Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Why "correspondences" don't work

One way to reach consensus is to boil down arguments to their essence and test them.

If you read arguments in favor of the Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon, you see they basically fall into one of three categories:

1. Analogies.

2. Appeal to Experts.

3. Word thinking.

None of these are persuasive to most people who have any awareness of the North American setting for Book of Mormon geography. That's why the LDS scholars and educators who promote the Mesoamerican theory suppress information about the North American setting as much as they can, and fight against it when they have to address it.

The one thing they will never do is give their readers and students a fair and open side-by-side comparison.

Here's why their arguments fail.

1. Analogies, such as identifying "correspondences" between Mayan and Nephite culture, are imperfect because they focus on one feature while overlooking--or hiding--others. The issue becomes the quality of the analogy instead of the merits of the underlying substance of the Mesoamerican theory and the two-Cumorahs idea it is based on.

2. Appeal to experts is not persuasive when there is at least one expert who disagrees, and in this case, every non-LDS expert disagrees with the LDS Mesoamerican advocates regarding the correspondences to the Book of Mormon. Appealing to experts always raises the question of who is an expert and who gets to decide what experts are credible in the first place. In this case, a handful of LDS Mesoamerican scholars provide information and analysis that a much larger group of LDS scholars and educators rely upon to promote the Mesoamerican theory, but the latter group are not experts in Mesoamerica. This leaves the LDS Mesoamerican scholars as a tiny minority of all Mesoamerican scholars in seeing the Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican document. At the same time, other LDS scholars find the North American setting to be more in harmony with the textual descriptions as well as relevant archaeology, anthropology, geology, and geography.

In the past, many Mesoamerican promoters relied on Church history experts who cited the anonymous 1842 Times and Seasons articles, but that argument has faded in the light of new understanding of Church history. Actually, the Church history argument has turned sharply against the Mesoamerican theory, at least to the extent it relies on the two-Cumorahs claim, now that Letter VII has been more widely acknowledged.

In the LDS context, the appeal to experts is even less persuasive than normal because by definition, most LDS defer to the prophets and apostles as the experts regarding Church doctrine, including Book of Mormon issues. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery are by far the most authoritative sources on the Book of Mormon because of their roles in the translation itself, their interaction with numerous heavenly messengers, and their status as Apostles and President and Assistant President of the Church. The two-Cumorahs theory is a repudiation of Joseph and Oliver, and therefore most LDS people apply a heavy burden of proof on LDS scholars to overturn what Joseph and Oliver taught.

3. Word thinking. Some LDS scholars have sought to support the Mesoamerican theory by adjusting the definition of terms. A classic example is Joseph Smith's identification of the remnant of Lehi's people as "the Indians that now inhabit this country." Joseph was writing to Mr. Wentworth, who, like Joseph, was a resident of Illinois. The two men lived about 200 miles apart. Both lived in the United States.

But to justify their Mesoamerican setting, LDS scholars have interpreted Joseph's use of the word "country" to mean the entire hemisphere, or at least an area that encompasses Mesoamerica, which was 1,700 miles away and in a different country.

The LDS scholars and educators also use word thinking to say Joseph mistranslated the plates by dictating horses when he should have dictated tapirs, towers when he should have dictated pyramids, etc. They also engage in work thinking with their circular arguments about volcanoes and geographical features.

This type of word thinking is unpersuasive, especially when combined with the other two categories.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Cumorah deniers and relative directions in the Book of Mormon

This is just a brief note on a common misunderstanding of directions in the Book of Mormon.

People have been trying to come up with an "abstract map" of the Book of Mormon for decades. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of variations. To avoid the Cumorah "problem" they actually use an "abstract map" at BYU right now to teach students in Book of Mormon classes (Religion 121 and 122).

As long as you reject what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught about the Hill Cumorah in New York, you really have no alternative to using an abstract map. You're left without a connection between the current world and the world of the Book of Mormon.

You've got no pin in the map.

You could put the Book of Mormon just about anywhere in the world.

Imagine if Tolkien had not provided a map of Middle Earth and people were sitting around trying to figure out the geography from the text. That's what you've got with these Cumorah deniers, trying to come up with an abstract map. 

No two people can possibly come up with the same abstract Book of Mormon map because the directions are so vague. Does it make an abstract map any more accurate or useful just because two or more people have agreed on a particular interpretation? I think not.

In my view, the narrative in the Book of Mormon makes sense once you realize the authors were 1) using adjectives, not proper nouns, for many of the geography terms and 2) writing from multiple frames of reference.

I've explained all of that in Moroni's America but I want to offer an example from the Bible. Notice how the frame of reference changes the meaning of the verse.

Genesis 13:1, KJV, reads: "And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south."

