Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Check your biases - updated

In the pursuit of a consensus about LDS Church history and Book of Mormon geography, I find it useful to understand the positions of the various groups.

This post lets you see which group you most closely agree with.

Scoring.


You can see which bias is closest to yours by adding up the number of x’s you put next to each bias. See the list below.
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Categories.

Many Church members don’t care about Church history and Book of Mormon geography because they accept the religion on its face (just like adherents to every religion). These members generally avoid the discussions about these issues.

Many other Church members think issues in Church history and Book of Mormon geography are important because of one or more of the following factors: (i) they’ve heard anti-Mormon arguments that focus on these issues: (ii) they know people who have left the Church over unresolved issues in these areas; (iii) they desire to know everything possible about the topics; (iv) they want to resolve the cognitive dissonance that results from the discrepancies between what they’ve been taught and what the facts seem to show.

Based on their publications, I find that most Church historians want to get the history correct as much as possible, but tend to avoid the topic of Book of Mormon geography because they think the issue is either (i) not important or (ii) not capable of resolution with the historical information we currently have.

Proponents of the Heartland or Moroni’s America setting seek to reconcile all the incidents in Church history, without censoring any. They also seek to interpret the text in light of statements by the early brethren, especially Joseph and Oliver, as well as in light of the D&C, PofGP, and evidence from anthropology, archaeology, geography, geology, etc.

Proponents of the Mesoamerican setting and the two-Cumorahs theory tend to disregard incidents in Church history except to the extent these incidents generate confusion and uncertainty, which they seek to resolve by interpreting the text of the Book of Mormon in light of evidence from anthropology, archaeology, geography, geology, etc. They also tend to disregard the D&C and PofGP as relevant to the geography questions.

Former and anti-Mormons regard the Book of Mormon as fiction. They think Church history supports their views because so many details are inconsistent or inexplicable.
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Consensus.

I think members of the Church ought to reach a consensus about a few key issues, based on the historical evidence.

  1. Letter VII is accurate: there is one Cumorah and it is in New York.
  2. Cumorah in New York is the site of Mormon’s repository (Mormon 6:6) and the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites.
  3. The final battles of the Jaredites involved thousands of people, but fewer than 10,000. The final battles of the Nephites involved tens of thousands of people on all sides, but fewer then 100,000.
  4.  Joseph and Oliver translated two different sets of plates.
  5. The plates were “written and deposited” not far from Joseph’s home.

I think it is probably impossible to reach a general consensus about Book of Mormon locations other than Cumorah, partly because the text is ambiguous and partly because there are so many possible locations that it’s impossible to choose among them with certitude.

One obstacle to consensus about any issue is confirmation bias. People see what they want to see. As one scholar put it, Mesoamerican proponents "can't unsee" Mesoamerica when they read the Book of Mormon.

Advocates of every alternative generally feel the same way about their own perspectives—including the detractors who don't accept the Book of Mormon as an authentic divine translation of an actual history.

For many years, I, too, could not "unsee" Mesoamerica in the text. But that changed once I learned about a few critical facts and re-examined the text from another perspective.

Critics could say my biases changed, and all I'm doing is confirming my new biases.

Fair enough.

Let's lay out our biases and let others see which biases they most closely identify with.
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Biases

Here are the respective biases as I understand them, based on writings, speeches, presentations and conversations. I’ve tried to be as accurate and succinct as possible. If I'm wrong about any of these, I’d like to know.

My bias is based on my own assessment of the evidence.

The Traditional bias is what I’ve seen reflected in Church history publications.

The Meso bias is the bias I’ve found in publications by promoters of the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theory.

The anti/former LDS bias is the bias typically expressed in publications by people who disbelieve in all the LDS Church truth claims.

Notice that in many cases, the Meso bias is basically the same as the anti/former LDS bias, at least with respect to some of these issues.

Put a checkmark next to the bias that is closest to yours.
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Letter VII

Facts: Letter VII, published in 1835, was one of eight historical letters written by Oliver Cowdery with the assistance of Joseph Smith. Letter VII unequivocally declares that the New York Cumorah is (i) the scene of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites, (ii) the location of Mormon’s repository of Nephite records, and (iii) the location of Moroni’s stone box that contained golden plates. Joseph subsequently directed his scribe to copy it into his own history, authorized Benjamin Winchester to publish it in the Gospel Reflector, gave it to Don Carlos Smith to publish in the Times and Seasons. Letter VII was later published in The Prophet in New York, in a special pamphlet in England, in the Millennial Star, and in the Improvement Era. The question is whether we should accept Letter VII as factual or speculative (and false) opinion.

__ My bias: I accept Letter VII’s teachings on Cumorah. Oliver Cowdery was credible and reliable because of his personal experience with (i) Joseph Smith, (ii) the plates, (iii) ministry of angels, (iv) his calling as Assistant President of the Church, and (v) his visits to the repository itself. I accept Oliver’s claim that Joseph Smith helped him write the eight historical letters, including Letter VII. I also think Joseph fully endorsed the letters on multiple occasions.

