Monday, June 8, 2015

Peer Review-BOMAF-Joseph Smith, John Lloyd Stephens, and the Times and Seasons

BoMAF has an article on its web page that discusses the issue in the title.
The article reflects the prevailing understanding as of 2010 (maybe as of 2015 among some people). I'm not going to address the entire article because some of the flaws are so obvious (at least in retrospect) that I'll just mention them briefly. In some areas, though, the piece deserves a more specific response because Handy does a good job presenting them and makes many of the arguments I continue to hear all the time. Once I respond here, I can just refer people to this blog.

My comments in red, as always.

Joseph Smith, John Lloyd Stephens, and the Times and Seasons

Copyright © 2010 by David C. Handy
David C. Handy graduated from the University of Utah College of Law and has practiced law for the past twenty-six years in Utah County, Utah. This article was written as a response to a request from family members who wanted David to look at the claims being made by Rodney Meldrum regarding the Times and Seasons articles in 1842 about the ruins in Mesoamerica. David came to the conclusion that the Meldrum claims were an attack upon the integrity of Joseph Smith, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff. This article reflects David’s thinking from the perspective of an attorney who is accustomed to challenging the words and thinking of others—especially when such words and thinking are contrary to David’s perspectives.
An interesting episode in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unfolded during a thirteen-month period between September 1841 and October 1842. The Prophet Joseph Smith was given a two-volume set of books written by John Lloyd Stephens that told about Stephens’s travels in Mesoamerica and the discovery of ancient ruins and vanished civilizations. These books were filled with pictures that were drawn by Frederick Catherwood, an artist who accompanied Stephens. The pictures revealed temples and cities that had been lost in the jungles of Mesoamerica for centuries. Of course, this is a Eurocentric perspective. These ruins were not "lost" to the people who lived there; locals guided Stephens to the ruins. Actually, they were not even "lost" to the Europeans because the Europeans didn't know about them before; i.e., Stephens "found" them. But even that is questionable. The most accurate description is Stephens popularized these ruins for European audiences.

Several lengthy extracts from Stephens’s volumes were published in the Times and Seasons between February and October 1842 while Joseph Smith was editor of the paperThese extracts and the accompanying editorial articles linked the discoveries of Stephens and Catherwood with the Book of Mormon, declaring their findings to be evidence of the validity of the Book of Mormon. Through the years since their publication, these editorials often have been cited by some researchers as evidence that Joseph Smith believed Mesoamerica was the geographical setting for the events in the Book of Mormon. Accurate so far.
In recent years, a member of the Church by the name of Rodney Meldrum has been making presentations on DNA and the Book of Mormon. In his presentations, he shows a map outlining his belief that the geographical setting for the Book of Mormon was in the continental United States—not in Mesoamerica. Meldrum mentions the editorials in the Times and Seasons about Stephens but attaches no significance to them. He tells his listeners that Joseph Smith did not write the editorials and that Joseph did not believe in a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon. I can't speak for Meldrum, and Handy doesn't provide a citation here, but I'll accept Handy's characterization for purposes of this review.
Proposing a non-Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon, as Meldrum does, is neither new nor unique. Over the years, many readers of the Book of Mormon have attempted to identify Book of Mormon geography, but still no universally accepted location exists among all readers. Although most Latter-day Saint scholars apparently favor a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon, some readers promote Peru, Chile, or other non–United States territory as their preferred location. And finally, readers such as Meldrum favor a continental United States setting—that is, New York, the Great Lakes region, and so forth. I have a bit of a quibble here. Handy writes "most LDS scholars" favor Mesoamerica, but only "readers" favor other locations; i.e., if you're a scholar, you are on the Mesoamerican side. In fact, there are scholars and readers on all sides of the issue. Handy's argument here reflects the Sorenson/Maxwell Institute position that LDS scholars have reached a consensus about Mesoamerica; the ongoing study is only about where in Mesoamerica the BoM events took place. This conceit underlies Handy's entire piece.
Claiming, however, that the Times and Seasons editorials on Mesoamerican discoveries were neither approved by nor written by the Prophet Joseph Smith is very problematic. Although it may seem harmless on the surface, this claim has serious consequences if it is true. If we examine all the claims and assumptions scattered throughout Meldrum’s writings and presentations, we will conclude that they raise alarming questions about the integrity of Joseph Smith, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff. Maligning the character of these three prophets was undoubtedly unintentional. However, in an attempt to bolster his own theory, Meldrum rejects the Times and Seasons editorials without careful research and without thinking through his line of reasoning to its natural and logical conclusion, which implies serious character defects for all three of these Church leaders. This is pure rhetoric, so we'll see what facts Handy presents. One wonders whether Handy reached these conclusions before he began his investigation and analysis. Hopefully no reader stopped reading after this paragraph, though.
Meldrum’s presentation on DNA and Book of Mormon geography has generated a lot of controversy and contention among members of the Church. Now here is a very odd statement. This is the common response of the "consensus" in any field; i.e., it's the ones challenging the orthodoxy who are causing the problem. It's the identical argument made against Joseph Smith in the first place. When Joseph announced his first version, when he published the Book of Mormon, etc., he was accused of generating "a lot of controversy and contention among members of the Church," meaning the Christian church as a whole. Any time we see this argument, we can expect a defense of the orthodoxy per se; i.e., facts are not as important as defending the status quo. We'll see if Handy offers more substance, but so far, this is an extremely weak start. This outcome is unfortunate. It's only unfortunate to those who are comfortable with the consensus and don't want to be challenged. It is the kind of thing that the First Presidency warned us against in an editorial written by President George Q. Cannon, first counselor to President Wilford Woodruff.
On January 1, 1890, The Juvenile Instructor carried an editorial by President Cannon entitled “The Book of Mormon Geography.” In this editorial, President Cannon expressed concerns of the First Presidency regarding members of the Church who were preparing maps of Book of Mormon geography, distributing them to other Church members, and arguing for their particular geographical theory. President Cannon could not see any good that would come from Church members speculating and debating each other on this subject.
The words of President Cannon seem so prophetic and pertinent to what we are witnessing today, 121 years later, that a large part of his editorial follows:
There is a tendency, strongly manifested at the present time among some of the brethren, to study the geography of the Book of Mormon. . . . But valuable as is the Book of Mormon both in doctrine and history, yet it is possible to put this sacred volume to uses for which it was never intended, uses which are detrimental rather than advantageous to the cause of truth, and consequently to the work of the Lord.
We have been led to these thoughts from the fact that the brethren who lecture on the lands of the Nephites or the geography of the Book of Mormon are not united in their conclusions. No two of them, so far as we have learned, are agreed on all points, and in many cases the variations amount to tens of thousands of miles. These differences of views lead to discussion, contention and perplexity; and we believe more confusion is caused by these divergences than good is done by the truths elicited.
How is it that there is such a variety of ideas on this subject? Simply because the Book of Mormon is not a geographical primer. It was not written to teach geographical truths . . . and almost invariably only extends to a statement of the relative position of some land or city to contiguous or surrounding places, and nowhere gives us the exact situation or boundaries so that it can be definitely located without fear of error.
The First Presidency have often been asked to prepare some suggestive map illustrative of Nephite geography, but have never consented to do so. Nor are we acquainted with any of the Twelve Apostles who would undertake such a task. The reason is, that without further information they are not prepared even to suggest. The word of the Lord or the translation of other ancient records is required to clear up many points now so obscure. . . .
