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.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Fun with BMC buying ads

A friend sent me this search result recently. It shows Book of Mormon Central spending money to promote itself under "Book of Mormon Evidence."

By spending some of their millions of dollars, they've been able to supplant Rod Meldrum's Book of Mormon Evidence site in the google listings.

I'm sure their donors are proud, right?

But it looks a little desperate to me.

Click to enlarge

Of course, all Book of Mormon Central would have to do is live up to its purported purpose as the central place for all faithful interpretations, but instead they're merely an advocacy group for M2C and SITH.


Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Oxford mathematician on Christianity

Ten years ago Professor John Lennox spoke at the Oxford Union about why he is Christian. In those 10 years, the video got 1.5 million views. But Oxford Union has 1.83 million subscribers.


Two weeks ago, the Daily Dose Of Wisdom channel repurposed the original video with commentary and has already attracted 2,368,630 views--with a base of only 183,000 subscribers.


The presentation is excellent. If you haven't seen it, you should.

But this may tell us that interest in religion is rising again, just as President Nelson said it would.

Monday, August 28, 2023

SITH origin: Dehlin, Smoot, MacKay, Dirkmaat

No one has a problem with historians (or anyone else) proposing interpretations of the historical record. We all understand the concept of multiple working hypotheses, and we all agree people can believe whatever they want.

But we expect people to at least be clear about the facts and the assumptions, inferences, and theories that lead to their hypotheses and conclusions. 

When we pursue clarity, charity, and understanding, we start with clarity for a reason. Obfuscation and misdirection don't lead to understanding but to confusion. People can't make informed decisions when they don't have clarity about the facts--and about the difference between facts and assumptions, inferences, etc. When people simply omit facts to persuade others to accept their hypotheses, we all want an explanation for why they omitted those facts. 

IOW, don't just omit relevant facts without at least explaining why. We may or may not agree with your explanation, but we want to know you have one.


In the pursuit of clarity, we've seen previously how M2C originated with a map published in 1917 (and 1918, 1919, and 1923) by an RLDS scholar named L.E. Hills* whose theory that the "real Cumorah/Ramah" was in Mexico was promptly rejected by both RLDS and LDS leaders who reaffirmed what Joseph and Oliver taught. But LDS scholars who rejected what the prophets taught about Cumorah persisted in promoting Hills' M2C theory. They've raised and spent millions of dollars from faithful Latter-day Saints to all but erase the New York Cumorah/Ramah from the collective memory of the Church.

Fortunately, no amount of money can erase what everyone can read right in the Joseph Smith Papers.

And, as always, if anyone thinks I've erred or misstated anything, feel free to email me at lostzarahemla@gmail.com and I'll make the corrections. 


A similar process is underway to establish SITH (the stone-in-the-hat theory), particularly by John Dehlin, Stephen O. Smoot, Michael Hubbard MacKay, and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat.

As we'll see, Smoot/MacKay/Dirkmaat omitted highly relevant facts about SITH and invented an opposite narrative instead that they've promoted heavily. In the pursuit of charity, we can assume they have a good faith reason for doing so, but it's difficult to imagine what that might be. At any rate, they should have disclosed the facts and explained why they omitted them.

Here's the problem. Not only did they publish this false narrative years ago with no pushback from the LDS scholarly community, but as recently as this year--2023--they persuaded Deseret Book to promote the false narrative with additional embellishments--all to establish SITH as the only acceptable explanation for the Book of Mormon.


Some people think SITH became prominent among Latter-day Saints because of Richard Bushman's book Rough Stone Rolling, published in 2007. But Bushman accurately reported the historical accounts. He could/should have clarified a few things and added additional references, as suggested here, https://www.mobom.org/rsr-review, but he didn't change the historical record to promote an agenda. 

John Dehlin's 2013 "Faith Crisis Report" took SITH a step further by claiming SITH was the actual origin of the Book of Mormon and that there was a "gap" between the "true" SITH accounts and the "false" teachings of the Church regarding the Urim and Thummim. Dehlin's Mormon Stories podcast has repeated that theme ever since.

(click to enlarge)

Dehlin's report led to the publication of the Gospel Topics Essays, including the essay on Book of Mormon Translation which adopted Dehlin's narrative. The essay doesn't even quote what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation; instead, it selectively quotes from other sources to promote the Dehlin narrative. For an analysis, see https://www.ldshistoricalnarratives.com/2022/09/analysis-gospel-topics-essay-on-book-of.html.

The 2015 book From Darkness Unto Light, by Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, quoted original sources and wove a narrative that further persuaded many Latter-day Saints to accept SITH (the stone-in-the-hat theory). However, without explaining why, the authors omitted original sources that contradicted SITH. Worse, they also falsified the historical record to promote SITH. 

Specifically, they invented a narrative around Jonathan Hadley, who published the first known account of the translation. 

Smoot/MacKay/Dirkmaat claim Joseph Smith visited Hadley to ask if he would publish the Book of Mormon. They claim Joseph related the SITH account to him. They claim that Hadley was initially amiable toward Joseph Smith, and that Hadley's account should be accepted on its face.

