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, April 28, 2023

Another podcast and No More Contention

Recently I did another podcast with my co-author, James Lucas, on Mormon Book Reviews. We discussed our book, By Means of the Urim and Thummim: Restoring Translation to the Restoration

I encourage everyone to watch it and give feedback, pro or con. 


As always, anyone interested can email me at lostzarahemla@gmail.com


Today I'm also announcing a new blog that will be my main focus going forward. The name is No More Contention, taken from Mosiah 1:1.

And now there was no more contention in all the land of Zarahemla, among all the people who belonged to king Benjamin, so that king Benjamin had continual peace all the remainder of his days.

(Mosiah 1:1) 

If the Book of Mormon had been published in the order of translation, this would have been the first verse.

I wish it was.

(In fact, I usually ask new readers to start with Mosiah instead of 1 Nephi.)

The link is 


For now, the link forwards to https://nomorecontention.blogspot.com/. We may expand it into a more comprehensive website eventually.

The objective of No More Contention is to promote understanding and clarity. We're not focusing on trying to persuade anyone of anything--except for encouraging people to make informed decisions. Too often, people make decisions based on ignorance, but as President Nelson has said, "good inspiration is based upon good information."

Obviously, people who consider the identical facts reach different conclusions. I've set out a spectrum of belief in three general categories, all based on the identical information. We'll discuss why the spectrum exists and how we can make better, more informed decisions that are congruent with our values and ideals. 

We will discuss multiple working hypotheses by applying the FAITH model of analysis: Facts, Assumptions, Inferences, Theories, and Hypotheses. I've explained the FAITH model in previous podcasts and in my upcoming book, The Rational Restoration

Building Zion.
In my view, despite the complaints of naysayers, the Restoration is accomplishing the critical objective of uniting people around the world through faith in Jesus Christ. As I've discussed on my Zion blog, Latter-day Saints are dedicating their time, talents and means toward educating people around the world, giving them hope and optimism, economic opportunity, stronger family and community ties, and helping them become self-reliant and confident, all the while bringing them closer to Christ. 

In other words, we are establishing Zion, and it's awesome.

This is a project I've worked on over the years. Not this new blog, per se, but the approach of considering multiple working hypotheses and the psychology of belief, contention, and working toward Zion. 

The events of the last few weeks prompted me to finally set up the website and get going with it.


Apologists. As readers here know, there has been a controversy recently about the activities of certain LDS apologists and their critics. I had hoped the controversy would lead to a positive outcome in terms of a course correction. We were, I thought, finally on the verge of an open dialog, a respectful and friendly exchange of views, and a mutually agreed-upon comparison of multiple working hypotheses.

But it didn't turn out that way, at least not yet.

Ever since I entered this arena (focusing on the keystone of our religion, the Book of Mormon), I've been surprised at the way apologists and critics approach these issues. Emotions seem to prevail, with people giving and taking offense, getting angry, mindreading, etc. Not coming from an academic background, I greatly underestimated the emotional attachment people have to their various theories and worldviews. 

The walls of intransigence and defensiveness are difficult to breach. Surely there is an element of simple self-interest; after all, for the academics, this is an occupation. They have reputations to uphold. They have thousands of students they have taught. Some have elicited donations and funding. To change course now may be unthinkable to them. Maybe even impossible. 

Grievance grifters. And then there are the grievance grifters who, like the media industry, have a business model that thrives from the misfortunes of others. With over 31,000 congregations led by Bishops and Branch Presidents, the grifters can always find a few leaders and members who have made mistakes. But fair-minded people recognize that tactic for what it is.

Flexibility. Everyone who reads my blog or books can see that I favor an open, flexible approach to these issues. After all, I was an avid follower of FARMS for decades. I bought into the whole M2C (Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs) theory promoted by John Sorenson, Jack Welch, Dan Peterson, and the other FARMS people. (In one of my books, I even incorporated SITH until I revised it based on more information.)

I deferred to their expertise because, as a student, I trusted them. Then I was too busy with life to question their assumptions or the facts they presented.

Eventually, though, I had more time to spend on these issues. With the new information I learned, and upon more reflection and thought, I realized the M2C advocates were just that: advocates for a particular point of view. 

Interpreters. Over time, FARMS morphed into the Maxwell Institute, the Interpreter Foundation, and Book of Mormon Central, with BYU Studies providing an academic journal and FAIRMormon (now FAIRLDS) providing a less academic forum for the same group to publish anonymously. These organizations include interchangeable players, which explains why they cite one another (the citation cartel). For ease of reference, I refer to this group generically as the Interpreters because they relish their role as gatekeepers and enforcers of compliance with their own interpretations of scripture and history.

