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.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Consensus is an information problem--and it can be solved

Scott Adams recently explained why he thinks most problems are information problems:

"I have a hypothesis that nearly all solvable problems in the modern world are information problems in disguise. For example, unemployment is largely (but not entirely) a problem of people not knowing where to find jobs, as opposed to no jobs existing. I could give you lots of other examples where information would solve a major problem, but today I want to focus on one: Stopping terrorism."

I agree with Adams, but I'm going to focus on a different topic.
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The question of Book of Mormon geography boils down to a simple threshold choice:

Do you believe Cumorah is in New York?
or
Do you believe Cumorah is not in New York?

Your answer depends on your opinion about Letter VII:

Do you believe Letter VII is true? 
(Then you believe Oliver and Joseph told the truth when they said Cumorah is in New York.)
or
Do you believe Letter VII is false? 
(Then you believe Oliver and Joseph were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.)
_________________

Obviously, these straightforward questions make a lot of people uncomfortable (mainly those who advocate and teach the Mesoamerican and other two-Cumorahs theories). The way the Mesomania scholars and educators deal with these question is by avoidance.

They simply suppress Letter VII.

That's why you can't find it referenced in any of their materials, or even in the Ensign.

Now that thousands of LDS people have read Letter VII for the first time (and more and more are discovering it every day), the Mesomania scholars and educators have embarked on an effort to cast doubt on Letter VII. (I discussed their efforts in this post.) They are doubling down on their long-held, but mostly concealed, view that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.

But most members of the Church don't know it.

At BYU at least, they are trying to avoid the question by using an "abstract map," but this is merely another euphemism for rejecting Letter VII.

I'm optimistic that information can solve the problem.
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Let's say you're a parent and you're trusting LDS scholars and educators at any of the BYU campuses or in CES (seminary and institute).

But you're also wary of the two-Cumorahs theory because you know, as Joseph Fielding Smith warned, that this theory causes members to become confused and disturbed in their faith.

So you want to know if the people teaching your children accept or reject Letter VII and the New York Cumorah.

But you can't get the information, so you're running blind.

You know that anyone who believes, promotes, or teaches the Mesoamerican theory rejects Letter VII and all that entails, but you can't know ahead of time what your students' teachers think, and by the time your kids are enrolled, it's too late to find out.

The solution, in my view, is full disclosure.

I'd like to see every BYU and CES instructor and scholar clearly state whether he/she accepts or rejects Letter VII. 

(For that matter, I'd like to see every Sunday School teacher, youth leader/teacher, and even Primary teacher take a stand, because they are doing it implicitly anyway when they show Mesoamerican artwork. It would be interesting to have every missionary take a stand, too.)

I realize this sounds like a litmus test or a catechism, but that's not the intent. It's not passing judgment. As I've always said, I'm fine with people believing whatever they want, just so long as it's an informed choice.

And the way things have been for the last few decades has not given people informed choices.

Even today, the citation cartel (BYU Studies, Interpreter, Maxwell Institute, FairMormon, Meridian Magazine, Book of Mormon Central, BMAF, etc.) promote solely the Mesoamerican theory that enshrines the two-Cumorahs theory and rejects Letter VII.

Despite the efforts of the citation cartel, not everyone who teaches at BYU or CES rejects Letter VII and the New York Cumorah. But parents and students deserve to know what faculty members believe on this topic.

Because full disclosure is unlikely, I recommend that parents and students ask faculty, up front, whether they accept or reject Letter VII.

It's not a minor question. One's opinion on Letter VII affects what one teaches about Church history, the Book of Mormon, and the reliability of the Three Witness and Joseph Smith himself.
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You probably already see what impact full disclosure would have. Armed with the information about an instructor's belief about Letter VII, few parents would send their kids to be taught by people who think Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the New York Cumorah.

In short time, the advocates of the Mesoamerican theory would have no students.

The problem would resolve itself and we'd reach consensus.

Actually, I think this may be the only way to reach consensus on Book of Mormon geography.
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Some people (mainly Mesomania scholars and educators) think I'm making too big a deal about Letter VII. But when we consider that Joseph Smith not only helped write it, but had it copied into his personal history and directed its republication at least twice, it is really a uniquely important document.

Apart from the canonized revelations, there is no material that Joseph made sure every member of the Church knew about other than Oliver Cowdery's historical letters, including Letter VII. Letter VII was not an obscure oddity in Church history, the way Mesomania scholars and educators seek to portray it. Letter VII was a basic foundation for understanding Church history and the Book of Mormon, and it should be as familiar to LDS today as it was during Joseph's lifetime.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Mesomania and the Magic World View (Magical Meso Tour edition)

A major impediment to reaching a consensus about the Book of Mormon is the magical world view employed by those who advocate a Mesoamerican setting.

