voyage:


Another account of the first voyage:


Here's a website on the current status of the Phoenicia:

Friday, June 17, 2022

Interview on SITH vs U&T

The single most important question in Church history involves the translation of the Book of Mormon. 

I recently did an interview about this topic on Mormon Book Reviews, which you can see here:


Here I'll summarize the question and the alternative working hypotheses. 

At the outset, I recognize that for many people, the origin of the Book of Mormon doesn't matter. 
- Some faithful LDS say the words themselves are evidence of their divine origin, regardless of how Joseph produced them. 
- Others (most critics including both unbelievers and Christian ministers) say the words themselves are evidence that their origin is not divine.

I'm fine with people believing and teaching whatever they want to. I write this blog simply to explain how I approach these questions. I don't care about persuading anyone or winning any arguments. Such a motivation would be pointless anyway, because people make up their own minds. I just encourage people to make informed decisions, based on all the available facts and after considering multiple working hypotheses.
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The origin of the Book of Mormon affects everything about the Book of Mormon because if Joseph Smith translated it (as he and Oliver said), then the criticisms are moot. For example, it's a foolish argument to say that a 19th century translation is not an ancient text. No one claims the Book of Mormon is an ancient text; instead, it's a translation of an ancient text. A 19th century translator would naturally use 19th century language, references, and concepts, including anachronisms, just as the KJV refers to candles and other elements that the original ancient texts don't.

Although Joseph and Oliver always described the process as a translation with the Urim and Thummim (the Nephite interpreters), there are many historical references to Joseph use of a stone-in-the-hat (SITH). For some, these are irreconcilable alternatives. Others accept one and reject (or redefine) the other. For me, the simplest, most practical and most reasonable reconciliation is the demonstration scenario that I've discussed many times, including in the interview linked above; i.e., that Joseph translated the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim, but he also used SITH to satisfy the awful curiosity of his supporters, which they inferred was a translation experience that they later expanded for apologetic reasons. IOW, bad apologetics in the 19th century has led to worse apologetics today.

The topic has many threads, with dozens if not thousands of articles, books, blogs, etc. Here I attempt to summarize and systematize the issues.
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The translation narrative is a combination of naturalistic and supernaturalistic elements. Supernatural, because Joseph obtained the plates from a resurrected being (Moroni) and used divinely prepared instruments to learn the characters on the plates (as he explained), and natural because Joseph used his own lexicon and worldview to articulate the literal translation of the characters (except for the Title Page, which he explained was a literal translation). 

There are two alternatives to the translation narrative: (i) a purely naturalistic explanation, that Joseph composed or copied the text he dictated, and (ii) a purely supernatural explanation, that Joseph merely dictated words that appeared on the stone-in-the-hat (the SITH theory).  

The criticisms of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon depend on SITH; i.e., the idea that Joseph merely read words provided by a Mysterious Incognito Supernatural Translator (MIST).  

And yet, LDS scholars such as Royal Skousen, Dan Peterson and Jack Welch agree with critics such as John Dehlin and CES Letter that Joseph Smith didn't translate the plates but instead dictated words with his face looking at a stone in the hat (SITH). They disagree only about whether Joseph (i) read words that appeared supernaturally on the stone, or (ii) dictated words he composed or memorized. 

Besides contradicting what Joseph and Oliver said, SITH creates a false set of expectations. If the MIST provided the words, they were divine and presumably should not have errors, anachronisms, etc.

The faithful SITH argument goes like this: We don't know why the MIST provided errors and anachronisms (or why the text supposedly includes artifacts from Early Modern English).

SITH has generated various apologetic responses. Skousen claims Joseph and Oliver intentionally misled everyone by referring to the Urim and Thummim. Peterson's movie on the Witnesses portrays Joseph using SITH as a fact. Welch and his Book of Mormon Central "Kno-Whys" teach SITH as a feature, not a bug. Other apologists have used variations of these.

The critical SITH argument has two branches: 

(i) The presence of errors and anachronisms proves that the words were not divine in origin; i.e., the MIST was not divine but a deception from the adversary.

(ii) The presence of errors and anachronisms proves that SITH was a ruse used by Joseph to claim a supernatural origin for a text he composed/copied.

Dehlin has done numerous episodes based on the SITH narrative, claiming that SITH is one of the major causes of the faith crises he documents. Most of the CES Letter objections to the Book of Mormon depend on SITH.  
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Bottom line: there is evidence to support multiple working hypotheses, but in my view the best sources are Joseph and Oliver, and all the historical evidence can be reconciled by accepting what Joseph and Oliver said; i.e., that the Book of Mormon is a translation of an ancient record. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Revisionist fake history on the Church's website

This latest gem was recently brought to my attention. 

