Monday, December 11, 2017

New edition of Letter VII book

I'm giving readers of the blog a preview of a new version of Letter VII that will be released in 2018. The new subtitle is "Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery Explain the Hill Cumorah."

This version incorporates some new research and feedback.

While Oliver wrote and signed the letters, Joseph helped him and had his scribes copy the letters into his own journal as part of his life story. The letters are not formally considered "Joseph Smith Documents" because he didn't write them per se, but he wrote very little himself. These letters are so closely related to Joseph, and endorsed by him on multiple occasions, that I thought the new subtitle is was more accurate.

Also, as I've mentioned before, when Joseph ordained Oliver as Assistant President of the Church in December, 1834, he explained the calling included the role of spokesman. That's why Oliver was the one who ordained the first Twelve Apostles and gave them their Apostolic Charge. It was in that role, as Assistant President of the Church, member of the First Presidency, and spokesman, that Oliver wrote Letter VII.

You can see the new version here at this link.

Or you can go to Amazon and search for "letter VII joseph and oliver"

Until Christmas, it's on a promotional price of $5.99 on Amazon.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Lessons from the British Mission

Modern missionary work could learn some important lessons from the British Mission in the 1830s and 1840s.

Then, as today, the Book of Mormon is the key to conversion. It's the instrument the Lord prepared to gather scattered Israel.

The missionaries in England in the 1830s and 1840s encouraged investigators to consider physical evidence as well as to pray about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

Today, missionaries are told not to discuss, or even mention, physical evidence for the Book of Mormon. Investigators and the missionaries themselves are left wondering where all of these events took place.

Most investigators check the Internet. There, they learn four things:

1. DNA "disproves" the Book of Mormon (and the Gospel Topics DNA essay has little persuasive effect as a counter to the critics).

2. LDS scholars say the prophets and apostles have been wrong when they have taught that Cumorah is in New York.

3. LDS scholars generally agree the events occurred in Mesoamerica but strongly disagree about exactly where.

4. Non-LDS scholars see zero connection between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican civilizations.

Contrast this state of affairs with what the early Apostles did when they went to England.

Among other things, Parley P. Pratt published Oliver's historical letters in the Millennial Star, beginning with his second issue in June 1840. He published Letter VII in October 1840.

Not only was it a definite fact that Cumorah, the scene of the final battles, was in New York, but Pratt also editorialized about additional physical evidence. He explained, "If any further proof of the truth of the Book of Mormon were wanting than the spirit of inspiration and truth which is breathed into the soul of every honest man as he reads the blessed volume, he might easily find it in the ruins of cities, towns, military roads, forts, fortifications, mounds, artificial caves, temples, statues, monuments, obelisks, hieroglyphics, sculptured altars, aqueducts, and an endless variety of articles of husbandry, cooking utensils..."

Pratt mentioned physical evidence throughout North and South America. In our day, we have more detailed knowledge of these civilizations, including their DNA, and we see that what the Lord told us in D&C 28, 30, and 32--that the descendants of Lehi are the Indians living in New York, Ohio, and Missouri (where they had been relocated from the East)--fits the descriptions in the text in terms of anthropology, archaeology, geology and geography.

Now, let's compare the results of the two approaches to missionary work.

Brigham Young reported when he left in April 1841,

"We landed in the spring of 1840, as strangers in a strange land and penniless, but through the mercy of God we have gained many friends, established churches in almost every noted town and city in the kingdom of Great Britain, baptized between seven and eight thousand, printed 5,000 Books of Mormon, 3,000 Hymn Books, 2,500 [copies] of the Millennial Star, and 50,000 tracts, and emigrated to Zion 1,000 souls."

Assuming his numbers were correct, 7,000-8,000 converts in a year when there were only about 16,000 members total means nearly one convert per every two members. In terms of converts as a percentage of membership, this is 50%.

It means more than one convert per copy of the Book of Mormon printed.

Today, there are over 150 million copies of the Book of Mormon in print. There are nearly 16 million members, with around 300,000 converts per year. The chart below, from, is the conversion rate for the last few years, where it has declined from less than 5% to less than 2%.

Think of this. 50% vs 2%.

Obviously, when you have a smaller base, it's easier to grow at a rapid rate. We can't expect the success of the British Mission to continue today. We all know the challenges are different, etc.