For these reasons we have strong objections to the introduction of maps and their circulation among our people which profess to give the location of the Nephite cities and settlements. As we have said, they have a tendency to mislead, instead of enlighten, and they give rise to discussions which will lead to division of sentiment and be very unprofitable. We see no necessity for maps of this character, because, at least, much would be left to the imagination of those who prepare them. . . . Of course, there can be no harm result from the study of the geography of this continent at the time it was settled by the Nephites, drawing all the information possibly from the record which has been translated for our benefit. But beyond this we do not think it necessary, at the present time, to go, because it is plain to be seen, we think, that evils may result therefrom.[i]
There is tremendous irony in Handy quoting Cannon here. Handy doesn't seem to recognize the possibility that Meldrum may be trying to avoid exactly what Cannon is warning about; i.e., Meldrum seems to be seeking to establish a consensus to do away with the contention. Handy is blind to the possibility that it is the ongoing promotion of Mesoamerican maps, lectures, tours, etc. that constitutes the evils Cannon was warning against. How could Cannon have been any more clear that the problem is the confusion and contention and complexity caused by competing ideas? One would think that reaching a consensus would be a positive step--so long as the consensus is not itself wrong.  In keeping with the counsel from President Cannon, no attempt will be made in this paper to engage Rod Meldrum, or anyone else, in a debate about Book of Mormon geography. This paper will not advocate for any geographical theory, whether in North, Central, or South America. Members of the Church should feel free to examine all the theories put forth about Book of Mormon geography and reach their own conclusions—while at the same time showing courtesy and respect for those who come to different conclusions.
However, regarding the claims in the Meldrum presentations relating to the Times and Seasons editorials that reported the discoveries of John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood in Mesoamerica, something further must be said. Those claims amount to much more than just a difference of opinion. When taken to their logical and natural conclusion, they result in an attack upon the character of three prophets of the Church. This outcome is very serious and cannot be ignored. It demands a more careful review of the historical facts. Let's see what facts Handy presents to support this rhetoric.
Following are some of the ways in which the Meldrum claims attack the integrity and character of Joseph Smith, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff.
Joseph Smith—In the Meldrum presentation, the claim is made that during the march of Zion’s Camp, in 1834, Joseph Smith received a revelation that the land they were traveling over was the land where the Book of Mormon events took place. If this claim is true, here are a few questions that arise from this assumption:
·      Why didn’t the Prophet write down this revelation from God? Joseph didn't write down most of the revelations; others did. Joseph didn't even "write down" the Book of Mormon; he dictated it, as he did the revelations. 
·      Why didn’t he present it to the Quorum of the Twelve and the Church? Aside from Handy's failure to cite what revelation he's referring to, Joseph didn't present many of his revelations to the Church or Q12. Surely Handy doesn't want to argue that only revelations "presented to the Quorum of the Twelve and the Church" are valid. Or does he? There is a long list of things Joseph taught and instituted that are not in the D&C. This is a fun example of how the Mesoamerican advocates promote arguments that even they can't possibly take seriously.
·      If he knew by a revelation from God the location of where the Book of Mormon took place, why did he, in 1841 and 1842, write a letter and a signed editorial in the Times and Seasons that contradicted what he knew by revelation? I imagine everyone reading this expected that, eventually, Handy would make this nonfactual assertion. But let's see if he gets specific enough for us to analyze it.
·      In preparing Joseph’s journal as presented by the Church in the History of the Church, why did the Church historian include in Joseph’s journal entry of June 25, 1842, a paragraph attributed to Joseph that Mesoamerica is the location of the lands of the Book of Mormon? The History of the Church was compiled after Joseph died. Very little of its contents were written by Joseph or even seen by him. This entry is not from Joseph's journal; it's an excerpt from an anonymous news item from the Times and Seasons. I'll assume Handy just didn't know this in 2010 (although he should have).
·      Because the Times and Seasons was an official Church publication and because Joseph said he would include in the paper revelations he received from the Lord, why would he not publish the alleged 1834 revelation when a possible location for Book of Mormon geography was being discussed? This is bizarre. Joseph didn't even have time to publish the rest of the Book of Abraham. Why would anyone expect him to publish every revelation? [On the larger issue, there are reasons why Joseph would not have published details about geography; we'll see if Handy raises the point more specifically than he does here.]
·      Why would Joseph allow the members of the Church to be deceived into thinking that Mesoamerica was the link to Book of Mormon events? This is easy; why would Joseph think anyone would fall for the ridiculous articles in Sept and October? They're internally inconsistent, counterfactual, and contradictory to the Wentworth letter anyway. Joseph famously let people have whatever opinions they wanted. One could choose to believe what Joseph said--and what the scriptures said--or one could choose not to. The Mesoamerican geography was not the only speculation ever published in the Times and Seasons. Hardy does raise a broader, quasi-theological question here, though; i.e., how could so many scholars have been deceived for so long? In my view, the answer is that scholars have believed what they wanted to believe. Over the course of many years discussing this issue, most lay members have been skeptical at best about Mesoamerica. Those who have been skeptical enough have left the Church or drifted into inactivity. Few lay members accept the "two-Cumorah theory," for example. Yet even though it has been specifically repudiated by Church leaders, Mesoamerican advocates still insist the "real" hill Cumorah is in Mesoamerica.
·      Why, during September and October 1842, while Joseph was the editor and was supervising the publication of the Times and Seasons, would he approve the unsigned editorials about Stephens and Catherwood and the Mesoamerican discoveries when the editorials contradicted what Joseph was supposed to have known by revelation in 1834? Easy. First, Joseph was not supervising the publication during these months. He sent two letters (which became D&C 127 & 128) to the editor of the Times and Seasons to have them published! Second, there's zero evidence he approved of these editorials. There is a good reason they are unsigned--no one wanted to take credit for them (especially Winchester, who had just got a formal suspension lifted a few months previously and was selling his Concordance starting in September). There is zero evidence Joseph knew anything about these articles before they were published. Handy's assertions are pure speculation.
·      If these editorials were published without his approval, why would he allow this misleading information to go uncorrected in a subsequent issue of the paper? This is a variation of a previous question. I've explained this at length in my book, but Joseph could not have retracted this information or corrected it without casting doubt on everything published in the Times and Seasons. Handy's question here reveals ignorance about the real-world situation Joseph faced. He was harshly criticized for a simple wedding announcement; his enemies would have had a field day if he had overtly retracted a headline article in the Times and Seasons. There are additional reasons, too many to get into here.
·      Did Joseph fail in his responsibilities to the Lord, the newspaper, and the members of the Church? Absolutely not. He mitigated the situation perfectly, under the circumstances.
·      Why was the Prophet afraid to stand up for or speak out for the truth? Now Handy is getting ridiculous.
·      Why was Joseph not loyal to the Lord? Now Handy is getting even more ridiculous.
·      Where was his courage to stand for the truth at all costs? Seriously? And Handy accuses Meldrum of attacking the Prophet's character? 
·      Where was his honesty in maintaining the integrity of the official Church publication so the Saints would not be misled? Handy seems oblivious to the irony of his question. Had Joseph overtly repudiated the Zarahemla article, he would have destroyed the integrity of the Times and Seasons (which was always in a precarious financial situation anyway. The articles are so ridiculous on their face, the Saints should not have been misled in the first place. Joseph had expressly repudiated the whole hemispheric and Mesoamerican theory in March in the Wentworth letter. However, he famously let people believe whatever they wanted. This situation would have been entirely different had he signed these articles, of course. But he didn't.
