Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Another note on ancient writing

I keep hearing that evidence of ancient writing is critical to any proposed setting for the Book of Mormon. I've written about this before, but because it keeps coming up, I'll discuss it again briefly.

Dead Sea scrolls
A common objective in negotiations, research, and debate is to frame the situation in favorable terms. In the legal profession, trial and appellate lawyers spend a lot of time creating arguments that put their clients' position in a favorable context. Anyone who advocates something--politician, scientist, marketer, author--tries to do the same thing.

It's no different with Book of Mormon geography. That's why we see "requirements" or "conditions" for proposed settings that include requirements designed to frame the discussion in favor of one particular setting--the one being advocated by the proponent. That's what the volcano requirement is. The text says nothing about volcanoes, but some scholars have imposed a requirement that a setting for the Book of Mormon must feature volcanoes. It's a transparent tactic because the setting they favor features volcanoes.

We see this in the requirement for "headwaters" of Sidon (instead of head of Sidon) and "mountainous wilderness" which is never once mentioned in the text. There are many such examples.

The requirement that there must be evidence of writing is similar to the volcano requirement. Those who impose this requirement favor settings where there is already evidence of ancient writing, extending back to 500 BC and beyond.

There are two problems here. First, the ancient writing found is neither Hebrew nor Egyptian, so it doesn't line up to the text.

Second, the Book of Mormon text itself not only doesn't require evidence of ancient writing, but it says any such evidence would be destroyed.

IOW, to match up with the Book of Mormon, we would need to find evidence of an ancient civilization that included advanced features, yet left no evidence of writing behind.

The text notes that Nephi and his successors kept records on metal plates, but several of the record keepers wrote very little (Jarom). Presumably more was recorded on the plates maintained by the kings (Omni 1:11), which would account for all the records that Joseph and Oliver observed in the room in the Hill Cumorah.

The text mentions two other mediums of writing: stone and impermanent material.

The sole instance of writing on stone is in Omni 1:20 "And it came to pass in the days of Mosiah, there was a large stone brought unto him with engravings on it; and he did interpret the engravings by the gift and power of God."

This stone was a significant item for the people of Zarahemla because they were illiterate, but it is also significant because it is unique. We will not find a setting for the Book of Mormon in an area that features engraving on stones as a common practice. Stone engraving must be rare to nonexistent, except for the one stone left by Coriantumr. This is particularly noteworthy because Hebrew people knew about Moses and the 10 Commandments written on stone; presumably they would have done likewise, but the text mentions only this single stone in 1,000 years of history.

[Alma 10:2 refers to "writing which was upon the wall of the temple which was written by the finger of God." The wall of the temple is not otherwise described; it could have been made of stone or wood or cement. But again, this was a highly unusual occurrence, which is why it was memorable enough that Amulek identified himself as a descendant of Aminadi, the man everyone knew because he interpreted the writing on the wall.]

Other than writing on plates, there is an example of a writing medium that is generally presumed to be paper or parchment. Alma 14:8 says "they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire." This is interesting wording. The next verse says the people thrown into the fire "were consumed by fire," but the scriptures were "burned and destroyed" by fire--not consumed. It's not a major point, but it's entirely possible that these records (nothing says they were possessed by lay worshippers, by the way) were also on metal plates that melted in the flames. Thus, they were burned and destroyed but not consumed. I think this is the most reasonable interpretation, but I recognize it's also possible the records were consumed, despite what the text says.

The text never uses the terms paper, parchment, papyrus, or bark. The only medium mentioned in the text that could be used for transitory writing is skins. Because some of the dead sea scrolls were written on animal skins, it's easy to imagine that the Nephite culture did likewise.

And that explains the problem.

Transitory writing material is difficult to preserve (even absent Fahrenheit 451 events such as in Alma 14). Even if the Nephites did write on paper, papyrus, skins, etc., could we expect the material to survive 1,000 years?

Storage conditions are not the only problem, of course. As early as around 420 B.C., Enos explained the Nephite records were in jeopardy. "For at the present our strugglings were vain in restoring them to the true faith. And they swore in their wrath that, if it were possible, they would destroy our records and us, and also all the traditions of our fathers." Enos 1:14.

As late as 385 A.D., the prophet Mormon had the same concern: "having been commanded of the Lord that I should not suffer the records which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred, to fall into the hands of the Lamanites, (for the Lamanites would destroy them) therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni." Mormon 6:6

Mormon hid up all the records. These are presumably the ones Joseph and Oliver saw in the room in the Hill Cumorah. (The qualifier "entrusted to me" does leave open the possibility that additional records existed, but Mormon says they Lamanites would destroy any records they could get their hands on.)

So if all the permanent records were written on metal and hidden up in Cumorah, and the only record engraven on stone was the one Coriantumr left, and to the extent the Nephites used transitory materials for some writing (as could be implied from Alma 14), that leaves nothing left for posterity to find. (Well, okay, Coriantumr's stone may be out there somewhere, unless it was 1) destroyed, 2) lost, or 3) carted off by the Mayans who invaded around 800 A.D. before returning to Central America centuries later.)

Consequently, according to the text, there should be little if any evidence of writing among the Book of Mormon people in the time period between 600 BC and 400 A.D.

Except for the records Joseph and Oliver saw.

All of this means that the next time someone tells you there has to be evidence of ancient writing in any proposed setting for the Book of Mormon, ask, "Do you mean besides the records in the Hill Cumorah that Joseph and Olvier saw?"

Because those records are the only ones the text says would survive.

After all, that's why we needed the Book of Mormon in the first place. It reveals history that would otherwise remain forever unknown.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Abstract maps revisited

I've commented on the futility of abstract maps before, but a new one has appeared that prompts me to revisit the topic.

I actually like this one a lot. It is well executed, with good coloring and detail. I'm not criticizing the people who put this map together, and I'm not criticizing those who published it, because I think they are well-intentioned and I like the map because it is at least ambiguous (i.e., there is no actual place on Earth that looks like this).

