The prevalence of a spirit of contention amongst a people is a certain sign of deadness with respect to the things of religion. When men's spirits are hot with contention, they are cold to religion. - Jonathan Edwards “The Book of Mormon does not supplant the Bible. It expands, extends, clarifies, and amplifies our knowledge of the Savior. Surely, this second witness should be cause for great rejoicing by all Christians.” - Joseph B. Wirthlin

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. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Mountains in the Book of Mormon

A few people still think the Book of Mormon took place in an area that featured lots of big mountains; i.e., Central America. I think this is a big mistake, based on a false tradition.

I've pointed out that the first time mountains are even mentioned as existing in the New World is in Helaman 11. Even then, the "mountains" are such that the robbers can "sally forth" out of them, which I infer means the mountains were not all that high. Prior to Helaman 11, references to mountains are quotations from or allusions to the scriptures; i.e., the Old Testament.

I've also observed that D&C 117:8 refers to "mountains" in Missouri:

"Is there not room enough on the mountains of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and on the plains of Olaha Shinehah, or the land where Adam dwelt, that you should covet that which is but the drop, and neglect the more weighty matters?"

Some have pointed to the prophecies of Samuel the Lamanite regarding mountains:

Helaman 14:23
"23 And behold, there shall be great tempests, and there shall be many mountains laid low, like unto a valley, and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains, whose height is great."

However, when the destruction is described in 3 Nephi, no such mountains are mentioned. 3 Nephi 8:10 says a "great mountain" was formed when "the earth was carried up upon the city of Moronihah." This is earth coming from above--upon--the city, not emerging from below. (We think this is an example of a massive sand blow, a typical earthquake feature in the Midwest.) Samuel's prophecy was surely fulfilled, but not all in Book of Mormon territory.

IOW, once we set aside the Mesomania-inspired traditions, the scriptures do not describe lots of big mountains in Book of Mormon lands.

Instead, the text describes relatively low, habitable mountains that many of us would call hills.

Along these lines, it's interesting to read what Joseph Smith once wrote about the "mountains of Missouri." Those who have visited Missouri know what those mountains are like.

They're like the ones in Illinois.

And they're like the ones described in the Book of Mormon text.

This reference to mountains is from a sermon attributed to Joseph Smith, recorded by Martha Coray. It is dated July 11 (or 19) 1840, but was almost certainly recorded well after that date. Perhaps it was copied from an earlier notebook.

"I prophecy that the time shall be when these saints shall ride proudly over the mountains of Missouri and no Gentile dog nor Missouri dog shall dare lift a tongue against them but will lick up the dust from beneath their feet."

Image MS 1998_f0001_00022.jpg.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Why not fix it? Why not now?

For the last many months, I've discussed issues relating to Book of Mormon geography. I think it's apparent now, based on the facts, that the premise for the Mesoamerican theory was a mistake from the outset. Joseph Smith never once wrote about or even alluded to the Book of Mormon taking place in Central America. Some of his associates did, and so far as we know he didn't publicly correct them (except in the Wentworth letter), but it was a mistake to attribute their words to him.*

The other big mistake involves Letter VII. It was a mistake to lose sight of that important letter that was so well known and accepted during Joseph's lifetime and thereafter. It was a mistake to reject it. And it is an ongoing mistake to assert that Joseph, Oliver and the others were merely speculating and wrong about the New York Cumorah.

What do we do when such mistakes have been made?

We have basically two choices.

1) We can correct the mistakes, or

2) We can resist correcting the mistakes and perpetuate them for as long as possible.

I hope we will chose the former and correct them. Soon.

I don't think there's a single LDS scholar or educator who wants to mislead anyone. The intellectual history of the Mesoamerican theory shows a logical progression of thought, all well-intentioned, as people sought to reconcile what they thought Joseph Smith taught with the facts on the ground. But good intentions are not good enough.

IMO, once the scholars and educators jettisoned Letter VII, they were left on their own; in fact, they have gone so far as to claim that Joseph himself thought the questions could be answered only by scholarship and science. They have overtly rejected Letter VII in favor of their own ideas and interpretations of the text.

I don't think we were left without prophetic guidance on this matter. Joseph Fielding Smith's warning about the two-Cumorah theory, and his citation of Letter VII, should have at least caused the scholars and educators to pause and rethink their approach.

But it didn't.

The problem became more acute in the 1950s and 1960s with the creation and dissemination of the Arnold Friberg paintings. That's when Mesomania became widespread in the Church. Since then, generations of Latter-day Saints have been trained to think of the Book of Mormon in that framework.

The psychological impact is profound and largely overlooked. But the confusion which Joseph Fielding Smith warned has become endemic in LDS culture. It has a serious impact on missionary work, retention, and activity because, as President Smith warned, the two-Cumorahs theory causes members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.

Now, it's up to the scholars and educators to fix the mistakes made by their predecessors. No one is to blame; we've all felt the impact of Mesomania. But going forward, we are all responsible for how we deal with Letter VII.

It won't take much to correct the mistakes, and it shouldn't be difficult.

All that's needed is for the scholars and educators to accept Letter VII.

At that point, we would have unity throughout the Church. There would be no more articles written by faithful LDS scholars and educators trying to explain why Joseph and Oliver and David Whitmer and the rest were speculating, were unreliable witnesses, and all the rest.

We would no longer have faithful scholars saying Joseph's successors were also speculating and wrong, or that other modern apostles were wrong when they spoke about the New York Cumorah in General Conference as recently as 1975 and 1978.

