Lost Hemisphere: A Traditional Book of Mormon Geography

John Hamer book of mormon, Culture, Folklore, geography, lamanites, Mormon, Mormons 111 Comments

When I was 6 and my sisters were 5 and 3, we read the Book of Mormon with my parents as a family. I was already very geographically minded and the book cries out for a map. So make a map we did.

Mustering the tools of choice for the preschool set — crayons, construction paper, markers, scissors and paste — and marshalling my sister Carol’s and my artistic skills, we boldly tackled the project. As the oldest, it looks like I claimed the right to draw all the Nephites and Nephite cities, leaving the Lamanites and their cities to Carol.

The narrative begins with the ship — a double-masted cog, resembling nothing so much as Columbus’s Nina or Pinta — which landed on the southwest coast of the Land Southward. Details in this area include Lehi’s tombstone, a delightfully cross Lamanite (with striped pants) and an Elephant (Cumom) eating peanuts with his trunk.

A dotted line follows Nephi’s trek inland…


The Land of Nephi is represented by a beautiful walled, Arabesque city, with tall towers and onion domes — not a hint of Chichen Itza to be had. In front of the city is Nephi’s tombstone along with Abinadi, who is being burned at the stake by King Noah. The first path from Nephi leads northwest past a frolicking herd of horses — make no mistake, there were horses in the Land of Promise! — and past a Lamanite Queen with her two children. Paths for Zeniff, Limhi’s scouts and Ammon come back to the city and a second path away is blazed by Alma to the Waters of Mormon.


In the northeast corner of the Land Southward (near the narrow neck) is Zarahemla — complete with a “Z” emblazoned on the wall. In front of the city, the Nephites in tents listen to King Benjamin preach from a tall tower. (Nearby the city of Ammonihah is labelled “destroyed.”)


The main feature of the Land Northward is the Land of Desolation, where Limhi’s scouts in yellow robes discover 24 plates.

Taking the map as a whole, the Land Northward’s obvious United-States-like shape leaves little doubt that we understood the text to encompass the entire Western Hemisphere. It’s clear that as a Mormon family in 1976, we had a very traditional picture of Book of Mormon geography — one which today has been recaste as just one of several “theories.”

Comments

comments

Comments 111

  1. It seems that the Lord’s blogs are now filled with those who dismiss the traditional geographic understanding of the BOM as a mere theory. Thank you for posting your pictures, it shores up the fact that BOM geography was pretty solidified in the member’s minds until those damn DNA results surfaced.

    Where will they go next? My guess Anti-Nephi-limited-limited-quantum theory. The quantum is especially intriguing, because particles tend to disappear and then re-appear.

  2. I think the shift in consensus comes from a more careful reading of the text, not shoehorning in response to external criticism. The hemispheric model crumbles when you actually read what the Book of Mormon says about its locations–relative distances, travel times, etc. Even many notions that are often considered as “given,” don’t hold any scriptural ground: Search the Book of Mormon backwards and forwards, you will not find a single passage that states that Moroni buried the plates of Mormon in the hill Cumorah. Quite the opposite, we find a reference that explicitly states that Cumorah was the repository for all the Nephite records *except* the plates of Mormon. (Mormon 6:6) And the hill in New York which we now call Cumorah was never named such by Joseph Smith. It seems many early Church members sloppily read the Book of Mormon, hastily and prematurely connected some dots, formed a framework of erroneous assumptions, and like a bad nickname, they stuck.

    The Book of Mormon itself leaves open a broad realm of possibilities when we shake off the apocryphal folklore that is often accepted as canonical.

    Few readers have given much thought to the fairly point-blank statement that the “land southward” is located on a peninsula (Alma 22:32). Perhaps that’s why South America was considers viable in the first place, but the limited geography model doesn’t account for this unless the cardinal points are rearranged.

    I mentioned in a previous comment the Malay peninsula theory. (http://www.mormonlocations.com/) What if the Lehites landed there? Scientific theories support the concept of the of the Americas being populated by Asiatic people–what if they are the true Lamanite descendants? Can this not fit within the concept of Nephi seeing the Lamanites in America? What if we took to heart the concept of “land*S* of promise” in 2 Nephi 9:2 and 24:2, and got over our pride about America being so uniquely special? What if everything we ever assumed about the Book of Mormon was wrong? How would members who are disgruntled about the lack of corroborative evidence in Mesoamerica react if it became clear that we’re digging in the wrong place? What would happen to the DNA issue? Horses? Language? Archeology? Anthropology? What would be the ramifications of the introduction, or even affirmation, of a paradigm shift so radical that is shatters what everyone always thought, but is still compatible with what the Book of Mormon actually says?

    The church has specifically not adopted or endorsed any geographic model–external or internal, despite some repetition of common assumptions that occasionally sprout up in the ensign or GC. I think this should leave us in a frame of mind that is open and welcoming to alternative theories or new ideas.

    I still havn’t made up my mind on which theory to embrace, but I am adamant on considering the Book of Mormon the supreme authority about itself. I am much more concerened about what it actually says, regardless of who Parly P. Pratt said the Lamanites were, or where Joseph Smith said Zelph was from, or what Spencer W. Kimball said about Polynesia. I’ll let them answer for their own statements; but as for me and my house, we will consult the Book of Mormon text itself as our source.

    In the meantime, i’ve constructed an online interactive Book of Mormon map (internal/relative), based primarily of John Sorenson’s research:

    http:/bookofmormononline.net/map

  3. A comparison between a 6-year old view of the Book of Mormon and an adult scholarly view would have shown the same difference even back in 1976. Then again, a 6-year old today and an adult scholar today would show the same difference in view, at least for most 6-year olds. This is a case of preconceived notions leading the evidence.

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    Re #1 TM: I agree. I don’t consider the traditional understanding of the Book of Mormon to be a theory. It’s in its own category apart from the various fanciful theories.


    Re #2 Equality: Are you sure these darling ponies are tapirs? Maybe they are North American mesohippi — like in this diarama we photographed last month:

  5. Could be. You would have to account for the time-shift, though. If Lehi and Company had a miraculous compass, I see no reason why they couldn’t also have a time machine. So maybe all the anachronisms come from our assumptions about when things actually happened. Maybe the Nephites were transported back 40 million years when the mesohippus was roaming the continent. This theory has the advantage of explaining why no archaeological evidence has been found from the traditional understanding of Book of Mormon chronology. And, of course, Christ, being resurrected, also could have easily transported himself back in time 40 million years, so all our assumptions about dates keying off the birth or death of Christ are just wrong. Those dates in the BOM were added later and are not in the original BOM, so they could represent just the wrong opinions of men acting under false assumptions.

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    Re #7: Time shift? 40,000,000 years ago? There was no earth 40,000,000 years ago. Equality, I should hardly have to remind you that 1 day is as 1,000 years to the Lord, that the earth is about 13,000 years old (including the days of creation) and that so-called geological time is an illusion because creative processes (and possibly “time” itself) functioned differently in the past.

  7. Well, there WAS an earth, it was just in a different place, likely closer to Kolob, in a different form. With God all things are possible, including my wacky theory. Or KC Kern’s, for that matter.

  8. KC, I have been interested in the Malay Hypothesis too, and I am somewhat attracted to it because it seems to fit most of the arguments much better. To my knowledge, no scholars have attempted to look at it, and it is easily dismissed because it is so far out of the normal ideas that John mentions. (I had similar ideas as John until about the year 2000.) Is anyone aware of criticisms of the Malay Theory? I’m curious what Simon Southerton or other LDS DNA experts think of this.

    I agree with you, I’m not sold on any one theory yet–I think the South American Theories are interesting too. George Potter has made some interesting claims at http://www.nephiproject.com , though that site is more dedicated to Arabian sites than “New World” sites. They seem to lean toward more South American Theories than Central American or Hemispheric models.

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    Re #3 KC:

    I think the shift in consensus comes from a more careful reading of the text, not shoehorning in response to external criticism.

    I don’t agree; I think the opposite is true. I think that the traditional understanding has been under assault by believing Mormons in response to external criticism. I think that the various modern theories generally require a willful misreading of the text in order to try to fit the Book of Mormon to the theorist’s notions of the archaeological facts on the ground.

    The Book of Mormon itself leaves open a broad realm of possibilities when we shake off the apocryphal folklore that is often accepted as canonical.

    I think that “shaking off apocryphal folklore” is nothing less than consigning traditional Mormon culture itself to the dumpster. The problem with trading the traditional faithful understanding for the modern geography theories is that you are trading away something for nothing. You are trading innocence and heritage for elaborate theories that don’t offer any advantages.

    The complaint is that the innocent view — illustrated here by myself as a child — is contradicted by harsh cold, reality (DNA, language, archaelogy, anthropology). The problem is that the modern theories have the same limitation vis-a-vis reality, but in addition to running up against those contradictions, they also lack the innocence and warmth of tradition.

    In my opinion, if one is going to give up innocence, one ought to acquire sophistication in return. Sophistication allows us to understand that like the Books of Genesis and Job (to name a few), the Book of Mormon is not a literal history. From that vantage we can see it for what it is, the value it still holds and we can still honor the traditions that we revered when we were innocent.

    I am adamant on considering the Book of Mormon the supreme authority about itself.

    On this I adamantly agree with you. Everything Parley P. Pratt and Spencer W. Kimball said on the subject as well as the LDS church’s “official position” (or lack thereof) is irrelevent to the book. The Book of Mormon should be read by itself without regard to modern archaeology.

  10. I’m not sure if my comment got lost or what, but I’ve been looking at the Malay Hypothesis too. KC, do you know if anyone has seriously looked at this? It seems to fit things much better, such as language, metals, DNA. It’s also interesting that Thailand means “Free land”. Is this the Land of Liberty? Also interesting that the peninsula is split northern Thailand (Nephites?) and Southern Malaysia (Lamanites?)