Some things haven't changed. As in the British Mission, today's missionaries tell people to read the book, live the teachings, and pray about it.

But unlike today, the missionaries in the British Mission were not going around telling people there was no evidence of the Book of Mormon. 

And unlike today, the missionaries in the British Mission were not being taught before they left that the prophets and apostles were wrong about Cumorah in New York.

Instead, the British missionaries published and taught Letter VII. They encouraged people to consider the physical evidence.

And despite tremendous opposition, the missionaries in the British Mission succeeded in converting thousands of people, more than one for every Book of Mormon printed.

Printing numbers are irrelevant today when most people use electronic versions, but since more than 150 million physical copies of the Book of Mormon have been printed, a success rate comparable to the British Mission would have converted well over 150 million people.

Which is about what we should expect, given that we have the truth.

We all know there are myriad differences between 1840 England and the modern world in 2017, but those differences cut both ways. People may be more worldly and less religious, but communications are easier and there is far less opposition. Missionaries are free to travel and teach in most of the world, and the Internet gives additional access beyond that.

In fact, if the modern world is less religious and more skeptical than 1840 England, that's all the more reason to offer more evidence, not less.

We could start with a simple step.

Why not have missionaries teach the words of the prophets and apostles about Cumorah in New York? 

We may not have specific answers for the rest of the geography, but we have that pin in the map that takes the Book of Mormon out of the realm of mystical fiction, where it exists today in the minds of most of the world (and even in the minds of many members of the Church, especially those being taught an "abstract" fantasy map at BYU).

Once we as members reach unity by believing the words of the prophets on the Cumorah issue, then we can work on the rest of the physical evidence. 

Maybe, having exercised faith in the words of the prophets, we'll be in a position for the Lord to assist us (a topic for another day).

Now, here is the background on the British Mission.

After the keys of the gathering of Israel were restored to the earth to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland temple (D&C 110), Joseph sent Parley P. Pratt to Toronto, promising that his work there would "lead to the introduction of the gospel into England." Among his converts were John Taylor and Joseph Fielding. In 1837, Joseph sent Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde to England. They returned home in April 1838, having converted about 1,500 people in England.

In Far West in April 1838, Joseph received a revelation that the twelve should return to England (D&C 118). Here's a summary of their work from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

Departing in conditions of poverty and illness and trusting in the promises of God that all would be well with them and their families, most of the members of the Twelve made their way in various groups to Liverpool. By April 1840, they were together for the first time as a quorum in a foreign land. On April 14, 1840, in Preston, they ordained Willard Richards an apostle and sustained Brigham Young as "standing president" of their quorum. They held a general conference the next day in which they conducted Church business and further organized the mission. On the 16th they met again as a quorum and further planned their work. On the next day, they separated to various assigned geographical areas: Brigham Young and Willard Richards were to assist Wilford Woodruff with the work he had already begun among the United Brethren in Herefordshire; Heber C. Kimball was to return to the areas of his 1837-1838 missionary successes; Parley P. Pratt was to establish a mission home and publishing concern in Manchester; Orson Pratt was assigned to Scotland, where the work had already begun; John Taylor was to go to Liverpool, Ireland, and the Isle of Man; and George A. Smith was assigned to the area of the Staffordshire potteries. In time, Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith would extend their work to London.

As a result of this mission, an additional 4,000 converts joined the Church by 1841.

I bolded Parley Pratt because he started the Millennial Star. The first issue was published in May 1840. Beginning with the second issue, Elder Pratt reprinted Oliver's eight historical letters as a continuing series under the title "A Remarkable Vision."

Letter VII was published in volume 6, October 1840. We can't tell how much of a role the letters played in the success of the mission, but popular demand for the letters led to them being printed in a special pamphlet in 1844. The introduction says, "We have frequently been solicited to publish, in pamphlet form, the following letters of Oliver Cowdery..." Thousands of copies were printed.

You can read the pamphlet here.

You can read the Millennial Star on google books here.

It's interesting that Elder Pratt offered evidence to support the Book of Mormon. In addition to Oliver's letters, he made comments such as this one on p. 117, after quoting 3 Nephi 10.