Our historians are at it again, changing Church history to accommodate M2C.

In the 1820s, the hill did not have a name. It later became known as the Hill Cumorah because Moroni, the Book of Mormon’s final author and the angel who met with Joseph Smith, wrote that he had hidden the golden plates in a hill called Cumorah (see Mormon 6:6).

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/learn/historic-sites/new-york/hill-cumorah?lang=eng

To make the declarative statement that "the hill did not have a name," the historians have to ignore the accounts we have, or assume they are false and thus unworthy of consideration. They also have to assume that the absence of contemporaneous records from the 1820s means that anything we don't have a contemporaneous record of didn't happen.

By this logic, the First Vision didn't happen, because that was also not reported until after the 1820s. 

Notice that the historians don't bother to state their assumptions. They certainly don't link to the actual historical accounts.

Because the Saints books have created a false historical narrative by censoring Cumorah from the record to accommodate M2C, most Church members will never know the actual Church history. 

This latest website compounds that error by inventing a fake explanation for the name Cumorah. The historians claim the hill was later named Cumorah because of Mormon 6:6, which is a flat contradiction to the historical record. But because this is what our M2C scholars want people to believe, their peers in the Church History Department have accommodated them.

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Regarding Cumorah, we have Lucy Mack Smith reporting two specific, distinct references to Cumorah from the 1820s. Anyone who has read the Saints book, volume 1, knows that the historians relied primarily on Lucy's account for much of the early history. Yet when it comes to Cumorah, they've concluded that her memory was wrong so they changed Church history, not for any rationale based on actual history, but instead purely to accommodate the modern opinions of the M2C scholars.

This revisionist history is literally unbelievable. It's yet another step toward fictionalizing the Book of Mormon.

_____

According to Lucy, when Moroni first appeared to Joseph Smith in 1823, he identified the hill as Cumorah:

the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place remove the Grass and moss and you will find a large flat stone pry that up and you will find the record under it laying on 4 pillars of cement— then the angel left him


Lucy also remembered Joseph referring to the hill as Cumorah in 1827 when he came home late from a trip to Manchester.

Presently he smiled, and said in a very calm tone, “I have taken the severest chastisement, that I have ever had in my life”. My husband, supposing it was from some of the neighbors, was quite angry; and observed, “I would would like to know what business any body has to find fault with you.”

“Stop, father, Stop.” said Joseph, “it was the angel of the Lord— as I passed by the hill of Cumorah, where the plates are, the angel of the Lord met me and said, that I had not been engaged enough in the work of the Lord; that the time had come for the record to <be> brought forth; and, that I must be up and doing, and set myself about the things which God had commanded me to do: but, Father, continued he, give yourself no uneasiness concerning the reprimand that I have received; for I now know the course that I am to pursue; so all will be well.”

It was also made known to him at this interview, that he should make another effort to obtain the plates on the 22d. of the following September; But this he did not mention to us at that time.


David Whitmer remembered the first time he heard about Cumorah, which was in early June 1829 when he picked up Joseph and Oliver from Harmony. Before leaving Harmony, Joseph had given the plates to a divine messenger. On the way back to Fayette, they encountered the messenger along the road.

"When I was returning to Fayette with Joseph and Oliver all of us riding in the wagon, Oliver and I on an old fashioned wooden spring seat and Joseph behind us, while traveling along in a clear open place, a very pleasant, nice-looking old man suddenly appeared by the side of our wagon who saluted us with, “good morning, it is very warm,” at the same time wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation, and by a sign from Joseph I invited him to ride if he was going our way. But he said very pleasantly, “No, I am going to Cumorah.’ This name was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant. We all gazed at him and at each other, and as I looked round enquiringly of Joseph the old man instantly disappeared, so that I did not see him again."

REPORT OF ELDERS ORSON PRATT AND JOSEPH F. SMITH to President John Taylor and Council of the Twelve. 










Friday, June 10, 2022

video summaries of books

We recently released an updated version of Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates?

Video explanation: https://youtu.be/s0cglDYMz-w

Topic: Two sets of plates. 

Traditional view: Joseph obtained the plates from the hill in New York and returned them to the messenger when he was finished with the translation.

