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.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Podcast: the narrow neck of land

In the pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding, I'll begin by re-emphasizing that we like and respect everyone involved with Book of Mormon studies, including the awesome people at Book of Mormon Central. We seek unity in diversity, meaning we are happy for people to believe whatever they want. 

We hope all faithful Latter-day Saints share our pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding, which leads to nomorecontention.com. As we seek to understand multiple working hypotheses, everyone can get along as we work together to establish Zion, despite different opinions about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon .

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In this podcast, we discussed the topic of the "narrow neck of land."

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

One of the most common questions people ask me about geography is "where is the narrow neck of land." I always respond, "It's in Ether 10:20." 


Most people are surprised to learn that is the only reference in the Book of Mormon to the "narrow neck of land." 

There are other features--a small neck of land, a narrow passage, a narrow neck--but different terms normally describe different things. People conflate these terms because they have been conditioned to think that all of the geography must fit within an hourglass shape with the "land northward" separated from the "land southward" by "the narrow neck of land."

In 1917, RLDS scholar L.E. Hills published his M2C map based on his "hourglass" interpretation. 

In the 1980s, LDS scholars copied Hills' map as their own (now found on the BYU Studies website) and more recently, M2C scholars created the BYU fantasy map.
BYU Studies M2C map with Cumorah

BYU fantasy map with Cumorah

When we look at how the term "narrow neck of land" was actually used in the days of Joseph Smith, we see that George Washington and others used the term to describe local features such as in Boston Harbor or along the Hudson River.

While it's easy to see how people simply assumed the "narrow neck of land" was the isthmus between North and South America, it's even easier--and more rational--to interpret the text using the ordinary and contemporary meaning of the terms, as we discussed in the podcast.

I've discussed this in my books as well as here:

https://www.lettervii.com/p/narrow-and-small-necks-and-other.html


Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Podcast notes Feb 19-20

These are some notes on recent podcast interviews I've done.
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The Last Dispensation: Cumorah's Elephant in the room


In this podcast, we discussed the Gospel Topics entry on Book of Mormon Geography, which includes both Joseph Smith's letter to Emma (crossing the plains of the Nephites in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois) and the 1842 Times and Seasons articles (ruins in Mesoamerica were left by the Nephites).





I used a white board to show how everyone can weigh the evidence on the scale however they want. 

But the bizarre thing about the Gospel Topics entry is how it completely ignores the elephant in the room: the Hill Cumorah.

Fun discussion!
 
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On Ward Radio, we discussed the top 3 reasons for Heartland and the problem of censorship.



There are more than 3 arguments for Heartland, of course, but this interview was a good introduction for people new to the topic. I showed the "pocket edition" of Moroni's America, which is an abbreviated version of the longer book.


In the next interview, we discussed the problem of academic censorship, all in the pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding. Censorship is the antithesis of clarity. To eliminate contention (nomorecontention.com), we need clarity (accuracy, openness, candor, etc.), charity (assuming people act in good faith), and understanding (seek first to understand and avoid the compulsion to demand agreement).

The specific example we discussed was from the Church History Department, actually, and involves the Wentworth letter.



Several years ago, the lesson manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith included a chapter on the Wentworth letter, originally published as "Church History" in the Times and Seasons on March 1, 1842.

Here is the chapter in the manual:


As we discussed in the video, Joseph started the letter with a simple request:

As  has taken the proper steps to obtain correct information all that I shall ask at his hands, is, that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation.

It turns out, Joseph didn't need to worry about Mr. Bastow or Mr. Wentworth. 

It was the Church History Department (and/or Curriculum Department) who refused to "publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation."

Instead, the lesson manual censored important sections of Joseph's letter by replacing important material with ellipses in all the dozens of languages it was translated into. 

English

French

Spanish

Tagalog


For the vast majority of Latter-day Saints around the world, this manual is the principal, if not only, source of Joseph Smith's teachings in their native language. I'm not aware that the entire Wentworth letter has ever been officially translated into other languages.

Thus, this censorship has deprived most Latter-day Saints of Joseph's actual teachings in this important letter. 

