Wednesday, May 23, 2018

From Darkness Unto Light?

This week I was going to show how revisionist LDS historians are rewriting Church history. I have to go out of town unexpectedly and probably won't get a chance to post the entire series until next week, but here's an overview.

In 1834-5, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery wrote a series of essays on Church history and doctrine (the first "gospel topics essays") to refute an 1834 anti-Mormon book titled Mormonism Unvailed.

Now revisionist LDS historians are using Mormonism Unvailed to refute Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. 

Among other things, they are claiming that Joseph Smith didn't really use the plates when he translated. Instead, according to these revisionists, the plates were left covered by a cloth throughout the translation process and Joseph merely read the words of a seer stone in the bottom of a hat.

In my view, this is a grave mistake.

Worse, the Church History Department is accepting their spin. The Correlation Department is implementing the revisionist history throughout the Church. Missionaries are being told to teach people what the revisionist historians are promoting. This is causing confusion and uncertainty.

I think this is a disaster for the same reasons Oliver and Joseph responded to the claims of Mormonism Unvailed in the first place, all the way back in 1834 and 1835.

I emphasize that these are merely my personal conclusions, based on my own research and careful reading of this book and the sources they cite and omit. None of this is personal, of course; we're merely dealing with words on pages, not people. The authors are faithful LDS, careful scholars, and nice people. I just think this book seeks to confirm a bias about the plates and the translation process that also happens to support M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory).

In October 1834, Oliver Cowdery published the first of a series of eight essays he wrote with the assistance of Joseph Smith. I call these the first "gospel topics essays" because they address important issues involving Church history and doctrine that remain relevant today. They were originally published as letters to W.W. Phelps in the Church's newspaper in Kirtland, Ohio, titled the Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate.

For example, essay (letter) IV is available online here:

Soon after the eighth essay was published, President Frederick G. Williams, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, began copying them into Joseph's personal history. You can see them in the Joseph Smith Papers today, such as essay IV here:

Also in October 1834, the anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed was published in nearby Painesville, Ohio. You can see it here:

The influence of Mormonism Unvailed persisted for years. (Actually, with the book From Darkness Unto Light its influence has been rejuvenated.)

During Joseph's lifetime, President Cowdery's essays were republished in Church newspapers for everyone to read and re-read them. This includes the Times and Seasons, the Millennial Star, the Gospel Reflector, and The Prophet. The essays were cited by Church leaders in later years. Part of Letter I is canonized in the Pearl of Great Price. The essays were published again in Utah in the Improvement Era when Joseph F. Smith was the editor.

Yet these essays have never been published in the Ensign. They have been essentially forgotten and overlooked. Worse, they have been specifically repudiated by some revisionist historians and Book of Mormon scholars. M2C intellectuals at BYU/CES and the Correlation and History Departments even teach that President Cowdery was lying in Letter VII.

Today, it seems the revisionist historians rely more on Mormonism Unvailed than on President Cowdery's letters.

Richard L. Bushman's Foreword foreshadows some of the problems I found in this book. Original in blue.

p. v. “Books like this one will bring Latter-day Saint readers up to date on the results of the latest historical research. While, like all histories, From Darkness unto Light is necessarily an interpretation, the authors base their story firmly on the original sources. They get down to what historians consider to be the bedrock of historical constructions.”

I found the historical references in this book very helpful. But, as we'll see, there is a lot of interpretation in this book. I mean, a lot. The authors tell us what Joseph was thinking, what motivated him, etc. That's fine when it is acknowledged, but several important and relevant original sources are omitted in the book. Why? The only reason I can think of is because these original sources contradict the authors' interpretations. This is problematic.

“Joseph probably first used the stones set in spectacles that came with the plates, and then, for most of the translation period, substituted one of the stones he had found. Joseph put the seer stone in a hat to exclude the light and read off the translated text by looking in the stone. All the while, the plates lay wrapped in a cloth on the table. Apparently Joseph did not look at the plates through most of the translation.”

To persuade readers of this conclusion, the authors simply omit contrary evidence. That makes their conclusion appear obvious, but there's another way to interpret the same evidence that is consistent with both the evidence they consider and the evidence they omit. From my perspective, all the evidence, when considered together, is consistent with the traditional narrative that Joseph did actually use the plates and sometimes used the hat during the final part of the translation process when he read what appeared on the stone. I disagree with the authors' interpretation because I think Joseph actually translated the engravings on the plates, as the scriptures state. 

“Failure to acknowledge these factual accounts, almost all of them in friendly sources, can devastate Latter-day Saints who run across them. Feeling that the Church has covered up the truth, they become disillusioned and even angry. This book is an attempt to repair the misconceptions so that the next generation of Latter-day Saints will be better informed.”