John Taylor—The Times and Seasons became an official Church publication in February 1842 under the control of the Quorum of the Twelve. John Taylor was assigned by the Twelve to be an editor, under the direction of the Prophet of the Lord, and was instructed to carry out his duties under the inspiration of the Spirit of the Lord. In the Meldrum presentation, the suggestion is made that either John Taylor or Wilford Woodruff wrote the unsigned editorials in September and October 1842. If so, several questions naturally arise about John Taylor: If Meldrum did claim Taylor or Woodruff wrote the articles, he was wrong. Matt Roper's article on stylometry excluded both Taylor and Woodruff as possible authors--a conclusion I agree with. Of course, Roper's stylometry analysis also excluded Joseph as a possible author, but he avoids that result with bizarre logic and his ongoing refusal to consider alternative likely authors. But Handy didn't have the benefit of Roper's article, which was published in 2012 or 2013, so I'll chalk this section up to obsolescence and delete the rest of it. No, on second thought, I'll leave Handy's questions here and let the reader evaluate Handy's agenda based on the tone.
·      Would John Taylor have written an editorial contrary to the beliefs of the Prophet?
·      Would John Taylor have tried to sneak in an editorial with his own views while the Prophet was out of town?
·      What do Meldrum’s claims say about John Taylor’s character, integrity, and loyalty to the Lord, to the Prophet, to his Church calling, to the Quorum of the Twelve, and to the members of the Church?
·      Was John Taylor a devious person who would do something contrary to the wishes of Joseph Smith?
Wilford Woodruff—Wilford Woodruff was also assigned by the Quorum of the Twelve to assist with the printing of the Times and Seasons. In the Meldrum presentation, the suggestion is made that Wilford might have been the person who wrote the unsigned editorials in September and October of 1842. If Wilford did write these editorials, here are a few questions we must ask ourselves: This section is also moot for the same reasons as the Taylor section, but I'll leave it here as evidence of Handy's agenda.
·      Because Wilford Woodruff was on the Zion’s Camp march in 1834 and because he was with the Prophet Joseph Smith when Joseph had the purported revelation about Book of Mormon geography, why would Wilford ever write something that was contrary to a known revelation from God?
·      What did Wilford record in his journal about this event?
·      If he knew the Prophet was told by the Lord that the Book of Mormon took place within the continental United States, why would Wilford promote Mesoamerica as the New Word location of the lands and events of the Book of Mormon?
·      Why would Wilford write the things he did in his journal about Stephens and Catherwood and their discoveries?
·      Where is Wilford’s integrity? His honesty? His loyalty to the Prophet? His commitment to truth?
·      Where is Wilford’s loyalty to his duties as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve responsible for the printing of truth in the official Church publication?
·      Is Wilford really the kind of person who would promote his own personal views, knowing that they contradicted a revelation to Joseph Smith?
·      Was Wilford a devious person who would do something contrary to the wishes of Joseph Smith?
As stated earlier, maligning the character of these three prophets was undoubtedly unintentional. In raising the above-mentioned questions that challenge the character and integrity of these prophets, I do not intend in this paper to cast any aspersions on Rodney Meldrum or to call into question his love for these prophets. My intent simply is to make the point that when the claims made in Meldrum’s presentation are taken to their natural and logical conclusion, they imply serious character defects to all three of these Church leaders. I see Handy's point here, but as I mentioned above, if Meldrum did claim Woodruff or Taylor wrote the articles, he was wrong. Roper's stylometry analysis proved that. Handy is relying on a false assumption, so his criticism of Meldrum doesn't stand up.
Fortunately, for Meldrum and for the rest of us who love these prophets, answers to such questions as those posed above are found in the historical documents of the nineteenth century. If any of us were to develop a theory based on assumptions that were drawn from a review of only a part of the facts, we could easily draw incorrect conclusions, even when we are operating with the best of intentions. Therefore, let us review the historical facts surrounding these events. This is kind of funny, since Handy himself drew incorrect conclusions because he didn't have all the facts. It's not Handy's fault, necessarily, but it does show the problem of attacking someone when you don't have all the facts.
The information in this paper has been drawn from three primary historical sources: (1) History of the Church, this source is obsolete and unreliable, but the next two sources are fine. Anyone doing research now has to use the Joseph Smith Papers, not the History of the Church (unless one is studying how the History of the Church distorted the actual history. (2) Times and Seasons, and (3) Wilford Woodruff’s journal. These three sources are fine, but there are other critical ones, including the Wasp, the Prophet, other Church newspapers of the time, various correspondence, historical facts about who was where when, etc. By bringing these historical facts to light, we find that the potential conflicts and problems raised in Meldrum’s presentation disappear and that the previously implied character defects of Joseph Smith, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff never materialize. Such defects never materialized in the first place. The actual historical evidence shows Joseph handled the Mesoamerican fiasco very effectively, given the circumstances. The problem has been the poor scholarship on the part of the Mesoamerican advocates. They have long undermined faith in Joseph Smith by insisting he didn't know much about the Book of Mormon, he speculated about it, he mistranslated directions, plants, animals, etc., and he wasn't really taught about Nephite society by Moroni.
The quotations used in this paper are documented via endnotes, and the original spelling and punctuation in the quotations have been preserved.
In presenting this historical information, I will address the following questions:
1.   Who was John Lloyd Stephens?
2.   How did Joseph Smith learn about Stephens and his books?
3.   What was the initial reaction of Wilford Woodruff to these books?
4.   What was the initial reaction of Joseph Smith to these books?
5.   How and why did Joseph Smith become the editor of the Times and Seasons?
6.   Which editorials included extracts and/or comments on the John Lloyd Stephens’s volumes while Joseph Smith was editor?
7.   What is the significance of the “unsigned” editorials?
8.   Was Joseph Smith gone from Nauvoo (in hiding) when the “unsigned” editorials were published?
9.   How do the “unsigned” editorials differ from Joseph Smith’s known statements about Stephens and Catherwood and their discoveries in Mesoamerica?
10.   Do we know who authored the “unsigned” editorials? If it was not the Prophet Joseph, would it have been Wilford Woodruff or John Taylor?
1.      Who was John Lloyd Stephens?
John Lloyd Stephens was born November 281805, in the township of Shrewsbury, New Jersey. His father was a successful New Jersey merchant, and his mother was the daughter of a local judge.His family moved to New York City, where he attendedColumbia College, graduating at the top of his class in 1822. He went on to law school and practiced law in New York City for eight years.
At heart, Mr. Stephens was a self-proclaimed adventurer, explorer, and amateur archaeologist. In 1834, he traveled throughout Europe and Egypt with his good friend, Frederick Catherwood, who was an architect and an artist. After two years of exploring, they returned to the United States in 1836 and published several books on their travels. Stephens wrote about their experiences, and Catherwood provided the extremely accurate and meticulously detailed drawings of all the places they visited. They published two volumes: Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land (1837) and Incidents of Travel in Greece, Turkey, Russia and Poland (1838).
After reading about ruins and lost cities in the jungles of Mesoamerica, (as I pointed out earlier, these "lost cities" were not really lost, and Stephens had guides to them.) Stephens and Catherwood decided they had to go there. Through an unusual set of circumstances, John Lloyd Stephens was commissioned as special ambassador to Central America in 1839 by President Martin Van Buren. For eighteen months, Stephens and Catherwood explored the jungles of Mesoamerica. Upon returning to New York, they published two books consisting of four volumes of their travels and discoveries: Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, volumes 1 and 2 (1841) and Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, volumes 1 and 2 (1843).
