This blog focuses on the Interpreter primarily because that online magazine has a very narrow and specific agenda regarding Book of Mormon geography: i.e., it seeks to promote the Mesoamerican theory. The Interpreter purports to be peer-reviewed, but in my opinion it is, instead, peer-approved. I've read the Interpreter for a long time, and there are some good articles published there, but there are also a lot of deplorable articles reminiscent of the worst of FARMS.
I'm hardly the only one who feels this way. People tell me all the time that they've stopped reading it, that it poorly reflects on LDS scholarship, etc. Because it's obvious the Interpreter is not actually peer-reviewed, I decided to offer my own peer reviews from time to time. I'm doing so in the hope that the Interpreter will someday live up to its purported standards and objectives of being a legitimate peer-reviewed outlet for LDS scholarship. Unfortunately, so far the editors instead have turned it into a continuation of the late-stage FARMS publications, which led, deservedly, to the firing of some of the same people who are now running the Interpreter. That said, in my discussions with various LDS scholars, there seems to be an inordinate desire for bias confirmation of the type that appears in the Interpreter. So maybe my expectations are unrealistic; maybe the Interpreter is doing exactly what it intends. In that case, I don't expect the Interpreter to change; instead, I offer my peer reviews here for those who want to know what an actual peer review would look like, and who want a faithful alternative perspective.
My primary focus so far has been on Church history and Book of Mormon historicity, so I'm cross-posting the following comments that originally appeared at http://bookofmormonconsensus.blogspot.com/ and http://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/
Most readers of the Book of Mormon naturally want to know where the events took place. Where in the New World did Lehi land? Where was Zarahemla? Where was Cumorah?
In recent decades, LDS scholars have claimed the Book of Mormon took place in Central America (Mesoamerica). Their work has infiltrated Church media, lesson manuals, and literature. The origin of the theory is a series of anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons, the Church newspaper in Nauvoo. I researched the origin of those articles and wrote a book called The Lost City of Zarahemla. Basically, the focus on Mesoamerica has been a huge mistake, based on a faulty premise, and this blog seeks to correct the mistake by encouraging LDS scholars and those who have accepted their theories to take another look at the issue.
For about a hundred years, the only certain Book of Mormon location was Cumorah; i.e., the hill Cumorah near Palmyra in New York was the same Cumorah where the Nephites (and Jaredites) had the final battles that destroyed their civilizations.
Then, in the 1930s, some scholars claimed Cumorah had to be in Mesoamerica (the so-called Two Cumorah theory). in 1936, Joseph Fielding Smith, who by then had been an Apostle for 26 years and Church Historian and Recorder for 15 years (he was Assistant Church Historian for 15 years before that), addressed the Two Cumorah theory in words that, sadly, are just as true today as they were then:
"This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. It is for this reason that evidence is here presented to show that it is not only possible that these places could be located as the Church has held during the past century, but that in very deed such is the case."
I wrote about Cumorah in my book Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah. In Letter VII, Oliver Cowdery described the last battle and said it was a fact that the final battles took place there in New York. Joseph Smith had his scribes copy Cowdery's description into his own journal. Letter VII was republished several times before Joseph died in 1844. It was accepted doctrine, as Joseph Fielding Smith explained.
Nevertheless, many LDS scholars, including those affiliated with BYU, to this day reject Cowdery's Letter VII, along with the New York Cumorah. Right now, this semester, in 2016, BYU students are still being taught the Mesoamerican theory.
I find that appalling.
At the same time, I empathize with the scholars. They've published Mesoamerican material for decades. They've traveled to Mesoamerica, taken tours, and tried every which way to find "correspondences" between Nephite and Mayan culture. It's not easy to change one's views, especially when one's career has focused on a particular theory. For decades, I, too, accepted the Mesoamerican theory.
I'm a lawyer by profession, and I have degrees in business and economics, and I've been involved with science in my work as a lawyer, educator, and venture capitalist, so I'm pretty much an empiricist. I think truth is truth; i.e., spiritual truth is also manifest in the physical world. I wanted to test a hypothesis: If Cumorah is in New York, and Zarahemla is in Iowa (see D&C 125), does the text describe a North American setting with those two pins in the map? The result is my book, Moroni's America. I think the Book of Mormon text describes North America, with Lehi landing in Florida, the city of Nephi in Tennessee, the city of Zarahemla across from Nauvoo in Iowa, the land of Zarahemla extending through Illinois, Cumorah in New York, etc. It's all spelled out in the book and in various web pages.
This blog is not going through the geography point-by-point. In fact, I don't want the scholars to simply take my word for it. I want them to clear their minds of the Mesoamerican ideology and take a fresh look at the text. I want them to test the same hypothesis I did; i.e., that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith were correct about Cumorah. If they do so, I think they'll reach the same conclusions I have about Book of Mormon geography.
Meanwhile, I hope LDS people everywhere will take the time to learn about these things because it is faith affirming to realize that Joseph and Oliver were 1) consistent and 2) accurate. The Book of Mormon did take place in North America, in the area currently known as Florida, Tennessee, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, etc.