I agree with this concept, but in my view, the book covers up critical original sources that contradict the authors' conclusions. Consequently, the book creates more misconceptions that will have far-reaching consequences now that the Church History Department has essentially adopted the authors' conclusions.

“For years Mormon scholars simply disregarded critical sources, such as the affidavits concerning the Smith family in E..D. Howe’s Mormonism Unvailed… Everything has to be examined and evaluated. MacKay and Dirkmaat work on the principle that bias must be taken into account in analyzing any historical sources. The art of the historian is to extract useful information from original sources whether negative or positive.”

President Cowdery considered Mormonism Unvailed right when it was published. That's why he emphasized he was using facts when he wrote the eight essays. Yet the authors ignore much of what President Cowdery wrote and instead rely more on Mormonism Unvailed, as I indicated at the outset of this post.

In upcoming posts we'll look at passages in the book itself to see what sources the authors omitted and why.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

No-wise from Book of Mormon Central (America)

Some readers contact me about the so-called "kno-whys" published by Book of Mormon Central (America) and republished by the rest of the M2C citation cartel. Some of these are well done. Others are pure M2C confirmation bias.

I call the latter "No-wise" because I think it is is inexcusable to characterize the teachings of the prophets as false opinions of men.

From time to time I comment on these "no-wise" on another blog. For example, see this one:

I keep hoping three things for Book of Mormon Central:

1. That they will stop repudiating the prophets about Cumorah; and
2. That they will recognize and respect the beliefs of those members of the Church who both (i) love the Book of Mormon and (ii) still believe what the prophets have taught about Cumorah; and
3. That they will continue doing good research on Book of Mormon topics that supports, instead of opposes, the teachings of the prophets. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

The case for Mesoamerica?

Last week Kirk Magleby, Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, wrote an important blog post titled "The Case for Mesoamerica."

Kirk discusses 11 criteria or parameters that he thinks make a case for Mesoamerica. In my view, he's done as good a job as possible making his case. But when I read his analysis, I was reminded of a quotation from John Kenneth Galbraith: "Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."

In this post, I show how Kirk's 11 criteria make an even stronger case for the North American setting that I call Moroni's America.

Logo for Book of Mormon Central
The Mayan glyph represents M2C
To be sure, Kirk is not making a case for Mesoamerica alone, but for the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C). This is a key point that he doesn't mention, but Kirk is a long-time advocate of the two-Cumorahs theory, which holds that the "real Cumorah" of Mormon 6:6 is in Mexico, not in New York.

Like other M2C promoters, Kirk claims the prophets have erred when they have taught that Cumorah is in New York. He thinks they were merely expressing their opinions. Each was speaking as a man, and each was wrong because the M2C intellectuals know better than the prophets.

Kirk thinks President Ezra Taft Benson was also wrong when he declared that "The learned may feel the prophet is only inspired when he agrees with them, otherwise the prophet is just giving his opinion—speaking as a man..."

For this reason, at the end of this post I add a 12th criterion that completely disqualifies Mesoamerica if you accept Kirk's 11 criteria.

I greatly respect Kirk and appreciate all he does. He's the most rational and fair of the M2C promoters I know, so I wanted to call attention to his post.

Plus, he's not teaching at BYU/CES, so he's not violating the trust of the students and parents who send their kids to be taught the gospel, and instead discover instructors who teach their students to disbelieve the teachings of the prophets as mere opinions of men.

Readers of this blog should know what the M2C intellectuals think, and Kirk makes their case better than anyone else because he generally avoids the intellectual arrogance that characterizes most of the work of the M2C citation cartel.

Don't forget, I always encourage people to read the material from the M2C citation cartel, even though they continually seek to censor and suppress my views and the facts I present.

Someday, I hope Kirk will be amenable to allowing a side-by-side comparison and discussion on Book of Mormon Central's web page, and I think if it was up to Kirk he'd do it tomorrow, but when you look at the forces he's dealing with there, you can see why this hasn't happened yet and probably never will.

The M2C intellectuals are literally afraid to let people compare their theories to the material we discuss on this blog.

Kirk starts by making a good point about the urban legends in Mormonism, such as Lehi's landing in Chile and the purported "baptismal fonts" throughout Latin America (and the rest of the world, for that matter). Kirk summarizes this point this way: "In 1975 I was in New York City on a research project and a well-educated fellow asked me at Church if I was one of those 'naive people who think every hole in the ground is a baptismal font.'"

That's an excellent summary of confirmation bias.

Unfortunately, Kirk doesn't recognize that his entire approach is based on confirmation bias. I'll explain as I make comments below. Kirk's original material is in blue, my comments in black.

A couple of days before Christmas, 1974, I visited John L. Sorenson in the American Fork, UT home he built while I was in the mission field. In about five minutes he convinced me that the New World portions of the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica (southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize). More than forty years later, scientific advances have made his logic even more compelling. 

