Mesomania and cognitive dissonance part 3

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Mesomania scholar encounters Letter VII – h/t Scott Adams

One of the most frequent questions posed to me is, “Why does anyone still believe in the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography?”

It’s a great question. In fact, that’s the question that prompted me to research the topic and write Mesomania.

In my experience, there are two categories of LDS people who still believe in the Mesoamerican theory:

1. Ordinary LDS who have not yet heard about Letter VII* and its historical context, as well as all the evidence that supports the North American setting.

2. LDS who know about Letter VII but who have been teaching and promoting the Mesoamerican theory.

LDS lay member encounters Letter VII – h/t Scott Adams

Both categories of people are declining as a percentage of total LDS membership, but the influence of category 2 remains strong.

It is understandable why people in Category 2 experience a higher degree of cognitive dissonance than ordinary members do. There is a formula for understanding levels or degrees of cognitive dissonance that I’ll discuss below.

First, we need to realize that most LDS instinctively experience some cognitive dissonance about Book of Mormon geography because of the inherent improbability of a Mesoamerican setting when Joseph Smith obtained the plates in New York. Most LDS have been taught Mesomania their entire lives, both explicitly and subliminally. Most investigators are taught Mesomania thanks to the artwork in the missionary and foreign language editions of the Book of Mormon and the displays in the Visitors Centers. You see it in Mesomania Meridian Magazine, as recently as today.

All of this is because some LDS scholars decided years ago that when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery wrote Letter VII, they were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the Hill Cumorah being in New York. Instead, these scholars insisted Cumorah is in southern Mexico, and their influence continues. This is the two-Cumorahs theory that we see throughout Church media.

Most members of the Church have never heard about Letter VII, and when they do, their instinctive cognitive dissonance is elevated. They are usually shocked to discover that the Mesoamerican theory is based on the two-Cumorahs theory, which explicitly rejects Letter VII. They reconsider their Mesomania-inspired beliefs. It is relatively easy for them to recognize the fallacies of Mesomania and change their minds to accept the North American setting.

For these individuals, the process is simple: just replace one belief with a better belief that is more consonant with their beliefs about Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and related issues. Not much of a problem. A relief, actually. Questions answered. Faith supported. For many, the Book of Mormon becomes more meaningful in this new context, for many reasons.

But consider the situation of someone who has taught and/or promoted the Mesoamerican theory. He/she has sincerely wanted to teach the truth. He/she has relied on faithful, dedicated LDS scholars and educators who have developed and promoted the two-Cumorahs and Mesoamerican theories for decades. He/she has relied on FairMormon, FARMS, BYU Studies, the Interpreter, and other sources (including the artwork in the blue Book of Mormon and the Visitors Centers). Confronted with the possibility that the Mesoamerican theory is false–and, worse, that it causes members to become confused and disturbed in their faith, as President Joseph Fielding Smith said it would–how can they handle the high level of cognitive dissonance?

Three options:

1. Support the cognition most resistant to change. The individual will add “consonant cognitions,” meaning he/she will seek to add more evidence that confirms what he/she already believes. In the case of Mesomania, this means finding more and more “correspondences” that reinforce the Mesoamerican theory. This is what we see at Book of Mormon Central, for example, which continues to promote the Mesoamerican theory exclusively and refuses to give a voice to alternative theories–including the one taught by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

2. Diminish the dissonant cognition. The individual will diminish or minimize the “dissonant cognitions” by ignoring them, decreasing their importance, or outright attacking them. In the case of Mesomania, this means ignoring Letter VII (the common practice until recently when it became untenable), characterizing Letter VII as an insignificant outlier (ignoring the historical contest), or attacking the credibility and reliability of Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, and David Whitmer. The final resort–the place where we are currently–is characterizing Joseph and Oliver as ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah.

3. Changing one’s mind. The individual will recognize that the dissonant cognition (Letter VII) is actually more credible than the consonant cognition and will, despite the hurdle of acknowledging years of advocacy for an incorrect theory, change his/her mind and embrace the previously dissonant cognition.

Obviously, I hope the Mesomania scholars and educators choose the third option.

There is plenty of academic background and explanation of cognitive dissonance. I chose the one below because it expresses the problem in a formula that I find useful.

There are many factors that determine the amount of cognitive dissonance an individual experiences. Generally, the more a person has invested in an idea, the greater cognitive dissonance he/she will feel when confronted with dissonant cognitions.

The originator of the theory of cognitive dissonance, Leon Festinger, “theorized that when an individual holds two or more elements of knowledge that are relevant to each other but inconsistent with one another, a state of discomfort is created.”**

In this context, knowledge can be described as dissonant and consonant cognitions.

“Festinger theorized that the degree of dissonance in relation to a cognition = D/(D + C), where D is the sum of cognitions dissonant with a particular cognition and C is the sum of cognitions consonant with that same particular cognition, with each cognition weighted for importance. Several theorists have proposed that the dissonance between cognitions could be determined by assessing whether a person expects one event to follow from another.”

“Festinger theorized that persons are motivated by the unpleasant state of dissonance and that they may engage in ‘psychological work’ to reduce the inconsistency. This work will typically be oriented around supporting the cognition most resistant to change. To reduce the dissonance, individuals could add consonant cognitions, subtract dissonant cognitions, increase the importance of consonant cognitions, or decrease the importance of dissonant cognitions. One of the most often assessed ways of reducing dissonance is change in attitudes.”

Those struggling with cognitive dissonance might like this discussion about how to resolve the problem:

We also don’t like to second-guess our choices, even if later they are proven wrong or unwise. By second-guessing ourselves, we suggest we may not be as wise or as right as we’ve led ourselves to believe. This may lead us to commit to a particular course of action and become insensitive to and reject alternative, perhaps better, courses that come to light. …

A part of that self awareness that may help in dealing with cognitive dissonance is to examine the commitments and decisions we make in our lives. If the resolution of cognitive dissonance means that we move forward with a commitment and spring into action, making us feel better, maybe the dissonance was trying to tell us something. Maybe the decision or commitment wasn’t as right for us as we initially thought, even if it means overcoming our “no second-guessing” bias and making a different decision. Sometimes we’re just plain wrong. Admitting it, apologizing if need be, and moving forward can save us a lot of time, mental energy and hurt feelings.


*Letter VII is shorthand for Letter VII itself as well as the associated context, including the two sets of plates, Mormon’s repository in Cumorah, Joseph’s multiple endorsement of Letter VII, and the relevant archaeology, anthropology, geography, geology, etc.

**All quotations are from E. Harmon-Jones, “Cognitive Dissonance Theory,”
Encyclopedia of Human Behavior (Second Edition), 2012.

Bonus link:

Source: Book of Mormon Wars

Check your biases!

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One obstacle to consensus about any issue is confirmation bias. People see what they want to see. As one scholar put it, Mesoamerican proponents “can’t unsee” Mesoamerica when they read the Book of Mormon.

Advocates of every alternative generally feel the same way. Including those who don’t accept the Book of Mormon.

For many years, I, too, could not “unsee” Mesoamerica in the text. But that changed once I learned about a few critical facts and re-examined the text from another perspective.