Yet in an account they don't even cite (let alone quote), Hadley himself said it was Martin Harris alone who visited him. Hadley never said Joseph visited him. He never said he ever met Joseph. And he explained that he not only refused to have anything to do with the publication, but that he would "expose" the "whole Mormon gang" if they succeeded in publishing the Book of Mormon.

IOW, Smoot/MacKay/Dirkmaat claim SITH originated with Joseph Smith, when the historical record shows us that it originated with an avowed antagonist who had never even met Joseph Smith.

Stephen O. Smoot wrote an enthusiastic review in the Interpreter.

But perhaps the most fascinating insight to be found in this section of the book is the discussion of Jonathan A. Hadley’s 1829 account of his visit with Joseph Smith. Printer of the Palmyra Freeman, Hadley reported in August 1829 that the Prophet had recently come to him seeking to contract the publication of the Book of Mormon. Although he contemptuously dismissed his account of the recovery of the plates, Hadley nevertheless reported Joseph’s description to him of the physical dimensions thereof. 

This is the type of "peer approval" at the Interpreter that we've all come to know and love. It's what happens when people rely on what others write without looking at the original sources.

MacKay and Dirkmaat were so enamored with their Hadley narrative that they included it on the first page of their latest book, Let's Talk About the Translation of the Book of Mormon, published in 2023 by Deseret Book.

Consequently, Deseret Book is officially on record for promoting the false narrative that SITH originated with Joseph Smith.

I posted a detailed analysis about all of this. It's an excerpt from the appendix in an upcoming book about LDS apologetics. You can read it here:


Here's a brief example of the Smoot/MacKay/Dirkmaat narrative, compared to what Hadley actually said. 

Smoot, MacKay, Dirkmaat


Though Hadley's small-time operation could not accommodate the herculean project of printing the Book of Mormon, he went from amiable to incensed after Joseph eventually agreed to terms with the recalcitrant Grandin rather than Hadley's more well-positioned friend in Rochester.

Joseph had described to Hadley many of the remarkable events that had let him to the plates and how they were translated. Now Hadley determined to undermine Joseph Smith by relating the fantastical events Joseph had told him.

Soon after the translation was completed, I was one day waited upon by Harris, and offered the printing of the Book of Mormon. This was in the summer of 1829, at which time I was carrying on the printing business at Palmyra. Harris owned a good farm in that town, and offered to mortgage it to secure the expense of printing. Though he was a subscriber to my paper, and had frequently "labored" to convert me to the Mormon faith, I was so sceptical as to utterly refuse to have any "part or lot" in the imposition, telling him at the same time, that if he proceeded with the publication, I should feel it my duty, as the conductor of a faithful public journal, to expose him and the whole Mormon gang. He took the work, however, to the other office in the village, and it was soon put to press. It was then I wrote and published an article, which you may recollect, headed "THE GOLDEN BIBLE," giving a history of the humbug up to that time. This article was extensively copied, it having been the first ever published about the Mormons.

The MacKay/Dirkmaat narrative as it appears on the first page of Let's Talk About:

Smoot promoting SITH in the Interpreter:


*The simulation winked at us by having a guy named "Hills" promote the idea of "two hills Cumorah" or M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). We should have known all along it was fake news.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Two new "can't miss" podcasts

Mormon Book Reviews interviewed me in my studio in Oregon about my own story. Steve always asks great questions to prompt conversations. 

He labeled it "A Faith Journey: Book of Mormon and Murder."


Description: Jonathan Neville returns to MBR to discuss with Steven Pynakker some of his life's story. Did you know that Neville was almost murdered and he had an out of body experience? Did you know that his half-brother was murdered and it was a cold case for 25 years before there was a conviction? This was a very fascinating conversation where Jonathan talks about things in his life that very few people know. We also talk about his faith and discuss the Book of Mormon and the Meso/Heartlander situation.

And, part 5 of our interview with Gospel Tangents is "Why Translation of the Book of Mormon matters." It's on YouTube here:


Description: Many people don't care whether Joseph used a seer stone or a Urim & Thummim to translate the Book of Mormon. Why does it matter so much to Jim Lucas & Jonathan Neville? They answer in our next conversation!

Friday, August 25, 2023

The fundamental flaw of Evidence Central

In the pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding, we all recognize that Evidence Central (https://evidencecentral.org/recency) is a laudable effort to accumulate, organize and present extrinsic evidence that corroborates the truth claims of the Restoration, including the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

They are a useful resource on many topics.

However, much of the "evidence" published by Evidence Central is designed to promote that narrative that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery misled everyone about the origin (SITH for stone-in-the-hat) and setting (M2C for Mesoamerican/two Cumorahs) of the Book of Mormon. 

I'm fine with people believing whatever they want. But Evidence Central purports to be a faithful organization. Look at its Purpose statement: "Evidence Central strives to increase faith in Jesus Christ by making evidences of the Restoration more accessible, understandable, and defensible."

