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.

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