Critics could say my biases changed, and all I’m doing is confirming my new biases.

Fair enough.

Let’s lay out our biases and let others see which biases they most closely identify with.

Here are the respective biases as I understand them, based on writings, speeches, presentations and conversations. If I’m wrong about any of these, please let me know. Notice that the Meso bias is basically the same as the anti/former LDS bias, at least with respect to these issues.

Put a checkmark next to the bias that is closest to yours.

Letter VII (which unequivocally declares that the New York Cumorah is the scene of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites):

__ My bias: Oliver Cowdery was credible and reliable because of his personal experience, as well as for the many reasons I’ve explained. I also think Joseph Smith helped him write the letters, including Letter VII, and subsequently endorsed them fully on multiple occasions.

__ Meso bias: Oliver Cowdery was not credible or reliable and he was an ignorant speculator who misled the Church. Joseph Smith passively accepted a false tradition about the New York Cumorah.

__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Oliver Cowdery was not credible or reliable and he was an ignorant speculator who misled the Church. Joseph Smith passively accepted a false tradition about the New York Cumorah.

The Golden Plates

__ My bias: Joseph translated all the plates (except the unsealed portion) in Harmony, returned them to a heavenly messenger who took them back to Cumorah (David Whitmer account) and got the plates of Nephi from the repository, which he then took to Fayette and gave to Joseph, which is why Joseph translated those plates in Fayette.

__ Meso bias: David Whitmer was not credible or reliable so he made up or misremembered the experience with the messenger going to Cumorah. Although they are not mentioned in the Title Page, the plates of Nephi were always in the set of plates Joseph originally got from Moroni. Witnesses described the plates differently because they were confused or just wrong.

__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Basically the same as the Meso bias, except neither Joseph nor any of the witnesses were credible or reliable because there were no plates to begin with.

The repository in Cumorah

__ My bias: Brigham Young and others accurately reported what Oliver and others said about entering the records repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York. David Whitmer accurately explained that the plates were no longer in Cumorah but were not far from there.

__ Meso bias: Brigham Young and others may have accurately reported what Oliver and others said about entering the records repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York, but it was merely a vision of a hill in Mexico, which these men shared multiple times. David Whitmer was unreliable and not credible when he explained that the plates were no longer in Cumorah but were not far from there.

__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Basically the same as the Meso bias, except neither Joseph nor any of the witnesses were credible or reliable because there were no plates to begin with, and no repository except, maybe, a “visionary” one.

Statements about Central America

__ My bias: Orson Pratt, Benjamin Winchester, WW. Phelps, William Smith, and others invoked the discovery of ancient ruins in Central America as evidence of the Book of Mormon to support their zealous missionary efforts. In addition, anonymous articles appeared in the Times and Seasons during 1842, when Joseph was the nominal editor. Joseph had nothing to do with these articles. Joseph never made a single direct link between the Book of Mormon and Central America, and actually made specific statements repudiating that theory. Alleged correspondences between the Book of Mormon and Central America are illusory because they are characteristics of most ancient societies. Joseph’s statements about North America fit the text and relevant anthropology, archaeology, geology, and geography.

__ Meso bias: Orson Pratt, Benjamin Winchester, WW. Phelps, William Smith, and others invoked the discovery of ancient ruins in Central America as evidence of the Book of Mormon to support their zealous missionary efforts. In addition, anonymous articles appeared in the Times and Seasons during 1842, when Joseph was the actual editor. Joseph actually wrote these articles, or at least edited and approved of them, because he didn’t know where the Book of Mormon took place and he expected scholarship to answer the question. Modern LDS scholars and educators know more about the Book of Mormon than Joseph did. Joseph’s statements about the North American setting are ambiguous and reflect his confusion and adoption of an early false tradition. Alleged correspondences between the Book of Mormon and Central America are reliable, especially when we realize that Joseph Smith used the wrong terms to translate the plates and thereby missed the Central American connections. The Mesoamerican models fit the text and relevant anthropology, archaeology, geology, and geography.

__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Basically the same as the Meso bias, except modern LDS scholars and educators can’t point to any evidence directly connecting the Book of Mormon text to Central America or anywhere else.

Statements by Joseph’s successors

Facts: Every one of Joseph’s contemporaries expressed or accepted the New York setting for the Hill Cumorah. Orson Pratt’s 1879 footnotes in the official edition of the Book of Mormon specified, unequivocally, that the Hill Cumorah was in New York, while he acknowledged his identification of other sites was speculative, or “believed to be.” Beyond Joseph’s contemporaries, Joseph Fielding Smith, Marion G. Romney, Mark E. Peterson and others reaffirmed the New York Cumorah, including in General Conference addresses, while no General Authority has ever contradicted the New York Cumorah in General Conference.

__ My bias: Every one of these prophets and apostles was correct about Cumorah.

__ Meso bias: Every one of these prophets and apostles was speculating and was wrong.

__ Anti/Former LDS bias: Basically the same as the Meso bias, except the prophets and apostles were not only speculating and were wrong about Cumorah, but about everything else as well.

Source: Book of Mormon Concensus


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I’ve met some guys doing a phenomenal project that more people should know about. It’s called Lifey (Life + Story, basically a video selfie that is searchable and shareable).

Check it out.
They also created, which is an awesome resource for missionaries (and travelers). 
(Relevance to this blog: as a historian, I like to think about what an Oliver Cowdery Lifey would have included. I think he and Joseph would have been shocked at how many LDS scholars and educators reject what they said and wrote, as plainly as words can be, about Cumorah being in New York.)

Source: Book of Mormon Wars

Preface to the Book of Mormon, ca. 1829

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Today we’re going to see another example of the Mesomania bias in the Joseph Smith Papers and the ongoing rejection of Letter VII (in this case, even when it is cited).

The first edition of the Book of Mormon contained a preface, written by Joseph Smith, that explains the situation with the lost 116 pages.

You can see the original here:

Also on pages 93-4 in Joseph Smith Papers Documents, Volume 1, July 1828-1831

Most of the Preface is written in first person, active voice. The exception is the final clause in the last sentence:

“I would also inform you that the plates of which hath been spoken, were found in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New-York.”5

Note 5 reads: In September 1827, JS removed the plates from a hill in Manchester Township. (See JS History, vol. A-1, 8; and Oliver Cowdery, “Letter VII,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, July 1835, 1:158.)  

The citation to Letter VII is awesome, but think about this a moment. Why does Joseph Smith use the passive voice only for this clause? And to what plates is he referring? And why is the hill not named, when it is named in Letter VII itself?

The only plates Joseph refers to in this preface are the plates of Lehi and the plates of Nephi. He mentions “the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon.”

Why is this?

The Preface follows two reproductions of the Title Page (the Title Page itself, followed by the copyright application that quotes the entire Title Page). The Title Page describes the plates as the two sets of abridgments, plus the sealing by Moroni. But it never mentions the plates of Nephi.

Of course, this is the reason the Lord had to tell Joseph about the plates of Nephi in D&C 10; i.e., he didn’t have the plates of Nephi when he was in Harmony. Don’t forget, he said the Title Page was translated from the last leaf of the plates, and he translated it in Harmony.