Plus, they cited Moroni's America in the footnotes.


However, I think it's a mistake to create an abstract map of the Book of Mormon in the first place, because the process requires a series of assumptions not required by the text, and the mere creation of the map transforms a theory into an artificial reality. Images such as this create their own reality in the mind of the viewer, and it becomes difficult to dislodge the image while reading the text. For example, this abstract map essentially codifies an interpretation of "narrow neck of land" that I think is inconsistent with--or at least not required by--the text.

(I'm not going to point out areas in which I think this map contradicts the text because that's the inherent problem with abstract maps--they are all entirely subjective. No two people, working independently from the text alone, can possibly create the same abstract map--unless they share a mental image they've previously seen or been taught.)

(I also don't think there is a problem with most of the generic relational maps found in current Church lesson manuals; i.e., Zarahemla is north of the land of Nephi. This helps students follow the text without imprinting an arbitrary abstract map on their minds.)

I think it would be far more productive to develop a Book of Mormon map based on a real-world setting we already know about, which I discuss below.

If we're going to depict abstract maps, we should at least show some alternatives. In this case, we have some variation, but not a single map shows Cumorah in New York! A person reading this post would have no idea that a New York Cumorah is even an option (let alone that it was universally accepted as long as Joseph Smith was alive).

In fact, the caption notes that all the maps "exhibit general consistency." I see that as a defect, not a feature.

If the point is that the geography passages in the text are internally consistent, which the narrative here suggests, that's a valid point. But the collage of maps shows a consistency in interpretation, which is precisely the problem with creating abstract maps in the first place. They create a mental image that leads to derivative maps such as these, but not to new or different interpretations.

One example I've used before is from Xenophon's Anabasis. This is a Greek text that I studied when I was learning Greek many years ago. There's a good introduction to Xenophon here. As a member of a greek army, he wrote a narrative of the Persian Expedition (Anabasis means expedition) in 401 B.C. Like Mormon, he mentioned distances and directions but did not include a map in his narrative. Unlike the Book of Mormon, though, the Anabasis took place in a well-documented area of the world. Consequently, scholars have been able to map the expedition.

Or have they?

Even with all the touchstones--the pins in the map--that Xenophon gave us in his narrative, all well-known in terms of history and geography, scholars continue to debate about particular details of the expedition. For example, here's an article that assesses the ongoing debate about routes and parasangs in the the Anabasis. Look at Map 2 on p. 226. There are four different proposals for the retreat, based on different scholarly interpretations of the river Xenophon was referring to.

Now, imagine how confused Xenophon scholars would be if they had not a single pin in the map. That's what we have when Book of Mormon scholars disregard the New York Hill Cumorah.

Another example is Lewis and Clark. Thomas Jefferson sent them to explore the "Continent of North American" as Clark phrased it on his 1810 map. Before he left, Jefferson personally taught Lewis how to determine latitude using an octant. Lewis and Clark took rudimentary maps with them.

The Lewis and Clark journals are almost 5,000 pages long. Did Thomas Jefferson create an abstract map based on their narrative?

Of course not.

Lewis and Clark (well, Clark) created 140 maps! Plus, they collected 30 maps from people they encountered, including Indians and traders.

When they got home, Clark spent years compiling a comprehensive map (the 1810 map). He relied on his personal knowledge, the 170 maps they accumulated, and interviews with Indians and traders. It was a remarkable accomplishment, but if you compare it to a google Earth map, you'll immediately see the errors.

It was an effective map for people operating on the ground, following rivers and landmarks, but it was not "accurate" in the sense we're used to today.

Now, if someone were to take the 5,000 pages of journals and try to create an abstract map, would they come up with something close to Clark's map? Probably. Why?

Because everyone already has a mental image of what North America looks like.

Take someone who has never seen a map of North America, maybe someone from Mongolia or the Amazon basin, and have them create an abstract map of North America from the Lewis and Clark journals. What are the chances they'll produce a map we would recognize?

Essentially zero.

Yet that's what Book of Mormon scholars are trying to do when they reject the New York setting for the Hill Cumorah.

That's why I think the effort is futile. Worse, it is counterproductive.

What would make more sense, IMO, would be a serious, multi-disciplinary effort to analyze the text using the New York Cumorah as a starting point--as a pin in the map. Throw out the mental images of the "narrow neck of land" in Central America--after all, that feature is found in exactly one verse in the entire text, Ether 10:20--and see what we come up with.

[Because the image of the Central American narrow neck has been imprinted on the minds of nearly every Latter-day Saint by now, it may require non-LDS people to do this experiment. Unfortunately, most non-LDS who have heard anything about the Book of Mormon have also had this image imprinted, so we'd probably have to find people who have never heard of Mormons before.]

People who object to the New York Cumorah can at least accept this challenge as a testable hypothesis.

It would be interesting to see how many variations people would develop, even when they have a solid starting point in New York.

We would always have differences of interpretation about details, as in the case of the Anabasis, but at least we might have an overall map that works in the real world and incorporates all of the geography "clues" in the text.

Even better, we could add the second pin--Zarahemla in Iowa.

I think we'd end up with something such as this:

You fill in the blanks for Cumorah, Bountiful, etc.


How God uses families - Part 3: us

President Russel M. Nelson recently called the Book of Mormon "a global beacon of eternal truth," and this post offers another example of how true that statement is.

In previous posts, I discussed how God works with families in the scriptures and in the case of Joseph Smith. It's axiomatic that family members teach one another all kinds of lessons. Parents teach children ("And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children," Isa. 54:13, 3 Ne. 22:13) and children teach parents ("Now this is not all; little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned," Alma 32:23).

The Book of Mormon contains several examples of family relationships that led to important teachings. In addition to Lehi's challenges with Laman and Lemuel, there are examples of righteous and obedient children, as well as rebellious and disobedient children. King Benjamin teaches his sons (Mosiah 1), Alma prays for his son Alma the Younger. Later, Alma teaches his sons Helaman, Shiblon and Corianton, each with their unique circumstances. Mormon's father takes him on a field trip from their homeland to Zarahemla.

