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, 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. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Expectations, imprinting, and life-long avocations

If you've been following these blogs, you undoubtedly know that most LDS people still have a vague notion that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America. They probably have never read BYU Studies, or books and articles published by Deseret Book, the Maxwell Institute, or the various organizations and web pages that promote the Mesoamerican theory.

So where does the notion come from?

It's definitely not in the text.

But it is in LDS culture.

Mesoamerican imagery is ubiquitous in Church media, creating expectations and imprinting interpretations that last a lifetime.

Think about the impact the media has. Do kids growing up with these images have any chance of imagining the Book of Mormon in North America?

Historical narratives are created by words and images, but images usually prevail over words. Images are easier to remember, especially when they are viewed many times.

The Mesoamerican narrative is so strongly imprinted that even considering a different setting feels somehow disloyal to what one has been taught from childhood.

All of this artwork defies the New York setting for the Hill Cumorah. Many people don't realize that because they haven't thought about it and they don't read what the LDS scholars write, but LDS scholars are adamant that the Hill Cumorah must be somewhere in southern Mexico.

Church authorities did not commission Arnold Friberg to illustrate the Book of Mormon. The work was privately funded and then donated to the Church. Apparently Church leaders at the time were reluctant to illustrate the text.

They probably knew that once a scene was depicted, it would become fixed in the minds of the people. And that is exactly what has happened.

I think the LDS scholars who continue to promote the Mesoamerican geography were deeply influenced at a young age and don't even realize it.

In the context of Book of Mormon geography, images have framed the interpretation of the text for generations.


Here's an example of how children are taught to think of Samuel the Lamanite, the city of Zarahemla, and what Nephites looked like. In this puzzle from the Friend, children are asked to study this painting in detail, using a form of catechism.

"How many Nephites can you count on the stairs?"
"How many vases are hanging in the shop?"
"How many arrows are near Samuel?"

Every Primary child is taught from an early age that the city of Zarahemla was built of massive stone structures featuring Mayan motifs. The text says nothing of the sort. There is not a single building made from stone in the entire Book of Mormon. And yet, this illustration launches children on a course of expectations that stays with them their entire lives.


The lessons from Primary are reinforced over the years. Here's a poster from the New Era that reiterates the message about the city of Zarahemla and the appearance of the Nephites.

This one is particularly ironic because the caption, with the title, reads:

Popularity. It's overrated. Sometimes the crowed is just plain wrong.

Truer words could not be written about the scholarly approach to the Book of Mormon geography.

Sunday School.

The Sunday School manual and student guide is explicitly Mayan.

Fortunately, the lessons don't focus on geography, but the when the only illustration in the manual depicts a Mayan scene, the message is clear and unmistakable.



Here is the cover for the Book of Mormon Seminary Teacher Manual. It's almost generic, but the massive stone pyramid in the background pays homage to the Friberg painting of the massive stone Mayan pyramid that is also featured in the logos of the scholarly organizations.


The Institute manual is also explicitly Mayan with the temple structure and the jungle vegetation. No ambiguity here.

When Church-approved material depicts a consistent Mayan setting for the Book of Mormon from Primary through adulthood classes, what other conclusion can members reach?

Popular media

Because official publications feature Mayan themes, it is not surprising that private individuals pick up on that theme and expand it. Here are a couple of examples.

My First Book of Mormon Stories goes hand-in-hand with the Primary materials to imprint a Mayan setting in the minds of the children. Presumably the authors and publisher feel safe to depict the Book of Mormon this way because they're basically replicating the ubiquitous Arnold Friberg painting.

The Tennis Shoes series has sold over a million copies and has influenced untold numbers of people.


Of course, people can believe whatever they want. Artists can interpret the text however they want. But parents and teachers and Church leaders and missionaries and individuals need to be aware of the power of media in forming narratives.

It is far better to stick to the text than to rely on these images. In the text, there is not a single pyramid, stone building, or jungle animal or plant.

So why do artists continue to depict Mayan features in Book of Mormon art?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Expectations and art - Church history

One of the most important articles published in the Ensign in years (apart from Conference talks) was published last October (2015) and was little noticed. It's titled Joseph the Seer, by By Richard E. Turley Jr., Assistant Church Historian and Recorder, Robin S. Jensen and Mark Ashurst-McGee, Church History Department.