I think this explains why Joseph used the passive voice in the Preface. He not only didn’t have the plates of Nephi when he was in Harmony (because they were not in Moroni’s stone box), but he didn’t get them himself from the Hill Cumorah. Someone else did, and then brought them to Fayette for Joseph to translate.

Consequently, Joseph wrote that “the plates of which hath been spoken,” i.e., the plates of Nephi he translated to replace the lost 116 pages, “were found.” He didn’t find them; someone else did.

Hence, he wrote in the passive voice here.

With this understanding, note 5 in the JSP is incorrect. JS did not remove the plates of Nephi from the Hill Cumorah.

And note 5 is misleading because it refers merely to “a hill” even though Letter VII clearly identifies the hill as the Book of Mormon Cumorah–right there in New York.

Source: Letter VII

Reasons were never part of Mesomania

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When people claim reason A for a belief, but then change to reason B when reason A collapses for some reason, you know that reasons are not the explanation for the belief. Instead, the belief is based on identity and wishes.

When it comes to Mesomania, the original rationale (reason A) was the belief that Joseph Smith claimed the Book of Mormon took place in Central America. This belief is based on anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons, long attributed to Joseph Smith.

Because those articles contradict things Joseph actually said and wrote and approved (i.e., Letter VII, Wentworth letter, letter to Emma, Zelph revelation, D&C 28, 30, 32, 128, etc.), Mesomania scholars have sought to link Joseph to the anonymous articles through “stylometry.” That effort failed because the scholars refused to share their data, assumptions, and software so their process could be replicated and their conclusions validated or rejected.

As part of reason A, scholars also cited claims made by other early LDS authors, including Benjamin Winchester, Orson Pratt, W.W. Phelps, and, arguably, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff. Of course, none of these men were involved with the Book of Mormon translation. None visited the records repository in the Hill Cumorah or met with the angels and divine messengers that Oliver and Joseph knew. Nevertheless, the Mesomania scholars accepted these authors while rejecting what Joseph and Oliver said in Letter VII.

Now that Letter VII has become more prominent, they still say Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the New York Cumorah, but that argument, too, is failing. Once Church members read Letter VII and learn how often it was reprinted and cited, they tend to accept it and reject the two-Cumorahs theory upon which Mesomania scholars and educators rely.

Now that reason A is essentially gone, Mesomania scholars and educators are left only with reason B. I think they realize reason B is illusory, if not complete nonsense, but let’s set that aside for a moment.

Reason B is the notion that the text of the Book of Mormon describes the setting with enough precision that it can be mapped, first as an abstract map, and second as a real-world location. That notion is so absurd that it’s difficult to believe anyone takes it seriously–the inherent ambiguity of the text is obvious to everyone except these Mesomania scholars and educators who are desperate to find an alternative to Reason A. One would think that the fact there are dozens, or hundreds, of maps based on the text should be proof that the pursuit of an internal map is a fool’s errand.

Now we have an “abstract map” being taught at BYU, as if Letter VII never existed and as if the Book of Mormon is a novel like Lord of the Rings that took place in a fictitious, video-game-like territory.

My point here is that Reason B is no more valid than Reason A was. You’ll find all kinds of explanations for how the Book of Mormon describes Baja California, or southern Mexico, or Yucatan, or Guatemala, or Panama, or Chile, or any number of places that share one feature in common: the creators of these geographies think Letter VII is false.

We wonder, why the obsession with Meosamerica? I addressed this in my book Mesomania.

The psychology boils down to this. When someone takes a position on an issue that is proven wrong, that person rarely will say, “Okay, I was wrong. The other side that I ridiculed and fought for years was correct.”

Instead, that person will shift from the original rationale to something else. When the second rationale proves erroneous, the person will seek a third rationale, etc.

The problem, of course, is that Reasons A and B share the same error: they both reject what Joseph Smith taught. That’s why they’ll never work, and why they need to be rejected by as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

I ask all LDS scholars, educators, and members to reach a consensus that there is only one Hill Cumorah and it is in New York.

Source: Book of Mormon Concensus

Mormon History Association – Mounds and Mormons

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I spoke at the Mormon History Association’s annual conference last week on the topic of the Mormons and the Mounds. In my presentation, I focused on mounds around St. Louis (aka, Mound City), famous mounds in LDS history, including Enon and Zelph’s mound, and the mounds in and around Nauvoo.

I’m going to use the PowerPoint presentation at upcoming events, and the presentation was quite different from this paper, but people have asked about my paper so here is the first draft of the paper that I’m posting here for comments/input. I’ve been asked to submit it for publication, but it needs more work and I’m waiting for some additional developments anyway.

The Mormons and the Mounds
Jonathan Neville
MHA Presentation
June 2017
St. Louis, Missouri

“Mormonism sprang from the mounds,” wrote Roger Kennedy, former director of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Even before the Book of Mormon was published, Mormonism was linked to the Moundbuilder civilizations of North America. One man who claimed to have heard a reading of the lost 116 pages said “It was a description of the mounds about the country and similar to the ‘Book of Mormon.’” In 1843, Joseph Smith apparently alluded to the 116 pages when he said the Book of Mormon spoke about sacred burial places. Several authors have placed the Book of Mormon among other 19th century books about the origins of the Moundbuilders.  At one time, there were over a million ancient earth mounds in North America; approximately 100,000 remain today. Many of these mounds are located in the territory from western New York through western Missouri where early Mormon history took place. Three specific mounds figure prominently in LDS history: Zelph’s mound in Illinois, the Kinderhook mound, also in Illinois, from which the six brass plates were taken, and Enon mound in Ohio. Until the early Saints leveled them to build homes and farms, Indian mounds dominated Nauvoo. Joseph Smith purchased one and resorted to it from time to time. Less well known are the mounds located just north of Nauvoo that have recently been discovered and preserved. The connections between Mormonism and the mounds of North America have yet to be fully explored.