[To its credit, the Maxwell Institute has detached itself from the M2C crowd.]

Despite their pretenses, the Interpreters were not (in my opinion) legitimate scholars who pursued the truth wherever it led (at least not in this arena). I assume they are fully competent, forthright scholars in their other academic pursuits. And to be sure, they followed the conventions of legitimate scholarship in this arena, using a form of peer review, complete with citations (to one another). But they often resorted to sarcasm, obfuscation, sophistry, and censorship to promote their agendas. They focused on combatting nonbelieving critics, but they also used their status as the "credentialed class" to attack fellow Latter-day Saints who disagreed with their interpretations.

As we saw just in the last few weeks through the Peter Pan fiasco, they devolved into a clown circus.

What to do. The question for me became, what to do?

Some of the apologists associated with these organizations became disenchanted with the tactics of the Interpreters and turned into critics. As I understand it, Bill Reel, Kerry Shirts, and Corbin Volluz (RFM) were all believing apologists at one time. They are "former Interpreters." Now they host critical podcasts in connection with John Dehlin (whom we'll discuss below). 

Ironically, they use the same tactics they learned as Interpreters to promote their new agendas: sarcasm, obfuscation, sophistry and censorship. But it's also easy to understand their motivation and bias. It's easy to see why they are persuasive to some people, just as it's easy to see why the current Interpreters are persuasive to some people.

It's difficult to fault either the current Interpreters or the former Interpreters, given their respective worldviews. And no doubt, both groups would strongly disagree with my framing here, but it seems obvious to me.

So, what to do? 

The third way. The key for me was realizing this is not a binary choice. There is a third way.

The one thing I noticed about both the current Interpreters and the former Interpreters: they all rejected what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery claimed, just in varying degrees.

What if, I thought, someone actually accepted what Joseph and Oliver claimed?

I decided to test the hypothesis. That experiment has led to around 10 books and innumerable blog posts, articles, presentations, etc.

So far, at least for me, accepting what Joseph and Oliver claimed has become a solid working hypothesis. One of multiple hypotheses, of course, but the one that makes the most sense to me and best aligns with the evidence. 

It works so well that I feel no "threat" when discussing these issues with either current or former Interpreters. I'm fine with them believing whatever they want and I feel no urgency to have anyone agree with me. 

I don't object to having conversations with anyone. I'm happy to meet with anyone who is willing and interested to exchange views. And I encourage everyone to make their own informed decisions for themselves.

This led me to the continuum of belief. Because I can't speak for anyone else or read minds, I based this continuum on what I and the others have published. (I've modified it from the one I posted before.)


Current Interpreters

Former Interpreters

Believe what Joseph and Oliver claimed about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon

Believe some, but not all, of what Joseph and Oliver claimed about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon

Disbelieve what Joseph and Oliver claimed about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon

This continuum will be the framework for understanding multiple working hypotheses with no more contention.

I'm not going to argue for or against any of these. Instead, I seek clarity and understanding in the pursuit of informed decisions.

People naturally want more specifics about who said what on these issues. I'll provide quotations, annotations, citations, etc. And I hope anyone interested will send corrections if I misstate any positions. 


Continuum example. This month (April) marks the tenth anniversary of the release of the CES Letter. Again, it's easy to understand why Jeremy Runnels was frustrated at the lack of answers to the questions he raised. 

We can see how the continuum explains the various responses to the CES Letter.

The Interpreters engaged the CES Letter, but as Runnels pointed out, they agreed on some of the key points, such as SITH (the stone-in-the-hat explanation for the Book of Mormon).

2023 also marks the tenth anniversary of John Dehlin's "Faith Crisis Report" and the first of the Gospel Topics Essays. The Faith Crisis Report proposed a way of "Breaking the cycle of disaffection."

1) Mitigating Faith Crisis for Future Generations

Mitigating Faith Crisis for future generations is possible but will require bold steps. The key is to ensure future generations no longer become shocked by gaps between our official LDS narrative and our uncorrelated history.

These so-called "gaps" included SITH vs. the Urim and Thummim explanation that Joseph and Oliver provided. 

The SITH sequence can be summarized this way.

1. In 1834, the book Mormonism Unvailed set out the SITH narrative this way:

The translation finally commenced. They were found to contain a language not now known upon the earth, which they termed "reformed Egyptian characters." The plates, therefore, which had been so much talked of, were found to be of no manner of use. After all, the Lord showed and communicated to him every word and letter of the Book. Instead of looking at the characters inscribed upon the plates, the prophet was obliged to resort to the old ''peep stone," which he formerly used in money-digging. This he placed in a hat, or box, into which he also thrust his face. Through the stone he could then discover a single word at a time, which he repeated aloud to his amanuensis, who committed it to paper, when another word would immediately appear, and thus the performance continued to the end of the book.