__ Traditional Church history bias: With respect to his claims about Cumorah in Letter VII, Oliver Cowdery may or may not have been correct because we don’t know where Cumorah is, and we don’t know why Joseph endorsed the historical letters.

__ Meso bias: With respect to his claims about Cumorah in Letter VII, Oliver Cowdery was not credible or reliable; instead, he was an ignorant speculator who misled the Church because Cumorah is actually in Mexico. Joseph Smith passively accepted this false tradition about the New York Cumorah and perpetuated it when he had it copied into his history, published in the Gospel Reflector, and published in the Times and Seasons.

__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Oliver Cowdery was not credible or reliable about anything, including Cumorah, and he was an ignorant speculator who misled the Church. Joseph Smith passively accepted and perpetuated a false tradition about the New York Cumorah.
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The Golden Plates and the Cumorah messenger

Facts: Joseph claimed he obtained a set of plates, a breastplate, and a pair of spectacles or translators from a box made of stone and cement. Oliver Cowdery described the box in detail.

__ My bias: Joseph translated all the plates from Moroni’s box (except the unsealed portion) in Harmony, returned them to a heavenly messenger who took them back to Cumorah (David Whitmer account) and got the plates of Nephi from the repository, which he then took to Fayette and gave to Joseph, which is why Joseph translated those plates in Fayette.

__ Traditional Church history bias: Joseph obtained only one set of plates from Moroni’s box, of which he translated part in Harmony and part in Fayette. David Whitmer may or may not have recalled the incident with the messenger accurately. Although they are not mentioned in the Title Page, the plates of Nephi were always in the set of plates Joseph originally got from Moroni. Witnesses described the plates differently because they were confused or just wrong. We don’t know why he translated the Title Page on the last leaf of the plates before he translated the plates of Nephi. D&C 10 tells Joseph he has to translate the plates of Nephi because they were a replacement for the Book of Lehi, but he had the plates of Nephi all along.

__ Meso bias: Because Cumorah is in Mexico, David Whitmer was not credible or reliable so he made up or misremembered the experience with the messenger going to Cumorah. Although they are not mentioned in the Title Page, the plates of Nephi were always in the set of plates Joseph originally got from Moroni. Witnesses described the plates differently because they were confused or just wrong. We don’t know why he translated the Title Page on the last leaf of the plates before he translated the plates of Nephi. D&C 10 tells Joseph he has to translate the plates of Nephi because they were a replacement for the Book of Lehi, but he had the plates of Nephi all along.

__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Basically the same as the Meso bias, except neither Joseph nor any of the witnesses were credible or reliable because there were no plates to begin with.

The Title Page.

Facts: The Title Page refers to two abridgments and Moroni’s sealing of the plates. Joseph translated the Title Page, which he said was on “the last leaf” of the plates, before he translated the plates of Nephi. The questions are (i) why doesn’t the Title Page mention original plates of Nephi and (ii) where and when did Joseph translate the Title Page.

__ My bias: The Title Page doesn’t mention the plates of Nephi because those plates were not in Moroni’s box; i.e., they were not part of the “original Book of Mormon” as Joseph put it in his explanation of the Title Page. Joseph translated the Title Page in Harmony before leaving for Fayette because he finished the translation of the first set of plates in Harmony. He had the Title Page printed (probably in Binghamton) and sent to the court to register the copyright. D&C 10 tells Joseph he has to translate the plates of Nephi because he didn’t have the plates of Nephi and would get them later.

__ Traditional Church history bias: The Title Page doesn’t mention the original plates of Nephi because Moroni didn’t know they were included or he forgot to mention them. Joseph translated the Title Page either in Harmony before leaving for Fayette or after he arrived in Fayette because he needed to get it printed and sent to the court to register the copyright. We don’t know where it was printed, but probably not in Grandin’s shop. D&C 10 tells Joseph he has to translate the plates of Nephi to replace the Book of Lehi, but he had the plates of Nephi all along. It’s not clear why he translated the last leaf before he translated the plates of Nephi.

__ Meso bias: The Title Page doesn’t mention the original plates of Nephi because Moroni didn’t know they were included or he forgot to mention them. Joseph translated the Title Page either in Harmony before leaving for Fayette or after he arrived in Fayette because he needed to get it printed and sent to the court to register the copyright. We don’t know where it was printed, but probably not in Grandin’s shop. D&C 10 tells Joseph he has to translate the plates of Nephi to replace the Book of Lehi, but he had the plates of Nephi all along. It’s not clear why he translated the last leaf before he translated the plates of Nephi.

__ Anti/Former LDS bias: None of this matters. Neither Joseph nor any of the witnesses were credible or reliable because there were no plates to begin with.

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The repository in Cumorah

Facts. Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff and others said there was a repository in the Hill Cumorah that was full of artifacts and metal records as mentioned by Mormon (Mormon 6:6). Orson Pratt said there were two departments in the hill Cumorah; one for the repository, and the other for Moroni’s box.

