Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Scholars: Prophets keep getting it wrong

Mesomania is so deeply ingrained you can find it throughout LDS literature, scholarly and popular. I hope by now you can spot it yourself. I could write several posts a day just catching up on what has already been written, but new stuff comes out almost daily.

For example, readers have asked me to comment on this blog post:

In my view, this blog is the best one written by the Mesoamerican advocates. If I still believed the Mesoamerican theory (as I did for decades), I'd probably agree with this blog because of the quality, thoughtfulness and detail of the analysis.

But here's an example of the problem that Mesomania causes. The blog post says:

"Joseph Fielding Smith in 1939 expressed his opinion that the Jaredite Ramah/Nephite Cumorah was in upstate New York. Rigidly orthodox and archly conservative, he espoused the "one Cumorah" theory in the wake of liberal new ideas coming up from BYU. Was Smith perpetuating a false tradition as part of his human nature? I believe he was (see the article Ramah/Cumorah), although I revere Joseph Fielding Smith as a Prophet who held the keys of the Kingdom of God on the earth for 2 1/2 years from 1970 - 1972."

Think about this a moment.

In 1939, Joseph Fielding Smith had been Church Historian for around 15 years. He had been an apostle for 20 years. His father, Joseph F. Smith, republished Letter VII in 1899 when he was editor of the Improvement Era. (Joseph F. was First Counselor in the First Presidency at the time.)

Joseph Fielding Smith "expressed his opinion" by quoting from Letter VII and noting that it had been published in the Messenger and Advocate and the Times and Seasons. He likely didn't even know that Joseph Smith had directed his scribes to copy it into his personal history (we know this thanks to the Joseph Smith Papers project), or that Joseph Smith had specifically authorized Benjamin Winchester to reprint it in the Gospel Reflector. Joseph Fielding may not have known that William Smith reprinted it in The Prophet in New York City, or that it was reprinted in England in 1844. But he knew his father had reprinted it in the Improvement Era.

This wasn't a one-off random "opinion" either. Joseph Fielding warned the Saints that the "two-Cumorahs" theory would cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. In our day, who is unaware of the realization of that warning? 

(Well, okay, the scholars who promote the two-Cumorahs theory are in denial about that, but most of us know people who have left the Church because of the confusion the theory causes, and those involved with missionary work know the impediment it is for investigators.)

When he became President of the Quorum of the Twelve in the 1950s, Joseph Fielding Smith republished his "opinion" about Cumorah, complete with the warning to the Saints about the "two-Cumorahs" theory. Obviously, the scholars weren't impressed. Because President Smith's "opinion" contradicted their theories about Mesoamerica, they determined he was "perpetuating a false tradition."

I don't understand the point of the blog post. Why do we sustain the Quorum of the Twelve and the counselors in the First Presidency as prophets, seers and revelators if we can disregard what they say because they are "perpetuating a false tradition as part of [their] human nature?" Why listen to conference if we only accept what they say if we already agree with it?

Rejecting the prophets and apostles is the essence of the Mesoamerican theory, actually, as this blog post spells out.

That said, I do recognize the aphorism quoted in the blog post that "Catholics say the Pope is infallible, but nobody believes it. Mormons say the Prophet is fallible, but nobody believes it." However, a corollary is even more important: "LDS scholars say they are fallible, but they don't believe it."

In this case, we are not talking about an isolated statement made by one of the Q12 or 1st Presidency. We are talking about a clear, unambiguous, specific teaching that Cumorah was in New York, made by Oliver Cowdery, with the assistance and repeated approval of Joseph Smith. Two of Joseph's brothers reprinted Letter VII. Every one of Joseph's contemporaries accepted it. Joseph F. Smith reprinted it. Joseph Fielding Smith cited it. President Marion G. Romney reiterated it in General Conference in 1975, followed by Elder Mark E. Peterson in 1978. So far as I've been able to determine, not a single member of the Q12 or 1st Presidency has contradicted or repudiated Letter VII.