We would have tremendous unity about the Book of Mormon and the teachings of Joseph and Oliver and every other prophet and apostle who has spoken on the issue.

If that unity is not worth correcting mistakes, then what is?

Another way to say it: Is perpetuating mistakes really more important than fostering unity?

Accepting Letter VII does not commit the Church or any individuals to any particular setting for the Book of Mormon (except, obviously, to the location of the final battles). People can still believe and advocate their own theories, from as small as western New York to as large as the entire hemisphere.

But at least we would be united in supporting the prophets and apostles who have spoken on the issue of Cumorah. 

And we would eliminate a tremendous amount of confusion.

If it's so easy, why hasn't it been done?

Every scholar and educator may have his/her own reasons, but here are the ones I hear the most often.

1. The hill in New York doesn't match the text. This objection is based almost entirely on a handful of sources, each of which I've addressed in detail. In the interests of comity, I won't name them here, but feel free to email me if you don't know what I'm referring to. IMO, this objection is based on bad information and can be easily resolved.

2. Mesoamerica is too far away from Cumorah. This objection assumes that most Book of Mormon events took place in Central America, but that's all it is: an assumption. Does anyone really want to reject Letter VII over a mere assumption? Besides, there are smart people who have assembled a theory of geography that accommodates both.

3. I've been teaching this for years and can't change now. The rejection of Letter VII started nearly a century ago. Generations of Latter-day Saints have been taught the Mesoamerican theory by well-meaning, conscientious teachers. But we shouldn't be sad about good scholarship. Rejecting the rejection of Letter VII is an opportunity to build faith where it has been lost. We should be glad to present better information to our students and to one another. We should be enthusiastic about it. What's done is done. Tradition is no reason to subject new generations to the doubt and confusion that arises from the two-Cumorah theory.

4. There are so many correspondences to Mesoamerica. There are three considerations here. First, a Meosamerican setting is not necessarily incompatible with the New York Cumorah just because some scholars have made that argument. Second, these correspondences can be explained by the hinterlands theory. Third, we need to re-examine these correspondences to see if they are really specific to Lehite culture or are simply examples common to many human societies.

5. I've had spiritual experiences in Mesoamerica. People have had spiritual experiences in many parts of the world that they associate with the Book of Mormon. Likening the scripture to ourselves is what makes the book so powerful and life-changing, but we ought not deem those spiritual experiences as proof of Book of Mormon geography. If that were the case, then how could we explain people having similar experiences in many different parts of the world?

There may be additional objections I haven't listed here, but ultimately, can any objection be more important than restoring the unity and clarity that once prevailed on this issue?

In Joseph's day, members of the Church had plenty of disagreements about plenty of things. Joseph expressed his frustration at getting the Saints to understand what he was trying to teach them.

But he had no problem with the New York Cumorah because he made sure everyone knew about and read Letter VII.

So let this be my plea to the LDS scholars, educators, and teachers everywhere in the Church, as well as members everywhere, that we read and accept Letter VII's teachings about the Hill Cumorah in New York.

* There are many possible reasons why Joseph didn't correct them. Not that it matters to the main issue, but he may have simply had too many other things to worry about in 1842 Nauvoo; he may have wanted to avoid destroying the credibility of the Times and Seasons and hoped people would forget the articles about Zarahemla in Guatemala (which, in fact, happened until the articles were revived in the early 20th Century); he may have known that there was Lamanite influence in Central America that post-dated Book of Mormon time frames; he may have wanted to avoid another source of infighting among the brethren; and he may have tried to correct them but encountered resistance that wasn't worth the fight. I think a combination of these factors was involved, but of course that's mostly speculation. We can be pretty confident that neither John Taylor nor Wilford Woodruff thought Joseph authored the 1842 Zarahemla article or they wouldn't have approved Orson Pratt's footnotes in the official edition of the Book of Mormon that suggested Zarahemla was further south of Guatemala. At any rate, it's clear everyone accepted the New York setting for Cumorah, and presumably Joseph thought that was the most important point for everyone to understand. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

We Aren’t God’s Only People

There's an awesome article on the splash page of right now at this link:

The author, Samuel B. Hislop, writes about "cultivating "holy envy" for other faiths," noting the contributions of other faiths to our understanding of God. He writes,

"My life’s journey has directed my gaze outward to learn from the leaders and followers of other faiths. I’ve come to appreciate what Swedish theologian Krister Stendahl (1921–2008) called “holy envy”—the ability to admire elements and teachings in other faiths. Our fellow believers see things differently and don’t express their views in the same way we do, and I often find great value in this."

I highly recommend the article. It led me to a thought relevant to Book of Mormon consensus.

Brother Hislop quotes this:

“When we see virtuous qualities in men, we should always acknowledge them, let their understanding be what it may in relation to creeds and doctrine; for all men are, or ought to be free. … This doctrine I do most heartily subscribe to and practice” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 345–46).

Those pages are in the chapter in the manual titled "Living with Others in Peace and Harmony." You can find it here. It is an extract from a letter Joseph wrote to Gen. James Arlington Bennet. Eliza R.Snow copied the letter into Joseph's journal. The citation is History of the Church, 5:156, which you can find here. Or, you can read the original source in the Joseph Smith Papers, here.

[Historical note: For those interested in Church history, the link to JSP starts with the famous objection by Gen. James Arlington Bennet to the name of the other Nauvoo newspaper, the Wasp. Bennet wrote, "Mildness should characterise every thing that comes from Nauvoo..." Then he adds, "My respects to your brother its Editor." Those of you who have read The Lost City of Zarahemla know how this is important.]