New view: Moroni deposited only the abridged record in the stone box in the hill. Joseph took these plates to Harmony and translated them there. He and Oliver planned to re-translate the Book of Lehi (the lost 116 pages), but the Lord told him to translate the plates of Nephi instead (D&C 10). Except Joseph didn’t have the plates of Nephi. Those plates were still in the depository of Nephite records. Before he left Harmony, Joseph gave the abridged plates to a messenger (one of the three Nephites). The messenger returned the abridged plates to the repository, picked up the plates of Nephi, and took those plates to Fayette, where Joseph translated them. 


Amazon link.

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We have also posted short video explanations of some of my other books. All are available wherever LDS books are sold.

A Man that Can Translate

youtube explanation https://youtu.be/4-sKO3y28qI

Topic: Joseph as an actual translator

Traditional view: Joseph translated the engravings by the gift and power of God and by means of the Urim and Thummim. Alternative view: Joseph read words that appeared on a stone in the hat (SITH), and the words were provided by a supernatural translator because Joseph didn’t even use the plates. Alternative view: Joseph was a conman who composed or copied the texts he produced.

New view: Joseph’s claim that he translated the characters (engravings) on the plates is consistent with the language he dictated and the evidence from witnesses and the Original Manuscript. Whatever the witnesses who described the stone-in-the-hat (SITH) were witnessing, it could not have been the translation because Joseph explained that he could not display the plates or Urim and Thummim that he used to translate. Evidence indicates Joseph conducted one or more demonstrations with SITH, just as he later did when people asked for revelations through the stone. Later, witnesses related SITH to refute the Spalding theory. 

Amazon link

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Between these Hills

youtube explanation: https://youtu.be/80DpjOEkrqI

Topic: The New York Cumorah. 

Traditional view: Moroni identified the hill as Cumorah the first night he met Joseph, and Joseph and Oliver reaffirmed that setting. Alternative view: Joseph and Oliver merely speculated about Cumorah, and/or early Church members created a false tradition about Cumorah that Joseph and Oliver adopted. Alternative view: Because the text is fiction, no Cumorah exists in the real world.

New view: Mormonism Unvailed claimed the Book of Mormon was fiction, taken from a novel by Solomon Spalding. In response, Joseph and Oliver affirmed it was a fact that the hill in New York was the same hill Mormon described in Mormon 6:6 (Letter VII). This reality has important implications for interpreting the text. Also discussed in Moroni’s America and Letter VII: Oliver and Joseph explain the Hill Cumorah.

Amazon link.

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Infinite Goodness

youtube explanation: https://youtu.be/_Tx0vcJeIoE

Topic: Joseph as a young religious seeker

Traditional view: Joseph was an uneducated, barely literate prophet uniquely capable of receiving revelation from God, including the text of the Book of Mormon. Alternative view: Joseph was a gifted religious genius whose “inspired eclecticism” who drew on contemporary sources to channel inspiration. Alternative view: Joseph was a charismatic conman whether pious or not.

New view: Joseph became a religious seeker when he survived life-threatening leg surgery. During his years of convalescence and after his family moved to Palmyra, he acquired “an intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations” by reading Christian literature, including the works of Jonathan Edwards. Most of the non-biblical language in the Book of Mormon and early revelations draws from Jonathan Edwards. He translated the text using his own lexicon as any translator would do, albeit inspired in his choice of words and phrasing. 

Amazon link.  

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Moroni's America

https://youtu.be/77RdkJ-DKPo

Topic: Setting of Book of Mormon events

Traditional view: The Book of Mormon events in the New World covered the entire Western Hemisphere, with Panama as the narrow neck separating the "land northward" from the "land southward" and the hill Cumorah in western New York. Alternative view: The events took place within a limited area of Mesoamerica with the hill Cumorah in southern Mexico, meaning that Joseph and Oliver misled everyone about the New York Cumorah.

New view: Joseph and Oliver were correct about the New York Cumorah and the text of the Book of Mormon describes a North American setting that is consistent with extrinsic evidence from archaeology, anthropology, geology and geography. Understanding this setting helps readers better understand the teachings of the prophets about the text and its relevance today.

Amazon link.












Thursday, June 9, 2022

Simplicity revised

One of the most popular posts on this blog was titled "Simplicity." I originally posted it on May 26, 2016. I'm reposting it here, with some additional material.

Simplicity

William of  Ockham
The simplest explanation is usually the best, a principle often described as Occam's razor. "Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected."

On the topic of Book of Mormon geography, which setting requires the fewest assumptions?

Which explanation is the simplest?
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The New York  Cumorah has one assumption.

1. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery knew that the Hill Cumorah in New York was the place where the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations were destroyed and the location of the repository of Nephite records (Mormon 6:6). 

