Friday, July 21, 2023

Cumorah: How historians choose narratives to promote

A common assertion by LDS historians is the claim that Joseph Smith never referred to the hill in New York as Cumorah or Ramah. 

It's an absurd, deceptive statement used to excuse their treatment of Cumorah/Ramah and the false historical narrative present they produced in the Saints book (discussed here: https://saintsreview.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-historians-explain-censorship-in.html).

Nevertheless, their deceptive claim is their justification for censoring the historical record about Cumorah in the Saints book and in the visitors centers in Palmyra and Salt Lake City.

Even in the display about Cumorah on Temple Square, they never mentioned the actual historical record. 

But get this. Instead of informing visitors about the actual historical record, they displayed M2C!

(click to enlarge)

Fortunately, this M2C display has been removed as part of the renovation on Temple Square. It remains to be seen what will replace it, but we can be sure, based on past experience, that the Church History Department will continue to censor the historical record about Cumorah/Ramah.
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How did we get here? Why do careful, thoughtful LDS historians choose this narrative to promote?

Obviously, no one knows everything that Joseph said throughout his lifetime. Even today, with all our video and audio technology, only a tiny portion of what we say is recorded. Regarding Joseph Smith and other historical figures, all we have is what the historical record has left us--and that consists of sparse written material, not speech.

We all recognize that Joseph wrote very little by himself. He dictated the Book of Mormon and other scriptures, as well as correspondence. If we compile every known document Joseph wrote or dictated (apart from the Book of Mormon and the revelations), we have less than a week's worth of speech to represent 39 years of an active life. 

The historians can accurately say that we have no extant written first-hand record of Joseph referring to the hill as Cumorah (apart from the letter now canonized as D&C 128:20, which they omitted from Saints and dismissed as "late" because it contradicts their theory about Cumorah/Ramah). 

But that accurate statement is much different from claiming Joseph never referred to the hill as Cumorah.

And excluding D&C 128:20, one of the few direct written statements by Joseph that is even canonized, is inexcusable by any standard.

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Historians commonly attribute lots of second-hand statements to Joseph. The Joseph Smith Papers are full of second-hand accounts of Joseph's sermons and other teachings. Historians readily embrace second-hand statements--so long as they don't involve Cumorah.

Even in the Saints book, they cited Lucy Mack Smith's history as authoritative and reliable over 100 times.

But they omitted her statements, including a direct quotation in quotation marks, about Cumorah. 

Why?

There is no rational historical justification for omitting Lucy's statements about Cumorah. Lucy is the only source for much of the information published in Saints. There is no independent corroboration for many of her statements that are included as authoritative in the Saints book.

By contrast, Lucy's statements about Cumorah--that Moroni himself told Joseph the name of the hill the first time they met, and that Joseph referred to the hill as Cumorah even before he obtained and translated the plates--were corroborated by Joseph himself in D&C 128:20, which preceded Lucy's dictated account. 

Lucy's statements about Cumorah were further corroborated by Parley P. Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer.

Why have Church historians rejected Lucy's corroborated statements about Cumorah while citing her uncorroborated statements as authoritative?

Solely to accommodate the Mesoamerican/Two-Cumorahs theory (M2C) promoted by their colleagues at BYU and CES.

Lucy Mack Smith related two second-hand statements by Joseph that, if accepted as authentic, explain the entire Cumorah narrative.

If rejected, however, the Cumorah narrative is inexplicable.

That's just how the M2C promoters want the Cumorah narrative: inexplicable and vague, of uncertain origin, based on speculation, etc., so they can (in their minds) legitimately repudiate the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.

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Second-hand statements can be problematic, of course. They must be evaluated in light of context, extrinsic evidence, and corroboration. In Lucy's case, her statements about Cumorah were well corroborated, which lends them more credibility and reliability than uncorroborated second-hand accounts. 

But given the paucity of historical sources, historians necessarily rely on second-hand accounts to create a narrative.

A prime example is how historians transformed a single second-hand account, Wilford Woodruff's summary of a day's teachings, into a first-hand statement by Joseph Smith:

Woodruff journal:

28[th] Sunday I spent the day at B[righam] Young in company with Joseph & the Twelve in conversing upon a variety of subjects it was an interesting day Elder Joseph Fielding was present he had been in England four years we also saw a number of english Brethren Joseph said the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any Book on earth & the keystone of our religion & a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other Book

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/remarks-28-november-1841/1

Note that, unlike in other parts of his journal, Woodruff did not put the statement in quotation marks, suggesting it was not a direct quotation but instead his own summary of what Joseph taught that day.

Nevertheless, early Church historians converted Woodruff's second-hand journal entry into a first-person statement, inserting it into Joseph's history. Note the insertion in the original text of the history.

History of the Church:

<​28​> Sunday 28. I spent the day in Council with the Twelve <​Apostles​> at the house of President [Brigham] Young <​conversing with them upon a variety of subjects. Bro Joseph Fielding was present, having been absent 4 years on a mission to England. I told the brethren that the book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the key stone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.​>

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-c-1-2-november-1838-31-july-1842/427?highlight=most%20correct

This history was then incorporated into the official Introduction to the Book of Mormon as a first-person statement by Joseph Smith.

Introduction to the Book of Mormon:

Concerning this record the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bofm/introduction?lang=eng




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