But instead of recognizing and supporting multiple faithful approaches, Evidence Central is an advocacy group for SITH and M2C.

This is the fundamental flaw of Evidence Central: 

Evidence Central promotes the critical narratives that Joseph and Oliver misled everyone about the origin (translation) and setting (the hill Cumorah) of the Book of Mormon.

It's a tragedy because Evidence Central could fulfill its stated purpose by presenting evidence that supports all the faithful interpretations, including those that support and corroborate what Joseph and Oliver taught. By so doing, they would educate and unify Latter-day Saints, recognizing the principle of unity in diversity.

As currently led by its principals, Evidence Central insists on causing division and confusion by promoting only one interpretation--an interpretation that the opponents of the Restoration initially developed and continue to promote today.


The 2019 "Faith Crisis Report" by John Dehlin and others, which anyone can read at this link, surveyed thousands of people and concluded that 

the top factors for loss-of-belief are highly correlated to each other and pertain specifically to the Church’s key historical truth claims: 1) Joseph Smith, 2) History, 3) Doctrine / theology, 4) Book of Mormon.

A key element throughout that report is the purported "gap" between the SITH narrative, which the report deems accurate, and the traditional Urim and Thummim narrative taught by Joseph and Oliver, which the report deems false. 

Evidence Central has adopted Dehlin's "gap" theory as the only acceptable interpretation of Church history.

Again, that's fine. People can believe whatever they want. But in the interest of clarity, they owe it to their readers (and donors) to be clear about what they are teaching; i.e., that they are promoting the narrative from Mormonism Unvailed, John Dehlin, and other critics. 

And they owe it to their readers (and donors) to explain that they do not accommodate faithful interpretations and narratives that corroborate and support what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Let's look at a recent example.


This "evidence" entry discusses the "Purpose of the Plates." 


Naturally, anyone who reads what Joseph and Oliver wrote would conclude that Moroni gave Joseph the plates so he could translate the engravings on them. [See sample references below.]

But not Evidence Central.

In the Abstract of their "evidence" article they state, as a fact, that "the plates of the Book of Mormon weren't directly used in the process of their translation." 


It is sometimes claimed that because the plates of the Book of Mormon weren’t directly used in the process of their translation, then they served no meaningful purpose. To the contrary, in a variety of ways the plates played a valuable role in the unfolding drama of the Restoration.

They say "it is sometimes claimed... they served no meaningful purpose." 

By using the passive voice, Evidence Central avoids informing readers that this is precisely the claim made by Mormonism Unvailed back in 1834 when it described SITH.

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. 


Joseph and Oliver denounced and refuted Mormonism Unvailed, but Evidence Central embraces and amplifies the SITH claims in that book. 


Next, let's look at the "variety of ways the plates played a valuable role." 

This section is a mass of confusion and sophistry that betrays their cognitive dissonance as they promote SITH while keeping one toe in the water of the traditional narrative--just in case Joseph and Oliver told the truth after all.  

First, they contradict their entire premise by admitting there is evidence that Joseph used the plates to translate. 

1. Evidence That the Plates Were Used to Translate. Accounts about the plates not being directly utilized in the translation are likely accurate but incomplete.

Evidence Central deems the SITH accounts "likely accurate but incomplete." But Evidence Central started the article by declaring that "the plates... weren’t directly used in the process of their translation." How do they rationalize their SITH theory? Look at this.

Evidence suggests that during the early stages of Joseph’s translation efforts, a mode of translation was sometimes used which directly involved the plates.... [quoting the Coe account of Joseph using the plates and the Urim and Thummim]... If accurate, this method of translating may also help explain accounts of a blanket or screen being used to separate Joseph from his scribe 

Isolated evidence and evidence taken out of context can "suggest" anything. But as you'll see if you read the entire article, they simply omit what Joseph and Oliver said. And notice they're limiting evidence of actual translation to the undefined "early stages." 

Look at the disparity in deference as well. The SITH accounts are "likely accurate" but the Coe account, only "if accurate," may "help explain" other accounts. 

If Evidence Central sought to corroborate what Joseph and Oliver said instead of corroborating what the unbelieving critics said, they would have pointed out that the Coe account both (i) corroborates what Joseph and Oliver said and (ii) contradicts the SITH accounts.


There are other indications that Joseph Smith was at least occasionally aware of the relationship between the characters on the plates and the words he was dictating. He once explained that “the Title Page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left-hand side of the collection or book of plates.”

LOL. Joseph "was at least occasionally aware." This degree of imaginary mind-reading is another tell for cognitive dissonance.

This paragraph reminds me of the speaker at Education Week a few years ago who quoted Joseph's statement about the Title Page and said, "We don't know how he knew this because he never used the plates." 

People in the audience stifled a laugh. They immediately realized how foolish this statement was. 

The speaker hadn't considered the possibility that Joseph knew the Title Page was on the last leaf because he translated the engravings on the last leaf--just like he translated the engravings on every leaf.