    Has Simon Southerton been contacted–it seems to agree with his hypothesis that the DNA came from Asia. The peninsula is north-south, not east-west as it is in Central America.

    There is a problem with Joseph stating that Moroni said the BOM was a record of the American Continent, but Joesph was known to change his mind–Yucatan peninsula, Chile, etc.

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    Re #4 Bruce: I was not suggesting that my family came up with this map simply by reading the text. Rather, I’m saying that our map was an illustration of the general cultural understanding at the time. The map is precisely our shared “preconceived notions” as Mormons in the 1970s. In no way does this illustration represent an experiment in how one would map the book if one had no preconceived notions about the Book of Mormon’s geography.

    Your criticism, however, could be fairly levelled at John L. Sorenson. In Mormon’s Map, he pretends to construct a Book of Mormon geography based simply on the text without allowing “preconceived notions” to “lead the evidence.” In reality, he seriously distorts the text to create a map the conforms with his own Tehuantepec Limited Geography theory.

    Re #11: Mormon Heretic: Sorry, your previous comment probably got caught in our spam-filter. It’s been over-active lately.

  12. My kids are 6, 5, and 2, and I doubt they even know who Nephi is, let alone Zeniff or Abinidi. Did you put this together on your own, or were you coached or lead by your parents? And was your understanding of the complex Book of Mormon narrative, (something many Mormon youth don’t fully comprehend until their missions), based on reading the actual BoM, or some kind of kids version?

    And how could you omit the decapitated heads of Laban, Shiz, or the limbs of the unfortunate Lamanites at the waters of Sebus?

  13. It seems that the Lord’s blogs are now filled with those who dismiss the traditional geographic understanding of the BOM as a mere theory. Thank you for posting your pictures, it shores up the fact that BOM geography was pretty solidified in the member’s minds until those damn DNA results surfaced.

    Umm. But why aren’t the ideas in many members minds merely a theory? I’m confused here.

    The fact is that decades before DNA questions almost all Mormon thinkers carefully considering the topic via the text had moved to a limited geographic model. Certainly not all or even most lay members had. But frankly that seems as relevant to me as the typical 18th and 19th century European picture of Palestine roughly like a lush European vista and Jesus the Jew looking like an Irishman.

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    Re #13, Matt: We were definitely coached by my mom. All the handwriting is hers, except where it says “Desolation” and “Plates.” However, the drawings are definitely ours, including the shape of the map itself, which is clearly from memory and not from looking at a world map.

    I think we were reading the text itself; I don’t remember having a kids’ version. I don’t think this is based on a kids’ version because most kids’ versions are illustrated and the iconography on our map doesn’t look like it was influenced by an adult lense. For example, the male Lamanites are all wearing pants, but the Nephites have big, flowing robes with zig-zags on their sleeves. I think the images are based on reading a text and not on looking at pictures. Even the Friberg paintings don’t appear to have exerted any artistic influence.

    How did we miss Shiz? Given what’s included — Abinadi, Zeniff, Limhi’s scouts, Amonihah, the 24 plates, Lamoni and the Anti-Nephi-Lehis — we must have just gotten through Mosiah and Alma when we decided to make the map. The situation with Zeniff’s people is one of the more complicated parts of the book geographically, and I can see where we might have especially wanted a map when we got to that point.

    Still, I wish we’d waited for the decapitations — that beats burning at the stake any day.

    Here’s another map I drew at age 6:


    “Johnny’s Island, Nov. 1976”

    I think this was done from memory because it’s missing a lot of details one might copy out and it has other strange things one might remember, like Mexico, except in this case Mexico is south of Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico and not Arizona, while Baja California is totally detached from Mexico proper. (As with the Land Northward in the other map, there is no Canada). We lived in New Jersey which is reasonably rendered (except that it borders Virginia and a totally landlocked Maryland on the south. My grandparents lived in Montana and Florida — and we’d visited both — which explains their prominence.

    Why Missouri gets so much emphasis is probably more about forgetting how that part of the country went than any feelings about the New Jerusalem. I was apparently conceiving of Zion as a Caribbean Island. 🙂

  15. John,

    I beg to differ with you concerning the decapitation angle: Everybody knows that a hot stake is better than a cold chop!

    /pained silence descends on mormonmatters.org/

  16. That is so cool!!!

    I vaguely remember we did this while reading the Book of Mormon as a family when we were little, but I didn’t know the map was still in existence. Where did you find it?

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    Re #18: There’s my fellow artist; my sister Carol, who drew all those adorable Lamanites and who now blogs from abroad under the alias “C.L.Hanson”.

    Carol: As you well know, mom saved all our artwork, dated it and archived it by year. At a certain point a few years ago, she announced that I had to take everything that belonged to me out of her basement and bring it to my basement. That’s when I acquired this map and all the other treasures of the 1970s.

    Hamers 1976
    The Hamers in 1976.

    Here’s the family that made the map. Our Dad (Bill Hamer was only 31, 7 years younger than I am today), “Carrie” (“C.L.Hanson”), Cathy (“Apple Valley Mom”), our Mom (Ginger Hamer at 33) who just had baby Ben (whose wife is having their first baby in a couple of months) and finally lil 6-year-old “Johnny Hamer.”

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    Re #17 Drew: Thanks! I’ve actually done lots of research on Book of Mormon geography over the years. I have on my shelf a dozen or more books and articles of the different elaborate theories and I’ve made many more maps myself as an adult. I’ve written an article with my own LGT — which is literally the best LGT ever (I’m not being sarcastic) — which I’m mulling over giving to Dialogue or maybe the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. At some point I likely will make a longer work on Book of Mormon geography and I’m sure this map will be in the introduction.

    Re: #19 John: Thanks, man. That’s an august body to be numbered among.

    Re: #16 Ricercar: Was that silence or a deep, low moan?

    Anti-Nephi-Lehi
    Lamoni and everyone’s favorite Book of Mormon boy band, the Anti-Nephi-Lehis.

  19. >>> The problem with trading the traditional faithful understanding for the modern geography theories is that you are trading away something for nothing. You are trading innocence and heritage for elaborate theories that don’t offer any advantages.

    John, it is statements like this that I find concerning about your approach. As a non-believer, you are not in a position to determine what “advantages” a believing Mormon receives from how they choose to interpret their personal beliefs. This is a wildly overly simplistic statement that assumes a great deal of superiority on your part.

    You as, I assume, an atheist (thought I read that somewhere) should not need to be reminded of the importance of reinterpreting foundational myths. Doing so is not new to any religion and is certainly not new to Mormons either. Even the first generation of Mormons all interpreted their religious beliefs very differently.

    You do not understand Mormons, nor most types of believers, if you can make a statement like this: “Sophistication allows us to understand that like the Books of Genesis and Job (to name a few), the Book of Mormon is not a literal history. From that vantage we can see it for what it is, the value it still holds and we can still honor the traditions that we revered when we were innocent.”

    I know some believers – NOMs and cafeteria Christians — are comfortable with statements like that ones you made, but not all believers want, or are even capable of being “NOMs.” Most people find that such a belief system defies them. They are unable to accept it.

    There is nothing wrong with being a NOM, of course, but it is a religious belief system that has a narrow appeal (narrow in the sense that it’s not for everyone) to only a certain type of individuals. If you honestly believe that choosing to fictionalize foundational myths allows all people to honor their traditions, you are misunderstanding the broad and diverse human need for religion.

  20. John, I appreciate your posts which point out the relatively recent drift from “traditional Mormon beliefs.” Being just slightly older than you, I’ve observed the same (and frankly, it was a huge factor in my leaving the LDS church). From reading the bloggernacle, however, it seems that younger members and more recent converts actually believe that today’s stances reflect (a) the “real” Mormon doctrine that always existed, while everything you and I believed was “speculation,” or (b) that the abandonment of traditional Mormonism is the result of some greater enlightenment.

    Sometimes it makes me want to post a snarky joke, like:
    Question: How many LDS does it take to change a light bulb?
    Answer: None at all, but it takes fifteen of them to convince the rest that the light bulb never changed.

  21. awwwww John those pictures are so cute. I am going to show them to my wife. I would love to do something like that with my children…but perhaps to pictures of ALL the theories!! What do you think? Would it be good innoculation or do you think it could backfire and cause them to resent Mormon history and the church?

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    Re #22, Bruce: You’re wrong, of course. As an outside observer who has studied the scope of Mormondom and who has also done a great deal of comparitive study of non-Mormon history and culture, I have a unique vantage which allows me to give advice that is practical and useful.

    As someone who is on the inside and who has never looked out in any meaningful way, you lack the perspective to understand Mormons in a realistic sense.

    I agree with you that an anthropologist can never “get the tribe” the way a tribesman gets it. However, the tribesman is far less likely to understand how the tribe works in the broader context of reality than the anthropologist.

    You clearly don’t understand the broad community of believers if you imagine that there are very few sophisticated believers. A large percentage of mainline Protestants and Catholics have a sophisticated approach to scripture and understand that Genesis is not a literal history. Obviously, there are a large percentage of believers who don’t, which explains the rise of evangelical fundamentalism.

    You have a very narrow lense, not strongly grounded by a firm study of broader realities, and yet you presume to speak for the majority. To use your words, this is what “I find very concerning about your approach.”

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    Re #23, Nick: Of course you bring up a key point. Another thing we learn when we become sophisticated is that the Golden Age is a myth. The Mormonism I knew as a child was not the Mormonism that had always existed — it was in flux then just as it is in flux now. The LDS church of the 1970s was not the early church as Joseph Smith experienced it.

    In everything, there is continuity and there is innovation. All institutions, customs and traditions are constantly evolving. We can’t go back to the Golden Age of memory. At most, you will have a “Golden Age-esque” revival, which will be an incredibly different thing from the real era.