All the opposition to Letter VII has come from LDS scholars and the CES educators they've trained.

Here's a preliminary table that helps explain the impact of Mesomania, from the perspective of these scholars and educators:

People who perpetuate a false tradition about Cumorah being in New York
People who teach the truth about Cumorah not being in New York
Joseph Smith
LDS scholars who promote a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon
Oliver Cowdery
LDS scholars who promote a Baja Californian setting for the Book of Mormon
David Whitmer
LDS scholars who promote a Panamanian setting for the Book of Mormon
Lucy Mack Smith
LDS scholars who promote a Peruvian setting for the Book of Mormon
Brigham Young
LDS scholars who promote a Chilean setting for the Book of Mormon
John Taylor 

Heber C. Kimball

Wilford Woodruff

Orson Pratt

Parley P. Pratt

Joseph F. Smith

Heber J. Grant

George Albert Smith

Joseph Fielding Smith

Marion G. Romney

Mark E. Peterson

I don't know how to make this any clearer. We have a series of scholars and educators who insist they are teaching the truth, even though they strongly disagree with one another. They have created a "mass of confusion."

On the other hand, we have a specific, unified and clear teaching by the modern prophets and apostles, but these scholars characterize that as "perpetuating a false tradition."

It really defies credulity, doesn't it?

The problem is even more serious than this blog post describes. I'll come back to that in the future when I get some time.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Psychology of groups

Post-election commentary has focused on group psychology, particularly as the Left tries to explain to itself how Trump won. There are useful parallels to Mesomania.

For example, I read this on Vox: "When we’re part of a group, our brains like to see that group in a positive light. In lab experiments, when researchers randomly assign people to teams, almost immediately participants will start to like their teammates better than the other guys. It’s almost instinctual, unthinking. It’s thought that group identities quickly become part of our individual identities. That's why ... when a fact is hostile to our group, we’re keen to avoid it."

There are many examples of this in the LDS scholarly community. We're talking about a small group; around a dozen people constitute the entire genesis of the Mesoamerican theory. It's a cohesive group, mostly educated at BYU and closely affiliated with the university, either as faculty or through social networks. I've referred to the citation cartel, and I realize some take offense to that term, but it's a serious problem because the participants don't seem to recognize their own Groupthink.

Group identity is not inherently good or bad: it just is. Human nature almost requires it. Some scientists like to say it's a product of evolution, on the theory people needed to band together to survive, like many species do. But it's also a pragmatic strategy in a complex world.

One thing group identity is not designed to do: pursue truth.

For this reason, we need to be cognizant of group psychology. We can't avoid it, because as the quotation says, it is instinctual and unthinking, but if we recognize it, we can take action to offset the natural tendency to avoid hostile facts.

A specific example is the "Council of Springville" that was convened some time ago to interpret the "difficult passages" of the Book of Mormon. I compared this to the Council of Nicea which was convened for a similar purpose. To this day, some Christian churches have congregations recite, aloud, the Nicene Creed. The creed has become more important than the scriptures, a phenomenon I've observed among advocates for non-New York Cumorahs.

The group psychology is particularly acute in the LDS community because these LDS scholars feel surrounded by multiple threats. There is a long history of apologetics aimed at critics outside the Church. FARMS was a good example of how a group that started with a well-intentioned pursuit of truth devolved into a confrontational, cynical defender of a particular viewpoint. The current iteration of that type of group dynamic is The Interpreter. Other LDS scholarly publications are not quite so strident and paranoid, but the defensiveness and confirmation bias orientation typical of group psychology is pretty obvious. What starts as an effort to support LDS doctrine against outside critics degenerates into an effort to support a particular interpretation of LDS doctrine against alternative interpretations. The anti-New York Cumorah movement is the example I've been focusing on lately, but there are others we'll get to eventually.

I propose that everyone involved with this issue look around and see if your "group" includes only like-minded people. If so, you're probably going to be more concerned with defending the Groupthink than with pursuing the truth wherever it leads.

