Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Book of Mormon geography in one chart

People often ask for a simple explanation of Book of Mormon geography. 

Here's a summary of the entire debate in one graphic. Those who accept the Book of Mormon as an actual history of real people also accept one of these two assumptions. Then they rationalize their choice (confirm their biases) accordingly. 

It's very simple.

Of course, it's not only Oliver Cowdery who was wrong or correct. The New York Cumorah has been taught by every prophet/apostle who has addressed the topic of Cumorah. But Oliver takes the blame/credit for putting it into print (even though historical evidence shows Joseph taught it even before he got the plates, which he means he learned about Cumorah from Moroni.)

Book of Mormon Central (BMC) and the rest of the M2C citation cartel assume Oliver was wrong, and everything they produce flows from their obsession with offering evidence to oppose what Oliver taught. Their employees and followers amplify the message. 

BMC employees know perfectly well that M2C is based on the assumption the prophets were wrong and have misled the Church. You can see them on the Internet trying try to justify their position. As good employees, they promote the BMC message and pretend their M2C theory is "evidence driven." Some of them may actually believe that, but everyone outside their M2C bubble recognizes bias confirmation when we see it. Not only because M2C repudiates the prophets, but because M2C relies on a series of logical and factual fallacies. 

Many of the followers of M2C don't (yet) realize that their beliefs are based on this simple assumption, but more and more are learning the facts.

Those of us who assume Oliver was correct offer equivalent evidence to support what Oliver has taught. 

We think it's more useful to find and share evidence that corroborates what the prophets have taught than to find and share evidence that repudiates what the prophets have taught.

The question about Book of Mormon geography boils down to this: Which assumption do you accept?

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Awesome JSP comparison site for different editions

There's an excellent resource in the Joseph Smith Papers for anyone who wants to compare different editions of the Book of Mormon, including the Original and Printer's Manuscripts. 


The links to the Original Manuscript are not live yet because the physical book was published recently, but if you get the book you can find the references.

Eventually they will put the Original Manuscript material online so everyone can see it.

This is the type of resource that makes the Joseph Smith Papers so invaluable. Great work!


The next step, hopefully, will be translating this material so people who don't read English can appreciate it. That will be a long ways in the future.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Original Manuscript - Joseph Smith Papers

Yesterday I purchased Volume 5 of the Revelations and Translations series of the Joseph Smith Papers. It focuses on the Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon.

Apparently they have only printed around 1,400 copies. If you're in Salt Lake City, they have them at the main Deseret Bookstore downtown.

It's a beautiful book. When I wrote A Man that Can Translate, Infinite Goodness, and Between these Hills, I had to rely on Royal Skousen's excellent transcript of the Original Manuscript. Now the same information is available for everyone to see right on the facsimiles of the extant pages of the Original Manuscript.

But there is a big problem with this book.

It is full-on M2C. [M2C = Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory]

This is no surprise, given that the editors are Royal Skousen and Robin Scott Jensen, both of whom are devoted members of the M2C citation cartel, but how can a purportedly accurate and comprehensive volume on the Original Manuscript completely censor Cumorah from the story of the Book of Mormon?

Such revisionist history is inexcusable.

This is a huge disappointment that will continue to mislead faithful Latter-day Saints and serious scholars for generations.

While the JSP editors could correct the content for the web page, these printed volumes obviously cannot be changed. And, based on past experience, the JSP editors have not been inclined to correct such errors anyway. After all, they have deliberated about the content of these books for a long time.


Here's the first sentence in the Introduction:

In the earliest hours of 22 September 1827, Joseph Smith left his parents' home in Manchester, New York, with his wife Emma and traveled a few miles to a nearby hill.1

Note 1. Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845, 105.

You can see the cited page in Lucy's History here: https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/lucy-mack-smith-history-1845/112

The earlier version of Lucy's history is here: https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/lucy-mack-smith-history-1844-1845/60

The passage says nothing about where Joseph and Emma went that night, let alone that they "traveled a few miles to a nearby hill." An accurate footnote would be placed after "Emma" in this sentence. Instead, the editors misleadingly put it after "nearby hill."

Why would careful editors commit such an obvious error? Perhaps the answer has to do with where we get the information about the "nearby hill" this sentence refers to. 

The phrase "nearby hill" appears nowhere in Lucy's histories, but she did explain the hill was 3 miles from their home and between their home and Manchester. Her explanation supports the idea that the "hill" was "nearby," but the JSP editors never quote or cite these passages because in them, Lucy explicitly identified the hill as Cumorah.

Our M2C scholars cannot tolerate the idea that Latter-day Saints might read the actual history about Cumorah. The JSP editors collaborate with the M2C scholars to accommodate M2C by cleverly employing terminology that is not in the historical record and avoiding quotations of (or even citations to) the actual record.