2.      How did Joseph Smith learn about Stephens and his books
Dr. John Bernhisel was living in New York City in 1841 when Stephens and Catherwood published their two-volume set,Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. In addition to being a medical doctor and a politician, Dr. Bernhisel was serving as the Latter-day Saint bishop of New York City at that time. After purchasing the two-volume set by Stephens and Catherwood, Dr. Bernhisel felt impressed This is Handy speculating. In fact, Bernhisel and Joseph had been corresponding for months about real estate deals in Nauvoo. Benjamin Winchester went through New York on his way to Massachusetts to start his mission there. It was shortly after Winchester's visit that Bernhisel gave these books to Joseph. Since Winchester was an early advocate (if not the first advocate) of tying the Book of Mormon to books about Central America, and he had explained this to John E. Page, the evidence suggests it was Winchester who told Bernhisel about the connection. He may even have suggested to Bernhisel that he send the books to Joseph--which, of course, is also speculation. But compare the two speculations; on one hand, Winchester, who has a long-term collaboration with William Smith to promote the Mesoamerican connection and visits New York shortly before Bernhisel sends the books to Joseph Smith; or Bernhisel out of the blue suddenly takes an interest in the Stephens books (which had been published in July) and "feels impressed" to send them along (although he never stated he felt impressed--that's Handy's spin). Note, too, that the T&S had published the announcement about Stephens previously (in July 1841, in connection with a news item from Philadelphia, where Winchester was an agent for the T&S and therefore likely sent the Stephens announcement), but Joseph never noted it, never requested the books, etc., to give the books to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Wilford Woodruff, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, was returning from a mission abroad and passed through New York City on his way to Nauvoo. Dr. Bernhisel gave the books to Wilford Woodruff, along with a letter for the Prophet Joseph, and asked Wilford to deliver them to the Prophet when Wilford arrived in Nauvoo. Wilford Woodruff recorded the following in his journal:
September 9, 1841: I recieved $40 dollars of Dr. John M. Bernhisel for President Joseph Smith also Stephens travels in central America in 2 volums.[ii]
Wilford Woodruff arrived in Nauvoo on October 6, 1841. Although he recorded in his journal that he met with the Prophet on October 31 and on Sunday, November 7,[iii] he made no specific entry about giving the books to Joseph. We do not know the exact day the Prophet received these books, but we do know that Joseph received them because he wrote a thank-you letter to Dr. Bernhisel on November 16, 1841. In the letter, Joseph indicated that he had already read both volumes. According to the Joseph Smith Papers, the letter was written by an unknown person. It is a generic thank-you note that accompanies a response about the ongoing real estate transactions. There is no evidence Joseph ever saw the letter; on the contrary, this is a letter he didn't even sign. Wilford Woodruff also stated that Joseph hardly got time to sign things; in this case, he didn't even have that much time. 
3.      What was the initial reaction of Wilford Woodruff to these books?
Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal that during the long trip from New York City to Nauvoo, he managed to read both volumes. He said that the books were some of the “most interesting histories” he had ever read and that they “brought to light a flood of testimony in proof of the book of mormon.” Here are two entries from his journal:
September 13, 1841: I spent the day in reading the 1st vol of INCIDENTS OF TRAVELS IN Central America Chiapas AND Yucatan BY JOHN L. STEPHEN’S Author of “Incidents of travels in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land Illustrated by numerous engravings in two vol. I felt truly interested in this work for it brought to light a flood of testimony in proof of the book of mormon in the discovery & survey of the city Copan in Central America A correct drawing of the monuments, pyramids, portraits, & Hieroglyphics as executed by Mr. Catherwood is now presented before the publick & is truly a wonder to the world. Their whole travels were truly interesting.
September 16, 1841: I perused the 2d Vol of Stephens travels In Central America Chiapas of Yucatan & the ruins of Palenque & Copan. It is truly one of the most interesting histories I have ever read.[iv]
The enthusiasm of Wilford Woodruff to link these Mesoamerican findings to the Book of Mormon raises some questions. Wilford was present with the Prophet in 1834 when the Prophet was said to have received a revelation about Book of Mormon geography. Why then would Wilford link the findings of Stephens and Catherwood to the Book of Mormon when those findings were in contradiction to the purported 1834 revelation? Had he forgotten about the 1834 revelation? Did he not believe the 1834 revelation? Why wasn’t he loyal to the Prophet, to the Lord, and to the truth? Aside from Hardy's rhetorical questions, he makes a good point. Why would Woodruff connect the Stephens' books to the Book of Mormon? The answer is simple. The Book of Mormon text describes sophisticated civilizations, but it covers less than 1% of the people and their history. One would expect to find advanced civilizations outside the narrow confines of the narrative in the text, and that, arguably, is what Stephens described. IOW, the Stephens book is additional evidence that adds upon the evidence in North America with which Woodruff and everyone at the time was familiar. The very first issue of the very first LDS publication pointed to the evidence in North America, and everything since then corroborates this understanding. True, there was substantial speculation about the hemispheric model, often advocated by Orson Pratt, but Joseph squelched that in the Wentworth letter (well after Woodruff's comments about the Stephens books). But people apparently preferred to think of the exotic Mesoamerican setting anyway--just like today.
The answers may be found in Wilford Woodruff’s journal as he recorded the events in 1834 while traveling with Zion’s Camp. Regarding the revelation received by Joseph Smith, here is what he recorded in his journal:
May 8, 1834: While on our travels we visited many of the mounds which were flung up by the ancient inhabitants of this continent probably by the Nephites & Lamanites. We visited one of those Mounds and several of the brethren dug into it and took from it the bones of a man. . . . Three persons dug into the mound & found a body. Elder Milton Holmes took the arrow out of the back bones that killed Zelph & brought it with some of the bones in to the camp. . . . Brother Joseph had a vission respecting the person. He said he was a white Lamanite. The curs was taken from him or at least in part. He was killed in battle with an arrow. . . . His name was Zelph. . . . Zelph was a large thick set man and a man of God. He was a warrior under the great prophet /Onandagus/ that was known from the hill Camorah /or east sea/ to the Rocky mountains. The above knowledge Joseph received in a vision.[v]
Wilford Woodruff states that Joseph had “a vission respecting the person.” The revelation received by Joseph was a revelation to give information about the deceased person they had just uncovered.
In the information that was revealed about “Zelph,” nothing directly linked him or the location to the events of the Book of Mormon. The fact that Wilford said that the mounds were flung up “probably by the Nephites & Lamanites” [some of the mounds date to Jaredite times, but the early brethren didn't know that, so this is a reasonable assumption on Woodruff's part; i.e., he recognized the mounds could also have been Jaredite, and in fact many of them do date to Jaredite time frames] supports the conclusion that, in his mind, there was no “revelation” that these findings were a part of Book of Mormon history. [uh, why put "revelation" in quotation marks when Woodruff specifically said twice that Joseph had a vision? And Joseph said Zelph was a Lamanite; now the Lamanites are not part of Book of Mormon history? One could argue from this excerpt that Joseph did not specify a time-frame, but Heber C. Kimball said Zelph "had been an officer who fell in battle, in the last destruction among the Lamanites." What could be the "last destruction" except for the final battles described by Mormon and Moroni, when the Nephites were driven all the way to Cumorah?] The revelation on Zelph was very interesting, but it did not identify this area as the place where Book of Mormon events took place. That location was still open to speculation, and many of the brethren offered different opinions during the ensuing years. This analysis overlooks the critical point that Joseph specifically referred to two Book of Mormon sites: Cumorah and the east sea.
Therefore, when Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal seven and a half years later his excitement over the Stephens and Catherwood discoveries and said that these discoveries “brought to light a flood of testimony in proof of the book of mormon,” he was not being untrue or unfaithful to the Prophet Joseph, to his own conscience, to the Lord, or to the 1834 revelation given to the Prophet Joseph about Zelph. [This is true; the existence of ancient civilizations in Central America does not contradict the east sea and Cumorah being in New York, etc. So what is Handy's point here? And don't forget, the Stephens book also mentions North American sites.]
Wilford Woodruff was a man of integrity and was true to the Prophet and true to every revelation from the Lord. When all the facts are understood, no conflict of interest or breach of integrity is evident in the actions or words of Wilford related to Zion’s Camp, the revelation received by Joseph, or Joseph’s stated feelings about the Book of Mormon being validated by the findings in Mesoamerica. [Nothing Woodruff wrote in his journal contradicts the North American setting. So far, Handy hasn't provided "Joseph's stated feelings" about the Book of Mormon being validated by Mesoamerian findings.]