A section of the article addresses the significance of artistic interpretation of historical events. Here's what the articles says:

Illustrating the Translation Process
Over the years, artists have sought to portray the Book of Mormon translation, showing the participants in many settings and poses with different material objects. Each artistic interpretation is based upon its artist’s own views, research, and imagination, sometimes aided by input and direction from others. Here are a few scenes produced throughout the years.
The article then gives some examples of well-known art that has conveyed an interpretation of history that is not exactly supported by the historical accounts.

In my presentations, I show some additional examples. Here's one that was on the cover of the Ensign itself a few years ago:

 The article explains: "Artist’s rendition of Joseph Smith studying the plates. Joseph recalled that he “copied a considerable number” of characters from the plates. After he translated these characters “by means of the Urim and Thummim,” Martin Harris took the characters to Charles Anthon and other scholars to confirm the translation (Joseph Smith—History 1:62–64).

Although the article characterizes this painting as Joseph studying the plates, the painting is titled "By the Gift and Power of God" (which refers to translation) and has been used to illustrate articles about Joseph translating the plates. E.g., look at this issue of the Liahona:

This painting and the one that follows are among those that have formed the historical narrative for millions of LDS. They convey the idea that Joseph translated the plates by looking at them, contrary to the historical evidence that he used a seer stone. The article explains how art is an interpretation, not a doctrinal or historical reality.

For some reason, the online version of the article omits this painting to the right, but here's what it says about it.

Artist’s portrayal of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery working on the translation of the Book of Mormon. Unlike what is depicted here, Oliver Cowdery stated that he did not see the plates until after the translation was finished. Witnesses of the process reported that during the translation, the plates were shielded from view, such as by being covered with a linen cloth.


It's no wonder that millions of LDS have a particular mental image of the Book of Mormon as well. Look at the art that accompanies the Book of Mormon still today:

I'll discuss this in the next installment.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Expectations, psychology, and Book of Mormon geography

It is well known that both happiness and disappointment are directly related to expectations. When expectations are elevated above reality, people are disappointed. The concept is explained by this diagram:

The higher our expectations, the greater our potential disappointment. Another way to say it is, the more unrealistic our expectations, the greater our disappointment will be when reality hits. 

Yet another way to describe the psychology of expectation is that we see the world through the lenses of our expectations. One writer has referred to "the curse of expectation."

Some have suggested an important principle this way: "the secret to happiness is low expectations," attributed to Barry Schwarz, who also suggests that having too many choices undermines happiness (a topic for another day).

This concept applies to many aspects of the Gospel (e.g., expectations about Church history, infallibility of leaders, fruits of living the Gospel, how others should behave, etc.). I'm only going to discuss how it applies to questions of Book of Mormon geography and historicity.

Most Mormons alive today have grown up with a mental image that created an intrinsic emotional and psychological expectation of the Book of Mormon based on the Arnold Friberg paintings. They are still used throughout Church curriculum and media. They are still included in missionary editions of the Book of Mormon, so they impact investigators as well as members.

These paintings have two serious unintended consequences.

1. By depicting specific scenes in the text but without adhering to the actual text, they drive the interpretation of the text in the minds of nearly every LDS.

2. By depicting grandiose architecture, they raise false expectations about what Nephite society was actually like and where the events took place.

These consequences have been devastating for Book of Mormon scholarship, missionary work, and the basic faith of believers.

First, I emphasize I'm not being critical of Arnold Friberg. I've loved these paintings since I was a kid. He painted them for the Primary, and no doubt they have fueled the imagination of kids every since. But in so doing, the paintings raise expectations far beyond the reality. To some degree, the effect is subliminal; people passively accept the images and don't think much about them. But in some cases, the effect has been quite seriously negative.

Let's look at this depiction of Christ visiting the Nephites.

There is much to love about this painting. As a kid, I studied every aspect of it. It was how I imagined 3 Nephi for most of my life (until recently).

When you see this painting over and over at Church, and embedded in the Book of Mormon itself, it is difficult to picture anything other than Christ appearing at this incredibly massive stone pyramid.

(People often comment on how incredibly strong the men always appear in the Friberg paintings. The physical strength was intended as a representation of their spiritual strength, a great concept to remember.)