__ My bias: Brigham Young and others accurately reported what Oliver and others said about entering the records repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York. David Whitmer accurately explained that the plates were no longer in Cumorah but were not far from there. Oliver also said the plates were no longer in Cumorah.

__ Traditional Church history bias: Brigham Young and others may have accurately reported what Oliver and others said about entering the records repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York, but it was merely a vision of a hill somewhere that Oliver and the others shared multiple times. We don’t know what David Whitmer meant when he explained that the plates were no longer in Cumorah but were not far from there.

__ Meso bias: Brigham Young and others may have accurately reported what Oliver and others said about entering the records repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York, but it was merely a vision of a hill in Mexico, which these men shared multiple times. David Whitmer was unreliable and not credible when he explained that the plates were no longer in Cumorah but were not far from there because the plates were either taken by an angel or had never left the repository in Mexico.

__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Basically the same as the Meso bias, except neither Joseph nor any of the witnesses were credible or reliable because there were no plates to begin with, and no repository except, maybe, a "visionary" one.
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The Liahona and Sword of Laban

Facts: The Three Witnesses said an angel appeared and showed them the plates, turning them over one-by-one, and testifying that they had been translated correctly. At the time, none of the witnesses said they handled the plates, although they subsequently claimed they did. Joseph came home and told his parents he was relieved because now others had seen the plates. There was no mention of the Liahona or Sword of Laban at the time, nor did Joseph or Oliver ever say these artifacts were in Moroni’s stone box.

Much later, David Whitmer said when the angel appeared, there was a table piled with plates and the Liahona and Sword of Laban. D&C 17:1 promised the witnesses “you shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea.” No original copies of D&C 17 are extant, and the earliest version was copied not before 25 Nov. 1834. According to the Joseph Smith Papers, “John Whitmer copied this revelation circa March 1831 into Revelation Book 1, but the page on which it was copied was removed at some point from that volume and is no longer extant. For unknown reasons, printers of the Book of Commandments chose not to include this revelation text in that volume. Some language used in the version copied into Revelation Book 2 does not fit an 1829 context, suggesting that version was modified from the original, although the degree of modification cannot be known.”

__ My bias: I think Moroni’s stone box contained only one set of plates, the interpreters, and the breastplate. I also think the Three Witnesses accurately described their experience; i.e., the angel showed them the plates and testified to them. The explanation for the Liahona, Sword of Laban, and additional plates comes from an event after the angel appeared to the Three Witnesses, when David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery, at least, entered the repository and saw the piles of plates and artifacts, including the Liahona and Sword of Laban, as Brigham Young and others described. I think David knew he wasn’t supposed to talk about the repository, so he conflated his statement about the artifacts and plates with the original account of the Three Witnesses. I think D&C 17 originally referred only to the plates because verse 5 required them to testify about what they saw, and their official statement mentions only the plates. This is why we don’t have the original record of the revelation and why it was removed from Revelation Book 1. It was later modified to add the other artifacts because David and Oliver had spoken about them, and they were not supposed to talk about the repository.

__ Traditional Church history bias: Either the Liahona and Sword of Laban were in Moroni’s stone box all along and Joseph kept them hidden (as depicted in the North Visitors Center on Temple Square), or the angel miraculously produced them in June 1829 near Fayette, along with the table and piles of other plates that are not mentioned in D&C 17 or the official statement of the Three Witnesses.

__ Meso bias: Either the Liahona and Sword of Laban were in Moroni’s stone box all along and Joseph kept them hidden (as depicted in the North Visitors Center on Temple Square), or the angel miraculously produced them in June 1829 near Fayette, along with the table and piles of other plates that are not mentioned in D&C 17 or the official statement of the Three Witnesses.

__ Anti/Former LDS bias: None of these artifacts were in Moroni’s stone box or in any repository because they never existed.

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Statements about Central America

__ My bias: Orson Pratt, Benjamin Winchester, WW. Phelps, William Smith, and others invoked the discovery of ancient ruins in Central America as evidence of the Book of Mormon to support their zealous missionary efforts. In addition, anonymous articles appeared in the Times and Seasons during 1842, when Joseph was the nominal editor. Joseph had nothing to do with these articles. Joseph never made a single direct link between the Book of Mormon and Central America, and actually made specific statements repudiating that theory. Alleged correspondences between the Book of Mormon and Central America are illusory because they are characteristics of most ancient societies. Joseph's statements about North America fit the text and relevant anthropology, archaeology, geology, and geography.

__ Traditional Church history bias: Orson Pratt, Benjamin Winchester, WW. Phelps, William Smith, and others invoked the discovery of ancient ruins in Central America as evidence of the Book of Mormon to support their zealous missionary efforts. In addition, anonymous articles appeared in the Times and Seasons during 1842, when Joseph was the actual editor. Joseph actually wrote these articles, or at least edited and approved of them, because he didn't know where the Book of Mormon took place. We don’t have enough evidence to know about the geography one way or the other.