The Vox article made two other useful points. You will see the relevance to Book of Mormon geography studies:

2) We seek to confirm our preconceived conclusions and are dismissive of the facts that threaten our worldviews.

Our number one bias is to make ourselves feel good. It just feels bad to be wrong, to lose. So we avoid it at the cost of reckoning with the truth. Psychologists call this “confirmation bias” — we seek facts to support the ideas we already believe to be true. “Most Americans are not paying attention to data, and even people who should be tend to discount it when it doesn’t fit their expectations,” Ingrid Haas, a political psychologist at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, explains in an email.

When people do pay attention, they’re more and more likely to seek out news sources that conform to their worldview. (Cable news and Facebook have made this easier than ever.)

3) Emotions resonate more strongly than facts

Evidence continues to mount that political sensibilities are, in part, determined by biology. These inborn sensibilities create our "moral foundations." It's the idea that people have stable, gut-level morals that influence their worldview.  

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Visit to the Church History Museum

Last week we visited the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City. It's an awesome museum. I highly recommend it if you haven't been there before. Lots of unique historical items, beautiful exhibits, well-planned explanations, etc..

Except there's a bit of Mesomania there I need to point out.

Early on, you'll come to this display:

Notice the section on the left, titled "The Indian Mission."

Now, look closer and see what the message is:

"Early Church members believed that these Indians were descendants of Israelites who were known as Lamanites in the Book of Mormon."

Do you see the Mesomania here?

Without Mesomania, this display would read something such as this:

"In Doctrine and Covenants sections 28, 30, and 32, the Lord identified these Indians as descendants of Israelites who were known as Lamanites in the Book of Mormon."

There's a big difference between telling the world that "early Church members" believed these Indians were Lamanites, and telling the world that the Lord Himself identified these Indians as Lamanites.

Think about this a moment. Are we really backing away from the Doctrine and Covenants? I don't think so. I hope not.

Then why would this display describe the mission to the Lamanites this way, as a quaint belief held by "early" Church members, and not as a series of revelations from the Lord?

The only reason I can think of is because these sections undermine the Mesoamerican theory by identifying specific Indian tribes in the Northwestern United States as Lamanites. No other group of indigenous people were specifically identified this way in any of the scriptures. Certainly not the Mayans.

While you're at it, ask yourself why they used the adjective "early" here. Don't Church members still believe these New York, Ohio, and Midwestern tribes are Lamanites?

You'll find a similar approach in the Joseph Smith Papers, unfortunately.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

To be learned is good if...

We have been evaluating the different views on Cumorah. There are those who believe the Hill Cumorah is in New York. This group includes Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and many other prophets and apostles, as well as many members of the Church with varying levels of education.

Then there are those who believe the Hill Cumorah is not in New York. This group includes scholars and educators who claim Cumorah is in Chile, Peru, Panama, Mexico, Baja, and many other places. They reject what the prophet and apostles have said on this topic.

With this in mind, consider this passage: 

When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not...

But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

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 CNN.com 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 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 New York Cumorah and 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 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.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Essential Features of Geography

The scholars and educators who focus on Book of Mormon geography typically compile a list of "Essential Features of Geography" to support their preferred theory.

The lists are inevitably ridiculous because they rely on circular reasoning. In every case I know of, the authors first decide where in the world they think the Book of Mormon took place, then they tailor their interpretation of the text to match their conclusion.

For the North American setting, there is also a list of Essential Features. Here it is:

1. Letter VII
2. Mormon 6:6


I can tell you're disappointed. Most LDS scholars and educators come up with at least 10 items. Sometimes as many as 30 or more. They figure the more "Essential Features" they concoct, the more certain their models and theories appear.

Of course, their lists are illusory. They're like the imaginary "correspondences" between the Book of Mormon and Mayan culture. These features are also found in most human cultures, but because both the Nephites and the Mayans had farms, or armor, or battles, or fortified cities, or flags, supposedly these features demonstrate a "correspondence" between the Nephites and Mayans, which in turn means the Nephites were Mayans. Except they weren't, really, but they lived among the Mayans. Or at least, they lived where the Mayans lived. But you have to have a PhD to understand all of this.