English readers can still read the account entire in the Joseph Smith Papers (if they can find it), but the vast majority of Latter-day Saints will never know what Joseph wanted people to know when he wrote this letter.


Obviously, this is an easy fix. Most Latter-day Saints use these lesson manuals digitally today, whether online or downloaded. The lesson manual could be easily corrected to provide the account "entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation" for the benefit of everyone.

But this has been going on for years, the Church History Department knows it, and they won't correct it.

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Next, let's look at what was censored. The part censored by the ellipses is in bold below:

Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift, and power of God.

In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the tower of Babel, at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people.
The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites, of the descendants of Joseph.
The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country. 

This book also tells us that our Saviour made his appearance upon this continent after his resurrection,

I've been given various reasons for this censorship, including the so-called "DNA problem" that led to the rewording of the Introduction to the Book of Mormon. 

As I read this passage (others may disagree), Joseph accomplished several important things. To appreciate the significance, it's important to recognize that much of the Wentworth letter was adapted from an 1840 pamphlet by Orson Pratt, as I've discussed many times.

Some key takeaways.

1. He corrected Orson Pratt's error about the Israelite identity of Lehi's people by explaining they were "principally" Israelites, suggesting there were non-Israelites among them.

2. He refuted Orson Pratt's extensive musings about the identity of the Lamanites by explaining that the "remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country," which is consistent with both D&C 28, 30 and 32 and Joseph's direct teachings to the Native Americans he met.

3. He did not claim or imply that the Book of Mormon peoples were the only inhabitants of the western hemisphere.

4. He explained that ancient America was inhabited by two distinct races, a concept that was not only contrary to popular belief but the basis for an anti-Mormon book called Cumorah Revisited that led to the development of the two-Cumorahs theory. Not surprisingly, Joseph's explanation has been vindicated by modern archaeology and anthropology.
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While scholars can debate the significance and relevance of the Wentworth letter, Joseph expressly declared it contained "correct information." He wrote it and published it in the Times and Seasons so that all the Latter-day Saints would have access to it. 

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Another topic we discussed in the podcast was the book Opening the Heavens, which I've discussed before here:


Basically, the book omits the documented statements from David Whitmer in the 1870s about the messenger taking the plates to Cumorah before going to Fayette, and about Joseph identifying the messenger as one of the Three Nephites (which is consistent with David's mother saying the messenger identified himself as "Brother Nephi"). 

Instead, the book cites a typewritten document from 1918 that it attributes to Joseph F. Smith (whose contemporaneous account from the 1870s differs on these points) and claims the messenger took the plates to Fayette, which contradicts the entire narrative. David explained that the messenger specifically declined a ride to Fayette because he had to go to Cumorah first.

The problems I identified there are also easy fixes that will likely never be made. Readers deserve to have all the relevant references.








Sunday, February 18, 2024

Ward Radio podcasts

On the way home from the South Pacific I had a chance to stop in California and spend some time with Cardon Ellis at Ward Radio. He's awesome, very energetic and knowledgeable, as well as thoughtful and insightful.

It's cool to be able to discuss these issues openly with no contention, all in the pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding. And with some fun as well.

Here is the first of our interviews. Hopefully we'll get a chance to explore more issues in the future.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ScBh9_E97E

Enjoy and comment.

(click to enlarge)


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

L'Amerique de Moroni

About 5 years ago we visited the island nation of Comoros and its capital, Moroni. While there my wife took this photo of me holding a copy of L'Amerique de Moroni, the French translation of my book Moroni's America.

(click to enlarge)

My phone cover at the time featured the cover of the English edition.

If you (or people you know) have not read Moroni's America, this would be an ideal time because it helps people relate to the setting of the Book of Mormon as we go through Come Follow Me.

If you don't accept a North American setting based on Cumorah in New York, that's fine. In the interest of clarity, charity and understanding (see nomorecontention.com), it's still a good idea for you and all Latter-day Saints to understand why other Latter-day Saints do accept a North American setting.

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I wrote a summary of the book several years ago.

Book Summaries - Moroni's America

I wrote Moroni's America for members and nonmembers because I wanted to explain why Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery insisted that Cumorah was in New York.