As I discussed in Part 1, the challenges Laman and Lemuel presented to Lehi prompted Lehi to seek greater knowledge and understanding, which he then shared with everyone who reads the Book of Mormon. Lehi's challenges turned out to be opportunities for him to learn more than he would have otherwise.

Often we see media reports of people who face challenges in their families and use those challenges to overcome problems and then help others who have similar challenges. These can be health problems, substance abuse issues, financial challenges, and much more, When we face challenges in our own families, we might also see them as blessings intended to prompt us to develop empathy for others, learn more, work harder, and pray more earnestly.

Regarding the Book of Mormon, readers and audience members commonly relate experiences with family members, friends, and other loved ones who "have become confused or greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon" in the words of Joseph Fielding Smith. President Smith attributed this to the two-Cumorah theory, and I think he was right. It is people who have faced these challenges in their families who seem to be most interested in the Book of Mormon geography/historicity issue--with good reason, IMO.

People who are not personally impacted by these issues typically don't think Book of Mormon geography/historicity is important. That's completely understandable. But if you or your loved ones are impacted, they you probably know why this topic matters.

I encourage you to keep studying the scriptures and learn all you can so you can build your own faith and become better prepared to answer questions. Most of all, it's time to get real and discuss these issues openly.

The Book of Mormon is a beacon of truth that, as President Nelson said, "will be your most effective instrument in bringing souls unto Jesus Christ.”

Saturday, June 25, 2016

How God uses families - Part 2: Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith's family played an essential role in the restoration of the gospel. A series of financial problems prompted his father to move the family to the Palmyra area. His family's division among different Christian denominations led him to wonder which was right. Many of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants came as answers to specific questions. 

Joseph's siblings seem designed to teach him important lessons and to help him fulfill his mission. For example, the death of his older brother Alvin lead to the revelation now canonized as Section 137. His brother Hyrum supported him throughout their lives until they died together. His brother Don Carlos rescued Joseph's publishing initiatives. His brother William taught Joseph that even the people closest to you may violently disagree with you.

Ultimately, Joseph relied on his family more than anyone else. He was fiercely loyal to them, perhaps to a fault.

One example is in the area of publishing. The Lord commanded Joseph to translate the Book of Mormon. The process required him to read out loud, with a scribe recording his words. He tried a few scribes, including his wife Emma and her brother, but these didn't work out for various reasons. Then Martin Harris came, a literate man who could write. But Martin Harris proved untrustworthy when he lost the manuscript.

The Lord sent Oliver Cowdery, who was already well known to Joseph's family. Oliver proved capable and trustworthy, so much so that he shared Joseph's important interactions with Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter James and John, Moses, Elijah, Elias, and the Savior Himself. Joseph trusted Olvier to make a copy of the manuscript and to work with Hyrum and the printer to get the Book of Mormon published.

Oliver was like a brother--almost.

In July 1831, the Lord through Joseph called W.W. Phelps, an experienced newspaperman, to be a printer in Missouri (D&C 57). Oliver was called to edit material for publication with these words: "And let my servant Oliver Cowdery assist him [Phelps], even as I have commanded, in whatsoever place I shall appoint unto him, to copy, and to correct, and select, that all things may be right before me, as it shall be proved by the Spirit through him."

The revelation contained an implicit warning that Phelps either didn't recognize or didn't heed: "And lo, if the world receive his writings—behold here is wisdom—let him obtain whatsoever he can obtain in righteousness, for the good of the saints."

Phelps published the Evening and the Morning Star, the first Mormon newspaper. However, he wrote an article about slavery that enraged the Missourians to the point that they destroyed the printing press.

Next, Joseph sent Oliver to obtain another press and set up shop in Kirtland. Oliver continued the Evening and the Morning Star, but then replaced it with the Messenger and Advocate. Eventually his older brother Warren took over as editor. 

In the meantime, Phelps turned against Joseph, giving evidence that helped justify the Missourians in imprisoning Joseph in Liberty Jail. Oliver, too, left the Church, as did Warren. Joseph turned to his brother Don Carlos, who had learned the trade from Oliver, to start another Church paper, this one titled the Elders' Journal. Joseph had himself listed as editor, but Don Carlos was the actual editor for two issues. Sidney Rigdon later edited two issues back in Missouri. 

When the Saints moved to Nauvoo, Joseph again called on Don Carlos to edit and publish a Church newspaper. This was the Times and Seasons. Don Carlos worked at the paper until he died in September 1841, at which point Benjamin Winchester offered his services and moved to Nauvoo, where Ebeneezer Robinson had assumed control of the paper. In January, 1842, Joseph received a non-canonized revelation that the Twelve should take control of the paper. He became the nominal editor in February, with Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor assisting.

But there is no historical evidence that John Taylor actually edited the paper. In fact, later, in November 1842, when Joseph Smith resigned and named Taylor as editor, Joseph said that commenced Taylor's editorial career.

In the meantime, in April 1842, Joseph's brother William fulfilled the plans of Don Carlos and started a local paper, called the Wasp. It was printed, edited and published in the same printing shop as the Times and Seasons. In light of Joseph's previous experiences with Phelps and the Cowdery brothers, it makes sense that he would resort to his own family to manage the newspapers. 

Here's where inferences enter in. I think the best explanation for the available evidence is that William was editing both newspapers; i.e., Joseph followed the same pattern he had with the Elders' Journal, with himself as the nominal editor and his brother as the actual editor. 

This makes sense given the context of his family. The departure of his closest Church brother, Oliver Cowdery, affected Joseph deeply. He trusted no one more than his blood relatives. With Don Carlos dead and Hyrum busy in every other aspect of his life and work, to whom could Joseph turn except William?

Months after Joseph named Taylor as editor, he told Taylor that he could hardly trust him with all the mistakes he made.