If you've stumbled across these lists of "Essential Features," you've undoubtedly noticed they usually include volcanoes and jungles and other features that aren't in the text, but can be "reasonably inferred."

The real challenge would be to come up with a geographic feature that could not be inferred from the text.

The list of "Essential Features" for the North American setting focuses on a certain hill in western New York named Cumorah. It's the pin in the map given to us by modern prophets and apostles.

From there, we can work out the rest of the geography. As the prophets and apostles have said, the rest of the geography hasn't been revealed, so it's up to us to sort it out. Many variations have been proposed. You're free to pick and choose, or, even better, to develop your own.

If you do develop your own list of "Essential Features," I recommend you don't follow the example of LDS scholars and educators.

The one thing they refuse to put on their lists is Letter VII. They think that accepting and following the prophets and apostles is not "academically vigorous" or is too confining and restricts "academic freedom."

Besides, what's the fun of having the answer given to you? Far better to repudiate the prophets and apostles and spend an entire career searching for Cumorah in Mexico. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Impeaching witnesses

Yesterday I mentioned two main techniques used by criminal defense attorneys: 1) impeach the evidence and 2) confuse the jury.

In that post I focused on the way Mesoamerican advocates confuse the jury to help advance their theory and discourage independent analysis by Latter-day Saints generally.

The "two-Cumorahs" theory is a spectacularly effective confusion tool. The term transforms the most simple and declarative position--that Cumorah is in New York--into a mass of confusion. A basic concept understood and taught by Joseph, Oliver, and their contemporaries has been transformed into an attack on their very credibility and reliability. We have to admire the effectiveness of the technique, but we don't have to accept it. In fact, it's effectiveness requires us to examine it in far more detail, as I will soon.

Another technique of confusion that I addressed yesterday is insisting that the top priority for solving Book of Mormon geography questions should be creating an abstract map from the text. Because the text is inherently ambiguous, this allows the scholars to assert their academic credentials and impose their interpretation on everyone who is less educated or less privileged (e.g., who doesn't work at BYU or CES). It's a brilliant technique because it sounds logical but is based on an irrational premise.

The other technique I discussed yesterday is conflating statements made by Joseph Smith with statements that were 1) known to be made by others, 2) not known to be made by Joseph but nevertheless attributed to him. This raises all kinds of inconsistency, especially when combined with the assumption that Joseph's associates knew what he thought about the topic. This, in turn, sows confusion and lets the scholars and educators endlessly debate the various possibilities. Like the abstract map technique, the scholars can assert their superior credentials to impose their preferred interpretations.

Once it is sowed, the obvious remedy for confusion is clarity.

In the context of Book of Mormon geography generally, and the Hill Cumorah specifically, clarity consists of Letter VII.

Joseph and Oliver made the location of Cumorah in New York as clear as words can be.

[And, just to be clear about Cumorah, we're referring to the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 here. By using the two-Cumorahs theory, the scholars and educators have made even that simple term confusing in the minds of many, to the point I need to invoke Mormon 6:6 each time I discuss the issue.]

So how do LDS scholars and educators maintain confusion despite Letter VII?

First, they ignore and suppress it.

Second, they impeach the authors, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. I'll address impeachment later in this post, but first I want to finish the "sowing confusion" section by examining how the scholars and educators have suppressed Letter VII.

Letter VII is too straightforward to allow LDS scholars and educators to cram confusion into it.

IMO, this is why they have effectively suppressed Letter VII for decades. Until the Joseph Smith papers provided easy search and access, I had no idea Joseph Smith directed his scribes to copy Letter VII into his own journal. Until I studied Benjamin Winchester, I had no idea Joseph encouraged Winchester specifically to reprint these letters, including Letter VII. I also had no idea that the letters were reprinted in England using Winchester's version.

I'm not an expert in Church history, but I'm also not ignorant about it. I've read most of the books about Church history. I've followed FARMS and other scholarly publications for years. I've taught Gospel Doctrine in several wards for many years.