But look at the details and remember that every LDS born since the early 1950s grew up with this painting as the primary depiction of the appearance of Christ to the Nephites.

Notice the steep stairs ascending at an angle.

Notice the stepped nature of the pyramid.

Notice the temple at the top.

Now, look at the logos of some of the most prominent organizations that focus on Book of Mormon geography and historicity.

They each include the significant features from the Arnold Friberg painting.

And yet, the Book of Mormon never once mentions pyramids. It doesn't even mention people using stone to construct buildings!

I won't take the time to go through the other Friberg paintings, but you can do that on your own and see what I mean.

Whether the influence of the Friberg painting is subliminal or overt, you can decide. I don't think the people involved with these organizations realize how deeply they have been influenced by these paintings, but the evidence is there. Of course, it extends far beyond these logos. It is implicit in everything they write on the topic.

Ultimately, these faithful LDS scholars are trying to vindicate the expectations raised by the Friberg paintings from the time they were children. Many of them have made careers of studying ancient Mesoamerica. And I think it's driven by these paintings.

When they think about careers at an early age, kids have always been heavily influenced by media. Everyone wanted to be an astronaut when Neil Armstrong's hop onto the moon was broadcast on television. Forensics suddenly became a popular choice when shows such as Crime Scene Investigations and Law and Order became popular.  I have a grandson whose ambition is to become a "youtuber" when he grows up.

It is not surprising that LDS kids raised with these paintings have been drawn to Mesoamerica as a career choice.

Let's set aside the scholars for a moment. Millions of Mormons have grown up with these Friberg-inspired expectations. It would be unnatural for them to "see" the Book of Mormon except through these lenses.

I've spoken with many LDS over the years. Most of them generally think of the Book of Mormon in a Central American setting, just as depicted by the Friberg paintings. They don't think much beyond that; to most people, ancient America is a general concept, not a specific point in time and space. Ancient is ancient, wherever it was.

That's perfectly understandable. We can't all become specialists. We defer to our doctors, dentists, plumbers, car repair shops, farmers, etc.

For Mormons, it's natural to defer to the scholars who are reaffirming the images imprinted on our minds from a young age.

But some people inquire further.

Some people start to wonder how valid the Friberg-inspired expectations really are.

And when they do, they soon discover things such as the two-Cumorah theory and the anachronisms of the Chichen Itza pyramid set in Book of Mormon times. Many people are shocked to realize the LDS scholars insist the "real" Cumorah is somewhere in Central America.

The more they inquire, the more they realize the fundamental incompatibility between Mayan and Nephite culture. Their expectations are dashed, and, as they diagram at the top demonstrates, the disparity between expectations and reality leads to disappointment.

As Joseph Fielding Smith warned, the two-Cumorah causes members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.

Sadly, tragically, their disappointment is not because the Book of Mormon is not true, but because of the discrepancy between the false expectations they were raised with and the reality of what the text actually says.

I have more blog posts coming on expectations from the text. Stay tuned.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Agree / Agree-to-Disagree by topic

A great suggestion came in that I organize the chart by topic, so here goes. Now for each section, the agreed-upon points are listed along with the points where we agree to disagree. As before, anyone who has ideas to improve the chart can let me know and I'll fix it. This is intended to be an accurate representation, not a critique of either, or any, proposed geography. I also realize there are variations among proponents of every theory, so this is necessarily a summary, not a detailed analysis.

I hope this chart will help clarify the issues for everyone who is interested in the geography and historicity of the Book of Mormon.

Book of Mormon message
Moroni’s America
1. The most important aspect of the Book of Mormon is its message.
2. The Book of Mormon is an inspired translation of an actual ancient record of actual people who lived in the real world.
3. The ultimate objective of our research/writing is to motivate people to read the Book of Mormon and strengthen their faith in Christ as a result.
4. Another objective of our research/writing is to help people better understand the text of the book by understanding its setting, culture and context.
Church Position
Moroni’s America

5. Besides the New York Cumorah, the Church has no official position on where Book of Mormon events took place.

6. As an Apostle and Church Historian, Joseph Fielding Smith said the two-Cumorah theory caused members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. He reiterated this when he was President of the Quorum of the Twelve in the 1950s in his book Doctrines of Salvation.

