Monday, April 23, 2018

Rejecting false traditions

One of the great insights in the Book of Mormon involves the persistence of traditions and how people and societies preserve traditions through confirmation bias.

The classic example is the narrative of Nephi and his brothers. According to Nephi, leaving Jerusalem and taking the brass plates was God's will. According to Laman, the people of Jerusalem were righteous and Nephi was a usurper. Both sides cited the same facts, but had entirely opposite interpretations.*

These interpretations became the traditions, or narratives, that separated the Nephites from the Lamanites for centuries.
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Today in the Church there are two traditions, or narratives, that cause division among Church members regarding the Book of Mormon. The persistence of this division causes confusion among youth, missionaries and investigators. 

It's time to resolve this.

Tradition A teaches that the prophets have been wrong about the New York Cumorah. 

Tradition B teaches that the prophets have been correct about the New York Cumorah. 

The best-known iteration of B is the Heartland. The best-known iteration of A is M2C--the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.

Tradition A is taught by BYU, CES, and the Departments in COB (the Church Office Building, such as the History, Correlation and Missionary Departments). It has never been taught in General Conference or by any prophet or apostle.

Tradition B is taught by various individuals, but is actively opposed by BYU, CES, and COB. It has been consistently taught by the prophets and apostles, including in General Conference, and has never been repudiated or even questioned by any prophet or apostle.

Basically, Tradition A claims the prophets and apostles who have taught the New York Cumorah were expressing their own ignorant opinions and were wrong because certain LDS intellectuals know more than the prophets and apostles. These M2C intellectuals think the New York Cumorah is a foolish tradition.

Tradition B claims the prophets and apostles who taught the New York Cumorah were correct and that it is the intellectuals who are expressing their own opinions and are wrong.

Prophets vs scholars, yet again.
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ORIGINS

It's easy to see the origins of Tradition B. Start with Letter VII and then read the teachings of the prophets and apostles.

It's not as easy to see the origins of Tradition A because it developed over time. It is not easy to persuade active, faithful LDS that the prophets and apostles are wrong. Even after decades of concerted effort through CES, BYU, and COB Departments, the M2C intellectuals have not persuaded all members of the Church that the prophets were wrong. In fact, the tide may be turning.

I've addressed these origins before, such as here (https://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2018/04/why-m2c-intellectuals-persist.html), but it isn't the origins that matter.

It's how we deal with the traditions.
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The Zoramites explained their rejection of the traditions of their fathers this way:

Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children... we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren,

Helaman 5:19 shows that it is possible for people to reject false traditions.

Therefore they did speak unto the great astonishment of the Lamanites, to the convincing them, insomuch that there were eight thousand of the Lamanites who were in the land of Zarahemla and round about baptized unto repentance, and were convinced of the wickedness of the traditions of their fathers.

To reach unity on this topic, the only solution is to accept the teachings of the prophets and apostles, which means rejecting the false tradition A that repudiates those teachings.

The question is, how many M2C intellectuals are capable of doing this? How many are willing to?
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* Zeniff explained this well in Mosiah 10:

11 Now, the Lamanites knew nothing concerning the Lord, nor the strength of the Lord, therefore they depended upon their own strength. Yet they were a strong people, as to the strength of men.

12 They were a wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, believing in the tradition of their fathers, which is this—Believing that they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem because of the iniquities of their fathers, and that they were wronged in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged while crossing the sea;

13 And again, that they were wronged while in the land of their first inheritance, after they had crossed the sea, and all this because that Nephi was more faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord—therefore he was favored of the Lord, for the Lord heard his prayers and answered them, and he took the lead of their journey in the wilderness.

14 And his brethren were wroth with him because they understood not the dealings of the Lord; they were also wroth with him upon the waters because they hardened their hearts against the Lord.

15 And again, they were wroth with him when they had arrived in the promised land, because they said that he had taken the ruling of the people out of their hands; and they sought to kill him.

16 And again, they were wroth with him because he departed into the wilderness as the Lord had commanded him, and took the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, for they said that he robbed them.

