People ask me what I think about critics, of which there are plenty. I welcome criticism. And I really like and respect the LDS scholars who focus on these issues. I’ve never claimed to be “right” about any of this and I would engage much more in offline discussions if other people were willing (but they’re not). On these blogs, in the books, and in upcoming venues, I’m just expressing my opinions and pointing out facts from Church history that, in my view, have been overlooked.
There is tremendous scholarly inertia to maintain the status quo regarding long-held assumptions about Church history, such as Joseph Smith’s editorship of the Times and Seasons. There is also tremendous inertia to maintain the status quo regarding the depiction of Mesoamerican themes in Church media–and in the Book of Mormon itself, as I noted here..
(The other day I verified at the Distribution Center that all the foreign language editions of the Book of Mormon contain the Arnold Friberg paintings I blogged about recently. So, before they read a single verse in the text, Russian, Chinese, Thai, and Nigerian investigators are all being told that Samuel the Lamanite warned a city of Mayans, that Christ appeared among Mayan ruins, and that the waters of Mormon were located deep in a Mesoamerican jungle. And, if they get into it, the hill in New York is merely the place where Moroni buried the plates, but it’s not really the Hill Cumorah. I have more posts about this topic scheduled for later in September. It’s fundamentally unbelievable that this is still going on. If the investigators read the text, they soon find out there are no jungles, no huge mountains, not pyramids–not even a single stone building. It’s not wonder they are confused by the two-Cumorah theory–as are most members of the Church at this point, just as Joseph Fielding Smith warned.)
There has also been a long-held aversion to Letter VII; the letter has been completely ignored by the scholarly community as far as I can tell.
I find that strange, particularly since it was ubiquitous when Joseph was alive and accepted by all of his associates for as long as they lived. It was implicit in everything written about the topic, including Orson Pratt’s 1879 footnotes. Really, there should be no confusion or even debate about the location of the Hill Cumorah in New York.
Of course, even with the pin in the map of Cumorah, there can be many different interpretations of the geography question, as Church leaders have pointed out. These can range from an area limited to the State of New York to an area as large as the western hemisphere, from Chile to northern Canada, and everything in between.
Actually, if we’re proceeding on the premise, widely held by LDS scholars today, that Joseph Smith had no idea about Book of Mormon geography, then I don’t know of a principled reason why we confine the possible geography to the Western Hemisphere. It might as well be in Eritrea or Sri Lanka if Joseph had no idea.
The widely quoted statement that Moroni told Joseph the plates contained a history of the “former inhabitants of this continent” comes from the 1838 history. By then, the “this continent” language had been widely used. LDS scholars who insist Joseph merely adopted Mormon folklore about Cumorah in New York must acknowledge he could have adopted that same folklore from Oliver Cowdery and W.W. Phelps.
Besides, the earliest detailed version of what Moroni told Joseph was from Oliver’s Letter IV, which has Moroni telling Joseph that the record “gave a history of the aborigines of this country,” not “this continent.” Plus, Moroni told Joseph that the record was “written and deposited” not far from Joseph’s home. To say the least, that seems to contradict the idea that it was written 3,400 miles away somewhere in Southern Mexico and then deposited near Joseph’s home.
BTW, it seems likely to me that while Moroni told Joseph “this country,” Cowdery, Phelps, and Joseph himself said “this continent” because the terms were interchangeable and they realized the country was expanding. Arkansas and Michigan were added as states between the time of Moroni’s visit and the 1838 history. Iowa became part of the Wisconsin Territory, etc. There has been endless debate about what a “continent” was. Some scholars even argue about what a “country” was. To me, it’s improbable that Moroni was referring to Central and/or South America when he told Joseph that the record was a history of the aborigines of this country, but obviously others disagree.
As you know if you’ve been following this blog, I’m not writing about Letter VII here. I have a dedicated blog for that: http://www.lettervii.com/.
I think every member of the Church should read Letter VII. I hope they do, sooner or later. Certainly every missionary should read it. It’s the best answer we have right now for investigators who want some sense that the Book of Mormon is an authentic history.
Now for the follow-up example. Some time ago, a charter member of the Council of Springville wrote a long, detailed critique of Moroni’s America. I haven’t had a chance to read it until today. He posted it on the BMAF site.* Normally I take a look at such criticisms to see if they have anything to offer. (My favorite one so far was titled “The Treason of the Geographers,” a title I liked so well I borrowed it for a chapter in the Mesomania book.) Sometimes the critics make good points that I incorporate. Sometimes they give me ideas for new areas of research that generate lots of material.
But other times, they misrepresent what I’ve written and revisit long-held interpretations of the text that have become catechisms for some people. In those cases, I usually ignore the material in the interest of time (life is short) and in recognition of the futility of trying to open closed minds. This one was a perfect example. I figure people who seek confirmation of their biases will find it. If it wasn’t for confirmation bias, the Interpreter wouldn’t exist, for example. Nevertheless, I took the time to comment on the BMAF article.
Lately I’ve agreed not to name names, so I’m not going to do that here. Probably most of you don’t care about the critics anyway. But for those who are interested, you can read my comments here.
*(BMAF is a “division” of Book of Mormon Central. BMAF nominally stands for Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, but it’s really a club for Mesoamerican proponents, so I think of it as Basically Mesoamerican Archaeology Friends. It makes sense that it’s a division of Book of Mormon Central; that web page is merely a front for Ancient America Foundation, another Mesoamerican club. So BMAF is equivalent to BOMC which is equivalent to AAF. It’s all one big club for Mesoamerican proponents, except now they have a lot of money to promote their theory, which they do on a daily basis.
Source: Book of Mormon Wars