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.

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Saturday: SITH, M2C and more

It continues to surprise me how many things there are to discuss on this blog. We have a long way to go to achieve full clarity, charity, and understanding, but we're getting closer as more people strive to become peacemakers (see nomorecontention.com).

SITH update.

I was asked to prepare a more detailed analysis of the origins of SITH, specifically the 1829 Jonathan Hadley article, so I in the pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding, I put it in a comparison table, here:


MacKay and Dirkmaat (fine scholars, awesome people, and BYU professors) are among the most prominent proponents (along with John Dehlin, the Interpreter, and Mormonism Unvailed) of the stone-in-the-hat narrative (SITH). They claim that Joseph Smith personally started SITH by relating it to Jonathan Hadley in Palmyra in 1829 when he was seeking a publisher for the Book of Mormon.

However, their narrative consists of imaginative mind reading and creative assumptions because Hadley never claimed he met Joseph Smith. MacKay and Dirkmaat rely on Hadley's 1829 article which is arguably ambiguous (it requires a stretch of the imagination to make it so). But Hadley's 1842 article goes into more detail and explains it was only Martin Harris who came to his print shop. In their books, MacKay and Dirkmaat forgot to mention the 1842 article, depriving their readers of the full story. 


Multiple working hypotheses update.

Around the world, people seek to make informed decisions. Those who grew up with the Internet have little interest in controlled narratives. They reject censorship and manipulation. More and more they reject the legacy media narratives that present only one side of issues. People want to hear a variety of perspectives.

This is one reason why legacy LDS apologists, such as the Interpreter and Book of Mormon Central, have less and less credibility, despite spending millions of dollars to promote their SITH and M2C narratives. Likewise, legacy critics such as Mormon Stories that rehash their dogmatic critical narratives over and over are monotonous and boring.

New podcasters are rising who seriously and authentically explore multiple working hypotheses about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon and other issues.

Among them are the Stick of Joseph, Mormon Book Reviews, Gospel Tangents, Mormonism with the Murph, CWIC Media, and ScriptureNotes.

To their credit, two legacy LDS apologists have started appearing on the authentic podcasts: Kirk Magleby and Brant Gardner. They are both articulate, careful scholars, and great guys. They've been doing a good job explaining M2C and SITH. 

It would be even better if they could convince their legacy apologist sites, Scripture Central and the Interpreter, respectively, to be more open and honest about other faithful narratives (particularly those that still believe what Joseph and Oliver said), but there are strong institutional barriers to that happening. We remain hopeful, but realistic.

Meanwhile, the authentic podcasters are providing wonderful, enlightening content that enables people to make better informed decisions.

To cite two examples. Brant's interviews with the Murph on M2C and SITH were very helpful, as I discussed here:



BTW, people have asked me to do video reviews of these and other podcasts, but time is short and I figure informed viewers can assess the SITH and M2C narratives as well as I can anyway. But in the next few months I may have some free time during some trips I'm taking, so we'll see.


M2C on Stick of Joseph

Stick of Joseph recently posted two important videos, one by Kirk Magleby and one by Jonathan Neville.

Kirk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vW2hkI7OXLU

Jonathan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDPao-SVUyY

Kirk made some excellent points, such as this:

23:30 having this old world geography approaching consensus nails historicity. Joseph Smith could simply not have come up with this stuff. It is beyond human capacity. It truly shows how divine and authentic and true to antiquity this culture is. But it also sets a nice precedent for how to go about the methodology which we're going to then apply over the new world. And number one we need a few anchor points.

Kirk then relates some anchor points in the Old World, such as how we know where Jerusalem is, the Red Sea, etc.

But this is exactly the problem with M2C. Joseph and Oliver gave us the ultimate anchor point in the New World--the hill Cumorah in New York.

Yet Kirk rejects the only specific anchor point (I call it a pin in the map) that Joseph and Oliver gave us!

How does Kirk explain that?

First, he claims Joseph learned about Book of Mormon geography in 1841 from a popular illustrated book by Stephens and Catherwood and that Joseph wrote or endorsed speculative articles in the Times and Seasons in 1842 that quoted extensively from the Stephens books. (I was surprised that Kirk resorted to this argument. It was the topic of my first book on LDS Church history and the two subsequent books. I understand the M2C argument based on the Stephens books, but it is so highly speculative compared with the direct, unambiguous statements from Joseph and Oliver that I hope more people realize that, as Kirk admits, M2C relies entirely on the speculative Stephens argument.)

Second, Kirk says Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who, along with their contemporaries and successors, misled the Church about Cumorah (although he doesn't articulate that quite so directly, which is where the problem of clarity arises in all these discussions).

42:15 Stick of Joseph: so you don't think that Moroni, he would have given any information that would have really led Joseph Smith to believe where the Book of Mormon happened?

Kirk: No, I seriously doubt that. There's there's very little evidence in in the historical record that Moroni was revealing those kinds of things. 

Comment. "very little" is a dodge because there is far more evidence of the New York Cumorah/Ramah in the historical record than there is that Joseph accepted M2C--for which there is zero evidence. For example, we can all read the Wentworth letter from March 1842, published in the Times and Seasons over Joseph's signature (unlike the Stephens editorials), where he says "I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people was made known unto me: I was also told where there was deposited some plates on which were engraven an abridgement of the records of the ancient prophets that had existed on this continent." 