Anyone who still believes in a non-New York Cumorah, whether in Mesoamerica or Chile or Baja or Malaysia or Eritrea, ought to read Moroni's America, if only to understand why so many members of the Church accept what Joseph and Oliver said about Cumorah.

You might enjoy reading the book because it is the only chapter-by-chapter explanation of the North American setting. (Amazon or Digital Legend).

https://www.amazon.com/Moronis-America-American-setting-Mormon-ebook/dp/B019DN0VJO
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Once I realized that Joseph Smith had nothing to do with the anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons that were the genesis of the Mesoamerican theory (see The Lost City of Zarahemla, 2nd edition), the next step was to analyze the text itself.

People who focus on the text have come up with myriad settings that, in their view, fit the text. We can apply the FAITH model to see how this happens.

We start with the Facts. In this case, the facts are the text itself.

Then we apply our Assumptions. In this case, some people (including me) assume Joseph and Oliver accurately identified Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) in western New York. Others assume they were wrong, which opens the door to any number of alternative locations for Cumorah. 

Then we make Inferences to fill in any gaps, analyze everything pursuant to our Theory, and finally develop a Hypothesis to explain everything.

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My wife made a list of around 300 geography-related verses and told me she wanted to know where everything took place. It was an awesome challenge. I started with 1 Nephi 1 and ended with Moroni 10.

I was actually surprised to see how well the Book of Mormon describes North America.

When you consider what Joseph and Oliver actually said and wrote, as well as what their successors have said and written, including in General Conference, and you factor in the prophecies and promises, and the fulfillment of those prophecies, you realize that no matter how you look at the question of Book of Mormon geography, everything points to the North American setting. 

Framework from Moroni's America - pocket edition
(click to enlarge)

How they arrived in the New World
(click to enlarge)



The North American setting is commonly known as the Heartland model. I like Moroni's America because the significance is not merely geography, but the prophetic destiny and responsibility of the covenant land of promise, exemplified by General Moroni and clearly delineated by Moroni son of Mormon.
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The principal alternative to the North American setting is called the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C). M2C proponents readily acknowledge that Joseph, Oliver and their contemporaries and successors identified the hill in New York as Cumorah, but they think all of these people relied on a false tradition because to make M2C work, the "real" Cumorah must be in southern Mexico.

Which is fine. 

People can believe whatever they want. 

When we apply the FAITH model, we see clearly that the fundamental assumption of M2C is that the prophets were wrong, while the fundamental premise of Moroni's America is that the prophets were correct.

This clarity enables Latter-day Saints to make informed decisions.

Which assumption do you make when it comes to Cumorah and the setting of the Book of Mormon?
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Regardless of which assumption you make, you owe it to yourself to understand why so many Latter-day Saints still believe what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah and how that setting fits in North America.

Note: M2C promoters like to say they are using the text as their primary rationale for locating Book of Mormon events in Central America. The text, they claim, is the highest authority on their hierarchy of evidence.

This is a cognitive fallacy, of course. In the first place, it is not the text itself, but their interpretation of the text, that they deem the highest authority. The text doesn't use any modern terminology to explain its setting (unless you accept what the prophets have taught about Cumorah in New York).

Secondly, everyone interprets the text to confirm their pre-existing bias, aka choice-supportive bias, also called post-purchase rationalization. It is a cognitive bias whereby people retroactively justify choices they've made. Once you decide where you want the Book of Mormon to have taken place, the text is vague enough that you can adapt it to almost any site in the world. You can "see" any culture in the text as well.

The common human tendency toward choice-supportive bias is why I take the approach of starting with what Joseph and Oliver said, and then seeing how the text supports and corroborates what they said. When you do this, Cumorah is in New York and everything else flows from there.
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M2C promoters started with that same process. The difference is that they chose the anonymous Times and Seasons articles instead of Letter VII and other statements by Joseph, Oliver, David Whitmer, etc.

They chose to accept what Joseph did not say instead of what he did say

This is why they have come full circle to the point now that to rationalize their choice of Mesoamerica, they outright reject what Joseph and Oliver actually said.