    Re #24, Stephen: Thanks! As for your own kids, you’re always liable to get into a feedback loop if you keeping asking yourself, should I give them candy or not? Will familiarity breed contempt for candy and will scarcity make it a luxury or vice versa? If you’re having fun with your kids mapping the Book of Mormon, how can you go wrong? You’re showing you value it and them.

  24. “not all believers want, or are even capable of being “NOMs.””

    Bruce,

    I think you’d be surprised. Becoming NOM is often a result of coming up against what feels like a wall. The story is no longer simple, and since the traditional faithful Mormon view is a very black/white, true/false, good/evil split, finding that there is some black and some false, and some evil mixed into the goodness of their heroes is too much. Maybe its acceptable in the secular world to have all this ambiguity, but in the world of faith and religion we are held to a higher standard, right? Thus, the mistakes carry so much more destructive weight.

    So all that adds up to a serious challenge to faith. How can it be true in the sense that I used to know it was true? Its not. It is not the simple naive kind of true anymore. So you either give up on it and walk away, or you have to try to understand it differently.

    When you consider how deeply people’s lives would be affected if they left, family and friends et. al., I really think you’d be surprised how many people would choose a NOM course.

  25. Pingback: A change of generations… | Main Street Plaza

  26. Bruce,

    You have a nasty habit of assuming what people believe. You had me pegged as a non-Mormon (patently untrue) and John as an atheist. While I don’t know John’s beliefs on whether God exists I wouldn’t presume to assume what he thinks on the matter.

    You will go a lot further in life if you dealt with ideas and issues and stopped trying to put people into predetermined boxes.

  27. Clay,

    Whether or not I would be “suprised” at how many people would be capable of being a NOM I can’t say. I would suspect a lot of people could be. I would suspect a lot of people could not be.

    However, are you suggesting that all Mormons should be NOMs? I don’t think this is what you meant, but I’m asking to be sure. My point was simply that not all people can be NOMs. I might be thinking 30% of Mormons could be and 70% can’t be and the reality might be the reverse. And maybe that would even suprise me, if true. But I’d be really really deeply shocked, I admit, if all people could NOMs or their religions equivalent. (i.e. Cafeteria/Liberal Christians, etc.)

    That was the point I was making though. That I do not believe all people are capable of being NOMs and thus (assuming I’m right) the statements John made can’t possibly be true and are based on a flawed understanding of humankind. As a mater of fact, it’s the stark black/white view I thought I was disagreeing with in favor of a not so black and white nuanced view. I didn’t even state anything emphasizing the correctness of my own beliefs, even calling them “myths” (which as you know doesn’t actually mean they are false. But I was trying to be neutral.)

    At this point I’m avoiding the topic as to whether or not NOMs are in fact more sophisticated or not. I suppose I expect all believers of all religious systems to think they are the more sophisticated, so I wouldn’t expect an atheist, or NOM, or Catholic, or anyone to feel differently on that topic. This is just human nature to believe this about oneself.

  28. Another thing we learn when we become sophisticated is that the Golden Age is a myth. The Mormonism I knew as a child was not the Mormonism that had always existed — it was in flux then just as it is in flux now.

    Amen to that, John. This has been brought to my mind more clearly than ever as I’ve read The William McLellin Papers and The Mormon Church on Trial. I’ve had to realize (with some disillusionment) that the LDS church I joined never really was the religion of Joseph Smith. Change and accomodation has been the story since day one.

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    Re #30, Nick: Well, I’m not disillusioned. That’s how all institutions, peoples, cities, and even ideas operate.

    All my graduate work was in Medieval European history and I’ll admit guiltily I’ve always been fascinated by the Papacy — far and away the most successful monarchy since Pharaoh. The ability this institution has had to survive is nearly unprecedented.

    And yet what does Pope Benedict XVI have in common with Innocent III? With Formosus, with Gregory I and with St. Peter himself? In some respects, precious little. Comparing the snapshots, you might think you were comparing unrelated entities. And yet, they are all connected, step by step through history in institutional continuity.

    That needn’t be disillusioning; it’s exciting in its own right.

  30. “I suppose I expect all believers of all religious systems to think they are the more sophisticated”

    I don’t know that I agree with that. I think a lot of religious folks actively choose to have a simple faith because they see the simplicity as being virtuous. Kind of like believing in pure Creationism vs. Evolution. Young Earth proponents sometimes choose that position in defiance of more sophisticated evidence, because they believe God is testing their faith.

    I wonder how many Mormons view scientific challenges to the BoM as God testing our faith by “hiding the evidence”?

  31. Some people chose to believe because they just do. They do not require overwhelming physical evidence to support that belief. I get really tired of so-called intellectuals and the learned” who like to ridicule others who just have faith. Many of the so-called learned have talked themselves right out of the church because of their evidence or the lack of evidence. They choose to ignore the first principle of the Gospel.

  32. Bruce,

    Given that most Mormons are inactive as the Church defines activity (attendance at one sacrament meeting a month) I think there might be more room in the Church for flexible interpretations of Mormonism such as the NOM model, if one can call it a model. People have been voting with their feet and free time since the Church started.

    Who knows but that KC Kern’s proposal to investigate the Malay Peninsula as a site for the events described in the Book of Mormon might not have the same appeal to lots of Mormons that reading the Book of Mormon like the Psalms or Proverbs does for those who are less committed to a literal interpretation of every event described in the text? Do we have to have a unitary approach to the Book of Mormon for the LDS Church to survive and thrive?

  33. Many of the so-called learned have talked themselves right out of the church because of their evidence or the lack of evidence. They choose to ignore the first principle of the Gospel.

    Any deity who would desire men and women to have “faith” in ideas which are contradicted by actual evidence, is morally unworthy of worship, for demanding self-deception. Further, such a being would be too stupid to worship, because any deity who wanted such a thing would work against his/her own interests by giving men and women brains.

  34. “Any deity who would desire men and women to have “faith” in ideas which are contradicted by actual evidence, is morally unworthy of worship, for demanding self-deception. Further, such a being would be too stupid to worship, because any deity who wanted such a thing would work against his/her own interests by giving men and women brains.”

    Actual evidence? Of what? Depends on what. There is practically zero evidence substantiating any part of the Book of Mormon. And many parts of the bible.

    In your world, should we not believe?

  35. Any deity who would desire men and women to have “faith” in ideas which are contradicted by actual evidence

    I don’t think the issue is contradictions though but merely underdetermination.

    I’ve had to realize (with some disillusionment) that the LDS church I joined never really was the religion of Joseph Smith.

    Yeah, it was the religion of Jesus Christ. Joseph was but one messenger among many and the idea that he understood everything correctly and completely will always lead to disillusionment.

  36. “I’ve had to realize (with some disillusionment) that the LDS church I joined never really was the religion of Joseph Smith.”

    And which religion of Joseph Smith are you refering to? The 1823 version, the 1830 version, the 1838 version or the 1843/4 version?

  37. John Nilsson,

    >>> Do we have to have a unitary approach to the Book of Mormon for the LDS Church to survive and thrive?

    My answer is, no, we don’t. Did I suggest otherwise?

    I’m not in favor of any unitary approach to much of anything. That’s precisely why I am opposed to the absolutism in this statement: “You are trading innocence and heritage for elaborate theories that don’t offer any advantages.”

    Of course the truth of this statement would/could/should differ by individual and there is no chance of it being true for everyone. No one is in a position to determine what “advantages” a believing religionist receives from how they choose to interpret their own personal beliefs.

    You do bring up an interesting point, John Nilsson, does the average less active person fit the “NOM model?” I hadn’t thought of that before. I would think they do not. I would assume that if a NOM version of the Church suddenly opened up conveniently placed near all less actives that the majority of them would still be less active and that NOM vs. Orthodox was never the issue to begin with. I Also assume this is true of all religions, not just Mormonism. Presumably most “less actives” are less active by choice of not wanting to be active.

    But it would be an interesting experiment. What is your opinion? Do you think many less actives would, if the Church became a form of liberal Christianity, suddenly wish to go back to Church into full activity? Obviously some would. But how many? Is it a large number?

    And a related question is, how well did that work for other forms of liberal Christianity? My understanding is that this really isn’t that strong of an appeal to most people. There are definitely a subset of the population that it appeals to for cultural reasons, as Clay and other have pointed out… a sizeable number. But it’s conservative religions that thrive and grow and survive, not their liberal counter parts. My observation is that there is a pretty solid reason for this phenomenon.

  38. #37:
    Yeah, it was the religion of Jesus Christ. Joseph was but one messenger among many and the idea that he understood everything correctly and completely will always lead to disillusionment.

    Well, Clark, that’s certainly a snarky, insulting way of mischaracterizing my comment. Hope you had fun with that.

  39. #36:
    Actual evidence? Of what? Depends on what. There is practically zero evidence substantiating any part of the Book of Mormon. And many parts of the bible. In your world, should we not believe?

    I didn’t address “lack of evidence,” Jeff. You complained about those who would argue that “evidence or lack of evidence” should inform one’s faith. My comment was pointed toward the “evidence” part.

    I’ll readily grant that many people, from many faiths, choose to believe in contradiction to existing evidence. This doesn’t make it an admirable choice, however, and as I said, any deity who would want such a thing isn’t worthy of worship.

  40. #38:
    And which religion of Joseph Smith are you refering to? The 1823 version, the 1830 version, the 1838 version or the 1843/4 version?

    Excellent point, Jeff! William McLellin clearly saw pre-1826 as the “pure” version of Mormonism. I’ll readily admit that I see Joseph’s Nauvoo era theology as the high point of Mormonism (though I can certainly point to troubling things in Joseph’s behavior at the time, as well as that of the membership). From that time onward, I believe LDS history represents a gradual, but continuous, shedding of Joseph’s teachings. I realize, of course, that many of the “rising generation” have been conditioned to believe that’s a wonderful thing.

