Monday, May 16, 2022

Cumorah circa 2022

Last year, plans to change the infrastructure at the Hill Cumorah near Palmyra, New York, were announced. By now they've done much of the restoration work at the Hill Cumorah, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

One significant development is the new historical marker, which clearly establishes that in D&C 128:20 ("Glad tidings from Cumorah!"), Joseph Smith was referring to the Hill Cumorah in New York.

While this should be obvious from the context of D&C 128, some M2C* scholars have been trying to persuade people that Joseph was referring to a hill in Mesoamerica, or that he had inexplicably adopted a false tradition about the hill in New York being the actual Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6.

Those familiar with Church history, however, know that Joseph learned the name of the hill Cumorah from Moroni the first time they met, as his mother Lucy Mack Smith related.

"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"

And, of course, we can all read right in Joseph's own history that it is a fact that the hill in New York is the scene of the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites, as Joseph's contemporaries and successors reaffirmed many times.

The changes to the site make it more natural. Most importantly, no longer will they construct a ridiculous Mayan temple in western New York! (They used to build one for the pageant.)

So far, the historical markers still omit the relevant information about Cumorah that anyone can read in the Joseph Smith Papers. We can hope that, eventually, visitors to the Hill Cumorah in New York will be fully informed about actual Church history.

Of course, people are free to reject Church history and the related teachings of the prophets about Cumorah, but how does it help people understand Church history to simply omit and censor this history?

Seems like another big lost opportunity to be open and honest about our history. 

Latter-day Saints can make informed decisions when they learn from the "best books" (such as Joseph's own history and related authentic documents from Church history, as well as the teachings of the prophets) instead of relying on the speculations of M2C scholars.

*M2C means the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory promoted by Book of Mormon Central, FAIRLDS, the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, etc. This is the theory that Joseph, Oliver, and all the other prophets who taught that Cumorah was in New York actually misled the Church because (according to the M2C scholars) the "real" Cumorah is in southern Mexico.

For those who wonder about the location of the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6, here's a logical chart to go through:


Mark Burris sent me a few photos, as well as links to some videos.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Mormon Book Reviews giveaway

The excellent Mormon Book Reviews channel on youtube is doing a book giveaway contest tonight. 

This is an awesome channel for many reasons, and a contest is yet another reason to watch!

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Book of Mormon online update

If you aren't familiar with it yet, there's an excellent website that features all known editions of the Book of Mormon, here:

I've referred to this site for many years. It is undergoing updates and it seems to work better than ever.

It includes a helpful index of people and places. For example, here is the entry for Cumorah:

One thing I really like about this site is the effort to present multiple working hypotheses about geography. At the Cumorah page, for example, you can see various interpretations including settings in Sri Lanka, Mesoamerica, New York, Heartland, etc.

(click to enlarge)

Users of this site need to be aware that Book of Mormon Central (BMC) funded some of the development. BMC aggressively teaches M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory) as the only acceptable geography setting. In its Spanish version, BMC promotes specific M2C geography to its audience, directly contradicting what it tells its English donors about neutrality.

While this site is far more useful and informative than BMC because it makes efforts to follow the Church's position of neutrality about Book of Mormon geography, it unfortunately includes the so-called "Internal" map developed by M2C promoters that is based on their M2C beliefs. This subliminal grooming leads unsuspecting viewers toward the Mesoamerican model. 

(click to enlarge)

An odd omission from the site: there is no discussion of Church history regarding the origins or translation of the Book of Mormon. Maybe that's a future development, but I hope they include references to the original documents in the Joseph Smith Papers instead of the theories of scholars such as the so-called "Internal map." 

There are other odd omissions that, presumably, are merely oversights that will be corrected during development. 

For example, for the Hill Shim, the map omits locations for the New York and Heartland scenarios.

(click to enlarge)

This omission could lead unsuspecting users to conclude that Heartland models do not account for the Hill Shim. 

Hopefully such omissions will be corrected in updates.


Monday, April 25, 2022

Real vs Rumor series

On my historical blog, I'm posting a series on Keith A. Erekson's book, Real vs. Rumor. It's an important book because Erekson, the Director of the Church History Library, effectively explains the challenges of historical research.

Unfortunately, in some instances he perpetuates rumors because of the prevailing traditions. 

We can use the book and Erekson's examples to help us all be more careful in our historical research and analysis.