The Mormons and the Mounds
Twenty-five miles east southeast of the site of the 2017 Mormon History Association’s 52ndAnnual Conference in St. Charles, Missouri, sits one of only 22 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States: Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.
According to UNESCO, Cahokia is the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico.[1] It includes Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthwork in the Western Hemisphere. Cahokia was a prominent feature in the 1830s and 1840s when Mormons passed through the St. Louis region on Mississippi River steamboats. The site originally included 120 mounds and covered about 4,000 acres. Native Americans lived there between 800-1400 A.D. (the Mississippian period), so it is post-Book of Mormon era, but many other significant mound sites along the Mississippi River did flourish during Book of Mormon times.
Elm Point Mound was located just three miles north of the St. Charles Convention Center until it was leveled for residential development. The mound contained burials covered with limestone slabs and featuring red ochre staining. Projectile points, a grooved axe, and other artifacts were found at this site before its destruction.[2] A mile to the east is a district still called Les Mamelles, named after two 150-foot mounds that looked out over the plains to the north situated between the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.
St. Louis itself was once nicknamed Mound City because of the many large mounds once located within current city limits. The largest of these, Big Mound, located on what is now Mound Street and North Broadway, would have been visible to Mormons traveling to Nauvoo from the Gulf of Mexico or from the Ohio River. Big Mound served as a landmark for Mississippi River steamboat pilots until it was leveled in 1868.
The sole remaining mound in St. Louis is Sugarloaf Mound. It has been purchased by the Osage Nation for preservation.
While Big Mound may have been one of the first ancient Indian mounds experienced by European Mormons immigrating to Nauvoo, the mounds were commonplace for American Mormons in the 19th Century. Joseph Smith’s birth state of Vermont features hundreds of ancient stone structures. Ethan Smith, the Vermont preacher, wrote A View of the Hebrews in part to explain the origins of the “walled towns,” “Forts,” and “watchtowers” he was familiar with.
New York State was rich with ancient mounds. New York governor DeWitt Clinton wrote about numerous such sites. In 1817, he wrote that a mound near Ridgway, Genesee County, about 65 miles northwest of Palmyra, contained piles of skeletons that “were deposited there by their conquerors.”[3]
When the early Saints moved from New York to Ohio, they encountered Indian mounds everywhere they went. Some remain, such as Indian Point, located just 14 miles northeast of the Kirtland Temple. This ancient Indian enclosure features two earthen walls bordered by ditches and protected on two sides of a triangle by steep cliffs. The walls were built around 140 B.C. The Zion’s Camp march passed several mounds, including two that were specifically noted in the historical record: Enon mound outside of Dayton, Ohio, and Zelph’s mound near the Illinois River.
Ancient Indian mounds are common in Missouri as well. According to the State Historic Preservation Office, “There are 37,000 known sites in the state, but that’s probably a small fraction of the total.”[4]
The connections between Mormonism and the mounds have been addressed in several books and articles. This paper provides a brief overview of the literature and introduces some new information that deserves additional focus and discussion.
Archaeological and Anthropological Background
Indian mounds have long been part of American history. George Washington used ancient mounds for military positions. Thomas Jefferson excavated a mound (one of many “barrows” in the area) found on his property at Monticello.[5] In 1894, the Smithsonian’s Bureau of Ethnology published a book by Cyrus Thomas that depicted a map of around 100,000 mound sites, located mainly along the rivers of the Midwestern and Southeastern United States. Many of these sites have multiple mound structures, some as many as 100.
One researcher wrote, “After visiting several thousand mounds and reviewing the literature, I am fairly certain that over 1,000,000 mounds once existed and that perhaps 100,000 still exist. Oddly, some new mound sites are discovered each year by archaeological surveys in remote areas.”[6]
This paper will discuss an example of new mound sites found within the last year a few miles north of Nauvoo.
Ancient Native American civilizations that built mounds have been classified into three major cultures based on era and the types of mounds they built.
1. The Archaic period (4500-1000 BCE). There are only a few major examples of earth structures built during the Archaic period, including Watson Brake and Poverty Point in Louisiana.
2. The Woodland period, consisting of Early Woodland (1000 BCE to 200 BCE) (Adena), Middle Woodland (200 BCE-500 CE) (Hopewell) and Late Woodland (500-1000 CE).
            a. Adena. Adena sites are found in the Midwestern and Eastern United States including Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York. Only a few of the hundreds of Adena mounds have survived to the present. Mounds were used for burials, ceremonies, and gathering places. Enon Mound, the second largest conical burial mound in Ohio, is probably Adena. The largest Adena mound in the United States is in Moundsville, West Virginia, along the Ohio River. People tunneled into it in 1838, destroying archaeological evidence.
            b. Hopewell. The Hopewell culture ranged from Florida to southeastern Canada (the Great Lakes area) and east to Kansas. The people lived along the rivers, particularly the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and their tributaries. They built the giant geometric earthworks found in Ohio, including the Newark Earthworks that are the largest in the world and are aligned to specific sunrise and moonrise events. Hopewell cultures had distinctive regional attributes. Zelph’s mound fits within the Hopewell culture. The Kinderhook mound probably dates to the Adena era, and it reportedly had a conical shape typical of Adena mounds, but there doesn’t appear to be any discussion in the literature about this mound ever being dated or studied.
3. The Mississippian period (900-1450 CE). There is growing evidence of a link between Mesoamerican cultures and the Mississippian cultures, possibly a result of the collapse of the Mayan empire.
People who believe the Book of Mormon took place in North America generally relate the Adena to the Jaredites and the Hopewell to the Nephites.
What Constitutes a Mound
When archaeologists identify a “mound” site, it is usually more significant than merely a pile of dirt created by humans. Mounds varied greatly in size. Some might be a foot high with a circumference of two or three feet. Others may be tens of feet high, covering acres. Monks Mound is ten stories high and covers nearly 14 acres.
Geometric shapes, including squares and circles, are precisely measured and can encompass 20 acres or more. Some mound structures were topped with wooden pickets as defensive walls. Others were covered with cement. Some are shaped as animal effigies. Some follow natural ridges.
Dr. Roger Kennedy, the former director of the Smithsonian’s American History Museum, addressed a misperception about earth mounds, noting that earth mounds are actually buildings.
Build and building are also very old words, often used in this text [his book] as they were when the English language was being invented, to denote earthen structures.
About 1150, when the word build was first employed in English, it referred to the construction of an earthen grave. Three hundred and fifty years later, an early use of the term to build up was the description of the process by which King Priam of Troy constructed a “big town of bare earth.” So when we refer to the earthworks of the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys as buildings no one should be surprised.[7]
Literature Review
Painting with a broad brush, literature about the connections between Mormons and mounds can be divided into two categories: those who seek to link Mormonism to the mounds, and those who seek to distance Mormonism from the mounds.
From a purely historical perspective, those linking Mormonism with the mounds seem to have a stronger argument. They rely on original documents and contemporary accounts. This group includes critics of Mormonism as well as supporters.
Those distancing Mormonism from the mounds tend to rely on semantic arguments against original sources or seek to avoid the question altogether.
These different approaches manifest themselves most often in discussion and analysis of the three specific mounds that appear most often in the literature: Zelph’s mound and the Kinderhook mound, both in Illinois, and Enon mound in Ohio. I’ll cite examples after offering an overview of some of the best-known works on Mormon history that address the mound connection.
The most comprehensive analysis of the connections between Mormonism and the mounds is probably Dan Vogel’s 1986 book, Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon: Religious Solutions from Columbus to Joseph Smith (Signature Books). Vogel seeks to understand how the Book of Mormon “fit into the ongoing discussion about the origin and nature of ancient American cultures” (Introduction). His Chapter 4 focuses on the mound-builder myths. He views the Book of Mormon as a product of 19th Century thought and experience.
Fawn Brodie focused on the ancient American mounds, claiming that “The mystery of the Moundbuilders attracted no one more than Joseph Smith.”[8]Earl Wunderli also invoked the moundbuilders to explain the Book of Mormon. “Joseph Smith’s physical surroundings included the Indian burial mounds that people said were piles of slain warriors from antiquity.”[9]
Many supporters of Mormonism tend to downplay the links to the moundbuilders.
For example, in Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Bushman observes that “Indian relics turned up in newly plowed furrows, and remnants of old forts and burial mounds were accessible to the curious, but none was known in Palmyra or Manchester…Burial mounds, supposedly a stimulus for investigation of the Indians, receive only the slightest mention [in the Book of Mormon, Alma 16:11].”[10] He does briefly mention Zelph’s mound and the Kinderhook incident, but he deliberately avoids the debate about mounds and the Book of Mormon. For example, he quotes excerpts from the letter Joseph Smith wrote to Emma on June 4, 1834, from the banks of the Mississippi River during Zion’s Camp, but he omits a key phrase. Joseph wrote of “wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity,”[11]but Bushman quotes only “wandering over the plains,” omitting the rest of Joseph’s sentence.[12]
Terryl Givens writes that “A major appeal of the text itself, to both the historically curious and the flippantly cynical, was its claim to tell the public something about the people whose burial mounds lie scattered across the prairies of the Old Northwest, whose bones and artifacts emerged from the dust with provocative regularity…. Once the Book of Mormon is cast in these terms, by angels, prophets, editors, and satirists, the historical approach becomes double-edged, an irresistible tool of apologists and detractors alike.”[13]
Most articles focus on the two best-known mound-related topics: Kinderhook and Zelph.
J. Michael Hunter introduced his article about Mormon archaeological zeal by writing “In 1843, Robert Wiley unearthed a set of six brass plates in a burial mound near Kinderhook, Illinois.”[14] Several authors have written and presented on the topic of the Kinderhook plates, including Mark Ashurst-McGee, Don Bradley, Brian M. Hauglid, and Jason Frederick Peters. In 1981, the Ensignpublished an article that took the positions that (i) the Kinderhook plates were a hoax and (ii) Joseph Smith never attempted to translate them.[15]
Zelph’s mound in Illinois was first reported in the journals of participants in Zion’s Camp. Their accounts were amalgamated for an entry in History of the Church, but they have been reassessed individually. Kenneth Godfrey argued that the accounts “are inconsistent” and the skeleton “cannot, therefore, provide conclusive evidence for anything.”[16]Donald Q. Cannon provided greater context for the incident by referring to additional corroborating statements by Joseph Smith’s contemporaries as well as evidence from the archaeological and anthropological studies of the area, noting that “Some of the fabric recovered from the archaeological digs conducted at the bluff dates between 100 BC and AD 400… Remarkably, items discovered in the Zelph Mound area fit precisely within the parameters of the Book of Mormon historical chronology.”[17]
John H. Wittorf addressed Kinderhook and Zelph, but also treated Enon mound. Wittorf concluded that “in only one of three cases where Joseph Smith encountered the remains of the “Mound Builders”—the “Zelph incident”— did he even suggest a relationship between these peoples and those described in the Book of Mormon, the exact nature of which however, is still uncertain.” [18]
The Enon mound incident may not be well known. On May 16, 1834, Zion’s camp was in Ohio, traveling between Springfield and Dayton. Joseph’s journal records
About nine o’clock . . . we came into a piece of thick woods of recent growth, where I told them that I felt much depressed in spirit and lonesome, and that there had been a great deal of bloodshed in that place, remarking that whenever a man of God is in a place where many have been killed, he will feel lonesome and unpleasant, and his spirits will sink.
In about forty rods from where I made this observation we came through the woods, and saw a large farm, and there near the road on our left, was a mound sixty feet high, containing human bones. The mound was covered with apple trees, and surrounded with oat fields, the ground being level for some distance around.[19]
The large mound Joseph referred to was the Enon mound, located about seven miles west of Springfield. The mound still stands today in the town of Enon. It has been identified as an Adena mound, based on its size and shape, as well as artifacts retrieved from it.
Wittorf notes a hearsay account of an old gentleman who dug into the mound and deposited a collection of artifacts. He also suggests the dead men Joseph referred to could have been Shawnees killed in the battle of Piqua in August 1870. Piqua was about five miles west of Springfield.
Levi Hancock, who accompanied Joseph on the Zion’s Camp march, provided the most detailed account of the Zelph incident in his journal. Joseph’s statement about Zelph prompted him to also record what had happened at Enon.  “I then remembered what he [Joseph Smith] had said a few days before while passing many mounds on our way that was left of us; said he, ‘there are the bodies of wicked men who have died and are angry at us: if they can take advantage of us they will, for if we live they will have no hope.’ I could not comprehend it but supposed it was all right.”[20]
Because Hancock connected Zelph with the Enon mound statement, he apparently inferred that Joseph Smith was relating both mounds to Book of Mormon peoples. Or Joseph may have made this connection explicit. It was just a few days later that Joseph wrote his letter telling Emma that he and his men had been “wandering over the plains of the Nephites… roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones.” 
Mormon Connections with Native American Indian Mounds
This paper does not assess the historical and cultural context of the Mound-builder tradition and whatever relationship it may have to Mormonism. Instead, it looks at specific examples that have not been covered in depth in the literature to suggest possibilities for additional research.
The 116 pages. In the summer of 1828, Martin Harris lost the first 116 pages of the manuscript Joseph Smith dictated. Little is known about the manuscript, except that it constituted Mormon’s abridgment of the Book of Lehi and it covered essentially the same history as the current books of 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon. The 116 pages were reportedly burned or stolen; at any rate, they have not been recovered so far.
One account suggests the 116 pages described the mounds in North America. W. R. Hine was a resident of Colesville, New York. He provided a statement in 1884 in which he claims he knew Joseph Smith and his father. He relates a version of the lost 116 pages that has Lucy Harris taking the 116 pages and giving them to a Dr. Seymour, who lived not far from Mr. Hine. Hine stated, “Dr. Seymour lived one and a half miles from me. He read most of it to me when my daughter Irene was born; he read them to his patients about the country. It was a description of the mounds about the country and similar to the ‘Book of Mormon.’”[21]
The current text of the Book of Mormon does not mention mounds. It refers to bodies being “heap up upon the face of the earth” in several places. Alma 50:1 says Moroni caused his people “that they should commence in digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities.” If Hines was correct that the 116 pages included “a description of the mounds about the country,” the lost manuscript would link the text more closely to the North American setting than does the current text. This would further support the claims of both critics and defenders who link the Book of Mormon to the Moundbuilders.
Joseph Smith’s 1843 sermon. On April 16, 1843, Joseph Smith’s journal relates that he gave a sermon at the temple at 10 a.m. He read a letter about the death of Lorenzo Barns and discussed the topic of burial.
it is to have the privilige [sic] of having our dead buried on the land where god has appointed to gather his saints together.— & where there will be nothing but saints, where they may have the privilege of laying their bodies where the Son will make his appearance. & where they may hear the. sound of the trump that shall call them forth to behold him, that in the morn of the resurrection they may come forth in a body. & come right up out of their graves, & strike hands immediately in eternal glory & felicity rather than to be scattered thousands of miles apart. There is something good & sacred to me in this thing. the place where a man is buried has been sacred to me.–this subject is made mention of In Book of Mormon & Scriptures. to the aborigines regard the burying places of their fathers is more sacred than any thing else.[22](emphasis added)
The portion in bold is of interest for two reasons. First, there is no place in the current Book of Mormon that mentions that the place where a man is buried is sacred. Joseph seems to be recalling a passage from the lost 116 pages, which, in his mind, were part of the Book of Mormon he translated.
Second, the sacred nature of a burial place is the basic premise for Native American Indian reverence for the burial mounds. Joseph alludes to this in the next passage when he refers to the “aborigines,” whom he considered Lamanites. This sermon may be a direct link between the 116 pages and the Native American Indian mounds.
The journal is in the handwriting of Willard Richards. He apparently inserted the phrase “this subject is made mention of” after he wrote the main phrase, probably when he found a moment to catch up with what Joseph was saying.