[after quoting David Whitmer] This would have reinforced—at least to Joseph himself and perhaps to those, like Whitmer, whom he informed about the process—that even when using a seer stone Joseph’s dictation was indeed connected to the record in his possession.

More imaginative mind-reading. But this ephemeral "connection" directly contradicts what Joseph and Oliver said. 

To their credit, at least Evidence Central included an illustration of Joseph using the Urim and Thummim to look on the plates. They could and should have made this the focal point of the purpose of the plates; i.e., the purpose of the plates was for Joseph to translate them. 

Instead, they insisted that Joseph didn't use the plates, except during the undefined "early stages." 

Now look at their caption:

Artist’s rendition of Joseph Smith translating while wearing the breastplate with the attached interpreters or spectacles, later referred to as the Urim and Thummim. Illustration by Robert T. Barrett.

This caption teaches the critical narrative that Joseph adopted the term Urim and Thummim to make the interpreters sound more biblical. IOW, it's another example of Joseph and Oliver misleading everyone, because they both said Moroni used the term.


If Evidence Central lived up to its name, they would have included at least these following references as additional evidence about the "purpose of the plates." 

Moroni "said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain, and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record." (Messenger and Advocate I.5:80 ¶2, Times and Seasons II.4:243 ¶3, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/69)

Joseph said "I copied a considerable number of them [the characters off the plates], and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them." (Joseph Smith—History 1:62). 

Regarding the 116 pages, Joseph said "I took from the Book of Lehi." (Preface 1830 edition)

The Lord told Joseph "you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi."
(Doctrine and Covenants 10:41)

Joseph wrote, "I obtained them [the plates], and the Urim and Thummim with them; by the means of which, I translated the plates; and thus came the book of Mormon." (Elders' Journal, July 1838)

Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.
(Joseph Smith—History 1:35)

Instead, to promote their SITH agenda, Evidence Central withheld this evidence from their readers.


Evidence Central proceeds to invoke a series of metaphorical "purposes" of the plates that made them important despite the fact (in their view) that Joseph didn't really translate them. 

The additional purposes are fine in the sense of multiple working hypotheses, but they are insignificant compared to the stated purpose of the plates, which was for Joseph to translate them. But Evidence Central can't say Joseph translated the plates because they prefer the SITH narrative.

When Evidence Central explicitly (i) refutes what Joseph and Oliver claimed and (ii) omit what Joseph and Oliver claimed, they undermine the purported purpose of the organization. This is the opposite of making "the Restoration more accessible, understandable, and defensible."

This table shows how it works. 

Joseph Smith, Elders’ Journal, July 1838

The “real meaning” of Joseph’s statement, according to Evidence Central, the Interpreter, FairLDS, CES Letter, Mormon Stories, Book of Mormon Central, Meridian Magazine, RFM, LDS Discussions, the Joseph Smith Papers editors, etc.

"I obtained them [the plates], and the Urim and Thummim with them; by the means of which, I translated the plates; and thus came the book of Mormon."

"I obtained them [the plates], and the Urim and Thummim with them; but I didn’t actually use the Urim and Thummim or the plates. In fact, I only adopted the term Urim and Thummim after someone else made the analogy to the Bible. 

Instead, I took a stone I found in a well years earlier, put it in a hat, and then read words that appeared on the stone; and thus came the book of Mormon."


Obviously, the entire narrative of the Restoration of the Gospel depends on the credibility and reliability of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. 

- Together, they produced the Book of Mormon (as translator and scribe, respectively) and the early revelations. 

- They received the Priesthood (Aaronic and Melchizedek). 

- They produced the first published accounts of these events (the eight essays/letters found in the Joseph Smith Papers here: https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/48

- They received the keys of the gathering and of temple work (D&C 110, based on the record of Oliver's brother Warren: https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/journal-1835-1836/194). [Note: some Church materials misleadingly claim Joseph Smith conferred the Priesthood on others, but everyone who bears the Priesthood can see that the line of authority goes through Joseph and Oliver. And, actually, it was Oliver, not all of the Three Witnesses, who ordained the original Twelve Apostles.

If Joseph and Oliver lied or even misled people, the narrative of the Restoration implodes and there is nothing left but a handful of scholars trying to rationalize why Joseph and Oliver might have been deceivers, but they were deceiving people to cover up an underlying truth.

Good luck with that.


Recently I spoke with someone about the origin of the Book of Mormon. This is a lawyer who has served multiple missions and in various leadership positions.

He mentioned that a niece had left the Church after hearing that Joseph produced the Book of Mormon by reading words that appeared off a stone he put in a hat (SITH, or the stone-in-the-hat theory). He couldn't understand why that was a problem.

I said it was a problem because that's not a translation, and it's not what Joseph said about the origin of the Book of Mormon.

He said Joseph Smith said he used a stone in a hat.

I asked where Joseph ever said that, because Joseph (and Oliver) always said Joseph translated with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates, and never said he read words off a stone in a hat.

He said "reputable scholars" say Joseph used SITH. Presumably he was referring to the SITH sayers who claim Joseph was referring to the seer (peep) stone when he used the term Urim and Thummim, which of course contradicts the historical record, as we've seen.

