Update on abstract maps

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Book of Mormon lands according to BYU

Last June I commented on abstract maps of the Book of Mormon. See here.

Everything I wrote there still stands, including the comments, but I’m writing this post because this BYU quasi-official abstract map seems to be on its way to becoming part of the curriculum, if it isn’t already.

(Well, I know it is part of the curriculum at BYU, but I suspect it’s on the way to becoming part of the broader curriculum).

The Daily Universe published an article about it here:
http://universe.byu.edu/2017/03/15/visual-scriptures-group-creates-interactive-map-of-book-of-mormon/

There is an appeal for donations here:

http://virtualscriptures.org/book-of-mormon-map/

In my opinion, the more this map is disseminated, the more damage it will do.
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In my previous post, I noted this:

“I’m not criticizing the people who put this map together, and I’m not criticizing those who published it, because I think they are well-intentioned and I like the map because it is at least ambiguous (i.e., there is no actual place on Earth that looks like this)…

“However, I think it’s a mistake to create an abstract map of the Book of Mormon in the first place, because the process requires a series of assumptions not required by the text, and the mere creation of the map transforms a theory into an artificial reality. Images such as this create their own reality in the mind of the viewer, and it becomes difficult to dislodge the image while reading the text. For example, this abstract map essentially codifies an interpretation of “narrow neck of land” that I think is inconsistent with–or at least not required by–the text.”
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The web page makes this claim:

This map is based on the descriptions found in the book, not on any particular place within the known world. Since it is based strictly on those descriptions, it is one of the most accurate maps of the Nephite and Lamanite world.

I’m sure you can already see the logical fallacies here, but I’ll point out some anyway.

This map is based on the descriptions found in the book. Actually, as you can see for yourself, the map is not based on the descriptions in the book. It is based on someone’s interpretation of the description in the book.

This is the logical fallacy that accompanies all the proposed map–even mine, in Moroni’s America. The text doesn’t speak for itself; it’s inherently too vague. Everyone reads the text according to his/her own interpretation.

Why do people claim their maps are based on the text instead of admitting it’s their interpretation of the text? Because when people work together to reach a “consensus” they come to believe they have come up with the “correct” interpretation. Scholars and educators actually think that they have accomplished something that they also think Joseph and Oliver could not and did not; i.e., correctly interpret the Book of Mormon.

(The Council of Springville was another example.)

not on any particular place within the known world. This fallacy is the point of the next section of this blog post, but think about this a moment. Can anyone imagine a Biblical scholar trying to find Sinai without reference to a known spot in the world? What Biblical scholar would use an “abstract” map of the Bible to understand it? What Bible teacher would use an abstract map to teach the Bible?

The obvious “particular place” they want to avoid is Cumorah in New York.

Since it is based strictly on those descriptions. Not content with the inference raised by the first sentence, they here insist they aren’t even interpreting the text! Instead, they, unlike everyone else who has proposed a map, are basing this map strictly on “pure” textual descriptions! Okay, I inserted the exclamation marks, but that’s the intent of this claim. They apparently actually think they are taking the text literally, without any subjective interpretation. That belief is what makes them impervious to other viewpoints. Any one of us could show that their map doesn’t fit the text. It’s too easy, but they don’t see that because they’ve convinced themselves of the next part of the sentence.

it is one of the most accurate maps of the Nephite and Lamanite world. Of course, we won’t know which if any map is “accurate” unless and until we get more information from people who actually know. (In the world of LDS scholars and educators, Joseph and Oliver don’t count as people who actually know.) And yet, this “most accurate map” reflects a “Nephite and Lamanite world” that doesn’t exist on Earth. Think about that one a moment.

The concept of an “abstract map” is a classic cart-before-the-horse approach. In the real world, the cart follows the horse, not vice versa. Here, the horse is the known location; i.e., Cumorah in New York. The descriptions in the text can’t possibly convey an accurate description of a real-world setting if we don’t put the horse first, but the LDS scholars and educators refuse to do that because… well, I’m not sure why they don’t. Some say because Cumorah is a “clean hill,” but I’ve addressed that at length. Some say because Joseph said, in anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons, that Zarahemla is in Quirigua, but I’ve addressed that at length as well. Some say the descriptions don’t make sense if you put Cumorah in New York, but I’ve also addressed that. I’m not aware of any objection to Cumorah that I haven’t addressed.

