I am grateful for the responses to my series reviewing the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon (AEBOM). They have come to me both as public comments on different posts in the series and as personal communications (both online and in person). They have given me an opportunity for reflection and have confirmed to me that there is considerable interest among Latter-day Saints for the subjects discussed in my review.
I also appreciate the editorial team of the AEBOM responding to my review. You can read their replies here, here, and here. In this postscript to the series, I want to take a few moments to respond to just some of the points raised by the editorial team of the AEBOM since I think they deserve further comment.
The comments of the editorial team of the AEBOM I have set off in bolded italics, followed by my response.
It has been with keen interest that the editors of the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon have watched the non-stop litany of attacks frantically being hurled at the Heartland Geographic theory over the past few years and now the latest target found worthy of the heavy artillery is the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon. While this type of response is not surprising, we are, at times taken aback by the strident language employed by our fellow Elders in the Gospel.
The editors of the AEBOM are startled by the “strident language” and “litany of attacks” that I and other proponents of a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon employ in our unflinching criticism of the so-called Heartland model for Book of Mormon geography. I will allow readers to judge for themselves whether the language I employed throughout my review is appropriate. What I do want to point out is that any handwringing about my supposed “strident language” on the part of the editorial team of the AEBOM is more than a tad hypocritical. As this blog has documented at length, AEBOM editor Jonathan Neville has routinely employed disparaging and pejorative language when criticizing proponents of a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon. For example, Neville coined the term “M2C” (“Mesoamerica-Two-Cumorah”) as an offhand pejorative label to describe those who don’t accept his particular theories about Book of Mormon geography (and especially the location of the ancient Hill Cumorah). Make no mistake about it: “M2C” is, in its most fundamental meaning, intended to be a derogatory epithet. Attached to it are all sorts of calumnious claims about those who fall under its scope. Other pejorative language employed by Neville includes repeated accusations of a “citation cartel” (invoking images of a drug cartel trafficking illegal narcotics and committing other crimes) seeking to “censor” Heartlanders from meaningful academic discourse. I recommend readers see the hyperlink above for additional examples illustrating this.
So I beg the editors’ pardon if I am not particularly concerned with what they think about my “strident language.”
[T]he mere acceptance [of the AEBOM] and readership by leaders and lay-people is not in itself a validation of all the claims found in the book, it is an indication that the Spirit has not raised red-flags of concern for these doctrinally-proven and time-tested Latter-day Saint leaders and members is worthy of note.
This is a rather fascinating claim. The editors of the AEBOM believe it is noteworthy that the AEBOM is popular among rank-and-file Latter-day Saints and has not raised “red-flags [sic] of concern” among them. I must ask: noteworthy of what, exactly? What exactly do the editors of the AEBOM think this proves? That their claims are sound? That they are accurately representing the historical, archaeological, and genetic record? Shouldn’t my review (and the past reviews of Gregory Smith, Matthew Roper, Ugo Perego, and other faithful Latter-day Saints) and the positive response I have been receiving be “red flags” for the editors of the AEBOM?
If anything, the popularity of the AEBOM and Rod Meldrum’s Heartland movement confirms the regrettable observation of Brigham Young: “It is a daily spectacle before your eyes and mine, to see the Latter-day Saints trying to take advantage of their brethren. There are Elders in this Church who would take the widow’s last cow, for five dollars, and then kneel down and thank God for the fine bargain they had made.”1 And let it not be forgotten that Korihor “[lead] away the hearts of many” with his preaching (Alma 30:18), or that “many did believe on [the] words” of Nehor, “even so many that they began to support him and give him money” (Alma 1:5). Now unlike Jonathan Neville, I don’t actually think those who disagree with me about Book of Mormon geography are comparable to Korihor or Nehor. My point here is that the popularity and success of the AEBOM is no indication of either its doctrinal or scholarly soundness.
President Nelson has said that it has long been his practice to place a period or exclamation point rather than a question mark after the words of prophets. As editors of the Annotated Book of Mormon we have sought to follow his lead in that respect.
The editors of the AEBOM make this claim twice in their response to my review. In the second instance, they say that they put an exclamation mark next to the words of the prophets who specifically taught the Hill Cumorah was in New York.