17 And thus they have taught their children that they should hate them, and that they should murder them, and that they should rob and plunder them, and do all they could to destroy them; therefore they have an eternal hatred towards the children of Nephi.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Elder Holland and the importance of place

Saturday in Jerusalem, Elder Holland provided perspective on the significance of sacred sites. He observed how sacred sites have an inherent significance and influence.

There should be a consensus that a site becomes sacred because of what happens there. Modern prophets have repeatedly identified the Hill Cumorah in New York as such a sacred site. Those who say it doesn't matter where the Book of Mormon took place are denying the significance of sacred sites. Would they also say it doesn't matter where Jerusalem was?

Worse, there are some who reject what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah, thereby depriving members of the Church of the opportunity to appreciate what the prophets have taught about this sacred site when they visit the Palmyra area.

When I was in Palmyra, New York, last week, I walked quite a bit through the battlefield west of the hill Cumorah.  Latter-day prophets have spoken and written about the importance of that site because both the Jaredite and Nephite civilizations were extinguished there.

It is also a sacred space because it is where Mormon and Moroni wrote much of the Book of Mormon, including the final chapters of the text.

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Elder Holland is accompanying President Nelson on his trip around the world. Their second stop was in Jerusalem. They emphasized the importance of place in choosing the itinerary. One article explained it this way:

Elder Holland said President Nelson "decisively and instantly" determined that his first major gesture beyond LDS Church headquarters would be a visit to Jerusalem.

"He wanted to walk where the Savior walked and stand where prophets have stood and feel what we all feel here," said Elder Holland. "The rich powerful influence of this land is palpable. I think he wanted that personally, as well as for the church."

President Nelson said he had symbolic reasons for planning the global trip as he did.

"We wanted to start in Jerusalem to fortify ourselves with the message of the Lord Jesus Christ right from its very inception, here where he was born, where he lived, where he ministered and where he was crucified," President Nelson said. 

Elder Holland also said, "You don’t have to come to a scene, a setting, to appreciate the Savior, or the prophets or the events, you could do that in the privacy of a missionary apartment in South America or Asia or you could do it in a primary class in Eastern Europe," said Elder Holland. "But to add to that the privilege of being in the land that [the Savior] loved and on the soil that he walked, it really is a magnificent personal experience and I will never grow tired of that."

https://www.deseretnews.com/article/900015841/president-nelson-cancels-visits-to-local-sites-leaves-jerusalem-as-tensions-rise-in-middle-east.html

Likewise, we don't have to visit Cumorah to appreciate the events that took place there. But we can add to our appreciation of the events the privilege of being in the land that Mormon and Moroni and their people walked, making such a visit a magnificent personal experience of which we will never grow tired.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Correlation changing Church history - Ensign, April 2018

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” George Orwell, 1984.

This is 2018, but Orwell's observation remains as insightful now as it was when he wrote 1984. Except now it is the Correlation Department of the Church that is controlling the past--and converting Church history by repudiating the prophets.

I mentioned this example in another post that was too long for most people to read. I'm putting a key point here because it's not possible to reach consensus when the Correlation Department suppresses important facts of Church history to change the narrative to support M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory of Book of Mormon geography).
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A good example of the work of the Correlation Department is the April issue of the Ensign.

On the inside back cover is Minerva Teichert's painting, "Christ Visits the Nephites." This depicts Christ appearing at a Mayan temple, complete with the Mayan temple of the feathered serpent from Teotihuacan.

The painting is found in the Church History web page, here:
https://history.lds.org/exhibit/-christ-in-the-americas-exhibit?lang=eng#mv9

Incredibly, the web page assigns this title: "Christ Blesses the Nephites at the Bountiful Temple," with a reference to 3 Nephi 11:7. Thanks to the Correlation Department, we have a direct identification of the Nephite Bountiful Temple as a Mayan temple.


For more M2C art, go here: https://history.lds.org/exhibit/-christ-in-the-americas-exhibit?lang=eng

Also in this issue is Chapter 3 of Saints, the new Church history book published by the Church History department. This is a wonderful new book, and it's great that the book at least cites Letters IV, VII and VIII. But the notes refer to "LDS Messenger and Advocate," a source few Church members are familiar with or know how to look up. They could have cited Joseph Smith's History 1834-1836 right in the Joseph Smith papers themselves, as they do with other references in the notes.