  41. “I’ll readily grant that many people, from many faiths, choose to believe in contradiction to existing evidence.”

    Like what? So much of “evidence” is opinion and interpretation. Science is over-loaded with so-called truths that are later contradicted and discredited. So just what would be “contradicting evidence” in the church that has so many members (except for the enlightened ones) so deceived?

  42. John Hamer,

    Any chance of us kick-starting a traveling exhibit of children’s renderings of Book of Mormon geography? We could start at the COC temple or Auditorium and move it to the LDS Church Museum of Art, BYU, over to Graceland College, out to the Bickertonites, various “narrow necks of land” (both Panama and the Malay Peninsula) 😉

    Bruce,

    I wasn’t really implying that you thought we had to have a unitary approach to the Book of Mormon in the LDS Church, just reacting to your comments that NOM could probably not be a viable approach for most LDS. (Which for me implied that the 70% non-NOM in your estimate of Church members would have an orthodox interpretation of where the Book of Mormon events were situated and the NOMs would have a variety of interpretations.)

    I also don’t think “liberal Christianity” is the only alternative to current LDS Church orthodoxy. How would you classify Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy? While there are many liberals in their ranks, theologically speaking, I wouldn’t call these churches liberal.

    If the LDS Church as a CULTURE, not an institution (although there are certainly many things the institution could do on a material and symbolic level to facilitate this) were to be more accepting of those who walk in the front door of the cafeteria (whether in a baby stroller or a wheelchair) than some of the McLDS wards I’ve attended in the past have been, they might find more folks in the line paying for their meals. There might need to be more on the menu for that to happen, which is what Clay might be getting at.

  43. Jeff, I’m discussing an issue that you raised, as opposed to inviting some ridiculous argument over whether all teachings of the LDS church are objectively true. I think you’re mistaking my comments the latter, and you’re getting rather obviously offended at the slightest hint that anything in LDS-ism may be questioned. Please try not to leap to such conclusions, especially when they seem to cause unnecessary stress and anger on your part (see the “Where are these Anti-Mormons” thread for help, if needed).

    As you note, evidence must be interpreted, and interpretation can vary. It has been my experience that strongly religious persons often choose to either ignore evidence, or find a way to interpret the evidence that reinforces, rather than challenges, their pre-determined religious conclusions. I personally find that such an approach runs a very high risk of self-deception, and this was the point behind my comment. I would maintain that the deity taught by Mormonism (and even the deity taught by LDS-ism) would find this approach reprehensible.

    As for your point that “science is over-loaded with so-called truths that are later contradicted and discredited,” I would submit that the same must be said with regard to religion—even yours. Do you hear any LDS leaders today teaching that persons of African descent were “fence-sitters” in the pre-mortal life, and thus punished with denial of the priesthood? Of course not, but if you want to convince us that LDS members didn’t accept such an idea as revealed “truth” for a significant period of time, you’ll have to struggle with that “are you honest in all your dealings” question in your next temple recommend interview.

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    Re #33 (and subsequently) Jeff: I presume you’re arguing with Nick. I myself am not suggesting that people shouldn’t maintain traditional beliefs or that it’s wrong or bad for a person to believe what they want to believe because they choose to. If a person believes that when Joshua commanded the sun, it actually stood still in the sky (Joshua 10:12-14) — i.e., as an actual historical event outside of literature — that is fine by me.

    I would characterize that as a traditional belief. I would also call it a literal belief and a strong belief and an earnest belief. Those are all good qualities. However, I wouldn’t characterize it as a sophisticated belief. So what? Is sophistication the end all be all for scriptural literalists? I also wouldn’t characterize it as a false belief — even though I don’t personally believe there is any chance that such a thing happened in history. Rather, it’s a belief that fits into a different world-view than my own. That different world-view isn’t good or bad compared to my own. There are good qualities about that world-view and there are good qualities about my world-view.

    Limited geography theories (LGTs) of the Book of Mormon are not beliefs; they are intellectual theories. John Sorenson assures me that is the case in An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. As a result, the propositions in these theories can be examined intellectually. That’s something that I’ve done to quite an extent. I haven’t spelled out all my thinking on LGTs on this thread; that will be a fitting topic for another thread.

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    Re #44, John Nilsson: I think it would be fun to have a traveling exhibit of Book of Mormon geography inspired art (childrens and otherwise). I’d love to see that! I would definitely loan the original of my childhood map to the museums if such a thing were being put together. I’m actually friends with the curator of the BYU Art Museum, so we might have an in there.

  46. Terryl Givens interview for “The Mormons”:

    Most of the difficulties that have been raised in connection with the Book of Mormon arise from the premise that the Book of Mormon purports to describe a civilization that spans an entire continent. Many of the early members of the church believed or assumed that the Book of Mormon described a family that landed somewhere in the New World that rapidly expanded into a civilization that grew to cover the entire hemisphere. If, in fact, the Book of Mormon has to be defended as a hemispheric history, it can’t pass the test. It’s quite easy to prove there are all kinds of illogicalities that arise, from the variety of Native American Indian languages to the impossibility of one clan peopling a hemisphere as rapidly as the Book of Mormon seems to imply.

    However, it’s clear that … a good reading of the Book of Mormon indicates that it probably describes a people, a culture or lineage in an area approximately of 100 to a couple hundred miles. Once one understands the very, very limited scope of the geography of the Book of Mormon, many of the objections and criticisms are obviated. However, there are some that still seem to remain.

    The Book of Mormon makes clear references to a number of things that the best anthropologists and archaeologists insist couldn’t have been present in the New World at that time, things ranging from horses to steel to structures of cement. So most of the evidence in that context is an argument from absence. We don’t find verified the presence of things that the Book of Mormon describes.

    Perhaps a more pervasive weakness of the Book of Mormon in the eyes of many is the Christology of the Book of Mormon, the fact that there is a knowledge and an understanding of Jesus Christ existing among a people that settle this continent 600 years before his birth. It’s not a kind of vague, messianic understanding of a future Christ, but it’s a series of discourses and sermons and visions that give his name, the name of his mother, the place of his birth, the details of his ministry and crucifixion, and there’s not parallel in the ancient world of any text making a claim of that level of specificity dealing with Christ hundreds of years before his birth.

    On the other hand, the Book of Mormon presents us with a conundrum, because there are a number of features that seem inexplicable in any way other than to attribute to the Book of Mormon ancient origins. For example, the number of hubric structures and patterns in the Book of Mormon, such as chiasmus — very ornate and at times extremely elaborate literary structures, that very few people, certainly not Joseph Smith, would have been familiar with in the early 19th century — seem to bespeak an ancient origin and a Middle Eastern heritage.

    There is also evidence such as an altar or a number of altars that seem to have been found in Yemen with an inscription that most would translate as Nahem, which is a place name found in the Book of Mormon in precisely that location where one would expect to find that altar if in fact it really recorded a journey of a people through Yemen on their way to the New World, as the Book of Mormon claims is the case with Lehi and his followers. …

    My idea going into this study of the Book of Mormon, especially the section dealing with evidence for and against its historicity, was if the Book of Mormon is true, then it has to stand up to the most rigorous assaults and critiques that skeptics and nonbelievers can make. So I made every effort to honestly, fully investigate every criticism, every objection that’s ever been made to the historicity of the Book of Mormon. One has to suspend judgment in a number of cases, because it’s hard to say when the evidence will all be in, but at the present there are still a number of unresolved anachronisms and problems and ambiguities in the text.

    But I felt satisfied that there was in every case a corresponding weight on the other side of the equation, which actually led me to, I think, some very important insights into the nature of faith and how faith works. I came to the conclusion, in large part through my study of the Book of Mormon, that for faith to operate, and for faith to have moral significance in our lives, then it has to at some level be a choice. It can’t be urged upon us by an irresistible, overwhelming body of evidence, or what merit is there in the espousing of faith? And it can’t be something that we embrace in spite of overwhelming logical rational evidence to the contrary, because I don’t believe that God expects us to hold in disregard that faculty of reason that he gave us.

    But I do believe that the materials are always there of which one can fashion a life of belief or a life of denial. I believe that faith is a revelation of what we love, what we choose to embrace, and therefore I think [it] is the purest reflection of the values that we hold dear and the kind of universe that we aspire to be a part of. And so it comes ultimately as no surprise to me that the evidence will never be conclusive on one way or the other. I think that there’s a purpose behind the balance that one attains in the universe of belief. …

  47. >>> I wasn’t really implying that you thought we had to have a unitary approach to the Book of Mormon in the LDS Church, just reacting to your comments that NOM could probably not be a viable approach for most LDS

    Got it. Fair enough.

  48. Well, Clark, that’s certainly a snarky, insulting way of mischaracterizing my comment. Hope you had fun with that.

    Oh come on. That wasn’t insulting. The point is that if one demands fidelity to what a man believed about religion you’ll always be disillusioned if the guy wasn’t infallible.

    The whole point being brought up was that if the Church today is different than under Joseph that it leads to disillusionment – which was what you said. My whole point is that this only follows if one takes leaders as infallible. The point is that one shouldn’t view religion purely through the prism of any one man within Christianity but through Christ which entails transcendence to the man and (I’d argue) the rejection of anything akin to infallibility.

    Even the DAMUs (whatever those initials stand for) acknowledge that the whole thing ties into that kind of worldview. That’s why they go to such odds to attack the apologetic approach of emphasizing human fallibility as opposed to an infallible dogma of common social belief or quasi-infallible GAs.

  49. To add, I certainly wasn’t trying to be insulting. Merely pointing out that fidelity to religious leaders rather than fidelity to continuing changing views always leads to disillusionment. At that point one either drops ones belief (either totally or to a more ‘liberal’ allegorization process) or else one adopts a process view more akin to how scientists think of theories. There’s nothing else available simply because it is unarguable that beliefs within the Church change with time and some theological views are falsified.