Mounds in Nauvoo. There are several references to mounds in Nauvoo. The lithograph by John Childs, 1844, made from a plat by Gustavus Hills in 1842 depicts several mounds in the city. A prominent one is between plats 82 and 83, just west of the temple.
Joseph’s journal records a few interactions with mounds in and around Nauvoo, including these.
14 June 1842 • Tuesday
Tuesday 14 To the mound with Emma & purchasd 3/4 Sections of Land  of
Hiram Kimball [note 245][23]
Note 245: JS purchased the southwest quarter of Section 25, the southeast quarter of Section 26, and the northeast quarter of Section 35, within Township 7 North, Range 8 West, for $1,500 from Ethan Kimball of Orange County, Vermont. Hiram Kimball served as Ethan Kimball’s attorney in the transaction. The “mound” was located in the southwest quarter of Section 25. JS paid Kimball two weeks later. (Hancock Co., IL, Deed Records, 27 June 1842, vol. K, pp. 329–330, microfilm 954,599, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL; JS, Journal, 27 June 1842.)
27 June 1842 • Monday
Monday 27 Transacting business in general through the day. borrowed money of Bros.  Wooley Spencer &c. & made payment To Hiram Kimball for the mound.
Mounds in Nauvoo. In recent years, more Hopewell mound complexes have been discovered just north of Nauvoo. Some were looted in the 1970s, but others have been found untouched.
Wilson and Jenny Curlee moved to Nauvoo and purchased the property on which the mounds were located.[24]They organized an Eagle Scout project to restore some of the looted mounds, and archaeologists from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency have certified these as authentic ancient sites. In the fall of 2016, a new complex was discovered in the area.
The increasing awareness of the numerous Hopewell mounds in the Nauvoo area may give renewed attention to the connection between Mormons and the mounds. When workers dug a utility trench between the Red Brick Store and the Joseph Smith Homestead, the equipment churned up Hopewell bones and artifacts. This area is adjacent to the Smith Family Cemetery, leading to the possibility that Joseph Smith, his wife Emma, his brother Hyrum and his parents are buried in a Hopewell burial site.
If “Mormonism sprang from the mounds” as Roger Kennedy suggested, it seems only fitting that Joseph Smith would be buried among the Moundbuilders.
The connections between Mormonism and the Moundbuilders have received considerable attention, but mainly from outsiders and critics. It is time for historians to re-assess these connections, especially in light of recent discoveries about Hopewell mounds in the Nauvoo area.

