Thursday, December 1, 2016

Burden of Proof and LDS scholars

So far as I can tell, LDS scholars and educators continue to resist the New York Hill Cumorah. They're saying Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery deceived generations of Saints by perpetuating a false tradition.

I can't think of another example where a set of LDS scholars seeks to impeach the founding prophets of the Restoration by resorting to nothing but their own private opinions.

That should be unbelievable, and it's entirely unacceptable to me, but it's been going on for decades so apparently enough people are fine with it to allow it to continue. I think members of the Church should educate themselves by reading Letter VII, at a minimum, and reject the teachings of scholars and educators who say Letter VII is a false tradition.

Another way to look at this is from the burden of proof perspective.

Oliver Cowdery wrote most of the latter-day scriptures, including the Book of Mormon, some of the D&C and the Book of Moses. Notice I wrote wrote, not authored, because Joseph dictated these words. Presumably, LDS scholars and educators accept the canonized scriptures as reliable and credible.

Oliver also wrote Letter VII. He says he did it with the assistance of Joseph Smith. We have lots of evidence to corroborate that. We don't know whether Joseph dictated any of it, or whether Oliver took what Joseph said and wrote all the letters in his own words, but Joseph had his scribes copy Letter VII into his personal history. He gave specific permission to Benjamin Winchester to reprint it in the Gospel Reflector. His two brothers, Don Carlos and William, reprinted it in newspapers they edited (the Times and Seasons and The Prophet, respectively). In January 1844, it was reprinted in England for the Saints living there. It was reprinted in the Millennial Star and the Improvement Era. The New York Cumorah was specifically identified in the footnotes of the 1879 Book of Mormon for over 40 years. The New York Cumorah was taught in General Conference as late as the 1970s.

And getting back to canonized scripture, part of Letter I is in the Pearl of Great Price.

Despite this extensive and long-lasting endorsement of Letter VII which raises a strong presumption of legitimacy, LDS scholars have completely ignored the explicit and unambiguous teaching about the New York Cumorah.

We've seen scholars write entire articles, if not books, about what they claim is a teaching of Joseph Smith but which they know Joseph never said or wrote, including the "most correct book" quotation and the "Try the Spirits" article.

And now, when forced at last to at least admit it exists, they continue to ignore Letter VII or, even worse, say it's a false tradition.

In my view, LDS scholars and educators have a heavy burden of proof to disqualify Letter VII. In legal terms, they must impeach Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith.

Against all of this evidence and more, what do the Meosamerican advocates offer as impeachment?

Their own private interpretation of the text.

That's it.

For decades, they cited the anonymous Times and Seasons articles, but the historical evidence shows Joseph had nothing to do with those (and they don't mention Cumorah anyway). So that argument is gone.

For decades, they cited their own list of "requirements" for Cumorah that are transparently designed to point to Mesoamerica and are not based on the text. So that argument is gone.

They've cited a "fax from the First Presidency's office," but that has been exposed as plagiarism from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which in turn was written by the guy who came up with the phony list of "requirements" in the first place. So that argument is gone.

They've cited John Clark's articles about archaeology in New York, but those articles have been exposed as unfounded bias confirmation (because plenty of artifacts have been found in the area and on the Hill Cumorah itself). So that argument is gone.

I repeat: I can't think of another example where a set of LDS scholars seeks to impeach the founding prophets of the Restoration by resorting to nothing but their own private opinions.

Can you?

Can the scholars and educators?

No doubt, they'll try. I'm eager to see what they come up with.

In the meantime, I hope every member of the Church considers this situation seriously. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Mountains in the Book of Mormon

A few people still think the Book of Mormon took place in an area that featured lots of big mountains; i.e., Central America. I think this is a big mistake, based on a false tradition.

I've pointed out that the first time mountains are even mentioned as existing in the New World is in Helaman 11. Even then, the "mountains" are such that the robbers can "sally forth" out of them, which I infer means the mountains were not all that high. Prior to Helaman 11, references to mountains are quotations from or allusions to the scriptures; i.e., the Old Testament.

I've also observed that D&C 117:8 refers to "mountains" in Missouri:

"Is there not room enough on the mountains of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and on the plains of Olaha Shinehah, or the land where Adam dwelt, that you should covet that which is but the drop, and neglect the more weighty matters?"