7. Joseph Fielding Smith’s comments on the two-Cumorah theory
Joseph Fielding Smith’s criticisms of the two-Cumorah theory are invalid because he did not know much about Mesoamerica and because 50 years ago, someone heard a BYU professor say Pres. Smith told him he could teach whatever he wanted about Cumorah.
Joseph Fielding Smith’s criticisms of the two-Cumorah theory are valid, have caused and continue to cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith of the Book of Mormon.
8. Modern prophets/apostles have identified Lamanites in Latin America
These statements corroborate the Mesoamerican setting.
These statements are not limited to Mesoamerica and reflect post-Book of Mormon migrations (Mayans moving north after 800 AD, intermarrying, and then returning to Mesoamerica and south from there).

Hill Cumorah
Moroni’s America

9. In Letter VII, Oliver Cowdery identified the valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York as the location of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites.

10. Oliver Cowdery’s Letter VII
Oliver Cowdery was speculating and was factually wrong about the New York location of the Hill Cumorah.
Oliver Cowdery stated a fact about the New York Cumorah based on his own experience in Mormon’s repository as related to Brigham Young and others.
11. Joseph Smith instructed his scribes to copy Oliver’s letters, including Letter VII, into his journal as part of his life story.

12. Joseph Smith gave permission to Benjamin Winchester to republish Oliver’s letters, including Letter VII, in his newspaper called the Gospel Reflector

13. Don Carlos republished Oliver’s letters, including Letter VII, in the 1842 Church newspaper called the Times and Seasons (T&S).

14. Joseph Smith originally obtained the plates from a stone box Moroni constructed out of stone and cement in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

15. Lucy Mack Smith wrote ““Stop, father, stop,” said Joseph, “it was the angel of the Lord. As I passed by the hill of Cumorah, where the plates are, the angel met me and said that I had not been engaged enough in the work of the Lord; that the time had come for the record to be brought forth. (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, 1853).

16. Brigham Young said Oliver told him that he (Oliver) and Joseph had made at least two visits to a room in the Hill Cumorah in New York that contained piles of records and ancient Nephite artifacts.

17. Mormon said he buried all the Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah (Morm. 6:6), the scene of the final battles of the Nephites, except he kept out the plates he gave to his son Moroni to finish the record.

18. Location of the Hill Cumorah
The hill in New York had nothing to do with ancient Nephites or Jaredites (apart from Moroni traveling to the area). The real Hill Cumorah which contains Mormon’s repository of records and was the scene of the final battles is elsewhere.
The hill in New York is the actual Hill Cumorah/Ramah where both the Nephites and the Jaredites were destroyed.  It also contained Mormon’s repository of the Nephite records.
19. Two-Cumorah theory described
There are two Cumorahs. The one in New York where Joseph Smith found the plates was just the place where Moroni buried his record. Unknown early Mormons gave this hill the name Cumorah and Joseph Smith later adopted this tradition. The real Cumorah where Mormon deposited the Nephite records is the scene of the final battles and it is in Mesoamerica.
There is only one Cumorah and it is in New York.
20. D&C 128:20 reads, “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed,” followed by references to other events that took place in New York.

21. D&C 128 meaning
Joseph was either embracing a folk tradition started by an unknown member or was paying homage to the real Cumorah in Mexico.
Joseph was referring to the hill in New York that was referred to as Cumorah by Moroni.

Church History: Joseph’s knowledge
Moroni’s America

22. Joseph Smith obtained the plates from Moroni from the hill near his house now called Cumorah

23. Joseph’s mother wrote that “During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelings, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them.”

24. In the Wentworth letter, Joseph wrote that I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country [America] and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people, was [also] made known unto me; I was also told where were deposited some plates on which were engraven an abridgment of the records of the ancient prophets that had existed on this continent.