Just as they censored the New York Cumorah from the Saints books, they're censoring it even from the Joseph Smith Papers. 


Lucy described the proximity of the hill in the passage that the M2C scholars refuse to quote or cite, but we can all read it right in Lucy's own history when she related what Moroni told Joseph during his first visit:

the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place remove the Grass and moss and you will find a large flat stone pry that up and you will find the record under it laying on 4 pillars <​of cement​>— then the angel left him


We see from Lucy's account that Cumorah was only 3 miles from the Smith home, which can reasonably be described as "nearby." But others might think "nearby" connotes a distance much less than 3 miles. Why use the ambiguous term "nearby" when we have an actual historical account of the distance? And why not cite Lucy's specific statement instead of citing a passage that doesn't even mention the hill? 

If you go to that link, you'll see that the JSP editors have lined this passage out of the transcript, even though we can all see it is not lined out on the original manuscript. An accurate transcript could show the blue marks that the editors apparently assumed were equivalent to a line-out. Instead, they imposed their editorial line-out.

Another passage from Lucy about the "hill" shows its proximity to the home, but the JSP editors never quote or cite this one, either. 

Lucy related that one day in early 1827, Joseph went to Manchester on an errand. He was late coming home. He explained that he had received a severe chastisement. His father became angry and wanted to know which of the neighbors was involved. Joseph replied (and Lucy put this in quotations):

“Stop, father, Stop.” said Joseph, “it was the angel of the Lord— as I passed by the hill of Cumorah, where the plates are, the angel of the Lord met me and said, that I had not been engaged enough in the work of the Lord; that the time had come for the record to <​be​> brought forth...


We see from Lucy's account that Joseph and his family already knew the name of the hill before he even translated the plates, and that the hill was located between Manchester and the family home. This account corroborates what Moroni told Joseph; i.e., that the hill Cumorah was 3 miles from the Smith home. 

Again, we have to ask the JSP editors omit these informative, relevant and authentic historical accounts instead of presenting their own theories as fact.


The second sentence is just as disingenuous. 

He later recounted that while at the hill, he unearthed a set of "plates of gold," whose existence had been revealed to him four years earlier by an angel.

If you search the Joseph Smith Papers for the phrase "plates of gold," you get 12 results.


Not one of these mentions a hill: 

He told me also of a sacred record which was written on plates of gold. I saw in the vision the place where they were deposited. 

After being warned several times, he went to the spot and found the record engraved on leaves or plates of gold fastened together by rings passing through one edge of all the leaves

he revealed unto me that in the Town of Manchester Ontario County N. Y. there was plates of gold upon which there was engravings which was engraven by Maroni his fathers the servants of the living God

he told me of a sacred record which was written on plates of gold, I saw in the vision the place where they were deposited, he said the indians, were the literal descendants of Abraham

He told me also of a sacred record which was written on plates of gold. I saw in the vision the place where they were deposited. He said to me the Indians were the literal decendants of Abraham.

To learn the plates were deposited in a hill, we have to go to Lucy Mack Smith, but the JSP editors won't tell readers that because Lucy explained the hill was called Cumorah by Moroni himself. Instead, they refer to the hill and quote "plates of gold" as if the same source provided both elements.

To be sure, Lucy's 1845 history includes an insertion from the 1842 Times and Seasons that refers to a hill of considerable size "Convenient to the village of Manchester..." But "convenient" does not mean "nearby." We rely on Lucy's accounts, as well as Letter VII, to learn that the hill was actually nearby. But the JSP editors won't explain their sources to their readers.

Readers should also know that the 1842 Times and Seasons account was composed by Joseph's scribes several years after Letter VII had already established that the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is the same hill where Joseph found the plates. Letter VII was republished in the 1841 Times and Seasons as well so that readers of the 1842 Times and Seasons already knew the hill that was "convenient to the village of Manchester" was named Cumorah anciently.

Because of this misdirection by the JSP editors, even "engaged learners" who read this volume 5 of the Joseph Smith Papers are kept in the dark about all of this actual history.


Later on this same page, we read, "Within two and a half years of obtaining them, he had produced a manuscript and published the Book of Mormon an account of ancient inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere."

This is outrageous revisionist history that should have no place in a historical volume. When the editors engage in editorializing instead of presenting accurate history, they should clearly explain what (and why) they are doing.

"Western hemisphere" is a modern construct. It has been applied to Church history to obfuscate the actual accounts and to accommodate the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory. 

If you search the Joseph Smith Papers for the term "western hemisphere," you'll see that there are zero historical documents related to the Book of Mormon that use this term.


Instead, we find the JSP editors editorializing:

Moroni, Smith was to learn, was the last in a long line of prophets in the Western Hemisphere who had written their story, just as the prophets in Palestine had written the Bible.