The series will be posted here:

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Discussion of Letter VII on (Museum of the Book of Mormon) has a discussion of Letter VII here:

When he wrote Letter VII, Oliver Cowdery was Assistant President of the Church. Joseph Smith referred to him as President Cowdery because, as Assistant President, he was a member of the First Presidency and senior to the First and Second Counselors.

Letter VII is President Oliver Cowdery's explanation of not only the fact of the location of the Hill Cumorah described in Mormon 6:6, but also the number of Jaredites and Nephites/Lamanites who died there (far fewer than often assumed). President Cowdery explained that Joseph helped him write these letters. 

Letter VII excerpt (click to enlarge)


"At about one mile west [of the Hill Cumorah in New York] 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."

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Kinderhook plates interview

The Kinderhook plates have been controversial ever since 1843. Apologists and critics have debated the historical facts and extrinsic evidence for years.

Yesterday I did an interview about them on the Mormon Book Reviews channel on YouTube. See it here:

The show notes have some useful references. 

BTW, if you haven't subscribed to the Mormon Book Reviews channel, you should now. Steve is an effective, interesting, and interested interviewer who seeks ways to build bridges and understanding among people of all beliefs.

I should mention that while I think the chapter in the Kinderhook plates in the book Producing Ancient Scripture is outstanding for its thorough treatment of the historical evidence, as I mentioned in the video there is a gap in the analysis that the authors understandably skipped over but should not be ignored.

And although I endorsed that article, I don't endorse or agree with all the chapters in that book. 


Monday, March 28, 2022

The 1832 history and Robin Jensen

An excellent twitter thread by Robin Jensen explains the issues regarding the 1832 history.

Robin's an awesome historian. Because a lot of people don't use twitter, and because Twitter is so unreliable, I'm archiving the thread in this post so I can refer to it whenever this issue arises.

I've inserted a few comments in red and emphasized some points in bold.

Joseph Smith's 1832 History is often cited as an example of the LDS Church hiding its past. Every time I hear this I get annoyed--but not for the reasons you might think. So, a (very) long thread for those who want to think critically about access and LDS archival records:

First, a bit of context: Joseph Smith's first [known] "major" history was created in 1832. While not much for most historical figures of note (only 6 pages in length), this history contains Smith's own writing (a rarity) and is Smith's first [known] attempt at an introspective autobiography. 2/?

The 1832 hist was captured at the beginning of a blank book later used as Smith's first letterbook. Like many records of JS's early movement, the record was (and is) owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was not available until the mid-to late 20th c. 3/?

At some point in the early to mid 20th century, the 1832 history was excised from the volume. The Joseph Smith Papers does a bit of sleuthing showing how we know the timing of the removal.

1) The 1832 history was removed from its volume in the 20th century, 2) the volume was held by the Church Historian's Office, and 3) the 1832 history only surfaced in the 1960s.

Therefore many have come to the conclusion that Joseph Fielding Smith (Church Historian and Recorder for a significant portion of the twentieth century) removed the history from the letterbook in order to suppress the history. And it's at this point where I get annoyed.

I want to be very clear (and this will be the true test of Twitter dialogue): my annoyance is not about the claim that JFS removed the history--it's quite likely he or one or two other HO administrators did.

Nor am I annoyed that folks want to explore the idea that the Historian's Office limited access to its records--it's very, very obvious that they did that as well.

No, my annoyance stems from the superficial dialogue surrounding this particular record and the richer conversation we *could* be having about the LDS archival record.

I'm deeply jealous of those who claim--without any qualifications or hedging--that the 1832 history represents Joseph Fielding Smith hiding the Mormon past. That level of certitude about the goings-on of the Historian's Office in the twentieth century is deeply naive.

Archives are places of hourly decisions. What comes in, what leaves? Is there room for this year's estimated intake? Which personnel should we shuffle around to take care of our backlog? (not to even mention the questions like "whose story are we actually preserving?")

If you're lucky, those decisions have left some sort of paper trail. But usually, they do not. You have to put the very limited puzzle pieces together.

So a bit of a detour: Did you know that the HO underwent a DRASTIC change of record storage in the 20th c? In the 19th c. a significant number of records were arranged/stored roughly chronological. This assisted in the writing of the history or compiling the Journal History.

By the 20th century, that arrangement didn't work anymore, so there was a huge undertaking to completely reorganize *the entire collection*. Imagine taking every record in your house and putting them in a whole new order--and multiply that by 1,000+.\

What was this new arrangement? We affectionally call it the "name and subject era." Every document was generally placed into a collection either based upon who it was written to or from (depending on the prominence of the author or recipient) or the topic of the record.