Same verse in the New Living Translation (NLT): "So Abram left Egypt and traveled north into the Negev, along with his wife and Lot and all that they owned."

In KJV, Abram went "into the south."

In NLT, Abraham "traveled north."

And yet, both translations are saying the same thing. How?

KJV uses "the south" to describe the exact same place that NLT designates as "the Negev." This area was not south of Egypt, where Abraham started off; it was south of Jerusalem, where the author/compiler was presumably writing.

IOW, Abraham was traveling northeast out of Egypt to go into the south. It makes no sense unless you know the author's frame of reference was Jerusalem.

I've asked Book of Mormon scholars what kind of map they would come up with using the Bible text without any reference to known maps and locations. So far as I know, none have ever tried it. 

If you took the KJV and tried to develop an abstract map, you'd have idiosyncrasies such as the one in Gen. 13:1 that you could never reconcile from the text alone. You'd be comparing different translations, or maybe the Hebrew, to sort through the problems. 

With the Book of Mormon, we don't have that luxury. We have one text, and it's in English. 

I think there's a reason why Letter VII was written and widely distributed and reprinted. It's a fool's errand to develop a map of the Book of Mormon without starting with Cumorah in New York. If everyone started there, we'd be a lot closer to reaching consensus on the rest of the geography. 

Plus, we wouldn't have to repudiate what Joseph and Oliver said in the first place.

Here are some explanations of Genesis 13:1 from scholars who aren't trying to justify their own abstract maps of the scriptures.

Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

1. went up out of Egypt] Cf. Genesis 12:10, “went down into Egypt.” Egypt is always regarded as the low-lying country; and Palestine as the high ground.

Lot with him] Lot was not mentioned in the previous chapter, but it is here implied that Lot had been with Abram in Egypt.

into the South] i.e. into the Negeb: see note on Genesis 12:9. This is a good illustration of the meaning of Negeb. Abram’s journey from Egypt into the Negeb was by a route leading N.E. The English reader, not understanding the technical meaning of “the South,” might suppose that Abram’s journey from Egypt into “the South” would have led in the direction of the Soudan.

Benson Commentary

Genesis 13:1. Into the south — That is, the southern part of Canaan, from whence he had come, Genesis 12:9, which, however, was north-east of Egypt. The Scriptures being written principally for the Jews, its language, respecting the situation of places, is accommodated to their manner of speaking.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Towers and Pyramids

In seeking consensus about Book of Mormon geography, I've pointed out that the text never mentions pyramids, jungles, Mayans, tapirs, etc. No one reading the text would think of Central America on the basis of the words alone.

To "see" Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon, you have to be trained to see it. You have to have Mesomania. You have to have Arnold Friberg paintings inserted into the missionary and foreign-language editions, along with the painting of Christ visiting the Nephites among ruined Mayan temples with Chichen Itza in the background.

Let's look at pyramids for a moment.

Mesomania teaches that the Book of Mormon does refer to pyramids. Joseph just used the wrong word when he translated the plates. He dictated "tower" instead of "pyramid."

Or maybe Oliver Cowdery wrote down the wrong word and Joseph didn't notice?

IOW, when you read with Mesomania lenses, substitute the word "pyramid" every time you see "tower" and you'll find your Mesoamerican setting with no problems. Now you're reading the correct translation.

Here's one of my favorite examples:

You've got the classic Mesomania logo in the upper left corner, along with an article about all the pyramids in the Book of Mormon. As a reminder, BMAF is a club for people who want to prove the Mesoamerican setting, which is why it's a division of Book of Mormon Central. If you're looking for an organization dedicated to finding the truth about the Book of Mormon, including alternatives to Mesoamerica, BMAF and Book of Mormon Central aren't for you.

If you have time, you should go read this article. It's awesome.

Basically, the argument is that the "great tower" referenced three times in the Book of Mormon must be the "city and tower" described in Genesis 11:3-4. In that passage, people made bricks because they had no stone. They used "slime" for mortar.

Now, notice the sleight-of-hand typical of most Mesoamerican articles:

Towers in Mesoamerica
Structures made of brick, stone, and slime (mortar) were built at such locations as Cholula and Xochitictl in the states of Puebla and Tlaxcala, Mexico. These structures are made of brick (adobes), stones, and mortar. It appears that anciently, the term “tower” referred to a large towering structure made of brick and/or stone.
I believe that the Book of Mormon term “tower” refers to similarly large structures made of brick and/or of stone—structures we currently refer to as pyramids.

In the Bible, the people made bricks because they didn't have stone. Hundreds if not thousands of years later in Mesoamerica, people built temples out of stone. There are a few instances of using kiln-fired bricks, such as the ones the author mentions and the Comalcalco site, but this dates to Late Classic (post-Book of Mormon times).