If any further proof of the truth of the Book of Mormon were wanting than the spirit of inspiration and truth which is breathed into the soul of every honest man as he reads the blessed volume, he might easily find it in the ruins of cities, towns, military roads, forts, fortifications, mounds, artificial caves, temples, statues, monuments, obelisks, hieroglyphics, sculptured altars, aqueducts, and an endless variety of articles of husbandry, cooking utensils, &c. &c. which are the product of some ancient race, who inhabited that land, and who had risen to a high state of refinement in the arts and sciences, as the relics of their labours prove—as they now lie scattered over a vast extent of North and South America, either on the surface, or buried beneath by the convulsions of nature, or the visitations of the Most High, as recorded in the fore-going extract; and which are frequently discovered and brought to light by antiquarian travellers.

Pratt followed those comments with an article about the travels of Stephens and Catherwood in Central America. Then he wrote, "For further testimony and proof positive of the Book of Mormon, we copy the following [the Testimony of Three Witnesses].

My take on all of this is that Elder Pratt accepted and endorsed Oliver's letters, including Letter VII. There was no question that Cumorah was in New York. Pratt suggested that ruins through the entire Western hemisphere were evidence to support the Book of Mormon, but he proposed it in a generalized way.

There is a definite contrast between the specificity of Letter VII, based as it was on the personal experience of Joseph and Oliver in Mormon's depository of Nephite records, and the generalized claim that evidence of advanced civilizations in ancient North and South America. Here are some of the excerpts from Letter VII as published in the 1840 Millennial Star.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Confusion about the golden plates

Yesterday I commented on The Book of Mormon Study Guide: Start to Finish.

Today I'm going through the comments on the Title Page and the plates to show how mistakes in Church history have been perpetuated for so long.

Pages 5-6 cover this topic: Title Page of the Book of Mormon.

Did Joseph Smith write the Title Page? The Prophet Joseph Smith said, "I wish to mention here that the title-page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated, the language of the whole running the same as all Hebrew writing in general [that is, from right to left]; and that said title page is not by any means a modern composition, either of mine or of any other man who has lived or does live in this generation" (Joseph Smith [manual], 60-61).

You can see the manual here.

Two comments. First, our scholars are perplexed by this statement because they are teaching us that Joseph didn't actually use the plates when he translated. At BYU Education Week a few months ago, in a class on Church history, the instructor said "we don't know how Joseph knew the title page was on the last leaf because he didn't use the plates. They were under a cloth when he was looking at the stone in the hat." This same narrative is displayed in the new Church movies about Harmony and Fayette. That's another topic, but I mention it here because people should be aware of what's going on.

Second, the quotation here omits the second part of Joseph's statement: "I give below that part of the title-page of the English version of the Book of Mormon, which is a genuine and literal translation of the title-page of the original Book of Mormon as recorded on the plates."

[Note: the manual itself omits part of Joseph's original statement "Therefore, in order to correct an error which generally exists concerning it, I give...]

I think this is significant because the phrase "original Book of Mormon" has two connotations. First, it refers to the original writings on the plates; i.e., the work of Mormon and Moroni.

But second, Joseph is clarifying that this was the title page of the original Book of Mormon; i.e., the one Moroni put in the stone box. That is why it is so important to look at what the title page tells us was in the original Book of Mormon.

The Title Page says the original Book of Mormon included three parts:

1. Abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites;

2. Abridgment taken from the Book of Ether;

3. Sealed by the hand of Moroni (Moroni's original writings)

The Title Page says nothing about any original plates; i.e., no plates of Nephi were included in the original Book of Mormon.

Because the Title Page was the "very last leaf," we can be sure that Moroni knew what they contained. He didn't add the plates of Nephi to the collection after the Title Page.

That's because the plates of Nephi were not in the original Book of Mormon.  

The Study Guide includes this explanation of the plates on page 13:

Why are we told about the different metal record plates comprising the Book of Mormon? "The Book of Mormon is a complex text with a complicated history. It is primarily an abridgment of several earlier records by its chief editor and namesake, Mormon. All these records are referred to as "plates" because they were engraved on thin sheets of metal. Various source documents were used by Mormon in his compilation, leading to abrupt transitions and chronological disjunctions that can confuse readers. However, when one is aware of the history of the text, these are consistent and make good sense." (Ludlow, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1:195)

[Actually, this is from an article by Grant R. Hardy that you can read here:]

I like this quotation a lot because of the last line. There are persistent problems in Church history that the traditional explanations don't resolve. Not just the Title Page problem, but the different descriptions of the plates, the messenger taking the Harmony plates to Cumorah before going to Fayette, etc. We can paraphrase Brother Hardy's last line above and say, "When one is aware of the two sets of plates, the accounts in Church history are consistent and make good sense."