Now that I've focused on Letter VII, I've become quite interested in how well it has been suppressed since the two-Cumorahs theory was adopted by LDS scholars and educators over the objection of Joseph Fielding Smith (who, after all, cited Letter VII in his prophetic warning about the two-Cumorahs theory).

Letter VII appears in no Church manuals. It does not appear in Church history books and materials. It was last published in a Church magazine in 1889. It is nowhere to be found in the Visitors Centers--not even at the Visitors Center at the base of the Hill Cumorah itself. It appears in one reference on all of lds.org, a footnote to an article about Joseph obtaining the plates. I've searched the citation cartel's publications in vain for a reference to Letter VII. Even the book based on the seminar on Oliver Cowdery conducted at BYU says nothing about Oliver's Letter VII comment on Cumorah.

The anonymous Times and Seasons articles are cited and discussed in myriad publications about Book of Mormon geography, but Letter VII is ignored in all of them.

To its credit, Book of Mormon Central did post my short book about Letter VII. But shortly thereafter, the published an attack article and declined to publish my rebuttal, so my short book remains an outlier.

When you read Letter VII, you can see why Mesoamerican advocates have done everything possible to hide it from their readers and members of the Church generally.

It's almost as if Joseph and Oliver knew that in the distant future, after they and all their contemporaries died off, LDS scholars would go to great lengths to deny what they taught. 

I discuss the clarity of Letter VII on the Letter VII blog, here.

It's completely rational for the scholars and educators to suppress and ignore Letter VII, given their conviction that it represents pure speculation and outright error on the part of Oliver and Joseph. In the light of Mesomania, Letter VII reflects badly on Joseph and Oliver.

Maybe they deem it an instance of jingoism; i.e., Joseph and Oliver thought the United States was the promised land described by the Book of Mormon, which, according to some scholars, reflects their excessive patriotism.

For whatever reason, LDS scholars and educators seem to wish Letter VII (at least the part about Cumorah) had never been written.

But it was.

Given their perspective that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica, it is not irrational for LDS scholars and educators to minimize its importance by ignoring it and suppressing it as much as possible, so as not to confuse the Saints. (This might seem at odds with the tactic of sowing confusion, but when confusion is your objective, the last thing you do is add evidence to the mix that contradicts your own position. Better to exclude it from consideration.)

The advent of the Joseph Smith Papers and other digitization has made ongoing suppression is essentially impossible. It's a losing strategy. Ignoring Letter VII has been effective, but the citation cartel surely knew their monopoly would not last forever; in fact, their monopoly is crumbling in the face of challenges such as this blog.

Faced with these developments, Mesoamerican proponents have a final tactic they've employed as a precaution.

They've sought to impeach the witnesses.

Witness impeachment consists of calling into question the credibility of a witness testifying in a trial.

I've observed before that there are two general categories of people who seek to impeach the credibility and reliability of the Three Witnesses and Joseph Smith. They are:

1. Anti-Mormons who claim Joseph Smith was a fraud.

2. LDS scholars and educators who adhere to a two-Cumorah theory.

Despite their common goal of impeachment, there are important distinctions between these groups.

Anti-Mormon groups seek to impeach all three witnesses, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris, as well as Joseph Smith. They seek to impeach them regarding everything they said about the Book of Mormon. Their motivation is to undermine the reliability and credibility of the witnesses regarding the origins of the Church and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. If the Three Witnesses and Joseph Smith are reliable and credible, their testimony is devastating to the anti-Mormon arguments.

LDS scholars and educators seek to impeach the same individuals, except for Martin Harris, of whom nothing is recorded regarding Cumorah. Thus, they seek to impeach David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Joseph Smith, but they limit the scope of impeachment to the topic of the Hill Cumorah. Their motivation is to undermine the reliability and credibility of these three men regarding the New York setting for Cumorah, while simultaneously supporting their reliability and credibility regarding the origins of the Church and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. If David and Oliver and Joseph are reliable and credible in their statements about Cumorah, their testimony is devastating to the scholars' two-Cumorah argument.