Now, ask yourself, can you think of a human civilization that doesn't use stone or bricks for construction? This is yet another of the illusory correspondences between what Mesoamerican activists see in the text (in this case, pyramids) and fairly ubiquitous elements of human societies everywhere.

But maybe you're thinking the Hopewell and Adena, who relied mainly on earthworks and timbers. If so, then you're heading in the right direction.

Because the Book of Mormon never once mentions the people using stones or bricks for buildings!

This should be too obvious to have to repeat, but not only does the Book of Mormon never mention pyramids, it doesn't even mention stone buildings!

The BMAF article nevertheless continues to claim that every mention of the word "tower" in the text actually should have been translated as "pyramid."

This is really fun. This Mesomania-inspired thinking has brought us images such as this:

Here we have Nephi building his own pyramid right in his garden, near the highway! It's a spectacular idea. Can't you envision Nephi hauling these massive stones to his garden, carving the steps, etc.? He must have been more buff than the Arnold Friberg version.

Here's another version of Nephi that's so ridiculous I wouldn't include it except to show how far some people take the Mesoamerican theory.

And, we have King Benjamin making his people build him a pyramid in about a day. The Nephites were the fastest stoneworkers in antiquity, no doubt.

I'm not kidding about this. There are several Mesoamerican advocates who actually claim the towers mentioned in connection with Nephi and King Benjamin were pyramids. They think this constitutes proof that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica.

To summarize:

If you have Mesomania, this constitutes proof of the Mesoamerican setting:

The Book of Mormon mentions towers.

Seriously, that's it. This is how they think. First, they say these "towers" must have been like the tower of Babel, even though the Book of Mormon references to that tower use the phrase "great tower." Second, they say the Book of Mormon people built with stone and brick, even though the text never says anything of the sort. Third, they say Nephi had a stone pyramid in his garden, that King Benjamin's people built him a one-use stone pyramid in about a day, that people built stone pyramids along their wooden walls as lookouts, etc.

Maybe my favorite is the claim that the Nephites were building pyramid towers near the temple pyramids. Notice in the BMAF logo that there is a temple on top of the pyramid. Every Mesomania organization uses a similar motive, including the Ancient America Foundation for which Book of Mormon Central is the front. But in Mosiah 11:12, King Noah "built a tower near the temple; yeah, a very high tower." So, if you've got Mesomania, the temple is already on top of a pyramid, but that one wasn't high enough, so Noah built an even bigger pyramid "near" the temple pyramid.

Not only did Mormon forget to mention that the temple was on top of a pyramid, but he forgot to explain how you're going to build an even bigger pyramid near the first one. And, of course, Mormon forgot to mention that the Nephites built any buildings with stone (or brick), let alone all these "tower of Babel" pyramids.

Maybe now you understand why it's so easy for the Mesoamerican scholars to "see" Mesomaerica whenever they read the text of the Book of Mormon. You just substitute a few words and voila, you've got Mayans instead of Nephites on every page.

Alternatively, we can look at the types of towers that make sense. Except these can't possibly be accurate because they fit the North American setting, and we know from LDS scholars that the North American setting is impossible (although some say it has a 2% chance of being correct). And we know North America is impossible because Cumorah cannot be in New York. And we know Cumorah cannot be in New York because it's too far from Mesoamerica.

That might look like circular reasoning to you, but to an LDS PhD or JD scholar, it's sound reasoning based on facts.

Here's an artist's depiction of a common sense tower:

Back in the day, when Mesomania hadn't gone completely wild and people were still sorting through different possibilities, there were actually some good articles on this question. Scholars made connections with actual Hebrews instead of claiming Nephi and King Benjamin used the construction techniques they learned from the tower of Babel.

For example, some noticed that Ezra "stood upon a pulpit of wood" when he read the law to the people. Nehemiah 8:4. This was the platform used during the Feast of Tabernacles, which has also been compared with King Benjamin's feast. In 2 Kings, the king stood on pillar-like platforms as described here.

You might wonder about the term "pulpit" in the KJV.

According to Strong's Concordance, here, the Hebrew word used in Nehemiah 8:4, migdal of miigdalah, is normally translated as "tower." It's the same term used in Geneses 11:4-5, but here in Nehemiah it is definitely made of wood.

On one hand, you have Mesoamerican proponents insisting that the term "tower" in the Book of Mormon actually means "stone pyramid" because the writers referred to the tower of Babel as a "great tower." You have Nephi building a stone pyramid in his garden and King Benjamin having his people build him temporary a stone pyramid so he can teach them the law.

On the other hand, you have North American proponents relating the term to the Biblical use of wooden towers to preach to the people, as found in Nehemiah 8.

What do you think?

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.