In his description of the Book of Mormon, Orson Pratt superimposed his understanding of Book of Mormon geography onto the Western Hemisphere by placing the Nephites in South America and the Jaredites in North America.

The actual history, which the JSP editors never quote or cite out of deference to M2C, is far more specific:

I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, and shown who they were, and from whence they came... The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country. 


See also https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/latter-day-saints-1844/3

He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigenes of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham.... He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record.


As faithful Latter-day Saints, we should be able to rely on the JSP editors to give us accurate Church history, not their revisionist opinions dressed up as facts.


There are additional examples of this historical revisionism in this volume 5, just as there have been in other volumes of the Joseph Smith Papers.

We have to wonder what it will take to root out M2C from Church history. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

M2C and coming clean

Yesterday the Wall St. Journal published an article titled "The Media Stonewalls on the Steele Dossier: News companies are even more reluctant than other businesses to come clean about their misbehavior."


The article pointed out how media people do not hold themselves to the same standard to which they hold others. Excerpt:

‘Why don’t they just fess up and say they’re sorry?” That is the question journalists have asked about the corporate and institutional clients of my crisis-management business. It’s a question media companies should be asking themselves amid the implosion of the Steele dossier. Here we are, a few weeks after the dossier was discredited, and no one has paid a price.

Having had media companies as clients, I’ve found that when they’re under fire, they behave no differently from chemical or drug companies. Why? Because they don’t see coming clean as being in their self-interest.

Among other things, the truth can tarnish the brand and jam them up in court. So they often deny, stonewall, close ranks, and attack their critics. Two things media companies have that other businesses don’t is the ability to deliver news instantly and the mantle of moral authority.

The crisis confronting the news media post-dossier is rooted in disinformation....

The reluctance to correct course is often justified with the logic: Well, our hearts were in the right place...


We see a similar situation with the M2C citation cartel, consisting of Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, FairLatterdaySaints, and, until recently, BYU Studies.

The people in the M2C citation cartel all know they have been promoting M2C while censoring and attacking alternative faithful interpretations of the Book of Mormon.  

However, like the media companies that pushed the fake Steele dossier and the Russian collusion hoax for years, the M2C citation cartel does not see coming clean as being in their self-interest.

Also like the media companies, they know the truth can tarnish their brands. Imagine having taught and promoted M2C for decades and then having to confess that you had deliberately suppressed the truth about what the prophets had taught about the New York Cumorah? Their brand--their self-appointed expertise about the Book of Mormon--would be tarnished for a long, long time.

As the article said, the M2C citation cartel instead denies, stonewalls, closes ranks, and attacks their critics. 

Because of their privileged positions at BYU, primarily, the M2C citation cartel controls LDS intellectual life and has the "mantle of moral authority." They even claim they've been hired by the prophets to guide the Latter-day Saints, so that criticism of their theories constitutes criticism of Church leaders.


Every Latter-day Saint seeks to be an "engaged learner" and not a "lazy learner." We don't want someone to tell us what to think. We want to study the scriptures ourselves, along with the teachings of the prophets. 

Unless we're lazy, we don't allow the credentialed class to promote their own theories, especially when they tell us that the prophets are wrong. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

SITH sayers everywhere

Readers of this blog know that I have a relatively naturalistic perspective on events in Church history. I think God works with us through natural means as much as possible, consistent with 1 Nephi 3:7.

I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.

God prepares a way, but we have to accomplish the tasks. 

There are lots of examples in the scriptures. God didn't magically move the plates of brass from Laban's treasury to Lehi's tent in the wilderness; God had Nephi procure them. God didn't build a boat for Lehi; instead, He gave instructions to Nephi, who went about the work. 

Jonathan Edwards expressed this concept: Mortal men are capable of imparting the knowledge of human arts and sciences, and skill in temporal affairs. God is the author of such knowledge by those means: flesh and blood is made use of by God as the mediate or second cause of it; he conveys it by the power and influence of natural means. 

When a task is impossible by natural means, the Lord intervenes, such as touching the stones prepared by the brother of Jared. 

In like manner, the Lord prepared Joseph Smith from a young age to be able to translate the plates. 

The Nephites kept records, Mormon abridged them, and Moroni deposited them. 

Moroni told Joseph the records were "written and deposited" in the Hill Cumorah not far from Joseph's home near Palmyra, NY, which makes sense. These records were not "written in Mesoamerica" and then "deposited in New York" by magical or supernatural or superhuman means.

Moroni told Joseph he had to obtain the plates and translate them. 

The one thing Joseph couldn't do on his own was translate the characters, but he copied the characters and studied them with the U&T until he was able to translate the engravings on the plates, using his own lexicon which he had acquired starting at a young age.