Some have pointed to the prophecies of Samuel the Lamanite regarding mountains:

Helaman 14:23
"23 And behold, there shall be great tempests, and there shall be many mountains laid low, like unto a valley, and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains, whose height is great."

However, when the destruction is described in 3 Nephi, no such mountains are mentioned. 3 Nephi 8:10 says a "great mountain" was formed when "the earth was carried up upon the city of Moronihah." This is earth coming from above--upon--the city, not emerging from below. (We think this is an example of a massive sand blow, a typical earthquake feature in the Midwest.) Samuel's prophecy was surely fulfilled, but not all in Book of Mormon territory.

IOW, once we set aside the Mesomania-inspired traditions, the scriptures do not describe lots of big mountains in Book of Mormon lands.

Instead, the text describes relatively low, habitable mountains that many of us would call hills.

Along these lines, it's interesting to read what Joseph Smith once wrote about the "mountains of Missouri." Those who have visited Missouri know what those mountains are like.

They're like the ones in Illinois.

And they're like the ones described in the Book of Mormon text.

This reference to mountains is from a sermon attributed to Joseph Smith, recorded by Martha Coray. It is dated July 11 (or 19) 1840, but was almost certainly recorded well after that date. Perhaps it was copied from an earlier notebook.

"I prophecy that the time shall be when these saints shall ride proudly over the mountains of Missouri and no Gentile dog nor Missouri dog shall dare lift a tongue against them but will lick up the dust from beneath their feet."

Image MS 1998_f0001_00022.jpg.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Why not fix it? Why not now?

For the last many months, I've discussed issues relating to Book of Mormon geography. I think it's apparent now, based on the facts, that the premise for the Mesoamerican theory was a mistake from the outset. Joseph Smith never once wrote about or even alluded to the Book of Mormon taking place in Central America. Some of his associates did, and so far as we know he didn't publicly correct them (except in the Wentworth letter), but it was a mistake to attribute their words to him.*

The other big mistake involves Letter VII. It was a mistake to lose sight of that important letter that was so well known and accepted during Joseph's lifetime and thereafter. It was a mistake to reject it. And it is an ongoing mistake to assert that Joseph, Oliver and the others were merely speculating and wrong about the New York Cumorah.

What do we do when such mistakes have been made?

We have basically two choices.

1) We can correct the mistakes, or

2) We can resist correcting the mistakes and perpetuate them for as long as possible.

I hope we will chose the former and correct them. Soon.

I don't think there's a single LDS scholar or educator who wants to mislead anyone. The intellectual history of the Mesoamerican theory shows a logical progression of thought, all well-intentioned, as people sought to reconcile what they thought Joseph Smith taught with the facts on the ground. But good intentions are not good enough.

IMO, once the scholars and educators jettisoned Letter VII, they were left on their own; in fact, they have gone so far as to claim that Joseph himself thought the questions could be answered only by scholarship and science. They have overtly rejected Letter VII in favor of their own ideas and interpretations of the text.

I don't think we were left without prophetic guidance on this matter. Joseph Fielding Smith's warning about the two-Cumorah theory, and his citation of Letter VII, should have at least caused the scholars and educators to pause and rethink their approach.

But it didn't.

The problem became more acute in the 1950s and 1960s with the creation and dissemination of the Arnold Friberg paintings. That's when Mesomania became widespread in the Church. Since then, generations of Latter-day Saints have been trained to think of the Book of Mormon in that framework.

The psychological impact is profound and largely overlooked. But the confusion which Joseph Fielding Smith warned has become endemic in LDS culture. It has a serious impact on missionary work, retention, and activity because, as President Smith warned, the two-Cumorahs theory causes members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.

Now, it's up to the scholars and educators to fix the mistakes made by their predecessors. No one is to blame; we've all felt the impact of Mesomania. But going forward, we are all responsible for how we deal with Letter VII.

It won't take much to correct the mistakes, and it shouldn't be difficult.

All that's needed is for the scholars and educators to accept Letter VII.

At that point, we would have unity throughout the Church. There would be no more articles written by faithful LDS scholars and educators trying to explain why Joseph and Oliver and David Whitmer and the rest were speculating, were unreliable witnesses, and all the rest.

We would no longer have faithful scholars saying Joseph's successors were also speculating and wrong, or that other modern apostles were wrong when they spoke about the New York Cumorah in General Conference as recently as 1975 and 1978.

