Monday, April 19, 2021

An accurate account

A recent article in the Wall St. Journal discussed a physicist who has assessed the data regarding climate change and has concluded the media and politicians have misled the public (no surprise). 

The article included this observation.

Mr. Koonin says he wants voters, politicians and business leaders to have an accurate account of the science. He doesn’t care where the debate lands.

That observation struck me as describing the way I approach issues of Church history. 

I want members of the Church to have an accurate account of all the history, and I don't care where the debate lands.

As I see it, there have been four distinct approaches to Church history.

1. Traditional faithful narratives that supported Joseph Smith's prophetic role but were highly edited versions of Church history, generally omitting what could be perceived as "negative" information from historical sources. Examples: Essentials in Church History and Truth Restored.

2. Critical narratives that undermined or directly attacked Joseph Smith's prophetic role but generally omitted information from historical sources that supported Joseph's claims. Examples: Mormonism Unvailed and No Man Knows my History.

3. "New Mormon History" that, while purportedly faithful, sought to incorporate the "negative" information by reframing our understanding of Church history by largely accepting the critical narratives and omitting information that contradicts modern consensus on such topics as M2C and SITH. Examples: Rough Stone Rolling, Saints and From Darkness unto Light.

4. Reactionary narratives that responded to the "New Mormon History" by characterizing as lies the historical sources that contradicted or reframed the traditional faithful narratives. Example: Seer stone vs Urim and Thummim.

Each approach naturally satisfies a distinct audience because each is an exercise in bias confirmation. I have no problem with anyone accepting whichever approach they prefer.

However, as I evaluated these approaches, I concluded that each lacked what I considered a basic requirement because each approach simply ignored evidence that contradicted the thesis of the respective authors. While each presents itself as the "correct" interpretation, unsuspecting readers never see the information that the authors omit.

Narratives by nature involve interpretation, assumptions and conjecture. Each individual can assess an author's views and make an informed decision--but only if they have all the relevant facts available.

As Mr. Koonin said in the WSJ article, I want people to have an accurate account of all the history.

I think it makes more sense to assess all of the available and relevant evidence, and then see if there is a narrative that explains all of that evidence. 


Following that approach led me to write numerous blog articles and three books on Church history and related topics. I make my assumptions and biases clear up front. I include all the relevant information I can find from all four categories of approaches listed above, plus additional sources. 

Regarding the translation issue, A Man that Can Translate proposes that Joseph did translate the engravings on the plates with the aid of the Urim and Thummim, but also used the seer stone to conduct a demonstration for his supporters.

Regarding Book of Mormon historicity, Between these Hills makes a case for the New York Cumorah that Joseph, Oliver, their contemporaries and successors consistently and persistently taught.

Regarding the language of the Book of Mormon, Infinite Goodness argues that the text itself is evidence that Joseph translated the plates "after the manner of his language."

I welcome input from readers, including critics. I often update my blogs and books in response to new information or better arguments.

I hope the ongoing discussion will lead to improved understanding of historical events and greater faith among Latter-day Saints.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Church History Department blog is excellent

The Church History Department has an excellent blog. If you haven't seen it, it's worth taking a look.

You can subscribe to their newsletter.

They announced the digitization of several historical items. The collection of Joseph F. Smith personal photographs is interesting. Here's a link to one with him and his son, Joseph Fielding Smith.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Steven C. Harper and agenda-driven history - part 1

Many Latter-day Saints remain perplexed at the revisionist Church history narratives we see replacing long-familiar traditional history. In my view, these changes are based not on new historical sources or better analysis, but instead they are driven by specific agendas.

Brother Harper's books Joseph Smith's First Vision and First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins, contain some wonderful insights into the work of historians that we'll discuss in this series.

BTW, on these blogs I'm going to start posting only summaries of the longer articles I send to subscribers to MOBOM, the Museum of the Book of Mormon. You can subscribe for free here:


Here is Brother Harper's bio as provided in First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins.

Steven C. Harper earned a PhD in early American history from Lehigh University, where he was Lawrence Henry Gipson Fellow. He taught at Brigham Young University campuses in Hawaii and Utah, and served as a volume editor of The Joseph Smith Papers and later as managing historian and a general editor of Saints: The Story of The Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days. He is the author of Promised Land (2006) a study of colonial Pennsylvania's dispossession of the Lenape or Delawares. He is also the author of dozens of articles and two books on early Latter-day Saint history. He is currently editor of BYU Studies Quarterly and professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University.

Here we see the revolving door between BYU and the Church History Department, which helps explain why Saints teaches what it does. We'll discuss that throughout this series.

BYU Studies continues to produce important articles, such as those in the issue focusing on the First Vision, which you can see here:

Like most Latter-day Saints, I love BYU Studies. I have physical copies of dozens of issues, although the digital copies are more useful. It has always been disappointing to see BYU Studies promote the Mesoamerican/Two-Cumorahs theory (M2C), but we all understood that was inevitable because the long-time editor was one of the major proponents of M2C. 

It's similar to the annoying editorial stance of Book of Mormon Central, FAIRLDS, the Interpreter, and the rest of the M2C citation cartel. They produce a lot of great material, but much of it is tainted by their M2C worldview that directly contradicts the Church's position of neutrality on these issues.


When Brother Harper replaced John W. Welch as Editor of BYU Studies, some of us hoped he would change direction and extract BYU Studies from the M2C citation cartel. 

Sadly, that hasn't happened. BYU Studies still features the M2C maps that depict Book of Mormon events, including the final battles at Cumorah, taking place in Mesoamerica.

BYU Studies also promoted the fake story that it was Moroni who showed the plates to Mary Whitmer instead of Nephi (one of the Three Nephites), as both Mary and David explained.

The article simply omits David Whitmer's statement about what Joseph said after they encountered the messenger on the way to Fayette from Harmony. 

Shortly afterwards, David relates, the Prophet looked very white but with a heavenly appearance and said their visitor was one of the three Nephites to whom the Savior gave the promise of life on earth until He should come in power. After arriving home, David again saw this personage, and mother Whitmer, who was very kind to Joseph Smith, is said to have seen not only this Nephite, but to have also been shown by him the sealed and unsealed portions of the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

See full account, with references, at

As we've discussed before, this wasn't the only time Joseph identified this messenger as one of the Nephites. It's pretty easy to create fake history by simply omitting historical references that contradict the history you want to promote.

Why would M2C proponents insist it was Moroni who showed the plates to Mary Whitmer? 

M2C proponents simply cannot accept David's statement that the messenger was going to Cumorah before meeting Joseph in Fayette. They have no explanation for why he would take the abridged plates Joseph translated in Harmony back to Cumorah, or why Joseph translated the plates of Nephi in Fayette after having translated the Title Page, which was on "the last leaf of the plates," in Harmony.

We've seen how the previous editor of BYU Studies simply changed the history of the trip from Harmony to Fayette, the same way he created the fake Moroni story by simply omitting David's statement that the messenger was one of the Nephites and Mary's statement that the messenger called himself Brother Nephi.

The irony in all of this is that Brother Harper is an outstanding historian. His discussion of the intersection between memory and history incisive. It deserves a lot of attention, as we'll see in this series.