__ Meso bias: Orson Pratt, Benjamin Winchester, WW. Phelps, William Smith, and others invoked the discovery of ancient ruins in Central America as evidence of the Book of Mormon to support their zealous missionary efforts. In addition, anonymous articles appeared in the Times and Seasons during 1842, when Joseph was the actual editor. Joseph actually wrote these articles, or at least edited and approved of them, because he didn't know where the Book of Mormon took place and he expected scholarship to answer the question. Modern LDS scholars and educators know more about the Book of Mormon than Joseph did. Joseph's statements about the North American setting are ambiguous and reflect his confusion and adoption of an early false tradition. Alleged correspondences between the Book of Mormon and Central America are reliable, especially when we realize that Joseph Smith used the wrong terms to translate the plates and thereby missed the Central American connections. The Mesoamerican models fit the text and relevant anthropology, archaeology, geology, and geography.

__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Basically the same as the Meso bias, except modern LDS scholars and educators can't point to any evidence directly connecting the Book of Mormon text to Central America or anywhere else.
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Cumorah Statements by Joseph's successors

Facts: 
Every one of Joseph's contemporaries expressed or accepted the New York setting for the Hill Cumorah. Orson Pratt's 1879 footnotes in the official edition of the Book of Mormon specified, unequivocally, that the Hill Cumorah was in New York, while he acknowledged his identification of other sites was speculative, or "believed to be." Beyond Joseph's contemporaries, Joseph Fielding Smith, Marion G. Romney, Mark E. Peterson and others reaffirmed the New York Cumorah, including in General Conference addresses, while no General Authority has ever contradicted the New York Cumorah in General Conference.

__ My bias: Every one of these prophets and apostles was correct about Cumorah.
__ Traditional Church history bias: We don’t have enough evidence to know whether these men expressed opinions or were correct or wrong about Cumorah.

__ Meso bias: Every one of these prophets and apostles was speculating about the New York Cumorah and was wrong.

__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Basically the same as the Meso bias, except the prophets and apostles were not only speculating and were wrong about Cumorah, but about everything else as well.

Score.


You can see which bias is closest to yours by adding up the number of x’s you put next to each bias.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Win win solutions

The impediments of cognitive dissonance make reaching a consensus about Book of Mormon geography difficult. Today I propose another way to look at the issue.

The first hurdle involves the Hill Cumorah; i.e., some think there is one Cumorah and it is New York.. That's what I think.

Others think the New York Cumorah is a false tradition, and that the "real" Cumorah is in Mexico, Baja, Panama, Chile, etc.

Originally, I thought Letter VII would eliminate this hurdle because I thought all LDS supported and believed what Oliver Cowdery taught. He was the Assistant President of the Church, one of the Three Witnesses, and claimed to have actually visited Mormon's repository in the New York Hill Cumorah. Joseph Smith helped Oliver write Letter VII and explicitly endorsed it multiple times. Plus, all of their contemporaries and every modern prophet and apostle who has addressed the issue agreed with Joseph and Oliver. None have disagreed with Joseph and Oliver about the New York Cumorah.

Nevertheless, proponents of the non-New York Cumorah settings reject Letter VII and all the related teachings.

Instead of being a unifying document, Letter VII has become a major hurdle.

How to resolve this?
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Recently Book of Mormon Central commented on the lost 116 pages, posting the question, "What if Martin Harris didn't lose all of the 116 pages?"

https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/what-if-martin-harris-didn%E2%80%99t-lose-all-of-the-116-pages

I agree with the Lyon/Minson approach in the article, but let's consider a related question: "What if the 116 pages were recovered?"

That may never happen, but as a thought experiment, what do you think is most likely, just from what we know now?

The 116 pages covered the first 400 years of Nephite history, roughly, so they wouldn't have mentioned Cumorah (unless Mormon inserted editorial comments about the future and/or comments about the Jaredites). Nevertheless, the 116 pages likely gave more information about geography than the replacement from the plates of Nephi (which focused more on prophecy). Maybe they contained maps copied from the plates, which explains why Mormon's geographical references were so vague. He wouldn't have had to explain where various cities were if he included a map or two.

And we have the account of the person who heard someone read the 116 pages before they vanished, which I addressed in a previous post, who claimed they involved the Indian mounds. Plus we have Joseph's sermon in Nauvoo that refers to the sacred burial mounds as mentioned in the Book of Mormon, except that's not in our current Book of Mormon. Most likely, he was remembering what was in the 116 pages. Possibly the 116 pages gave more information about the plains of the Nephites that Joseph identified in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

With this in mind, do you think it's likely that Joseph translated the 116 pages and remained confused and ignorant about Book of Mormon geography?

Do you think it's likely that he and Oliver Cowdery would have written and endorsed Letter VII if they knew from the 116 pages that the first 400 years of Nephite history took place in Central America, Baja, or Chile?
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Anything is possible, but I think it is most likely that the 116 pages described the North American setting that Joseph and Oliver believed and taught. D&C 28, 30 and 32 tell us the Indian tribes in New York and Ohio were definitely Lamanites. Joseph said the remnant were the Indians living in this country, etc.