Even if you look at the chapter online, the reference goes to the first page of the archive.org edition of the Messenger and Advocate instead of to the actual page where these letters are found. It would have been much easier for people to go to the copy in the Joseph Smith Papers (or the Times and Seasons, Millennial Star or Improvement Era, which also published these letters and are more familiar to Church members).

This may sound like quibbling but it's a question of accessibility and credibility.

Note 9 cites Oliver Cowdery, Letter IV, but lists pages 65-67, which are actually W.W. Phelps' Letter 4. Oliver's letter, which refers to the Urim and Thummim, starts on page 77.

In fact, if you go to the online version and look at footnote 13, which references Letter VII, the link actually lists Letter IV twice, not Letter VII. And it goes to the first page of the Messenger and Advocate, not the page where these letters are actually found.

Go to https://lds.org/languages/eng/content/history/saints-v1/03-plates-of-gold and click on note 13.

Here's where Letter IV starts:
https://archive.org/stream/latterdaysaintsm01unse#page/76/mode/2up/search/Letter+IV

Here's where Letter VII starts:
https://archive.org/stream/latterdaysaintsm01unse#page/n159/mode/2up

That's all technical stuff. Here's what I consider to be M2C influence, originating with the Correlation Department (and/or the History department, but either way, it is Church employees promoting M2C from within).

From Saints:

Moroni spoke of gold plates buried in a nearby hill. On the plates was etched the record of an ancient people who once lived in the Americas. The record told of their origins and gave an account of Jesus Christ visiting them and teaching the fullness of His gospel.8 Buried with the plates, Moroni said, were two seer stones, which Joseph later called the Urim and Thummim, or interpreters.

From Letter IV:

He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigines of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham. He represented them as once being an enlightened and intelligent people, possessing a correct knowledge of the gospel, and the plan of restoration and redemption. He 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.

Do you see the difference?

Our Gold Cup winner, the Correlation Department, transforms President Cowdery's language "a history of the aborigines of this country" into the M2C version: "the record of an ancient people who once lived in the Americas." 

IOW, Moroni referred to "the aborigines of this country" but Church members are being told he said "an ancient people who once lived in the Americas."

It's unbelievable, isn't it?

The Correlation Department knows that few if any readers will look up the original sources. Doing so is deliberately made more difficult by the citation to the Messenger and Advocate instead of the Joseph Smith Papers, the online link to the first page of the archive.org version of the Messenger and Advocate, and the citation to the wrong letter on the wrong page.

Plus, there is the additional problem of these original sources being available only in English, while Saints is translated into 14 languages (print version) and over 40 languages online.

This means that very few, if any, members of the Church will learn what Moroni actually told Joseph Smith!

Notice two other points. Moroni told Joseph that "this history was written and deposited not far from that place," meaning Joseph's home near Palmyra. It was not written in Mesoamerica and hauled 3400 miles to Palmyra. But the M2C version of history we are getting in Saints skips right over this.

Next, notice that in Letter IV, Oliver has Moroni calling the interpreters the Urim and Thummim. Recall that Joseph helped write these letters; in fact, Oliver notes that he could only have gotten this information from Joseph.

There's a widespread assumption among Church historians that it was W.W. Phelps, not Joseph, who identified the interpreters as the Urim and Thummim. According to them, Joseph later adopted Phelps' term. The reason is that Phelps was the first to put this in writing (in the Evening and Morning Star). It's possible that Joseph did adopt Phelps' term, which plays in the M2C narrative that Joseph also adopted others' false ideas about the New York Cumorah.

However, Oliver was using documents no longer extant (which I think include his notebook in which he recorded what Joseph told him when they were translating the plates in Harmony in 1829). Between such sources and Joseph's own memory, why should we say, as a fact, that Joseph later called these the Urim and Thummim instead of reflecting what Moroni said as reported in Letter IV?
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I realize this is a lot of detail, but this example from the Ensign is really the tip of the iceberg of what the Correlation Department has been doing to rewrite history and suppress what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah, the identification of the descendants of Lehi, etc.

We've seen M2C promoted throughout Church curriculum, visitors centers, media, etc. Before we address the rationales they give, let's remember an important fact.