Anyone can follow the history and see that the M2C promoters first decided where the events took place, based on the 1842 Times and Seasons articles, before they even considered the text.

The authors of those articles, some combination of Benjamin Winchester, William Smith, and W.W. Phelps, made their claims based on discoveries of ruins in Central America. They barely analyzed the text, and they didn't care that the ruins themselves were anachronistic in terms of the Book of Mormon. They were focused on promoting the Book of Mormon for missionary work, and if that meant linking it to sensational finds in Central America, then why not?

Their successors, the modern-day M2C promoters, have confirmed their Mesoamerican bias even though they acknowledge that the anonymous articles were incorrect (i.e., Zarahemla is not Quirigua, the ruins don't line up to Book of Mormon time frames, etc.). Some even acknowledge that Joseph Smith had nothing to do with the anonymous articles.

Yet they persist in finding "correspondences" between Central America (Mesoamerica) and the text, all the while repudiating what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Again, we emphasize that people can believe whatever they want.

In the pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding, we encourage everyone to seek first to understand, then to be understood, to give everyone else the benefit of the doubt, and make our own informed decisions based on clarity.
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Moroni's America includes lots of details and footnotes. 


Some readers asked for a shorter version, so I wrote a "pocket edition" that summarizes the setting. 

Moroni's America-Pocket edition is available in print and Kindle, here: https://www.amazon.com/Moronis-America-Pocket-Jonathan-Neville/dp/1944200126



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For more detail, there is a third-party website that has adapted my material with some variations that you can explore here:

https://www.moronisamerica.com/maps/





Thursday, February 1, 2024

Citation cartels in the news

From time to time I still hear people complain about my use of the term "citation cartel" to refer to the small group of LDS intellectuals who promote M2C and SITH.

I've explained that I didn't coin the term. I borrowed it from the larger academic literature because it's an apt description of what is going on with LDS academics and apologetics. 

Here's a recent example of a citation cartel from Science magazine:

https://www.science.org/content/article/citation-cartels-help-some-mathematicians-and-their-universities-climb-rankings

[see excerpts below]

We all see this at work in the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, and the content of Book of Mormon Central. Another example is the way certain scholars have their work cited/referenced in the Joseph Smith Papers and Gospel Topics Essays, then in subsequent publications cite the JSP and GTE as authority for their own theories.

In the pursuit of clarity (no more contention), soon I'll be releasing an in-depth analysis of the problem, focusing on SITH initially.

"Soon" meaning whenever we've finished enjoying the southern hemisphere...


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Excerpts from Science magazine:

Citation cartels help some mathematicians—and their universities—climb the rankings

Widespread citation manipulation has led entire field of math to be excluded from influential list of top researchers

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The article points out how some scholars and universities use citation cartels to artificially boost their own influence as measured by the number of citations.

The conclusion is relevant to my point about the M2C/SITH citation cartels:

Cliques of mathematicians at institutions in China, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere have been artificially boosting their colleagues’ citation counts by churning out low-quality papers that repeatedly reference their work, according to an unpublished analysis seen by Science. As a result, their universities—some of which do not appear to have math departments—now produce a greater number of highly cited math papers each year than schools with a strong track record in the field, such as Stanford and Princeton universities.

These so-called “citation cartels” appear to be trying to improve their universities’ rankings, according to experts in publication practices. ...

Other researchers say citation manipulation is simply a symptom of a flawed system of evaluation. Citations and similar metrics are not refined enough to monitor individual performance, says Ismael Rafols, a researcher at the Centre for Science and Technology Studies of the University of Leiden, and people are always going to find ways to game the system. Holden agrees: “The bottom line is that citations are not a good measure of scientific quality.”

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Monday, January 29, 2024

Can ordinary members rescue Book of Mormon Central?

We usually come to New Zealand in the winter for a few weeks. The golfing is great...


We visit local wards wherever we go. It's fascinating to meet Heartlanders around the world. This week we met more who had watched YouTube videos during covid and learned, for the first time, about the North American setting of the Book of Mormon, with Cumorah in New York. They told us that this makes much more sense than the "Mexico theory" (as they put it). 

