Friday, September 22, 2017

Book of Mormon Day - Facts lead to consensus

I think the best way for all LDS people, scholars as well as non-scholars, to reach a consensus is to agree on basic facts from Church history. To accomplish this, I propose a short reading assignment. On Book of Mormon day, I propose that everyone read Letters IV, VII, and VIII. The links are at the end of this post.
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It was 190 years ago today when Joseph Smith obtained the Harmony plates from Moroni's stone box in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

He had waited four years for this moment.

In 1823, Joseph had seen the plates, but he was not yet prepared to take them and begin the translation.

The night before, on September 21st, 1823, Moroni visited Joseph. Oliver Cowdery gave us the most detailed account of the visit. Joseph was praying after the rest of his family had fallen asleep.

Oliver wrote this in Letter IV:

"In this situation hours passed unnumbered-how many or how few I know not, neither is he able to inform me; but supposes it must have been eleven or twelve, and perhaps later, as the noise and bustle of the family, in retiring, had long since ceased.-

"While continuing in prayer for a manifestation in some way that his sins were forgiven; endeavoring to exercise faith in the scriptures, on a sudden a light like that of day, only of a purer and far more glorious appearance and brightness, burst into the room.-

"Indeed, to use his own description, the first sight was as though the house was filled with consuming and unquenchable fire....

"He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigines of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham. He represented them as once being an enlightened and intelligent people, possessing a cerrect [correct] knowledge of the gospel, and the plan of restoration and redemption. He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother's privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain, and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record."
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Notice that Moroni told Joseph the history was written and deposited not far from Joseph's home. That means Mormon and Moroni were not far from Joseph's home when they abridged the Nephite records.

This makes sense because they were abridging the Nephite records, which were stored in the depository in New York, first in the hill Shim, and later in the hill Cumorah.
__________________

If you ask the unbelievers at FairMormon, of course, Oliver was wrong about Cumorah. But since Oliver got his information directly from Joseph, as the above quotations demonstrate, then Joseph was wrong. Or maybe Joseph misheard what Moroni said? 

Is that what FairMormon wants us to believe?

Or maybe now FairMormon wants us to believe that Moroni was wrong?
___________________

FairMormon doesn't want members of the Church to know what Oliver and Joseph taught about Cumorah in New York because it contradicts their two-Cumorahs/Mesoamerican dogma. 

Fortunately, members of the Church now have access to the original documents. We can all read these historical letters for ourselves, right out of Joseph's own history.

On this Book of Mormon day, I hope everyone reads Letters IV, VII, and VIII.

Here are the links:





Monday, September 18, 2017

Experts won't change their minds, but will you?

When there's a difference of opinions in a group, reaching consensus requires that one, some or all members of a group change those opinions.

Reaching consensus is difficult because changing one's opinion is so difficult. It's one of the most greatest psychological challenges humans face. It seems especially difficult for people who consider themselves experts.

Facts are largely irrelevant because people don't base their opinions on facts in the first place. Instead, we form opinions for social and psychological reasons.
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I appeal to everyone interested in Book of Mormon geography to set aside the social and psychological factors and consider the long-term implications of whatever you believe.

I've called this the 3D or 3 dimensional approach because too much of the discussion has focused on two-dimensional semantics, thereby skirting the fundamental issue of whether or not we support and sustain what Joseph and Oliver so clearly taught.

I expect my appeal to be rejected by the main promoters of the Mesoamerican theory, the unbelieving experts at FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, and the rest, but I hope other members of the Church who have been influenced by these experts can reconsider their opinions openly and as objectively as possible.
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One of the most common questions people ask me is why the "BYU experts" won't look at the evidence. I frequently hear from readers that they've asked the experts questions, only to be rebuffed and dismissed. Our LDS scholars and educators, by and large, refuse to engage with the discussion about Cumorah for basic psychological reasons that are well known.

It's the same reason why they won't ever allow a straightforward comparison of their Mesoamerican ideology with what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah, let alone with what I call Moroni's America.