[1] Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, World Heritage List, UNESCO,
[2] Elm Point Mound, 23SC58, St. Louis Community College,
[3] DeWitt Clinton, “A Memoir on the Antiquities of the Western parts of the State of New-York,” Transactions of the Literary and Philosophical Society of New York 2 (1815-25): 82
[4] Matthew Graham, “Ancient History,” Missourian, Jul 22, 2008, online at
[5]Jefferson’s Excavation of an Indian Burial Mound, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc., online at
[6] Little, Gregory L., Ed.D., The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Native American Mounds & Earthworks (Eagle Wing Books, 2009), p. 2.
[7] Kennedy, Roger G., Hidden Cities: The Discovery and Loss of Ancient North American Civilization (The Free Press, New York, 1994), p. vii. (hereafter Hidden Cities)
[8] Brodie, Fawn M., No Man Knows My History, 2d Ed. (Vintage Books, New York: 1995), p. 35.
[9]Wunderli, Earl, An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon tell us about itself (Signature Books, Salt Lake City: 2013), p. 320.
[10]Bushman, Richard, Rough Stone Rolling(Alfred A Knopf, New York: 2005), pp. 95, 97.
[11] Smith, Joseph, “Letter to Emma Smith,” 4 June 1834, Letterbook 2, p. 57, online at
[12]Bushman, p. 241.
[13] Givens, Terryl, By the Hand of Mormon (Oxford University Press, Oxford: 2002), pp. 93, 95-6.
[14] Hunter, J. Michael, “The Kinderhook Plates, the Tucson Artifacts, and Mormon Archaeological Zeal,” Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Spring 2005), p. 31.
[15]Kimball, Stanley B., “Kinderhook Plates Brought to Joseph Smith Appear to be a Nineteenth-Century Hoax,” Ensign, August 1981, online at
[16]Godfrey, Kenneth W., “What Is the Significance of Zelph in the Study of Book of Mormon Geography?” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 8/ 2 (1999): 70-79, 88. Online at
[17] Cannon, Donald Q., “Zelph Revisited,” Church History Regional Studies, BYU Department of Church History and Doctrine, Regional Studies, Illinois, 97-109. Online at
[18]Wittorf, John H., “Joseph Smith and the Prehistoric Mound-Builders of Eastern North America,” delivered at the Nineteenth Annual Symposium on the Archaeology of the Scriptures at BYU on October 18, 1969, online at
[19] History, 1838-1856, volume A – 1 [23 December 1805 – 30 August 1834], p. 7, online at
[20] Quoted in Cannon, Zelph Revisited.
[21] W. R. Hine’s Statement, in Naked Truths about Mormonism (Deming & Co., Oakland, 1888), online at
[22] Journal, December 1842-June 1844; Book 2, 10 March 1843-14 July 1843, p. 141. Online at
[24] Palmer, Rosemary G., “Why Do Nauvoo’s Historic Burial Mounds Matter?” Meridian Magazine, June 9, 2013, online at

Source: Letter VII

Mesomania and cognitive dissonance part 2

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When you have two different interpretations of historical events, current events, scientific facts and models, etc., one or both may be a product of trying to minimize cognitive dissonance CD.

One way to tell which side is experiencing the greatest CD is the side that bases their argument on what someone was thinking in their inner thoughts. If your argument is not fact-based, or based on something you can observe, but is based instead on what a stranger you may not have ever met was thinking in his secret thoughts that have not been revealed by his/her actions, then you’re far more likely to be further from the truth and relying on CD.

Actions including writing. One way to tell if you are relying on “inner thoughts” instead of facts is if you interpret a stranger’s writings to mean something different from the plain language.

The entire premise for Mesomania is that the scholars know what Joseph Smith was secretly thinking. This is how they deal with the extreme CD they experience when they confront Joseph’s actions.

