Part 1 ⎜ Part 2 ⎜ Part 3A ⎜ Part 3B ⎜ Part 3C ⎜ Part 3D ⎜ Part 3E ⎜ Part 4 ⎜ Part 5 ⎜ Part 6 ⎜ Part 7 ⎜ Part 8 ⎜ Postscript
Review of David R. Hocking and Rodney L. Meldrum, eds., Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah: Digital Legend Publishing, 2018). 583 pp. $69.95 (hardcover).
Readers of this blog know that I have not made my disapproval of the so-called Heartland theory for Book of Mormon geography a secret. I have blogged about the failings of the Heartland theory on multiple occasions (see for instance here, here, and here). Last year the FIRM Foundation and Digital Legends Publishing released the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon (AEBOM). The AEBOM is, from what I have heard, selling well. It appears to be popular among Latter-day Saints. It is also apparent that a lot of time and effort went into its production.
While the AEBOM may be popular, it is also deeply and fundamentally problematic.
What follows is a series reviewing the AEBOM. This review was originally conceived as an article for the journal Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. Over time, however, my co-authors (Matthew Roper, Neal Rappleye, and Jasmin Gimenez Rappleye) and I decided it would work better as a series instead of a single review. I was (and am) happy to host the series on my blog (https://www.plonialmonimormon.com).
This series will consist of the following:
- Part 1: Introduction
- Part 2: Forgeries, Unprovenanced Artifacts, and Pseudo-Archaeology
- Part 3: Misrepresentations of Historical Sources
- Part 4: Parallelomania
- Part 5: Unsubstantiated Claims and Arguments
- Part 6: The Abuse of DNA Science
- Part 7: Miscellaneous Errors
- Part 8: Conclusion
As each portion gets posted (two a day, morning and afternoon, from June 1–7, 2019), I will be sure to include hyperlinks to the previous posts so that readers can hop in and out of any part of the review that strikes their interest.
With all of that said, I now present a critical review of the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon. Let me again thank my friends and colleagues Matt, Neal, and Jasmin for their help in this project.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes no official stance on the geography of the Book of Mormon. “The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible,” reads the introduction to the Church’s official 2013 edition of the Book of Mormon. “It is a record of God’s dealings with ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains the fulness of the everlasting gospel.” As the introduction goes on to further read,
The book was written by many ancient prophets by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. Their words, written on gold plates, were quoted and abridged by a prophet-historian named Mormon. The record gives an account of two great civilizations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C. and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the Tower of Babel. This group is known as the Jaredites. After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.
Beyond this, no particular geography model for Book of Mormon events has received an official endorsement from the Church. Such has not stopped Church leaders and members from freely discussing where they believe the events described in the Book of Mormon took place. Nor has it stopped them from mustering arguments for, variously, a hemispheric, Great Lakes, Central American, South American, or continental United States (“heartland”) setting for the Book of Mormon. While John Sorenson’s Mesoamerican model remains the favored theory for most credentialed scholars writing on Book of Mormon historicity and geography, several independent researchers associated with the so-called Heartland movement have put forth arguments attempting to establish a geography of the Book of Mormon in the continental United States.
The leading proponent of the Heartland model is Rod Meldrum of the FIRM Foundation (Foundation for Indigenous Research and Mormonism). Meldrum’s latest attempt to situate the events of the Book of Mormon in the “heartland” of the United States has been undertaken with David R. Hocking, a microbiologist and publisher, in the form of the recently released Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon (AEBOM). According to one description, “The Annotated Book of Mormon has been created to help readers understand the everlasting gospel as explained in the text, together with what the modern prophets and apostles have taught about it.” What’s more, the AEBOM attempts to act as a “text book [sic] for those that want more in-depth understanding of the people, places and events that shape the narrative.”
The AEBOM includes “illustrations, images, maps and prophetic statements that support the proposition that the ancestors of the ‘Indians that now inhabit this country’ [supposedly the United States] closely fits the time frames and events described in the Book of Mormon. As such, their identity is an additional witness of the divine authenticity of the text.” Thus, the self-proclaimed purpose of the AEBOM is to vindicate the Heartland theory and thereby establish the historicity and divinity of the Book of Mormon.
Astonishingly, the editors of the AEBOM deny any intention to “establish a specific geography” for the Book of Mormon (x). However, pages of annotations, images, maps, and commentary make this claim impossible to believe. It is plainly obvious that the ultimate goal of the AEBOM is to demonstrate the Book of Mormon is a pre-Columbian record of North America’s “heartland.”