I just returned from the Mormon History Association's annual conference which was held in St. Louis. One of the speakers was D. Michael Quinn, who wrote the book Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. I've found the book very helpful in some respects and I've cited it, but it's also problematic because of the unstated assumptions upon which the basic thesis relies.

But that's not my topic today.

Instead, I'm going to discuss how the Mesoamerican theory relies on its own Magic World View. (I think of the search for a Mexican Cumorah as a Magical Mystery Tour, or, more precisely, the Magical Mesoamerican Tour.)

I'm not being facetious here, at least not entirely.

Here's why.

To the extent I'm getting pushback on the two-sets of plates scenario, it's from people who think the Lord intervened supernaturally, which is a euphemism for magically. For example, on Sunday I did a fireside in Nauvoo. One of the questions involved the plates. It was a great question. The individual opined that the Lord could have done anything he wanted with the plates; e.g., taken them to heaven, transported them anywhere, etc.

I replied that metaphysics doesn't seem to have been in play when Mormon and Moroni created the abridgment and Moroni buried the plates in the stone box before he died. 

The magic world view can't explain why Mormon and Moroni went to such trouble. The Lord could have created the plates out of thin air and put the stone box near where Joseph lived anywhere. No need to nudge the family to Palmyra, etc.

It's axiomatic that the Lord could do whatever he wanted, in accordance with natural laws. But it's also axiomatic that the Lord doesn't intervene except when absolutely necessary, and even then obliquely. Any theory that relies on golden plates being taken to heaven or magically transported long distances needs to address the work and effort that Mormon and Moroni expended on compiling and preserving the plates.
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I think (hope) there's a consensus among all LDS that Joseph Smith obtained a set of plates from a box made by a mortal Moroni out of stone and cement.

Are we good with that?

If we read the accounts, the stone box contained a set of metal plates, a breastplate, and a set of spectacles or interpreters, all of which were resting on elevated stones.

If someone disagrees with that, please let me know by email ASAP. [I realize that the North Visitors Center depicts the sword of Laban and the Liahona in connection with the stone box, but that's because the historians who consulted on the project conflated separate accounts and cannot explain those artifacts except by magical thinking about the stone box, as I'll explain.]

In December 1827, Joseph took the plates (what he later called the "original Book of Mormon") to Harmony, PA. There, he translated the book of Lehi with Martin Harris and probably Emma and her brother.

Are we good so far?

In June 1828, Harris lost the 116 pages of Lehi. Joseph didn't resume translating until winter 1829, mainly with Oliver Cowdery as scribe. They translated all of the plates (except the sealed portion) by the end of May, 1829, because Joseph translated the title page, which was the last leaf of the collection of plates, and had it printed and sent to the federal court in New York as part of his copyright application so it arrived by June 11.

Here's where some of the magical thinking has crept into the traditional narrative.

Many scholars have assumed that the original plates of Nephi were somehow included in the record Joseph got from Moroni. They know the title page doesn't mention them. They know Joseph translated the title page before he translated the plates of Nephi. And they know the title page was the last leaf of the collection of plates.

But they surmise, based purely on speculation, that he somehow skipped over the plates of Nephi to translate the title page first.

[I should point out that many LDS scholars and educators, including historians, currently think Joseph didn't even use the plates when he translated. They claim they were under a cloth the whole time, as the latest Church history movies depict. So far, none of them have explained how Joseph could say the title page was a literal translation of the last leaf of the plates. For these scholars, the entire translation was part of the magic world view. I think Joseph actually used the plates during the translation. It required him to study the characters and learn what they meant, but he also had to rely on the seer stones (the Nephite interpreters as well as his own) to confirm the sequence of words he formulated. Bottom line, I don't think the plates were merely window dressing.]

Next, we know that before leaving Harmony, Joseph gave the plates to a divine messenger. He, David and Oliver met a messenger along the road to Fayette. The messenger had the plates and said he was going to Cumorah. 

If you have a Mesomania magic world view, you think David was lying or confused when he related this story multiple times. And yet, this was one of the Three Witnesses who had a reputation for honesty and accuracy (which is why he was chosen in the first place). Plus, there is reason to believe he related that story as early as 1832 (and probably sooner). 

If you take David at his word, then the messenger was taking the Harmony plates to Cumorah. 

Why?

The obvious answer is to return them to the repository of records (Mormon 6:6). I can't think of another reason, and I don't know anyone who has. Instead, the Meso magic world view simply denies the event occurred because it contradicts the world view of Mesomania.