This is as perfect an expression of confirmation bias as you'll find anywhere. The exact same scientific advances have led Brother Sorenson's non-LDS peers to become even more skeptical of the Mesoamerican connection to the Book of Mormon, as we saw in a recent interview that I discussed here:

Brother Sorenson convinced Kirk in 5 minutes, but realize that Kirk had returned from a mission to Peru where he had spent some extra time searching for Book of Mormon evidence. If he hadn't already done so, he was at least predisposed to accepting Brother Sorenson's rejection of the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah and the North American setting.

It took Brother Sorenson longer than 5 minutes to convince me of the Mesoamerican setting, but he succeeded. For decades I sought to confirm my biases in favor of M2C the way Kirk still is. But eventually a confluence of facts made M2C untenable for me.

I don't know if Kirk has ever seriously considered these facts. I wish he would, although it is well known that confirmation bias overwhelms facts for most people. I think Kirk has the most open mind of any of the M2C intellectuals because while he has a lot of costs sunk into M2C, he doesn't have as many as the BYU/CES/COB employees who continue to promote M2C, as I discussed here.

Theoretically, fewer sunk costs mean more objectivity and a more open mind. That's why "ordinary" members of the Church, once they learn about Letter VII and the teachings of the prophets, readily accept those teachings and reject M2C.

M2C survives only because the M2C intellectuals have (i) imprinted M2C on the minds of LDS students for decades and (ii) successfully suppressed Letter VII and the teachings of the prophets.

These intellectuals rationalize their approach by insisting that their academic standards are so rigorous that they must be correct, which means that the prophets must be wrong about Cumorah. They think that ordinary members are too naive to appreciate both points so they are better off not even knowing what the prophets have taught, or how the sciences validate what the prophets have taught.

With all this in mind, let's look at Kirk's 11 criteria and see if they make a case for Mesoamerica (M2C) or North America (Moroni's America, or MA).

Size.  Book of Mormon travel times, expressed in days, limit how large or small the Nephite known world could possibly have been. 

[While I generally agree with this statement, I also recognize that Mormon only gave us less than 1% of the history and that he expressly declined to even discuss their shipping and building of ships and the activities of the people outside of the specific areas he mentions. What we have in 1,000 years of history is a few accounts of people traveling, mostly between the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla, each of which are vague areas of indeterminate size. I don't think the limits Kirk claims are required by the text.]

Most serious students [in good M2C fashion, Kirk uses the rhetorical trick of framing anyone who disagrees with him as "not serious." You see this trick throughout the publications of the citation cartel.] of the text are comfortable with a Nephite world having a maximum extent in the 1,000 kilometer range. 

[Why does Kirk specify 1,000 km? Because of the next sentence.]

Mesoamerica is right in this sweet spot. 

[There it is. The basic M2C approach is to start by answering the question--the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica--and then finding ways to justify the answer. I've pointed out that the corporate mission of Book of Mormon Central (and by extension, the entire citation cartel) is "to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex." That's the bias they constantly seek to confirm. It's the exact opposite of a serious academic inquiry, which is why the citation cartel uses peer approval instead of actual peer review of their work.]

1,044 Air Kilometers
Kaminaljuy├║ to Teotihuacan
The distance from Kaminaljuy├║ (candidate for the southern city of Nephi) to Teotihuacan (candidate for Jacobugath in the extreme north) is 1,044 air kilometers. 

[My proposed geography, described in Moroni's America, generally fits within the same "size" as Kirk's approach. It turns out that the distance from Chattanooga, TN (city of Nephi) to Palmyra, NY (Cumorah) is about 1,116 air kilometers, only about 70 km farther than his estimate. But that's a coincidence because I don't agree with Kirk's approach of deciding exactly how far a Nephite could travel in a day. There are too many variables to decide these things with precision. But the point is, even using Kirk's criteria, his observations about size are as much a case for Moroni's America as they are a case for Mesoamerica. I score this criterion a tie.]

Middle America Oriented Generally
Orientation. Dozens of references in the text describe Book of Mormon lands oriented generally in a northward/southward direction. Plotting the continental divide (in red) from Alaska to Chile shows that the principal landmass in the Western Hemisphere oriented generally northward/southward as opposed to north/south is Middle America.

BYU Studies map showing M2C
with east/west orientation
[I'm not really sure what point Kirk is making here. Sorenson insists the Nephites didn't use the terms north and south the way we do because Mesoamerica is oriented east/west. Kirk apparently disagrees with Sorenson on this point, but just look at his first graphic. It shows how Central America is mostly east/west.

The infamous BYU Studies maps of M2C show the same thing.

Close-up showing east/west
In fact, of all the Americas (apart from Panama), the only section that is clearly not "northward/southward" is Mesoamerica.