    One can take the stance that theologically they shouldn’t or that theologically this isn’t surprising. Given the former there’s not a whole lot of choices. As I say you leave or burying your head in the sand. I’ve seen Mormons do both. If one accepts fallibilism then one can adopt a minor change (hey, there are a few errors due to speculation, fallibility, and miscommunication) or one can adopt a major change (let’s just throw most of it out as allegory and keep mainly the pleasant ethical views that accord with our political views). There’s not a whole lot of other choices.

    I’m certainly not condemning anyone who makes any of these choices. Clearly I think one should test as much as possible and revise theories as one finds errors. But I don’t see the massive problems that would require a more massive theoretical stance (either to outright rejection or more widespread allegorization). Others disagree. But I take a live and let live attitude to it all.

  50. Clark, you are right on. I don’t know how strange it is to be told what I “should” believe because other prominent Mormons believed it.

  51. >>> But I do believe that the materials are always there of which one can fashion a life of belief or a life of denial. I believe that faith is a revelation of what we love, what we choose to embrace, and therefore I think [it] is the purest reflection of the values that we hold dear and the kind of universe that we aspire to be a part of. And so it comes ultimately as no surprise to me that the evidence will never be conclusive on one way or the other. I think that there’s a purpose behind the balance that one attains in the universe of belief. …

    That’s an incredible quote.

  52. Nick,

    “Jeff, I’m discussing an issue that you raised, as opposed to inviting some ridiculous argument over whether all teachings of the LDS church are objectively true. I think you’re mistaking my comments the latter, and you’re getting rather obviously offended at the slightest hint that anything in LDS-ism may be questioned. Please try not to leap to such conclusions, especially when they seem to cause unnecessary stress and anger on your part (see the “Where are these Anti-Mormons” thread for help, if needed).”

    There is no need to patronize me in this way. I’m a big boy and can handle anything you care to dish out! But you make these sweeping generalizations about the church and church members. And that you left the church because “you know the real truth.”

    “It has been my experience that strongly religious persons often choose to either ignore evidence, or find a way to interpret the evidence that reinforces, rather than challenges, their pre-determined religious conclusions.”

    Again, just a sweeping over generalization. You completely disregard the whole Faith/HolyGhost experience. To you, it appears not to exist.

  53. Clark said: “The whole point being brought up was that if the Church today is different than under Joseph that it leads to disillusionment – which was what you said. My whole point is that this only follows if one takes leaders as infallible.”

    Clark, I know many Mormons who did not consider the leaders of the church to be “infallible” who nonetheless became disillusioned with the church for one reason or another. To say that disillusionment comes only to those who once viewed church leaders as infallible is insulting, simplistic, and, well, just plain wrong.

  54. Nick,

    I’m curious. What do you believe? I don’t mean what do you disbelieve in Mormonism. That’s clear enough. I mean what do you personally believe. What is your creed/motto, etc.? You’ve mentioned you left the Church, so we know that much. You’ve mentioned that it was in part related to what you felt was “mainstreaming” of the Church. But did you feel that was proof the Church wasn’t true? (And presumably you thought it was up to that point???) Or do you believe it used to be true and isn’t any more? Or is it something else?

  55. John H,

    Thanks, those are some good points abouts the issues of separating the Book of Mormon from the cultural and context in which it was brought forth.

    I would address this comment however:
    >>>I think that the various modern theories generally require a willful misreading of the text…

    First I would agree with you on John Sorenson’s hypothesis in “Mormon’s Map.” That was among my summer readings a while back, and was sometimes aware of an underlying motive to make his “internal” map compatible with Mesoamerica without being explcit about it.

    However, if I may relate my personal experience of one of my earliest serious readings of the Book of Mormon (under the Hemispheric model assumption) I found myself doing much more “willful misreading” than I did after I opened up to alternative geographic ideas. Here are a few passages that I read, with my own “misreadings in brackets:

    1 Ne. 18: 23
    After we had sailed for the space of many days we did arrive at the promised land [which is somewhere in America]

    Helaman 3:4
    And they did travel to an exceedingly great distance, insomuch that they came to large bodies of water and many rivers [which are of course the great lakes in North America].

    Mormon 1:6
    I, being eleven years old, was carried by my father into the land southward, even to the land of Zarahemla.[Which is in south America, maybe central]

    Mormon 6:2
    I, Mormon, wrote an epistle unto the king of the Lamanites, and desired of him that he would grant unto us that we might gather together our people unto the land of Cumorah. [oh…Mormon and the entire society has magically migrated up to New York]

    Morm. 6: 6
    I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah [which is in upstate New York] all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, [Records in Cumorah, oh boy!] save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni. [Hmmm…But surely he put them in the Hill Cumorah there afterwards!]

    Moro 10:2
    And I seal up these records [back in Cumorah, of course], after I have spoken a few words by way of exhortation unto you.

    Moro 1:3
    I wander whithersoever I can [a cross continental march to New York…never mind that Moroni’s father somehow had already been there…]

    JS History 1:51
    Convenient to the village of Manchester, Ontario county, New York, stands a hill of considerable size, and the most elevated of any in the neighborhood. [which was called by the Nephites of old “Cumorah,” and was the location of their great and final battle.]

    I hope I’ve illustrated my point… these were issues I had to work through as I tried to gain an understanding of the Book of Mormon, and on many counts, I came against some serious cog-dis when I tried to reconcile what I read with conventional wisdom. When I grasped the fact that these ideas are not hard coded into the text, I came to a much greater sense of resolution–even though I sometime found myself at odds with the Sunday School crowd.

    I will grant that other theories mandate some willful misreadings, (I already mentioned ignoring the peninsular setting in Alma 21:32), but I take issue with the notion that those misreadings are only introduced when the traditional model is discarded.

    Like I said, I’m not sold on any one theory or model, although there are a few I am pretty confident in discarding…

    But all things considered, I am not of the camp that believes that the Book of Mormon’s value lies in its historicity or geography…these things intrigue me and excite me, but the Book of Mormon to me is a spiritual book, and in that respect, its value in terms of its effect on my life is extracted in the same way as Genesis or Job, or even arguably Narnia and Lord of the Rings.

  56. John Hammer,

    I should probably ask you the same question. What do you believe? I thought I read somewhere you were an atheist, but I can’t confirm that. I don’t think I’ve heard you yourself say that though.

  57. Clark, I know many Mormons who did not consider the leaders of the church to be “infallible” who nonetheless became disillusioned with the church for one reason or another. To say that disillusionment comes only to those who once viewed church leaders as infallible is insulting, simplistic, and, well, just plain wrong.

    Note I didn’t say anything close that disillusionment comes only to those who viewed early leaders as infallible. I said that if one does take them as infallible it will always lead to disillusionment. Quite a radically different proposition entirely.

  58. Bruce,

    Should all of the perma-bloggers be invited to write a “Pillars of My Faith” someday for the site, the way Sunstone used to do, or still does? That might answer your questions better and at more length than within a thread on another topic. I personally like to keep guessing what someone’s stance is. It’s a fun intellectual game. But sometimes it can be helpful and clarifies prior conversations wonderfully.

  59. What have been the arguments against the idea that Joseph Smith patterned the geography after his familiar geographical location? There seem to be many correlations between what is in the Book of Mormon and the areas surrounding New York.

    Narrow neck of land between the Finger Lakes or any various “narrow necks” in the region, land of many lakes in Maine and New Hampshire, Southern Sea the Hudson Bay, KC mentioned several corresponding sites that link relatively easily to geographical landmarks in the BofM. Lamanite lands to the south could easily correspond to the tribal lands of the day in Tennessee, Kentucky, the Carolinas, Florida, or even the southwestern territories. If one looks carefully at the eastern portion of the U.S. one can come up with just as many connection as one could with Central America or Malaysia, for that matter.

  60. Clark, I did not intend to suggest that Joseph Smith was infalliable. Frankly, I see Joseph as a man who frequently played fast and loose with the facts, yet who also managed to make a profound spiritual connection, which he tried to teach to others. Mind you, this isn’t any different from any other “prophets,” all of whom were very imperfect men, even as they are somewhat idealized in scripture.

    If anything, I certainly implied that I personally find Joseph Smith’s successors in office to be considerably more falliable, at least in the sense that I personally did not find them faithful to what I saw as foundational aspects of Mormonism. Put more simply, my own study and interpretation of LDS history was such that I saw a gradual, but very steady, departure from the very aspects of Joseph Smith’s teachings that I found inspiring and satisfying. (I’m trying to be very tactful here, rather than start another argument.) As such, I reached a point where I was essentially “going through the motions” for the sake of family, etc., until other life events made it more beneficial for me to withdraw my membership, than to continue in the LDS church.

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    Re #57, KC: I was referring to mostly to Sorenson’s approach. It’s quite unfair of me to lump your study in with his.

    It sounds like your thinking on the geography does stem from a close reading. You’re probably like me and have a copy of the Book of Mormon with every place-name and every geography-related phrase tabbed and highlighted in yellow:

    John Hamer's Book of Mormon
    My “geography Book of Mormon,” photo taken this evening.

    I need to review your proposals and the thinking that underlies them. I had been to your site 4 times and I wasn’t able to download the map. This time I persevered and I finally have it. I’ll look at your work closely and I look forward to discussing it with you.

  62. Has anyone noticed that the weakness of the limited geography theory is that it dramatically raises the stakes for any archeology which IS conducted within the proposed geographical boundaries of the model? I understand it takes care of a number of problems, but it’s easier to be unruffled by the lack of New World evidence for the events described in the Book of Mormon if they possibly occurred anywhere within North and South America and we haven’t found a match than if we focus like a laser beam on the Yucatan peninsula and Central America.

  63. #54:
    There is no need to patronize me in this way. I’m a big boy and can handle anything you care to dish out! But you make these sweeping generalizations about the church and church members. And that you left the church because “you know the real truth.”