I could write an entire book about the psychological issues involved. In fact, I did. It's called Mesomania. But that was a preliminary analysis, a brief overview, at best. There is a lot more going on here.

In this post, I'll touch on the "illusion of explanatory depth" and then propose a solution.
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Here is an extract from an overview of some of the research in this area:

Sloman and Fernbach see this effect, which they call the “illusion of explanatory depth,” just about everywhere. People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. ... 

We’ve been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. 

[FWIW, I don't subscribe to this type of evolutionary psychology, but I'll save that discussion for another time.]

So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins.

One implication of the naturalness with which we divide cognitive labor,” they write, is that there’s “no sharp boundary between one person’s ideas and knowledge” and “those of other members” of the group.

If pressed about Cumorah, our LDS scholars and educators will explain (usually condescendingly) that the "real Cumorah" cannot be in New York because there are no volcanoes there and there is no evidence of millions of people living there, or of massive warfare on the hill. You will see this at FairMormon, for example.

This is a textbook case of the "illusion of explanatory depth." These explanations are based on false assumptions that have acquired an aura of "knowledge" because they were incorporated into the Encyclopedia of Mormonism and from there infiltrated Church media and curriculum. 

But as I've noted in hundreds of blog posts by now, the "explanation" is illusory.

There are no volcanoes in the Book of Mormon.

The text does not claim there were millions of people living around Cumorah.

And the final battles involved a few thousand people, not millions. Not even hundreds of thousands.

This is why our LDS experts and educators cannot engage on the facts. They think they have an explanation, but it is an illusion, borrowed from someone else, passed on from one generation to the next, mainly through BYU and CES.

The article continues:

As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration. 

[Note: I think the author of this article (but not the original studies) suffers from the very illusion of explanatory depth she writes about. The Trump Administration is forcing people across the spectrum to re-evaluate their opinions, and none of them like it, including this author, because they are realizing their opinions are not fact-based but are Groupthink that is driven by political agendas. This unintended irony doesn't detract from the article's main point about the psychology of changing opinions; instead, it's a great example of it.]

This is how a community of knowledge can become dangerous,” Sloman and Fernbach observe. 

In my opinion, the "community of knowledge" created by LDS scholars and educators who promote Mesoamerica has become dangerous to the faith of members of the Church, just as Joseph Fielding Smith said it would.
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The article continues:

Participants were asked to rate their positions depending on how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the proposals. Next, they were instructed to explain, in as much detail as they could, the impacts of implementing each one. Most people at this point ran into trouble. Asked once again to rate their views, they ratcheted down the intensity, so that they either agreed or disagreed less vehemently.

Sloman and Fernbach see in this result a little candle for a dark world. If we—or our friends or the pundits on CNN—spent less time pontificating and more trying to work through the implications of policy proposals, we’d realize how clueless we are and moderate our views. This, they write, “may be the only form of thinking that will shatter the illusion of explanatory depth and change people’s attitudes.”

This is where I think we would see a huge difference. If our LDS scholars and educators thought through the implications of their rejection of what Joseph and Oliver taught, I think we could shatter the illusion of explanatory depth and change people's opinions about Book of Mormon geography.
________________

Now, what is the solution?

Yesterday in Sunday School in the Manhattan Ward, we had an outstanding lesson about Church history. D&C 107 specifies that three quorums are "equal in authority" to one another: The Presidency of the Church (now called the First Presidency), which consists of 3 members; the Quorum of the 12; and the Seventy.

Verse 27 provides: "And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other—"

As the numbers increase in any group, it is more difficult to get a unanimous decision. The First Presidency can reach a unanimous decision faster than the Quorum of the Twelve, which can reach a unanimous decision faster than an entire Quorum of the Seventy. Not that speed is the priority, but it's a practical reality in a fast-changing world.

So how do these groups of strong-willed, smart, and experienced people reach a consensus?

The revelation continues:

"30 The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long-suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity;

"31 Because the promise is, if these things abound in them they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord."