25. Joseph Smith’s knowledge
Joseph did not leave a first-hand record of a revelation about Book of Mormon geography, so he had no revelation or inspiration regarding Book of Mormon geography
Joseph Smith knew where the Book of Mormon events took place because Moroni had shown him, as mentioned in the Wentworth letter and by his mother Lucy.
26. “Plains of the Nephites” (Joseph's letter to Emma refers to Ohio, Indiana and Illinois as the "plains of the Nephites")
Joseph speculated about a location not specifically mentioned in the text ("the plains of the Nephites").
Because of what Moroni showed him, Joseph recognized the plains referred to in the text of the Book of Mormon; i.e., "meet them upon the plains between the two cities" (Alma 52:20); "pitch their tents in the plains of Nephihah" (Alma 62:18) and "battle against them, upon the plains" (Alma 62:19).
27. Zelph
Zelph was a warrior killed in Illinois who was known to some of Lehi’s descendants who migrated northward from Mesoamerica into the Hinterland (areas not covered by the text)
Zelph was a warrior in the final battles of the Nephites, killed in Illinois between Zarahemla and Cumorah.
28. Statements recorded by Wilford Woodruff and Martha Coray and attributed to Joseph Smith say that Zion is all of North and South America
These statement mean Lehi’s descendants filled the hemisphere, but BoM took place in a limited geography (Mesoamerica)
These statements originally meant Northern and Southern states, but Zion is anywhere the pure in heart live. Winchester’s wing concept of the continents of North and South America was adopted by Hyrum Smith and successors, then applied retroactively (Wilford Woodruff, Martha Coray)
29. 1830-31 Mission to the Lamanites (D&C 28, 30 and 32)
Early Mormons believed the American Indians were Lamanites, but the term actually refers to all indigenous people in the Americas.
These verses referred specifically to those tribes they visited (and other culturally connected tribes) in New York, Ohio and Missouri, showing these tribes were the descendants of the Lamanites.

Church History: Bernhisel and Stephens’ books
Moroni’s America

30. On Sept. 9, 1841, Dr. Bernhisel gave Wilford Woodruff a copy of the Stephens' popular archaeology books about Central America to give to Joseph Smith

31. On Nov. 5, 1841, Wilford Woodruff wrote a letter to Dr. Bernhisel that is not extant.

32. A thank-you letter dated Nov. 16, 1841, was sent to Bernhisel on Joseph Smith’s behalf. No one knows who wrote the letter because the handwriting remains unidentified and no journals mention it.

33. Significance of Bernhisel letter.
Because the Bernhisel letter was written on behalf of Joseph Smith, he dictated it or knew of and approved its contents.
Joseph often had others write on his behalf. The Bernhisel letter was drafted by Wilford Woodruff and written out by an unknown person with legible penmanship. Joseph probably asked Woodruff to write the letter but never saw it and never read the Stephens books.
Church history: Times and Seasons
Moroni’s America

34. A series of editorials were published in the T&S during 1842 that linked the Book of Mormon to archaeological findings in North and Central America. They cited the Stephens books and archaeology books by Josiah Priest. All were published either anonymously or over the signature of Ed. for Editor.

35. From February 15 through October 15, 1842, the boilerplate of the T&S said the paper was edited, printed, and published by Joseph Smith.

36. Anonymous T&S article, Sept/Oct 1842
The articles linking the Book of Mormon to Central America were written, or at least approved by, Joseph Smith
The articles linking the Book of Mormon to Central America were not written, approved of, or even seen by Joseph Smith prior to publication
37. T&S Editor
Joseph was a hands-on editor of the T&S
Joseph was a nominal editor only. The paper was actually edited by William Smith and/or W.W. Phelps.
38. 1842 Wentworth letter statement that the “Lamanites are Indians in this country.”
This refers to all indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere.
Joseph was writing from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Mr. Wentworth who lived in Chicago, Illinois. Joseph's statement refers to the Native American Indians in Illinois and what was then the United States.
Book of Mormon geography
Moroni’s America

39. The geography passages in the Book of Mormon are subject to a variety of interpretations.

40. To date, apart from Moroni’s stone box and the plates and other objects Joseph Smith possessed and showed to the Witnesses, no artifact or archaeological site that can be directly linked to the Book of Mormon has been found anywhere.