Notice that, apart from the term "old 'peep stone'," this description from Mormonism Unvailed is essentially what the Interpreters advocate today. Dan Peterson even made a movie teaching this to the world.

2. Starting in 1834, Oliver Cowdery wrote 8 essays about Church history to refute the claims of Mormonism Unvailed (including Letter VII about Cumorah).

In December, 1835, Joseph Smith wrote a letter to the Elders of the Church about Mormonism Unvailed, including it as part of the "black catalogue" and describing it as a "cloud of darkness." 

(I've posted excerpts of all these rebuttals here: https://www.ldshistoricalnarratives.com/2023/04/mormonism-unvailed-then-and-now.html.)

In 1836, Orson Hyde wrote to the Messenger and Advocate, observing that even opposers of Mormonism didn't quote Mormonism Unvailed because they were ashamed of it.

In 1837, one missionary wrote a letter to the Messenger and Advocate, explaining that Mormonism had little influence.  

The 1838 Elders' Journal included a discussion of Mormonism Unvailed., noting that the authors, "Hurlburt and the Howes are among the basest of mankind, and known to be such and yet the priests and their coadjutors hail them as their best friends and publish their lies, speaking of them in the highest terms." 

3. Starting in October 2011, a team organized by John Dehlin conducted a survey and prepared an analysis about the so-called "faith crisis" among Latter-day Saints, emphasizing SITH.

4. April 2013. Runnels released the CES Letter that, among other things, questions the historicity of the Book of Mormon and presents SITH as the "actual" origin of the Book of Mormon instead of the traditional narrative of the translation by means of the Urim and Thummim.

5. August 2013. Dehlin and his team presented the final "Faith Crisis Report" to Church leaders.

6. November 2013. The first Gospel Topics Essays were published on the Church's website, justifying SITH without even quoting what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation with the Urim and Thummim.

Ever since, on his Mormon Stories podcast John Dehlin has used SITH as a means to undermine faith, citing the Gospel Topics Essays themselves.

The Interpreters also embrace and promote SITH, claiming Joseph didn't use the U&T or the plates, but differing with the critics in the sense that they claim Joseph was inspired by God, while the critics claim Joseph composed the text and lied about the Urim and Thummim and the plates.

In my view, pursuant to the "third way" on the faith spectrum, what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation makes more sense and is better supported by the evidence than what the SITH sayers claim. 


The Ringleader. Recently I suggested I would discuss the ringleader of the clown circus. It's possible, even likely, that the participants in the Peter Pan fiasco did what they did without the explicit approbation of someone they respect. But they obviously thought their activities were appropriate, and the Interpreters have circled their wagons to support them. We have to wonder, why?

Some may think Dan Peterson is the ringleader, but I don't see it that way. He's a great guy, sincere, devoted, smart, working hard, etc. While he's the founder and face of the Interpreter, and thus definitely one of the leading Interpreters, from my perspective he has always served in the role of the class clown, making wisecracks at FAIRMormon events, writing his blog as sort of a lovable, pompous buffoon who enjoys giving and taking offense. And I assume this is all role-playing on Dan's part, his effort to promote a brand of apologetics that he somehow things serves a good purpose. The "real Dan," when not playing a role as an apologist, is undoubtedly thoughtful, considerate, temperate, and generous. That's why I don't mind his criticisms. It's merely theater, a dog and pony show to keep his followers entertained.

I can't imagine that any serious young scholar would see Dan's act as an example to emulate. (Although, apparently some do, as we've seen in the Peter Pan fiasco.)

I don't see John Sorenson as a ringleader at all. He was a nice guy, a careful scholar, but didn't seem to me to be manipulative or vindictive. He just said what he thought and was happy for others to disagree, although he did get a little snippy at times. For example, in his book Mormon's Codex, he famously wrote, 

There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd. Hundreds of thousands of Nephites traipsing across the Mississippi Valley to New York, pursued (why?) by hundred of thousands of Lamanites, is a scenario worthy only of a witless sci-fi movie, not of history. 

Mormon's Codex, p. 688.  

We can all see that John was operating under the assumption that the events of the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica. Given that assumption and worldview, it easy to understand why John thought it was absurd to believe that Cumorah is in New York.

But of course we can all see that John failed to challenge his basic assumption. He was blind to his blind spot. 

As are the rest of the M2C advocates.

Which leads us to John W. (Jack) Welch.


Jack Welch is an enigma to me. 