And then he said it doesn't matter how Joseph produced the Book of Mormon because it's true regardless.

No wonder his niece left. 


Evidence Central is part of the network of interlocking "central" sites, funded by millions of dollars of donations, all designed to promote M2C and SITH in English, Portuguese and Spanish.





Seminary Central even features the ridiculous and offensive FARMS logo that presents the Book of Mormon as a Mayan text.

Young Latter-day Saints don't stand a fair chance against this onslaught of academic sophistry and misdirection coming at them from both the critics and the M2C/SITH scholars.


A case in point.

Evidence Central contains this entry on Oliver Cowdery:



In these letters, Oliver expressed a desire to live his life in a way that his credibility as a witness would not be called into question.15 

“I have cherished a hope,” he wrote to Phineas Young in 1846, “that I might leave such a character, as those who might believe in my testimony … might not blush for the private character of the man who bore that testimony.”16 Similarly, in a letter to David Whitmer, his fellow Book of Mormon witness, Oliver wrote that the Church “must arise in a measure upon our testimony, and upon our characters as good men. … Let the Lord vindicate our characters, and cause our testimony to shine, and then will men be saved in his kingdom.”17

Yet Evidence Central (and the entire "Central" network) teaches people that Oliver Cowdery lied when he wrote that it is a fact that here, between these hills...

Evidence Central teaches that Oliver Cowdery lied when he wrote that Moroni said the "record was written and deposited not far from" Joseph's home near Palmyra and when he declared it is a "fact that .

Another excerpt that carefully omits a critical part of Oliver's testimony:

When Oliver returned to the Church, several witnesses remembered him testifying of the Book of Mormon.18 According to a “verbatim report,” taken down as Oliver Cowdery spoke at Council Bluffs, Iowa in October 1848, he declared, “I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands, the gold plates from which [the Book of Mormon] was transcribed.”19

The footnote explains that Reuban Miller, who recorded Oliver's words, was a reliable minute-taker.

19 Journal of Reuban Miller, October 21, 1848, as printed in “Last Days of Oliver Cowdery,” Deseret News, April 13, 1859, in Morris, Documentary History, 351. Miller had considerable experience in accurate minute-taking when he recorded Oliver’s speech, and thus his report is generally taken as a reliable report of Oliver’s words. See Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Reuben Miller, Recorder of Oliver Cowdery’s Reaffirmations,” BYU Studies 8, no. 3 (1968): 377–392; reprinted in Oliver Cowdery, 401–419.

Despite emphasizing Miller's reliability, Evidence Central misleads readers by omitting what Oliver said about the Urim and Thummim. Here is the full quotation, with the part Evidence Central omitted in bold:

“I wrote with my own pen the intire book of mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the Lips of the prophet. As he translated it by the gift and power of god, By means of the urum and thumum, or as it is called by that book holy Interperters. I beheld with my eyes, And handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated, I also beheld the Interperters. 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.” (Miller, Journal, 21 Oct. 1848.) 



Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Emma's Last Testimony

The interview on Gospel Tangents continues with this episode about Emma Smith's "Last Testimony."


Discussions about the origin of the Book of Mormon inevitably involve quotations from Emma Smith's "Last Testimony," an interview recorded by her son Joseph Smith III shortly before her death, which was published several months after she died and which she never publicly acknowledged.

Usually the people involved in the discussions accept Emma's "Last Testimony" on its face; i.e., they simply assume that Emma actually spoke the words her son recorded, that her memory was intact and accurate, that she had no agenda to promote, etc.

This, despite the obvious lack of basic details such as time, place and manner, which any witness would be asked in a serious interview. Her son didn't even ask her what parts of the text she translated. Or, if he did, she couldn't remember so he didn't write it down. For that matter, it would be surprising if, as a lawyer, Joseph Smith III did not ask more detailed questions during the conversation. Not in the nature of cross-examination, but for clarification and precision.

Nevertheless, historians are so eager to accept the "Last Testimony" that they insert their own interpretation of the missing information, such as in this paragraph from the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation:

Joseph’s wife Emma explained that she “frequently wrote day after day” at a small table in their house in Harmony, Pennsylvania. She described Joseph “sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.”

In the actual interview, Emma didn't say where she wrote, but our scholars felt entitled to supply the missing information. 

(For a discussion of that essay, see: https://www.ldshistoricalnarratives.com/2022/09/analysis-gospel-topics-essay-on-book-of.html)

While we are never satisfied with the paucity of the historical record--we always wish people had kept and preserved more records, especially contemporaneous records--that is no excuse for simply embracing vague recollections as accurate history.

In this interview on Gospel Tangents, we discuss some of these issues.