Usually, it's easier to impeach a witness generally than to impeach a witness about one particular component of his/her testimony while also seeking to establish the reliability and credibility of the witness for the rest of his/her testimony. If you have a witness even you believe is honest, it's difficult to persuade a jury that this witness was honest about everything except the one piece of evidence that destroys your case. 

Usually you look foolish making that argument to a jury. You don't even try.

In this case, though, LDS scholars and educators have to try. Otherwise, their entire case collapses.

They've already committed to the position that New York is too far from Mesoamerica (or Baja, or Panama, or Chile, or wherever); i.e., Cumorah cannot be in New York if Zarahemla is in one of these other places. (Recall the famous statement by John Sorenson in Mormon's Codex that the idea of Cumorah in New York is manifestly absurd and worthy only of a witless sci-fi movie.)

Therefore, if Cumorah is in New York, Zarahemla cannot be in Mesoamerica, Baja, etc. (I actually don't agree with this conclusion, because I think the New York setting commits no one on the rest of the geography, but these LDS scholars and educators have painted themselves into this corner.)

LDS scholars and educators have to thread the needle. They must perform a delicate, surgical impeachment of David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Joseph Smith. 

It's a daunting task, which is why they prefer suppressing and ignoring Letter VII. Again, that approach has been rational, and it has succeeded for a while, but it is no longer viable.

You can see the dilemma they face. They are committed to establishing and supporting the reliability and credibility of David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith regarding everything they said about their experiences with the plates, the translation, and divine messengers, except for their statements about Cumorah in New York.

So how do they do it?


The basic tactic is to carve out the Cumorah statements as exceptions. They claim Joseph, Oliver and David never claimed specific revelation on the location of Cumorah, so these men must have been speculating.

Imagine you're sitting in a jury, listening to lawyers making this argument to you with a straight face. It's difficult to imagine, isn't it?

We don't even need the lawyers for the other side to point out the obvious fallacies of this approach. Running through the mind of every one of the jurors are these points:

- We have only few records of what transpired in the early days of the Church.

- Oliver noted he had access to records that we don't have today.

- Joseph referred to many prophecies and revelations that were never recorded, per se. E.g., Joseph Smith-History 1:73-74.

- Even if Joseph and Oliver didn't receive a specific revelation on the location of the final battles, they visited the records repository (Mormon 6:6) in the hill in New York.

- Joseph referred to Cumorah before he even translated the plates.

- On his first mission in 1830, Oliver taught that the hill was named Cumorah.

- When Moroni visited Joseph, he said the record had been "written and deposited" not far from his home.

- Oliver wrote that it was "a fact" that the final battles took place there, and described with specificity where the battles occurred.

- The hill fits the description in the text, as Oliver explained as clearly as words can be.

- Oliver's Letter I is reliable and credible enough to be included in the canonized scriptures.

- When he wrote and published Letter VII, Oliver was the Assistant President of the Church.

- Oliver was the only witness other than Joseph Smith to the translation of most of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Moses, to the restoration of the Priesthood, to the restoration of the keys of former dispensations, to many of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, and to the Lord's personal acceptance of the Kirtland temple.

So you're sitting on the jury, listening to this lawyer tell you that everything Oliver wrote and said was reliable and credible, including everything he wrote in these letters, except for the lines that contradict the lawyer's client's position about Mesoamerica.

It's laughable, really. You can't believe this lawyer is standing there, expecting you to believe it.

But he/she does expect you to believe it, and he/she has convinced millions of members of the Church that Joseph, Oliver, and David were basically lying about this one point.  

Let's revisit the two groups who employ impeachment to achieve their goals.

Let's say that the LDS scholars and educators succeed in persuading members of the Church that Joseph, Oliver and David were, let's say "speculating," about the New York location of the Hill Cumorah. This means that even when Oliver said something was a fact, he either didn't mean it was a fact or he was lying because he was actually speculating. Either way, he was deceiving his readers. It also means that when Joseph Smith endorsed Letter VII he was participating in the deceit that originated with Oliver Cowdery.