No member of the Twelve or First Presidency has ever repudiated the teachings of their predecessors about the New York Cumorah.

M2C is purely an invention of M2C intellectuals and the Church employees (including CES/BYU educators) who follow them.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Evidence of ancient writing in America

A lot of people have been reading an old post of mine about ancient writing in America from the bookofmormonwars blog, so I've added a few more details and I'm posting it here for those who don't look at my old posts. The original of this one was posted on June 28, 2016.

The issue arises often, so it remains timely. 
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I keep hearing that evidence of ancient writing is critical to any proposed setting for the Book of Mormon. I've written about this before, but because it keeps coming up, I'll discuss it again briefly.

Dead Sea scrolls
A common objective in negotiations, research, and debate is to frame the situation in favorable terms. In the legal profession, trial and appellate lawyers spend a lot of time creating arguments that put their clients' position in a favorable context. Anyone who advocates something--politician, scientist, marketer, author--tries to do the same thing.

It's no different with Book of Mormon geography. That's why we see "requirements" or "conditions" for proposed settings that include requirements designed to frame the discussion in favor of one particular setting--the one being advocated by the proponent. That's what the volcano requirement is. The text says nothing about volcanoes, but some scholars have imposed a requirement that a setting for the Book of Mormon must feature volcanoes. It's a transparent tactic because the setting they favor features volcanoes.

We see this in the requirement for "headwaters" of Sidon (instead of head of Sidon) and "mountainous wilderness" which is never once mentioned in the text. There are many such examples.
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The requirement that there must be evidence of writing is similar to the volcano requirement. Those who impose this requirement favor settings where there is already evidence of ancient writing, extending back to 500 BC and beyond.

There are two problems here. First, the ancient writing found is neither Hebrew nor Egyptian, so it doesn't line up to the text.

Second, the Book of Mormon text itself not only doesn't require evidence of ancient writing, but it says any such evidence would be destroyed.

IOW, to match up with the Book of Mormon, we would need to find evidence of an ancient civilization that included advanced features, yet left no evidence of writing behind.
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The text notes that Nephi and his successors kept records on metal plates, but several of the record keepers wrote very little (Jarom). Presumably more was recorded on the plates maintained by the kings (Omni 1:11), which would account for all the records that Joseph and Oliver observed in the room in the Hill Cumorah.

The text mentions two other mediums of writing: stone and impermanent material.

The sole instance of writing on stone is in Omni 1:20 "And it came to pass in the days of Mosiah, there was a large stone brought unto him with engravings on it; and he did interpret the engravings by the gift and power of God."

This stone was a significant item for the people of Zarahemla because they were illiterate, but it is also significant because it is unique. We will not find a setting for the Book of Mormon in an area that features engraving on stones as a common practice. Stone engraving must be rare to nonexistent, except for the one stone left by Coriantumr. This is particularly noteworthy because Hebrew people knew about Moses and the 10 Commandments written on stone; presumably they would have done likewise, but the text mentions only this single stone in 1,000 years of history.

[Alma 10:2 refers to "writing which was upon the wall of the temple which was written by the finger of God." The wall of the temple is not otherwise described; it could have been made of stone or wood or cement. But again, this was a highly unusual occurrence, which is why it was memorable enough that Amulek identified himself as a descendant of Aminadi, the man everyone knew because he interpreted the writing on the wall.]

Other than writing on plates, there is an example of a writing medium that is generally presumed to be paper or parchment. Alma 14:8 says "they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire." This is interesting wording. The next verse says the people thrown into the fire "were consumed by fire," but the scriptures were "burned and destroyed" by fire--not consumed. It's not a major point, but it's entirely possible that these records (nothing says they were possessed by lay worshippers, by the way) were also on metal plates that melted in the flames. Thus, they were burned and destroyed but not consumed. I think this is the most reasonable interpretation, but I recognize it's also possible the records were consumed, despite what the text says.

The text never uses the terms paper, parchment, papyrus, or bark. The only medium mentioned in the text that could be used for transitory writing is skins. Because some of the dead sea scrolls were written on animal skins, it's easy to imagine that the Nephite culture did likewise.