With that knowledge, Joseph dug up Hopewell mounds in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, declaring they were evidence of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon and describing those states as the "plains of the Nephites." But to M2Cers such as Kirk, none of this is evidence because it contradicts their M2C theory.] 

Stick of Joseph: So kind of the idea, like, because you know I think everyone would agree that we don't believe that the prophets are infallible. Sometimes we don't act that way but we'll say it, but so we don't believe that Joseph Smith was infallible. So you would say that when it comes to Book of Mormon geography and the majority of his thoughts on where the Book of Mormon happened, that that that falls in kind of the fallible, that he just didn't know and he was doing the best...

Kirk: They were his opinions. He had a more informed opinion than yours or mine but nonetheless at the end of the day they were Joseph's opinions. And he showed himself able to improve his opinion based on better data and that's exactly what we see when he gets his hands on Stevens and Catherwood.

Comment. Obviously, this is Kirk's opinion that they were Joseph's opinions. Oliver explicitly stated that the New York Cumorah/Ramah was a fact, and Joseph endorsed Oliver's declaration multiple times. Joseph's mother explained it was Moroni who identified the hill as Cumorah the first time he met Joseph, etc. By now, everyone should know the historical record. And surely they would if Kirk's organizations, Book of Mormon Central and Scripture Central, provided more clarity instead of obfuscation about the historical record.

The second point, that Joseph "improved his opinion" based on the Stevens book, is pure conjecture, as we've discussed at length. Not unreasonable conjecture; people can infer that Joseph somehow read the two thick volumes of Stephens' work within a week, with no one noticing or commenting, and then months later, during a time when Wilford Woodruff said Joseph hardly had time to sign documents they prepared for him, Joseph somehow wrote lengthy anonymous articles that he never publicly acknowledged, cited or quoted. 

But even at that, far from "opining" that Cumorah was in Mexico, Joseph wrote a letter, published above his signature like the Wentworth letter, reaffirming that he learned about Cumorah before he even got the plates (D&C 128:20).

Stick of Joseph: yeah, okay, well that's a good understanding because I think that's really where kind of the break-off is as we talk to people like Wayne May, and we're going to be talking to other heartlanders as well, I would say that's a fundamental difference. They put Joseph Smith above the geophysical data, the scientific, the science, history and so that starts and then they're looking for the geodata and the science history based on Joseph Smith's early statements.

Kirk: That's absolutely correct.

Comment. This is one reason why Kirk is awesome. He understands the core issue here, to some degree. Yet his organization, Book of Mormon Central refuses to acknowledge this distinction on its website. Rather than enabling its viewers/followers to make informed decisions, Book of Mormon Central censors the Heartland approach and has its employees and followers attack Heartlanders on social media and in private meetings. 

And Kirk agrees that it's not a difference in extrinsic scientific data, because there is plenty of data to support both M2C and Heartland (as well as other narratives); instead, it's a difference in whether we start by believing or by rejecting what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Stick of Joseph: Okay and what we're saying is you need to use the text as your primary source.

Kirk: The text is primary.

Comment. In my interview, I pointed out that Kirk's claim here is bogus. The text is not primary; Kirk's interpretation of the text is primary. Everyone who has developed a concept for Book of Mormon geography uses the text. That's axiomatic. But people disagree on the interpretation of the text, with each one claiming their own interpretation means they are using the text as their primary source.

It's comparable to the innumerable Christian denominations who all claim the Bible is primary, but they can't agree on even basic doctrines because of their different interpretations (multiple working hypotheses).

That's one of the purposes of the Book of Mormon itself, to provide non-Biblical clarification. That's why we have modern prophets.

Starting with Joseph Smith.

Kirk's position is irrational, actually. There is no reason to look for Book of Mormon events in the Americas if we rely solely on the text. The text never mentions America or even the western hemisphere. Even when explaining his approach, Kirk goes outside the text to rely on his belief that Joseph learned from the Stevens books.

The alternative approach that seems more logical to me is to look at what Joseph and Oliver said about the setting. They were the President and Assistant President of the Church, respectively. They were the First and Second Elders of the Church, the recipients of the Priesthood and the temple keys. Kirk's position that they misled everyone about the New York Cumorah/Ramah (M2C) thwarts the whole point of having prophets.

The M2C position outright rejects what Joseph and Oliver (and their contemporaries and successors) taught about Cumorah. Instead, they prefer arguing over the interpretation of the text, and they construct an artificial "consensus" among like-minded scholars and then train the youth of the Church to think the same way by using the BYU fantasy map (or, for Spanish speakers, their detailed M2C map), while hiring and funding only those young wannabe scholars who first adopt their M2C dogma.

M2C has produced the problem Paul wrote about long ago:

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

(Ephesians 4:11–14)

So long as the leaders of Book of Mormon Central, Scripture Central, the Interpreter, FAIRLDS, and other like-minded organizations insist on rejecting what the prophets have taught about Cumorah (and the translation of the Book of Mormon), these discussions will continue to leave people "tossed to and fro" by academic debates over different ways of interpreting the text. The unity of the faith will remain elusive.


Bottom line.

The legacy critics and apologists are being supplanted by the far more honest, open and useful podcasters such as Stick of Joseph and the others I've listed.

Kudos to Kirk and Brant for appearing on some of these shows, but now let's hope they move to the next step and persuade their legacy apologist sites to engage in real dialogue as we pursue clarity, charity and understanding to reach no more contention.


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