Here is an example. In 2005, BYU and the Library of Congress sponsored a two-day academic conference to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s birth. I blogged about it here. The conference proceedings included these statements about what Joseph was thinking in his inner thoughts:

– Joseph Smith did not fully understand the Book of Mormon.
– One thing all readers share with Joseph is a partial understanding of the book’s complexities.
– Over the last sixty years, Hugh Nibley, John Sorenson, and other scholars have shown the Book of Mormon to be “truer” than Joseph Smith or any of his contemporaries could know.
– Consequently,  what  Joseph  Smith  knew  and  understood about the book ought to be research questions rather than presumptions.  Thanks  in  large  part  to  his  critics,  it  is  becoming  clear that Joseph Smith did not fully understand the geography, scope, historical scale, literary form, or cultural content of the book.
– In 1842, after reading about ancient cities in Central America, Joseph speculated that Book of Mormon lands were located there.
– Joseph did not know exactly where Book of Mormon lands were… he considered their location  an  important  question  addressable  through scholarship.

Of course, the author never mentions Letter VII, which Joseph helped Oliver write and which unequivocally declares that the New York Cumorah is, in fact, the site of the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites.

Notice that while ignoring what Joseph actually said and wrote, the author relies on anonymous articles to conclude that “Joseph speculated that Book of Mormon lands were located” in Central America.

Instead of speculating about Joseph’s undisclosed inner thoughts, how about looking at what Joseph actually did?

– He had his scribes copy Letter VII into his personal history.
– He authorized Benjamin Winchester to reprint Letter VII.
– He gave Letter VII to his brother Don Carlos to have it printed in the Times and Seasons.
– In D&C 128, he referred to Cumorah among other sites in New York and Pennsylvania.
– In D&C 28, 30 and 32 he identified the Indians living in New York, Ohio and Missouri as Lamanites.
– In the Wentworth letter, he declared that the remnant of Book of Mormon people are the Indians living in this country.
– He wrote to Emma from the banks of the Mississippi, explaining he had just crossed the plains of the Nephites (referring to Ohio, Indiana and Illinois).
– He identified Zelph as the person whose bones they dug up from a mound in Illinois, declaring he had fallen in battle in the last destruction among the Lamanites. Joseph said Zelph (or the prophet he served under) was known from the Hill Cumorah to the Rocky Mountains. (For more detail, see Donald Q. Cannon’s excellent summary here.)

The Mesomania scholars and educators have tried to handle their CD by rationalizing away Joseph’s actions so they can speculate about his inner thoughts. 

One of the most insightful articles on this topic is “Heartland as Hinterland: The Mesoamerican Core and North American Periphery of Book of Mormon Geography,” published here. It deals with a few of Joseph’s actions that I listed above, such as the letter to Emma and the Zelph account.

Of course, the article never mentions Letter VII or the revelations in the D&C.

Instead, it relies on the anonymous Times and Seasons articles, erroneously attributing them to Joseph and then using them to reinterpret the plain language of what Joseph actually wrote.

Here’s how the article handles Joseph’s letter to Emma and his revelation about Zelph: “The individuals and geographic features that are named in these accounts are nowhere to be found in the text of the Book of Mormon. They are external to its history.”

Joseph explained that he had learned about the Book of Mormon people even before he translated the plates, and his mother confirmed this, but the Mesomania scholars reject what he said. Instead, they insist Joseph knew nothing except what he translated.

The reason they take this position is obvious: it puts them not only on an even playing field with Joseph (because they’re both limited to interpreting the text), but (in their minds) it makes their interpretations superior to Joseph’s because they have PhDs and decades of more recent archaeological, linguistic, and other research.

When you consider theories about Book of Mormon geography, consider whether the proponents are relying on actual evidence, or instead on their subjective interpretations of what they think Joseph’s inner thoughts were.

I think you’ll soon see which theories are suffering from the worst CD.

BTW, next to the LDS Mesomania scholars and educators, the critics of the Book of Mormon are suffering the worst CD, as I’ll discuss in an upcoming post.

Source: Book of Mormon Wars

Mesomania and cognitive dissonance part 1

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This is part 1 of a series I’m doing on cognitive dissonance.

Because so many people have begun following this blog in the last few months, Part 1 is a republication of a post I did on another blog in November 2016. I’ll develop the ideas in upcoming posts.

Cognitive Dissonance Cluster Bomb on Cumorah

For over a year, Scott Adams (Dilbert creator) has been predicting the outcome of the election by using his Master Persuader Filter. If you didn’t follow his blog, you missed out on a real treat.

Today he made a post titled “The Cognitive Dissonance Cluster Bomb.” He points out that listed 24 different theories for why Trump won the election. He asks, “What does it tell you when there are 24 different explanations for a thing?”

He answers: “It tell you that someone just dropped a cognitive dissonance cluster bomb on the public. Head exploded. Cognitive dissonance set in. Weird theories came out. This is the cleanest and clearest example of cognitive dissonance you will ever see.”

I agree with him. His analysis has been awesome all year.

But there’s another tremendous example of cognitive dissonance Adams is unaware of, because it’s confined to a dozen or so LDS scholars who keep insisting the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica.

To paraphrase (and partially quote) Adams, here’s what we’re seeing in the LDS academic community:

1. They believe they are smart and well-informed.

2. Their good judgment (based on their PhD-level education) told them the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica, which means the Hill Cumorah must be in southern Mexico.

3. Most members of the Church–and every prophet and apostle who has spoken on the issue–believe the Hill Cumorah is in New York anyway.

Those “facts” can’t be reconciled in the minds of the Mesoamerican scholars. Mentally, something has to give. That’s where cognitive dissonance comes in.

There are two ways for Mesoamerican advocates to interpret that reality. One option is to accept that if so many members (and the prophets and apostles) believe Cumorah is in New York, perhaps it is. But that would conflict with the scholars’ self-image as being smart and well-informed in the first place. When you violate a person’s self-image, it triggers cognitive dissonance to explain-away the discrepancy.

So how do you explain-away a New York Cumorah if you think you are smart and you think you are well-informed and you think Cumorah is OBVIOUSLY in Mexico?

You solve for that incongruity by hallucinating – literally – that the New York Cumorah people KNOW the idea is a false tradition and that they PREFER the false tradition because they are anti-science and anti-academia.

And this is exactly how the Mesoamerican scholars and educators handle their cognitive dissonance.

In a rational world it would be obvious that New York Cumorah supporters include lots of brilliant and well-informed people. That fact – as obvious as it would seem – is invisible to the folks [the Meso-promoting LDS scholars and educators] who can’t even imagine a world in which their powers of perception could be so wrong. To reconcile their world, they have to imagine that all New York Cumorah supporters are defective in some moral or cognitive way, or both.

We all live in our own movies inside our heads.

[Adams thinks “humans did not evolve with the capability to understand their reality because it was not important to survival. Any illusion that keeps us alive long enough to procreate is good enough.” I don’t see this as a matter of evolution, but apparently many LDS scholars do. I think it’s just another example of how the natural man is an enemy to God; i.e., when we pretend to seek the truth by rejecting the prophets, we’re doomed to maintaining the illusion that the movie inside our heads is “reality” in some way.]