The Study Guide proceeds with an explanation of the small plates, quoted from Largey's Book of Mormon Reference Companion that I discussed a few days ago. Then there are several more quotations from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, leading up to this graphic on page 15, taken from Church manuals, including the 2017 Book of Mormon Seminary Teacher Manual, which you can see here:

It's a nice graphic but it unmistakably demonstrates that the "small plates of Nephi" could not have been included in the set of plates that Moroni put in his stone box.

Right on the label, the graphic says the small plates were "included unabridged." Then it portrays the Words of Mormon as "Mormon's explanation for including the small plates of Nephi."

I've addressed this in detail elsewhere, but the Words of Mormon serve as a title page for the small plates. Mormon says he "put them with" the other record, but a few verses later, he notes that King Mosiah had "put them with" the other records in the first place. The phrase does not mean they were attached.

Mormon put the small plates with the other plates when he was working on his abridgment. He didn't punch holes in them and attach them to the plates he gave Moroni. They were not an abridgment of the record of the Nephites; they were original records.

This is why the Lord told Oliver in D&C 9 that he had other records Oliver would assist to translate. In D&C 10 he told Joseph and Oliver what these other records were; i.e., the plates of Nephi.

This is why, before he left Harmony, Joseph gave the plates to a divine messenger who took them to Cumorah. Joseph was finished with those plates. He had translated all of them (except the sealed portion).

When Joseph arrived in Fayette, the messenger gave him the small plates he had picked up from Mormon's depository in Cumorah. That's why Joseph translated 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon in Fayette.

I've discussed all of this at length in Whatever Happened to the Golden Plates? There is far too much detail to go through on this blog, but I put the basic diagram here.

I think it's important that Church historians not ignore or dismiss the accounts related by Joseph and his associates. The traditional interpretation, as depicted by the graphic above, doesn't make sense and doesn't explain the other historical accounts. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Another reference book that sows confusion

It's no wonder so many members are confused about the geography issue. There is a long academic tradition of conflating two separate points, and I'm giving another example in today's post.

Church leaders from the beginning have been crystal clear about two things:

1. Cumorah is in New York.

2. We don't know the specifics of other Book of Mormon locations.

Because many LDS scholars claim to know more than the prophets, they have taken point 2 and applied it to point 1. This gives them license (they think) to repudiate what Joseph, Oliver, and every other prophet and apostle who has spoken about Cumorah has taught.

These intellectuals have succeeded mainly by keeping Church members ignorant of Letter VII. 

Today's example illustrates this technique.

The purpose of this blog is to refocus on the two points above. I think it's a travesty to have our own scholars and educators mislead the people into thinking Cumorah is somewhere other than in New York.

The rest of the geography, of course, is not officially known, so it is open to anyone's personal study, speculation, debate, etc. I'm happy to share what I think, but I'm also happy to hear what others think. None of it is official except for the location of Cumorah, because that location is established doctrine, consistently taught by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve for over 150 years.*

Deseret Book publishes The Book of Mormon Study Guide: Start to Finish. It contains a lot of good material, but it's another example of failing to tell members of the Church the whole story and guiding their thinking toward the Mesoamerican geography.

The General Editor is Thomas R. Valletta. Here is his bio, from the Deseret Book web page:

"Thomas R. Valletta is the director of the Curriculum Services Division, Seminaries and Institutes of Religion for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He heads a team of nine people who have been involved in this project over many years. He was the general editor of Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families, Great American Documents for Latter-day Saint Families, and other scripture study books in that same series."

The book purports to be an effort to remain "neutral" regarding geography, but I'll show you it is not only not neutral, it promotes the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory by keeping readers ignorant of what the prophets and apostles have taught.

Here is an example from the book, pages 589-599:

The top caption is "Zarahemla and the Land Northward."