For these reasons and others, wouldn't it make more sense for LDS scholars and educators to at least acknowledge multiple working hypotheses?

Why not have BYU Studies, Book of Mormon Central, BMAF, the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, and the rest present multiple hypothesis about Book of Mormon geography?

I've been asking for this for years, as have others, with no response except refusal.

This would be an important first step toward academic freedom on this topic. It would introduce a tremendous amount of flexibility and openness that would give members of the Church options.

Currently, members are faced with the "consensus" that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the New York Cumorah. That's not a proposition most members willingly accept. It introduces tremendous cognitive dissonance, especially when Church media and LDS scholars and educators teach it so openly and pervasively.

In my view, Mesomania does a disservice not only to Joseph and Oliver but to every LDS educator who teaches it.

This includes every LDS educator who teaches the so-called "abstract map" of Book of Mormon geography developed at BYU, which is pure Mesomania in disguise because they use the traditional Mesoamerican interpretations, but just turn the map 90 degrees clockwise. (Actually, I think it's worse than Mesomania because it teaches a fictional setting.)

There are few things more destructive than introducing deep cognitive dissonance into the minds of LDS students, and the monolithic teaching of Mesomania (and fictional maps) does exactly that because it forces students who read Letter VII to believe Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.

Therefore, I see it as a win-win to open the discussion to alternative points of view. 

If more evidence surfaces in the future, or more prophetic direction, we would then have the academic flexibility to embrace the new information without causing yet more crises of faith due to the current dogmatic insistence on only one possibility, as the issue is currently framed.

Now, let's see if the citation cartel is willing to do so.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Whatever the data says

I'm still hopeful that members of the Church will someday reach a consensus about Book of Mormon geography, or at least the simple point that there is one Cumorah and it is in New York. At this point, I think it will be ordinary members who reach this consensus, while the LDS Mesomania scholars and educators becoming increasingly isolated in their academic world.

The reason: Mesomania requires you to reject the most obvious and clear data on the question of Book of Mormon geography.
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If you're still evaluating alternative models of Book of Mormon geography, you might be persuaded by the idea that one model or another will do "whatever the data says."

Here's a Dilbert cartoon that explains what Mesomania scholars and educators really mean when they say "We'll do whatever the data says."

http://dilbert.com/strip/2017-07-10



Don't forget that our Mesoamerican friends have already made up their minds--their #1 goal has nothing to do with following the evidence.

Instead, they say, "Our goals are (1) to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex." Such a goal is entirely inconsistent with following the evidence.

Beyond that problem, the question is, what data?

The only specific, detailed, and unambiguous declaration about Book of Mormon geography that I know of is Letter VII. Oliver Cowdery, with Joseph's assistance and subsequent endorsement multiple times, made three major points.

1. The final battles of the Nephites and the Jaredites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York.

2. Mormon put all of the original records in the repository in the New York Hill Cumorah.

3. Mormon gave his son Moroni only his (Mormon's) abridgment of the original records.

Through Letter VII, Joseph and Oliver established that there is one Hill Cumorah, that it is in New York, that Mormon's repository was there, and that Joseph Smith actually translated two separate sets of plates (because Moroni did not have the plates of Nephi to put in his stone box).

Who accepts this data?

Only those who accept the New York Cumorah.

IOW, proponents of Baja, Panama, Chile, Mesoamerica, Eritrea, Sri Lanka, and everywhere else don't accept this data.

How is this possible, you wonder?

Easy. They don't consider Letter VII "data" because it was just the work of Joseph and Oliver, two men whom, they insist, never had a revelation about Cumorah. Instead, they claim Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the New York Cumorah.

Those of us who accept Joseph and Oliver note that these two men had personal experience inside Mormon's repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York. We find it irresponsible to reject their unambiguous teaching about Cumorah just because, in the eyes of the scholars, the experiences Joseph and Oliver had inside the repository cannot have been real because it contradicts their theories.

Why do the scholars reject this data?

Purely because it contradicts their Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories.

They seek to accomplish their goal of by suppressing and rejecting any data that contradicts it.

This is no way to reach a consensus.



Friday, June 30, 2017

Avoiding contention

In my view, Letter VII resolves the most fundamental question about Book of Mormon geography (the location of Cumorah) and thereby eliminates most contention about the topic. It's easy to read, unambiguous, and plain to the understanding.

And yet, "most" LDS scholars and educators outright reject it.

Why?

Because it directly refutes their opinions about Book of Mormon geography.

In fact, if you're a new reader on this blog, you may have never heard of Letter VII. Especially if you were educated at BYU or in CES.

In Letter VII, Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith claimed it was a fact that the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place in western New York.

But our LDS scholars and educators insist Letter VII is false because the New York hill is not the real Cumorah and that these battles took place in Mesoamerica (or Baja, Panama, Chile, etc.). This "two-Cumorahs" theory dominates the Church, despite the nominal "neutrality" position.