Here is the entire section of Joseph's letter to Gen. Bennet, dated September 8th, 1842:

You speak also of Elder Lucian Foster, President of the Church in New-York, in high terms: and of Dr. John Bernhisel of New-York. These men I am acquainted with by information; and it warms my heart, to know that you speak well of them; and as you say, could be willing to associate with them forever, if you never joined their church, or acknowledged their faith. 

This is a good principle; for when we see virtuous qualities in men, we should always acknowledge them, let their understanding be what it may in relation to creeds and doctrine; for all men are, or ought to be free; possessing unalienable rights, and the high, and noble qualifications of the laws of nature and of self-preservation; to think, and act, and say as they please; while they maintain a due respect to the rights and privileges of all other creatures; infringing upon none. 

This doctrine I do most heartily subscribe to, and practice; the testimony of mean men, to the contrary, notwithstanding. But Sir, I will assure you, that my soul soars far above all the mean and grovelling dispositions of men that are dispos’d to abuse me and my character; I therefore shall not dwell upon that subject.

In relation to those men you speak of, referred to above; I will only say that there are thousands of such men in this church; who, if a man is found worthy to associate with, will call down the envy of a mean world, because of their high and noble demeanor; and it is with unspeakable delight that I contemplate them as my friends & brethren. I love them with a perfect love; and I hope they love me, and have no reason to doubt but they do.

I hope this is the spirit in which we all view one another as we work through the various issues related to Book of Mormon historicity/geography and, one day, reach a consensus that will enable us to flood the Earth with the Book of Mormon like never before.

Friday, October 28, 2016

A thought experiment

A lot of people, not just LDS scholars and educators but ordinary members of the Church, are emotionally attached to their ideas about Book of Mormon geography. I empathize because I felt the same way for decades about the Mesoamerican theory.

So here's a thought experiment to consider.

First, set aside your preconceptions. Thought experiments don't work if our minds are cluttered. We need to start with a blank slate.

Second, pretend for a moment that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith knew that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 was the same hill where Joseph obtained the plates; i.e., the hill in New York near his home. 

Maybe they knew because they had visited Mormon's records repository in the hill, as they told Brigham Young and others.

Maybe they knew because Moroni told them. 

Or maybe they had a revelation about it. After all, they were both apostles. Joseph was President and Oliver Assistant President of the Church. They didn't record everything they knew, as we know from Joseph Smith-History, 1:73-4:

 73 Immediately on our coming up out of the water after we had been baptized, we experienced great and glorious blessings from our Heavenly Father. No sooner had I baptized Oliver Cowdery, than the Holy Ghost fell upon him, and he stood up and prophesied many things which should shortly come to pass. And again, so soon as I had been baptized by him, I also had the spirit of prophecy, when, standing up, I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men. We were filled with the Holy Ghost, and rejoiced in the God of our salvation.

 74 Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of

Continuing with this thought experiment, if Cumorah is in New York, does the rest of the description in the text fit?

Step 3 in the experiment is to see if you can work it out.

Again, throw out all your preconceptions and re-read the text.

I realize that because of Mesomania it's nearly impossible to jettison the maps and illustrations you've seen your whole life, but try. 

You might be surprised at what you discover.

The irony of this thought experiment is that it shouldn't really be an experiment at all. Latter-day Saints believe everything Joseph and Oliver told us except for what they wrote in Letter VII. We write entire books about one-off statements recorded in someone's journal, such as the "most correct book" comment that wasn't even a quotation. 

But unlike these one-off statements, Oliver's letters, including Letter VII, have been republished multiple times. LDS scholars and educators accept everything in them except what they wrote about the Hill Cumorah.

If you know the explanation for that, you'll figure this out soon enough.

One stumbling block for some scholars is that Joseph didn't identify the hill as Cumorah in Joseph Smith-History. There's a good reason why he might have chosen not to, but the objection assumes Joseph wrote the history in the first place.

He did not.

At most, he read it. We don't even know if he made corrections to it, but we assume he approved it on some level.

See if you can think of a reason or two he might not have named the hill in that history.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Thoughts on contention

NOTE: I posted this comment on the other blog, but it's important enough to reproduce it here.

The topic of Book of Mormon geography can raise differences among people. Let's take it as a given that most people say they want to avoid contention, argument, debate, etc. This applies to their work, family, church, recreation, and other activities.

Jude describes what we should contend for:

Jude 1:3
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

That's the kind of contention that I've tried to conduct on this blog, my other blogs, and my articles and books.

Then there is another kind of contention that I seek to avoid:

3 Nephi 11:29-30
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.

Based on these and other passages, IMO it is important to contend for the faith and what is right, but it's just as important to do so without anger. 

Readers of this blog know that I think it's fun to have these exchanges. It's definitely frustrating that this whole thing about Cumorah not being in New York has gone on for so long, perpetuated by LDS scholars and educators, but there's no reason to get angry about it.

What's done is done.

It's up to us to take the initiative to fix it, all without anger. .

And we can focus on the meaning of the text and it's origin, making us all better people.

So when I write a piece titled "Fun with..." I mean that. There's no anger. We can all enjoy the discussion and hopefully move toward the day when we'll all see eye-to-eye.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon

In October 1988, President Benson gave the famous address titled "Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon." Here's a link:

It's hard to believe that was 28 years ago. A lot of progress has been made, for sure. But there remain obstacles.

Among other things, he said,

"I challenge all of us to prayerfully consider steps that we can personally take to bring this new witness for Christ more fully into our own lives and into a world that so desperately needs it."