The caption below that is "Possible Book of Mormon Sites (in relation to each other)*"

The asterisk refers to the text in the lower left:

"*Possible relationships of sites in the Book of Mormon, based on internal evidence. No effort should be made to identify points on this map with any existing geographical location."

Do you see the problems?

Not only does this discussion reject the New York Cumorah.

Not only does it promote a fantasy version of the Book of Mormon that supports the anti-Mormon position that the book is fiction.

But it also teaches a specific interpretation of the text, taken from the scholars who promote the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, with the objective of imprinting this interpretation on readers. And this is from the Director of Curriculum for Seminaries and Institutes.

This map shows the River Sidon flowing northward, a key claim by the advocates of the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory that does not appear anywhere in the text. It also portrays the "narrow neck of land" as a not-so-narrow hourglass shape, another interpretation advocated by the Mesoamerican advocates because it fits Mesoamerica.

Aside from the Mesomania problem, we can't underestimate the damage caused by these fantasy maps.

We should have learned long ago how to properly handle the anti-Mormon claim that the Book of Mormon is fiction. Instead, LDS intellectuals are supporting the anti-Mormon claim by encouraging students to think of the book as set in a make-believe world. They instruct students to not even try to associate the Book of Mormon "with any existing geographical location."

Joseph and Oliver showed us a different approach.

When confronted with the fiction claim in 1834 (it was promoted in a well-known book published near Kirtland, Ohio, in 1834 titled Mormonism Unvailed [sic]), they wrote Letters VII and VIII. They declared it was a fact that the Book of Mormon Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) was located in western New York. The very hill where Joseph obtained the plates was also the site of the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites, and the location of Mormon's depository of Nephite records.

Their focus on the factual location of Cumorah--something they knew from personal experience, as Brigham Young and others explained--repudiated the claim that the Book of Mormon was fiction.

But instead of following their example and supporting what Joseph and Oliver taught, our intellectuals are supporting the critics who teach that the Book of Mormon is fiction.

The Cumorah location does not specify the locations of other Book of Mormon sites, but it is a firm pin in the map that we should not remove, unless current Church leaders revoke what Joseph, Oliver, and all of their successors have taught.

Regarding Cumorah, the book tells us this on page 738, which discusses Mormon 6:

Where was the "land of Cumorah"? (6:2-4) "There are many theories about precisely where the land of Cumorah was located, and those who advocate each view are very sure about their views. The North America theorists believe this is a clear reference to the Great Lakes and... the northeast part of the United States. The South America theorists posit that this is a reference to the plains of Imbabura in Ecuador's lake country... The Mesoamerica theorists identify an area of southern Mexico on the eastern shore of the continent just north of the Yucatan Peninsula.... But when it comes to Book of Mormon geography, the only official statements that have been made by Church authorities say that we do not know" (Chase, Making Precious Things Plain, 3:212-13). 

Let's think about this a moment.

Do you see how this book conflates point 2 with point 1?

In other words, the book tries to persuade readers that because we don't know the location of other Book of Mormon sites, we therefore don't know the location of Cumorah.

That is exactly backward.

Instead, because we know the location of Cumorah, we should be seeking to understand the text in a way that corroborates and supports the prophets and apostles, not in a way that undermines their consistent teachings.

The intellectuals' argument that "we don't know where Cumorah is located" works only by keeping uninformed readers ignorant of Letter VII.

This Study Guide, like so many other books, is part of an intentional effort to keep members of the Church unaware of our history and the teachings of Joseph, Oliver, and all the other prophets and apostles.

This is the same technique being used right now at BYU and throughout CES. It is being used by FairMormon, BYU Studies, Book of Mormon Central [America], and other outlets for the theories of the intellectuals.

The book is equating the unambiguous, definitive statements of the prophets and apostles about Cumorah in New York, including those made in General Conference and consistently published in official Church publications, with the myriad academic theories about Cumorah's location that repudiate what the prophets and apostles have said.

As I pointed out at the beginning of this post, it's no wonder members of the Church (and investigators, and the world at large) are confused about the Book of Mormon. Joseph Fielding Smith warned that because of this theory (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory), members of the Church would become confused and disturbed in their faith. That warning is just as relevant today as it was when he first wrote it (and when he repeated it as President of the Quorum of the Twelve).