4.      What was the initial reaction of Joseph Smith to these books?
Although we cannot clearly discern the date when Joseph first started reading Stephens’s two volumes, Joseph expressed his feelings about these books on November 16, 1841, in a thank-you letter to Dr. John Bernhisel. In the letter, Joseph said, “I have read the volumes”; so we can probably assume that Wilford Woodruff delivered the two volumes soon after his return to Nauvoo in the first part of October 1841. The thank-you letter is in the handwriting of John Taylor, who was a scribe for the Prophet. [According to the Joseph Smith papers, it the handwriting is unidentified. Even a cursory examination shows differences between the letter and John Taylor's writing. Speaking of Woodruff, he doesn't mention meeting Joseph until late October. Anyone who has tried to read the Stephens books knows they are not quick reads, unless one simply looks at the drawings. Apart from this letter, there is zero evidence that Joseph read these books, or any other books on the topic. This letter bears a heavy burden; one would think that such a critical letter would deserve at least Joseph's signature.]
Here is the one long sentence from that letter that refers to Dr. Bernhisel’s gift of Stephens’s two-volume set:
I received your kind present by the hand of Er Woodruff & feel myself under many obligations for this mark of your esteem & friendship which to me is the more interesting as it unfolds & developes many things that are of great importance to this generation & corresponds with & supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon; I have read the volumes with the greatest interest & pleasure & must say that of all histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of this country it is the most correct luminous & comprihensive.[vi]
Why would the Prophet say that Stephens’s two-volume book “supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon” if the findings in Mesoamerica had nothing to do with the Book of Mormon? If the Prophet knew by revelation that the events of the Book of Mormon took place in the continental United States, why would he make this statement in the letter to Dr. Bernhisel? [This gets back to the hinterlands argument; i.e., even if Joseph dictated this letter (for which there is no proof), it is consistent with the Book of Mormon that the 99% of Lehite history could have taken place in Mesoamerica. But there is also the point that the Stephens book referred to findings in North America, right in the only place in the book that uses the term "flood of light," which Woodruff and others used. It's also questionable how Joseph could possibly have read the two volumes in only two weeks without mentioning it in his own journal, other statements, etc. (Based on Woodruff's journal, Oct 31 is the first time he met the Prophet, but he could have met him sooner. Anyone who thinks Joseph Smith read both volumes during this time should try reading them, and then fit that amount of time into Joseph's busy schedule.)]
As an expression of the Prophet Joseph’s feelings about Stephens’s volumes, the Church historian, in the official history of the Church under the date of June 25, 1842, inserted the following paragraph in Joseph Smith’s journal entry of that date:
Messrs. Stephens and Catherwood have succeeded in collecting in the interior of America a large amount of relics of the Nephites, or the ancient inhabitants of America treated of in the Book of Mormon, which relics have recently been landed in New York.[vii]
Why would the Church historian, assigned to write an accurate history of the Church, mislead the Church about Joseph Smith’s attitude toward Book of Mormon geography in 1842? This question could be asked about the entire History of the Church, which was written in first person, misrepresenting the documents. We suppose they were trying to be accurate, but Joseph died long before the history was compiled; the historians were speculating just as we are now.. Why would the Church historian enter this comment into the official history of the Church if he had the slightest inkling that Joseph knew by revelation that the events of the Book of Mormon did not take place in Mesoamerica? Did the historian think that Joseph had forgotten about the purported revelation in 1834? Or did the Church historian think that the 1834 revelation was exactly what Wilford Woodruff said—a revelation “about the person” Zelph? The hinterlands explains whatever contradictions Handy tries to create here, but beyond that, where is any evidence that the historians themselves tried to reconcile the contradictions? They reported the Zelph account by editing the various journals to write that Zelph was killed "during the last great struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites." This constitutes a setting in time and place that puts Zelph directly in the Book of Mormon narrative. So either the historians adopted a hinterlands theory, or they continued the hemispheric theory that Joseph expressly repudiated in the Wentworth letter. Or, they just didn't think about it. It's anyone's guess. 
When the facts are known, we see that there was no breach of character by the Prophet. According to the official history of the Church, he was not in conflict with a prior revelation from the Lord about the location of Book of Mormon events. Joseph was a prophet, a man of God, a man of integrity, a fearless defender of truth, and a man who was loyal and true to every revelation from God. He was never afraid to defend any revelation from the Lord. Nothing in the facts shows anything different. The purpose of this rhetoric is unclear.
Subsequent comments by the Prophet about the discoveries of Stephens and Catherwood in Mesoamerica and the discoveries’ relationship to the peoples and lands of the Book of Mormon appear in the Times and Seasons and will be presented below. First, however, we must understand how and why Joseph Smith became the editor of the Times and Seasons.
5.      How and why did Joseph Smith become the editor of the Times and Seasons?
The how—The Times and Seasons was started as a local newspaper in Commerce, Illinois, by “Mr. E. Robinson and Mr. D. Smith” in November 1839. It was published on the first and fifteenth of each month. Ebenezer Robinson was the editor from November 1839 through February 1, 1842. In February 1842, Robinson was approached by the Prophet Joseph Smith, who requested that the printing office and the newspaper be sold to the Church. The newspaper would then be directly under the control of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, with the Prophet Joseph having the final editorial control. The sale took place prior to the printing of the February 15, 1842, edition.
The way—Why did the Church purchase the printing office and Joseph Smith become the editor of the Times and Seasons? The short answer to this question is that Joseph did so in response to a revelation from God. The Lord told Joseph that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was to take over the editorial department of the Times and Seasons and run it as they were guided by His Holy Spirit. Here is how Joseph recorded that revelation:
Friday, January 28, 1842: While I was at my office . . . I received the following revelation to the Twelve concerning the Times and Seasons, given January 28, 1842—Verily thus saith the Lord unto you, my servant Joseph, go and say unto the Twelve, that it is my will to have them take in hand the editorial department of the Times and Seasons, according to that manifestation which shall be given unto them by the power of my Holy spirit in the midst of their counsel, saith the Lord. Amen.[viii]
Joseph shared this revelation with the Quorum of the Twelve, and they held a meeting on, or prior to, Thursday, February 3, 1842, to discuss the matter and make assignments. The Quorum of the Twelve assigned John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff to edit the Times and Seasons,under the direction of the Prophet Joseph. Wilford recorded this assignment from the Twelve in his journal as follows:
February 3, 1842: A Revelation was given a few days Since for the Twelve to obtain the printing esstablishment of E Robinson & govern the printing of the Times & Seasons & all the church publications as they are directed by my Holy Spirit in the midst of their councils Saith the Lord. After consulting upon the subject the quorum appointed Elders J. Taylor & W Woodruff of the Twelve to Edit the Times & Seasons & take charge of the whole esstablishment under the direction of Joseph the Seer. Accordingly I left my station at the Nauvoo provision store & commenced this day to labour for the church in the printing esstablishment.[ix]
The Prophet Joseph also made note of the above assignments from the Twelve in the official history of the Church on February 3, 1842, as follows:
Thursday, February 3, 1842: Elder Woodruff took the superintendence of the printing office, and Elder Taylor the editorial department of the Times and Seasons.[x]
The separate duties of Elders John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, as mentioned by the Prophet, were confirmed by Wilford Woodruff in his journal as follows:
February 19, 1842: Joseph the Seer is now the Editor of that paper & Elder Taylor assists him in writing while it has fallen to my lot to take charge of the Business part of the esstablishment.[xi]
The February 15, 1842, edition of the Times and Seasons lists Joseph Smith as the editor (see Times and Seasons, 3, no.8, 702). In that same edition, Ebenezer Robinson, the previous editor, gave his resignation and among other things stated the following:
The Editorial chair will be filled by our esteemed brother, President Joseph Smith, assisted by Elder John Taylor, of the Quorum of the Twelve, under whose able and talented guidance, this will become the most interesting and useful religious journal of the day . . . knowing that while it is under the supervision of him whom God has chosen to lead his people in the last days, all things will go right.[xii]
Robinson’s valedictory was immediately followed in the newspaper by a statement from the Prophet Joseph Smith outlining the types of things that were going to be included in the newspaper under the new editorial control of the Church. Then, demonstrating how seriously he viewed this assignment from the Lord, Joseph prayed that God would inspire them. Here is a quote from Joseph’s introductory editorial:
The epistles and teachings of the Twelve; and the revelations which we are receiving from the most High, will no doubt furnish us with material to make this paper interesting to all who read it, and whilst we solicit the patronage, and support of our friends, we pray that the God of Israel may inspire our hearts with understanding and direct our pen in truth. Ed.[xiii]
The historical events surrounding the acquisition of the Times and Seasons and the insights provided in the journals and histories of the participants clearly show that this endeavor was not undertaken lightly by Joseph Smith, John Taylor, or Wilford Woodruff. The following observations seem to be supported by the facts just presented:
1.      The Lord, by revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, directed the Quorum of the Twelve to take charge of the editorial department of the Times and Seasons.