41. Cultural characteristics can be discerned from the text.

42. The land of Zarahemla is north of the land of Nephi and lower in elevation than the land of Nephi.

43. The New Jerusalem Ether wrote about is located in Jackson County, Missouri.

44. Book of Mormon overall geography
The text describes an overall hourglass shape.
The text does not describe an overall hourglass shape. Instead, Cumorah is a pin in the map in New York and Zarahemla is a pin in the map in Iowa.
45. Setting in Central America vs. North America
The description in the text best fits someplace in Central America, including Guatemala and Mexico.
The description in the text best fits North America, from Florida to New York and west to Missouri and Iowa.
46. Location of Zarahemla
Zarahemla is located somewhere in Mexico or Guatemala; D&C 125:3 does not refer to the Nephite Zarahemla
Zarahemla is located across from Nauvoo as indicated by D&C 125:3 (near Montrose Iowa)
47. River Sidon
Because the land of Nephi is south of the land of Zarahemla and people travel down to the land of Zarahemla from Nephi, and because the river Sidon flows past the city of Zarahemla, the River Sidon flows north. Sidon is the Umacita or Grijalva river in Mesoamerica
Because the land of Nephi is south of the land of Zarahemla and people travel down to the land of Zarahemla from Nephi, the river between the two lands flows North. This is the Tennessee River, unnamed in the text. The text says that the river Sidon flows past the city of Zarahemla and along the land of Zarahemla, but not that it goes to the land of Nephi. These descriptions fits the Iowa location; Sidon is the upper Mississippi River.
48. Western Hemisphere setting
Although Joseph merely speculated about BoM geography, he knew it took place somewhere in the Western Hemisphere
Joseph knew by revelation that the Book of Mormon took place in the Western Hemisphere because he identified the plains of the Nephites, identified the western tribes of Indians as Lamanites, etc.

Archaeology and Anthropology
Moroni’s America

49. Mayan civilization collapsed around 800 A.D. and Mayans migrated to North America, where they lived for several hundred years before returning to Central America.

50. The Newark Ohio earthworks are the largest earthworks in the world and demonstrate knowledge of astronomy and geometry.

51. There were a million ancient mounds in North America before the Europeans arrived.

52. There are two million skeletons buried in mounds in Illinois alone.

53. Cultural elements in the text
The text describes an ancient Mesoamerican culture. Towers in the text refer to massive stone pyramids. Horses may be tapirs. The Nephites sacrificed agouti or other large rodents.
The text describes an ancient North American culture. Towers in the text refer to wooden towers. Horses are horses. The Nephites strictly observed the Law of Moses, including species.
54. Correspondences in Central America between BoM and ancient cultures
Many correspondences suggest the BoM took place in Central America, including Mayan banners, pyramids, stone temples, warfare, symbols of the tree of life, state-level society, etc.
These correspondences are typical of most cultures and, to the extent they are unique to BoM, they reflect culture brought to Central America from North America when the Mayans returned after 900 AD.
55. Jaredites
The Jaredites lived in Central America and were destroyed at the Hill Cumorah (Ramah) in Mexico
The Jaredites likely expanded throughout the western hemisphere and only those who lived in “this north country” were Ether's ancestors who were discussed in the Book of Ether and were destroyed at Cumorah
56. Presence of ancient writing
The text requires the presence of ancient writing systems, which are found only in Mesoamerica
The text excludes the presence of ancient writing systems because Lamanites destroyed any records they could find, which is why Mormon had to hide the plates.
57. Archaeological evidence in North America between BoM and ancient cultures
The archaeology in North America during BoM times shows a tribal level society, but BoM describes a state-level society
The archaeology shows a primarily tribal level society but also a long-lost state-level society with monumental architecture, just as BoM describes
58. DNA evidence
All known DNA in Mesoamerican is Asian in origin, but DNA evidence is inconclusive; cannot prove or disprove the Book of Mormon.
Only northeastern (Great Lakes) Indian tribes have DNA other than Asian; dating of X2 haplotype (Middle-Eastern) remains an open issue because scientists currently say the X2 haplotype appeared in the Great Lakes region thousands of years before Lehi.
59. Promised land covenant
Promised land and covenant land includes entire Western hemisphere
Promised land and covenant land refers to the United States 
60. Uto-Aztecan languages have Hebrew and Egyptian influence
These language influences show transoceanic interaction with Indians in western U.S. and Mexico.
These language influences show transoceanic interaction with Indians in western U.S. and Mexico, but not on Mayans. In addition, Algonquin (Great Lakes Indians) languages also have Hebrew and Egyptian influence.