The more we look at Joseph's relationship with his family, the better we understand many of the things he did and said.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Volcanoes, Earthquakes and Book of Mormon geography

Today's news brought to mind an aspect of the geography issue I've written about before.

The Atlantic, June 23, 2016
Of all the imaginary requirements for the real-world setting for the Book of Mormon, my favorite is volcanoes. I've written about this before. People have been trained to think the Book of Mormon describes volcanoes. See, e.g., the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: "The land also apparently experienced occasional volcanic eruptions and earthquakes (3 Ne. 8:5-18)." [People can believe whatever they want, but when they read a citation to a scripture that doesn't say what the author claims, people need to think for themselves.]

Because there are no volcanoes east of the Rocky Mountains, the thinking goes, the Book of Mormon could not have taken place in North America.

To challenge my concept of Book of Mormon geography, people ask me, "Where are the volcanoes in the central and eastern United States?"

To which I always respond, "Where are the volcanoes in the Book of Mormon?"

Sometimes these people actually search the scriptures on their phones for the term volcano, confident by what they've been taught that the word is in there. Of course, it's not. When these people discover this, they are always surprised. (People who have relied on what they've been taught about this subject, instead of relying on the scriptures, are often surprised. That entry in Encyclopedia of Mormonism has other non-scriptural claims as well.)

The corollary to the volcano requirement is that there are no earthquakes in the central and eastern U.S. I hear this one a lot, too. "Okay, maybe there aren't volcanoes in the Book of Mormon, but there are definitely earthquakes, and there are no earthquakes in the central and eastern U.S."

I mention the New Madrid earthquakes, and they usually have no idea what I'm talking about because they never learn about that in their CES/BYU classes or from reading the citation cartel's articles.

But we don't have to go back in history. Anyone who keeps up with FEMA knows this:

"In 1999, FEMA identified four hazards in the United States that, were they consummated in all their destructive wonder, would be worthy of the title “catastrophic.” They were: a major earthquake hitting Los Angeles, a major hurricane hitting Miami, a major hurricane hitting New Orleans (check), and a giant earthquake hitting the Central US."

The quotation is from an article published yesterday by the Atlantic. You should read it, here.

The events described in 3 Nephi were also described by the people who survived the New Madrid earthquakes along the Mississippi in the early 1800s. No need for an imaginary volcano.

BTW, for those with ears to hear, there was an earthquake in Hopewell, Tennessee, a week ago. Hopewell is about 25 miles northeast of Chattanooga.

More food for thought. The Book of Mormon covers 1,000 years of history, never once mentioning a volcano, either literally or by metaphor. Seems to me that excludes any proposed location that features volcanoes.

How God uses families - Part 1: the scriptures

Lehi's family discovers the Liahona
The natural bond among family members is one of the most powerful tools the Lord has to teach and guide us.

This three-part series of posts is part of a larger project I'm working on. On this blog, I'll suggest that the Book of Mormon geography issue can be understood by examining how the Lord uses family relationships to teach the gospel.

Part 1 focus on the scriptures.
Part 2 focus on Joseph Smith
Part 3 focus on us

Here are some scriptural examples.

Lehi's calling was to preserve a branch of the House of Israel, along with the scriptures written on the brass plates. To help him fulfill his mission, the Lord gave Lehi a family that would motivate him to

1) think about what that calling entailed,
2) consult the scriptures (the brass plates) for guidance, and
3) seek and receive revelation that would instruct his own posterity, and through them, millions of people, including future generations of Gentiles who would read his writing.

The sons the Lord sent to Lehi exemplify the gospel message: obedience to gospel principles leads to happiness and salvation, while disobedience leads to misery and destruction. Hence, we have Nephi and Jacob in juxtaposition with Laman and Lemuel.

Lehi's fatherly concern for Laman and Lemuel led him to seek and obtain the famous dream/vision of the tree of life, the large and spacious building, etc. Later, that same fatherly concern led to him learn, by revelation, about the land of liberty, the redemption through the Holy Messiah, and the importance of agency (2 Nephi 1-2).

If all of Lehi's sons had been as faithful and valiant as Nephi, would Lehi have experienced the struggles that led him to obtain these revelations? Of course not.

Nephi's own struggles with his brothers led him to trust in the Lord more than he would have needed to otherwise.

Because of their family challenges, Lehi and Nephi searched the scriptures diligently, as is obvious from what they wrote. I think they learned from Isaiah 18 where the promised land was so they knew which direction to go and timed their departure from the Arabian peninsula accordingly.

There are many more examples from the scriptures of the Lord providing family dynamics that led to critical revelations and decisions. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob each had unique family situations that led them to do what they did. Moses had an older brother, Aaron, who made a golden calf for the people to worship. David had his sons Solomon and Absalom with their respective dramas. The introductory note to Hosea says "Hosea and his family are a sign unto Israel."

What other examples can you think of?

Monday, June 20, 2016

What is ubiquitous?

One of the challenges of understanding history is putting ourselves in the mindset of people in history. Today, electricity and motorized vehicles are ubiquitous. Cell phones are nearly ubiquitous. [Okay, I've been a few places in the world where there is no electricity, and no motorized vehicles, and no cell phones, but I reached those places by using all three.]

When we read Church history, what sorts of things were ubiquitous that are no longer so? And what is ubiquitous today that wasn't then?

  1. present, appearing, or found everywhere.
    "his ubiquitous influence was felt by all the family"
    synonyms:omnipresent, ever-present, everywhere, all over the place, pervasiveuniversal,worldwideglobalMore

[Google definition]


Because this blog focuses on Book of Mormon geography/historicity issues, it occurred to me that while Letter VII was ubiquitous during Joseph Smith's lifetime, it is no longer ubiquitous today.

In fact, hardly any living members of the Church have even heard of it, let alone read it.