Think of the long-term impact of teaching the youth of the Church that the only way to understand the Book of Mormon is by imagining it in a fantasy world. Oh, and by the way, they also teach the youth that Joseph, Oliver, and all the other prophets and apostles were wrong about Cumorah.

Then compare that with the long-term impact of teaching the youth of the Church what Joseph and Oliver taught; i.e., that it is a fact that the Book of Mormon relates the actual history of real people whose demise occurred in a specific spot in western New York that you can still visit today. Oh, and by the way, this approach also supports the prophets and apostles by affirming they were correct about Cumorah.

Actually, we don't have to think about the long-term impact of the teachings of the intellectuals. We see the evidence of it all around us.

Former Mormons tell us the main reason why they leave the Church is their loss of faith in the Book of Mormon; in fact, does anyone know someone who left the Church while still believing the Book of Mormon is true?

The teachings of the intellectuals compound the problem by undermining faith in the prophets and apostles, starting with Joseph Smith and the Three Witnesses.

This is a major issue for reactivation and retention, but also for missionary work. Questions about the Book of Mormon are a major impediment for investigators.

I often hear the argument that people need a spiritual testimony of the Book of Mormon, and of course that's true.

But focusing on a spiritual testimony is not how Joseph and Oliver responded to the anti-Mormon claim that the book was fiction.

In fact, I'm not aware of any instance when Joseph quoted Moroni 10:4-5.

Instead, he taught that people would know the truth by abiding by the precepts of the book (an allusion to John 8:31-32), and he gave specific connections between the text and the real world, including Cumorah, the mounds in the Midwest, the plains of the Nephites, etc.

And he never once connected the Book of Mormon to Central or South America.

Despite all of this, our intellectuals continue to reject the unmistakable witness Joseph and Oliver gave us.

*The Church has explained how members and the world at large can know what official Church doctrine is.

"With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications."

This is exactly how Letter VII was presented. 

It was written and endorsed by the First Presidency in 1835.

It was accepted by the Quorum of the Twelve, who taught it for the rest of their lives.

Joseph had it copied into his own history as part of his life story.

It was consistently proclaimed in official Church publications, including the Messenger and Advocate, the Times and Seasons, the Millennial Star, the Prophet, the Gospel Reflector, and the Improvement Era.

For over 150 years, it has been consistently proclaimed by members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve speaking in General Conference, as well as in their books and articles.

It has never been modified or revoked.

But intellectuals in the Church don't want members to even know about it, and when they do discover it, the intellectuals tell them not to believe it.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Contact Brother Largey - or other BYU professors

In response to yesterday's post, readers have expressed surprise and concern that the Reference Companion would so blatantly edit out the early reference to Cumorah that undermines the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.

The General Editor of the book is Dennis L. Largey, a professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU since 1985. He has retired, but the following link still lets you contact him directly:

Even though his area of expertise and research is the Book of Mormon, it is possible Brother Largey was merely quoting the Meso scholars and is actually unaware of Letter VII.

As I've pointed out many times on this blog, our BYU/CES faculty takes care to avoid teaching people about Letter VII. They don't want their students, or members of the Church generally, to realize they are openly repudiating the prophets and apostles.

It doesn't matter that Letter VII fits the exact criteria for reliable LDS doctrine, as the Church clarified here:

I explained this, in part, here:

And I'll have a follow-up post on that soon.

BTW, you can see the entire Religious Education faculty at BYU here:

Many readers know some of these faculty members. Others have students who are being taught by them right now. Every individual on that list is awesome. However, so far as I know, none of them tell their students about Letter VII. Several of them outright claim Letter VII is false. Maybe some of them accept Letter VII, but they aren't open about it if they do.

As always, if I've misstated anything, I expect people to let me know so I can correct the record.

Realize that when I refer to "Letter VII," I don't mean merely the letter itself, but its context; i.e.,
- it was a response by the First Presidency to specific anti-Mormon claims,
- it was republished multiple times, in every official Church publication, while Joseph was alive (and in the Improvement Era later),
-it was copied into Joseph's own history as part of his story,
-it was fully endorsed by the Twelve in Joseph's day, and
-it has been endorsed by subsequent prophets and apostles, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.