Thus, the production of the Book of Mormon involved natural means as much as possible.

Yet our intellectuals want us to believe instead that all Joseph did was read words that appeared on a stone, provided there by the MIST (mysterious incognito supernatural translator).  


Recently there was a debate between "Midnight Mormons" and "RFM." Midnight Mormons purported to represent a faithful interpretation of LDS history, while RFM purported to represent a critical interpretation of LDS history.

Early on, both sides agreed that Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon by reading the words off a the stone-in-the-hat (SITH). 

There are SITH sayers everywhere. It's astonishing how quickly this narrative has become prevalent. It is taken for granted now, even though it is only one of several interpretations of the historical documents.

Repudiating the teachings of the prophets about the translation of the Book of Mormon is nearly as bad as repudiating their teachings about the New York Cumorah. 


Lately, certain LDS historians and intellectuals have promoted a narrative that when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery testified that Joseph translated the engravings on the plates with the Urim and Thummum, they were actually referring to the seer stone Joseph found in a well long before he got the plates from Moroni.

This is important because those who say Joseph used the "peep stone" also say he never used the plates. Instead of an actual translation of ancient Nephite records, the SITH theory leaves us with an entirely spiritual experience with no connection to the plates or any authentic history of real people in a real place.

However, Oliver Cowdery clearly distinguished between the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone. We've discussed before how he published Letter I in response to the "peep stone" claim in the 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed. That book had identified two alternative explanations for the translation. One was by means of a "peep stone." The other was by means of the Urim and Thummim. 

In response, Oliver wrote, "Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’"

(Joseph Smith—History, Note, 1)

Also in https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/50

Those who promote the stone-in-the-hat narrative (SITH) rationalize that testimony away, mainly by ignoring the context of Letter I.*

However, Oliver made the distinction even more clear when he rejoined the Church at a special conference held at Kanesville, Iowa, Oct. 21, 1848.

You may remember this image of the seer stone, published in the Joseph Smith Papers. 

An article in the Ensign from October 2015 explains some of the history of this stone.

According to Joseph Smith’s history, he returned the Urim and Thummim, or Nephite “interpreters,” to the angel. But what became of the other seer stone or stones that Joseph used in translating the Book of Mormon?

David Whitmer wrote that “after the translation of the Book of Mormon was finished, early in the spring of 1830, before April 6th, Joseph gave the stone to Oliver Cowdery and told me as well as the rest that he was through with it, and he did not use the stone any more.”26

Oliver, who was outside the Church for a decade until being rebaptized in 1848, planned to go west to be with the Saints in Utah, but he died in 1850 in Richmond, Missouri, before making the trip.27 Phineas Young, who had helped bring Oliver Cowdery back into the Church, obtained the seer stone from Oliver’s widow, who was David Whitmer’s sister, Elizabeth Ann Whitmer Cowdery. Phineas in turn gave it to his brother Brigham Young.28 

If, as the history indicates, Oliver possessed the stone from 1830 until he died, that means he had it with him in 1848 when he rejoined the Church in Iowa.

Oliver's statement upon rejoining was carefully recorded by Reuben Miller. As you read this, realize that Oliver had the seer stone with him, possibly in his pocket. 

Friends and Brethren, my name is Cowdery—Oliver Cowdery. In the early history of this Church I stood identified with her, and one in her councils. True it is that the gifts and callings of God are without repentance. Not because I was better than the rest of mankind was I called; but, to fulfill the purposes of God, He called me to a high and holy calling. 

I wrote, with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages), as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, or, as it is called by that book, ‘holy interpreters.’ 

I beheld with my eyes and handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands the ‘holy interpreters.’ That book is true. Sidney Rigdon did not write it. Mr. Spaulding did not write it. I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the Prophet.


On that occasion, Oliver did not produce the seer stone to show the audience as corroboration of his testimony. 

He did not say Joseph translated any portion of the record by means of that seer stone.

He did not equate the seer stone with the holy interpreters. 

Instead, he reaffirmed what he had written in 1834 in response to Mormonism Unvailed


What is the significance of this seer stone?

Readers of A Man that Can Translate know that, based upon detailed analysis of the Original and Printer's manuscripts and the language of the text, I propose Joseph used the seer stone to conduct one or more demonstrations of the translation process. He was forbidden from displaying the plates or the interpreters, but his supporters were curious. 

Presumably they were familiar with the idea of seer stones, which were widely known in western New York. Conducting a demonstration would satisfy their curiosity and leave Joseph and his scribes in relative peace to continue the hard work of actually translating. 

For the same reason, it makes sense that Joseph would use the seer stone in the process of receiving revelations, as several accounts describe. This doesn't mean that words appeared on the stone, but Joseph, receiving revelation directly in his mind, would use SITH as a sort of prop to help build faith and confidence among his supporters.