That's why the Arnold Friberg paintings are in the missionary editions of the Book of Mormon. That's why Mayan motifs are found throughout Church media. That's why the North Visitors Center on Temple Square teaches that the real Cumorah was in Mesoamerica.

According to our LDS scholars and educators who promote the Mesoamerican theory, Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the New York Cumorah.

Now, is it "contentious" for me to make these observations?
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On the topic of contention, there's a nice article on lds.org right now from Elder Larry R. Lawrence. You can see it here.

He writes,

"3. Contention

"Satan is the father of contention. He delights in seeing good people argue. When there is contention in your home or workplace, immediately stop whatever you are doing and seek to make peace. It doesn’t matter who started it."

I completely agree with this. But we have to read it in the context of the rest of the article. Elder Lawrence's first point teaches how to resist temptation; i.e., he points out that Jesus "ordered Satan to leave." Resisting temptation consists of contending against temptation. His second point teaches us about lies and deception; i.e., the "dirty little secret that he doesn’t want you to know is that sin is addictive." Satan also uses the logical fallacy of argument by consensus; i.e., "Everyone else is doing it." His fourth point teaches us about "fighting discouragement."

Not only is there is nothing inherently wrong with resisting, fighting and contending; these concepts are central to the purposes of life. To some degree they are implicated in every choice we make. If we don't contend against the adversary--if we make peace with his efforts--we'll become like him because then we're contending with the Spirit of the Lord. Conversely, if we don't contend with the Lord--if we make peace with his efforts--we'll become like him because then we're contending with the adversary.

The decision of whom we accept is also a decision about whom we contend with.

Obviously, Elder Lawrence is not counseling against contention per se; he's warning against contention that arises from fault-finding and lies, especially when accompanied by anger.
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From time to time I hear or read contentious comments about Book of Mormon geography. Some of the best come from BMAF.org, which owns Book of Mormon Central, which promotes the Mesoamerican theory exclusively.

While I think the ideal solution for everyone is to reach a consensus, at least about the New York setting for Cumorah, I have no problem with people believing whatever they want. While I think it's healthy to discuss different ideas, I don't see any reason to contend about the subject--except where advocates of any position seek to suppress information.

As I've said many times, my main priority is help people make decisions that are fully informed. I don't care if people agree with me or not; I just explain what evidence there is and how I interpret it.

In my view, the best approach would be full disclosure. Let everyone--every member of the Church, every investigator, every former member--have access to a comprehensive comparison of the various theories of Book of Mormon geography. 

But advocates of non-New York Cumorahs don't want that.

My entire purpose in writing books, blogs and articles, and in speaking, is to avoid contention and make peace by giving people as much information as I can so they can make informed decisions.

For example, I've provided a simple decision tree for people to use to help them decide which geography makes sense to them. You can see it here:

http://bookofmormonconsensus.blogspot.com/2017/02/cumorah-decision-tree-for-book-of.html

I'm perfectly fine with whatever conclusions people reach after going through the analysis.

But the prevailing approach among Mesoamerican activists is to suppress information and prevent people from being able to make fully informed choices. This is why BYU Studies, the Interpreter, Book of Mormon Central, BMAF, FairMormon and the rest of the citation cartel will never give readers access to a fair comparison of the different theories. 

I strongly disagree with the approach of the citation cartel precisely because it leads to contention.

Am I being contentious when I point this out? Some apparently think so. But in my view, it's the opposite of contention to encourage full disclosure and fully informed choices.

In the interest of full disclosure, I also posted a chart of relevant facts with which people can agree or disagree. It's here:
http://bookofmormonconsensus.blogspot.com/2016/08/agree-agree-to-disagree-by-topic.html

So far as I know, it remains the most comprehensive and fair collection of relevant facts. If anyone knows of a better one, let me know.
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For too long, LDS scholars and educators who promote the Mesoamerican setting have suppressed Letter VII and its context. They don't want people to even know about it. Then, when people do find out about Letter VII, these advocates don't want people to believe it.

I've discussed their reasoning here:
http://www.lettervii.com/2017/01/why-some-people-reject-letter-vii.html

If people choose to reject Letter VII, that's fine with me. At least, once they've read it, they are making informed decisions.
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For me, the question of Book of Mormon geography boils down to one central question:

Is Cumorah in New York, as Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught?

1. If it is, then we can discuss where the rest of the events took place, using the New York Cumorah as a pin in the map. This can range from New York state to the entire western hemisphere.

2. If it is not (if Cumorah is not in New York) then IMO it doesn't really matter where it is. Once you accept the premise of the two-Cumorahs theory--i.e., that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who deceived the Church--does it really make a difference what you believe about what they said?

As I've said all along, if people want to reject Letter VII, that's fine with me. But let's not prevent people from even knowing about Letter VII. 
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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Simplification, again

I've long thought that reaching a consensus about a few basic concepts would be much easier than forming a consensus on a lot of details. The more complicated and detailed a project is, the more room there is for differences of opinion.

This is why I like to simplify the issue..