Many members of the Church are doing their part to make this happen. I believe the LDS scholars and educators are doing their part in many ways, but there is an enormous impediment, IMO. It's one I've had to deal with for years.

By continuing to promote the Mesoamerican setting (or an abstract setting), LDS scholars and educators are causing members to become confused and disturbed in their faith. 

For many people, the message of the Book of Mormon is powerful enough to overcome this confusion. But for others, the confusion distracts from that message and leads to the loss of faith we've been warned about.

I don't see how we can realize the vision President Benson set forth as long as our scholars and educators insist our prophets and apostles are wrong about something as basic as the Hill Cumorah in New York.

It's not that geography, by itself, is the stumbling block. Instead, the problem is the inconsistency of claiming to support the prophets and apostles, while also saying their firm, consistent, declarative statements on this issue, spanning over 150 years, are wrong.

Mesomania causes confusion to every investigator who sees the artwork depicting jungles, Mayans, and stone pyramids, and then reads the text only to discover none of these things are in there. It's the disparity between raised expectations and reality that impedes acceptance of the Book of Mormon. That same disparity leads once faithful members to question, and in too many cases, lose their faith.

IMO, we won't be flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon until we reach unity in understanding it, which means reaching unity in supporting what the prophets and apostles have said from the beginning about the location of Cumorah.

Cumorah was important enough for Mormon and Moroni to mention it by name. It's the touchstone between the ancient past and the here and now. It's the pin in the map that tells us the location of the promised land, the covenant nation, the Lamanites whose promises are yet to be fulfilled, and so much more.

I urge all LDS scholars and educators, as well as students, to reconsider your views on this point. If you don't accept the New York location of Cumorah, ask yourself why not. Then ask yourself again. And again.

The answer might surprise you.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Mesoamerican memo on Letter VII: Oliver is a liar

I'm still hopeful that all LDS scholars and educators can reach consensus that the Hill Cumorah is in New York, but it hasn't happened yet. The nanosecond these scholars and educators reach consensus on this point, I'll stop blogging about it and move onto some other great stuff.

But from all indications, we're a long ways from consensus that the Cumorah if Mormon 6:6 is in New York.

No one at BYU or in CES teaches about Letter VII. Most of the faculty has never heard of it. No lesson manuals mention it, etc.*

Consequently, Latter-Day Saints around the world are kept in the dark about what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery wrote about the Hill Cumorah.

It's unbelievable.

Fortunately, thousands of Latter-Day Saints are discovering and sharing Letter VII, and the momentum is just getting started.

It appears that the scholars are hoping no one notices, but they've come up with a new approach..

Apparently a memo has gone out about Letter VII.

[Whether this is a literal or figurative memo doesn't matter for this discussion.]

The way the Mesoamerican advocates (and other advocates of a non-New York Cumorah such as the Baja group) plan to deal with Letter VII is by characterizing it as a "secondary source."

This is awesome, and here's why.

The "secondary source" label seeks to undermine the credibility and reliability of Letter VII and its author, Oliver Cowdery.

Letter VII is obviously a huge problem for LDS scholars and educators who reject the New York setting. When they take the position that Oliver Cowdery was speculating about Cumorah, they are really calling him a liar because he wrote it was a fact that the final battles were here. Those are his words. "A fact."

In other parts of his letters, Oliver made it clear that he was speculating, such as about how deep Moroni buried the stone box. But when it came to Cumorah in New York, he said it was a fact. If you're speculating,and you're honest, you don't explicitly characterize your speculation as a fact. (You might make an argument by stating this or that happened as an assertion, but that's different from specifically labeling your assertion as a fact.)

And if you're Joseph Smith, you don't have a false statement of fact republished multiple times so all the Saints can read it.

As I've pointed out before, there are two basic groups of people who claim Oliver Cowdery was a liar: anti-Mormons and Mesoamerican proponents.

So now, apparently, Mesoamerican proponents are trying to avoid this dilemma by calling Letter VII a "secondary source." It's not clear what they mean by this, but I'll assume they mean that Letter VII was not signed by Joseph Smith (although they characterize him as a secondary source, too).

But if that's their criteria, then they are in an even worse position because there is not a single document that can be directly attributed to Joseph that links the Book of Mormon to Central America.

Let's think about what a secondary source is. Here's a standard definition:

"a secondary source of information is one that was created later by someone who did not experience first-hand or participate in the events or conditions you’re researching."

Now, we could say that any source who was not present during the last battles of the Jaredites or Nephites is secondary. In that sense, Mormon and Moroni are secondary sources for the Jaredite wars. But they were primary sources for the Nephite wars, and Mormon said he buried the records in the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6).

This analysis means there can be no modern primary sources, because the wars happened a long time ago. To have a primary source, we would have to have Moroni testifying in court or on television.

Or, we could consider that Joseph and Oliver experienced first-hand and participated in the events about which they wrote. This includes viewing the plates, their experiences with John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John, Moses, Elijah, Elias, and the Lord Himself.

Presumably, as faithful LDS we can all agree that Oliver wrote the truth about these events. I'll assume we have a consensus on these points.

IOW, I think everyone can agree that Oliver's letters are primary sources for these events, whether because he was actually present or because he was co-writing with Joseph on the events that Joseph experienced on his own.

Now, why do the Mesoamerican proponents characterize Letter VII as a "secondary source" on the question of Cumorah?

Because they insist Oliver Cowdery was a liar. Either that, or Brigham Young was a liar. Or both.