Once Joseph completed the translation and had begun dictating revelations directly, he had no more use of the seer stone so he gave it to Oliver as a sort of souvenir.

Oliver knew the truth, so he testified about what really happened; i.e., that Joseph translated the plates by means of the Nephite interpreters, which he and Joseph called the Urim and Thummim because that's how Moroni identified the interpreters.


*The article in the Ensign from October 2015 claims that "By 1833, Joseph Smith and his associates began using the biblical term “Urim and Thummim” to refer to any stones used to receive divine revelations, including both the Nephite interpreters and the single seer stone." 

The footnote there cites Wilford Woodruff's ambiguous journal entry from 1841. But once we understand the context of Oliver's Letter I--the clear distinction between the two terms in Mormonism Unvailed-- we see that Oliver's explicit statement that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim negates the effort by revisionist historians to blur the two terms.

BTW, at least for now we have this painting on the Church's website.


The Ensign article goes on to claim that, in "addition to using the interpreters, according to Martin Harris, Joseph also used one of his seer stones for convenience during the Book of Mormon translation. Other sources corroborate Joseph’s changing translation instruments."

An alternative explanation for these witness statements is that they observed demonstrations of the process which they inferred were the translation. Then, to refute the Spalding theory, they related the demonstration as if it was the actual translation.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Francis Kirkham and Oliver's letters

 Francis Kirkham (1977-1972) wrote a book titled New Witness For Christ in America: Evidence of Divine Power in the "Coming Forth" of the Book of Mormon.

A 1954 devotional is available here: https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/francis-w-kirkham/attempts-to-prove-the-book-of-mormon-man-made/?M=A

In July 1984, the Ensign published a tribute to Francis W. Kirkham.



In A New Witness for Christ, Dr. Kirkham examined five explanations for the origin of the Book of Mormon, showing the validity or weakness of each.

1. The first explanation came from the Prophet Joseph Smith and those who assisted him. The Prophet’s testimony of how the book came about was simple and straightforward. But its simplicity caused difficulty for many people. Joseph Smith explained that he was visited periodically by the angel Moroni during a four-year period. At the end of the four years, Moroni entrusted to him the gold plates, and the Prophet subsequently translated them by the gift and power of God.

A valuable contribution of Brother Kirkham’s books is his compilation of details about the production of the Book of Mormon as related by close associates of the Prophet. The person who recounted these events most thoroughly was Oliver Cowdery, the personal scribe of the Prophet who, as he said, wrote the entire Book of Mormon (except for a few pages) as Joseph Smith dictated. Oliver possessed a very inquisitive mind, and because of his close association with Joseph Smith, he had many opportunities to query the Prophet about Moroni’s visits and the subsequent circumstances which ultimately produced the Book of Mormon.

Oliver wrote a series of letters to W. W. Phelps concerning these events—letters that give us valuable insights not found in Joseph Smith’s history. For example, Oliver was told the location where Joseph had found the plates on the Hill Cumorah: “the west side of the hill, not far from the top.”9 He also learned the approximate time when the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph during the night of 21 September 1823. Although Joseph was not able to tell him the exact time, he said it must have been 11:00 P.M., midnight, or later, “as the noise and bustle of the family, in retiring, had long since ceased.”10 If it was that late at night, Joseph Smith must have prayed for several hours before Moroni appeared.

Oliver discussed the temptation the Prophet had on his first trip to the Hill Cumorah. There were two forces operating upon young Joseph’s mind, one urging him to obtain the plates to glorify God, and the other tempting him to seek wealth so he could live out his life in ease. (This reminds us of Jesus’ temptation when Satan offered him the kingdoms of the world and their glory. See Matt. 4:8–9.) Elder Cowdery cautioned against judging Joseph too harshly for allowing Satan’s temptation to attract him, since he was young and, like us all, his mind was easily turned from correct principles, “unless he could be favored with a certain round of experience.”11

This accounts for Joseph Smith’s failure to get the record in 1823. After reaching for the plates three times and failing, he cried out: “Why can I not obtain this book?” A voice answered immediately: “Because you have not kept the commandments of the Lord.” Moroni then gave him a great vision. Joseph first saw the glory of the Lord; then Moroni said to him,

“Look!” He next saw the prince of darkness and his terrible hosts. This was shown to him, Joseph was informed, so that henceforth he never need to be deceived. Joseph Smith saw that there was nothing desirable in Satan’s program. It could not bring happiness—only misery. On the other hand, those who followed the Lord were blessed with unspeakable joy. This was an important experience for him in determining the difference between divine and satanic influence.