    Jeff, where did I say that I “know the real truth?” It’s fair to say that I personally believe that my study of LDS history indicates a disconnect between the teachings of Joseph Smith and those of his successors in office, to a degree which I personally found unacceptable. It’s even fair to say that I have serious doubts as to many traditional historical claims of the LDS church. Really, the only former-LDS I know of who arrogantly claim to “know the real truth” are those who went on to join fundamentalist “christian” denominations, who think all LDS are going to Hell. That’s not me.

    “It has been my experience that strongly religious persons often choose to either ignore evidence, or find a way to interpret the evidence that reinforces, rather than challenges, their pre-determined religious conclusions.”

    Again, just a sweeping over generalization. You completely disregard the whole Faith/HolyGhost experience. To you, it appears not to exist.

    Actually, Jeff, you are making a “sweeping generality” about what you think “appears to exist” to me. I suspect, though I don’t know for certain, that your generalization stems from your own perception of so-called “anti-Mormons,” and your apparent determination that I am one.

    Not once did I say that “the whole faith/holy ghost experience” does not exist, Jeff. Rather, I implied that such should not trump observable evidence. For example, if you had a spiritual testimony that our solar system contained two stars, this would conflict with observable evidence. My reaction, based on my own ability to see the sun, would likely be to disagree with your faith claim. If I was blind, and thereby unable to obtain first-hand observable evidence, my reaction might be different.

    Now, some religious types (note I said “some,” so quit the “sweeping generalization” nonsense) would see that there is only one sun in the sky, and rationalize that there really was a second sun, but that deity placed it in such a way that it was invisible to us, in order to test our faith. The same types turn Book of Mormon horses into deer, in order to rationalize away from criticisms. That’s not an approach that I can respect, however much I may respect or even like the person who takes it.

  64. Clark, I did not intend to suggest that Joseph Smith was infalliable. Frankly, I see Joseph as a man who frequently played fast and loose with the facts, yet who also managed to make a profound spiritual connection, which he tried to teach to others.
    […]
    If anything, I certainly implied that I personally find Joseph Smith’s successors in office to be considerably more falliable, at least in the sense that I personally did not find them faithful to what I saw as foundational aspects of Mormonism. Put more simply, my own study and interpretation of LDS history was such that I saw a gradual, but very steady, departure from the very aspects of Joseph Smith’s teachings that I found inspiring and satisfying.

    OK. I think that last sentence in the above is key. But that’s not really what you indicated. When you say something like “the LDS church I joined never really was the religion of Joseph Smith” you indicate something more than “the things I liked in Joseph Smith’s emphasis aren’t emphasized today.”

    Certainly lots of people leave the Church because they disagree with teachings.

  65. Has anyone noticed that the weakness of the limited geography theory is that it dramatically raises the stakes for any archeology which IS conducted within the proposed geographical boundaries of the model?

    Not necessarily. After all there no reason to assume any artifacts found would tell us much about the Nephites at all. As John Sorenson often stated, how would we know a Nephite basket if we saw one? I rather doubt there would be something ‘obviously’ identifiable as Nephite. It’d be nice if we found some plates or something with more Hebrew ties. I’d be remarkably surprised if we found such things.

    Of course I do still favor investigation at the various proposed archaeological sites. I’m just skeptical of finding anything that would tell us much about the Book of Mormon. But there’s definitely no harm in investigating.

  66. John #66,
    I think that the LGM approach is not necessarily tied to a specific region. Maybe it is for some (i.e. Mesoamerica), but I think that’s where the distinction between what John identifies with “willful misreadings of the text” and what others have defended as a more close and careful reading of the text. I think reading a specific contemporary geography — limited, hemispheric, whatever — does entail a prooftextual approach. And I strongly suspect that JS both wrote down and subsequently interpreted the text with a hemispheric model in mind. Blake’s theory or some version of it allows us to think critically about the influence that JS’s ideas about American Indians and Angloisraelitism — which may or may not have been derived from dreams/visions/visitations regarding the location and identification of buried treasure — exerted on the text of the Book of Mormon and subsequent widespread understandings of it while bracketing questions of ancient origins/modern fiction. That said, I think a careful reading of the text points in the direction of a geographical space probably not much larger than the actual terrain with which JS was personally familiar in and around his upstate NY boyhood home.

  67. Brad,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I should do more reading of Blake’s theory. It was my understanding that it was his theory’s acceptance of an ancient origin, however modified by the mind of Joseph, which stood him in good stead with Church authorities. At least, that’s what I gleaned from his discussions with Mark Thomas and others at a Sunstone presentation several years back.

    I was linking the limited geography theory to Mesoamerica, I suppose. But I see the value of looking at limited geography based on what Joseph was familiar with in his surroundings, travel times, etc.

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    Re #58, Bruce: (1) It’s “Hamer” not “Hammer”. (2) According to Facebook, my religious affiliation is “Secular Mormon.” I don’t know if you know a lot of people who self-identify as Secular Mormons. (I don’t know any.) Someday I’ll write out my personal summa theologica for this blog — it would be too long and involved for a comment on this thread. Meanwhile, you can lump me together with all the other people you know who self-identify as Secular Mormons.

  69. JN,
    I’m not even necessarily advocating linking BoM geography with the environs of Smith’s youth. I’m speaking of sheer scope. If the popularization of LGT or BoM Others is a byproduct of reactionary and/or adaptive apologetic discourse, then the rather unsophisticated positivism of the FARMS crowd and the aggressively self-satisfied response it induces from Tanners, Decker, et al, are the price we pay for the privilege of being forced to deal with the text itself on its own terms. I think a careful analysis of the text favors very limited geographical scope while simultaneously disfavoring the possibility of reading any actually-existing geographical territory — inside or outside of the Americas — into it.

    The fruit of the DNA debacle was that it foregrounded the presence of non-Lehite populations within the BoM narrative, however subtly or implicitly represented, and is forcing us to rethink our tendency to construe Lamanite/Israelite heritage in primarily genealogical terms. If we think of Lamanite descendancy in typological rather than genetic terms (thus, again, bracketing questions of historicity) connected with sociopolitical relations and the deployment of social, economic, and military power — and if we read (as has been suggested in recent discussions on this blog) Nephite “history” as a story of aggressive and sustained colonization and subjugation told largely from the perspective of a literate, aristocratic, priestly cast within the colonizing society and Lamanite history as subaltern history — the implications are more relevant, provocative, unsettling, and ultimately saving for most contemporary Church members than efforts to track genetic markers in order to laminate our traditional understandings of the text onto something like a scientific framework and prove to the rest of the world that they should become Mormons.

  70. John,

    LOL – I found where I read you were an atheist: http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/2008/02/who-is-sexiest-atheist-blogger.html

    I wasn’t trying to assume anything about your beliefs, I was recalling, perhaps incorrectly.

    Secular Mormon doesn’t really say much. And in past conversations, you identifed yourself as a non-Mormon to me. So I’m a bit suprised to see you now identify yourself as a secular Mormon.

    And while I think your personal summa theologica would be facinating, I’m not actually asking that much. For now, I’d must interested if you believe in God or not, if you do, do you believe God is a force or a “person”? Etc. You know, that level of things. I’m not looking for anything serious here. (Well, it’s a serious subject, obviously, I just mean I’m not looking for any detail.)

    Sorry on the misspelling.

  71. Nick,

    “I suspect, though I don’t know for certain, that your generalization stems from your own perception of so-called “anti-Mormons,” and your apparent determination that I am one.”

    I’ve made no claim that you are an anti-mormon. I do think you have a internal campaign going to justify to yourself why you left the church. And it is important to you that everyone know it. This is my observation from reading your posts.

    “Not once did I say that “the whole faith/holy ghost experience” does not exist, Jeff. Rather, I implied that such should not trump observable evidence. For example, if you had a spiritual testimony that our solar system contained two stars, this would conflict with observable evidence. My reaction, based on my own ability to see the sun, would likely be to disagree with your faith claim. If I was blind, and thereby unable to obtain first-hand observable evidence, my reaction might be different.”

    You didn’t say it, Nick, but you sure have implied it. We’re not talking about anything physical like solar systems and stars. We are talking about “things hoped for, but not seen.” One cannot take a set of disparate facts, build a story around it, and then knock it down. I mean you can, but it is disingenuous.

    The fact is that people who decide to believe in the church, follow the teachings of the Savior, and try to be good people are not going to be punished because they didn’t know Joseph Smith had 30 plural wives. In the end, it will not be important. That point seems missed on some folks.

    Its the consistent belittling of church members who just believe that I don’t appreciate.

  72. Re: #64 John,

    >>>I need to review your proposals and the thinking that underlies them.

    The map I’ve got on my site was made shortly after my reading of John Sorenson’s “Mormon’s Map,” and reflects an elaboration of his hypothesis using photoshopped google-earth topography from Mesoamerica. While I feel it has many strong points, I know it still has some holes (again you’ll notice my map doesn’t have a southern peninsula,) so while I take responsibility for putting that map online, I’m still reluctant to accept anything as ‘my proposal,’ so don’t hold me to too much of it. 🙂 The original intent for creating it was to provide a resource for readers to visualize the locations and travels as they came across the various stories…and in that regard I believe the relative positioning is accurate enough to do the job.

    And yes, my Book of Mormon is marked up well with little geographic tidbits. 🙂

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    Re #73, Bruce: No problem on the spelling, I’ve never been in love with my name & I’ve gone through life being called Hammer half the time — I expect you had occasional fun in school with the spelling of Nielson… 🙂

    Yes, my sister is very active in the atheist blogger community and also in the “DAMU” of which Equality speaks. And she included me in her sweeps week poll. I didn’t get a lot of votes, primarily because I’m not an actual member of the atheist blogger movement. I’m also not a real member of the DAMU, since I’m not disaffected or underground. However, I like both groups of people and I post with some regularity on sites like the New Order Mormon bboard. Are they DAMU, Equality?