Brigham Young explained on multiple occasions that Oliver and Joseph visited the records repository in the Hill Cumorah. Obviously, Brigham wasn't there; he hadn't even joined the Church at that point. But he said Oliver told him about it.

The Mesoamerican proponents have insisted for years that either Oliver or Brigham were lying about this.

Think about that for a moment.

It should be obvious why they have to call Oliver and/or Brigham liars, because if Brigham was telling the truth, and Oliver was telling the truth, then that makes Oliver's Letter VII a first-hand account; i.e., Oliver (and Joseph) experienced first-hand the records repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

So the only way to transform Letter VII into a second-hand account is to claim Oliver Cowdery is a liar, and they're back to the same problem they had before they decided to reject Letter VII as a secondary account.

They're calling Oliver a liar.

The secondary account argument is also problematic because Joseph embraced it as part of his own history and had it reprinted multiple times so all the Saints could read it.

Yes, you read that right. The Mesoamerican proponents have Joseph Smith directing his scribes to copy lies into his own history.

Now you see why Joseph Fielding Smith said this "two Cumorahs" theory would cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith.

There are very few examples in Church history of specific writings that are republished multiple times.

Think of it this way. By 1844, Letter VII was printed in four separate Church-related publications, in addition to Joseph's own history. By contrast, the Book of Abraham was published once in the Times and Seasons.  If you were a member of the Church in 1844, you were more likely to have read Letter VII than the Book of Abraham.

*If I'm wrong about that, I'd like a representative from BYU and/or CES to so indicate in a comment here, or email me. In fact, I have an open invitation for any BYU professor or CES educator to let me know if they have even heard of Letter VII before, or if they've read it, or if they teach it to their students. So far, I've had only people who have retired from those institutions tell me they embrace Letter VII.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Consensus on Cumorah

Although there are plenty of criticisms of the idea of consensus, I still believe consensus is important.

I also believe that scholars, leaders, and members of the Church will reach consensus about Book of Mormon geography.


But why wait? 

We can reach consensus right now about the location of Cumorah in Mormon 6:6.

This should be easy.

But apparently it's not because it hasn't happened yet.

The process may be driven by any of three main groups.

If enough members of the Church become educated on the topic, such as by reading Letter VII, that will eventually lead to consensus. Church leaders could encourage consensus by focusing on this topic. And the scholars could promote consensus by rejecting the false two-Cumorahs theory.

At this point, I think the driving force will be the members. 

It is the members of the Church who, on a daily basis, confront the issue. They have to decide what to teach their children, and the current confusion that reigns is uncomfortable at best and ultimately unacceptable. People are dealing with their cognitive dissonance by ignoring the implications (and by insisting a spiritual witness is all that matters), but that's a short-term response that is ultimately counterproductive for many people (and the vast majority of investigators).

For some people, the spiritual witness is sufficient. But let's get real. After all, every religion is based on a spiritual witness of its holy books and teachings. Ask any believing Christian, Muslim, or Hindu if they have a spiritual witness. Or just read 2 Nephi 29:12.

The Book of Mormon is uniquely true because of its historicity, not in spite of it.

If members are involved in reactivation or missionary work in any way, they know the two-Cumorahs theory is a common tool used by the opposition (whether anti-Mormon or former Mormon). I've had investigators tell me that of course they will get a spiritual witness by praying about the Book of Mormon because it contains so many quotations from the Bible, but they say that doesn't mean the parts that aren't quoting from the Bible are true. If we can't explain where the events took place--if we can't even agree among ourselves where they took place--if we don't even accept what Joseph and Oliver had to say about it--why should they accept the non-Biblical parts of the Book of Mormon?

Anyone with Internet access and curiosity about the Book of Mormon learns quickly that LDS scholars formally repudiate what Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer said about Cumorah.

How do you think that goes over with investigators?

Or even young adults in the Church?

Or the inactive people on your home/visiting teaching lists?

When the illustrations in the missionary editions of the Book of Mormon themselves falsely promise a narrative of jungles, pyramids, and Mayans that appear nowhere in the text, we should all recognize we have a major problem.

In my view, LDS scholars undermine the otherwise good work they do when they continue to insist that:

1) Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery didn't know what they were talking about regarding Cumorah,

2) Joseph and Oliver speculated about (and thereby deceived) all of their contemporaries when they collaborated on Letter VII.

3) David Whitmer provided false testimony later in his life.

4) Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball and others related false accounts of the records repository in the New York hill.

All of these problems and more would be eliminated if we could simply reach consensus that Joseph and Oliver and their contemporaries were correct about Cumorah in New York.

The debate about the extent of Nephite territory beyond the New York Cumorah can continue, of course. People can propose that Zarahemla is in New York, Iowa, Louisiana, or even southern Mexico, Baja, or Quirigua for all I care.

But that debate doesn't undermine the credibility and reliability of the founders of the Church.

So how about it? Can we at least agree on the New York Cumorah?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A reason to question consensus

Today I noticed this quotation from another blog:

Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled.
  • Michael Crichton

Sunday, September 18, 2016

More stuff coming

I haven't posted for a while because I've been traveling and speaking, and I'll be gone for the next week as well. But a lot has been going on.

The Book of Mormon Evidence conference in Sandy was wonderful. We met lots of new people who are enthusiastic about what's going on with Church history and Book of Mormon historicity. Almost everywhere I travel now, people are talking about these things. More and more people are reading Letter VII and realizing that what they've been fed their entire lives about Book of Mormon geography (Mesomania) doesn't add up--or even make sense.

This weekend, my publisher released the Mesomania book. In the next couple of weeks, we'll release two more books: The Editors: Joseph, William and Don Carlos Smith, and Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates?