The historical record shows us that Moroni told Joseph the name of the hill the first time they met. Joseph and Oliver visited the repository of Nephite records in the hill (which was separate from Moroni's stone box). 

Everything directly attributable to Joseph and Oliver is consistent with that setting. The text of the Book of Mormon, as well as extrinsic scientific evidence, corroborates that setting.

Contrary ideas that Cumorah is not in New York are not directly attributable to them; therefore, these contrary ideas were produced by other people who didn't know (or didn't believe) what Joseph and Oliver knew and taught.
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Modern LDS scholars such as Jack Welch and Dan Peterson and their followers reject the New York Cumorah because it conflicts with their personal theories that the setting of the Book of Mormon events is in Mesoamerica. While they recognize the historical references to Cumorah, they rationalize that there are "two Cumorahs" with a false one in New York and the real one in southern Mexico.

The Mesoamerican/Two Cumorahs theory (M2C) relies on a series of assumptions:

1. Joseph Smith didn't know where the Book of Mormon events took place.

2. Joseph misled his mother Lucy Mack Smith when he told her what Moroni told him about Cumorah and when he referred to the hill as Cumorah before he even got the plates; or else Lucy misremembered or misled her readers when she dictated her history.

3. Oliver Cowdery (or another unknown person) at some unspecified date started a false folk tradition that Cumorah was in New York, based on an incorrect assumption. 

4. David Whitmer reported meeting the messenger who was taking the abridged plates from Harmony to Cumorah, but either the messenger lied, or David lied about that meeting or conflated his own specific memory of the first time he heard the word "Cumorah" with Oliver's folk tradition.

5. Joseph misled his wife Emma when he wrote to her about crossing the plains of the Nephites after he'd crossed Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

6. As Assistant President of the Church, Oliver misled everyone when he memorialized the false folk tradition in Letter VII in July 1835, published in the Messenger and Advocate. 

7. Joseph, for unexplained reasons, passively adopted Oliver's false speculation, had it copied into his personal journal as part of his life history, and specifically encouraged its re-publication in the Gospel Reflector and Times and Seasons, while his brother William republished it in The Prophet.

8. Oliver lied to Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, David Whitmer, etc. when he told them about visiting the repository of Nephite records in the hill Cumorah in New York; or else these witnesses lied about what Oliver told them.

9. Joseph, who wrote very little himself, nevertheless wrote a series of lengthy articles in the Times and Seasons about Central America in 1842 that he left anonymous for unknown reasons. Although the articles didn't mention Cumorah, RLDS scholar L.E. Hills determined that Cumorah cannot be in New York because of these articles. He published the first M2C map in 1917

10. In September, 1842, Joseph misled everyone when he specifically referred to Cumorah in a signed letter published in the Times and Seasons (now D&C 128:20), because he referred to the hill in New York from which the "glad tidings" came as Cumorah.

11. Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, and others of Joseph's contemporaries and successors misled everyone because they believed what Joseph and Oliver about the hill Cumorah. 

12. Certain LDS scholars such as John Sorenson, Dan Peterson, Jack Welch, and their followers have corrected the false tradition perpetrated by Joseph and Oliver because they, the scholars, know more about Cumorah than Joseph and Oliver did. These modern M2C scholars have determined that L.E. Hills' map is correct after all, albeit with minor corrections.

13. Anyone who still believes what Joseph, Oliver and their associates taught about the New York Cumorah is either ignorant, an apostate or is verging on apostasy.

14. Etc.

Which set of assumptions makes the most sense to you?

____________________________

Here are some relevant quotations about simplicity.

“If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.”
― Albert Einstein

To which Groucho Marx replied:

“A child of five could understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.”
― Groucho Marx

“Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.”
― Isaac Newton

“Why did they believe? Because they saw miracles. Things one man took as chance, a man of faith took as a sign. A loved one recovering from disease, a fortunate business deal, a chance meeting with a long lost friend. It wasn't the grand doctrines or the sweeping ideals that seemed to make believers out of men. It was the simple magic in the world around them.”
― Brandon Sanderson, The Hero of Ages

“People who pride themselves on their "complexity" and deride others for being "simplistic" should realize that the truth is often not very complicated. What gets complex is evading the truth.”
― Thomas Sowell, Barbarians inside the Gates and Other Controversial Essays

“..things are never as complicated as they seem. It is only our arrogance that prompts us to find unnecessarily complicated answers to simple problems.”
― Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty

“I am not a genius, I am just curious. I ask many questions. and when the answer is simple, then God is answering.”
― Albert Einstein