I think everyone involved with Book of Mormon geography would reach a consensus at least about the New York Cumorah if we could somehow follow the directions the Lord gave us in D&C 107. But that cannot happen when people are already convinced, because of the "illusion of explanatory depth," that Joseph and Oliver were mistaken about Cumorah.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

25th anniversary of disaster


When we look around and see the lack of consensus about Book of Mormon geography, there are a few key inflection points that have put us on the course we're on today; i.e., rifts among LDS scholars and educators and confusion among members of the Church and investigators.

A major inflection point occurred in 1992, when one of the biggest disasters in Book of Mormon studies was published. That makes this year, 2017, the 25th anniversary.

For 25 years now, members of the Church--almost an entire generation--have been taught a fundamentally flawed concept about the Book of Mormon.

I'm referring, of course, to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (EOM) and its infamous article about Cumorah.

You can read it here. http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Cumorah

It contains this unbelievably self-serving and misleading paragraph (with my comments in red):

"This annual pageant has reinforced the common assumption that Moroni buried the plates of Mormon in the same hill where his father had buried the other plates, thus equating this New York hill with the Book of Mormon Cumorah. [Of course, it was the two men who actually visited Mormon's depository inside the New York Cumorah--Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery--who declared it was a fact that this was the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6. It was anything but an "assumption." Yet this article in EOM doesn't even mention Letter VII.]

"Because the New York site does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Book of Mormon geography, [the New York hill exactly fits the description in the text. What neither New York nor the text fits is the Mesomerican setting, with its jungles, jade, jaguars, and Mayan temples. Not to mention volcanoes. To avoid the obvious problems with Mesoamerica, Brother Palmer and like-minded LDS scholars and educators concocted a set of "requirements" for Cumorah that are not based on the text but are designed to limit the comical search for Cumorah to Mesoamerica.]

"Latter-day Saints have looked for other possible explanations and locations, including Mesoamerica. [See? Instead of believing Joseph and Oliver, these LDS scholars and educators look anywhere but New York.] 

"Although some have identified possible sites that may seem to fit better (Palmer), there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site that has been suggested."
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Brother Palmer, of course, cites his own book, In Search of Cumorah, to justify the assertion that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were, let's say, "mistaken" about the actual location of the real Cumorah.

Ever since, our LDS scholars and educators have referred to this article to support their teaching of the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories.

This article was a major inflection point that has led to the ongoing confusion and problems that Mesomania have caused.

But fortunately, inflection points not only cause diversions; they can also enable course corrections.

In our day, there is another inflection point: the rediscovery of Letter VII and its context, including how often Joseph Smith endorsed it after it was published.

If we can only persuade LDS scholars and educators to take this opportunity to change course and return to what Joseph and Oliver (and all their contemporaries and successors) taught, we'll get back on course and eventually repair the damage caused by the 1992 disaster.




Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Why we seek consensus

The reason for this blog is to encourage all LDS scholars and educators to agree on a simple point; i.e., that there is one Cumorah and it is in New York.

Such a consensus is critical for many reasons, but the most important is unity and harmony in the Church. A big component of that is eliminating the confusion caused by theories of Book of Mormon geography that rely on the premise that Joseph and Oliver were mistaken about the New York Cumorah. This is a serious problem for missionaries, investigators, and members of the Church generally.

Semantic debates about what is a "narrow neck of land" and where such a feature may be located detract from the larger issues of how our acceptance or rejection of what Joseph and Oliver taught about the Book of Mormon affects our ability to encourage others to read and study the Book of Mormon.

Here are more reasons why I think this consensus is important.

1. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery unambiguously declared that Cumorah was in New York (Letter VII).

2. Their testimony was republished many times and accepted by all of their contemporaries.

3. Brigham Young and others confirmed Oliver's teaching about Mormon's depository being located in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

4. Every modern prophet and apostle who has formally written or spoken about Cumorah, including in General Conference, has affirmed what Joseph and Oliver taught.

