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

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

How to share the Book of Mormon-web background

From now on, this blog will assume everyone who believes the Book of Mormon accepts the words of the prophets and apostles about the Hill Cumorah in New York.

IOW, we're moving on from the handful of intellectuals who apparently continue to reject the New York Cumorah and we're going to explore ways to expand the consensus beyond Mormons.

The consensus we seek to establish is that (i) the Book of Mormon testifies of Christ and (ii) its divine authenticity as a true history of real people demonstrates God's love for His children, His involvement in the world, and the ongoing vitality of His covenants.

The Book of Mormon was written for the entire world. According to the Title Page, it was written "to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations."

I'm interested in how this purpose is being accomplished.

The Internet is obviously a major component. I'm posting the following graphic depicting the top 100 websites so we can have a baseline for considering how the Internet will help the Book of Mormon testify of Jesus Christ to the entire world.

Think about your involvement with the Internet and what you can do to help the Book of Mormon fulfill its purpose.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Printable summary of Letter VII

So many people have asked for a way to explain Letter VII to their friends that I’m posting this summary which you can print out and share with your friends and family. 

Here is the link:

You can also print it and put it inside your copy of my Letter VII book when you share it.

There are a lot of details beyond this brief summary, of course. That's why I wrote the book about it. I also have a lot of information on the Letter VII blog, which is here:

Thanks to the efforts of certain intellectuals, most people have never heard of Letter VII. At first, they may be skeptical that one letter can make a difference. But when you learn about it, you discover this was much more than just "a letter." This was a formal declaration of a series of facts, written by a member of the First Presidency (President Cowdery) and endorsed by the entire First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve at the time. In the ensuing 150 years, every member of those quorums who has addressed the issue has affirmed Letter VII; no member of those quorums has ever contradicted Letter VII.

This is the text of the file you can print from the above link: 

Most members of the Church believe the Hill Cumorah is in New York. Church leaders have consistently taught this for over 150 years.

However, some intellectuals in the Church—including faculty at BYU and CES—claim there are “two Cumorahs.” They rationalize that New York is too far from Central America (Mesoamerica) for the hill in New York to be the scene of the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites.

Because these intellectuals have trained thousands of LDS students for decades, their ideas have permeated the Church. The “two-Cumorahs” theory is being taught in Church media and at Church visitors centers, but it has never been taught by a single member of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve.

The efforts of the intellectuals have caused confusion among members and investigators.

Recent discoveries in Church history reaffirm the original teaching that there is one Cumorah and it is in New York. For example, there is a lot of information in the book titled Letter VII: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery Explain the Hill Cumorah. 

In response, the intellectuals are teaching their students that the prophets and apostles are wrong.

This summary of Church history will help members understand the issue so they can support the Brethren when confronted with arguments against the New York Cumorah.

1. In 1834, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery decided to publish a series of letters about Church history in the Church newspaper titled The Messenger and Advocate. This was in response to anti-Mormon publications that were disrupting the missionary effort.

2. Oliver wrote the letters with Joseph’s assistance. They published eight letters between October 1834 and October 1835.

3. A section of Letter I is included as a footnote in the Pearl of Great Price at the end of Joseph Smith—History.

4. In December 1834, Joseph ordained Oliver Cowdery as Assistant President of the Church, explaining that this made him the spokesman. Joseph later referred to these letters as “President Cowdery’s letters.”

5. In Letter VII, published in July 1835, President Cowdery described the Hill Cumorah in New York. He explained that “at about one mile west rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former” and declares it was a “fact that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.” He emphasized that “in this valley fell the remaining strength and price of a once powerful people, the Nephites.” “This hill, by the Jaredites, was called Ramah; by it, or around it, pitched the famous army of Coriantumr their tent… The opposing army were to the west, and in this same valley, and near by.” He also explained that Mormon’s depository of Nephite records (Mormon 6:6) was in the same hill.

6. The entire First Presidency at the time endorsed these letters. Joseph Smith had President Frederick G. Williams begin the process of copying all eight letters into his history, which you can read in the Joseph Smith Papers in History, 1834-1836. (go to and search for “Letter VII.”) President Sidney Rigdon separately approved of them.

7. All members of the original Quorum of the Twelve (they were called and ordained by President Cowdery and others in February 1835) who ever mentioned Cumorah affirmed what Letter VII teaches, including Parley and Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and William Smith.

8. Letter VII was originally published in the Messenger and Advocate (1835) and copied into Joseph Smith, History, 1834-1835, shortly thereafter. It was republished in the Millennial Star (1840), the Times and Seasons (1841), the Gospel Reflector (1841), a special pamphlet in England (1844), The Prophet (1844), and The Improvement Era. Joseph referred to it in D&C 128:20, which was originally a letter published in the Times and Seasons a year after Letter VII was published in the same newspaper.