Now, what impact does this success of the scholars have on the other group of impeaching lawyers?

The anti-Mormons love it.

Basically, the LDS scholars are making their case.

Imagine you're back on a jury, but this time the two sides are the anti-Mormons and the LDS scholars and educators. Now the lawyers for the anti-Mormons stand before you. They say something such as this: "You just heard from faithful, devoted LDS scholars and educators that Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer were actually speculating about the location of Cumorah, even though they represented it as a fact. If you believe these scholars and educators, you have to believe that, at least in this one instance, Joseph, Oliver and David were deceiving their readers. They were deceiving their fellow members of the Church, right in an official Church newspaper. And that, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is really all we're saying. Your own scholars and educators have made our case. If you concede these men misled their own people on such a critical point, you've destroyed their credibility regarding everything else they've said."

And you realize they're correct.

Which is why this is such serious business.


I've previously discussed the details about this impeachment process, so I won't go through it again here. For example, David Whitmer related an account of picking up Joseph and Oliver in Harmony and taking them to Fayette in June 1829. Along the way, he said, they encountered a man who had a knapsack and said he was going to Cumorah. The man was a heavenly messenger who was carrying the plates Joseph gave him before they left Harmony. LDS scholars consider the account reliable in every detail except for the word Cumorah. They claim Whitmer was confused about this term because no one used the term before the Book of Mormon was published; therefore, they claim, Whitmer's memory picked up the false tradition about Cumorah in New York.

They reject Whitmer's statement that this was the first time he heard the word Cumorah.

I've written about this in more detail, but you get the picture. The only reason to reject Whitmer's use of the term Cumorah in this context, when everything else he said was reliable and credible, is because you don't think Cumorah was in New York.

Another example, of course, is Letter VII. LDS scholars seek to impeach Oliver's observations about Cumorah in New York because it contradicts their theories. They realize that when Oliver wrote Letter VII, he was the Assistant President of the Church. He had been the only witness besides Joseph to many significant events, including the restoration of the Priesthood. He had written the Book of Mormon as Joseph dictated the translation. In every respect, historians and scholars recognize Oliver had a high degree of credibility and reliability--except when he wrote or spoke about Cumorah being in New York.

I'll show these efforts to impeach Oliver and David in my videos, but for now I want to make two important points.

First, LDS scholars and educators seek not only to impeach David and Oliver, but also Joseph Smith himself. Joseph helped Oliver write the letters and endorsed them multiple times. The scholars have written that Joseph didn't know much about the Book of Mormon and he relied on scholarship to learn about the geography as he changed his mind over the years and speculated to the end.

Second, LDS scholars and educators seem to misunderstand the basic premise for impeachment. You can't impeach a witness on the ground that the witness disagrees with your own theory of the facts; you have to provide actual evidence to impeach a witness.

Regarding Letter VII, the scholars and educators have made several arguments for impeachment.

First, they claim Oliver was speculating based on a legend or tradition about ancient battles in the area. When he stated it was a fact that the Nephite armies fought to extinction in New York, he actually meant it was a fact that some previous battles had taken place there, and he merely inferred those battles involved the Nephites.

Second, he never claimed revelation, and he was not present for those ancient battles, so he had to be speculating. Of course, the same argument can be made against the theories of the scholars. Except in Oliver's case, he communicated with numerous heavenly beings, including Moroni. We know from the Pearl of Great Price and Brigham Young that Oliver didn't record every revelation he and Joseph had.

Third, the scholars claim the New York hill cannot be Cumorah because it doesn't fit the criteria developed by David A. Palmer. Those self-serving criteria don't come from the text; they are merely tools to confirm the bias that Cumorah is actually in southern Mexico.

I leave it to you to consider whether the LDS scholars and educators have successfully impeached the testimony of David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Joseph Smith on the question of Cumorah.

And if they've done so without impeaching them as witnesses on other points.