    My friend Bill Russell occasionally refers to himself as a “Mormon,” but he feels the need to qualify it by saying “if you consider an old liberal member of the Community of Christ to be a Mormon.” I’m definitely non-LDS, but this is not the same this as being non-Mormon. Even so, sometimes for convenience he and I and others let that usage pass or even employ it ourselves. The whole Latter Day Saint movement has always had a hate/love relationship with the term Mormon. My active LDS grandparents still follow the old LDS practice of putting “Mormon” in quotes — i.e., “Mormons” as we are called by non-members (gentiles).

    In terms of my own belief system, what I’m suggesting to you is that my beliefs are complex and I don’t think it would help you paint your picture to have me rattle off adjectives. Instead, you should start your mental canvas with the pigments conjured by the phrase “Secular Mormon” — it actually does say much.

  74. #73:

    Yes, John, New Order Mormon board is considered a DAMU site. You won’t find many Naclers linking there. In fact, one of the moderators at NOM coined the term Disaffected Mormon Underground. I am not really disaffected any more, either, having recently joined the ranks of “ex” or “post” or, hey, “secular” Mormons. The term DAMU is most generally used to describe the collection of critical, questioning, heretical, or apostate blogs and fora devoted to discussions about Mormonism from a less-than orthodox, faith-promoting viewpoint. Of course, there are shades and gradations from the extremes of the DAMU such as RfM and Samuel the Utahnite to sites that might comfortably fit into the periphery of the Bloggernacle (I’d put NOM in there on days when Equality and his backslappers are busy kicking up dust in other sandboxes).

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    #78: Wasn’t necessarily sure where you drew the line with the term — there’s a significant difference in mission between RfM and NOM.

    My sister calls post-/ex-LDS Mormon blogging “Outer Blogness,” which I think is a clever counterpoint to the term “Bloggernacle.” Was it Ann Porter who coined the term DAMU?

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  77. Brad, that’s the first time I’ve heard FARMS folks called positivists. (grin) Probably a better claim than postmodernist though.

  78. #74:
    I do think you have a internal campaign going to justify to yourself why you left the church. And it is important to you that everyone know it. This is my observation from reading your posts.

    Ahhh…the old “dem wicked apostates all know they’re wrong, so they’ve gotta JUSTIFY themselves in their own minds” routine. So typical, Jeff, and so utterly thoughtless. Of course, this serves a purpose for those who are somehow challenged by others leaving the faith. By convincing yourself of such mind-reading leaps, you can simply dismiss any real reasons someone might have for leaving your faith, and just chalk it up to them not being as righteous as you are.

    You didn’t say it, Nick, but you sure have implied it. We’re not talking about anything physical like solar systems and stars. We are talking about “things hoped for, but not seen.”

    Of course, had you bothered to actually read my posts, rather than inventing reasons to play polemicist attack dog, you’d know that I didn’t even address the issue of believing without evidence. Rather, I addressed believing in contradiction to evidence.

    The fact is that people who decide to believe in the church, follow the teachings of the Savior, and try to be good people are not going to be punished because they didn’t know Joseph Smith had 30 plural wives.

    When I meet anyone who left the LDS church because of how many wives Joseph Smith had, your comment might be relevant. For now, all it does is demonstrate, once again, that you are committed to making the silliest of assumptions about me, purely to satisfy your own insecurities.

    Its the consistent belittling of church members who just believe that I don’t appreciate.

    Please. A wise carpenter-turned-rabbi once said that you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So far, all I can see from you is a rabid campaign to belittle me through your false assumptions and wilfull misinterpretations of my every word. Behavior like yours makes it impossible to have an adult discussion, Jeff, so when you decide to grow up, let me know.

  79. Nick,

    I tried to appreciate your humor in the above message. But then again, not being a grown up like yourself, I can’t really fully grasp the subtlety.

    Sorry.

  80. I have to admit I haven’t read all the comments on this, nor do I plan to. I just want to thank you for posting that beautifully illustrated map you did with Caroline. It’s gorgeous. It rocks! I don’t know if it’s geographically accurate and I don’t care. 🙂

    Nice pic of your family, too. You mom is one of the women I most admire in this stake.

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  82. Great Sermons: Out of Obscurity
    by Frank McIntyre

    This talk was given early on in Elder Maxwell’s time as an Apostle and I think it is an excellent example of what I liked about him.

    “Granted, there is not full correlation among the four Gospels about the events and participants at the empty garden tomb. Yet the important thing is that the tomb was empty, because Jesus had been resurrected! Essence, not tactical detail!”

    (borrowed from http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=2241 )

  83. While we have been busy slaying each others sacred cows of belief has anyone considered that our cultural conception of BOM geography was influnced by the Book of Mormon stories children’s book that shows Lehi landing somewhere in Peru and then conquers the entire western hemisphere? You know the one, with the picture stories and lots and lots of Arnold Frieberg? You know the guy who narrates it, he’s in the old Johnny Lingo movie. Decades of us have been influenced by those beeping cassette tapes. Could it be as simple as that?

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    Peter (#90): I think those would just be additional examples of what I’m talking about. Faithful Mormons had always had a traditional conception of the Book of Mormon. Although it changed somewhat over time, in general terms it can be illustrated by my children’s map (above) or your children’s book. More recently, some faithful Mormons have abandoned that traditional view and embraced any number of new limited geography theories, which usually attempt to pin down the bulk of the narrative within some small region of MesoAmerica. This is a relatively radical change in conception.

    My post here was expressing nostalgia for the traditional view.

  85. I know this thread is running out of steam, but I have a quick question about the limited geography model:
    Has anyone investigated how much land would be necessary to support the Nephite population with pre-industrial agricultural technology (assuming steel/iron plows and domesticated draft animals)? That would be a good starting point for the minimum size for the Book of Mormon setting. I’m interested in any references out there. Thanks!

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    Chris W (#92): What’s the Nephite population total? We need that before we can figure out the area required.

    The main figures we have are for army sizes, not population totals. As of 331 AD, Mormon was fielding a Nephite army of 42,000 warriors (Mormon 2:9) and when he mustered all available fighting men he had there were a little over 230,000 troops (Mormon 6:10-15).

    If we imagine that the Nephites had approximately the same technology level as when Lehi and Mulek left Jerusalem (about 600 bc), we can compare the Nephite army to that of the Babylonians and the Assyrians. The Assyrian Empire had a field army of 50,000 men and a total military strength of 150,000-200,000 troops — effectively the equivalent of the Nephite force under Mormon. The Assyrian Empire was about 500,000 square miles in area. Mexico is about 750,000 square miles. So to field an equivalent army, the Assyrians required an area 2/3 the size of Mexico. It should also be noted that by this time the Nephites had abandoned the Land Southward and were living off the agricultural produce of the Land Northward only.

  87. I’d just add that John’s reply (#93) presumes that the military numbers cited by Mormon can be taken at face value–i.e. that they were not either exaggerated by Mormon or muddled in the translation process. The explanation of Nephite coinage in Alma seems to presume a number system other than base-10, which could lead to translatability problems. Additionally, the word for “thousand” or “ten-thousand” in a military context might be carry-over terminology from a pre-diasporic linguistic milieu and might have once designated an old-world military unit and/or commanding officers that governed a similarly sized contingent of soldiers — in the way that “centurion” designates a command of roughly 100 roman soldiers. 230,000 men might be a (mis-/too literal-) translation of something like 23 units, the term for unit relating etymologically to the number 10,000 but in fact designating a significantly smaller number of actual soldiers.

    My larger point is that I don’t think we can rely accurately on numerical indications within the extant text for Lehite population size any more than we can geographic designations.

  88. Brad,

    That is a fascinating comment. It beautifully illustrates my argument that in order to be an informed believer in the Book of Mormon, you have to reject both the text itself and the words of the prophets who have expounded upon the text for over 150 years. In order to believe in Joseph Smith, you have to disbelieve him. It’s wonderfully ironic, really. Thank you for so neatly encapsulating my argument.

  89. It beautifully illustrates my argument that in order to be an informed believer in the Book of Mormon, you have to reject both the text itself and the words of the prophets who have expounded upon the text for over 150 years.

    That’s a disingenuous argument and a false dichotomy. Using your same logic, in order to be an informed believer in the Bible, you have to reject both the text itself and the words of the prophets who have expounded upon the text for thousands of years. You are basically arguing that you have to literally believe every word in the Book of Mormon in order to “believe” Joseph Smith. Anything else and you “disbelieve” him.

  90. dpc,

    From a Mormon perspective, we say the Bible is subject to translation flaws. The mainstream position on the BoM is that it is “the most correct book of any on the Earth”. It is not subject to the same flaws as the bible because it was given through the gift and power of God, not by scholars applying their intellect and discernment. Thus, the BoM, and Joseph Smith, have higher standards to live up to, by their own imposing.

  91. The mainstream position on the BoM is that it is “the most correct book of any on the Earth”.

    The last time I checked, the words “infallible” and “most correct” were not interchangeable.

    It is not subject to the same flaws as the bible because it was given through the gift and power of God, not by scholars applying their intellect and discernment.

    But it is still the work of fallible humans. The Title Page seems to bear that out. If the Book of Mormon is a translation, then it’s authors didn’t consider it infallible. If Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Mormon, even he didn’t think that it was infallible. Otherwise, why would he write what was on the Title page about the mistakes of men?

    This has nothing to do with ‘higher’ standards. It has to do with fallacious logic. Equality takes the position that in interpreting the text of the Book of Mormon, any reading other than a literal reading is “reject[ing] the text itself”. I disagree with that reasoning. It posits a false dichotomy. It is entirely possible to interpret writings different ways without rejecting the underlying text itself, even if the text is drafted unambiguously.