There was another sign by which Joseph would know the work was true. “This is the sign,” Moroni said. “When these things begin to be known … the workers of iniquity will seek your overthrow; they will circulate falsehoods to destroy your reputation, and also will seek to take your life.”12

These falsehoods have been the basis of most anti-Mormon articles and books ever since.

Brother Kirkham concluded this portion of the book by stating that members of the Church accepted Joseph Smith’s explanation of the origin of the Book of Mormon. “They were able to learn from persons who participated, including the Prophet himself, and by their study with faith and prayer in the promise of God recorded in the book, that the Book of Mormon had come forth by divine power and that it contained the teachings of the resurrected Christ to the ancient people of the American Continent.

“This, briefly, is the first explanation of the Book of Mormon. If this explanation is true, the greatest knowledge that can come to man has been revealed.” 13

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Multicultural Church history

Back cover the the Lemurs book
Because the Church is increasingly multicultural (and multinational), it is important for Latter-day Saints everywhere to become more familiar with other cultures and people. We're all interested in ways to accomplish this and, as Elder Quentin L. Cook has taught,

With our all-inclusive doctrine, we can be an oasis of unity and celebrate diversity. Unity and diversity are not opposites. We can achieve greater unity as we foster an atmosphere of inclusion and respect for diversity.

One way to foster an atmosphere of inclusion and respect for diversity is to teach it and live it within our families, especially starting at a young age.

Hence, the illustrated Church history book this post discusses.

The introductory video is here:


Be sure to subscribe to the channel for upcoming videos.


Having lived in Europe for 8 years, as well as in China, the Philippines, and Africa, and having traveled to every continent and over 60 countries for work or pleasure, I'm particularly enthusiastic about the way the Latter-day Saints are creating a worldwide, united community of people dedicated to establishing Zion and bringing people to Christ.

We've attended Church meetings on every continent (except Antarctica, where the only people we met were a few military personnel at a Chilean base). Every time, we make immediate friends and we usually have connections one way or another. 

Latter-day Saints everywhere have faith in Christ, love in their hearts, and unified desires to bless the world.

There's nothing else like it anywhere. It is evidence of the Restoration.

Thousands of missionaries going from one country to another helps immensely to create this worldwide community. Social media, people going to universities, work assignments, the Pathway program--all of these help to establish and deepen the ties among Latter-day Saints.

But for non-Americans, resources are limited, and almost everything has an American orientation, despite the efforts of the Church to become more multicultural. Translation alone is not multi-cultural.


We thought it would be helpful for Latter-day Saints to have an illustrated Church history from a multinational, multicultural perspective. Something a parent (or grandparent) can sit down and read as a bedtime story.

It includes links to original sources for parents who want to learn more.

The book Lemurs, Chameleons and Golden Plates offers such an opportunity. 

Here's a description:

Readers young and old enjoy learning about Church history and gospel principles in a multi-cultural context. In Lemurs, Chameleons and Gold Plates, African artist William Rosoanaivo (POV) provides delightful illustrations of important events in early Church history from the perspective of Latter-day Saints living in Madagascar.

The book introduces a brother and sister who visit their grandparents in the countryside, where lemurs and chameleons join in the fun. Young readers especially enjoy looking for these creatures as they turn the pages.

African culture permeates the book as the grandparents tell their grandchildren about how they joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, and how the Church has grown throughout the world. They discuss temple work, missionary work, and caring for one another, all in the context of the African setting.

William Rosoanaivo (POV) is an award-winning artist, a native of Madagascar who currently lives in Mauritius, both African nations. Co-author Jonathan Neville, who met William while living in Mauritius, has written extensively about Church history and related topics. References to the Joseph Smith Papers and other historical sources are provided for readers who seek additional information and insights.

This is the first in a series of planned multicultural books about the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The book is available wherever LDS books are sold, and directly from the publisher: https://www.digitalegend.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=377

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Lesson/fireside outline with references

Lesson/fireside material

Readers often ask for help in sharing/presenting the information about the Hill Cumorah. Here is some material you can use.

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery explain the Hill Cumorah


To help class members understand what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught about the Hill Cumorah and how that helps readers understand the Book of Mormon and early Church history

Scriptures and references: 

- D&C 9 & 10; 128:20
- Book of Mormon Title Page
- Mormon 6:6
- Joseph Smith-History 1:71
- Letter VII, in Joseph Smith, History, 1834-1836, online at http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/83, in print: Joseph Smith Papers, Histories Volume 1, p. 72.
- David Whitmer interview, Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt, report to President John Taylor and Council of the Twelve, September 17, 1878, online here: http://jared.pratt-family.org/report-of-elders-orson-pratt-and-joseph-f-smith.html

Discussion questions at the beginning of class.

How many class members have visited the Hill Cumorah? How long ago? What did you observe?