It seems to me that the northward/southward descriptions disqualify Mesoamerica more than anywhere else in the western hemisphere (apart from Panama). In fact, Brother Sorenson himself recognized that, which is why he concocted the "north means west" theory in his books.

Now, if you look at Moroni's America, you see that the land northward is always northward of the land southward. This holds true throughout the text, even when they are referring to different areas.

For example, we think that when Mormon made his treaties with the Lamanites, they were using the continental divide south of the Great Lakes. This way, everyone knew which side of the border they were on based on which direction the streams were flowing. They used the northward/southward distinction, but they referred to different boundaries than earlier chapters in the Book of Mormon.

In Moroni's America, it all makes perfect sense, without the Sorenson-like contortions, or Kirk's characterization of an east/west orientation as actually northward/southward.

Even if you don't agree that the Orientation parameter excludes Mesoamerica, the problems with Mesoamerica that Brother Sorenson points out lead me to score this criterion in favor of  Moroni's America.

Southern Mesoamerica with the Usumacinta River in Red
Geography. The text consistently mentions an East Sea and a West Sea in the Land Southward, with a major river running through the center of the land between both coasts and the whole nearly surrounded by water. Mesoamerica explicitly fits this description.

You notice here that Kirk shows the Usumacinta River as the River Sidon. When you read the M2C citation cartel literature, you see on ongoing debate about whether Sidon is this river or the Grijalva. They all insist the river Sidon flows north even though the text never says it does.

I agree there is a north-flowing river from the land of Nephi to the land of Zarahemla, but it's called the Tennessee river. That's not the river that flows past the city of Zarahemla, though; that one is the Sidon, today called the Upper Mississippi.

I agree that Kirk makes a case for Mesoamerica here, so I won't get into the details of the assumptions he makes. They don't matter because Moroni's America fits all these criteria even better than Mesoamerica. The lower Mississippi River is the west sea south, as readers here know by now.

Notice, the text says surrounded by water, but the M2C intellectuals always assume that means surrounded by seas. That's their interpretation, not what the text says.

In Moroni's America, these territories were surrounded by water. Water includes seas, lakes, rivers, and even marshes. There was a "small neck of land," not a narrow neck or a narrow neck of land, between the two regions surrounded by water.

The point of this post is not to explain all the geography; we're just evaulating Kirk's criteria. I score the geography as a case for both M2C and MA.

Topography. The Book of Mormon describes mountains, hills, and valleys with significant elevation differences between them. Mesoamerica has highly varied landforms with elevations ranging from sea level to 5,600 meters.

I agree that the Book of Mormon describes mountains, hills and valleys, but the text also refers to plains (e.g., Alma 52:20). This is a critical element of topography, so why doesn't Kirk list plains?

Easy answer.

Because Joseph Smith said the plains of the Nephites were in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, not in Mesoamerica.

Mountains are not even mentioned in the New World until the book of Helaman. This means that all the accounts of wars in Alma took place in areas that had plains but not mountains (at least, none that are mentioned). Look at Kirk's map of the Sidon river again. Notice how mountainous the area is. Then ask yourself, if you're Mormon describing the wars in Alma, why are you talking about plains and not mountains?

The "plains" of the Nephites in Mesoamerica
You see the green areas on Kirk's map. These are lowlands. Why doesn't Kirk characterize the lowlands of Yucatan as "plains"?

The definition of a "plain" is "a large area of flat land with few trees." I've spent some time in Yucatan and when you climb to the tops of the temples there and look over the countryside, you see nothing but trees.

The land might be flat, but it's anything but a "plain." It's a jungle, not a plain.

Furthermore, nothing in the text quantifies the elevation of the hills and mountains, let alone supports an inference that Mormon was writing about mountains 5,600 meters high. The difference between a mountain and a hill is relative, not specific. Traditionally in English, a mountain was considered any hill taller than 1,000 feet. (BTW, the summit of the hill Cumorah in New York is 707 feet.) In southern Illinois (land of Zarahemla) there are hills higher than 1,000 feet. D&C 117:8 refers to the "mountains of Adam-ondi-Ahman," an area only a few hundred feet high today.

Overall, I score this criterion as a strong case for Moroni's America and a case against Mesoamerica.

Climate. The Book of Mormon describes armies going to battle dressed in loin cloths around the new year Alma 43:4, 20. Mesoamerica's tropical climate works well with this narrative.

The text doesn't tell us when the "new year" began. Let's say they lived the law of Moses and started the new year at Passover, which was March 30-April 7 this year. Or maybe Rosh Hashanah, which is Sept. 9-11 this year. Or they might have counted from the time of a significant event, such as the ascension of a king. Or, maybe, they started after the winter solstice. We simply don't know.