They also watch Taylor and Tyler and wonder why they and Book of Mormon Central continues to push the Mesoamerican theory without even acknowledging alternative settings that corroborate and support the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

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By analogy, the article below from the WSJ asking whether readers can save the NY Times is relevant. James Freeman points out that readers are more reasonable than the "expert" journalists at that newspaper.

In my experience around the world, everyday Latter-day Saints are more reasonable than the "experts" at Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, etc. Not that those experts aren't awesome people. They are. We continue to hope that someday, these experts will promote inclusivity instead of exclusivity, charity instead of arrogance, and understanding instead of condemnation of others' perspectives.

In the meantime, the pursuit of "no more contention" through clarity, charity, and understanding, we start with clarity.

Everyday Latter-day Saints still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon, and they find it more productive to corroborate those teachings instead of repudiating those teachings.

We can all read the original documents from Church history. We can all read the teachings of the prophets in the General Conference reports.

Well, not all of us. Most of these resources are only available in English.

Non-English speakers have to rely upon translated versions of the Saints books, the Gospel Topics Essays, and materials from Book of Mormon Central, all of which promote/accommodate SITH and M2C.

But ultimately truth cannot be suppressed.

Here are excerpts from the article from the WSJ, with my emphasis in bold.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/can-readers-save-the-new-york-times-6ce799f1?st=e39kgqcipge3ekz&reflink=desktopwebshare_permalink

In the context of the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon, the "experts" might consider their audience instead of their academic peers in the M2C/SITH bubble.

Excerpts:

Can Readers Save the New York Times?

There’s fresh evidence that the newspaper’s customers are more reasonable than its writers.

James Freeman

Jan. 26, 2024 6:00 pm 

image
PHOTO: MARK LENNIHAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Some consumers looking for traditional standards of journalism have given up on the New York Times, but reform is still possible at the newspaper. That’s because the Gray Lady’s modern habit of catering to a fiercely ideological slice of the reading public seems to be driven more by its employees than by its customers. This week brings another in a series of recent examples in which readers are trying valiantly to pull the Times toward the reasonable center. Why such readers are still subscribing is a question for another day, but as long as they’re paid up they might be able to exert a positive influence.

The latest issue involves violent crime and accountability. “Some readers were very unhappy with me over the weekend,” writes columnist Nicholas Kristof in the paper’s Opinion Today email newsletter. He explains:

wrote a column about an old friend, Bill Beard, who died recently after long struggles with drugs and crime. I said he was “a good man,” and then wrote about how he had brutalized a young woman who worked at a convenience store that he tried to rob. I used the column to explore how pain is transitive — hurt people hurt people. Millions of Americans who have been left behind not only suffer greatly but also sometimes inflict great suffering on others...
Many readers were offended at what they saw as me writing a sympathetic portrait of a man who had committed an atrocious crime... Some thought my focus should have been on Betty Gerhardt, the woman whom Bill attacked (who also died recently).

In the column Mr. Kristof had attempted to put the attack in a larger context:

If the federal minimum wage of 1968 had kept pace with inflation and productivity, it would now be more than $25 an hour. Instead, it’s stuck at $7.25.
The Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton popularized the term “deaths of despair” for the tumbling life expectancy among working-class Americans since 2010, but the tragedy goes far beyond the staggering mortality. For each person who dies from drugs, alcohol and suicide, many others are mired in addiction and heap pain on their families. Gerhardt told me that she had been addicted to heroin for years, underscoring how widespread this malady is: Perpetrator and victim shared a parallel suffering, and both died before the age of 65.

This last phrase could perhaps make it sound like they were in this together, but it was the perpetrator who inflicted enormous suffering on Betty Gerhardt with an attack that left her bloody and unconscious on the shop floor .. .—and then haunted with fear for the rest of her life.

Perhaps ironically, even Mr. Kristof’s old friend the perpetrator had tried to warn him off the idea that society is responsible when individuals commit such crimes. The Timesman quotes his old friend: “Nobody else made me do it. How can you blame anybody else?”