2.      The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles accepted the responsibility given to them by revelation.
3.      The Quorum of the Twelve assigned Elders John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff to edit the Times and Seasons under the direction of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
4.      The charge from the Lord was that they were to fulfill their duties according to the manifestations of the Spirit of the Lord.
5.      The Prophet Joseph felt the weight and importance of this calling from the Lord. He announced that in addition to current news, he planned to include current teachings of the Twelve Apostles and any revelations that were received from the Lord.
6.      Not only did the Prophet Joseph solicit the support of the patrons in behalf of those who would write the editorials but also, and more significantly, he pled for the inspiration of the Lord to direct what was written—that it might be the truth.
7.      Apparently, the Times and Seasons was the Ensign magazine of its day—an official Church publication containing messages and teachings of the living prophets as well as new revelations that were being given to the Church. And all of this was to be done under the direct supervision of the Prophet and the Quorum of the Twelve, as directed by the Spirit of the Lord. This undertaking was not just an adventure in running a newspaper but was an assignment from the Lord to manage a Church publication in all solemnity, as they were guided by the Spirit of the Lord. I have a long scholarly article specifically on Joseph's role as editor that I can't summarize here, but here's a simple question: what articles in the Ensign are published anonymously? Or signed by pseudonyms? Or by "Ed" or "Eds?" Is Handy actually arguing that Joseph Smith wrote or approved of everything in the Times and Seasons during his editorship? If so, there are plenty of unusual pieces to explain, even before getting to the Sept/Oct Mesoamerican articles.

6.      Which editorials included extracts and/or comments on the John Lloyd Stephens’s volumes while Joseph Smith was editor?

Joseph Smith was the editor of the Times and Season starting with the February 15, 1842, issue and continuing through the issue printed October 15, 1842An initial search of the newspaper between these dates has turned up at least three separate issues that ran editorials either quoting extracts from the volumes by John Lloyd Stephens or commenting about his book and the discoveries therein, directly linking those findings to the Book of Mormon. Although the editorials are lengthy and will not be quoted in their entirety, the essential parts of those editorials will be quoted below:
Times and Seasons, July 15, 1842 (signed editorial): If men, in their researches into the history of this country, in noticing the mounds, fortifications, statues, architecture, implements of war, or husbandry, and ornaments of silver, brass, etc.—were to examine the Book of Mormon, their conjectures would be removed, and their opinions altered; uncertainty and doubt would be changed into certainty and facts; and they would find that those things that they are anxiously prying into were matters of history, unfolded in that book. They would find their conjectures were more than realized—that a great and a mighty people had inhabited this continent—that the arts sciences and religion, had prevailed to a very great extent, and that there was as great and mighty cities on this continent as on the continent of Asia. Babylon, Ninevah, nor any of the ruins of the Levant could boast of more perfect sculpture, better architectural designs, and more imperishable ruins, than what are found on this continent. Stephens and Catherwood’s researches in Central America abundantly testify of this thing. The stupendous ruins, the elegant sculpture, and the magnificence of the ruins of Guatamala, and other cities, corroborate this statement, and show that a great and mighty people—men of great minds, clear intellect, bright genius, and comprehensive designs inhabited this continent. Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormon unfolds their history. -Ed.[xiv] I've shown elsewhere that the "Ed" articles were written mostly by Winchester and Phelps. This is a good example. The article is mostly an excerpt from Josiah Priest's American Antiquities. The only person who owned this book was Benjamin Winchester. He referred to it in March 1841 in his own newspaper. He donated a copy of it to the Nauvoo Library. No one else is ever mentioned as having a copy; certainly not Joseph Smith. In fact, this article links Winchester to the Stephens book, further corroboration of all the circumstantial evidence that he was integral in introducing the Stephens book to Nauvoo.
Times and Seasons, September 15, 1842 (the first of two unsigned editorials in this issue): The foregoing extract has been made to assist the Latter-Day Saints, in establishing the Book of Mormon as a revelation from God. It affords great joy to have the world assist us to so much proof, that even the most credulous cannot doubt. We are sorry that we could not afford the expense to give the necessary cuts referred to in the original. Let us turn our subject, however, to the Book of Mormon, where these wonderful ruins of Palenque are among the mighty works of the Nephites. . . . Mr. Stephens’ great developments of antiquities are made bare to the eyes of all the people by reading the history of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. They lived about the narrow neck of land, which now embraces Central America, with all the cities that can be found. . . . Who could have dreamed that twelve years would have developed such incontrovertible testimony to the Book of Mormon? Surely the Lord worketh and none can hinder.[xv] Roper's article demonstrated that this couldn't have been written by Joseph Smith, or Taylor or Woodruff. I've shown elsewhere that this piece is a combination of Winchester and Phelps, published by William Smith who was editing the Times and Seasons in September. The evidence of all of this is abundant and not contradicted.
Times and Seasons, September 15, 1842 (the second of two unsigned editorials in this issue): From an extract from “Stephens Incidents of Travel in Central America,” it will be seen that the proof of the Nephites and Lamanites dwelling on this continent, according to the account in the Book of Mormon, is developing itself in a more satisfactory way than the most sanguine believer in that revelation, could have anticipated. It certainly affords us a gratification that the world of mankind does not enjoy, to give publicity to such important developments of the remains and ruins of those mighty people. . . . And then read such a goodly traditionary account, as the one below, we can not but think the Lord has a hand in bringing to pass his strange act, and proving the Book of Mormon true in the eyes of all the people. The extract below, comes as near the real fact, as the four Evangelists do to the crucifixion of Jesus.—Surely “facts are stubborn things.” It will be as it ever has been, the world will prove Joseph Smith a true prophet by circumstantial evidence, in experiments, as they did Moses and Elijah. Now read Stephens’ story. [At this point, another extract from Stephens’s book is given.][xvi] Same as above.