And this is how it is depicted in the new Church film; i.e., it's not depicted at all.

It think you get the point now. We know Joseph obtained the plates of Nephi (colloquially called the "small plates of Nephi") when he was in Fayette. the question is how and when. I think the messenger brought them over from Cumorah. I'm interested in any alternative explanations that don't involve the magical thinking that David was a liar/deceiver.

I'll skip over other details to get to the main point about the repository in Cumorah. 

The Meso magic world view requires you to believe that there was no repository in the New York hill Cumorah. You have to believe either that (i) Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball were also lying, or (ii) that it was a magic chamber that Joseph and Oliver visited at least three times even though it was actually in Mexico.
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There's plenty more to discuss, but for now, I hope you get the idea.

Letter VII and the two sets of plates are pragmatic, real-world explanations for the events in Church history that cannot be reconciled with the Meso and other non-New York Cumorah theories. The New York setting for Cumorah is uniquely capable of explaining these events without resorting to a magic world view.

IOW, Mesoamerica requires acceptance of the Magical Meso Tour, searching for Cumorah in Mexico, as well as the Mesomania magic world view.

 



Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Unless it is exactly like themselves

On October 22, 1829, Joseph Smith wrote a letter to Oliver Cowdery from Harmony, Pa.

"Respected Sir I would in form you that I arrived at home on sunday morning the 4th after having a prosperous Journey, and found all well the people are all friendly to <us> except a few who are in opposition to ev[e]ry thing unless it is some thing that is exactly like themselves." (original spelling)

Over the last couple of years as I've been involved with questions about the Book of Mormon historicity and geography, as well as Church history, I've noticed two main themes.

The historians generally want to get the history right. They don't have an agenda other than accuracy. Naturally, many of them were taught a particular point of view about Church history, and these traditions endure, as I've shown in the Joseph Smith Papers, the Church history museum, and other places. But for the most part, historians are dedicated to accuracy. They embrace all evidence and seek to reconcile it all, as much as possible.

That's definitely not what I've experienced with the Mesoamerican proponents.

This group, typified by the "Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum" which owns Book of Mormon Central, by their own admission, has the goal "to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex." They are not just uninterested in evidence that contradicts their goal; they actively oppose it.

As Joseph expressed it, they "are in opposition to everything unless it is some thing that is exactly like themselves."

Consequently, the pursuit of consensus about Church history has a high likelihood of success. People dedicated to accuracy and consideration of all relevant material should be able to reach a consensus about the facts, at a minimum, and hopefully about the most reasonable inferences as well.

Obviously, there are critics of the Church who claim to know all the facts and yet infer different motivations, thereby reaching different conclusions, but to the extent these inferences are spelled out, people can make informed choices. In my experience, few of the critics have all the facts. They find enough to support their doubts and stop seeking. I'd be interested in any critics who know all the facts about the two sets of plates and reach different conclusions, for example.

With respect to Book of Mormon geography, however, we have the most prominent group of LDS scholars and educators whose main goal is "to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex." (This goal appears to be shared by Mesomania Meridian Magazine, Mesomania BYU Studies, The Mesomania Mormon Interpreter, the Mesomania Maxwell Institute, and other such publications.)

Of course, one could say that Moroni's America is dedicated to "increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as a history of North America," but I don't think the two situations are parallel.

First, I accepted the Mesoamerican material for decades before new information helped change my mind. A person who has never changed his/her mind ought to wonder why other once like-minded people have.

Second, I did not start out with the goal of presenting a "North American" setting. I started with the goal of understanding what Joseph and Oliver taught, and then seeing if the text described what they claimed. That goal could have led me to a setting of New York state or all of the Western Hemisphere, and anything in between. In fact, it could have led to a Mesoamerican setting.

But it didn't.

This shows the fundamental difference between my approach and that of the Mesoamerica proponents. I start with what Joseph and Oliver said and see if the text can be interpreted to support their claims. Then I look at anthropology, geography, archaeology, geology, etc. Everything seems to fit quite nicely.

The Mesoamerican approach (as well as the Baja, Chile, Peru, Malaysia, and other non-New York Cumorah approaches) start with interpreting the text and then seeking a place where it fits. In my view, this is not just unwise. It is nonsensical. The text is vague enough to support any number of possible settings. Perhaps an infinite number, but surely a number in excess of 100.

That's why the Lord told us where Cumorah was.

This all boils down to the reality that until members of the Church reach a consensus on Cumorah, we will never reach a consensus on the rest of the Book of Mormon geography.

Conclusion: Let's reach a consensus on Church history, which is doable.

Then let's reach a consensus about Cumorah, which should be doable.