I've been doing some Church history research in Massachusetts and New York, as well as more Book of Mormon stuff. As I get time, I'll post about it here, whenever it is relevant to the consensus topic.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Helaman 3

This post is a chapter from an upcoming book that will be released on September 6, 2016.

The Book of Helaman tells us what happened in Nephite society in the years leading up to the first coming of the Lord.

It parallels events leading up to the second coming.

Chapter 3 describes a sequence of events that reflect what is happening in our day.

The chapter starts out with no contention among the people, except for a little pride in the church that caused some “little dissensions among the people, which affairs were settled in the ending of the forty and third year.”

We can compare that to the early days of the Church, when “some little dissensions” led people out of the Church. But the Church survived and thrived, for the most part, for over a hundred years. Not without challenges to overcome, but the progress of the Church was steady.

Then, verse 3 says in the forty and sixth year, “there was much contention and many dissensions.” People left the church and the land of Zarahemla; “there were an exceedingly great many who departed.”

Verse 17 says the people left “after there had been great contentions, and disturbances.”

I think we can relate this to Book of Mormon geography and historicity. Joseph Fielding Smith even invoked this terminology when he said the two-Cumorah theory caused members to become disturbed in their faith.

Notice the contention continued for a few years, but then they “began to cease” in the latter end of the forty and eighth year. In the forty and ninth year, there was continual peace.

Verse 24: “And it came to pass that in this same year there was exceedingly great prosperity in the church, insomuch that there were thousands who did join themselves unto the church and were baptized unto repentance.”

Now, look at what happened as a result of eliminating the contention:

25. “And so great was the prosperity of the church, and so many the blessings which were poured out upon the people, that even the high priests and the teachers were themselves astonished beyond measure.”

I think this is what will happen as members of the Church eliminate contention about Book of Mormon geography and reach unity on the basic teaching from Oliver and Joseph that the Hill Cumorah was in New York.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Maps and expectations

One of the most frequent questions I get (as well as points of disagreement) involves maps.

Everyone is trying to figure out Book of Mormon geography by reading the text and referring to satellite maps. As I pointed out in Moroni's America, this can be helpful in some ways, but there's no reason to think that Mormon and Moroni had satellite imagery. They lived on the ground. They didn't have airplanes, let alone satellites. It's a completely different perspective, one that modern people probably can't even understand because we're so used to viewing the Earth from the top down. We project maps onto the surface even when we try not to.

As a result, the reliance on modern maps raises expectations that cannot be met. (And I realize I used them in Moroni's America. Like everyone else, I want to relate to the text in terms of modern geography. But I don't think we can get an accurate geography using modern maps, at least not accurate in detail. The overall picture seems pretty clear to me, but when we get down to where someone crossed a river or where a particular battle took place, we're raising expectations that have no sound basis either in the text or in terms of modern geography.)

Another factor: neither Mormon nor Moroni personally visited every city mentioned in the text. Many of the cities were destroyed, as recorded in 3 Nephi, hundreds of years before Mormon and Moroni wrote their portions of the plates. Maybe they had maps to refer to, or maybe they only had written explanations that were not a lot more detailed than what they left in their own accounts. I think that's one reason why they used such vague terminology.

Yet another factor is that landforms change over time. Besides the destruction described in 3 Nephi, rivers frequently change course.

Here's an example of a map of the Mississippi River from 1682, drawn by Franquelin, a Frenchman. You'll notice it's not even close to what our satellites show.

Let's say an individual writing the history of this region had only this map to go by. No matter how well he/she described the terrain and the relative distances and directions, we would not recognize the setting in today's world.

There are some interesting features if you look closely.

Franquelin noted iron mines and lead mines along the river. He depicted the body of water at the top, which we call Lake Michigan today, as "Mer du Nord," or Sea North.

I'm not saying or implying that this is the Sea North referred to in Helaman 3:8, but I am pointing out two things here.

First, the term "Sea North" is not a proper noun but a relative term, which is how I think Mormon used similar terms in the Book of Mormon.

Second, this map was the most accurate representation Franquelin could come up with, based on the information he had. We now know that Lake Michigan does not extend this far west and that the rivers are much different from what he showed here, but that doesn't mean Franquelin was lying or trying to deceive anyone. We can assume he used his best efforts, despite the imperfections in this map.

It is difficult today to figure out which tributaries Franquelin was showing. The Mississippi River today looks almost nothing like what he showed in this map.

Two years later, Franquelin drew another map. This one shows the Mississippi entering the Gulf of Mexico from roughly where Corpus Christi, Texas, is today. The New Orleans area is shown as a bay, not the mouth of a river.

With respect to the Mississippi entering the Gulf of Mexico, Franquelin's earlier map was more accurate. But instead of the wildly speculative Sea North, he showed the Great Lakes much as we know them today. He even showed the northern extension of Lake Huron to what we now call the French River. This once-navigable extension used to be a passage to the St. Lawrence Seaway but is now marshland.

This map also identifies an interesting feature not far from the Hill Cumorah in New York. Franquelin labels it "Fontaine d'eau qui brule," meaning "Fountain of water that boils."

The point here is that I think we need to be careful in assessing the geography passages of the text and consider the circumstances in which someone writing around 400 A.D. would be in as he abridged the records that, to him, were already ancient. These maps from 1682 and 1684 are only 330 years old. Mormon was dealing with maps (or, even worse, verbal descriptions) that were older than that to him.

Moroni noted the text contained imperfections. He also wrote that "if there are faults they are the mistakes of men."