We would have tremendous unity about the Book of Mormon and the teachings of Joseph and Oliver and every other prophet and apostle who has spoken on the issue.

If that unity is not worth correcting mistakes, then what is?

Another way to say it: Is perpetuating mistakes really more important than fostering unity?

Accepting Letter VII does not commit the Church or any individuals to any particular setting for the Book of Mormon (except, obviously, to the location of the final battles). People can still believe and advocate their own theories, from as small as western New York to as large as the entire hemisphere.

But at least we would be united in supporting the prophets and apostles who have spoken on the issue of Cumorah. 

And we would eliminate a tremendous amount of confusion.

If it's so easy, why hasn't it been done?

Every scholar and educator may have his/her own reasons, but here are the ones I hear the most often.

1. The hill in New York doesn't match the text. This objection is based almost entirely on a handful of sources, each of which I've addressed in detail. In the interests of comity, I won't name them here, but feel free to email me if you don't know what I'm referring to. IMO, this objection is based on bad information and can be easily resolved.

2. Mesoamerica is too far away from Cumorah. This objection assumes that most Book of Mormon events took place in Central America, but that's all it is: an assumption. Does anyone really want to reject Letter VII over a mere assumption? Besides, there are smart people who have assembled a theory of geography that accommodates both.

3. I've been teaching this for years and can't change now. The rejection of Letter VII started nearly a century ago. Generations of Latter-day Saints have been taught the Mesoamerican theory by well-meaning, conscientious teachers. But we shouldn't be sad about good scholarship. Rejecting the rejection of Letter VII is an opportunity to build faith where it has been lost. We should be glad to present better information to our students and to one another. We should be enthusiastic about it. What's done is done. Tradition is no reason to subject new generations to the doubt and confusion that arises from the two-Cumorah theory.

4. There are so many correspondences to Mesoamerica. There are three considerations here. First, a Meosamerican setting is not necessarily incompatible with the New York Cumorah just because some scholars have made that argument. Second, these correspondences can be explained by the hinterlands theory. Third, we need to re-examine these correspondences to see if they are really specific to Lehite culture or are simply examples common to many human societies.

5. I've had spiritual experiences in Mesoamerica. People have had spiritual experiences in many parts of the world that they associate with the Book of Mormon. Likening the scripture to ourselves is what makes the book so powerful and life-changing, but we ought not deem those spiritual experiences as proof of Book of Mormon geography. If that were the case, then how could we explain people having similar experiences in many different parts of the world?

There may be additional objections I haven't listed here, but ultimately, can any objection be more important than restoring the unity and clarity that once prevailed on this issue?

In Joseph's day, members of the Church had plenty of disagreements about plenty of things. Joseph expressed his frustration at getting the Saints to understand what he was trying to teach them.

But he had no problem with the New York Cumorah because he made sure everyone knew about and read Letter VII.

So let this be my plea to the LDS scholars, educators, and teachers everywhere in the Church, as well as members everywhere, that we read and accept Letter VII's teachings about the Hill Cumorah in New York.

* There are many possible reasons why Joseph didn't correct them. Not that it matters to the main issue, but he may have simply had too many other things to worry about in 1842 Nauvoo; he may have wanted to avoid destroying the credibility of the Times and Seasons and hoped people would forget the articles about Zarahemla in Guatemala (which, in fact, happened until the articles were revived in the early 20th Century); he may have known that there was Lamanite influence in Central America that post-dated Book of Mormon time frames; he may have wanted to avoid another source of infighting among the brethren; and he may have tried to correct them but encountered resistance that wasn't worth the fight. I think a combination of these factors was involved, but of course that's mostly speculation. We can be pretty confident that neither John Taylor nor Wilford Woodruff thought Joseph authored the 1842 Zarahemla article or they wouldn't have approved Orson Pratt's footnotes in the official edition of the Book of Mormon that suggested Zarahemla was further south of Guatemala. At any rate, it's clear everyone accepted the New York setting for Cumorah, and presumably Joseph thought that was the most important point for everyone to understand. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

We Aren’t God’s Only People

There's an awesome article on the splash page of right now at this link:

The author, Samuel B. Hislop, writes about "cultivating "holy envy" for other faiths," noting the contributions of other faiths to our understanding of God. He writes,

"My life’s journey has directed my gaze outward to learn from the leaders and followers of other faiths. I’ve come to appreciate what Swedish theologian Krister Stendahl (1921–2008) called “holy envy”—the ability to admire elements and teachings in other faiths. Our fellow believers see things differently and don’t express their views in the same way we do, and I often find great value in this."

