long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Friday, July 15, 2022

The rising generation, SITH and M2C

Yesterday I discussed the way SITH affects the "rising generation." The rising generation is smart. They can see the ramifications of SITH--as can the critics who bring it up all the time.

The rising generation (and everyone else) would greatly benefit from a simple new approach to LDS apologetics:

We should interpret Church history and the text of the Book of Mormon through the lens the prophets have provided, instead of interpreting the history, text, and the teachings of the prophets through the lens the scholars have provided.


One obvious problem with SITH is how it detaches the Book of Mormon from the plates, giving rise to claims Joseph composed, copied or performed the text. But there's another more fundamental problem.

There's no getting around the plain reality that SITH says Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery lied about the translation. 

Joseph expressly refuted SITH on specific occasions, yet our modern LDS apologists have revived it and are now aggressively pushing it, as we saw in the absurd Witnesses movie from the Interpreter Foundation.

I give Royal Skousen credit for being the most honest about the implications of SITH when he wrote that Joseph and Oliver deliberately misled people about the translation. Other LDS apologists and historians try to skirt this reality by employing clever sophistry. For example, people often cite the book From Darkness Unto Light to support SITH. We'll discuss that book next week. 


Joseph and Oliver were familiar with the SITH narrative because it was a rumor that started as early as September 1829, published in local New York newspapers. The 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed openly ridiculed SITH. Whatever Joseph did with the stone-in-the-hat, it wasn't translating the Book of Mormon.

We can't know how many times Joseph and Oliver responded to SITH verbally, but they did leave published writings that unambiguously refute SITH.

For example, in 1838 Joseph answered a question in the Elders' Journal by reaffirming that he translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates:

Question 4th. How, and where did you obtain the book of Mormon? 

Answer. Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County New York, being dead; and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me, and told me where they were; and gave me directions how to obtain them. I obtained them, and the Urim and Thummim with them; by the means of which, I translated the plates; and thus came the book of Mormon.

SITH sayers try to cram the peep stone into that statement by arguing that when Joseph wrote "Urim and Thummim" he actually meant the peep stone he found in a well years earlier. Yet anyone can see that he specified he obtained the Urim and Thummim with the plates.

Maybe Joseph anticipated the sophistry of our modern LDS apologists and historians when he repeated his declaration in 1842 when he wrote the Wentworth letter.

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

The modern revival of SITH by LDS scholars is a fascinating story. As I've mentioned, I've been working on a book about LDS apologetics in which SITH plays a major role. Due to my other interests and activities, I thought I wouldn't take the time to publish the book because a few blog posts would suffice to cover the topic. However, based on the interest the topic has generated, and the ongoing nonsense emanating from the SITH apologists, it looks like the book-length treatment would be useful. 

But hope springs eternal, and if (as I hope) the upcoming FAIRLDS conference announces a course correction in LDS apologetics, the book won't be necessary. 


Yesterday I mentioned a previous post about The Next Mormons.


BYU Fantasy/mythology map of
the Book of Mormon
In that post, I noted that it is difficult for young people to believe the Book of Mormon as a literal historical account when their BYU professors tell them that the best reconstruction of the setting is a computer-generated fantasy world that has more in common with a video game than any location in the real world.

The BYU map even depicts Cumorah in a fantasy location. 

The promoters of this map don't tell their students that the prophets have long taught that Cumorah--the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6--is in western New York. 

The New York Cumorah has been erased from Church history in the Saints book, volume 1, in the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon geography, in the Book of Mormon videos, and pretty much everywhere else.

Except they can't erase it from the historical record.

People can and will believe whatever they want, and that's fine. Some people believe M2C, others believe other theories based on the "two-Cumorahs" idea, such as a setting in Baja or Panama or Chile or Malaysia or pretty much anywhere else in the world.

The reason the M2Cers don't tell their followers what the prophets have taught is that, to believe any "two-Cumorahs" theory, people have to reject the express declaration of fact by Oliver Cowdery, writing as Assistant President of the Church with the assistance of Joseph Smith, when he wrote Letter VII.

Anyone can read this in Joseph's own history right in the Joseph Smith Papers. 


Anyone can read the other references to the New York Cumorah, including General Conference addresses by members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. 

It should not be surprising that some Latter-day Saints still believe what Joseph and Oliver and their successors taught about the New York Cumorah. 

Even among these Latter-day Saints, there are multiple working hypotheses regarding the rest of the geography. This is consistent with the teachings of the prophets because other than Cumorah, they have not identified any specific site for Book of Mormon geography in the new world. That makes sense because there are so many possible matches even among archaeological sites that have been preserved, not even counting the untold numbers of sites that have long since been destroyed, overbuilt, etc.

But that doesn't avoid the plain reality that we should interpret the text of the Book of Mormon through the lens the prophets have provided, instead of interpreting the text (and the teachings of the prophets) through the lens the scholars have provided.

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