5. Joseph Fielding Smith warned that the "two-Cumorahs" theory (i.e., the idea that the "real" Cumorah is in Mexico) would cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith, a warning that has become reality not only for members but for investigators as well.

6. The only reason why LDS scholars and educators reject what Joseph and Oliver taught is because they are convinced the Book of Mormon took place in a limited area of Central America (Mesoamerica). This belief was based on an erroneous assumption in Church history (i.e., that Joseph Smith had something to do with anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons) and a result-oriented interpretation of the text (i.e., they interpret the text to fit Mesoamerica).

7. Archaeological evidence does not contradict the New York setting; to the contrary, it supports the New York setting, once we accept what Oliver wrote about the numbers of people in the final battles and once we accept what residents in the area reported about finding artifacts, etc.

8. With the New York Cumorah as the starting point, we can understand the text to describe North America, corroborating what Joseph said about the plains of the Nephites, Zelph, the Indians in this country as the remnant of Lehi's people, etc.

9. Even with the New York Cumorah, there remains plenty of room for various models of the geography for people to study and discuss.

10. There is abundant physical evidence in North America that corroborates the text of the Book of Mormon. When more people focus on this, surely more evidence will become apparent.

We all share a goal of encouraging people to read and study the Book of Mormon. Erecting obstacles for prospective readers by creating confusion about where it took place and by raising doubts about the credibility and reliability of Joseph and Oliver is counterproductive.

And that's why we need a consensus about one Cumorah in New York.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A fair characterization?

I'm hearing some people don't think it's a fair characterization when I say that proponents of the Mesoamerican and two Cumorahs theories claim that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the Hill Cumorah being in New York.

Whether it's fair or not may be in the eye of the beholder, but it is accurate. 

At any rate, I'm not trying to be unfair. I'm trying to summarize the position of the Mesoamerican proponents as succinctly as I can. I'd be happy to change the wording if someone can email me a more succinct, descriptive, and accurate clause.
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The basic premise of the "two-Cumorahs" theory is that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church because in Letter VII they declared it was a fact that the final battles took place in the valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York. They also said that Mormon's depository (Mormon 6:6) was in the same hill.

Letter VII and the Mesoamerican theory are directly incompatible. Mesoamerican proponents have to believe Letter VII is false. That's why they invented the "two-Cumorahs" theory in the first place.

In Mormon's Codex, John Sorenson wrote “There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd." (Emphasis added.) 

I don't know any Mesoamerican advocates who disagree with Brother Sorenson about that.

To the contrary, major LDS scholars and educators have endorsed and praised Mormon's Codex

Terryl Givens wrote the Foreword, claiming that "John Sorenson has again upped the ante with what will immediately serve as the high-water mark of scholarship on the Book of Mormon."

The book was published by Deseret Book Company and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU.

Brant Gardner and Mark Alan Wright reviewed Mormon's Codex, stating that "Sorenson’s name has become synonymous with a specific geographic correlation between the Book of Mormon and a Mesoamerican geography." They criticized elements they disagreed with, but not Brother Sorenson's condemnation of the idea of the New York Cumorah. Which is no surprise, because like other Mesoamerican advocates, they too reject Letter VII.

Book of Mormon Central frequently cites Mormon's Codex in its "KnoWhy" series.

On its home page, BYU Studies links to Brother Sorenson's maps from his book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, which are essentially the same ones used in Mormon's Codex.

Brother Sorenson isn't the only one who has written about this idea that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York. In fact, if there are any Mesoamerican proponents who disagree--that is, who accept Letter VII as accurate--I'd very much like to know about them. 

I've discussed this point with many of the main Mesoamerican proponents at FairMormon, the Interpreter, Book of Mormon Central, BYU, and BMAF. They all think the New York Cumorah was a false tradition. They all think Joseph and Oliver didn't know where the Book of Mormon took place, that they speculated, that Letter VII was just their opinion, that Joseph changed his mind later in life, and that he and Oliver were wrong about Cumorah being in New York. 