The editors of the AEBOM certainly have been emphatic in their (selective) quotations of prophets and apostles such as Joseph Fielding Smith and Anthony W. Ivins when it comes to the location of the Hill Cumorah. But I am curious as to why they do not put an exclamation point next to these words from Elder John A. Widtsoe:
[T]he hill from which the Book of Mormon plates were obtained by Joseph Smith is definitely known. In the days of the Prophet this hill was known among the people as Cumorah. This is a fixed point in Book of Mormon later history. There is a controversy, however, about the Hill Cumorah—not about the location where the Book of Mormon plates were found, but whether it is the hill under that name which Nephite events took place.2
Or these ones from Elder Harold B. Lee,
“Some say the Hill Cumorah was in southern Mexico (and someone pushed it down still farther) and not in western New York. Well, if the Lord wanted us to know where it was, or where Zarahemla was, he’d have given us latitude and longitude, don’t you think? And why bother our heads trying to discover with archaeological certainty the geographical locations of the cities of the Book of Mormon like Zarahemla?”3
Or these ones from the current First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve,
“The Church does not take a position on the specific geographic locations of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas. . . . Individuals may have their own opinions regarding Book of Mormon geography and other such matters about which the Lord has not spoken. However, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles urge leaders and members not to advocate those personal theories in any setting or manner that would imply either prophetic or Church support for those theories.4
It would be much easier for me to take this claim made by the editors of the AEBOM seriously if they did not habitually misrepresent prophets and apostles beginning with Joseph Smith. But because they do, and because these misrepresentations are unfailingly in the direction of getting unsuspecting Latter-day Saints to attend Heartland conferences, workshops, and tours, and to buy expensive books like the AEBOM, I am left wondering if the editors of the AEBOM are, in fact, putting exclamation points next to the prophets; it seems to me that they are more interested in putting dollar signs next to them.
This excellent criticism is being taken into account by all of the editors on this project and serves as a gauge by which we measure our accuracy and academic compliance. One of the nice things about rapid book sales is the opportunity it affords us to issue newly printed editions that will feature many amendments, corrections, enhancements, improvements and overall enrichment of our research and its supporting data (which we are finding in abundance).
I sincerely look forward to future editions of the AEBOM removing the forgeries and mis-contextualized archaeological artifacts discussed in Part 2 of my review. (Heck, I’ll even settle for them removing the picture of the skeleton of an eighteenth-century Irishman that the editors somehow thought was related to ancient Jaredites.)
I am looking forward to future editions correcting the multiple misrepresentations of the historical record I demonstrate in all five parts of Part 3. Perhaps they can start by removing the egregious misrepresentation of what Joseph Smith meant by all of North and South America being Zion.
I am looking forward to future corrections eliminating Rod Meldrum’s dishonest treatment of DNA evidence and genetic science.
If the editors really mean it, then I am very pleased that they are going to gut future editions of the AEBOM to remove the many outlandish and factually-inaccurate claims found therein.
Also, we feel that members of the Church should know about evidence of ancient Hebrews in the Western Hemisphere that is accepted by non-LDS researchers, scholars and scientists, including many Christians.
I would be very interested to hear more about these “non-LDS [sic] researchers, scholars and scientists.”
We fully accept that fact that there is controversy surrounding artifacts which date far back into antiquity. Who can absolutely “know” everything about something that is 2,000 years old?
Despite paying lip service to “accept[ing]” this fact, the editors of the AEBOM act is if there’s no controversy at all. They act as if there is demonstrable genetic evidence for ancient Hebrew migrations to North America. They act as if archaeological reports from the mid-nineteenth century (!) are the final word in reconstructing the archaeological and anthropological portrait of the Hopewell and other ancient indigenous North American peoples. They act as if there is no serious question about the Newark Holy Stones or the Bat Creek Stone being authentic. They act as if their portrayal of what past Latter-day Saint prophets have said about Book of Mormon geography is incontestable truth.
The editors of the AEBOM talking out of both sides of their mouth like this is truly remarkable.
If a point-by-point debate is desired we have in the past extended an invitation to host a formal debate in a public setting anytime, anywhere. But so far all such invitations have been rebuffed by the M2C side. If you feel we have not properly extended such an invitation, consider this as your formal invitation and opportunity to respond.
The editors of the AEBOM appear to have exceptionally poor memory. They appear to be forgetting the January 2017 excursion to the Zermatt Resort in Midway, Utah where they met with scholars such as Book of Mormon Central researchers, Ugo Perego, and others to discuss Book of Mormon geography and present their best claims for the Heartland theory. Jonathan Neville and Rod Meldrum were both in attendance at that summit. They also seem to be forgetting the trip made in June 2016 where Book of Mormon Central researchers and some Brigham Young University professors accompanied them (including Meldrum and Neville) on a tour of Hopewell sites in Ohio to discuss Heartlander claims.