9. Over the years, multiple members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, speaking in General Conference, have affirmed the New York Cumorah. Elder James E. Talmage in Articles of Faith affirmed it, as have other apostles, including LeGrand Richards in A Marvelous Work and a Wonder.

10. No member of the Twelve or First Presidency has ever said the Hill Cumorah was anywhere else.

11. Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff and others explained that on multiple occasions, Oliver and Joseph had actually visited Mormon’s depository of records in the Hill Cumorah, which explains why President Cowdery wrote that it was a fact that Cumorah was in New York.

12. The intellectuals nevertheless have framed Letter VII as "Oliver Cowdery's opinion," characterizing it as a false tradition that Joseph Smith passively accepted. They claim that all the other prophets and apostles who have affirmed the New York Cumorah were perpetuating this false tradition. They claim that Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff and others were mistaken because Oliver had merely told them about a vision of a hill in Mexico.

13. The intellectuals have rejected the New York Cumorah because they think it contradicts their preferred theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica. To persuade their students to agree with them, they have made a series of claims about archaeology, anthropology, geology, and geography, and they have insisted on an interpretation of the text that, they claim, makes the New York setting impossible. Lately, BYU and CES have been teaching students about the Book of Mormon by using a video-game-like fantasy map that depicts Cumorah in a mythical setting.

14. Although the consistent, repeated teachings of the prophets and apostles should be enough to settle this matter, there is evidence from archaeology, anthropology, geology, and geography that supports the New York Cumorah as the scene of the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites. There are dozens of archaeological sites in western New York, dating to Book of Mormon times, that contain artifacts from the Ohio Hopewell civilization (the archaeological and anthropological term for the people who correspond to the Nephites). Bushels of stone weapons have been recovered from the vicinity of Cumorah. Research in the area is ongoing.

15. When the Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs theory began to be accepted by LDS intellectuals, Joseph Fielding Smith, then Church Historian and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, released a statement that he later reiterated after he became President of the Quorum of the Twelve. He wrote, “Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.” His prophetic warning against the efforts of the intellectuals remains as valid today as it was when he originally published it.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Futility of focusing on the text--narrow neck of land edition

I hope that in 2018 members of the Church can finally reach a consensus--achieve unity--on at least one aspect of Book of Mormon historicity/geography. We should all be able to agree that the Hill Cumorah is in New York.

To do so, we will have to overcome a major stumbling block put in place by LDS intellectuals.

These LDS intellectuals seek to figure out Book of Mormon geography by focusing exclusively on the text. This approach naturally appeals to their intellectual arrogance and allows them to ignore and reject what the prophets and apostles have taught about Cumorah.

I'm all in favor of seeking to interpret the text, but not if our basic premise is that Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, James Talmage, Joseph Fielding Smith, Marion G. Romney, and so many others were wrong about Cumorah.

As for reaching consensus and eliminating contention, the approach of these intellectuals is exactly the opposite of what Christ taught in 1 Nephi 11-12. The Lord didn't encourage us to heed the intellectuals; he said, "Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you."

My favorite example was the "conclave" of LDS scholars who met to decipher the text, which I discussed here: These intellectuals actually believe that members of the Church should heed them. This mentality is right out of the New Testament (Matthew 23).

That's why these latter-day scribes and Pharisees reject Letter VII and all the prophets and apostles who have specifically endorsed it.*

Today I want to give another example of the confusion that is inherent in the approach taken by these intellectuals. It involves the "narrow neck of land."

Here is a typical approach to the "narrow neck of land."
The Narrow Neck of Land

The narrow neck of land, mentioned repeatedly in the Nephite record (Alma 22:32; Alma 50:34; 52:9; Hel. 4:7; Morm.3:5; Ether 10:20), is the key to Book of Mormon geography. Most researchers consider it to be an isthmus which connects the land southward and the land northward. If this geographic feature could be identified it would solve the riddle of Book of Mormon lands, and then all else would naturally fall into place. Many different possibilities have been suggested, from the Isthmus of Panama to a penisula between two of the Great Lakes. However, in my opinion all of the suggested sites fail to meet the criteria set forth in the Book of Mormon.

Notice the premise, which I bolded. The author claims all of these passages refer to the same geographic feature. I call this the "unitary interpretation."

This is a common interpretation that the non-New York Cumorah advocates use. It's one of the main reasons for their confusion. They are trying to find a real-world geographical feature that fits all of these descriptions.

BYU's supposedly "neutral" Book of Mormon map
that adopts the standard Mesoamerican interpretation
of the text that is favored by many intellectuals because
it makes sure Cumorah is not in New York
My favorite example of this confusion is currently being taught at BYU to students who trust their professors to teach them the truth.

The professors don't teach the students what the prophets and apostles have said. Instead, they have concocted an "abstract" map that crams these verses into a fantasy land, which you can see here.

A lot of people simply accept what these intellectuals teach without thinking about it for themselves.