Another consideration is the contemporaneous response the "Last Testimony" received in Salt Lake City. Here's an excerpt from the chapter on the "Last Testimony" in my book A Man that Can Translate:

[Joseph F. Smith] suggested that Emma’s “Last Testimony” may not have been hers. In his letter, he quoted from Emma’s “Last Testimony” and then rebutted its claims about polygamy with sworn statements and affidavits. Among these were

Two of the wives of the Prophet Joseph Smith, which I think, will assert quite as strong claims for belief and present a much better appearance of veracity than the published dialogue between Joseph Smith [III] and his mother, for this reason, if no other, these people, well known to this community, are mostly still living and can be cross-examined, while “Sister Emma,” whose lips are sealed in death, is represented as denying facts which it can be abundantly proven, were well known to her, and to many now living in these mountains…

Although he focuses on the polygamy question, JFS’s observations about the credibility of the “Last Testimony” and Emma’s unavailability for questioning apply to the entire document.

On the same page of the Deseret News another letter to the editor questioned the authenticity of the “Last Testimony.” This one was from Eliza R. Snow, who identified herself as “A wife of Joseph Smith the Prophet.” Snow wrote:

To my great astonishment, I read an article headed “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” published in the Saints’ Advocate, a pamphlet issued in Plano, Ill…. I once dearly loved “Sister Emma,” and now, for me to believe that she, a once highly honored woman, should have sunk so low, even in her own estimation, as to deny what she knew to be true, seems a palpable absurdity. If what purports to be her “last testimony” was really her testimony, she died with a libel on her lips—a libel against her husband—against his wives—against the truth, and a libel against God; and in publishing that libel, her son has fastened a stigma on the character of his mother that can never be erased…. So far as Sister Emma personally is concerned, I would gladly have been silent and let her memory rest in peace, had not her misguided son, through a sinister policy, branded her name with gross wickedness—charging her with the denial of a sacred principle which she had heretofore not only acknowledged but had acted upon…. 

This strong denunciation of Emma’s “Last Testimony” with respect to polygamy serves to impeach, or invalidate, the entire statement. If she was lying this blatantly about polygamy, the argument goes, why should we trust her regarding the translation?

When Emma gave her "Last Testimony" in 1879, 35 years had elapsed since the polygamy days in Nauvoo. Emma's contemporaries strongly disputed her account of polygamy. We can't know what Emma was thinking, or whether her memory was faulty, she had an agenda, or her son guided (or composed) her testimony. But with respect to the translation, she was looking back 50 years. 

Emma's "Last Testimony" is a good example of the wisdom of using "multiple working hypotheses" as we assess historical accounts. 

The only historical fact about the "Last Testimony" is that Joseph Smith III wrote the questions and answers. We can all agree on that. Anyone can obtain a copy of the original document (as I have). 

Joseph Smith III also claimed that he actually visited his mother and asked the questions. There is documentation to support that claim. But we cannot observe the visit; we can only assume he told the truth about visiting and interviewing his mother.

Beyond that, we apply our assumptions, inferences and theories to interpret the actual fact (the document) and develop our hypotheses about its accuracy and relevance.

Historians are free to accept the "Last Testimony" on its face. Or they can reject it in whole or in part. But in any case, everyone involved should be clear about what they assume, infer, etc. so others can accurately understand their positions. That way we can fairly compare multiple working alternatives in our own pursuit of clarity.  

Monday, August 21, 2023

An important podcast on Gospel Tangents

In the pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding, my co-author, Jim Lucas, and I did an extended interview with Gospel Tangents.

Here's the summary:

LDS Historians believe Joseph Smith used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon, but authors Jim Lucas and Jonathan Neville are pushing back against that theory. The two lawyers argue that the traditional story that Joseph used the Urim & Thummim to translate is more accurate, and they have written a new book, "By Means of the Urim & Thummim" to lay out their arguments.

The first of 6 parts dropped today.



I did another interview last week that will be posted soon, and I have two more scheduled this week. These all involve different topic and they reach different audiences, so be sure to share/comment.

Friday, August 18, 2023

More on Brant Gardner, who is awesome

My comments on Brant Gardner's "SITH Unvailed" interview has generated a lot of page views and discussion. 

I reposted it to LDSHistoricalNarratives so it would be more accessible. It will be buried on this blog as we focus more on Cumorah in coming weeks leading up to the 200th anniversary of Moroni's visit.


I'm hopeful that the "SITH Unveiled" interview will "pull back the curtain" on all the shenanigans these scholars have employed over the years so we can have better scholarship in the pursuit of clarity, charity, and understanding.

IOW, no more contention.



Some people wonder why I discuss SITH on this site (www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com) because they think questions about the origin of the Book of Mormon (SITH vs U&T) are not related to the setting of the Book of Mormon (M2C vs 1NYC).

1. One reason why I discuss SITH here is because the M2C scholars almost all promote SITH along with M2C. I posted an example yesterday. 


[SITH = stone-in-the-hat theory of the origin of the Book of Mormon.]

[M2C = Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory of the setting of the Book of Mormon.]

It's easy to see why these scholars link the two concepts.

Both SITH and M2C teach that Joseph and Oliver misled everyone.

Further, young Latter-day Saints who want to be scholars and/or apologists must defer to the conclusions of the scholars who are properly credentialed and affiliated with Book of Mormon Central and/or the Interpreter Foundation.