While the editors of the AEBOM may be sincere in their desire to vindicate the Book of Mormon, the book, unfortunately, suffers from numerous inaccuracies, embellishments, fallacies, dubious and unsubstantiated claims, selective use of evidence, parallelomania, presentism, false claims, and pseudo-scientific and pseudo-scholarly claims. These substantive problems with the AEBOM fundamentally compromise any usefulness it might have as a serious, reliable, or credible aid for studying the Book of Mormon. Readers should be aware that a substantial number of the claims made in the AEBOM are questionable at best and outright false at worst. They should, accordingly, not put uncritical trust in the AEBOM, and should in fact be suspicious of the majority of its claims.
The categories we have formulated for the kinds of problems we have identified in the AEBOM include: forgeries, unprovenanced artifacts, and pseudo-archaeology; misrepresentations of historical sources; parallelomania; unsubstantiated claims and arguments; the abuse of DNA science; and miscellaneous errors. The remainder of this review will provide a non-exhaustive analysis of some of the more egregious examples of each category to sufficiently demonstrate our contention that the claims made in the AEBOM should be met first and foremost with skepticism.
In a word, the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon is bad. Really bad.
This article is cross-posted with the permission of the author, Stephen O. Smoot, from his blog at https://www.plonialmonimormon.com.
I don’t know how it might fit in, but you might consider an additional segment on geological considerations. Dr. Jerry D. Grover Jr. in his 2014 book “Geology of the Book of Mormon” (ISBN 978-0-9863189-0-0) demonstrates that a hurricane and earthquakes alone are not sufficient to produce the effects described in the Book of Mormon at the time of the death of Christ. There must necessarily have been a volcano involved. I am unaware of any volcanic remains located in the American heartland. Just a thought.
Having minored in philosophy, I’m usually very curious about the Gospel and about American founding fathers (whom I’ve studied for years) and about many other topics. But I’ve never really been interested in so-called geographical or archeological proofs of the truth of the Book of Mormon. I believe that there is only one way to know for sure of its truthfulness: Moroni 10: 4 – 5 – which I claim worked every time of the many times I’ve read the Book of Mormon. I think that there is even a danger in using so-called geographical or archeological proofs as part of one’s testimony because anti-church critics will provide so-called geographical or archeological proofs to supposedly show that the Book of Mormon is not true.
Other kinds of proofs do interest me. I have a Master’s degree in English and do acknowledge that William Shakespeare was indeed a great and gifted author, maybe the greatest of all time. Part of what impresses me about the Book of Mormon is that Shakespeare (as great an author as he was) could never have written Abinadi’s teachings to King Noah and the priests of Noah, or Alma’s discourse on faith or… the list goes on and on. I’m not, not, not saying that anyone else is claiming that Shakespeare was the author of the Book of Mormon. I’m saying that no author who ever existed – including the great Shakespeare – could have written certain parts of the Book of Mormon. Only prophets could have written certain parts of the Book of Mormon.
I remember Rex Lee (former head of the BYU Law School and former President of BYU) saying that there were legal concepts in the Book of Mormon that were not part of America until the 20th century. That impressed me.
I’m impressed that the Book of Mormon quotes the Savior as telling the Nephites to “be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven, is perfect” although Matthew 5:48 does NOT have the the phrase “even as I” in it. The Savior did NOT refer to Himself as perfect in Matthew 5: 48 because – although He was living perfectly – He had NOT yet endured to the end (which, of course, He would do perfectly, gloriously, magnificently). When Jesus appeared to the Nephites, however, He was an exalted, PERFECT being. Although Joseph Smith came to understand this point probably better than anyone else in this dispensation, I doubt that Joseph understand this point initially when he translated the words “even as I”; these 3 words alone prove the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon because there’s no way that anyone other than a prophet could have written this.
I believe that one of the reasons that Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book, was the following: No other book does the following as well as the Book of Mormon: it not only teaches the gospel doctrine with great clarity but it also illustrates that doctrine with graphic examples of those who lived the doctrine and those who disobeyed the doctrine. The Bible would be equal to the Book of Mormon in this characteristic if the Bible had been translated as correctly as the Book of Mormon was. The Doctrine and Covenants comes close to the Book of Mormon in this characteristic when it is combined with church history’s examples of those who obeyed and disobeyed. The Pearl of Great Price is truly great but short in comparison to the Book of Mormon. No other book comes close to the Book of Mormon in this characteristic of not only teaching gospel doctrine with great clarity but also illustrating that doctrine with graphic examples of those who lived the doctrine and those who disobeyed the doctrine.
Moroni 10: 4 – 5 is the way to know all truth.
