long ago ideas

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

Friday, June 28, 2024

The BYU Fantasy map again

Everyone's favorite Come Follow Me podcaster, Tyler Griffin, is still using his fantasy map to teach the Book of Mormon.

Tyler is awesome. He's a great guy, a PhD in Instructional Technology, the Associate Dean of Religious Education at BYU, a faithful Latter-day Saint, exemplary in every way. I like him and I respect his dedication and effectiveness as an educator.

But he keeps teaching the Book of Mormon as if it was fiction.

Tyler works with Scripture Central (aka Book of Mormon Central). They released this video on Instagram this week:


Naturally, it attracted critical comments. But what else does Tyler and Scripture Central expect when they adhere to a fictional map and don't accommodate alternative interpretations, contrary to their own purported standards?

In the Fall 2019 issue of BYU Religious Education Review, Tyler explained his rationale for creating and promoting this map. "To not promote anyone's personal theories regarding exact locations of Book of Mormon events, VirtualScriptures.org includes a geography-neutral Book of Mormon map. It is intentionally not linked to any modern maps of the Americas. Our map is a relational one, based on details found only within the text itself."

That is a commendable aspiration. It would be great if it was true. But the map is hardly "geography-neutral." It depicts "details" that are not found within the text, but are merely interpretations promoted by the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs (M2C) theorists.

Which is exactly what we have come to expect from Scripture Central, which has always adhered to M2C as an inviolable and sacrosanct bedrock foundation. Until this year, M2C was even embedded in its corporate logo.

The most obvious of the M2C interpretations Tyler uses that are not found in the text include the claims that 

(i) the terms "land northward" and "land southward" are proper nouns, not relative terms; 

(ii) the "narrow neck of land" is an isthmus connecting large land masses (i.e., Central America) and not ordinary riparian features as the term was used in Joseph Smith's era (such as by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson), and  

(iii) the Hill Cumorah/Ramah is not in New York, contrary to the well-documented teachings of the prophets over the years, including President Oliver Cowdery's declaration that the New York Cumorah/Ramah is a fact (Letter VII).

Tyler went on to say that "It is intended that readers will be able to take our internal map and stretch it, compress it, and modify it to fit whatever model they prefer for their own study purposes."

In the first place, the map is a fixed image. No one can "take" it and modify it. In fact, because I do computer modeling, I once asked Tyler for the file he used to create the map so I could actually modify his map. He refused.

In the second place, nowhere has Tyler offered or used an alternative map that reflects alternative interpretations of the "details found only within the text itself." He could easily teach from a variety of "relational" maps that depict interpretations other than the M2C interpretation. He could use his M2C-inspired map in one podcast, then another "neutral" map inspired by the NY Cumorah in another podcast.

But he won't.

We can all see that instead of offering a variety of possible interpretations of the text that fit a variety of real-world settings, Tyler and Scripture Central have been using this fictional map to imprint the M2C-inspired interpretation of the Book of Mormon on the minds of thousands of BYU students and all the viewers of their podcasts and other presentations.

This is what leads people to infer Tyler and Scripture Central are using their fantasy map as a not-so-subliminal ruse to teach M2C. 

The reality that Scripture Central is not neutral is evident from its Spanish page, where Scripture Central explicitly teaches its M2C real-world map. Most English-speaking Latter-day Saints don't realize what's going on.


For English-speaking audiences, Tyler and Scripture Central pretend to be "neutral." But for Spanish-speaking audiences, they drop the charade and come right out to teach M2C.


There's another, more fundamental problem. While teaching M2C through the ruse of this fantasy map, Tyler and Scripture Central are imposing an obviously fictional setting that equates the Book of Mormon to a fantasy world such as Lord of the Rings.

Teaching a fictional setting could hardly be the intention of the Church's position of neutrality regarding the setting of the Book of Mormon.

[Clarification: I agree with and support the Church's position of neutrality because there are innumerable sites that correspond to the text, including thousands lost to development and other destruction, because the directions and distances described in the text are vague as we would expect in an ancient text, and because the only specific, unambiguous setting taught by the prophets is the Hill Cumorah/Ramah in New York. Everything beyond Cumorah is subject to further study and analysis.]

You can see the fantasy map here:


There they explain the rationale this way:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not officially endorse any one particular geographical model for where the events in The Book of Mormon transpired in the New World. For that reason, we have designed and prepared this artistic rendering in such a way that you can get a basic idea of approximate directions and theoretical relationships between various geographical features mentioned in the stories.

If the Church does not endorse any one particular geographical model, why does Tyler and Book of Mormon Central? 

Particularly when their one model is a fictional fantasy land?

To actually reflect the Church's rational neutrality position, Tyler and Scripture Central would employ a variety of "relational" maps that at least depict the variety of rational interpretations of the text instead of adhering only to the M2C-inspired interpretation.

Even better, they could teach a variety of maps that corroborate and support, instead of repudiate, the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah/Ramah.


Finally, look how Tyler's fantasy map depicts Cumorah.

Compare that with the M2C maps developed by L.E. Hills in 1917 and later by John Sorenson/BYU Studies and CES. We can all see they are based on the same interpretation of the text that repudiates the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah/Ramah.

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