Then, let's all work together to see how the New York Cumorah fits.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Serious obstacle to consensus-Translations of the Book of Mormon obscure meaning

One obstacle to consensus is changing the text of the Book of Mormon itself. 

I've referred to the "Sorenson" translation before, when Brother Sorenson and like-minded people use terms that aren't actually in the text. The best known example is replacing the phrase "head of Sidon" with "headwaters of Sidon." Another is the phrase, "narrow strip of mountainous wilderness." Mountainous does not appear in the text.

When I recently translated the pocket edition of Moroni's America into French, I discovered something I hadn't noticed before.

The translation of the Book of Mormon into French uses the Sorenson translation.

Wherever the text uses a variation of the phrase "head of the river Sidon," the translation first converts the English into "source of the river Sidon" and then translates it that way.

Look at Alma 22:27. "the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west."

In French: "les régions frontières du désert qui était au nord près du pays de Zarahemla, à travers les régions frontières de Manti, près de la source du fleuve Sidon, allant de l’est vers l’ouest."

This is not a literal translation!

Instead, it's an interpretation.

The literal translation of the French back into English would be: near the source of the river Sidon.

Of course, that's the Sorenson translation, meaning, that's the translation that Mesoamerican advocates wish Joseph Smith had used, and the one they prefer. They think Joseph should have written "headwaters" instead of "head" of Sidon.

I've discussed this Sidon several times on this blog. You can find the posts by searching for "head of Sidon." Here is one example:

http://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2015/12/head-of-sidon-still.html

The Mesoamerican activists need the Sidon river to flow northward because the only two rivers in Mesoamerica that they can possibly identify as Sidon both flow northward. Therefore, they reason, "head of Sidon" means "headwaters of Sidon," which means "source of Sidon."

The Mesoamerican activists have successfully educated people throughout the Church about the Sorenson translation (i.e., headwaters of Sidon), and the translator used Sorenson's translation, not Joseph Smith's, when he/she translated the Book of Mormon into French.

A literal translation into French would be: À la tête de la rivière Sidon.

The same thing has been done in the translations into other languages.

I'm sure the translators think "head of the river" is too vague to translate, so they put it in words that convey a specific meaning; i.e., they changed the text to read the "source of the river." 

Joseph knew the word source. He used it here, in 2 Nephi 25:26: "And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins."

Had the Nephite text referred to the source of the river Sidon, Joseph could have used that word. I think he would have used that word. He would have dictated "source of Sidon."

Instead, he chose the phrase "head of Sidon."

The Mesoamerican activists think Joseph translated this incorrectly. They think he should have dictated "headwaters" or "source." They can't change the original text (fortunately), but they can change the foreign language texts by influencing the translators.

Consequently, unless you read English, you will think Joseph translated the plates using the term "source" in connection with the River Sidon. 

But he did no such thing.
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A related problem is the small neck of land, the narrow neck of land, the narrow neck, the narrow pass, and the narrow passage. In English, each of these is a distinct term. But in French, they are conflated into one term, the way the Sorenson translation does.

Alma 50:34 - there they did head them, by the narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east.

French - là ils les devancèrent, près du passage étroit qui menait près de la mer jusque dans le pays situé du côté du nord, oui, près de la mer, à l’ouest et à l’est.

Mormon 2:29 - And the Lamanites did give unto us the land northward, yea, even to the narrow passage which led into the land southward. 

French - Et les Lamanites nous donnèrent le pays situé du côté du nord, oui, jusqu’au passage étroit qui menait au pays situé du côté du sud.

Notice how in French, both are translated as passages, even though the term passe is the French translation of the English pass

Alma 63:5 - launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward.

French - et le lança dans la mer de l’ouest, près de la langue étroite qui menait au pays situé du côté du nord.

Ether 10:20 - And they built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land.

French - Et ils construisirent une grande ville près de la langue étroite de terre, près de l’endroit où la mer divise le pays.

Both of these are translated as a "narrow tongue," not as a "narrow neck."

Alma 22:32 - the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward.

French - le pays de Néphi et le pays de Zarahemla étaient presque entourés d’eau, une étroite bande de terre existant entre le pays situé du côté du nord et le pays situé du côté du sud.

Notice here that the French does not say a "small" neck of land, but a "narrow strip of earth." This seems to refer back to verse 27, another narrow strip, but it also links it to the previous narrow places.

Alma 22:27 - by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, 

French - par une étroite bande de désert, qui allait de la mer de l’est jusqu’à la mer de l’ouest,

The French translation uses "désert" for wilderness (which means desert in English) instead of a more accurate translation, "région sauvage."