And that explains the problem.

Transitory writing material is difficult to preserve (even absent Fahrenheit 451 events such as in Alma 14). Even if the Nephites did write on paper, papyrus, skins, etc., could we expect the material to survive 1,000 years?

Jacob observed that the only writing that would endure was what he engraved on plates.

Jacob 4:1 "we know that the things which we write upon plates must remain; 2 But whatsoever things we write upon anything save it be upon plates must perish and vanish away; but we can write a few words upon plates, which will give our children, and also our beloved brethren, a small degree of knowledge concerning us, or concerning their fathers."

If Jacob was engraving stones the way the Mayans did, he would not have said the engravings "must parish and vanish away." Instead, he explained that the plates were the only form of writing that would not perish and vanish away. Any culture from which we have ancient writing that has not perished and vanished away (except for writing on metal plates) cannot therefore be the culture in which Jacob lived.

In North America, we find cultures that had sophisticated societies capable of building geometric earthworks with great precision and replication, yet any evidence of writing has perished and vanished away, just as Jacob explained.

In Mesoamerica, the opposite is true.

Storage conditions are not the only problem, of course. As early as around 420 B.C., Enos explained the Nephite records were in jeopardy. "For at the present our strugglings were vain in restoring them to the true faith. And they swore in their wrath that, if it were possible, they would destroy our records and us, and also all the traditions of our fathers." Enos 1:14.

As late as 385 A.D., the prophet Mormon had the same concern: "having been commanded of the Lord that I should not suffer the records which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred, to fall into the hands of the Lamanites, (for the Lamanites would destroy them) therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni." Mormon 6:6

Mormon hid up all the records. These are presumably the ones Joseph and Oliver saw in the room in the Hill Cumorah. (The qualifier "entrusted to me" does leave open the possibility that additional records existed, but Mormon says they Lamanites would destroy any records they could get their hands on.)

So if all the permanent records were written on metal and hidden up in Cumorah, and the only record engraven on stone was the one Coriantumr left, and to the extent the Nephites used transitory materials for some writing (as could be implied from Alma 14), that leaves nothing left for posterity to find. (Well, okay, Coriantumr's stone may be out there somewhere, unless it was 1) destroyed, 2) lost, or 3) carted off by the Mayans who invaded around 800 A.D. before returning to Central America centuries later.)

Consequently, according to the text, there should be little if any evidence of writing among the Book of Mormon people in the time period between 600 BC and 400 A.D.

Except for the records Joseph and Oliver saw.
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All of this means that the next time someone tells you there has to be evidence of ancient writing in any proposed setting for the Book of Mormon, ask, "Do you mean besides the records in the Hill Cumorah that Joseph and Olvier saw?"

Because those records are the only ones the text says would survive.

After all, that's why we needed the Book of Mormon in the first place. It reveals history that would otherwise remain forever unknown.

A/B test results

It turns out that the results were about 50/50, meaning about half voted for A and half for B. Many people thought they should be combined, but we want to keep it as succinct as possible.

We're doing some revisions and I'll post the final version here for you to share as you like.

Thanks to everyone who voted!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A/B test of explaining the New York Cumorah

I'm posting two alternative approaches to explaining the New York Cumorah. Let me know which one you like best by sending an email to lostzarahemla@gmail.com. Just put Option A or Option B in the subject line.
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Option A. 

Missionary Work and the Keystone - education and fortification

Main points:

  • 1.      Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery provided a powerful missionary tool that has been overlooked in recent years. Missionary and retention work has suffered as a result.
  • 2.      Educating missionaries and members about this tool will fortify their faith and put them back on the course established by the founding prophets. This will improve missionary work and retention.


Preach My Gospel, Chapter 5, includes this quotation from President Ezra Taft Benson:

Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. The enemies of the Church understand this clearly. This is why they go to such great lengths to try to disprove the Book of Mormon, for if it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it.

Today, the enemies of the Church use the Internet to try discredit the Book of Mormon. This is why missionaries have the most success in areas where people don’t access the Internet.

Currently, the missionaries’ response to these enemies is to tell people to pray about it. While that is a necessary step, Church leaders starting with Joseph and Oliver recognized it was equally important to respond to critics with facts.