Because Letter VII was reprinted so many times, even at Joseph's specific request, and because every one of Joseph's contemporaries agreed with the New York Cumorah, Mesoamerican proponents claim Joseph and Oliver misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York. (Some try to soften the claim by instead asserting that Joseph passively adopted a false tradition, but that doesn't account for his repeated endorsement of the letters.)

The Mesoamerican advocates also say David Whitmer was wrong when he said he met the messenger carrying the plates to Cumorah, that Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball and others were relating an amazing joint "vision" of a hill in Mexico when they spoke about how Joseph, Oliver, and others entered the depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York on multiple occasions, etc.

Furthermore, Mesoamerican advocates claim that Joseph Fielding Smith, Marion G. Romney, Mark E. Peterson and others who have formally and specifically spoken or written about the New York Cumorah were all sharing their own opinions--and they were wrong, even when they spoke about it in General Conference.
_________________

If anything I've written in this post is inaccurate, I'd be happy to correct it. 

Meanwhile, right now the most egregious example or rejecting Letter VII, in my opinion, is the abstract map all new BYU students have to learn. It not only teaches that Cumorah is not in New York (i.e., that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about that), but that it is in no real-world location

If you can't see Cumorah on this resolution, I put an enlargement below.

The BYU map all new BYU students must learn.

According to BYU, Cumorah is anywhere except in New York.
By comparison, here's a map of Tolkein's Middle Earth.





Friday, August 11, 2017

Suggestions for Church curriculum - structure of the Book of Mormon

Church curriculum is awesome, well adapted for various age groups and interests.

There's a graphic on this page that depicts the common understanding of the structure of the Book of Mormon and how it was translated:

https://www.lds.org/manual/book-of-mormon-video-guide/chapter-2-1-nephi-9?lang=eng

Here is the graphic:



The graphic has these problems:

1. It doesn't explain where the source plates were; i.e., in Mormon's depository in the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6).

2. It suggests that somehow the "small plates" were inserted into the abridgment. This explanation has never made sense because (i) the Title Page, on the last leaf of the plates Joseph got from Moroni's stone box, does not mention any original plates; (ii) Joseph translated all of the plates in Harmony, including the Title Page on the last leaf; (iii) when he got to the end of this set of plates, Joseph wondered if he should retranslate from the beginning to replace the lost 116 pages; (iv) in D&C 10, the Lord told Joseph he'd have to translate the plates of Nephi, but he didn't have the plates of Nephi when he was in Harmony.

3. The diagram doesn't show how Joseph got the plates of Nephi directly from the depository in the Hill Cumorah after he moved to Fayette, NY. He didn't get them from Moroni's stone box.
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I suggest replacing that graphic with this one which more clearly explains what plates Joseph translated and where. 

All of the source plates were in Mormon's depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York (Mormon 6:6). Mormon gave the abridgment to his son Moroni, who added to them and then deposited them in the stone box he built on the Hill Cumorah. 

Joseph Smith got the abridged plates with Moroni's additions, as shown in the Title Page. He translated these in Harmony, PA. When he reached the end, the Lord told him not to re-translate the first part (which was on the 116 pages that Martin Harris lost). Instead, he needed to translate part of the plates of Nephi to replace the 116 pages.

Joseph gave the plates to a divine messenger before he left Harmony. The messenger took them to the depository in the Hill Cumorah, picked up the small plates of Nephi, took them to Fayette, and gave them to Joseph. Joseph translated them in the Whitmer home in Fayette.




Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Good things Book of Mormon Central has done

If not for their Mesomania, Book of Mormon Central (BOMC) would be a wonderful web page.

Because of their Mesomania, BOMC is unreliable; i.e., contrary to the Church's position of neutrality, BOMC continues to promote exclusively one theory of Book of Mormon geography, which unfortunately includes the "two-Cumorahs" theory which is based on the premise that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York. Mesomania infects BOMC's editorial choices throughout the web page, their selection of articles for their archive, etc.