But it doesn't matter because in the same chapter, the Nephites were wearing "thick clothing." Later, the Lamanites themselves wore "garments of skins, yea, very thick garments." A tropical climate does not work well with thick clothing and very thick garments. I got sunstroke in Peru in the jungle by the Amazon once just because I was wearing Levis, and that was at a higher elevation than Mesoamerica.

Last of the Mohicans
I realize the Mayans wore protecting clothing to fight wars, made of plant material but sometimes covered with animal skins. Maybe that's "thick clothing." But is it "very thick" as the text states?

Anyone can decide for themselves, but none of this matters because actual native Americans fighting in the French and Indian war, right in the "land northward" of Moroni's America, also fought in loin cloths.

Plus, Alma 46:40 refers to "some seasons of the year." In Mesoamerica, there are two seasons: rainy and dry. Otherwise, the climate is always the same. Not so in Moroni's America, where fevers have long been "very frequent" at "some seasons" because the climate changes, as the people in Nauvoo knew all too well.

The climate criteria doesn't exclude Mesoamerica, but it makes a stronger case for North America than it does for Mesoamerica.

Geology. Earth scientists who study the Book of Mormon generally conclude that the natural disasters described in the text are best accounted for by a combination of seismic and volcanic activity. Mesoamerica is a land of both earthquakes and volcanoes.

Kirk doesn't explain why we should care how "earth scientists" interpret the text when Mormon lived in the area and wrote the text without ever once mentioning or even describing volcanoes. This criterion makes a case against Mesoamerica.

Besides, every event described in the text has actually happened within recorded history in the valleys of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. This criteria makes a strong case for Moroni's America. The absence of volcanoes in the text makes this a case against Mesoamerica.

Demography. The Nephite/Jaredite text describes dense populations in the millions Ether 15:2. Mesoamerica had  dense populations in the millions during Book of Mormon times. For dramatic recent corroboration, see the blog article "LiDAR."

The logical fallacies here are two-fold, but in my view, the LiDAR data excludes Mesoamerica as even a possible setting for the Book of Mormon, as I explained here:

To Kirk's point, it's not the "Nephite/Jaredite" text that describes populations in the millions; it's only the Jaredite text, and it's only one verse in which Coriantumr is reflecting on the history of his people.

2. He saw that there had been slain by the sword already nearly two millions of his people, and he began to sorrow in his heart; yea, there had been slain two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children.

Two million men, plus their wives and their children, (let's say a total of 6 million) "had been slain," but over what period of time? Coriantumr fought for two years of unending wars before being imprisoned for a year. His sons rescued him. He returned to battle but was wounded and spent two years recovering. This is six years of bloody wars already. Then, in the wilderness of Akish, "many thousands" fell by the sword. There were more battles, then Coriantumr took his army into the wilderness for two years to acquire strength. That was followed by a series of bloody wars of indeterminate periods, until the final battles at Ramah/Cumorah. They spent 4 more years gathering the people. But if we do the math, based on the numbers Moroni gives us, the final battle took a week and involved fewer than 10,000 people.

If Coriantumr was referring only to the deaths that happened during his lifetime, and he lived say 60 years, that would be around 100,000 killed per year. That's consistent with the only description we have; i.e., "many thousands" killed in a significant battle. Maybe he was referring to those killed over 30 years, so 200,000 per year. Or maybe, as I think, he was referring to all his people killed throughout their history, going back generations. "He began to remember the words which Ether had spoken unto him." (Ether 15:1). Coriantumr's ancestors rejected previous prophets who had prophesied of the destruction of the people if they didn't repent. I think Coriantumr was reflecting on all his people who had been killed, going back generations. This means the population at any given time would have been much smaller than the millions killed over their history.

Of course, up until Ramah, people were surviving the wars. We simply cannot say from the text how many Jaredites there were.

And the number of Jaredites has essentially no relevance to the number of Nephites there were. I think the estimates of millions of Nephites/Lamanites is not even suggested by the text, let alone required by it.

The numbers actually spelled out in the text are consistent with the archaeology and anthropology of Moroni's America, so in my view, this criterion makes a strong case for Moroni's America, but I can see the logic in Kirk's case for Mesoamerica so I'll score it even.

Civilization. The Book of Mormon unambiguously describes what cultural anthropologists call "state level society" aka high civilization. See the blog article entitled "State Level Society." In the Western Hemisphere, only Mesoamerica achieved this degree of cultural sophistication during Book of Mormon times.

I addressed this point here:

In my view, this criterion doesn't necessary exclude Mesoamerica, but it makes a stronger case for Moroni's America.

Literacy. The Book of Mormon clearly describes widespread literacy Mosiah 2:8 with multiple writing systems. In the Americas, only Mesoamerica had widespread literacy with multiple scripts in use during Book of Mormon times.