Joseph and Oliver wrote a series of letters (Gospel Topics essays) to present important facts about Church history and doctrine, including the key fact that the Hill Cumorah is in New York. Joseph had his scribes copy these essays into his personal history as part of his life story (Joseph Smith, History 1834-1836, in the Joseph Smith Papers). These essays were originally published in the Messenger and Advocate and republished in the Times and Seasons, Millennial Star, Gospel Reflector, The Prophet, and the Improvement Era. Until recent years, most members of the Church were familiar with them—for good reason.

Sandra Tanner’s Lighthouse Ministry in Salt Lake City has a well-known web page (http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/cumorah.htm) that poses these questions:

in recent years some LDS scholars have stated that the hill in New York is not the Hill Cumorah, scene of the last battle of the Book of Mormon peoples. Who are we to believe? Is a BYU professor more reliable than the President of the LDS Church or an Apostle?

This is a question faced by most missionaries whose investigators access the Internet. The missionaries do not know how to respond because they have never been taught what Joseph and Oliver and the other prophets have taught about the Hill Cumorah. Worse, they have been taught in CES and at BYU that the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah.

The Tanner web page includes a copy of the October 16, 1990, letter that was approved by the entire First Presidency and sent from the Office of the First Presidency which states

The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as reference in the Book of Mormon.

While the Church has never taken a position on other aspects of Book of Mormon geography, the New York Cumorah has been well established. The early Apostles included this teaching during the 1840s British Mission to help unlock the door to missionary work. It has been taught by members of the First Presidency in General Conference.

The prophets have consistently taught about the New York Cumorah because that fact supports the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon and overcomes objections that the book is fiction.

As Sandra Tanner points out, though, in recent decades LDS scholars at BYU and CES have been teaching their students that the prophets are wrong. Instead, according to these scholars, the Hill Cumorah is somewhere in Mexico. This teaching has infiltrated much of the Church.

The Academic Cycle



Educating members and missionaries about the New York Cumorah will fortify them and give investigators another reason to read the Book of Mormon for themselves so the Spirit can testify to them of its truthfulness.

Importance. Some say the geography doesn’t matter, but to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, the New York Cumorah mattered a great deal—for the same reason it matters today.

President Cowdery wrote these eight Gospel Topics essays to respond to an anti-Mormon book, Mormonism Unvailed [sic], that was published in Ohio in 1834. Letter VII responds to the book’s claim that the Book of Mormon was copied from a fictional work by Solomon Spaulding. President Cowdery wrote that it was a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York. This fact takes the Book of Mormon out of the realm of fiction.

The New York Cumorah has been clearly, unambiguously and consistently taught by the prophets ever since. No prophet has ever said Cumorah was anywhere but New York.

In recent years, however, certain LDS scholars have been teaching that the prophets were wrong. They claim there are “two Cumorahs;” i.e., that the New York Cumorah is a false tradition, and that the “real Cumorah” is in southern Mexico. This teaching has spread throughout CES and BYU and has led to confusion and doubt among Church members—especially among youth and missionaries—as well as investigators.

A renewed emphasis on the New York Cumorah benefits the entire Church in three ways:

  • It affirms the consistent teachings of the prophets
  • It places the Book of Mormon in the real world
  • It eliminates the current confusion that causes members to question their faith

NOTE: The New York Cumorah does not resolve the larger question of Book of Mormon geography, about which the Church has never taken a position.
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Option B


Suggestions for Missionary Work - education and fortification

Main point: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery bequeathed a powerful missionary key that has been overlooked in recent years. Missionary and retention work has suffered as a result.

This key unlocked the door to missionary work in the 1840s British Mission and throughout the Church while Joseph was alive. The key supports the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon and overcomes objections that the book is fiction.

The key is the teaching that the Hill Cumorah is in western New York.

In 1835, President Cowdery declared this was a fact. Joseph endorsed this teaching multiple times, as did the entire First Presidency and every Apostle who addressed the topic. The New York Cumorah has been clearly, unambiguously and consistently taught by the prophets ever since. No prophet has ever said Cumorah was anywhere but New York.