I'm fine with people believing whatever they want. We all have access to the identical facts. Different conclusions are driven by subjective assumptions, inferences, and theories. People rationalize their subjective choices all the time. That's natural. No problem at all.

What I'm not fine with is obfuscation, misdirection, and misrepresentation, all of which are endemic in the SITH/M2C scholarship (and among the critics).

Instead, I seek clarity, charity and understanding. When scholars and critics are clear about their assumptions, inferences, and theories, people can make informed decisions based on clarity.

Which leads directly to clarity about the foundations of M2C and SITH.

The fundamental "keystone" of M2C is that Cumorah/Ramah is not in New York. This means Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church when they taught that Cumorah/Ramah was in western New York. Instead, according to the M2C scholars, Oliver (despite being Assistant President of the Church) falsely claimed it was a fact that Cumorah/Ramah was the same hill where Joseph found the plates (Letter VII, etc.). According to the same scholars, Joseph didn't know anything about the setting of the Book of Mormon and relied on scholarship for answers (such as the Stephens/Catherwood books about ruins in Central America). In our day, the M2C scholars are so much smarter and better informed than Joseph and Oliver that they "know" the New York Cumorah was a false tradition (albeit perpetrated by prophets and apostles who succeeded Joseph and Oliver). 

The fundamental "keystone" of SITH is that Joseph did not use the plates or the Urim and Thummim to produce the Book of Mormon. This means that Joseph and Oliver deliberately misled everyone by claiming Joseph used the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates (the Nephite interpreters) to translate the engravings on the plates. Instead, according to our SITH scholars, Joseph didn't even use the U&T or the plates, and instead read words that appeared on a seer stone he put in a hat. Of course, this narrative is right out of Mormonism Unvailed, a book that Joseph and Oliver denounced but that our modern SITH scholars embrace.

Again, I'm fine with the M2C/SITH scholars teaching M2C and SITH, but only when they are clear about what they teach and don't use sophistry and misdirection to confuse their readers and viewers.

Which leads me to the second reason why I discuss SITH here.


2. The second reason I discuss SITH here along with M2C is because the methodology employed by the SITH and M2C scholars is the same.

The methodology consists of obfuscation, misdirection, and misrepresentation (i) to promote SITH and M2C and (ii) to suppress the alternatives to SITH and M2C.

Brant Gardner is a prime example. In my post on "SITH unveiled" we saw how Brant is a key player at Book of Mormon Central as well as at the Interpreter Foundation. Both of those organizations are advocacy groups for SITH and M2C.

I reiterate that I think Brant is awesome. He's a good guy, a careful scholar, and an effective writer.

But that doesn't make him immune from promoting false narratives to deter people from learning about alternatives to his SITH and M2C ideology.

Given his emphasis on good scholarship, it seems completely out of character for Brant to falsely claim, as he did in the "SITH Unvailed" interview, that I wrote my books with a predetermined conclusion and did poor research because I merely sought evidence to support my conclusions. As I showed in my post, his allegations are easily shown to be false because in the first editions of my book Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates? I had accepted SITH (at least in Fayette). 

I changed my mind about my published conclusions based on my own further detailed research that led me to reject those conclusions (which had been based largely on accepting the work of the SITH sayers).

It's the same approach I took toward M2C in the first place. I had accepted the FARMS narrative about M2C for decades, largely because I trusted such luminaries as Jack Welch, Dan Peterson, and John Sorenson. It was only after I did my own research on the Times and Seasons and related aspects of Church history, such as Letter VII, that I changed my mind about M2C (after consulting other Church history experts as a sanity check).

During this process, I also carefully considered the assertions by CES Letter, Dan Vogel, John Dehlin, etc., and found them to be as outcome-driven as the work of Welch, Peterson, et al.

I had never heard of or imagined the "two sets of plates" narrative until I researched the origin accounts in more detail and it became obvious. Same with the influence of Jonathan Edwards, the early childhood preparation of Joseph Smith to be a translator/prophet, and all the rest of the evidence that corroborates and supports what Joseph and Oliver said all along.

When I first got into these Church history topics, I actually thought Jack Welch and the other scholars would embrace new perspectives. I erred because I underestimated the emotional/reputational/financial investment these scholars had made. 

As a category, the historians seem more open-minded than the apologists at Book of Mormon Central and the Interpreter, but even the historians I spoke with privately didn't want to go on the record for a variety of reasons, which is fine.

Back to Brant Gardner.

Why would Brant lie about me that way? 

We can't read minds, but given his position at the Interpreter and Book of Mormon Central, we can reasonably infer that he, like the editorial boards of those organizations, cherish SITH and M2C so much that they don't want their readers (and donors) to even know there are faithful alternatives to SITH and M2C.

IOW, they don't want Latter-day Saints to learn that there are solid explanations of Church history that corroborate what Joseph and Oliver said all along. Latter-day Saints don't have to repudiate the teachings of Joseph and Oliver the way Jack Welch, Dan Peterson, and their followers do.