Why do we visit the Hill Cumorah. What happened there?

Responses will include: Joseph found the plates there, Moroni visited Joseph there, Joseph returned to the hill annually for four years before getting the plates, etc. Some may say the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites were there, while others may disagree, saying those battles were in Central America or Mesoamerica. Some may say Mormon's repository of Nephite records (Mormon 6:6) was there, while others may disagree.

The purpose of the lesson is not to debate questions about geography, but to educate people about (i) what the prophets and apostles have taught (ii) what extrinsic evidence there is to support those teachings, and (iii) how the Book of Mormon covenants relate to the promised land.

Emphasize that the Church currently has no official position on Book of Mormon geography and therefore each person is free to believe whatever he/she wants to believe on that topic.


What do we know about Cumorah?

From the scriptures:

Mormon 6:6 (the "last struggle" of the Nephites took place there; Mormon "his up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted" to him)

Mormon 6:11-12 (20,000 Nephites died at Cumorah. Note that verses 13-15 refer to Nephites who had died earlier in the wars leading up to the final battles at Cumorah, such as Mormon 4:11.)

Mormon 8:2-2 (Moroni was the lone survivor of the final Nephite battle at Cumorah)

Ether 15:11 (Ramah was the Jaredite name for Cumorah. Explain that fewer than 10,000 Jaredites died at Cumorah. See my post here for the explanation: http://www.lettervii.com/2017/07/more-about-cumorahs-casualties.html)

From Church history:

The first night he came in 1823, Moroni told Joseph Smith that the record of the Nephites was "written and deposited" not far from his home. Letter IV, Joseph Smith, History, 1834-1836, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/69

That night Moroni also identified the hill where the plates were deposited as Cumorah.

Joseph visited the site on the hill annually. In early 1827, when Joseph was returning home after an errand in Manchester, he passed by the hill Cumorah. Moroni stopped him and chastised him for not being diligent, telling him the time was near when he would get the plates.

In September 1827, Joseph obtained the plates.


What happened after Joseph obtained the plates?

Joseph took them home, but a few months later, Joseph and Emma moved to Harmony, PA.


What was on the plates?

The Title Page, which Joseph translated in Harmony before moving to Fayette, explains what the book contains. The Title Page was "a literal translation, taken from the vert last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates." http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/times-and-seasons-15-october-1842/1

[Read the Title Page] 

According to the Title Page, the record consisted of:

(i) an abridgment of the record of the Nephites, 
(ii) an abridgment of the record of the people of Jared.
(iii) original material by Moroni (sealed by Moroni)

Notice, no original plates are mentioned; i.e., the plates of Nephi were not included in the plates Joseph obtained from Moroni's stone box in the Hill Cumorah. (We call these the Harmony plates.)

In Harmony, Joseph first translated the Book of Lehi. This was the 116 pages that Martin Harris lost. 

When Oliver Cowdery arrived in April 1829, Joseph began translating the Book of Mosiah. They finished with the Book of Moroni and the Title Page at the end of May.


Why didn't Joseph re-translate the Book of Lehi?

When Oliver Cowdery tried and failed to translate, he continued writing for Joseph. The Lord told him "I would that ye should continue until you have finished this record, which I have entrusted unto him. And then, behold, other records have I, that I will give unto you power that you may assist to translate." D&C 9:1-2

"This record" refers to the record Joseph and Oliver were working on; i.e., the Harmony plates that Joseph obtained from Moroni's box, described by the Title Page.

What are the "other records" to which the Lord referred?

D&C 10 tells us. The section starts by explaining to Joseph that the people who stole the 116 pages would change the words and publish them if Joseph re-translated that part of the plates. Instead of re-translating the Book of Lehi, Joseph would have to translate the "plates of Nephi."

38 And now, verily I say unto you, that an account of those things that you have written, which have gone out of your hands [the Book of Lehi on the 116 pages], is engraven upon the plates of Nephi; [except Joseph didn't have the plates of Nephi yet]

39 Yea, and you remember it was said in those writings [the 116 pages] that a more particular account was given of these things upon the plates of Nephi.

40 And now, because the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi is more particular concerning the things which, in my wisdom, I would bring to the knowledge of the people in this account—

41 Therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained; [Joseph apparently retained some of the translation he did with Martin Harris, which we refer to as page 117, and this is probably Words of Mormon 1:13-18. Verse 12 appears to be Joseph Smith's bridge between the plates of Nephi (with Mormon's sealing in verses 1-11) and the part he retained (page 117).]

42 And behold, you shall publish it as the record of Nephi; and thus I will confound those who have altered my words.

How did Joseph get the plates of Nephi?