In recent years, however, a group of LDS scholars has begun to teach that the prophets were wrong. They claim there are “two Cumorahs;” i.e., that the New York Cumorah is a false tradition, and that the “real Cumorah” is in southern Mexico. This teaching has spread throughout CES and BYU and has led to confusion and doubt among Church members—especially among youth and missionaries—as well as investigators.

A renewed emphasis on the New York Cumorah benefits the entire Church in three ways:

  • It affirms the consistent teachings of the prophets
  • It places the Book of Mormon in the real world
  • It eliminates the current confusion that causes members to question their faith

NOTE: The New York Cumorah does not resolve the larger question of Book of Mormon geography, about which the Church has never taken a position.

Background

In 1834, when confronted with anti-Mormon claims (the book Mormonism Unvailed), Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery responded with a series of eight essays based on facts. They published the essays—the first Gospel Topics Essays—as letters in the Messenger and Advocate.

The essays were so important that Joseph directed his scribes to copy all eight into his own history as part of his life story (Joseph Smith, History 1834-1836, in the Joseph Smith Papers). An excerpt from Letter I in which Oliver Cowdery explains the facts of the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood is canonized within the Pearl of Great Price today.

Joseph encouraged others to republish the essays. They appeared in the Millennial Star (1840), the Gospel Reflector (1841), the Times and Seasons (1841), and the Prophet (1844), the New York City paper edited by Joseph’s brother, William Smith. Later they were republished in the Improvement Era and extensively cited.

Although these essays were ubiquitous during Joseph’s lifetime, they are largely unknown today. Yet they address nearly every one of the specific issues that challenge the faith of members, missionaries and investigators to this day.

A renewed study of all eight essays would benefit Church members, but Letter VII is especially relevant to missionary and retention work.

When President Cowdery ordained the original Twelve Apostles and gave them their Apostolic Charge, he began with this observation: “the minds of men are so constructed, that they will not believe without a testimony of seeing or hearing.”

A few months later, President Cowdery published Letter VII. This essay addresses the anti-Mormon claim that the Book of Mormon is fiction and includes President Cowdery’s testimony about the Hill Cumorah near Palmyra.

At about one mile west [of the Hill Cumorah] rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former, leaving a beautiful vale between. The soil is of the first quality for the country, and under a state of cultivation, which gives a prospect at once imposing, when one reflects on the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed…. In this vally [sic] fell the remaining strength and pride of a once powerful people, the Nephites… From the top of this hill, Mormon, with a few others, after the battle, gazed with horror upon the mangled remains of those who, the day before, were filled with anxiety, hope or doubt…. This hill, by the Jaredites, was called Ramah: by it, or around it pitched the famous army of Coriantumr their tents…. In this same spot, in full view from the top of this same hill, one may gaze with astonishment upon the ground which was twice covered with the dead and dying of our fellow men.

The New York Cumorah has been consistently taught by members of the Twelve and the First Presidency ever since, including in General Conference. For example, President Marion G. Romney said this in General Conference:

In the western part of the state of New York near Palmyra is a prominent hill known as the “hill Cumorah.” (Morm. 6:6.) On July twenty-fifth of this year, as I stood on the crest of that hill admiring with awe the breathtaking panorama which stretched out before me on every hand, my mind reverted to the events which occurred in that vicinity some twenty-five centuries ago—events which brought to an end the great Jaredite nation…. This second civilization to which I refer, the Nephites, flourished in America between 600 B.C. and A.D. 400. Their civilization came to an end for the same reason, at the same place, and in the same manner as did the Jaredites’.... I bear you my personal witness that I know that the things I have presented to you today are true—both those pertaining to past events and those pertaining to events yet to come. The issue we face is clear and well defined. The choice is ours.


Elder James E. Talmage affirmed the New York Cumorah in Articles of Faith, one of the few books published by the Church itself. He said:

The final struggles between Nephites and Lamanites were waged in the vicinity of the hill Cumorah, in what is now the state of New York, resulting in the entire destruction of the Nephites, about 400 A. D. The last Nephite representative was Moroni, who…wrote the concluding parts of the Book of Mormon, hid the record in Cumorah, and soon thereafter died. It was this same Moroni who, as a resurrected being, gave the records into the hands of Joseph Smith in the present dispensation.