Compare our modern mindset to that of someone living in 1842 Nauvoo, Philadelphia, New York, or England. There and then, we would have sought access to every Mormon publication we could. If we had lived in Kirtland, we would have read the Messenger and Advocate--which originally published Letter VII in 1835. We would be reading the Times and Seasons and the Gospel Reflector, both of which republished Letter VII in 1841. We wouldn't have read Joseph's personal journal, but Letter VII was in there, too. If we lived in England in 1844, we would read the pamphlet that consisted solely of Oliver Cowdery's letters, including Letter VII.

Knowledge that Cumorah was in New York was ubiquitous. It was taken for granted.

Today, members of the Church who read about the history of the Church don't share that mindset. Instead, they have been taught all their lives about the two-Cumorah theory (although most of them don't realize it).

This is the theory that the Cumorah in New York was only the place where Moroni buried the plates after hauling them from far away (I won't say where because there are a variety of theories that depend on the two-Cumorah theory and I'm not criticizing any of them. I'm just understanding the mindset of people living in the past vs. people living today). The "real Cumorah," where the Nephites and Jaredites had their final battles, was far, far away (again, you can pick your place, so long as it's not New York).

The two-Cumorah theory is implicit in the Gospel Art in the LDS Medial Library at lds.org here. It is implicit in the Arnold Friberg paintings published in millions of copies of the Book of Mormon. (Although the painting "Mormon Bids Farewell to a Once Great Nation" is generic enough to accommodate New York, the rest of the paintings were set anywhere but New York.)

I mention this so that people who read Church history can put themselves in the place of people living in 1842 Nauvoo, Philadelphia, New York, England, etc.

In other words, for today's members of the Church, the two-Cumorah theory is ubiquitous. To understand the Saints who lived during Joseph Smith's lifetime, we need to understand Letter VII and, at least temporarily, incorporate that into our thinking when we read what people wrote back in 1842.


On the Letter VII blog, I'm discussing the development of LDS thought in this area, starting here.  

Please stop citing History of the Church-Most Correct Book example

Even in recent publications, I keep coming across references to the History of the Church ("HC"). This post is a plea for all historians--actually, all LDS authors--to stop citing that source (unless they have a specific reason and they explain why they're citing it).

HC served an important role for many years, but it has been superseded by the Joseph Smith Papers. As a compilation from various sources, HC is not a verbatim record of what Joseph Smith said or wrote. The compilers re-wrote many original sources in the first person, as if Joseph Smith wrote them. While that may have been a standard, or at least acceptable, practice in the 1800s, it's misleading today.

Here's the example that prompted this post. A new book, A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine & Church History, published by BYU's Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, is getting a lot of marketing attention. I'll comment more on that book later, but for now I want to look at this issue with the HC.

I apologize in advance for the long post. It is part of a paper I was doing anyway, so I thought I'd just put it here. As always, these are preliminary thoughts, subject to change and correction.


On p. 27 of A Reason for Faith, a passage reads as follows:

It helps to know what Joseph actually meant by the phrase "most correct book." The more complete quotation states, "I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book."[24] For Joseph, the correctness was in the precepts it taught, not in the absolute infallibility of the words on the page. We know that Joseph didn't consider the actual words to be perfect, because he himself participated in making editorial changes after the first edition.

[24] History of the Church, 4-461


I'll address the substance of that argument in an upcoming post, but for now, I'm just looking at the quotation. This passage from HC 4:461 is often quoted, but Joseph never wrote those words. The passage is adapted from Wilford Woodruff's journal. [I realize that the official introduction to the Book of Mormon uses the HC version as a quotation from Joseph Smith, but that's a historical artifact, another example of the problem HC causes that ought to be corrected, so to speak.]

In the Joseph Smith papers, you can see where the HC got the quotation. It's from Volume C-1 of the History, 1838-1856, and the page is available online here. Volume C-1 was not started until 24 February 1845--after Joseph's death. The JSP note explains: "Compilers Willard Richards and Thomas Bullock drew heavily from JS’s letters, discourses, and diary entries; meeting minutes; church and other periodicals and journals; and reminiscences, recollections, and letters of church members and other contacts. At JS’s behest, Richards maintained the first-person, chronological-narrative format established in previous volumes, as if JS were the author."

The source of the "most correct book" quotation is Wilford Woodruff's journal entry for November 28, 1841:

Sunday I spent the day at B. Young in company with Joseph & the Twelve in conversing upon a variety of Subjects. It was an interesting day. Elder Joseph Fielding was present. He had been in England four years. We also saw a number of english Brethren.

Joseph Said the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any Book on Earth & the key stone of our religion & a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other Book.

Obviously, the wording is nearly the same as in HC, but is Woodruff directly quoting Joseph here? No. If nothing else, Joseph would have said "The Book of Mormon is the most correct of any Book..." But there are more reasons to conclude this is not a direct quotation.

Before parsing the phrase most correct, the preliminary question should be whether Joseph used the term correct in the first place, or if it was a term Woodruff used to summarize what he understood Joseph to have said.* In all of his holographic writings, Joseph used a form of "correct" only once. In his journal on 1 December 1832, he wrote "bore testimony to Mr. Gilmore wrote and corrected revelations &c." He never wrote the word correct as an adjective, and it does not appear in the D&C as an adjective. In the Book of Mormon, it appears only in the phrases "which were correct," "which are correct," "which are not correct," and "which were not correct."

By contrast, correct is a term Woodruff used often as an adjective, as I'll show below.

In his journals, Woodruff summarized many sermons and statements of others. He also used quotation marks hundreds of times for direct quotations, but not here.

For example, on December 19th, he made a relatively long entry that contains direct quotations from Joseph's statements, as well as summaries of what Joseph said:

Joseph the Seer arose & read a Chapter in the New Testiment containing the parable of the vine & its branches & explained it much to our edification & said "if we kept the commandments of God we should bring forth fruit & be the friends of God & know what our Lord did.