I highly recommend the article. It led me to a thought relevant to Book of Mormon consensus.

Brother Hislop quotes this:

“When we see virtuous qualities in men, we should always acknowledge them, let their understanding be what it may in relation to creeds and doctrine; for all men are, or ought to be free. … This doctrine I do most heartily subscribe to and practice” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 345–46).

Those pages are in the chapter in the manual titled "Living with Others in Peace and Harmony." You can find it here. It is an extract from a letter Joseph wrote to Gen. James Arlington Bennet. Eliza R.Snow copied the letter into Joseph's journal. The citation is History of the Church, 5:156, which you can find here. Or, you can read the original source in the Joseph Smith Papers, here.

[Historical note: For those interested in Church history, the link to JSP starts with the famous objection by Gen. James Arlington Bennet to the name of the other Nauvoo newspaper, the Wasp. Bennet wrote, "Mildness should characterise every thing that comes from Nauvoo..." Then he adds, "My respects to your brother its Editor." Those of you who have read The Lost City of Zarahemla know how this is important.]

Here is the entire section of Joseph's letter to Gen. Bennet, dated September 8th, 1842:

You speak also of Elder Lucian Foster, President of the Church in New-York, in high terms: and of Dr. John Bernhisel of New-York. These men I am acquainted with by information; and it warms my heart, to know that you speak well of them; and as you say, could be willing to associate with them forever, if you never joined their church, or acknowledged their faith. 

This is a good principle; for when we see virtuous qualities in men, we should always acknowledge them, let their understanding be what it may in relation to creeds and doctrine; for all men are, or ought to be free; possessing unalienable rights, and the high, and noble qualifications of the laws of nature and of self-preservation; to think, and act, and say as they please; while they maintain a due respect to the rights and privileges of all other creatures; infringing upon none. 

This doctrine I do most heartily subscribe to, and practice; the testimony of mean men, to the contrary, notwithstanding. But Sir, I will assure you, that my soul soars far above all the mean and grovelling dispositions of men that are dispos’d to abuse me and my character; I therefore shall not dwell upon that subject.

In relation to those men you speak of, referred to above; I will only say that there are thousands of such men in this church; who, if a man is found worthy to associate with, will call down the envy of a mean world, because of their high and noble demeanor; and it is with unspeakable delight that I contemplate them as my friends & brethren. I love them with a perfect love; and I hope they love me, and have no reason to doubt but they do.

I hope this is the spirit in which we all view one another as we work through the various issues related to Book of Mormon historicity/geography and, one day, reach a consensus that will enable us to flood the Earth with the Book of Mormon like never before.

Friday, October 28, 2016

A thought experiment

A lot of people, not just LDS scholars and educators but ordinary members of the Church, are emotionally attached to their ideas about Book of Mormon geography. I empathize because I felt the same way for decades about the Mesoamerican theory.

So here's a thought experiment to consider.

First, set aside your preconceptions. Thought experiments don't work if our minds are cluttered. We need to start with a blank slate.

Second, pretend for a moment that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith knew that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 was the same hill where Joseph obtained the plates; i.e., the hill in New York near his home. 

Maybe they knew because they had visited Mormon's records repository in the hill, as they told Brigham Young and others.

Maybe they knew because Moroni told them. 

Or maybe they had a revelation about it. After all, they were both apostles. Joseph was President and Oliver Assistant President of the Church. They didn't record everything they knew, as we know from Joseph Smith-History, 1:73-4:

 73 Immediately on our coming up out of the water after we had been baptized, we experienced great and glorious blessings from our Heavenly Father. No sooner had I baptized Oliver Cowdery, than the Holy Ghost fell upon him, and he stood up and prophesied many things which should shortly come to pass. And again, so soon as I had been baptized by him, I also had the spirit of prophecy, when, standing up, I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men. We were filled with the Holy Ghost, and rejoiced in the God of our salvation.

 74 Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of

Continuing with this thought experiment, if Cumorah is in New York, does the rest of the description in the text fit?

Step 3 in the experiment is to see if you can work it out.