Nevertheless, in recent years some LDS scholars have claimed that the prophets and apostles are wrong. The Hill Cumorah, they say, is actually in Mexico (or someplace else). They justify their repudiation of the prophets by conflating two separate issues:

(i) the Hill Cumorah in New York, which has been specifically and repeatedly taught by the prophets and apostles at least through 1990, and

(ii) the rest of Book of Mormon geography, about which the Brethren have never given an official statement, considering it a matter that has not been revealed—unlike the New York Cumorah.

Joseph Fielding Smith, both while President of the Quorum of the Twelve and thirty years earlier as a member of the Twelve and Church Historian, specifically warned about the impact of this “two-Cumorahs” theory. He wrote, “Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith of the Book of Mormon."

The scriptures teach that the way to avoid confusion and contention in the Church is to follow the teachings of the prophets and apostles. (E.g., 3 Nephi 12:1).

Because the scholars have rejected the prophetic teachings about the New York Cumorah—and President Smith’s prophetic warning about the two-Cumorahs theory—many members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. This confusion extends to investigators and the missionaries who teach them.

Some say the location of Cumorah doesn’t matter. However, it definitely mattered in 1835 when President Cowdery wrote Letter VII. It definitely mattered throughout Joseph’s lifetime. In fact, Letter VII was republished in The Prophet just two days after the martyrdom in Carthage. It mattered whenever it was taught in General Conference.

Early Church leaders recognized the importance of physical evidence (i) to elicit interest in the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon and (ii) to corroborate the spiritual witness. Parley P. Pratt republished Letter VII in the 1840 Millennial Star. He observed that those who don’t respond to the promptings of the Spirit initially may do so after considering the physical evidence. This remains true today.

The British Mission was highly successful as a result of this approach. Brigham Young reported that in one year, they baptized 5,000 converts with only 3,000 copies of the Book of Mormon. Today we have over 150 million copies of the Book of Mormon in print. By that standard, we should be baptizing tens of millions of converts every year.

Although it is not stated outright, this repudiation of the prophets has become part of the standard curriculum at BYU and in CES. CES and BYU have now developed two separate fantasy maps of the Book of Mormon that teach students that Cumorah is not in New York; i.e., they are actively teaching the youth that the prophets and apostles are wrong. Instead, they say, these fantasy maps are the “closest fit” to the descriptions in the text.

This approach places the Book of Mormon squarely in the realm of fiction—exactly the problem Joseph and Oliver addressed when they wrote Letter VII. Plus, teaching the youth that the prophets and apostles were wrong about the New York Cumorah—and that scholars are more qualified to address such topics—opens the door for the youth to question everything else the prophets and apostles have taught. Students are being trained lean upon the learning of the scholars when it comes to “difficult” questions.

On the other hand, reaffirming Letter VII and the teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah fortifies faith in both the Book of Mormon and the teachings of the prophets and apostles.

The scholars have rejected the prophets on the basis of what they claim is “evidence” that Cumorah cannot be in New York. In reality, the physical evidence—archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography, etc.—fully supports and corroborates the teachings of the prophets, as the attached materials explain.

In Letter VII, Joseph and Oliver set the Church on a clear course, giving members a strong position to respond to claims that the Book of Mormon is fiction. By changing course, our scholars have not only left members of the Church (and investigators) susceptible to these claims—they have supported these claims by teaching the youth that Cumorah cannot be in New York and that the best explanation is a videogame map of a fantasy world.

The process works like this:

The Academic Cycle

Once this process has been through several academic cycles it becomes self-fulfilling. The initial error becomes difficult to identify.

We therefore suggest that Church leaders reaffirm the teachings of their predecessors regarding the New York Cumorah, for the same reasons that Joseph and Oliver wrote and published Letter VII in the first place. Returning to the course established by the founders of the Church would eliminate the confusion and doubt caused by the “two-Cumorahs” theory.

This course does not constitute a Church position on the rest of the Book of Mormon geography question. That issue remains open for further revelation (as it always has) along with continued study and discovery. But this course does reaffirm the consistent teaching of the prophets and apostles that places Cumorah in the real world.