Whatever else proponents of a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon might be, they are not afraid to debate or discuss competing theories for Book of Mormon geography. In fact, they’ve been debating and discussing Book of Mormon geography with Meldrum and his supporters for over a decade.
As for an invitation to do a formal debate, I can only speak for myself when I say that while I have considered past offers to participate in such, formal debates are, for the most part, useless gestures. The majority of audience members who attend formal debates go to cheer for their team and already have their minds made up. It is also easier to hide behind rhetorical bluster in a live debate. I myself prefer online debates or written reviews. They give me time to carefully craft my thoughts and responses and are more useful to the public because they can be read anytime, anywhere, and anyone can check the documentation for themselves.
I am happy to approve any comments on my blog that address the substance of my arguments and criticisms of the Heartland theory. The very fact that I approved all three comments from the editorial team of the AEBOM without any alteration or redaction, I believe, amply disproves this attempt to portray me as intellectually cowardly when it comes to debating this matter.
There is much more I could say in this postscript in response to these comments from the editors of the AEBOM. But this post has dragged on long enough. As a gesture of goodwill, let me echo my boss Kirk Magleby in congratulating the editors of the AEBOM and other “entrepreneurs behind the heartland business [for] have[ing] succeeded in identifying a lucrative niche market and providing a steady supply of goods and services to satisfy consumer demand.” I must indeed admit that “[y]ou can’t argue with success. Meldrum outsells [John] Sorenson. The Firm Foundation Expo generates positive cash flow. Heartlanders are good at their craft. . . . The Firm Foundation drives traffic by staying on message and some leaders earn a respectable livelihood from their occupation. They know what sells and it certainly isn’t high-brow scholarship. I applaud the Firm Foundation for their ongoing commercial success.”
I will conclude with these words by Hugh Nibley which were shared earlier by my friend and colleague Matthew Roper. I hope the editors of the AEBOM will indulge me in closing with this epitaph for their tome. Nibley has had a profound influence on my own thinking since I was a teenager, and I can’t help myself but to appreciate the self-evident relevance these words of his have for this situation.
Since one person does not receive revelation for another, if we would exchange or convey knowledge, we must be willing to have our knowledge tested. The gifted and zealous Mr. Olney was “disfellowshiped, because he would not have his writings tested by the word of God,” according to Joseph Smith.
Not infrequently, Latter-day Saints tell me that they have translated a text or interpreted an artifact, or been led to an archaeological discovery as a direct answer to prayer, and that for me to question or test the results is to question the reality of revelation; and often I am asked to approve a theory or “discovery” that I find unconvincing, because it has been the means of bringing people to the Church. Such practitioners are asking me to take their zeal as an adequate substitute for knowledge; but like Brother Olney, they refuse to have their knowledge tested. True, “it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God,” but only the hard worker can expect such assistance: “It is not wisdom that we should have all knowledge at once presented before us; but that we should have a little at a time; then we can comprehend it.” We must know what we are doing, understand the problem, live with it, lay a proper foundation. How many a Latter-day Saint has told me that he can understand the scriptures by pure revelation and does not need to toil at Greek or Hebrew as the Prophet and the Brethren did in the School of the Prophets at Kirtland and Nauvoo? Even Oliver Cowdery fell into that trap and was rebuked for it (see D&C 9). “The principle of knowledge is the principle of salvation. This principle can be comprehended by the faithful and diligent” says the Prophet Joseph.
New converts often get the idea that having accepted the gospel, they have arrived at adequate knowledge. Others say that to have a testimony is to have everything—they have sought and found the kingdom of heaven; but their minds go right on working just the same, and if they don’t keep on getting new and testable knowledge, they will assuredly embrace those “wild, enthusiastic notions” of the new converts in Kirtland.5
- Brigham Young, “Cease to Bring in and Build up Babylon,” Journal of Discourses 17:41.
- John A. Widtsoe, “Is Book of Mormon Geography Known?” Improvement Era, July 1950, 547. For a discussion of this source, see “Has the location of Cumorah really been revealed? An apostle says no,” online at Neville-Neville Land.
- Harold B. Lee, “Loyalty,” in Charge to Religious Educators, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City, UT: Church Educational System and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982), 65.
- “Book of Mormon Geography,” Gospel Topics.
- Hugh Nibley, “Zeal without Knowledge,” in Approaching Zion (Provo and Salt Lake City, UT: FARMS and Deseret Book, 1989), 73–74.