This has always seemed like a bizarre argument to me. The M2C intellectuals have changed their mind on this over the years. Originally, they recognized that most of the Book of Mormon people were illiterate; i.e., the more numerous people of Zarahemla, who were illiterate for hundreds of years before Mosiah taught them language, and the Lamanites who sought to destroy written records from at least the time of Enos through Moroni. Once, the Nephites taught the Lamanites to write, but this was so remarkable that Mormon made special mention of it.

None of that matters, though, because the language used in Mesoamerica was definitely neither Hebrew nor Egyptian, which was the language used by the Book of Mormon people. If you go to China today and you don't speak, read or write Chinese, you are effectively illiterate even if you can read and write in English. The presence of a unique Mayan writing system is zero evidence of the existence of a group of Hebrews in Mesoamerica.

The only engraved stone mentioned in the text is the one Coriantumr left with the people of Zarahemla, and they couldn't even read it. There were no engraved stone records of kings and conquests like we find in Mesoamerica.

What we should be looking for is a widespread, sophisticated society that left no writing. As Moroni said, if the Lamanites found the records they would destroy them. Presumably they were successful with all the records except the ones Moroni and Mormon hid in the hill Cumorah.

What we should be looking for is what we actually find in Moroni's America. I score this a case for MA and a case against M2C.

Architecture. The Nephites built with stone Alma 48:8 and cement Helaman 3:7, 9, 11, materials that tend to preserve well in archaeological contexts. Stone and cement as building materials are attested in Mesoamerican archaeology. See the blog article "Top 10 Archaeological Evidences for the Book of Mormon."

Here Kirk identifies the sole reference anywhere in the text to building with stone. Let's take a look:

Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land.

The Nephites "erected" small forts. As a verb, the term means to "build, construct or put up." As an adjective, the term means "upright, straight, perpendicular." The context, then, indicates building with timber, as in Alma 50:

2 And upon the top of these ridges of earth he caused that there should be timbers, yea, works of timbers built up to the height of a man, round about the cities.

3 And he caused that upon those works of timbers there should be a frame of pickets built upon the timbers round about; and they were strong and high.

Alma 53:4 describes it this way:

4 And he caused that they should build a breastwork of timbers upon the inner bank of the ditch; and they cast up [erected] dirt out of the ditch against the breastwork of timbers; and thus they did cause the Lamanites to labor until they had encircled the city of Bountiful round about with a strong wall of timbers and earth, to an exceeding height.

The Nephites built defenses primarily with earth and timber, but they "also" built "walls of stone" around their cities and borders. Such walls of stone are common throughout human societies, of course. When new people come in, they either use the same walls or tear them down to make new walls or houses or roads.

Nowhere in the text does anyone build anything other than a wall out of stone. Certainly no massive stone pyramids.

Kirk emphasizes that "Stone and cement as building materials are attested in Mesoamerican archaeology."

But this is a case against Mesoamerica.

The text never once mentions building with stone and cement. Instead, it mentions building with wood and cement. In fact, they only used cement once, and then only to let trees to grow so "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." Hel. 3:9.

Here we see that they built all their buildings out of wood, not stone.

In Moroni's America, we find that the people living in the Book of Mormon time frame built primarily with earth and timber, but also sometimes with cement. After all, the only known Nephite cement was the cement Moroni used on the hill Cumorah in New York.

This criterion makes a strong case against Mesoamerica and a strong case for Moroni's America.

Chronology. The Book of Mormon chronicles events from ca. 2,300 BC to AD 421. Plausible Mesoamerican settings are attested archaeologically in those time frames. Some of the temporal correspondences are striking as in the blog article "75 BC."

Humans were living throughout the Earth between 2,300 B.C and AD 421. This is true of Mesoamerica and Moroni's America both, as archaeologists have long known. I agree with Kirk that this makes a case for Mesoamerica--the case against Mesoamerica would be zero human habitation there during this time frame--but makes just as much a case for Moroni's America (or anywhere else in the world where people were living during those periods). I score this criterion even for both settings.

Metallurgy in Book of Mormon times is well attested in the Andes. Seeds from the Levant or Arabia would thrive in Baja California. Some statements by Joseph Smith and his contemporaries do refer to the modern United States of America. Some Book of Mormon passages can be interpreted to lend support to an "intimate" aka small-scale geographic model. Viewed comprehensively, though, the preponderance of contextual clues in the Book of Mormon text favor a Mesoamerican setting which is why most LDS scholars today look for correlations in that area.

I like the way Kirk acknowledges some evidence that contradicts M2C. But he left out criterion #12, which for me is the most important.

Criterion #12: Cumorah is in New York. 

Well, if we believe the prophets, it's in New York.

