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.