On one hand, he is an exceptionally meticulous scholar. He writes clearly and precisely. He has published probably more useful books and articles than any other living Latter-day Saint scholar. 

I dedicated my book Moroni's America to Jack and John Sorenson out of respect for their contributions in the field of Book of Mormon studies. Notwithstanding their focus on M2C, they have helped make the Book of Mormon more meaningful and useful.

Jack once published an outstanding analysis of the use of evidence in religious contexts. 


As I read it, the article supports the concept of multiple working hypotheses.

In a religious setting, no arbiter prescribes or defines the level of evidence that will sustain a healthy faith. All individuals must set for themselves the levels of proof that they will require. [66] Yet how does one privately determine what burden of proof the Book of Mormon should bear? Should investigators require that it be proved beyond a reasonable doubt before experimenting with its words to learn of its truth or goodness? Should believers expect to have at least a preponderance of the evidence on their side in order to maintain their faith? Or is faith borne out sufficiently by a merely reasonable or plausible position, perhaps even in spite of all evidence? Few people realize how much rides on their personal choice in these matters, and that their answer necessarily originates in the domain of faith.


It seems clear enough that the Lord does not intend for the Book of Mormon, the Bible, or any other sacred matters to be open-and-shut cases intellectually, either pro or con. If God had intended this, he could have left more concrete evidences one way or the other. Instead, it seems that the Lord has maintained a careful balance between requiring people to exercise faith and allowing them to find reasons that affirm the stated origins of his revealed word. Instead, the choice is, then, entirely ours. Ultimately, evidences may not be that important; but then again, it is always easy to say that a parachute is irrelevant after you are safely on the ground.

On the other hand, Jack seems to have an obsession with Mesoamerica that defies explanation or credulity, apart from his long-time friendship and collaboration with John Sorenson.

He created Book of Mormon Central as a center for faithful resources, but he steadfastly refuses to accommodate interpretations of Church history, the text, and extrinsic evidence that support alternative faithful views.

To the contrary: Book of Mormon Central professes neutrality to its English readers and donors while aggressively indoctrinating Spanish-language users in M2C.

Jack has modified Church history to accommodate M2C.

I used to think Jack was operating out of loyalty to John Sorenson, but John has passed away. There's no excuse, really, for continuing to impose M2C as a litmus test.

Setting M2C aside, Jack's influence on current LDS scholars is enormous. Through Book of Mormon Central, he controls millions of dollars of funding. 

It's the golden rule: he who has the gold, rules. 

His organization includes many of the most prominent current LDS scholars.


Few if any LDS scholars--certainly none on the BMC team--would dare publish anything that Jack Welch disagrees with in any fundamental way. 

People on the BMC team continue to publicly promote the narrative that Heartlanders are racist nationalists. The anonymous "Kno-Why" articles advocate M2C and unfairly characterize alternative faithful interpretations of the text and Church history. Collaborators at the Interpreter and FAIRLDS continue to use social media to ostracize and belittle fellow Latter-day Saints.

With the snap of a finger, Jack Welch could completely change the course of LDS apologetics. He could recognize multiple working hypotheses, welcome all faithful interpretations, and bring about greater unity and charity for all Latter-day Saints.

He could even tell his foreign language audience the same thing he tells his English audience.

Yet he refuses.

That's why, in my view, he is the ringleader of the clown circus.

And I'm ever hopeful that will change.


Predictably, my critics (the NPC critics at least) will say that this blog post contradicts the notion of no more contention.

I disagree. I don't feel or express any anger in any of this. I'm not arguing with anyone about any of this. I'm just saying that people should be open and clear and not resort to surrogates and anonymity to preserve plausible deniability.

I hope to see a change among not only the current Interpreters, but also among the former Interpreters.

The element of entertainment in the various claims and counterclaims generates views. When understood as playful and perhaps tongue-in-cheek, these debates are akin to playing video games; i.e., vicarious violence.

But these debates can also have real-world consequences. 

Hopefully the "no more contention" approach will mitigate the negative consequences and enhance the positive consequences of these discussions.

As we focus on understanding and clarity, we can find unity in diversity and all work together to make the world a better place for everyone.

1 comment:

  1. Remarkably interesting, and I hope this continues as a blog for decades Jonathan. I agree, I am on the other end of the spectrum for the time. Yet the idea of actually discussing things out without rancor and seeing all evidences and how to interpret them even though, for now, I don't see them pointing to a good end with Joseph Smith in the lead, is a seriously attractive one to me. I am more than willing to participate in the discussion, the analysis of the evidence, the consequences of where they lead (this is the big one for me against having belief), and having friends and scholars to assess and read new materials as they come out. I am seriously and pleasantly looking forward to the future with you all.