Kirk and the other M2C intellectuals teach that the prophets have all been wrong about Cumorah. They teach that President Cowdery lied when he said it was a fact that the final battles took place in the mile-wide valley west of the hill in New York where Joseph found the plates. They teach that all the prophets who have quoted Letter VII and testified that Cumorah is in New York were wrong. They were merely expressing their opinions, according to Kirk.

I couldn't disagree more with the M2C intellectuals on this point.

Why do these intellectuals repudiate the prophets? Why do teachers at BYU and CES, and employees in the Church Office Building, insist the prophets are wrong?

Solely to defend their Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.

BYU Studies map that teaches
the prophets are wrong about Cumorah
Kirk didn't address Cumorah, but it is implicit in everything he wrote in his case for Mesoamerica. You can see it right here in the BYU Studies map of M2C.

It's also in the fantasy map being taught throughout CES and BYU.

By itself, the New York Cumorah doesn't exclude any other possible geography. It is consistent with the hemispheric model or any limited geography model that includes the New York Cumorah.

The M2C intellectuals insist the prophets are wrong solely because they have painted themselves into a Mesoamerican corner that requires that the prophets are wrong!

The prophets have consistently and persistently taught two things:

1. Cumorah is in New York.
2. We don't know for sure where the other events took place.

The M2C intellectuals seek to conflate those teachings and thereby deceive members of the Church into thinking the prophets have never taught that Cumorah is in New York.

This is reckless and inexcusable, in my view. I think all the M2C intellectuals who teach that the prophets are wrong are violating the trust that has been placed on them, and they should change their minds ASAP.

They can keep Mesoamerica if they want, but they can't continue to repudiate the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

Even if you reject the specific, repeated teachings of the prophets, the relevant archaeology, anthropology, and geology all point to Cumorah as the area where a significant civilization from Ohio vanished around 400 A.D.

But in my view, there is no point in having prophets if we say they are wrong when we disagree with them. 

And I hope that someday, Kirk and maybe some of the other M2C intellectuals will agree with that.

Then we will all be united, supporting the prophets and declaring to the world that Cumorah is in New York, that there is abundant evidence of the Book of Mormon established by non-LDS scientists, and that therefore everyone in the world needs to take the Book of Mormon seriously.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Yanny/Laurel and the Book of Mormon

The Yanny/Laurel phenomenon illustrates fascinating aspects of human perception and psychology. If you haven't tried it yet, you can see it on my main twitter feed:

 Basically, people hear different words from the same recording depending on which frequency they are most attuned to. Yesterday afternoon I heard "Yanny." This morning I'm hearing "Laurel." Maybe that means my hearing changes during the day, or maybe it is temperature driven.

At any rate, there are lots of explanations on the Internet right now. Steven Pinker summarized it this way:

The illusion teaches much about perception: Sensory input is ambiguous; brain groups elements into coherent guess about worldly source; locks onto guess, perceives elements accordingly. 1st guess may be arbitrary; futile to explain why people differ.

Here's one what allows you to hear both words:

How does this relate to the Book of Mormon?

We have faithful members of the Church looking at exactly the same evidence and reading exactly the same scriptures yet reaching different conclusions about the geography, anthropology, archaeology, etc.

Here's a comparison table. See which version of the evidence you "hear" as you go through the list.

To decide whether you think Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) is in New York or elsewhere, you can check the box next to each proposition. 1-17 are statements of historical fact; i.e., people involved made these statements. 18-20 are conclusions. 

1. When Moroni first visited Joseph Smith, he said the record was “written and deposited” not far from Joseph’s home. (Letter IV)
2. Joseph Smith obtained the original set of plates from a stone box Moroni constructed out of stone and cement in the Hill Cumorah in New York.
3. Mormon said he buried all the Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah (Morm. 6:6), which was the scene of the final battles of the Nephites, except for the plates he gave to his son Moroni to finish the record.
4. Orson Pratt explained that Moroni deposited the plates in “a department of the hill separate from the great, sacred depository of the numerous volumes hid up by his father.”
5. 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.
6. Heber C. Kimball talked about Father Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and others seeing records upon records piled upon tables in the hill Cumorah.
7. When Joseph and Oliver finished translating the original set of plates in Harmony, PA, Joseph gave the plates to a divine messenger who took them to Cumorah.
8. In Fayette, NY, Joseph and Oliver translated the plates of Nephi.
9. Oliver Cowdery said it was a fact that the valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York was the location of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites (Letter VII).
10. Joseph Smith had his scribes to copy Oliver’s letters, including Letter VII, into his journal as part of his history.
11. Joseph Smith gave express permission to Benjamin Winchester to republish Oliver’s letters, including Letter VII, in his 1841 newspaper called the Gospel Reflector.
12. Joseph Smith gave Don Carlos Oliver’s letters, including Letter VII, to republish in the Church newspaper called the Times and Seasons (T&S) in 1840-41.
13. Letter VII was republished in the Millennial Star and the Improvement Era and in an 1844 pamphlet in England.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. Every LDS who was alive during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, and several prophets and apostles since, accepted the New York hill Cumorah as the scene of the final battles, including in General Conference addresses. No General Conference address has ever claimed Cumorah was anywhere but in New York.
17. 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.
18. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were merely speculating about the location of Cumorah. They were wrong and they misled the Church.
19. Joseph Fielding Smith was wrong when he criticized the two-Cumorahs theory and maintained that Cumorah is in New York.
20. Anthony Ivins, Marion G. Romney, and Mark E. Peterson were all wrong when they spoke in General Conference about Cumorah being in New York.