One way is the binary decision about Cumorah; i.e., is there only one Cumorah in NY, or is the "real" Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) located somewhere else?

That's a simple question.

And it has a simple answer, which this modified cartoon explains:


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Another simplification is distinguishing between 2D and 3D debates.

The never-ending debates about interpreting the text (where is the narrow neck of land, where is the snow, etc.) are 2D (two-dimensional) because they are purely surface issues that cannot be resolved from the text itself. That's why there are dozens (or hundreds) of proposed maps.

The 3D (three-dimensional) debate is whether we can trust Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as reliable, credible people when they wrote Letter VII.

As the cartoon illustrates, it's a simple question.

1. If Letter VII is correct, the Mesoamerican setting doesn't work and is wrong.

2. If Letter VII is wrong, then Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church (until LDS intellectuals figured out that Cumorah was actually somewhere in southern Mexico).

I think it should be easy to reach a consensus on this point, at least. In fact, I think most LDS who know about Letter VII and read it find it persuasive. The only exceptions are those who have a stake in the Mesoamerican theory, and therefore have a level of cognitive dissonance that is so high, Letter VII and its historical context is not sufficient to persuade them.

Maybe what we're really seeing now is two separate sets of consensus being formed.

1. Everyday LDS are reaching a consensus that Letter VII is accurate, with all that entails.

2. Some intellectual LDS are sticking with their consensus that Letter VII is false, with all that entails.

The split between the two is becoming more stark all the time.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Check your biases!

One obstacle to consensus about any issue is confirmation bias. People see what they want to see. As one scholar put it, Mesoamerican proponents "can't unsee" Mesoamerica when they read the Book of Mormon.

Advocates of every alternative generally feel the same way. Including those who don't accept the Book of Mormon.

For many years, I, too, could not "unsee" Mesoamerica in the text. But that changed once I learned about a few critical facts and re-examined the text from another perspective.

Critics could say my biases changed, and all I'm doing is confirming my new biases.

Fair enough.

Let's lay out our biases and let others see which biases they most closely identify with.

Here are the respective biases as I understand them, based on writings, speeches, presentations and conversations. If I'm wrong about any of these, please let me know. Notice that the Meso bias is basically the same as the anti/former LDS bias, at least with respect to these issues.

Put a checkmark next to the bias that is closest to yours.
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Letter VII (which unequivocally declares that the New York Cumorah is the scene of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites):

__ My bias: Oliver Cowdery was credible and reliable because of his personal experience, as well as for the many reasons I've explained. I also think Joseph Smith helped him write the letters, including Letter VII, and subsequently endorsed them fully on multiple occasions.

__ Meso bias: Oliver Cowdery was not credible or reliable and he was an ignorant speculator who misled the Church. Joseph Smith passively accepted a false tradition about the New York Cumorah.

__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Oliver Cowdery was not credible or reliable and he was an ignorant speculator who misled the Church. Joseph Smith passively accepted a false tradition about the New York Cumorah.
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The Golden Plates

__ My bias: Joseph translated all the plates (except the unsealed portion) in Harmony, returned them to a heavenly messenger who took them back to Cumorah (David Whitmer account) and got the plates of Nephi from the repository, which he then took to Fayette and gave to Joseph, which is why Joseph translated those plates in Fayette.

__ Meso bias: David Whitmer was not credible or reliable so he made up or misremembered the experience with the messenger going to Cumorah. Although they are not mentioned in the Title Page, the plates of Nephi were always in the set of plates Joseph originally got from Moroni. Witnesses described the plates differently because they were confused or just wrong.

__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Basically the same as the Meso bias, except neither Joseph nor any of the witnesses were credible or reliable because there were no plates to begin with.
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The repository in Cumorah

__ My bias: Brigham Young and others accurately reported what Oliver and others said about entering the records repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York. David Whitmer accurately explained that the plates were no longer in Cumorah but were not far from there.

__ Meso bias: Brigham Young and others may have accurately reported what Oliver and others said about entering the records repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York, but it was merely a vision of a hill in Mexico, which these men shared multiple times. David Whitmer was unreliable and not credible when he explained that the plates were no longer in Cumorah but were not far from there.

__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Basically the same as the Meso bias, except neither Joseph nor any of the witnesses were credible or reliable because there were no plates to begin with, and no repository except, maybe, a "visionary" one.
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Statements about Central America

__ My bias: Orson Pratt, Benjamin Winchester, WW. Phelps, William Smith, and others invoked the discovery of ancient ruins in Central America as evidence of the Book of Mormon to support their zealous missionary efforts. In addition, anonymous articles appeared in the Times and Seasons during 1842, when Joseph was the nominal editor. Joseph had nothing to do with these articles. Joseph never made a single direct link between the Book of Mormon and Central America, and actually made specific statements repudiating that theory. Alleged correspondences between the Book of Mormon and Central America are illusory because they are characteristics of most ancient societies. Joseph's statements about North America fit the text and relevant anthropology, archaeology, geology, and geography.