Despite their Mesomania, however, BOMC has some excellent resources that I encourage people to use in their studies. Most important, they provide access to Royal Skousen's invaluable work on the Book of Mormon text.

https://bookofmormoncentral.org/content/book-mormon-earliest-text

https://bookofmormoncentral.org/content/analysis-textual-variants-book-mormon

Here's an example. This "KnoWhy" includes a phenomenal graphic:

https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/why-does-the-book-of-ether-begin-with-such-a-long-genealogy

Here's the graphic:

https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/why-does-the-book-of-ether-begin-with-such-a-long-genealogy

Other KnoWhys are less useful because of Mesomania.

For example, this one.

https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/why-were-three-key-witnesses-chosen-to-testify-of-the-book-of-mormon

BOMC's Mesomania relies on the premise that Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, and David Whitmer misled the Church for over 100 years by claiming Cumorah was in New York. According to BOMC, modern LDS scholars know better than Joseph, Oliver and David. In my view, BOMC does more to undermine the reliability and credibility of these men than anyone else, because BOMC purports to represent the best of LDS scholarship on the Book of Mormon.

This is all to say, definitely use some of the resources of BOMC, but be careful. Very careful, just as you should be when you consult FairMormon, BYU Studies, the Interpreter, etc.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

First, stop the arson

I mentioned in a previous post that Church leaders are spending a lot of their time and energy putting out fires, but they aren't figuring out who the arsonists are. In many cases, the arsonists don't even realize they're setting fires. Even when they do realize it, they think they're setting prescribed fires to prevent worse conflagrations. Or maybe they're just leaving their campfires unattended.

What I'm referring to in the context of Book of Mormon historicity and geography is the ongoing effort by LDS scholars and educators to persuade people that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the Hill Cumorah being in New York. 

Short of outright calling Joseph and Oliver liars, what could be more destructive of faith than to characterize Joseph and Oliver this way?

And yet, that teaching is implicit in everything the Mesoamerican advocates are doing. Not just the Mesoamerican advocates, but the advocates of every non-New York Cumorah, including those who promote abstract maps, the Baja theory, the Panama theory, the South American theory, and all the rest.


The entire issue boils down to whether we are going to accept Joseph and Oliver as reliable and credible witnesses (the New York Cumorah) or whether we are going to reject them as ignorant speculators who misled the Church about this essential point.

_________________________

As I've examined the history of the debate between the various theories of Book of Mormon geography, it has become apparent to me that much of the disagreement is word thinking.

One topic that has consumed a lot of energy has been the discussion about what is the "promised land" and where the "promised land" is located. Proponents of the Heartland and Mesoamerican theories both think they are interpreting the terminology about the "promised land" correctly, and neither side can "see" what the other side is saying. 

I happen to agree with the Heartland interpretation, but I also understand the Meso position, having accepted it for decades. That semantic debate never gets resolved. Both sides interpret the various scriptural passages and statements from Church leaders in a way that confirms their respective biases. Such word thinking can never lead to a consensus. It's like the never-ending debates between Mormons and Christians in which both sides use the same terms but with different meanings attached to the terms. These debates are inherently contentious and frustrating. They turn people off.

This word thinking is two-dimensional. It looks real, it seems meaningful, but it misses the main point. Debating the meaning of words is surface-level thinking. Additional examples are the debates over the interpretation of the "narrow neck of land," whether a "narrow neck" is the same thing as a "narrow neck of land," whether these are the same as a "small neck of land," and so forth. Such debates cannot lead to consensus because they are merely exercises in bias confirmation.
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To get to the main point, we have to engage in 3D thinking. What is below the two-dimensional surface? What are the semantic debates all about? What are they obscuring? Why is word-thinking not only unable to put out the fires, but is unable to stop the arsonists?

The third dimension is the credibility and reliability of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

All these semantic arguments mask the underlying reality that what we think of Joseph and Oliver drives what we believe about the Restoration at a fundamental level.