A number of readers have been asking the same question, and it may take some time for them to win over the columnist. In this week’s email after the reader furor, Mr. Kristof writes:

It’s fair to insist on personal responsibility for people like Bill, and to hold him accountable... But I believe we also have to have a difficult conversation about our collective responsibility when so many lives like Bill’s go off the rails — and about how we as a society can do better.

Fortunately there are still some Times readers who don’t believe in collective guilt. Last fall they reacted to a Times column about Boston University’s troubled Center for Antiracist Research, led by Ibram X. Kendi, who specializes in wholesale denunciations of American society. Times columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote that “it’s important to understand that the center’s apparent implosion is more the result of a failed funding model than a failed ideology. It exemplifies the lamentable tendency among left-leaning donors to chase fads and celebrities rather than build sustainable institutions.”

As your humble correspondent noted at the time, Times readers might have been struggling to recall a time when the newspaper was dismissing Mr. Kendi’s claims of systemic racism as a celebrity-driven fad. Still, one might have expected the paper’s customers to share Ms. Goldberg’s reluctance to blame his ideology. But numerous Times readers were having none of it, and took to the comments section to critique Mr. Kendi’s work. One Times reader commented:

no, Michelle, it’s not simply a failed funding model. It’s a failing set of ideas, and maybe the realization that the religious model (a set of unprovable beliefs, evildoers, victims, martyrs, etc) is not a great foundation for an academic center. Liberals and moderates have had a few years now to take a look at all of this and formulate a reasonable reply, and it is mostly, “NO.”

In a similar vein, another commented:

The problem is that a University should not build research centers around ideologies, failed or otherwise. Centers like this are not trying to understand what is or why in an objective manner. They are trying to promote a social and political agenda. Efforts like this have no place on campus.

Let’s hope that readers continue to initiate the difficult conversations needed to reform the troubled institution called the New York Times. But of course they have neither an individual nor a collective responsibility to subscribe.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Another must-see podcast: Did Joseph Smith cancel Orson Pratt's hemispheric theory

Last week I did an interview with Troy Ables (the Last Dispensation podcast) from New Zealand. This one deals with a long-forgotten (or overlooked) aspect of the Wentworth letter that Joseph wrote and had published in the Times and Seasons in 1842.



As we discuss in the podcast, Joseph adapted the Wentworth letter from an 1840 pamphlet written by Orson Pratt. Unfortunately, most Latter-day Saints today have never seen the entire Wentworth letter because the lesson manual, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, censored a critical part of the Wentworth letter.


For most Latter-day Saints, especially non-English speakers, this is the only version of the Wentworth letter they will ever see.

It's an astonishing story, particularly because Joseph started the letter by writing, As Mr. Bastow has taken the proper steps to obtain correct information all that I shall ask at his hands, is, that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation.

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/church-history-1-march-1842/1

As it turns out, Joseph didn’t need to worry about Mr. Bastow. The group that declined to publish the Wentworth letter “entire, ungarnished and without misrepresentation” was the Curriculum Department that published the lesson manual. 

For those interested in a detailed comparison to supplement the podcast, see 

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Saturday, January 27, 2024

Must-see Podcast: Richard Bushman's book on the Gold Plates

Mormon Book Reviews posted an awesome, must-see video. Among other things, we discussed the two sets of plates scenario, the influence of Jonathan Edwards, and the way everyone can work together to establish Zion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcBBQPMW3zQ&t=62s

(click to enlarge)

Steve Pynakker is doing a phenomenal job bringing people together through dialog and discussion. The common threads are (i) interest in the Restoration and (ii) interest in Jesus Christ. 

Not only is he building bridges among the various Restoration groups (evangelical and Book of Mormon enthusiasts), but also among Latter-day Saints who have different interpretations of Church history and the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon.

Remember, we can all produce "no more contention" by pursuing clarity, charity, and understanding.




Thursday, January 25, 2024

Positive development from Scripture Central!

All the way down here in New Zealand I'm inundated with inquiries about a recent video from Scripture Central (fka Book of Mormon Central). Due to the interest in the topic, I'm addressing it here.

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Kudos to Kirk Magleby of Book of Mormon Central and Scripture Central for giving a tour of Pinson mounds in Tennessee, which I wrote about years ago when I visited there.