Times and Seasons, October 1, 1842 (unsigned editorial): Since our “Extract” was published from Mr. Stephens’ “Incidents of Travel,” etc., we have found another important fact relating to the truth of the Book of Mormon. . . . It is certainly a good thing for the excellency and veracity, of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, that the ruins of Zarahemla have been found where the Nephites left them: and that a large stone with engravings upon it, as Mosiah said; and a “large round stone, with the sides sculptured in hieroglyphics,” as Mr. Stephens has published, is also among the left remembrances of the, (to him,) lost and unknown. We are not agoing to declare positively that the ruins of Quirigua are those of Zarahemla, but when the land and the stones, and the books tell the story so plain, we are of opinion, that it would require more proof than the Jews could bring to prove the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb, to prove that the ruins of the city in question, are not one of those referred to in the Book of Mormon. . . . It will not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens’ ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon: light cleaves to light, and facts are supported by facts. The truth injures no one, and so we make another EXTRACT From Stephens’ “Incidents of Travel in Central America.” [Then follows an extract from Stephens’s book.][xvii] This is the classic. What "fact" was "found" between Sept 15 and Oct 1? Handy wisely (but misleadingly) omits it with his ellipses. Here's what he omitted: "Central America, or Guatimala [Guatemala], is situated north of the Isthmus of Darien and once embraced several hundred miles of territory from north to south.-The city of Zarahemla, burnt at the crucifixion of the Savior, and rebuilt afterwards, stood upon this land as will be seen from the following words in the book of Alma:" How was the location or extent of Central America "found" in the last two weeks of September? I'm not aware of a single theory that places Zarahemla in Quirigua. Plus, even Stephens pointed out that the ruins he reported about were not that ancient--certainly not as ancient as the Book of Mormon requires. The article is irrational and counterfactual, at least with respect to Book of Mormon dates. Why would anyone want to associate this article with Joseph Smith?]
As can be seen in the editorial quotes above, the July 15editorial on Stephens and Catherwood was signed with “Ed.,” indicating that Joseph Smith wrote this editorial personally. [There is zero evidence that Joseph Smith signed anything as "Ed." He signed things in his own name. When Woodruff said Joseph barely got time to sign his own name, does anything think that mean he had time to write entire articles but ran out of time just when it was time to sign them? Roper's article shows Ed and Joseph were different people, anyway.]  The other three editorials appearing in the September 15 and October 1 issues were unsigned, raising the question as to who was the author of these editorials.
7.      What is the significance of the “unsigned” editorials?
In the Meldrum presentation, [I have no way to verify Hardy's version of what Meldrum presents, so I'll ignore all of this, but readers should follow Hardy's analysis and see if it holds up.] the fact that these editorials were not signed is offered as proof that Joseph Smith did not write them. Meldrum uses the following statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith, published in the March 1, 1842, edition of the Times and Seasons, to offer proof that any unsigned editorial was not from Joseph Smith:
This paper commences my editorial career, I alone stand responsible for it, and shall do for all papers having my signature henceforward. I am not responsible for the publication, or arrangement of the former paper; the matter did not come under my supervision. JOSEPH SMITH[xviii]
Although this statement of the Prophet Joseph does not say that he will sign every editorial he writes or that a missing signature by him will be proof that he did not write the editorial, let us assume that Joseph did not write the unsigned editorials. Even if this were true, what is the significance inasmuch as Joseph does say that he alone will be responsible for the contents of the paper?
To understand why this is such an important issue in the Meldrum presentation, we need to look at the claims that are being made. In Meldrum’s presentation, the listener is told that Joseph Smith had a revelation from the Lord in 1834 that identified North America (the continental United States) as the place where the Book of Mormon events took place. But how can that theory be reconciled with these editorials in the Times and Seasons that clearly link Book of Mormon events with Mesoamerica? The solution is to demonstrate that Joseph Smith did not write the editorials. If he did not write them, then Meldrum and others can say that they represent the opinion of a different author—not the opinion of the Prophet.
All the talk about the “unsigned” editorials is really a diversion from the real significant issue. Even if Joseph Smith did not write the editorials, if he approved them or agreed with them, the result would undermine the theory being promoted in the Meldrum presentation. Therefore, in the final analysis, the critical significant issue is whether the Prophet approved of or agreed with the unsigned editorials. [I don't agree with this conclusion; I think it makes a big difference if Joseph wrote those articles vs. allowed them to be published. Of course, I don't think he even allowed them to be published--William published them and Joseph only found out after the fact.]
To further bolster his theory, Rodney Meldrum in his presentation informs the listener that there is one additional proof that Joseph did not write these editorials. The listener is told that for several months, Joseph was not even in Nauvoo; rather, he was in hiding from his enemies who were trying to arrest him on false charges. He was gone during the time of the printing of the September 15 and October 1 editions of the Times and Seasons. (The historical facts surrounding this claim will be carefully reviewed in the following section.) [I generally agree with Hardy's presentation of the facts about Joseph's absence, but I don't think it's at all relevant to the issue. Joseph wrote two letters (sections 127 and 128) and send them to the Times and Seasons to be published in Sept and Oct. He wouldn't have sent them to himself. If anyone wants to read Hardy's analysis, go to the original post. It's a straw-man argument that repeats his rhetorical questions from above.]

9.      How do the “unsigned” editorials differ from Joseph Smith’s known statements about Stephens and Catherwood and their discoveries in Mesoamerica?
In the Meldrum presentation, the claim that these editorials were “unsigned” is used to imply that the content and conclusions of the “unsigned” editorials were different from what Joseph really knew and believed. This interpretation raises a valid question: How do the “unsigned” editorials differ from what the Prophet Joseph believed?
The answer to question nine can be determined if we can locate known statements of the Prophet Joseph Smith and compare them with the “unsigned” editorials. There are at least three known statements of the Prophet that deal with the subject of the Mesoamerican findings of Stephens and Catherwood and that link those findings to the Book of Mormon. (See the Bernhisel letter of November 16, 1841, quoted earlier; the June 25, 1842, entry in the History of the Church, quoted earlier; and the signed editorial in the Times and Seasons on July 15, 1842, quoted above.)All of the known statements of the Prophet seem to be in harmony with the “unsigned” editorials. Where is the difference of opinion? It is not to be found.
The answer to question nine can also be implied by the actions of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Even if he did not write the “unsigned” editorials, he was in Nauvoo supervising the publication of the two issues that carried these “unsigned” editorials. His action of allowing these editorials to be printed and his subsequent nonaction to correct any error imply that he approved of them. [This assertion ignores the responses Joseph actually took, the historical context, and Joseph's pattern of dealing with differences of opinion.]
We have no historical evidence to show that Joseph Smith did not agree with these editorials.
10.   Do we know who authored the “unsigned” editorials? If it was not the Prophet Joseph, would it have been Wilford Woodruff or John Taylor?
Based on the available information we have, we may not be able to identify with certainty the author of the “unsigned” editorials of September 15, 1842, and October 1, 1842. We might have an easier time identifying who was not the author. [Most of this is a rehash, although Hardy amps up his rhetorical questions toward the end. The ones who most strongly advocated the Mesoamerican theory after Joseph died were William Smith and John E. Page, both of whom apostatized. I've even seen Mesoamerican advocates quoting them, after their apostasy, to support the Mesoamerican theory. Taylor was never so explicit, but he did occasionally publish hinterland-type material. Although even then, it's not clear whether he did it or someone such as Phelps did it. All in all, Hardy's analysis fails because of logical and factual errors, combined with oversights of historical facts and the availability now of better evidence.]  
Wilford Woodruff—When we examine the Wilford Woodruff journals, we learn that Wilford was very sick during September and was not able to do his work at the printing office. He records:
Monday, September 26, 1842: I Commenced labours this day again in the printing Office the first time I have been to the printing Office for 40 days.
According to Wilford Woodruff’s own journal, he was not in the office from the middle of August through the end of September. Wilford then records that from September 27 through September 30, he spent his time at the printing office “Posting Book” most of the time.
We can probably rule out Wilford Woodruff as the author of the “unsigned” editorials for the following reasons:
·      He was home sick in bed when the September 15 issue was published.
