The first hurdle involves the Hill Cumorah; i.e., some think there is one Cumorah and it is New York.. That’s what I think.
Others think the New York Cumorah is a false tradition, and that the “real” Cumorah is in Mexico, Baja, Panama, Chile, etc.
Originally, I thought Letter VII would eliminate this hurdle because I thought all LDS supported and believed what Oliver Cowdery taught. He was the Assistant President of the Church, one of the Three Witnesses, and claimed to have actually visited Mormon’s repository in the New York Hill Cumorah. Joseph Smith helped Oliver write Letter VII and explicitly endorsed it multiple times. Plus, all of their contemporaries and every modern prophet and apostle who has addressed the issue agreed with Joseph and Oliver. None have disagreed with Joseph and Oliver about the New York Cumorah.
Nevertheless, proponents of the non-New York Cumorah settings reject Letter VII and all the related teachings.
Instead of being a unifying document, Letter VII has become a major hurdle.
How to resolve this?
Recently Book of Mormon Central commented on the lost 116 pages, posting the question, “What if Martin Harris didn’t lose all of the 116 pages?”
I agree with the Lyon/Minson approach in the article, but let’s consider a related question: “What if the 116 pages were recovered?”
That may never happen, but as a thought experiment, what do you think is most likely, just from what we know now?
The 116 pages covered the first 400 years of Nephite history, roughly, so they wouldn’t have mentioned Cumorah (unless Mormon inserted editorial comments about the future and/or comments about the Jaredites). Nevertheless, the 116 pages likely gave more information about geography than the replacement from the plates of Nephi (which focused more on prophecy). Maybe they contained maps copied from the plates, which explains why Mormon’s geographical references were so vague. He wouldn’t have had to explain where various cities were if he included a map or two.
And we have the account of the person who heard someone read the 116 pages before they vanished, which I addressed in a previous post, who claimed they involved the Indian mounds. Plus we have Joseph’s sermon in Nauvoo that refers to the sacred burial mounds as mentioned in the Book of Mormon, except that’s not in our current Book of Mormon. Most likely, he was remembering what was in the 116 pages. Possibly the 116 pages gave more information about the plains of the Nephites that Joseph identified in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
With this in mind, do you think it’s likely that Joseph translated the 116 pages and remained confused and ignorant about Book of Mormon geography?
Do you think it’s likely that he and Oliver Cowdery would have written and endorsed Letter VII if they knew from the 116 pages that the first 400 years of Nephite history took place in Central America, Baja, or Chile?
Anything is possible, but I think it is most likely that the 116 pages described the North American setting that Joseph and Oliver believed and taught. D&C 28, 30 and 32 tell us the Indian tribes in New York and Ohio were definitely Lamanites. Joseph said the remnant were the Indians living in this country, etc.
For these reasons and others, wouldn’t it make more sense for LDS scholars and educators to at least acknowledge multiple working hypotheses?
Why not have BYU Studies, Book of Mormon Central, BMAF, the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, and the rest present multiple hypothesis about Book of Mormon geography?
I’ve been asking for this for years, as have others, with no response except refusal.
This would be an important first step toward academic freedom on this topic. It would introduce a tremendous amount of flexibility and openness that would give members of the Church options.
Currently, members are faced with the “consensus” that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the New York Cumorah. That’s not a proposition most members willingly accept. It introduces tremendous cognitive dissonance, especially when Church media and LDS scholars and educators teach it so openly and pervasively.
In my view, Mesomania does a disservice not only to Joseph and Oliver but to every LDS educator who teaches it.
This includes every LDS educator who teaches the so-called “abstract map” of Book of Mormon geography developed at BYU, which is pure Mesomania in disguise because they use the traditional Mesoamerican interpretations, but just turn the map 90 degrees clockwise. (Actually, I think it’s worse than Mesomania because it teaches a fictional setting.)
There are few things more destructive than introducing deep cognitive dissonance into the minds of LDS students, and the monolithic teaching of Mesomania (and fictional maps) does exactly that because it forces students who read Letter VII to believe Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.
Therefore, I see it as a win-win to open the discussion to alternative points of view.
If more evidence surfaces in the future, or more prophetic direction, we would then have the academic flexibility to embrace the new information without causing yet more crises of faith due to the current dogmatic insistence on only one possibility, as the issue is currently framed.
Now, let’s see if the citation cartel is willing to do so.
Source: Book of Mormon Concensus