Again, throw out all your preconceptions and re-read the text.

I realize that because of Mesomania it's nearly impossible to jettison the maps and illustrations you've seen your whole life, but try. 

You might be surprised at what you discover.

The irony of this thought experiment is that it shouldn't really be an experiment at all. Latter-day Saints believe everything Joseph and Oliver told us except for what they wrote in Letter VII. We write entire books about one-off statements recorded in someone's journal, such as the "most correct book" comment that wasn't even a quotation. 

But unlike these one-off statements, Oliver's letters, including Letter VII, have been republished multiple times. LDS scholars and educators accept everything in them except what they wrote about the Hill Cumorah.

If you know the explanation for that, you'll figure this out soon enough.

One stumbling block for some scholars is that Joseph didn't identify the hill as Cumorah in Joseph Smith-History. There's a good reason why he might have chosen not to, but the objection assumes Joseph wrote the history in the first place.

He did not.

At most, he read it. We don't even know if he made corrections to it, but we assume he approved it on some level.

See if you can think of a reason or two he might not have named the hill in that history.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Thoughts on contention

NOTE: I posted this comment on the other blog, but it's important enough to reproduce it here.

The topic of Book of Mormon geography can raise differences among people. Let's take it as a given that most people say they want to avoid contention, argument, debate, etc. This applies to their work, family, church, recreation, and other activities.

Jude describes what we should contend for:

Jude 1:3
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

That's the kind of contention that I've tried to conduct on this blog, my other blogs, and my articles and books.

Then there is another kind of contention that I seek to avoid:

3 Nephi 11:29-30
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.

Based on these and other passages, IMO it is important to contend for the faith and what is right, but it's just as important to do so without anger. 

Readers of this blog know that I think it's fun to have these exchanges. It's definitely frustrating that this whole thing about Cumorah not being in New York has gone on for so long, perpetuated by LDS scholars and educators, but there's no reason to get angry about it.

What's done is done.

It's up to us to take the initiative to fix it, all without anger. .

And we can focus on the meaning of the text and it's origin, making us all better people.

So when I write a piece titled "Fun with..." I mean that. There's no anger. We can all enjoy the discussion and hopefully move toward the day when we'll all see eye-to-eye.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon

In October 1988, President Benson gave the famous address titled "Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon." Here's a link:

It's hard to believe that was 28 years ago. A lot of progress has been made, for sure. But there remain obstacles.

Among other things, he said,

"I challenge all of us to prayerfully consider steps that we can personally take to bring this new witness for Christ more fully into our own lives and into a world that so desperately needs it."

Many members of the Church are doing their part to make this happen. I believe the LDS scholars and educators are doing their part in many ways, but there is an enormous impediment, IMO. It's one I've had to deal with for years.

By continuing to promote the Mesoamerican setting (or an abstract setting), LDS scholars and educators are causing members to become confused and disturbed in their faith. 

For many people, the message of the Book of Mormon is powerful enough to overcome this confusion. But for others, the confusion distracts from that message and leads to the loss of faith we've been warned about.

I don't see how we can realize the vision President Benson set forth as long as our scholars and educators insist our prophets and apostles are wrong about something as basic as the Hill Cumorah in New York.

It's not that geography, by itself, is the stumbling block. Instead, the problem is the inconsistency of claiming to support the prophets and apostles, while also saying their firm, consistent, declarative statements on this issue, spanning over 150 years, are wrong.

Mesomania causes confusion to every investigator who sees the artwork depicting jungles, Mayans, and stone pyramids, and then reads the text only to discover none of these things are in there. It's the disparity between raised expectations and reality that impedes acceptance of the Book of Mormon. That same disparity leads once faithful members to question, and in too many cases, lose their faith.

IMO, we won't be flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon until we reach unity in understanding it, which means reaching unity in supporting what the prophets and apostles have said from the beginning about the location of Cumorah.

Cumorah was important enough for Mormon and Moroni to mention it by name. It's the touchstone between the ancient past and the here and now. It's the pin in the map that tells us the location of the promised land, the covenant nation, the Lamanites whose promises are yet to be fulfilled, and so much more.

I urge all LDS scholars and educators, as well as students, to reconsider your views on this point. If you don't accept the New York location of Cumorah, ask yourself why not. Then ask yourself again. And again.

The answer might surprise you.