Really, everything we LDS believe depends on the reliability and credibility of Joseph and Oliver. That's why the Mesoanerican and two-Cumorahs theories are so insidious. That's why Joseph Fielding Smith warned this theory of Cumorah in Mesoamerica (or anywhere but New York) would cause members of the Church to become confused and disturbed in their faith. 

Until LDS scholars and educators change course and accept what Joseph and Oliver taught about the real Hill Cumorah being in New York, the fires will never be extinguished. Every time an LDS youth or an investigator is taught that Cumorah is in Mesoamerica--or, worse, is on an abstract, fantasy-world map--another fire is set in the mind of that individual.

Some individuals keep the fire at bay, but it smolders. Sooner or later, at some level, people realize that the non-New York Cumorah theories contradict what Joseph and Oliver taught. As much as they may wish they could, LDS scholars and educators cannot suppress Letter VII forever. These small fires may or may not become a conflagration, but at the very least, they generate cognitive dissonance. Some people are more willing to live with cognitive dissonance than others. 

But with around 40% of returned missionaries becoming inactive or leaving the Church, it's time to recognize that the fires we're trying to put out are being set from the inside.
_____________________

In my view, the only way to extinguish the fires is to embrace what Joseph and Oliver taught. I hope our LDS scholars and educators will someday stop trying to persuade their students and readers that these two men are not trustworthy, but so far, they have been unwilling to stop. The citation cartel continues to promote the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories. If you're unclear to whom I'm referring, go to FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, BYU Studies, Meridian Magazine, the Maxwell Institute, etc.

Fortunately, more and more members of the Church are catching on. They're extinguishing fires as fast as they can. They're rejecting the arsonists.

Now it's just a question of whether they can extinguish the fires faster than the scholars and educators set them.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Why amnesia about Letter VII is disastrous

Joseph Smith not only helped write Oliver's 8 historical letters, but he made sure all members of the Church would read them, even after they were published in the Messenger and Advocate, by (i) including them in his own history, (ii) encouraging Benjamin Winchester to republish them in the Gospel Reflector in Philadelphia, (iii) giving them to his brother Don Carlos to publish in the Times and Seasons, (iv) alluding to Cumorah in D&C 128. It's difficult to see how Joseph could have made Letter VII any better known to the members of the Church, short of adding it to the Doctrine and Covenants.

And, don't forget, part of Letter I is included in the Pearl of Great Price.

Plus, Letter VII was republished in England in an 1844 pamphlet. It was republished in The Prophet, the Millennial Star, and the Improvement Era.

Amnesia about Letter VII took hold in the early 1900s when scholars began insisting that the "real Cumorah" was in Mexico. Letter VII has never been published in the Ensign. You won't find it in any of the publications by the citation cartel, with the exception of an early first draft of my book which Book of Mormon Central, to their credit, included in their archive, here.
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Oliver wrote the letters partly in response to the October 1834 publication of Mormonism Unvailed. I've discussed this before so I won't belabor it. But look at the specific issues Oliver answered in his letters.

1. Location of Cumorah in New York. Oliver explained exactly where the final battles took place: in the valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York. No need to speculate about other locations or go on search parties to Mexico.

2. Location of Mormon's repository (Mormon 6:6) in the Hill Cumorah in New York. Oliver unambiguously declared the location to be in the same hill where Joseph found the plates. Later, Brigham Young told us about Oliver's personal experiences inside the depository.

3. The numbers of people killed during the final battles at Cumorah; i.e., there were "thousands" of Jaredites killed (less than 10,000) and "tens of thousands" of Nephites and Lamanites. This is far fewer than the numbers usually cited by anti-Mormons and Mesoamerian supporters.

Amnesia about Letter VII has led LDS scholars and educators to speculate and write extensively about these three issues, all oblivious to what Oliver wrote. Or, worse than amnesia, actively disagreeing with Oliver.

Rather than ignore, forget about, or actively oppose what Oliver and Joseph taught through these letters, we should embrace these teachings. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Check your biases - updated

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

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

Scoring.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Title Page.

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

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

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

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

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

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The repository in Cumorah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Statements about Central America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score.


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

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Win win solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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