    Would Equality take the same position with the US Constitution? A literal reading of the term ‘due process of law’ seems to indicate a mechanism of law so that fundamental fairness is ensured. I’m not sure how the Court got substantive due process rights from that language or the penumbral fundamental rights of privacy, marriage, child-rearing, etc. I guess that when the Court does not literally read the text of the Constitution, or interprets the Constitution in a fashion that is at odds with its literal text, it must thereby be rejecting it.

    I, on the other hand, believe that different people can come to different conclusions as to the meaning of texts, without rejecting the underlying text.

  92. Yes, dpc, I would apply it to the U.S. Constitution. If someone wants to argue that “two senators from each state” really means “14 zookeepers from Poughkeepsie” I would argue that they are twisting the meaning of the text beyond all recognition, in the same way that apologists do the text of the Book of Mormon in order to salvage it from arguments against its accuracy based on observation, evidence, and reason. Believing that 10,000 could really mean 12 or 256 is as ridiculous as believing that “two senators from each state” really means “14 zookeepers from Poughkeepsie.”

    As for substantive due process, it is, of course, far afield from the topic of the original post. Suffice it to say that comparing Brad’s “numbers don’t mean what they say” argument to the developed constitutional-law jurisprudence on substantive due process is like comparing my six-year-old’s proposed theories on Santa Claus to Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

  93. “But it is still the work of fallible humans. The Title Page seems to bear that out. If the Book of Mormon is a translation, then it’s authors didn’t consider it infallible. If Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Mormon, even he didn’t think that it was infallible. Otherwise, why would he write what was on the Title page about the mistakes of men?”

    No doubt that people are free to interpret texts as they seem fit and as it pertains to their world view. However, when the supernatural is invoked and that deity -is- considered infallible and omnipotent, then it stands to reason that that same deity can be invoked in order to correct simplistic error like how many men were really in the Mormon’s armies. To manipulate and perform all sorts of mental gymnastics to make a number fit one particular viewpoint seems a bit extreme. Certainly the claims of fallibility were made, so one can also surmise that maybe the Book of Mormon isn’t as inspired as so many have been taught to believe. If the BofM has so many possible interpretations when it comes to the basic “facts,” numbers, and geography, that would seem to be a good indication that God likes to hide evidence or he never provided any in the first place or is incapable of providing clearer messages, thereby making him less than omnipotent. Making vague and insubstantial claims, as most religious texts do, is great fodder for personal interpretation, but it doesn’t make the interpretations or the text true. Just like psychic predictions are vague comments; it lets the one getting the reading make their own interpretation, making their own truth so to speak, but the psychic is still a clever con who intentionally made vague claims. It is the specifics that are easily challenged and proved or debunked. That’s where the BofM gets into trouble, in my opinion.

  94. I wouldn’t presume to speak for Equality (a lawyer with more experience than I), but I think that dpc may be clouding the issues.

    Words are always assumed to be used in context and always assumed to be well thought-out. I have never found the full context of the most “correct book on earth”, I believe the context is self evident that Joseph Smith was addressing the virtues of the BoM in connection with other religious texts. Although I agree with you that ‘most correct’ does not equate with ‘infallible’, I believe that

    1. given the means and method by which the Book was transcribed,

    2. the ‘parole’ evidence of Joseph Smith, et al, with respect to the history, back story, locations, characters and geography of the Book, and

    3. the rejection by the current leadership of anything other than a literal translation

    is evidence that “most correct” should be defined closer to infallible than dpc or Brad would suggest.

    Further, I think that your reference to Constitutional interpretation is a red herring. The terms used in the Constitution are words of precision and terms of art written by outstanding lawyers and philosophers. Like any well crafted legal document, it reflected the legal tradition of the Common Law and the ideals of the Enlightenment. A seemingly simple term like “due process” or even “pursuit of happiness” are terms defined by a half millennia of jurisprudence and a generation of philosophers.

    I am afraid that Joseph Smith was never so precise with his language. One can only speculate with the context of his words, teachings and life as to what he was actually trying to say.

  95. Believing that 10,000 could really mean 12 or 256 is as ridiculous as believing that “two senators from each state” really means “14 zookeepers from Poughkeepsie.”

    I don’t think that’s an accurate analogy or a valid restatement of Brad’s thesis. If I say that Mesopotamia was invaded by 23 centuries of Romans soldiers, it could literally be re-stated as 23,000 Roman soldiers. However, depending on the time period, a Roman century did not necessarily contain one hundred soldiers and therefore it could represent a different number.

    As far as the number themselves, I’m not entirely convinced by John’s reasoning. If Brad’s thesis is that army size is not reflective of the population from which it is drawn, then it seems reasonable hypothesis to me. The Roman Empire was much larger than the Assyrian Empire, yet it had a similar number of soldiers (possibly even less because it was more efficiently organized).

    The final war of the Nephite era was a complete war of destruction. Based on Mormon 6, it appears that the final battle was more of an execution than an actual fight. Assuming that the figure of 230,000 is an accurate representation of the number of Nephites, it may have also included women and children. That’s not a particularly sizable population.

  96. It beautifully illustrates my argument that in order to be an informed believer in the Book of Mormon, you have to reject both the text itself and the words of the prophets who have expounded upon the text for over 150 years.

    I don’t think that a fair comment. I think what Mormon thinkers who make comments like the above are merely asking for is that the Book of Mormon be treated like any other ancient text. And in those texts issues like this are fairly common. The presumption (inherent in your rejoinder) is that any translation process of the Book of Mormon must make the text unambiguous to a ‘literalist’ reader in the 20th century without any knowledge of ancient cultures or texts. That’s a rather unfair standard even though many (both critics and faithful members) tend to make this as an implicit assumption.

    It’s not surprising since so many make the same mistake with the Bible. However with the Bible most commentaries can provide context for the text of the KJV or even modern translations. Critics of the Book of Mormon will allow not such contextualization of the Book of Mormon without saying it entails ‘rejecting the text itself.’

  97. To add my comment in the above is quite independent from whether we agree with claims regarding horses as deer or 1000’s as troop groups rather than absolute numbers. My point is simply that it is unfair to say Mormons can’t legitimately engage in these sorts of conversations without rejecting the Book of Mormon.

    This gets one back to my innerrancy comment about Prophets. I’d add in texts. Adopt either one and disillusionment is inevitable.

    What bothers me are critics who make arguments that end up demanding such as position as a premise. (i.e. the hold ‘as if’ inerrancy or infallibility of scripture or prophets) It’s simply a weak form of argument. There are much better arguments to make that are far more legitimate.

  98. Clark,

    It is my contention that prophets have made definitive statements with respect to this
    topic in the past. I don’t this is in dispute.

    It is my belief that because one can only understand a text in context of the culture it was written in.

    The cultural context is entirely unknown. The time, place, politics, gender issues, and social background of people is vitally important to understand what a text is actually trying to say. The lack of discussion of these issues in the Book itself leaves a gap unfilled by archeology. The only culture we have to interpret these issues is either Joseph Smith’s, or our own. This leaves us with a conclusion that Blake Ostler proposes: a modern expansion of an ancient text. This causes us to entirely discount anything said by early leaders with respect to the time, place, geography and culture referred to in the book, even if given by revelation.

    One is inevitably limited in an hermeneutic interpretation of the Book of Mormon, because I frankly don’t see anything new that can come from such an examination in light of the overwhelming citations from the Bible. The pith and substance of the words used in the Book are a mix of polished colloquial American and Elizabethan English, which seriously undermines the value of a textual analysis – does ‘by and by’ mean immediately or gradually? Which language rules would you use? Where the Book of Mormon lacks Biblical quotations, it loses any precision.

    It is my assumption that a message from God, which is vital to the human race, would be a message that is clear and simple enough for a child to grasp, yet complex enough to engage the great minds of the earth and yet still not puzzle the minds (like mine) in the middle with a mix of messages that 2+2=4 for one group, but another group stating that the first number is properly construed as a 3, therefore in this circumstand 2+2=5.

    Like anyone else, though, the ultimate test for the Book is the fact that it doesn’t do anything for me spiritually. (and yes, I read daily, 29 times, up to the day – almost – that I left the church/)

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    You guys are trying to make this thread hit 200 comments.

    DPC, as a quick note — the sense of Mormon 6:10-15 is that the 21 groups of “10,000” seem to be the fighting men. As Mormon says, “my men were hewn down, yea, even my ten thousand who were with me…” The wives and children were also hewn down according to the story, but they were not numbered. After the killing, the story indicates only 24 survivors total. This is just one of many indications that we’re dealing with scripture that is literature rather than literal history, since there are no comparable historical examples of an entire ancient people being killed to the last person in war.

    I also need to disavow my comments about the Assyrian army — they were nothing more than fun (but idle) ruminations. I don’t think that sort of speculation — based on all the information we have at our fingertips today — has any actual relevence to the geography of the Book of Mormon as it was originally conceived.

  100. The only culture we have to interpret these issues is either Joseph Smith’s, or our own.

    While I’m quite open to Blake’s theory, I think that your indication that these are the only choices is false. One can hypothesize contexts. Indeed not knowing the cultural context for ancient texts is a fairly common fact of life. Some texts have more context than others, of course. With the Book of Mormon we certainly don’t know that much. To suggest that this entails we ought interpret it in light of the translator seems…difficult to support.

    I’m certainly not saying Joseph Smith and his cultural expectations played no part in the text we now have. I think it does and I think there probably were many expansions from the underlying text. I’m just saying that we have to be careful assuming everything is a 19th century context when, if there is any historicity to the text at all, one simply can’t claim.

    It is my assumption that a message from God, which is vital to the human race, would be a message that is clear and simple enough for a child to grasp

    Certainly I’d agree, if we restrict itself to its main themes and messages.

    The problem is that critics most explicitly aren’t so limiting themselves. (And arguably apologists and non-apologetic but faithful investigations aren’t either)

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