__ Meso bias: Orson Pratt, Benjamin Winchester, WW. Phelps, William Smith, and others invoked the discovery of ancient ruins in Central America as evidence of the Book of Mormon to support their zealous missionary efforts. In addition, anonymous articles appeared in the Times and Seasons during 1842, when Joseph was the actual editor. Joseph actually wrote these articles, or at least edited and approved of them, because he didn't know where the Book of Mormon took place and he expected scholarship to answer the question. Modern LDS scholars and educators know more about the Book of Mormon than Joseph did. Joseph's statements about the North American setting are ambiguous and reflect his confusion and adoption of an early false tradition. Alleged correspondences between the Book of Mormon and Central America are reliable, especially when we realize that Joseph Smith used the wrong terms to translate the plates and thereby missed the Central American connections. The Mesoamerican models fit the text and relevant anthropology, archaeology, geology, and geography.

__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Basically the same as the Meso bias, except modern LDS scholars and educators can't point to any evidence directly connecting the Book of Mormon text to Central America or anywhere else.
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Statements by Joseph's successors

Facts: Every one of Joseph's contemporaries expressed or accepted the New York setting for the Hill Cumorah. Orson Pratt's 1879 footnotes in the official edition of the Book of Mormon specified, unequivocally, that the Hill Cumorah was in New York, while he acknowledged his identification of other sites was speculative, or "believed to be." Beyond Joseph's contemporaries, Joseph Fielding Smith, Marion G. Romney, Mark E. Peterson and others reaffirmed the New York Cumorah, including in General Conference addresses, while no General Authority has ever contradicted the New York Cumorah in General Conference.

__ My bias: Every one of these prophets and apostles was correct about Cumorah.

__ Meso bias: Every one of these prophets and apostles was speculating and was wrong.

__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Basically the same as the Meso bias, except the prophets and apostles were not only speculating and were wrong about Cumorah, but about everything else as well.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Reasons were never part of Mesomania

When people claim reason A for a belief, but then change to reason B when reason A collapses for some reason, you know that reasons are not the explanation for the belief. Instead, the belief is based on identity and wishes.

When it comes to Mesomania, the original rationale (reason A) was the belief that Joseph Smith claimed the Book of Mormon took place in Central America. This belief is based on anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons, long attributed to Joseph Smith.

Because those articles contradict things Joseph actually said and wrote and approved (i.e., Letter VII, Wentworth letter, letter to Emma, Zelph revelation, D&C 28, 30, 32, 128, etc.), Mesomania scholars have sought to link Joseph to the anonymous articles through "stylometry." That effort failed because the scholars refused to share their data, assumptions, and software so their process could be replicated and their conclusions validated or rejected.

As part of reason A, scholars also cited claims made by other early LDS authors, including Benjamin Winchester, Orson Pratt, W.W. Phelps, and, arguably, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff. Of course, none of these men were involved with the Book of Mormon translation. None visited the records repository in the Hill Cumorah or met with the angels and divine messengers that Oliver and Joseph knew. Nevertheless, the Mesomania scholars accepted these authors while rejecting what Joseph and Oliver said in Letter VII.

Now that Letter VII has become more prominent, they still say Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the New York Cumorah, but that argument, too, is failing. Once Church members read Letter VII and learn how often it was reprinted and cited, they tend to accept it and reject the two-Cumorahs theory upon which Mesomania scholars and educators rely.

Now that reason A is essentially gone, Mesomania scholars and educators are left only with reason B. I think they realize reason B is illusory, if not complete nonsense, but let's set that aside for a moment.

Reason B is the notion that the text of the Book of Mormon describes the setting with enough precision that it can be mapped, first as an abstract map, and second as a real-world location. That notion is so absurd that it's difficult to believe anyone takes it seriously--the inherent ambiguity of the text is obvious to everyone except these Mesomania scholars and educators who are desperate to find an alternative to Reason A. One would think that the fact there are dozens, or hundreds, of maps based on the text should be proof that the pursuit of an internal map is a fool's errand.

Now we have an "abstract map" being taught at BYU, as if Letter VII never existed and as if the Book of Mormon is a novel like Lord of the Rings that took place in a fictitious, video-game-like territory.

My point here is that Reason B is no more valid than Reason A was. You'll find all kinds of explanations for how the Book of Mormon describes Baja California, or southern Mexico, or Yucatan, or Guatemala, or Panama, or Chile, or any number of places that share one feature in common: the creators of these geographies think Letter VII is false.

We wonder, why the obsession with Meosamerica? I addressed this in my book Mesomania.

The psychology boils down to this. When someone takes a position on an issue that is proven wrong, that person rarely will say, "Okay, I was wrong. The other side that I ridiculed and fought for years was correct."

Instead, that person will shift from the original rationale to something else. When the second rationale proves erroneous, the person will seek a third rationale, etc.

The problem, of course, is that Reasons A and B share the same error: they both reject what Joseph Smith taught. That's why they'll never work, and why they need to be rejected by as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

I ask all LDS scholars, educators, and members to reach a consensus that there is only one Hill Cumorah and it is in New York.