In fact, every prophet and apostle who has officially addressed the issue of Cumorah has endorsed Letter VII.

Keep those facts in mind when these scholars tell you to disbelieve Letter VII.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Intention or ignorance?

A recurring question is how much of the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs propaganda is a result of intention and how much is a product of ignorance (and imprinting).

For example, look at the book Book of Mormon Reference Companion. It is available at Deseret Book for $50.99.

The General Editor is Dennis L. Largey, a professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU since 1985.

Here is his bio, from the Deseret Book page:

Dennis L. Largey, also general editor of the Book of Mormon Reference Companion and the Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion, is a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University and former chair of the department of Ancient Scripture. He has served in the educational system of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints for more than thirty-five years. Brother Largey joined the Religious Education faculty at BYU in 1985. His Church service includes counselor in two stake presidencies, bishop, branch president at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, and member of the Church’s Materials Evaluation Committee.

We would expect Brother Largey to provide a fairly comprehensive and accurate reference book. This is 850 pages, published by Deseret Book, by a former chair of the department of Ancient Scripture at BYU. Associate Editors of the book include Marilyn Arnold, Terry B. Ball, Larry E. Dahl, Donald W. Parry, David R. Seely, and Clyde J. Williams.

But look at what the "Reference Companion" says about the Hill Cumorah, on page 223:

"Some modern scholars believe there are two Cumorahs, one in Central America where the final battle between the Nephites and Lamanites took place and where Mormon hid all the records, and a second hill in New York State where the gold plates were deposited by Moroni and where Joseph Smith received them from the angel Moroni (Palmer, 346-47)."

The so-called "Reference Companion" never once mentions the single most detailed description of Cumorah that we have in the Church; i.e., Letter VII, which was published in 1835. No wonder "Cumorah seemed to be well-known" in 1835: in Letter VII, the "New York hill" was specifically identified by the First Presidency as the site of the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites, as well as Mormon's depository (Mormon 6:6). Joseph Smith made sure all Church members in his day knew about Cumorah by having Letter VII reprinted in every official Church newspaper, as well as private newspapers owned by Church members.

No one reading this "Reference Companion" would learn anything about Letter VII.

To be sure, the entry on Cumorah does mention that Joseph found the plates there. On page 222 it includes this: "Brigham Young reported that when Joseph returned the plates, 'the hill opened, and they walked into a ... large and spacious room... [containing] more plates than probably many wagon loads' (Young, 19:38)."

But the scholars explain this away as a "vision" of a hill in Mexico. The book doesn't provide the numerous other accounts that corroborate what Brigham said. Instead, it gives the views of the scholars without once mentioning Letter VII.

It's difficult to imagine that Brother Largey and the other editors and contributors are ignorant of Letter VII. After all, they specifically referred to 1835, the year when Letter VII was published.

They made a conscious decision to omit it.

If there's any lingering question about intention vs ignorance, look at an additional edit made in the "Reference Companion." Right after giving us the views of "modern scholars," the book tells us this:

"Just when this New York hill was first called Cumorah is difficult to determine, but by 1835 the name Cumorah seemed to be well-known, at least among Church members. Joseph Smith referred to the hill but only used the name Cumorah once in his personal writings: 'Glad tidings from Cumorah!' (D&C 128:20)."

The "difficult to determine" narrative is a pretext for the two-Cumorahs theory. Notice how Brother Largey deliberately edited out a key reference that contradicts his "difficult to determine" narrative.

On page 11 of the "Reference Companion" we read this:

Joseph replied, "I have taken the severest chastisement that I have ever had in my life." Father Smith, surmising that the mob element in the area was harassing his son, retorted, "I would like to know what business anybody has to find fault with you!" Joseph countered, "Stop, father, stop, it was the angel of the Lord." The angelic messenger told him that he "had not been engaged enough in the work of the Lord; that the time had come for the record to be brought forth; and that [he] must be up and doing and set [himself] about the things which God had commanded [him] to do" (Smith, Joseph, 100)."

Now, look at the original source and see how carefully Brother Largey edited out the early reference to Cumorah. The omitted part of the quotation is in red below.