It's awesome to see Scripture Central present a more open-minded approach to the setting of the Book of Mormon, but unfortunately, their obsession with M2C (Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory) has led them to make some easily avoidable blunders, as we see in this video.

Here's a link to Pinson Mounds State Park for more info:


Kirk's video omitted an obvious point: how does Pinson fit within the overall setting of the Book of Mormon? Obviously, it fits well with Cumorah in New York, but that topic apparently remains anathema to Scripture Central.

In the video, Kirk cited Ether instead of Alma regarding heaps of earth, which gave the critics an opening to point out the time discrepancies and other problems with Kirk's presentation. 

This link from the Pinson Mounds website shows the actual dating of the site:


Excerpt: 

Thirty-nine radiometric determinations are presented and discussed from Pinson Mounds in Madison and Chester Counties, western Tennessee. Calibrations and feature averages (where warranted) are provided. Comparisons to nearby sites in Mississippi with comparable ceramic assemblages - Bynum, Pharr, Ingomar, and Miller - indicate early (first- or second-century B.C.) ceremonial activity at Bynum followed several centuries later by intense Middle Woodland ritual activity in the uplands of western Tennessee and norther Mississippi during the second and third centuries A.D.

The Alma chapters referring to heaps of earth (fortifications) and bodies "moldering in heaps" fit within this time frame. That's why I proposed it as the site of Alma's Helam. The Ether references too much earlier in time to fit the archaeology in Pinson, as the critics point out.

But the critics themselves are either too ignorant or too cynical and ideological to admit that Pinson Mounds does fit right in Book of Mormon time frames and aligns with the setting based on Cumorah in New York as a pin in the map.

This is only one of the factual errors and ideological assumptions RFM and his friends rely upon to criticize Kirk's video:



I'm still waiting for a call from Scripture Central to help them navigate the North American setting and avoid these blunders....

:)
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At one point, Kirk reiterates the oft-stated M2C claim that 

33:38 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has not ever once said North America, South America, Central America, this is where the book... The Lord I should say himself has never... no revealed geography for the book of Mormon. 
It has never been revealed to any of the prophets.
It is a little exasperating to see this oft-repeated refrain. It turns on a clever word play.

First, the refrain consolidates two separate topics: (i) the location of Cumorah and (ii) "geography" in a broader sense. When these two topics are separated, we can all see that Church leaders have always taught that (i) Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in western New York, and (ii) we don't know the location of other events in the New World. This makes sense because there are dozens or even hundreds of potential sites that align with the setting described in the Book of Mormon, including Pinson mounds, for which the archaeological and anthropological evidence remains spotty and vague, but the details we do have are consistent with the text of the Book of Mormon. I've spent a lot of time at Pinson and there are mounds there that have yet to be excavated. 

Second, the term "revealed" is a word play. Was it a "revelation" when John the Baptist restored the Priesthood? According to Joseph and Oliver, it was a physical experience, not a revelation. 

Likewise, Oliver described physically entering the repository of Nephite records in the hill in New York on multiple occasions. This required no "revelation" but gave him the knowledge he needed to declare it is a "fact" that the hill in New York is the same one described in Mormon 6:6. And the archaeological evidence is consistent with the way he and the text described those battles (not involving millions of people, or even hundreds of thousands, etc.).

Third, we do have accounts that Joseph learned the name and site of Cumorah by revelation, but the M2C scholars simply reject that evidence. Instead of claiming the evidence doesn't exist, they should acknowledge that they reject the evidence. Joseph's mother said Moroni identified the hill as Cumorah the first night he met Joseph Smith. Parley Pratt reported that it was Moroni himself who called the hill Cumorah anciently. Joseph's mother also related that Joseph and his family referred to the hill as Cumorah before Joseph even received the plates. Joseph himself corroborated this in D&C 128:20 when he wrote "Glad tidings from Cumorah! A book to be revealed." He learned the name Cumorah before he ever got the plates.

Kirk and the other M2Cers know all of this but the keep repeating their refrain as a mantra.