This effort would not be based upon archival best practices today. It has no regard whatsoever to the original order of records. It's probably one of the biggest mistakes in Mormon history that no one has ever heard about.

Now, to the point of my aside. This monumental shift of rearrangement in the Historians Office that influence millions of records and influenced the way an entire generation of Mormon historians viewed the past. Do you know when that first occurred?

... No really, I'm asking you. It's not a rhetorical question. **We don't know** when they first began that effort. We do not have the documentation of the move from chronological arrangement to the name and subject arrangement.

So back to the 1832 history. When I hear someone say, "The 1832 history was removed by Joseph Fielding Smith from the letterbook because the history contained an account of the First Vision that Church leadership didn't like and wanted to suppress." I want to cry.

Not because that's not a potentially true statement, but because we just don't know for sure. I would LOVE to have the certainty that I hear in most of these statements. [This is important because so many critics (and LDS apologists) write in such absolute terms.]

Once again to be clear. I'm not saying that the Historian's Office didn't limit access to its records. That was a very typical practice. But what that limitation looked like was different than the anecdote of the 1832 history illustrates.

Historian's Office staff offered access to some records for much of its history. When we simply say "The Historian's Office hid its past" I balk at such simplistic statements.

Let's try to recreate the possible motives of JFS. If you have a letterbook from the 1830s in your possession and you usually limit access to such records, why would you cut from that book 6 leaves that you also won't let anyone see?

In other words, wouldn't it be true to assume that the way you would restrict access to the 1832 history is to simply restrict access to the letterbook?

Could I offer another possibility of the removal of the 1832 history? (And note that word. This is only a possibility since I, nor anyone that I've seen, has actual documentation for the event.)

Joseph Fielding Smith was very aware of the shift of processing records within the Historian's Office--he was in charge of the HO after all. He's interested in sorting records into their various groupings, either by name or subject.

When he sees the letterbook, he sees 2 different records--ecclesiastical correspondence and autobiography. Perhaps he thinks that he should separate the record book into 2 different physical artifacts to mirror the processes taking place within the HO every day.

Honestly, as I type out the words, my possibility doesn't seem very strong. There are lots of other records (of less significance) that were saved from such physical division. But it's always struck me that the "suppressing" theory didn't make much sense either.

But ultimately this thread started out with my own personal annoyance and it will have to remain that way.

The removal of the 1832 history from the letterbook is a question that's not going to be solved without additional evidence (and I'm not really optimistic that that documentation has survived).

But the next time you hear that the 1832 history was removed because Joseph Fielding Smith suppressed the past, ask yourself whether this fact complicates the narrative of the Historian's Office or simplifies it.

Replying to
My HS hockey coach worked at the HO. He says he wrote the program that cataloged the records by name and subject using oracle in 1986. He says it was a response to the Hoffman. Does that line up? Obvs JFS would have been earlier.

That must have been the first computerized catalog. The old HMMS software, I believe. This was right at the transition between the name and subject filing system and the more recent approach to catalog/store them based upon original order.

Replying to
There are a couple good RFM podcasts on this (83 & 85). In a nutshell, the church hid the history. The Mormon church then combined elements of all the different versions to get the currently accepted one. #RFM #Mormon #LDS

I believe I've listened to both of those. What I'm trying to do with this thread is to get us past the "nutshell" and expand upon the very complex past. But I also realize that Twitter doesn't let us do that very well.

Replying to
TL:…but I DID read it! Appreciate your perspective. I agree on a number of points. I believe that an open mind on the possibilities of alternate theories is a healthy way to approach unknowns. In the most simplistic way, I wasn’t there so I can’t make anything but assumptions…

Replying to
One of the biggest realizations I took from my time at the JSP was that the more I researched and learned and deepened my expertise, the more comfortable I had to become with saying, "We don't know for sure...but here are a few possible explanations." Lots of highly-informed🀷‍♂️

Replying to
Really excellent and enlightening thread. Accepting nuance, however uncomfortable, is superior to demanding certainty in the honest quest for truth.

Replying to
Nice thread. I think all of this is to say that, either way, history is our making. We don’t know and can’t possibly know, but history is whatever we say it is, and when written is whatever we state it is. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Replying to
Myself dealt ancient Chinese historical doc. The ancient professional historians shared the similar problem. at first, they corrected and discarded original doc because they thought they knew better, later on they learned to use original doc. its not intentionally cheat/hide