That is fine for you add your voice to the public discourse, but I feel there are many of us who do not arrive at the same conclusion as you do. There are too many things that just do not follow the narrative of the Book of Mormon in your explanation. Sorry!
There are plenty of people who attack the Book of Mormon. Why are you attacking someone who supports the Book of Mormon, because he has a different view of its geography? How does it further the cause of the gospel to attack another believer? You weaken the Church for other believers, and for investigators. The scriptures teach us in Proverbs 26:21 “As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife.”
This is not the only disappointed, or even negative, comment about the review. However, none have discussed any issues with the post. Those that simply disagreed without indicating why have not been approved.
Please understand that you are free to disagree, and disagreeing comments can be approved. However, one criterion is that they actually interact with the review. For those who disagree, it would be wonderful if we could see why the evidence or data presented are not correct.
Someone else might answer you as to why there might be an “attack” on “someone.” Before I note that, I should mention that disagreement is not an attack, and disagreement with data or facts is not a disagreement with a person.
Having noted that why would anyone examine anyone else’s ideas about Book of Mormon geography? Because some people find it interesting, and care about the topic. That is why anyone promotes a theory.
Why don’t we just be happy that lots of people of different ideas? Even that is fine. It is a question of whether we are speaking of accurate information. Let’s take a simple example from church history. Joseph Smith used a seer stone before his call to translate, and for some of the translation of the Book of Mormon, he used a seer stone instead of the interpreters. This idea fell out of favor in church history for a long time, with a number of people eventually denying that he had used a seer stone in the translation, despite the excellent historical information that he did.
What happened when modern historians corrected the misperception? Lots of people had issues with it. Many saw it as a cover up. Some used it as a reason to withdraw from the Church. Should we make certain that we have accurate information rather than inaccurate? I think recent history tells us that it has become imperative.
The reasons for reviewing a Book of Mormon geography are similar. If some saints begin to place their faith in a geography rather than in the Book of Mormon itself–and then discover that they had based their faith on a sandy foundation (the geography and the “proofs”, not the Book of Mormon itself), then they too might have their faith shaken.
If I proposes a Book of Mormon geography, I want people to examine it. I would invite discussion. We don’t improve our understanding of secular things without secular methodologies. The Spirit will testify to the truth of the Book of Mormon, but I really doubt it testifies about geography. At least, our leaders have clearly indicated that the Spirit hasn’t told them any such information. If they don’t know, then there is no gold standard of revelation. We are left discussing evidence. When we do that, we must understand evidence accurately.
You ask: “How does it further the cause of the gospel to attack another believer?”
In this review series I have tried very deliberately not to personally attack the editors of what I call the AEBOM. Instead, I am criticizing and attacking their ideas and theories about Book of Mormon geography and “evidence” because I believe their theories aren’t just debatable, but in many cases demonstrably in error, and I feel compelled to add my voice to the public discourse on this issue.
If you do see me slip into attacking the editors, please point out where I do so that I can correct this behavior.
Thank you, Brother Smoot. I found your response to be the most helpful. (No need to post this reply.)
I am reading your articles on Brother Meldrum’s book and appreciate your analysis. Brother Meldrum absolutely should correct the errors you have found and hopefully he will.
I do not believe that either camp (Meso or Heartland) has the full picture of where the BOM took place and it seems to me that both sides of this debate need to be extremely careful to allow for continued insights and discoveries. I don’t get that feeling from either side. Surely there should be room for both theories to coexist. (Or not…maybe I am wrong.) Science, especially the soft science of archeology, has been wrong many times and it is important to remember that.
I am concerned about what I sense as an attack mentality in both camps which comes across in writing style and choice of words, however, I think your article tried to avoid that. What IF it turns out that the Heartland model is right? Just something to think about.
The brethren have said that the BOM is not a geography book. Therefore, the debate on the landing sight if the Nephites is of no doctrinal importance and should not be worth the level of debate it has reached. Did Nephi have brown hair or black hair? This really needs further study… Thanks for your work and your reply to my post. Daryl.
I have no problem with your lengthy list of errata & corrigenda for this new volume edited by Hocking & Meldrum, but I do wish that you and your associates had started off by taking stock of
1) the need for a good annotated study Book of Mormon, in comparison with the various annotated study Bibles which have been published;
2) the physical quality and presentation of the Hocking & Meldrum effort;
3) possible comparison with the Maxwell Institute Study Book of Mormon.
Frankly, you should have discussed what Hocking & Meldrum did correctly and even beautifully — before laying into them with such ferocity. It is no accident (as you yourself observe) that the sales of this new volume have been so brisk. A clear demonstration of a market for such a volume. How long must we await adequate fulfillment of such a need?