"Some say Joseph is a fallen Prophet because he does not bring forth more of the word of the Lord." "Why does he not do it?" Are we able to receive it? No (says he) not one in this room. He then chastized us for our wickedness & unbelief knowing that whom the Lord loveth he Chasteneth & Scourgeth evry son & daughter whom He receiveth & if we do not receive chastizements then are we Bastards & not Sons.

Like Woodruff's summary from December 19th, the "most correct book" sentence contains three discreet thoughts, separated by the ampersand. each with distinct grammar. While it's possible Woodruff used Joseph's terminology, I think Woodruff is using his own terminology to summarize a days' worth of conversations and teachings.

[NOTE: Two accounts of the King Follet sermon have Joseph using the phrase "most correct," so presumably he used the phrase at least on that occasion. (The amalgamated report of this sermon is the only appearance of the phrase in the entire Times and Seasons.) Joseph easily could have used the phrase in November 1841, but because Woodruff did not put it in quotations, and because he uses the word so frequently himself while Joseph never did apart from the reports of the King Follet sermon, I think it's more likely Woodruff used his own verbiage in his journal.]

The book The Lost City of Zarahemla proposes a reason for Joseph's comments about the Book of Mormon during November 1841. I won't get into that in detail here, but I propose Joseph was responding to questions about historicity that were being raised by antagonists. In this post, I'm merely assessing Woodruff's use of the term "most correct" in this context.


The 1828 Webster's dictionary gives several definitions. (Note: I'm not using Early Modern English because this is Woodruff's term, not a translation from the plates.)


CORRECTadjective [Latin , to set right; right, straight. See Right.] Literally, set right, or made straight. Hence, right; conformable to truth, rectitude or propriety, or conformable to a just standard; not faulty; free from error. A correct edition of a book is exactly according to the original copy. correct manners correspond with the rules of morality and received notions of decorum. correct principles coincide with the truth. correct language is agreeable to established usage.
CORRECTverb transitive [Latin See Right.]
1. To make right; to rectify; to bring to the standard of truth, justice, or propriety; as, to correct manners or principles. Hence,
2. To amend; to remove or retrench faults or errors; to set right; as, to correcta book; to correct a copy for the press; or in printing, to correct the press, or errors of the press.
3. To bring back or attempt to bring back to propriety in morals; to punish for faults or deviations from moral rectitude; to chastise; to discipline; as, a child should be corrected for lying.
CORRECT thy son, and he shall give thee rest. Proverbs 29:17.
4. To obviate or remove whatever is wrong or inconvenient; to reduce or change the qualities of any thing by mixture, or other application; to counteract whatever is injurious; as, to correct the acidity of the stomach by alkaline preparations; to correct the relaxing quality of water by boiling it with animal substances.

When you see how Woodruff used the term in other contexts, you might conclude, like me, that he uses it for a variety of meanings. Here are examples from the second volume of his journal (1841-1845):

- 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.

Comment: one wonders how Woodruff knew the drawings were "correct" if he had never seen these sites for himself; i.e., he couldn't possibly know whether the drawings were accurate. Instead, he seems to have a different connotation in mind. Exact? Detailed? Precise? Complete? Pleasing?

- It contains 14 portraits correct likenesses of the following Persons: Napoleon in the centre at full length in his Imperial Robes seated on a throne of bronze represented as A Star surrounded by 13 rays upon which are inscribed the following names: Wertengen, Hemmingen, Flechengin, Ulm, Augsbourg, Braunau, Lintz Diernstern Vienne, Inspruk, Brunn, Austenlitz And Presbury.

Comment: again, one wonders how Woodruff knew the portraits were "correct" if he had never met these people himself. What could he have meant by the term here? Exact? Detailed? Precise? Complete? Pleasing?

- The Govonor acknowledges the death of the Prophet and Patriarch to be a wanton murder. We do not obtain one word from any of our friends so that we can obtain anything Correct upon the subject. I hope we may get sumthing soon.

Comment: Does Woodruff really mean "correct" in the sense of "free from error," or does he mean reliable and trustworthy?

- In the evening I met with the quorum and had an interesting time. We had received correct information concerning the death of Joseph Duncan & Govornor Reynold of Missouri. He Shot himself through the head. They were two of the most invenerate enemies against the latter Day Saints. President Joseph Smith Prophesyed that within five years we should be rid of our old enemies whether they were Apostates or of the world & wished us to record it that when it comes to pass that we need not say we had forgotten the saying.

Comment. Reynolds did die of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, but Duncan died after several days of illness. What does Woodruff mean by "correct" here? Recent? Important? Accurate? Had he previously received false information? How did he know this report was accurate?

- We have already got the opinions of men enough concerning the coming of Jesus Christ. But we need the voice of a Prophet in such a Case & we have it & I am willing to risk my all upon it. And if the Elders understand the principal of gathering and teach it correctly the people would have the correct spirit of gathering.

Comment. A connotation of accurate doesn't fit here; instead, the term seems to invoke conformance to a standard of behavior and motivation.

So when he recorded that "Joseph Said the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any Book on Earth," what did Woodruff mean?

I don't think Woodruff was referring to the precepts; those are mentioned in the third separate part of the sentence.

I think Joseph spent some time reiterating the accuracy of the translation and the reality of the historicity of the text. And Woodruff summarized that by writing that it was the most correct of any book on Earth.

It's interesting that the 1828 Webster's uses this example: "A correct edition of a book is exactly according to the original copy." That, it seems to me, would also apply to a translation.

Therefore, I propose that Woodruff used the term "correct" to mean accurate, real, historical, and factual.

When we look at the changes to the text that Joseph and others made, they involved mainly punctuation and spelling. There were few changes to word choices and additions to the text, which boil down to clarifications (and sometimes eliminated the Hebrew constructions). In a way, some of these changes, while well-intentioned and designed to help English readers, actually obscured the literary indications of ancient origins. We could even say the text was more accurate when originally translated than it is now. Fortunately, we have the original printer's manuscript for comparison.