Those who think Cumorah is in New York agree with 1-17 and disagree with 18-20.

Those who think Cumorah is elsewhere, as taught by BYU/CES and the Correlation Department, disagree with some or all of 1-17 and agree with 18-20.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

While I was gone...

When I was in Europe, people told me about a particularly egregious No-wise published by Book of Mormon Central America. Because it was republished by the M2C citation cartel, and because it is such a wonderful compilation of the work of the M2C intellectuals, I decided to go ahead and address it here:


For over two years, I've thought about responding to a book on Church history that I first found interesting and then found disastrous. I've been reluctant to do so because the authors are nice guys who undoubtedly have good intentions.

But so far as I can tell, people are accepting the authors' opinions without question. Basically they're saying Joseph didn't really use the plates to translate the Book of Mormon. Instead, the plates remained covered up while Joseph merely read the translation off the stone in the hat.

This view is taking over the Church History Department and the Joseph Smith Papers. I've heard it at BYU Education Week. Presumably the Correlation Department endorses this view and it will show up in the curriculum. It's already in the new Church videos.

Because of a few things that have happened recently, it's time for me to discuss the book in detail. I'll post an analysis next week.

As always, I welcome comments and input by email. I continue to learn a lot from readers!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Back in Utah - Make Cumorah Great Again

After nearly 3 weeks in France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Greece, we're back in Utah. We learned a ton and I'll incorporate it in my blogs, books and videos going forward.

Making Cumorah Great Again in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
We ran into other LDS there, as we did everywhere
we went
We're going to be doing some fun things in the next few months. I'm hoping to see M2C retired, one way or another, by September 22, 2018. This will be the 190th anniversary of the time when Joseph got the plates back after having lost the 116 pages.

I think that's a pretty good symbol of reclaiming the Book of Mormon from the clutches of the M2C intellectuals.

Awesome sculpture in La Rochelle, France, my first
city on my mission many years ago. Speaking of art,
so far this year I have two gallery exhibitions scheduled
for my paintings (dates and locations to be announced soon).
It's also a good target date because it would mean that, starting this fall, BYU/CES would stop teaching LDS students that the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if, by September 2018, the M2C intellectuals would at least embrace the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah? Based on my experiences over the last 3 years, I doubt that's going to happen. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal.

On a personal level, I really like my fellow Saints who continue to teach M2C and I think they along with all the other Saints would experience tremendous joy at becoming united in following the prophets, finally.

My reluctant pessimism is because of sunk costs, as I explained on my consensus blog here:

Golfing with Italy's Stromboli in the background. Its last major
eruption was in 2013, but it's still active, as you can see.
We also went hiking on Mt. Etna in Sicily, where the
last major eruption was in 2015.
I also posted some info about Cumorah and the Joseph Smith papers on the Letter VII blog, here:

We're at an awesome point in world and Church history and I hope we LDS put an end to the nonsense about Mesoamerica/two-Cumorahs so we can get on with using the Book of Mormon in a powerful, persuasive way to bring the Gospel to the world.

Stumbling over the truth

Winston Churchill reportedly observed of a former Prime Minister, "Occasionally he stumbled over the truth but he always picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened."

Many M2C'ers* stumble over the truth that Cumorah is in New York, but they always pick themselves up and hurry on as if nothing had happened. 

Hurry is the operative word.

The M2C intellectuals are so convinced that the prophets are wrong that they won't take a moment to consider all the evidence that supports what the prophets have taught. Nothing can change the minds of the M2C promoters at BYU, CES, and COB Departments.

They deem Letter VII and the consistent, repeated teachings of the prophets as mere "opinions" that they can ignore and reject as they diligently work to establish M2C as the Church's position.

But more and more members of the Church are stumbling over the truth about they New York Cumorah. 

They are stopping to think: "Do I want to follow the scholars when they teach the prophets are wrong?"

The answer is obvious when they read Letter VII and all the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. 

As they learn what the prophets have taught, Church members come to realize that M2C was based on a mistake in Church history. They make the decision to follow the prophets instead of the scholars.

* M2C is the acronym for the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory that certain LDS intellectuals have been teaching for decades.