We're reminded of this passage from The Crown of a Life by Isa Blagden:

If a lie is only printed often enough, it becomes a quasi-truth, and if such a truth is repeated often enough, it becomes an article of belief, a dogma, and men will die for it.

Kirk continued the video by referring to the Gospel Topics entry on Geography, equating it to scripture, another M2C mantra that is belied by the introduction to those essays as I discussed here:


Here's how Kirk explained it:
33:57And that's why on the church's website today the gospel topics essay has two things that's all it says. these are the two things that we can depend on because this has come right from the prophet and the 12 apostles.
That's a patently false implication that these Church leaders wrote the essays. These anonymous essays were written by committees, including scholars who promote their own theories. They are "approved" by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, but as we saw with the equally "approved" lesson manual for Come Follow Me in 2020, even members of the Twelve were surprised to discover what was in the manual after it was "approved," published, translated and printed in multiple languages. 

Furthermore, in this specific case, the entry on geography was changed just a few weeks after it was released. These essays are subject to change at any time.  

They are far, far from scriptural. But they do serve the purposes of the M2Cers, so they like to cite them as if they were scripture.
Number one the book is historical so those people are out there saying no Nephi was just a figment of somebody's imagination it's just a historical fiction okay uh they've got to deal with the fact that the prophet says no it was a historical happen... it's true these people were real... and then the second thing it says it happened somewhere in the Americas. 
The obvious inconsistency here is that the text itself never mentions the Americas. To conclude that the events happened "somewhere in the Americas" we have to take the word of Joseph and Oliver (and their contemporary Church leaders). But those same sources also taught it was a fact that Cumorah is in New York.

Here, it's important to note that neither Joseph nor Oliver ever taught a hemispheric model. In the Wentworth letter, Joseph expressly repudiated the Central American theory promoted by Orson Pratt, but Latter-day Saints don't realize that because the critical portion of the Wentworth letter was censored when it was published in Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith--specifically to accommodate M2C.

Kirk's next point is one I made years ago when addressing an audience of M2Cers.

34:30
now that's a beautiful thing. Suppose that you lived right here, we're in the Jackson ward in the Memphis North stake. That's where we're at today. Would this be cool that you could liken the scriptures unto yourselves? 
Say you know what, I've got some stuff in my backyard that seems to have some relevance to the Book of Mormon right now. If I was in the Los Altos loral Stake on the shores of lake tiaka in Bolivia and I've got this awesome site called tanako just down the road do you think the Lord intends me to liken this unto myself? I would hope so. Again this I think is a beautiful thing that so many people can say this is my book I feel comfortable here I belong here with this book.

When I made that argument years ago, it was in the context of recognizing that people can have faith in the Book of Mormon regardless of what they understand about its setting. That seems axiomatic--for some people. But for other people, a connection to reality is important. Joseph recognized that when he described crossing Ohio, Indiana and Illinois and finding ruins of the Nephites to prove the "divine authenticity" of the Book of Mormon.

In a sense, Kirk's argument is the same argument we make for the Bible. We don't have to live in Israel or Egypt or Jordan to have faith that the events took place there.  

But in another sense, that's an entirely different argument from the one Kirk is making because of his explicit conviction that the prophets have been wrong about Cumorah.

Kirk's argument when transferred to the Bible would be, "Look, we don't know where Jerusalem was, but it could have been anywhere on earth, and that doesn't matter. If you have an ancient stone wall in Cambodia, or Peru, or China, that could have been Jerusalem and you can liken it unto yourself."

Such an argument would undermine the credibility of everything in the Bible.

And the M2C argument that the prophets have been wrong also undermines everything in the Book of Mormon because if we can't rely on what Joseph and Oliver said about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon, we can't rationally rely on anything else they said.

If Latter-day Saints all agreed to support and corroborate the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, we could still "liken the scriptures" to ourselves regardless of where we live, just like we do with the Bible. 
_____

Bottom line, we can all believe whatever we want. If we want to reject the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah, fine. But in the interests of clarity, charity and understanding (leading to no more contention), we expect everyone to be crystal clear about what they're saying.

Let's all hope this latest video is a step toward Scripture Central embracing the perspectives of all faithful Latter-day Saints, including those of us who still accept the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.