This is another reason why I propose we start with the known pin in the map--the Hill Cumorah in New York--and sort through the text from there.

And that's why I think any map that puts Cumorah somewhere else, whether in a real-world setting or in an abstract setting, is hopelessly compromised and inherently misleading.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Book of Mormon cement

One of the biggest obstacles to reaching consensus is interpreting the text through Mesoamerican lenses. Along with volcanoes, headwaters, and tapirs, the claim that Mayan cities are described in the text is inexplicable.

There are only three verses in the text that mention cement, all in Helaman:

Helaman 3:7-11
7 And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless the people who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell.

9 And the people who were in the land northward did dwell in tents, and in houses of cement, and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings.

10 And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping.

11 And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement.

There is not a single mention anywhere in the Book of Mormon of people constructing buildings with stones or rocks.

Even in these verses in Helaman, they built houses of cement. They needed timber, not stones, to build their "houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings." Even if large stones were available, they explicitly did not use them. Instead, they imported lumber before they built their cities.

So if we read the text, we should be looking for a culture that built with wood (timber), along with cement, but not with stone.

The last thing we would look for is something such as this:

Oddly, this photo illustrates KnoWhy #174 at Book of Mormon Central. The title is "When Did Cement Become Common in Ancient America?" The photo shows anything but a culture that built with wood and cement.

The article proceeds to discuss archaeological finds involving cement in Teotihuacan in central Mexico, "which some Book of Mormon scholars consider to be in the land northward." Anyone who has visited Teotihuacan, as I have, knows these massive buildings were not made out of wood and cement, as the Book of Mormon says. They were constructed with stone and cement.

There is another mention of cement in connection with the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith described the box that contained the plates, which was originally constructed by Moroni:

"Having removed the earth, I obtained a lever, which I got fixed under the edge of the stone, and with a little exertion raised it up. I looked in, and there indeed did I behold the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate, as stated by the messenger. The box in which they lay was formed by laying stones together in some kind of cement. In the bottom of the box were laid two stones crossways of the box, and on these stones lay the plates and the other things with them."

Moroni knew how to fabricate and use cement when he was in New York (unless you want to believe he hauled cement 3,400 miles north from Mesoamerica along with the plates and other artifacts).

At Cahokia, across from St. Louis, archaeologists have reconstructed the wood and cement walls that were common anciently in that area. These particular walls date a few hundred years after Book of Mormon times, but they show the kind of construction the text describes: wood and cement.

The ancient people used the cement in these structures to fortify and protect the wood. This type of cement doesn't last a long time. It didn't survive even a thousand years, so it couldn't have survived from even earlier Book of Mormon times. For that matter, could we reasonably expect any of the Nephite wooden structures to survive to this day?

As always, I think it's more useful to read the text and then look for something in archaeology that matches instead of deciding on a setting and then changing the text to make it match.

Any culture that built with stone instead of with wood (and, for a short time in one location, cement) cannot be the culture described in the Book of Mormon.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Expectations and art - missionary work

Missionary work involves a variety of expectations, but here I'm focusing solely on the expectations raised by the missionary edition of the Book of Mormon.

Over the years, the official editions of the Book of Mormon have contained sets of illustrations. I have copies of many of these that I'll use to make this important point: The expectations of missionaries, investigators and members are set largely by these illustrations.

The illustrations that accompany the official edition of the Book of Mormon are tremendously influential. I suspect that far more people look at the illustrations than read the text. Probably 100 times more.

Obviously, the message in the text is ultimately the most important, but unless people read the text,they don't get the message. If the illustrations convey ideas that contradict the text (and Church history), then they cause confusion.

The fact that these illustrations have changed over the years shows that they can be changed again. At the end of this post, I have a suggestion along those lines.

The history of these illustrations reflects a shift from a hemispheric model (the one that Friberg apparently intended) to the limited geography two-Cumorah Mesoamerican model that modern scholars support. For example, notice that the earlier editions showed both Mormon and Moroni at the New York Cumorah, while the newer editions show only Moroni in New York.

I suggest it's time to shift back to a one-Cumorah model, based on New York.

I have a copy of a 1961 Book of Mormon that contains the following illustrations at the front of the book:

The caption: When Jesus Christ organized His Church, He called and ordained his disciples.

Caption: The Prophet Joseph Smith. He translated the ancient writings inscribed on gold plates from which the first edition of the Book of Mormon was published in 1830.

Caption: The Hill Cumorah, near Manchester, New York where Joseph Smith obtained the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

Caption: The beautiful monument to the Book of Mormon Prophet Moroni was erected on the top of the Hill Cumorah in July, 1935.

Caption: Gold tablet found in Persia in 1961, dating to the time of Darius II (Fourth Century B.C.)...

Caption: Ancient copper and bronze tools dated from the Book of Mormon period.

Caption: Gold plates from Peru fastened together with gold rings. Ancient Americans were skilled craftsmen in gold and precious metals.
Caption: Textiles from Peru, dated from the Book of Mormon period.

Caption: Egyptian-like murals found on temple walls in Mexico.

Caption: Looking across the main plaza of Monte Alban (sacred mountain). This city dates back to 800 years before Christ.
Caption: Temple of the Cross in Mexico. This temple, believed to have been erected during the Maya Classic Period, contains the famous Cross of Palenque. Many archaeologists now agree that these artistic masterpieces date back to the beginning of the Christian era.

In addition to these illustrations, eight of the twelve Arnold Friberg paintings are interspersed in the text.

