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."



Thursday, May 18, 2017

Current state of the consensus

I continue to think it would be possible to reach a consensus about Book of Mormon geography if everyone sat down and discussed the issues openly.

But that isn't happening.

The proponents of Mesoamerica don't even want Church members to know about the North American setting. This is easy to understand.
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As it stands today, there are two basic groups.

Group A thinks Cumorah is somewhere other than in New York. Adherents think Joseph and Oliver were wrong when they identified the hill in New York as Cumorah. They think scholarship can identify the Hill Cumorah and other sites.

Group B thinks Cumorah is in New York, based on what Oliver Cowdery wrote in Letter VII. Adherents think Joseph and Oliver knew Cumorah was in New York because they had visited the repository of Nephite records in the hill, because of the two sets of plates, because Moroni identified it as Cumorah, etc.
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I don't think the choice between these two views is even close. Most members of the Church, when presented with the choice, choose Joseph and Oliver over the scholars.

This explains why the scholars and educators who promote the Mesoamerican setting refuse to present their theory alongside the North American setting. The only way their theories endure is by excluding the North American setting from their publications, conferences, web pages, and classrooms.

Instead, you'll read 2D arguments about which way the river Sidon flows, which "correspondences" are closer to which interpretation of the text, etc.

But you won't read the 3D argument about accepting or rejecting Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.
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The current status of the consensus is this: people who accept what Joseph and Oliver said about Cumorah accept the North American setting, while people who think Joseph and Oliver didn't know what they were talking about accept another setting (Mesoamerica, Baja, Panama, Chile, Peru, Malaysia, etc.).

IOW, the status hasn't changed much.

Except that thousands of people are changing their minds about the setting, switching from Mesoamerica to North America.



Sunday, May 14, 2017

If ye are not one

One oft-quoted scripture on the topic of consensus is this:

"I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine." D&C 38:27

I've heard this quoted many times to support the idea that people should agree on doctrinal matters, including interpretations of geography of the Book of Mormon and Church history. And that's fine, provided the agreement is on something that is true.

But look at the first part of the verse:

"Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine."

What is the Lord referring to here?

Verse 26 is the parable, but it refers,in turn, to the preceding verses.

Verse 26: "For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just?"

In the preceding verses, the Lord explains that he created the Earth, that he has taken "the Zion of Enoch into mine own bosom," and that "all flesh is corrupted before me, and the powers of darkness prevail upon the earth." 

Then the Lord says, "And for your salvation I give unto you a commandment, for I have heard your prayers, and the poor have complained before me, and the rich have I made, and all flesh is mine, and I am no respecter of persons. And I have made the earth rich, and behold it is my footstool, wherefore, again I will stand upon it.... And let every man esteem his brother as himself, and practice virtue and holiness before me. And again I say unto you, let every man esteem his brother as himself."

This principle is so important that the Lord repeats it twice, right before giving the parable of the unjust father.

In my view, Section 38 teaches about the basic Zion principle of equality; i.e., it is not just that some people are rich while others are poor. The Lord clarifies that he has made the rich; they may think they have "earned" it and therefore "deserve" it, but it is God who has given them the gifts and opportunities to become rich. 

A few months later, on June 15, 1831, the Lord explained further. 

"Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved!"

The parable of the unjust father who tells one son to be clothed in robes while the other must be clothed in rags applies to the Latter-day Saints who seek to establish Zion. 

The Lord has told us that he has made the rich, and he has told the rich that they must give their substance to the poor. Enabling some of his children to create wealth is the Lord's way of providing for the poor. As D&C 104 puts it, "this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low."

This is what D&C 38 means. 

And to the extent that we fall short of becoming one in terms of wealth, we are not His.