*Because it was edited into a first-person statement by Joseph Smith, Woodruff's summary has generated a tremendous amount of analysis and controversy about what Joseph meant by "most correct." In addition to the excerpt from A Reason for Faith, here are some of many articles on the topic:




These are all useful discussions about the Book of Mormon, but they don't necessarily have anything to do with what Joseph Smith said. Instead, they expound on how Woodruff summarized Joseph's teachings.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Stages of Truth and the geography question

One of the ironies of Book of Mormon geography is that we are simply going back to the beginning, but many people seem to think of the North American setting as something new.

I'm all in favor of people believing whatever they want, even when it comes to Book of Mormon geography. Maybe especially when it comes to this topic. At the same time, I hope people think about it a little.

One of the more famous explanations of the stages of truth is attributed to  Arthur Schopenhauer. a German philosopher (1788 – 1860). These stages seem to apply to individuals as well as groups, societies, nations, and even worldwide culture.

Of course, it's easy to quibble with this particular expression of the stages, but they are thought-provoking. And it should be obvious that the same stages could apply to a variety of concepts.

See how they apply to what you think, not only about Book of Mormon geography but other issues.

All truth passes through three stages. 

First, it is ridiculed.

Second, it is violently opposed.

Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

Others have added some gloss:

First, truth is ignored. (Alex Paterson)
Second, truth is ridiculed.
Third, truth is violently opposed.
Fourth, truth is accepted as being self-evident.
Fifth, truth was my idea. (Arthur C. Clark)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Decision Tree analysis

One way to think about Book of Mormon geography is a series of decisions. Decision tree analysis lets people see their choices, and the consequences of their choices.

Start with the Hill Cumorah (the one described in the text, where the Jaredites and Nephites fought their final battles).

Oliver Cowdery's eight letters to W.W. Phelps contained the first detailed descriptions of many early Church history events, including the discussion of the Hill Cumorah in Letter VII. Oliver introduced the letters with this statement in the October 1834 Messenger and Advocate, which is online here:

"That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. SMITH jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensable. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative, well worth the examination and perusal of the Saints.-To do justice to this subject will require time and space: we therefore ask the forbearance of our readers, assuring them that it shall be founded upon facts."

Letter VII starts on p. 159, which is online here. If you believe what Oliver Cowdery wrote in Letter VII, then you think the Hill Cumorah is in New York. If you don't believe Letter VII, then you think the Hill Cumorah is elsewhere.

It's a simple choice.

The way you proceed through a decision tree makes a difference. Some people decide that the Hill Cumorah is not in New York before they even consider Letter VII. When they read Letter VII, they immediately realize that Letter VII contradicts their belief. They are faced with a decision: do I stick with my beliefs about the Hill Cumorah and reject Letter VII, or do I accept Letter VII and change my beliefs about the Hill Cumorah?

Others read Letter VII first and decide whether to accept or reject it. Then they move on from there.

I think the second approach makes more sense; i.e., ask what Oliver (and Joseph) said about the topic, and decide whether to reject or accept what they said. After all, they were the ones who translated the text. Together, they interacted with Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John, Elijah, Elias and the Lord Himself. Oliver wrote Letter VII, but Joseph endorsed it fully. In fact, he wrote Oliver a brief letter in response to the first of the letters to clarify a few points about his "life and character." Oliver published the letter in the Messenger and Advocate. Joseph was free to comment on the other letters, but he never did. Instead, he had his scribe copy them into his journal as part of his story.

No one says you have to accept or reject Letter VII. We all make up our own minds, based on the evidence. But the decision tree analysis lets us clearly see the decisions we make.


Whether you accept or reject Letter VII, you can next consider David Whitmer's statement that he heard about Cumorah from a heavenly messenger before the translation of the Book of Mormon was even completed. If you believe him, you think the Hill Cumorah is in New York. If you don't believe him, then you think it is elsewhere.

You can proceed in this fashion through all the different Church history statements, the text itself, and the various applicable sciences.

[cross-posted here]

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Joseph's final word on Book of Mormon geography

Joseph Smith didn't say much about Book of Mormon geography, but he said enough to make it clear and simple. 

Letter VII was his last word on the subject. 

Letter VII was explicit and unambiguous: the New York hill where Joseph obtained the plates was the hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon. The mile-wide valley to the west of the hill was the location of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place. No one who reads Letter VII can be mistaken about this. There is no room for confusion about this point.

Why would Joseph have to say anything more on the topic?

The geography issue is more straightforward than people think. Letter VII is by far the most specific and declarative statement about Book of Mormon geography in existence. Although it was written by Oliver Cowdery, Joseph helped write it and explicitly endorsed it multiple times. 

Everything directly attributable to Joseph Smith is consistent with Letter VII and the North American geography. Everything that contradicts Letter VII and the North American geography is not directly attributable to Joseph Smith. 

Another way to say it: Those who think Joseph didn't know where the Book of Mormon took place rely on statements that can't be directly attributed to him.

I'll address objections to Letter VII in a separate post. Here, I want to point out that after Letter VII, Joseph wrote or said only three known things about the geography question, all of which are consistent with Letter VII. These are the Matthews interview, the Wentworth letter, and D&C 128.

People often ask me what Joseph said about Book of Mormon geography. In the next section is a helpful list from FairMormon, with my comments in red. Like most such lists, this one ignores Letter VII but includes the anonymous articles from the Times and Seasons. 

This common practice is difficult to justify historically. Joseph explicitly helped to write the Cowdery letters, including Letter VII. He had them copied into his journal and gave explicit permission to others to reprint them. 

By contrast, there is zero historical evidence that Joseph had anything to do with the anonymous Times and Seasons articles, and he never endorsed them explicitly or implicitly. The only link to him is the boilerplate at the end of the Times and Seasons listing Joseph as the editor, publisher and printer of the newspaper. To say this constitutes evidence that Joseph actually edited the paper would also constitute evidence that he physically printed the paper, a proposition no one takes seriously.