The exact same set of illustrations are in the 1980 English edition I'm looking at right now.

[Note: I also have a 1973 Spanish edition that contains the same illustrations except it substitutes Machu Picchu for Monte Alban. I suspect the reason is to show a hemispheric model that would appeal to people in South America.]


The 1981 English edition changed the illustrations to what we have now, both in print and on here. This is the edition that added the subtitle "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" to the cover.

If I'm an investigator, missionary, or member, here's what I take away from these illustrations. First, Christ is the most important (the first illustration) and the Heinrich Hoffman painting depicts the traditional Christ accepted by Christianity generally. Awesome.

Second, Joseph Smith. Makes sense.

Third, finding the Liahona in the Arabian desert. One of the best Friberg paintings, set in the right place, and emphasizing a key element of the text. Nice.

Fourth, arriving at the promised land. So long as I don't realize that Friberg intentionally used a bird species that exists only in Central America, and so long as I don't notice the high mountains in the background, the painting is ambiguous enough that Lehi could have landed almost anywhere in the Americas. Okay, but not great.

Fifth, the waters of Mormon in the depths of a thick jungle featuring high mountains. Hmm, now it's inescapable. I have to conclude that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America somewhere (or maybe somewhere in the Andes). Let's say, not good because it conveys a specific setting the text does not support. Worse, it endorses the scholars' two-Cumorah theory that rejects Letter VII and Oliver Cowdery, one of the Three Witnesses.

Sixth, Samuel the Lamanite on the Mayan walls of the city of Zarahemla. Now there's no doubt about it. As a reader, I have to believe the Book of Mormon took place in Central America. But when I read the text, I'll be seriously disappointed and confused to discover the text never mentions huge stone pyramids and temples. It never mentions jungles. And when the answer to my obvious questions about Cumorah is that there are actually two Cumorahs, I'll become even more confused.

Seventh, Jesus Christ visits the Americas by John Scott. This painting combines a variety of ancient American motifs to convey the idea (I think) that Christ visited people throughout the Americas. This is a reasonable inference from the text. (I like to think the clouds represent North America, but it would be far better to show something actually from North America, such as an earthwork, that is described in the text. Of course, the text never mentions pyramids, stone buildings, or even high mountains where the Nephites lived.) The biggest problem with including this illustration is the inference that Christ is visiting the Nephites in Central America. The painting is incorrectly labeled "Christ teaching Nephites" on, for example. If the webmaster at misunderstands the painting, surely investigators, missionaries, and members make the wrong inference as well.

Eighth, Moroni burying the plates. Awesome. Except the caption doesn't say where Moroni is burying them; it doesn't mention Cumorah or New York. The Introduction says Moroni "hid up the plates in the Hill Cumorah," so as a reader, I infer this painting is supposed to be the New York hill. But then how could all the other events take place somewhere in Central America? More confusion, especially when the explanation I'm given is the two-Cumorah theory.


My suggestion.

A member, missionary, or investigator who looks at the official edition of the Book of Mormon, online or in print, will naturally turn to these illustrations and take away the message that the Book of Mormon events occurred in Central America. There is really no other feasible conclusion to be drawn from the illustrations.

But the illustrations contradict the text itself in many ways.

The only certain connection we have between the Book of Mormon and the modern world is the Hill Cumorah. People who read the text should not be influenced by depictions of huge Mayan temples, massive stone walls, jungles, and the like. Artistic representations should rely on the text. Some of the Arnold Friberg paintings are set in places that conform to the text; i.e., Lehi in Arabia, brother of Jared on a high mountain, Mormon and Moroni on the New York Hill Cumorah. Others, however, have created expectations among members and nonmembers alike that simply cannot be reconciled with the text or satisfied in the real world.

The sooner they are replaced with text-based illustrations, the better.

Given the existing artwork, here's what I would like to see in the way of Book of Mormon illustrations:


I'd like to go back to the emphasis on the Hill Cumorah in New York, both because of its central role in the restoration, and because of its importance in the text. This spot, in New York, is where the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations came to an end.

I'd like to see a quotation from Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII here in the caption. After all, Oliver's testimony as one of the three witnesses is already in the introductory material. Maybe instead of the statue, we could have a photo of the valley to the west where the final battles took place.

Keep this illustration of Lehi and the liahona because it is consistent with the text; i.e., a Middle-Eastern setting.

Add this one back because it's an important story and shows the coast of the Arabian peninsula.

Add this one because it is important to show actual sheep from the text instead of the tapirs and agouti in Central America, although the tropical plants are still problematic.

Add this one back because of how important the story is and the setting, somewhere in Asia, doesn't matter.

Add this one back because it shows both Mormon and Moroni at the Hill Cumorah in New York. This is eliminates any confusion about Cumorah. It reaffirms what Oliver Cowdery wrote in Letter VII.
Keep this one because it shows Moroni burying the plates in New York in the stone and cement box he constructed, away from the repository of the Nephite records that his father Mormon concealed elsewhere in the hill.


Illustrations that are consistent with the text can help encourage people to read the text and engage with it. Illustrations that are inconsistent with the text--i.e., illustrations of jungles and massive stone pyramids--are confusing and off-putting. When people discover that illustrations in the official editions rely on the scholars' two-Cumorah theory, it's even worse. The scholarly theories that the Hill Cumorah is actually anywhere but in New York, and that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were speculating about all of this, are hardly conducive to faith.

If we could have a consistent narrative based on the New York setting for the Hill Cumorah, and eliminate the confusing images based on Central America, the message of the text would be free from distractions, which would enhance understanding and faith.