Before leaving Harmony, Joseph gave the Harmony plates to a divine messenger. David Whitmer came from Fayette to pick up Joseph and Oliver. During the trip to Fayette, they encountered a man on the road who greeted them. David offered him a ride to Fayette but the man declined, saying he was going to Cumorah. David did not know what Cumorah was. He asked Joseph. Joseph explained that was the messenger with the plates.

[See the report of Joseph F. Smith for one of several accounts of this event.]

After Joseph arrived in Fayette, the messenger delivered the plates. Joseph translated them as 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon 1:11.


How do we know the Hill Cumorah is in New York?

Joseph's mother reported that the Angel Moroni referred to the hill as Cumorah even before Joseph obtained the plates, as mentioned in the first section above.

In 1834-5, Oliver Cowdery wrote a series of eight historical letters that were published in the official Church newspaper, the Messenger and Advocate, in Kirtland, Ohio. Portions of Letter I are included in the Pearl of Great Price as a footnote to Joseph Smith History 1:71. Joseph had his scribes (starting with Frederick G. Williams, Second Counselor in the First Presidency) copy the letters into his history as part of his life story. 

Letter VII focuses specifically on the Hill Cumorah. When he wrote it, Oliver was Assistant President of the Church, a calling that includes acting as spokesman. 

In Letter VII, Oliver described the hill this way:

At about one mile west [of the hill Cumorah] rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former, leaving a beautiful vale between. The soil is of the first quality for the country, and under a state of cultivation, which gives a prospect at once imposing, when one reflects on the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.

By turning to the 529th and 530th pages of the book of Mormon [Mormon 6] you will read Mormon’s account of the last great struggle of his people, as they were encamped round this hill Cumorah....

[Mormon] deposited, as he says, on the 529th page, all the records in this same hill...

This hill, by the Jaredites, was called Ramah: by it, or around it pitched the famous army of Coriantumr their tents.

Coriantumr was the last king of the Jaredites The opposing army were to the west, and in this same vally, and near by, from day to day, did that mighty race spill their blood, in wrath, contending, as it were, brother against brother, and father, against son. In this same spot, in full view from the top of this same hill, one may gaze with astonishment upon the ground which was twice covered with the dead and dying of our fellow men.


How would Oliver know that the hill where Joseph obtained the plates was the actual Hill Cumorah from the Book of Mormon?

1. Oliver was with David Whitmer when the messenger who had the Harmony plates said he was going to Cumorah.

2. Oliver visited the hill: "It was at the second mentioned place where the record was found to be deposited, on the west side of the hill, not far from the top down its side; and when myself visited the place in the year 1830, there were several trees standing: enough to cause a shade in summer, but not so much as to prevent the surface being covered with grass—which was also the case when the record was first found." Letter VIII.

3. On multiple occasions, Oliver actually entered the depository of Nephite records. Brigham Young and others explained this. [Brigham's comments are here:

4. Oliver worked closely with Joseph Smith from the time he met him in April 1829. He kept a notebook of what Joseph told him. Joseph approved of Letter VII on multiple occasions, showing he considered it valid. 

What have the prophets and apostles said about Letter VII and the New York Cumorah?

Several of the original Quorum of the Twelve republished Letter VII and/or taught that the Hill Cumorah was in New York, including Parley P. and Orson Pratt, William Smith, Brigham Young, and Heber C. Kimball. Subsequent prophets and apostles, including Joseph F. Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, Anthony W. Ivins, LeGrand Richards, Marion G. Romney, and Mark E. Petersen, have affirmed that the Hill Cumorah is in New York. No prophet or apostle has said Cumorah is anywhere else.

Why would Moroni put the plates in a stone box instead of inside his father's depository?

Orson Pratt explained that there were two departments in the hill.

When Joseph Smith first went to see the plates, he was tempted by the wealth they represented. He knew he could not sell the plates, but he hoped to find other artifacts he could sell. The gold in the plates was worth about $1 million in today's dollars, and an equivalent value in Joseph's day. It took four years of diligent patience for him to overcome that temptation. 

Had Moroni led him to the depository instead, it seems unlikely that Joseph could have withstood the temptation. It was only after he had translated the Harmony plates that he realized Mormon's depository was in the same hill; after all, he had only translated Mormon 6:6 a few days before. Later, he had enough experience with revelation that he was able to resist the temptation when he and Oliver entered the depository and saw all the artifacts.

Why is this important to know?

There is a lot of confusion about Book of Mormon geography. So far, the Lord has not revealed the details to us, but the prophets and apostles, starting with Joseph and Oliver, unambiguously gave us the one pin in the map: Cumorah is in New York.

This helps us understand the prophecies and promises in the Book of Mormon relating to the promised land and the obligation for its occupants to (i) keep the commandments and (ii) take the Gospel to the world.