Presently he smiled, and said in a very calm tone, “I have taken the severest chastisement, that I have ever had in my life”. My husband, supposing it was from some of the neighbors, was quite angry; and observed, “I would would like to know what business any body has to find fault with you.”
“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 of the Lord 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; and, that I must be up and doing, and set myself about the things which God had commanded me to do:"

If you read about Church history and the Book of Mormon in publications written by BYU professors, published by Deseret Book, you need to be aware that you are getting material that has been carefully scrutinized and edited to promote the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.  

Here's one more example. The "Reference Companion" cites Lucy Mack Smith's book, History of Joseph Smith, but doesn't tell readers that according to Lucy, Moroni identified the hill as Cumorah before Joseph even obtained the plates. "There is a record for you, Joseph, but you cannot get it until you learn to keep the commandments of God, for it is not to get gain, but it is to bring forth that light and intelligence which has been long lost in the earth. Now, Joseph, beware or when you go to get the plates, your mind will be filled with darkness and all manner of evil will rush into your mind to prevent you from keeping the commandments of God. You must tell your father of this, for he will believe every word you say. The record is on a side of the hill of Cumorah, three miles from this place. Remove the grass and moss, and you will find the record under it, lying on four pillars of cement."

Friday, December 1, 2017

Church History Museum still not fixed

I mentioned before that the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, as awesome as it is, includes a few displays that are misleading because they reflect Mesomania.

I visited the Museum again today and noticed that a problematic display still hasn't changed.

The display depicted below discusses the 1830 mission to the Lamanites, but refers to it as "The Indian Mission." This is fine, in the sense that the general public today does not know who the Lamanites are.

The problem is, many LDS people don't know this either. But they should, if they know the scriptures and Church history.

Why don't they?

Because of the influence of Mesomania. Our intellectuals who promote the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory don't want people to realize that the Doctrine and Covenants identifies the Indians living in 1830 New York, Ohio, and Missouri as Lamanites. These are the only people specifically identified in the scriptures as Lamanites.

Nowhere do the scriptures refer to Mayans (or anyone else) as Lamanites.

The scriptural fact that the tribes in the Northeaster U.S. (the Missouri Indians had been removed there by the Federal government) are the Lamanites undermines the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory. That's why this display says what it does.

I don't think Mesomania is a valid excuse for continuing to mislead patrons of the museum.

The Lord called Oliver Cowdery to go on a mission to the Lamanites in D&C 28:8

8 And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and inasmuch as they receive thy teachings thou shalt cause my church to be established among them; and thou shalt have revelations, but write them not by way of commandment.

D&C 30:5-6 tells Peter Whitmer to join Oliver:

5 Behold, I say unto you, Peter, that you shall take your journey with your brother Oliver; for the time has come that it is expedient in me that you shall open your mouth to declare my gospel; therefore, fear not, but give heed unto the words and advice of your brother, which he shall give you.

6 And be you afflicted in all his afflictions, ever lifting up your heart unto me in prayer and faith, for his and your deliverance; for I have given unto him power to build up my church among the Lamanites.

D&C 32 adds Parley P. Pratt and Ziba Peterson to the mission:

1 And now concerning my servant Parley P. Pratt, behold, I say unto him that as I live I will that he shall declare my gospel and learn of me, and be meek and lowly of heart.

2 And that which I have appointed unto him is that he shall go with my servants, Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, Jun., into the wilderness among the Lamanites.

3 And Ziba Peterson also shall go with them; and I myself will go with them and be in their midst; and I am their advocate with the Father, and nothing shall prevail against them.

Now, look closer at the text:

Early Church members believed the Indians were Lamanites?

What about current Church members? There are some among us who still believe the Doctrine and Covenants, but this display doesn't account for that. It refers only to "early Church members," as though the teaching in the Doctrine and Covenants reflects a quaint folk belief instead of an actual revelation.

What about the Lord Himself? After all, it was the Lord who gave these regulations to Joseph Smith.

Notice, too, that the last sentence implies that the missionaries shared this naive folk belief: "which the missionaries presented as a record of the Indians' ancestors."

The missionaries did this because the Lord told them to do so when they were called on their missions. Joseph taught the Indians the same thing; i.e., that the Book of Mormon was written by their fathers and was a record of their ancestors.

I still hope the Church History Museum corrects this display and includes the language from the scriptures instead of the Mesomania-inspired commentary.