This is why Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, FairLDS, Meridian Magazine and their affiliates have adamantly refuse to tell their readers (and donors) the truth about the faithful alternatives to SITH and M2C.

Instead, as Brant Gardner has done, they tell their followers that Heartland ideas (essentially the New York Cumorah) are based on right-wing nationalism, racism, and anti-science. They tell people that anyone who supports what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation is not doing "good history" and is advancing an ideological agenda.

It's the antithesis of scholarship for Book of Mormon Central and the Interpreter Foundation to obsess with SITH and M2C to the point of depriving their readers, listeners and followers of the truth about alternative faithful interpretations of Church history and the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon.


Thursday, August 17, 2023

BMC promotes Mormonism Unvailed again

SITH matching quiz. Put the number of the statement in the box with the actual author:



1. the plates of the Book of Mormon weren’t directly used in the process of their translation

Joseph Smith

2. I obtained them and the Urim and Thummim with them, by the means of which I translated the plates.

Jack Welch

3. The plates, therefore, which had been so much talked of, were found to be of no manner of use… 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.

Dan Peterson

4. 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

Eber D. Howe

5. The Urim and Thummim [were] handed down from one generation to another, and finally buried up in Ontario county, some fifteen centuries since, to enable Smith to translate the plates without looking at them !

Royal Skousen

6. We are informed that Smith used a stone in a hat, for the purpose of translating the plates. The spectacles and plates were found together, but were taken from him and hid up again before he had translated one word, and he has never seen them since — this is Smith's own story. Let us ask, what use have- the plates been or the spectacles, so long as they have in no sense been used?

Oliver Cowdery

7. 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.”

John Dehlin

It's a bit of a trick question. #2 is Joseph Smith. #4 is Oliver Cowdery. The rest are interchangeable; i.e., they could have been written by Dehlin, Welch, Skousen, Howe or Peterson, all of whom teach that Joseph didn't actually use the plates to translate but instead read words off a stone he put in a hat.

If this sounds incredible, read on.


(click to enlarge)


The first statement in the quiz actually comes from Book of Mormon Central, through its latest affiliate, Evidence Central.

In its latest set of Orwellian "Book of Mormon Evidence" articles, Book of Mormon Central insists "the plates of the Book of Mormon weren't directly used in the process of translation."


For many Latter-day Saints, that assertion is preposterous. But for the M2C scholars and critics mentioned above, the assertion is not only a customary but mandatory belief.

After all, the core value of both Book of Mormon Central (BMC) and Mormon Stories seems to be rejecting and repudiating what Joseph and Oliver claimed about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon, replacing what they taught with the theories of scholars. 

Actually, it's not even Jack Welch and Dan Peterson and their followers who have come up with these theories.

Mormonism Unvailed published these theories in 1834. Statements 3, 5 and 6 from the quiz are from Mormonism Unvailed by Eber D. Howe. Although the statements read like the script from Dan Peterson's Witnesses movie, or any number of Jack Welch's "kno-why" or evidence articles, they are actually from Mormonism Unvailed, page 18, which you can see here:


and here


BMC is merely regurgitating the Mormonism Unvailed narrative and dressing it up so they can sell it to Latter-day Saints. They seem to think that Joseph and Oliver misled everyone and the Church would grow better by replacing their narrative with the Eber D. Howe narrative from Mormonism Unvailed.

We can all see that Joseph and Oliver denounced Mormonism Unvailed and explicitly refuted its claims about SITH.

See, e.g., http://www.ldshistoricalnarratives.com/2023/04/mormonism-unvailed-then-and-now.html



Nevertheless, our wonderful scholars at Book of Mormon Central (and the Interpreter) have decided that Mormonism Unvailed told the "true" history of the origins of the Book of Mormon.


Now BMC asks the same rhetorical question Mormonism Unvailed posed in 1834 (statement 6 above). 

Instead of responding the way Joseph and Oliver did--by explaining that Joseph did use the plates--BMC offers a set of answers that merely reinforce the absurdity of the SITH narrative.

You really have to read this explanation of the "Purpose of the Plates" to see how fully Book of Mormon Central has adopted and embraced the narrative from Mormonism Unvailed.

Book of Mormon Evidence: Purpose of the Plates


It is sometimes claimed that because the plates of the Book of Mormon weren’t directly used in the process of their translation, then they served no meaningful purpose. To the contrary, in a variety of ways the plates played a valuable role in the unfolding drama of the Restoration.

People are sometimes surprised to discover that, according to a number of historical accounts, the plates of the Book of Mormon were not regularly used during the process of its translation.1 While translating, Joseph Smith would typically place his face into a hat to block out ambient light.2 He would then, according to witnesses, read aloud the words which miraculously appeared in a seer stone, and a scribe would record them.3

As for the plates themselves, Emma Smith reported that they “often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen table cloth.”4 Other witnesses recalled that on a few occasions the plates were kept “in a nearby box under the bed or even hidden in the Whitmer’s barn during translation.”5