For many years, I did the same. I was persuaded by my BYU professors that we were "sophisticated" because we were working with PhD archaeologists, linguists, geologists, etc., instead of relying on the naive speculations of a bunch of 1830s farmers (who happened to be ordained prophets and apostles, but were merely expressing false opinions about Cumorah)

But then I re-read the text and discovered that these verses describe different features. They were written at different times, from different perspectives, and even used different terminology.

Look at what the text actually says:

Alma 22:32
32 And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half’s journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea; and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward.

Alma 50:34
34 And it came to pass that they did not ahead them until they had come to the borders of the land Desolation; and there they did head them, by the narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east.

Alma 52:9
9 And he also sent orders unto him that he should fortify the land Bountiful, and secure the narrow pass which led into the land northward, lest the Lamanites should obtain that point and should have power to harass them on every side.

Helaman 4:7
7 And there they did fortify against the Lamanites, from the west sea, even unto the east; it being a day’s journey for a Nephite, on the line which they had fortified and stationed their armies to defend their north country.

Mormon 3:5
5 And it came to pass that I did cause my people that they should gather themselves together at the land Desolation, to a city which was in the borders, by the narrow pass which led into the land southward.

Ether 10:20
20 And they built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land.

We have a small neck, a narrow pass which led by the sea, a narrow pass that doesn't mention the sea (Alma 50:34 and 52:9 could be referring to the same feature, but not necessarily), a line, a narrow pass described hundreds of years after the Alma reference, and a narrow neck of land.

I'm not saying these cannot all refer to the same feature, but as a rule of construction, a reader should assume authors use different terms to refer to different things. For example, a "narrow neck" commonly refers to a water feature. That's why Ether 10:20 specifies that it was a "narrow neck of land."

Throughout the Book of Mormon text, authors are writing from different locations at different times. To assume each of these references describes the identical feature is to impose an interpretation that the text does not require or even suggest. Not impossible, but not likely, either.

Certainly, this strained unitary interpretation is not so mandatory that it justifies rejecting the words of the prophets and apostles about the location of Cumorah.

You see from the above citations that the term "narrow neck of land" is used only once in the entire text, in Ether 10:20. (Whenever people ask me where the "narrow neck of land" is, I always say it's in Ether 10:20, because that's the only place it appears. Some Mesoamerican believers doubt me because of what they've been taught, but when they check for themselves, they realize how much they've been indoctrinated.)

The term "narrow neck of land" is inherently subjective, anyway. Here's a great example a reader sent me.

Ron Chernow recently published a book titled Grant, about Ulysses S. Grant. At Kindle location 9161, Chernow writes, "[Gen Beuregard]...driving him [Gen Butler] back down the river to a thin neck of land formed by the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers." 

To what geographic feature is he referring?

Here's a map drawn in 1864 that illustrates the feature. You can see it at the Library of Congress here:

The confluence of the rivers is south of Richmond, Virginia.

(As an aside, the town built at the confluence happens to be named Hopewell. City Point, the oldest part of Hopewell, was settled in 1613. Hopewell/City Point "is the oldest continuously inhabited English settlement in the United States, Jamestown no longer being inhabited.")

It helps to see this map in more detail, so here's a close-up.

The part I've highlighted is the "thin neck of land" described by Chernow.

Notice that the Civil War era cartographer (Robert Knox Sneden, 1832-1918) labeled two features: Jones Neck and Curl's Neck. These are both narrow necks of land, separate from the "thin neck of land" described by Chernow.

By these applications of the term "narrow (or thin) neck of land," we have three features just in this one area.

I like to imagine what kind of maps our friends who promote the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (or the fantasy BYU map) would come up with based on Chernow's description.

Without an actual map, and without our common knowledge about the Civil War and the names of these rivers, these intellectuals would be classifying Chernow's "thin neck of land" as yet another instance of the infamous "narrow neck of land" that conflates all the descriptions in the Book of Mormon text of different features. Our LDS intellectuals would put the U.S. Civil War somewhere in Mesoamerica.

By now, I hope it's obvious that the approach taken by the promoters of the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory is nonsense.

Actually, this is obvious to most LDS--except to the intellectuals who keep promoting this stuff. They are so steeped in Mesomania that they "can't unsee it," as they have said.

And that's fine.

They can continue to conduct their conclaves and debate among themselves the meaning of the various passages of the text.

But I hope the rest of us don't mistake their ruminations as anything but what they are: the futile musings of blind guides who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. I.e., they strain at Letter VII and swallow Mesoamerica.

As I wrote at the beginning of this post, I'm all in favor of seeking to interpret the text, but not if our basic premise is that Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, James Talmage, Joseph Fielding Smith, Marion G. Romney, and so many others were wrong.

How about if we all, as members of the Church, agree that these prophets and apostles were not wrong, but instead they were putting us on a course that would--and hopefully will--lead to unity and a great understanding of, and appreciation for, the Book of Mormon in 2018.

* I have previously discussed the various rationales for rejecting Letter VII here. I've addressed the archaeological objections as well in several posts, such as this one.