Obviously, just because I’ve addressed it doesn’t mean I’m right. And people are always free to agree or disagree about anything. But for me, the arguments against Cumorah are logical and factual fallacies, all the worse because they were contrived in the first place to confirm the biases of people who were relying on a mistake in Church history; i.e., attributing to Joseph the anonymous Times and Seasons articles. My shorthand for that is Mesomania.

But now, instead of correcting the mistake in Church history and jettisoning Mesomania, we risk an even graver mistake because of these abstract maps. We risk turning the Book of Mormon into fiction.
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Today I’m making the point that this abstract map teaches the “two-Cumorahs” theory and so is destined, as Joseph Fielding Smith said, to cause members of the Church to “become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.”

Location of the Hill Cumorah according to BYU

[Note: if you cite Joseph Fielding Smith to many LDS scholars and educators, they’ll roll their eyes and tell you he didn’t know what he was talking about. Try it with his comments on the two-Cumorahs theory and you’ll see what I mean.]

Here’s a closeup on the Cumorah portion.

Not exactly New York, is it?

Any student, any investigator, any member of the Church–well anyone at all–who learns the Book of Mormon with this map is learning two important principles that will be imprinted and reinforced constantly, just like the Friberg paintings of jungles, jaguars and jade.

1. Principle 1: The “real” Hill Cumorah is not in New York.
2. Principle 2: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the location of Cumorah.

If you ask about it, the scholars and educators will tell you, “we have said nothing about Joseph and Oliver.” But kids being kids, students and investigators will peruse the Internet and soon enough discover that Joseph and Oliver were clear enough about this that Oliver wrote it was a fact that Cumorah was in New York and Joseph directed his brother Don Carlos, as well as Benjamin Winchester, to republish Letter VII, as I’ve discussed on the Letter VII blog here.

Do we really think people will accept the premise that Joseph and Oliver told the truth and were reliable and credible about everything, except for this one point about Cumorah? 

Do we think they’ll ignore this exception as irrelevant because no one cares where the Book of Mormon took place?

That is to say, no one cares except two groups: (i) those who haven’t yet read the Book of Mormon and (ii) those who have read it. Or if you don’t like those two groups, how about (i) those who don’t believe the Book of Mormon is true, and (ii) those who believe it is true.
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The only thing this map lacks to make the two-Cumorahs theory clear is Mayan glyphs. Of course, people can always go to the North Visitors’ Center on Temple Square to learn that.

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Aside from the two-Cumorahs theory, there’s another problem with this abstract map.

Those of you who play videogames, or know people who do, may think the abstract Book of Mormon map looks familiar.

Both the Book of Mormon map and the video game maps feature imaginary terrain, surrounded by water and clouds. You can travel virtually through the lands, confronting enemies and allies, gathering supplies, defending your base, etc.

The Book of Mormon, it turns out, is a video game.

Maybe you’ve been playing Pokemon or another game. 


I’m all in favor of relating to the new generations, and maybe teaching the Book of Mormon as a video game will help the kids engage with it, but if so, let’s at least use a real-world setting and not an imaginary “abstract” setting that is closer to a video game world or Lord of the Rings than to the actual planet Earth. There are video games of lots of real-world events, such as the Civil War, here.

Let’s at least put Cumorah in New York.

In my view, this “abstract map” approach conveys this message: we can best understand the Book of Mormon in a fictional setting.

Which if course is essentially telling people the Book of Mormon is fiction.

And while I know it’s the fashion among more and more people, including active LDS, to think of the Book of Mormon as fiction, plenty of LDS still believe it’s a real history and also believe Joseph and Oliver knew what they were talking about.

Obviously, I think Moroni’s America is the best explanation of the text in a real-world setting. I’ve always invited others to come up with their own alternatives, based on the New York Cumorah. I think it would be great to have some BYU students work on that as a class project.

What I object to is teaching that Cumorah is not in New York. But that’s what is going on at BYU and throughout the Church, thanks to Mesomania and what appears to be its successor, Abstractmania.

Source: Book of Mormon Wars

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