Monday, November 20, 2023

Origins of M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory)

One of the most problematic historical narratives that persists in the Restoration involves the setting of the Book of Mormon.

Everyone can see that Joseph, Oliver and their contemporaries and successors in Church leadership taught that the Cumorah/Ramah of Mormon 6:6 is the same hill in western New York where Moroni had deposited the abridged plates in the stone box he constructed. 

https://www.mobom.org/cumorah-overview

Yet for the past few decades, prominent LDS and RLDS (now Community of Christ, or COC) scholars have taught that the "real Cumorah" is somewhere in southern Mexico because they believe most Book of Mormon events took place in Mesoamerica, and New York is too far away. Thus, they claim the hill in New York was not the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 but instead a false tradition. This means there are "two Cumorahs," the real one in Mexico and the false one in New York. This is the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C).

How did scholars arrive at this conclusion?

In a September 2023 YouTube interview, Kirk Magleby of Book of Mormon Central reiterated the fundamental premise of M2C; i.e., the M2Cers believe that Joseph Smith wrote or edited articles published in the 1842 Times and Seasons newspaper in Nauvoo that quoted from books by Stephens and Catherwood about their discoveries of ancient ruins in Central America. 

https://archive.org/details/travelinyucatan01step/page/n5/mode/2up

The articles claimed that ruins in Central America were left by Nephites. One article even speculated that the city of Zarahemla was in Guatemala. 

You can find these articles in WordCruncher in the "Early LDS Periodicals" database. Search for "Catherwood" or another related term. If you don't have WordCrucher, you should download it now and start using it.

https://wordcruncher.com/

Because nothing in the Book of Mormon itself refers to America, or even the western hemisphere, LDS and RLDS scholars who promote the Mesoamerican setting have relied on these articles in the Times and Seasons for authority. They claim that (i) Joseph Smith did not know where the Book of Mormon events took place, (ii) he learned about Central America from the Stephens and Catherwood books, and (iii) modern scholars are following the model established by Joseph Smith when they study archaeology in Central America.

Assuming these articles were written or edited by Joseph Smith, RLDS scholar L.E. Hills further assumed that the hill in New York was "too far away" to be the Cumorah described in the text, so in 1917 he published a map showing Cumorah in southern Mexico. 

L.E. Hills map from 1917
click to enlarge

Eventually LDS scholars, particularly John Sorenson, agreed with Hills and also put Cumorah in southern Mexico. Even today, BYU Studies includes this M2C map on its website.


The height of M2C was probably the "Worlds of Joseph Smith" in 2005, when BYU and the Library of Congress sponsored a two-day academic conference to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith's birth. Scholars presented M2C to the entire world as a fact, including exhibits of the Stephens and Catherwood illustrations and text.

BYU Studies published a special edition about the conference.

https://byustudies.byu.edu/product/the-worlds-of-joseph-smith-a-bicentennial-conference-at-the-library-of-congress-hardcover/

One of the most amazing articles was written by John Clark, a thoughtful scholar and great guy. You can read it here: 

https://byustudies.byu.edu/article/archaeological-trends-and-the-book-of-mormon-origins/

The article includes this graphic, which emphasizes the central role the 1842 Times and Seasons articles played to justify M2C.

click to enlarge

I commented on the article here: https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2016/05/fun-with-john-e-clark-byu-studies-and.html

Of course, none of the scholars mentioned that Joseph had refuted the Mesoamerican setting when he wrote the Wentworth letter, but few Latter-day Saints know about that because the manual on the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, actually censored that part of the Wentworth letter to accommodate M2C.

https://www.lettervii.com/2018/07/editing-wentworth-letter.html

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Implicit in the M2C argument is the claim that Joseph and Oliver, their contemporaries and successors, were not only all wrong about the New York Cumorah, but they misled believers for decades until the scholars figured out the truth.

Thus, we have a set of cascading assumptions about Cumorah

The articles were signed "Ed." for "editor." Because the boilerplate language at the end of each issue said the newspaper was printed, edited and published by Joseph Smith, people assumed that Joseph himself wrote or edited the articles.

However, no one believes that Joseph actually printed the newspaper. No one thinks he was setting type, operating the press, etc. 

He was merely the nominal printer; i.e., the printer in name only.

Consequently, there is no reason to assume, from the boilerplate alone, that Joseph was anything more than the nominal editor; i.e., the editor in name only.


And, as I showed in The Lost City of Zarahemla, Brought to Light, and The Editors, there is plenty of extrinsic evidence that indicates Joseph was not the actual author or editor of these articles.

Instead, the evidence indicates that Benjamin Winchester, working with William Smith and/or W.H. Phelps, was the actual author. This post is too limited to review all of the evidence, which is why there are three books on that topic.

Here is a summary using the FAITH model:

Facts

Letter VII, written by Oliver Cowdery as Assistant President of the Church with the assistance of Joseph Smith, Jr., declared it is a fact that Cumorah/Ramah is the same hill in western New York from which Joseph obtained the abridged plates that had been deposited by Moroni in the stone box. Lucy Mack Smith, David Whitmer, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt and many other corroborated the New York Cumorah.

Assumptions

M2Cers

Heartlanders

Joseph Smith did not know anything about the setting of the Book of Mormon. Joseph, Oliver, and everyone else who taught the New York Cumorah were ignorant speculators who were wrong. Joseph learned about Book of Mormon geography in 1841-2 from the books by Stephens and Catherwood. Thus, the setting of the Book of Mormon is a question of scholarship.

Joseph and Oliver knew Cumorah/Ramah was in New York because they had personal experience inside the repository of records there. Lucy Mack Smith recalled Joseph referring to the hill as Cumorah even before he got the plates. Joseph said he learned about the Nephites directly from Moroni. Thus, the location of Cumorah is not a question of scholarship but an authoritative declaration by prophets.

Inferences

The 1842 articles in the Times and Seasons that linked Mesoamerican ruins to the Nephites were written and/or edited by Joseph Smith because the boilerplate at the end of each issue said the paper was printed, edited, and published by Joseph Smith.

The 1842 articles in the Times and Seasons that linked Mesoamerican ruins to the Nephites were not written and/or edited by Joseph Smith because (i) he didn’t have the time or interest to do so, (ii) the boilerplate at the end of each issue said the paper was printed, edited, and published by Joseph Smith, showing he was merely the nominal printer, editor, and publisher, and (iii) extrinsic evidence indicates that Benjamin Winchester wrote the articles with William Smith and/or WW Phelps as editors.

Theories

Because Joseph adopted the Mesoamerican setting, and because Mesoamerica is too far from New York for Cumorah to fit the narrative, the real Cumorah must be in southern Mexico.

Because Cumorah/Ramah is in western New York, any proposed setting of the Book of Mormon must start with Cumorah as a “pin in the map” that cannot be moved.

Hypothesis

The prophets have all been wrong about Cumorah because the Book of Mormon took place in a limited area of Mesoamerica, with Cumorah in southern Mexico, and further refinements are a subject of scholarship.

The prophets have all been correct about Cumorah because the Book of Mormon took place in the eastern United States with a variety of possible locations relative to the New York Cumorah, and the possible settings can be refined through scholarship.

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To see how fundamental the 1842 Times and Seasons articles are to M2C, here is an article published by BMAF.org, the corporate owner of Book of Mormon Central:

http://www.bmaf.org/articles/smith_stephens_times_seasons__handy

I did a review of that article over 8 years ago:

https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2015/06/peer-review-bomaf-joseph-smith-john.html

Another review of the "origins of M2C" here:

https://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2015/02/the-of-mesoamerican-model.html

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