That’s why the LDS scholars live in a movie in which they are fighting against a monster called “The false tradition that Cumorah is in New York” but you live in a movie where the New York Cumorah explains the Book of Mormon so well. You live in a movie in which the prophets and apostles are reliable and credible. The Mesoamerican advocates live in a movie in which the prophets and apostles are speculating and don’t know what they’re talking about. Same planet, different realities.

Look at the explanations the Mesoamerican advocates give to solve their cognitive dissonance:

1. Joseph and Oliver were merely speculating in Letter VII; i.e., they lied when they said it was a fact.
2. Before his death, Joseph changed his mind about Book of Mormon geography; i.e., he wrote or endorsed the Times and Seasons articles.
3. Moroni never told Joseph the hill was named Cumorah; i.e., Joseph’s mother misremembered or lied about that.
4. Joseph and Oliver never went to the records repository in the hill; i.e., Brigham Young and others lied about that, or Joseph and Oliver were relating a vision of a hill in Mexico.
5. David Whitmer did not hear a divine messenger refer to Cumorah; he misremembered or lied about that.
6. The hill in New York doesn’t match the description in the text; i.e., there are no volcanoes in New York.
7. The hill in New York is too far from Mesoamerica; i.e., we know the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica, so it is “manifestly absurd” for anyone to believe Cumorah is in New York.
8. The prophets and apostles who personally knew Joseph Smith were fooled by a false tradition; i.e., like Joseph, they embraced a false tradition about the New York hill that was started early on by an unknown person.
9. The prophets and apostles who lived after Joseph’s contemporaries died off were also fooled by a false tradition; i.e., Joseph Fielding Smith, Marion G. Romney, and others didn’t know what they were talking about.
10. There is no archaeological support for the New York setting; i.e., it is a “clean hill” with no artifacts.
11. Only experts trained in the field (trained in the ministry) can be trusted; i.e., if you don’t have a PhD, you can’t be expected to understand why the prophets and apostles are wrong.

I could go on, but you get the idea. I’ve addressed every one of these Mesomania arguments. Not a single one of them holds up.

The situation has boiled down to this:

LDS scholars and educators are in a state of serious cognitive dissonance that they refuse to acknowledge. They assert their credentials and years of study and their groupthink as reasons for people to believe them. In many cases, they have pursued careers motivated by Mesomania. They have obtained grants in the millions of dollars based on Mesomania. They have trained generations of LDS scholars and educators to think alike.

But fortunately, because of the Internet, their academic monopoly is cracking.

People are smarter than the LDS scholars think.

We can see through their tactics and their sophistry when we simply accept what the prophets and apostles have taught from the beginning about the Hill Cumorah.

Just to be clear, acceptance of the New York Cumorah does not resolve the questions about Book of Mormon geography overall. That geography has not been officially revealed, and the Church wisely remains neutral on that topic (just as the Church is neutral on where the real Mount Sinai is).

There are two groups of people who work on Book of Mormon geography.

1. Those who put Cumorah in New York.
2. Those who put Cumorah somewhere other than in New York.

Within each category there are plenty of variations.

Group 1: Scholars, educators, members, and anyone else can use their knowledge and reasoning to develop their own theories of Book of Mormon geography, consistent with the New York Hill Cumorah. This can range from a model limited to the State of New York all the way to a hemispheric model.

Group 2: People can also continue to promote their ideas about Cumorah outside of New York. But everyone in this group deals with the cognitive dissonance this post discusses. You’ll see it in everything they write.

Part II will discuss how we can tell which group has the most cognitive dissonance.

Source: Book of Mormon Wars

Consensus is an information problem

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Scott Adams recently explained why he thinks most problems are information problems:

“I have a hypothesis that nearly all solvable problems in the modern world are information problems in disguise. For example, unemployment is largely (but not entirely) a problem of people not knowing where to find jobs, as opposed to no jobs existing. I could give you lots of other examples where information would solve a major problem, but today I want to focus on one: Stopping terrorism.”

I agree with Adams, but I’m going to focus on a different topic.

The question of Book of Mormon geography boils down to a simple threshold choice:

Do you believe Cumorah is in New York?
Do you believe Cumorah is not in New York?

Your answer depends on your opinion about Letter VII:

Do you believe Letter VII is true? 
(Then you believe Oliver and Joseph told the truth when they said Cumorah is in New York.)
Do you believe Letter VII is false? 
(Then you believe Oliver and Joseph were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.)


Obviously, these straightforward questions make a lot of people uncomfortable (mainly those who advocate and teach the Mesoamerican and other two-Cumorahs theories). The way the Mesomania scholars and educators deal with these question is by avoidance.

They simply suppress Letter VII.

That’s why you can’t find it referenced in any of their materials, or even in the Ensign.

Now that thousands of LDS people have read Letter VII for the first time (and more and more are discovering it every day), the Mesomania scholars and educators have embarked on an effort to cast doubt on Letter VII. They are doubling down on their long-held, but mostly concealed, view that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.

At BYU at least, they are trying to avoid the question by using an “abstract map,” but this is merely another euphemism for rejecting Letter VII.

I’m optimistic that information can solve the problem.

Let’s say you’re a parent and you’re trusting LDS scholars and educators at any of the BYU campuses or in CES (seminary and institute).

But you’re also wary of the two-Cumorahs theory because you know, as Joseph Fielding Smith warned, that this theory causes members to become confused and disturbed in their faith.

So you want to know if the people teaching your children accept or reject Letter VII and the New York Cumorah.

But you can’t get the information, so you’re running blind.

You know that anyone who believes, promotes, or teaches the Mesoamerican theory rejects Letter VII and all that entails, but you can’t know ahead of time what your students’ teachers think, and by the time your kids are enrolled, it’s too late to find out.

The solution, in my view, is full disclosure.

I’d like to see every BYU and CES instructor and scholar clearly state whether he/she accepts or rejects Letter VII.

I realize this sounds like a litmus test or a catechism, but that’s not the intent. It’s not passing judgment. As I’ve always said, I’m fine with people believing whatever they want, just so long as it’s an informed choice.

And the way things have been for the last few decades has not given people informed choices.

Even today, the citation cartel (BYU Studies, Interpreter, Maxwell Institute, FairMormon, Meridian Magazine, Book of Mormon Central, BMAF, etc.) promote solely the Mesoamerican theory that enshrines the two-Cumorahs theory and reject Letter VII.

Despite the efforts of the citation cartel, not everyone who teaches at BYU or CES rejects Letter VII and the New York Cumorah. But parents and students deserve to know what faculty members believe on this topic.

Because full disclosure is unlikely, I recommend that parents and students ask faculty, up front, whether they accept or reject Letter VII.

It’s not a minor question. One’s opinion on Letter VII affects what one teaches about Church history, the Book of Mormon, and the reliability of the Three Witness and Joseph Smith himself.

You probably already see what impact full disclosure would have. Armed with the information about an instructor’s belief about Letter VII, few parents would send their kids to be taught by people who think Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the New York Cumorah.

In short time, the advocates of the Mesoamerican theory would have no students.

The problem would resolve itself and we’d reach consensus.

Actually, I think this may be the only way to reach consensus on Book of Mormon geography.

Source: Book of Mormon Concensus