·      Even from the beginning of his assignment at the Times and Seasons, he did not have editorial responsibilities; he had bookkeeping and financial responsibilities. (See the quotes earlier: History of the Church, February 3, 1842; and Wilford Woodruff’s Journal,February 19, 1842.)
·      He returned to the printing office just a few days before the October 1 issue was published, and he spent his time doing the books of the business.
John Taylor—If Joseph was not the author of the “unsigned” editorials, in all likelihood, the author was John Taylor—for the following reasons:
·      From the beginning of his assignment at the Times and Seasons,John was given the responsibility to assist the Prophet Joseph by taking charge of the editorial department—under the direction of the Prophet, who was the editor. (See the quotes earlier: History of the Church,February 3, 1842; E. Robinson, “Valedictory,” Times and Seasons,February 15, 1842; and Wilford Woodruff’s Journal,February 19, 1842.)
·      John Taylor served as one of the Prophet’s scribes. Joseph dictated to him the thank-you letter to Dr. Bernhisel, thanking him for the volumes by John Lloyd Stephens. John Taylor was well acquainted with the Prophet’s views on these books, and any editorial he might write would be in harmony with the Prophet’s views as he understood them.
·      John worked side by side with Joseph as his assistant editor beginning February 15, 1842. John was well aware of the July 15, 1842, editorial that Joseph did sign, commenting on the findings of Stephens and Catherwood. The “unsigned” editorials are in complete harmony with the “signed” editorial. John Taylor, knowing perfectly well the Prophet’s views, could easily have written the “unsigned” editorials with the Prophet’s full blessing and approval.
As stated earlier, if Joseph Smith was not the author of the “unsigned” editorials, in all likelihood, John Taylor wrote those articles. John was a close, intimate friend of the Prophet Joseph and was fiercely loyal to him all his life. He was with the Prophet Joseph in Carthage Jail and was an eyewitness to the martyrdom.
Ten months after the martyrdom, the April 1, 1845, edition of the Times and Seasons reprinted a eulogy on the Prophet Joseph Smith from the Christian Reflector titled “The Mormon Prophet” (pages 854–55). Following the reprint is a section called “Remarks”—where we find the following editorial remarks probably written by John Taylor who was the editor:
For this reason we copy the foregoing eulogy on General Joseph Smith, one of the greatest men that ever lived on the earth; emphatically proved so, by being inspired by God to bring forth the Book of Mormon, which gives the true history of the natives of this continent; their ancient glory and cities:—which cities have been discovered by Mr. Stevens in Central America, exactly where the Book of Mormon left them.[xix]
Even after the Prophet was dead, John Taylor continued to espouse the ideas he had learned from Joseph. To imply that John Taylor, as an editor for the Times and Seasons, would write an editorial that was in conflict with what Joseph believed is an affront to John’s integrity and loyalty.
Fortunately, the historical evidence vindicates John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Joseph Smith in the events surrounding the editorials in the Times and Seasons about John Lloyd Stephens and his discoveries in Mesoamerica.
The historical facts support the premise that all three of these prophets were men of integrity and truth. Their character remains untarnished by the implied claims arising from the Meldrum presentation. In the end, all the controversy that was created over the “unsigned” editorials has turned out to be “much ado about nothing.”
However, this controversy should remind all of us that if we are not careful in our research, we can jump to faulty conclusions and develop false theories based on partial facts. Even if our intentions are good, we may be doing more harm than good with our ill-conceived conclusions.
Supported by the above discussion, we can now make several legitimate summary observations.
If Rodney Meldrum is correct, then the following are logical conclusions:
Joseph Smith:
·      Received a revelation and knew that New World Book of Mormon geography took place in the continental United States.
·      Never presented that revelation to the Church.
·      Never told any of the Twelve about the revelation, or if he did, they either forgot or rejected it.
·      Did not write all the editorials in the Times and Seasons while he was the official editor.
·      Was lying in those articles and editorials he did write.
·      Was editor of the Times and Seasons but did not correct falsehoods about Book of Mormon geography.
·      Was a coward for not speaking up and stating the truth.
·      Let down God by not standing by a revelation that he had from the Lord.
·      Let down the Church by allowing its members to be deceived by false doctrine.
John Taylor:
·      Either wasn’t aware of Joseph’s revelation or rejected it.
·      Must have forged the Bernhisel letter.
·      Was either permitted to teach false doctrine to the Church by Joseph or overpowered Joseph and dominated with his opinions and suppressed Joseph.
·      Betrayed his Church assignment from the Twelve regarding the Times and Seasons.
·      Was a scoundrel for deceiving the Saints with the Times and Seasons articles.
·      Was not loyal to the Prophet and was not loyal to the Lord’s revelations.
Wilford Woodruff:
·      Was with Joseph at Zion’s camp and recorded the Zelph incident.
·      Knew that the Prophet had a revelation.
·      Betrayed his assignment from the Twelve regarding the Times and Seasons.
·      Was a coward and did not stand up to John Taylor and correct the errors.
·      Had no integrity because he never again stood for the truth of Joseph’s revelation.
·      Was a coward in 1890 when he refused to declare the New World location of the lands and events of the Book of Mormon.
·      Was a liar when he said that the First Presidency and Twelve didn’t know the truth about the geography of the Book of Mormon.
·      Was a liar when he said the issue of geography needed further revelation from the Lord.
Brigham Young:
·      Was a captain in Zion’s Camp.
·      Would surely have known about the Zelph incident and Joseph’s revelation.
·      Was a coward for never standing up to John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff.
·      Allowed the Saints to be deceived by the articles in the Times and Seasons.
·      Never corrected the false doctrine when he became President of the Church.
The Lord:
·      Really goofed by having the first four Presidents of the Church be men of little or no integrity.
·      Didn’t know these men ahead of time.
·      Didn’t know what they were going to do.
Rodney Meldrum:
·      Will now restore to the Church the lost revelations of Joseph Smith.
·      Will set the Church in order so its members will stop promoting false theories about Mesoamerica’s being the New World location of all lands and events of the Book of Mormon.
·      Will enlighten all of the rest of the Church as to the correct setting for the New World geography of the Book of Mormon.

[i]. George Q. Cannon, “The Book of Mormon Geography,” The Juvenile Instructor, January 1, 1890, 18–19.
[ii]. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1833–1898, typescript (Salt Lake City:Signature Books, 1983),2:124.
[iii]. Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 2:131, 2:135, 2:136.
[iv]. Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal,2:126.
[v]. Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal,1:10.
[vi]. Dean C. Jessee, comp. and ed., Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002), 533.
[vii]. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1980), 5:44.
[viii]. Smith, History of the Church, 4:503.
[ix]. Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 2:153.
[x]. Smith, History of the Church, 4:513.
[xi]. Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal,2:155.
[xii]. Ebenezer Robinson, “Valedictory,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 8, (February 15, 1842): 695–96.
[xiii]. Joseph Smith, “To Subscribers,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 8, February 15, 1842, 696.
[xiv]. Joseph Smith, “American Antiquities,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 18, July 15, 1842, 860.
[xv]. Joseph Smith, “Extract from Stephens’ ‘Incidents of Travel in Central America,’” Times and Seasons 3, no. 22, September 15, 1842, 914–15.
[xvi]. Joseph Smith, “Facts Are Stubborn Things,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 22, September 15, 1842, 921–22.
[xvii]. Joseph Smith, “Zarahemla,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 23, October 1, 1842, 927.
[xviii]. Joseph Smith, “To Subscribers,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 9, March 1, 1842, 710.
[xix]Times and Seasons, 6, no. 6, April 1, 1845, 855.

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1 comment:

  1. Great rebuttal of the "Handy" article Jonathan. Keep it up.