Based on historical evidence, Letter VII is much more Joseph's than the anonymous Times and Seasons articles. Plus, Letter VII is consistent with everything else Joseph said or wrote on the topic, while the anonymous Times and Seasons articles contradict everything else Joseph said or wrote on the topic.

Now, let's look at the list.__________________

From FairMormon:
The page lists statements related to Book of Mormon geography that are attributed to Joseph Smith.

2 Feb 1833: American Revivalist

The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western tribes of Indians… By it, we learn that our western tribes of Indians, are descendants from that Joseph that was sold into Egypt, and that the land of America is a promised land unto them.[1]

3 June 1834: (Zion's Camp) The story of Zelph

Main article: Zelph [During Zion's Camp, Joseph and some of the brethren climbed a mound in Illinois and began digging. At some point, Joseph had a vision of the man whose bones they found. Several witnesses wrote about the event, each describing different details, but essentially Zelph was a Lamanite killed in the final battles. He (or his military general Onandagus) was known from the Rocky Mountains to the East Sea or Cumorah. These are both Book of Mormon locations, near one another, in North America.]

4 June 1834: (Zion's Camp) Joseph Smith believes that Illinois is the "plains of the Nephites" [Zion's Camp had crossed Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to reach the banks of the Mississippi River, where Joseph wrote this letter. Emma was presumably familiar with the Book of Mormon, having served as a scribe for part of the translation and having been present during most of the translation.]

The following is taken from a letter written by Joseph Smith to his wife Emma during the trek known as "Zion's Camp".
The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendour and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed.[2]

November 1835: Journal account regarding Moroni's first visits

He told me of a sacred record which was written on plates of gold, I saw in the vision the place where they were deposited, he said the indians were the literal descendants of Abraham he explained many things of the prophesies to me[3]
[This account was not written by Joseph Smith. It originated as a conversation with Robert Matthews in 9-11 November 1835, recorded by Warren Parrish in Journal, 1835-1836 here. and by Warren Cowdery here. Joseph related the events to Matthews after Letter VII was published.]

July 19, 1840: Joseph teaches that the Land of Zion consists of North and South America

...speaking of the Land of Zion, It consists of all N[orth] & S[outh] America but that any place where the Saints gather is Zion which every righteous man will build up for a place of safety for his children...The redemption of Zion is the redemption of all N[orth] & S[outh] America." (emphasis added)[4]
[This account was the first sermon recorded by 19-year-old Martha Jane Knowlton Coray. It is the subject of a separate blog post, but when read in context, Joseph most likely was referring to North and South America meaning North and South United States, not the continents. It has been misconstrued ever since.] 

16 November 1841: Joseph dictates the Bernhisel letter

John Bernhisel joined the LDS Church in 1837 while practicing medicine in New York City. In 1841 he was ordained bishop of the congregation in New York City. Bernhisel was a well-educated man, and in 1841 read Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan by John L. Stephens.
Impressed by the book, Bernhisel gave the two-volume work to Wilford Woodruff in September 1841 with instructions to make sure it was given to Joseph Smith. Woodruff, who was on his way back from England to Nauvoo, delivered the book, as requested.
It would appear that Joseph appreciated receiving the book, as he wrote a letter to Bernhisel acknowledging the gift. [This statement is false. No one knows who wrote this letter; the handwriting remains unidentified. There is no evidence that Joseph dictated this letter or even knew about it. I've written a detailed analysis of the historical evidence, which shows that by far the most likely source of the letter is Wilford Woodruff.] 

Dated November 16, 1841, the first paragraph of the letter is as follows:
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.[5]

1 March 1842: Wentworth letter

I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people was made known unto me: I was also told where there was deposited some plates on which were engraven an abridgement [abridgment] of the records of the ancient prophets that had existed on this continent....
The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country. This book also tells us that our Saviour [Savior] made his appearance upon this continent after his resurrection, that he planted the gospel here in all its fulness [fullness], and richness, and power, and blessing; that they had apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists; the same order, the same priesthood, the same ordinances, gifts, powers, and blessing, as was enjoyed on the eastern continent, that the people were cut off in consequence of their transgressions…[6]

[An important part of this letter that people forget (or ignore) is that it was adapted from Orson Pratt's 1840 pamphlet "A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions." Pratt quoted from Letter VII, but he also spent several pages describing the Central/South American theory of geography. Joseph deleted all of that when he wrote the Wentworth letter, a clear repudiation of that geography theory. Instead, Joseph specified that the remnant of the Nephite/Lamanite nation are the Indians that inhabited the United States in 1842.]

15 July 1842: Joseph Smith discusses high civilization in the Americas, uses mound-builders and Guatemalan ruins as an example [That sentence is false. Nothing in this editorial states or implies Joseph wrote it. It is signed "Ed." for Editor; it is not signed by Joseph Smith. There is no evidence that Joseph wrote, edited, or even saw this article before or after it was published. He and Oliver Cowdery had unequivocally identified the location of the Hill Cumorah. Why Joseph let others speculate about the rest is the topic of a separate post, but he never varied from Letter VII.]

NOTE: Page 862 of this issue of the Times and Seasons states: "The Times and Seasons, Is edited, printed and published about the first and fifteenth of every month, on the corner of Water and Bain Streets, Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, by JOSEPH SMITH"
If men, in their researches into the history of this country, in noticing the mounds, fortifications, statues, architecture, implements of war, of husbandry, and ornaments of silver, brass, &c.-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 [Guatemala], 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 Mormen [Mormon] unfolds their history.-ED.[7]
This statement was signed "ED," which attributes it directly to Joseph Smith. [

15 Sept. 1842: Speculation that Palenque is a Nephite city

NOTE: Page 926 of this issue of the Times and Seasons states: "The Times and Seasons, Is edited, printed and published about the first fifteenth of every month, on the corner of Water and Bain Streets, Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, by JOSEPH SMITH."
Although Joseph Smith is listed as the editor at this time, opinions vary on whether it may have actually been either John Taylor or Wilford Woodruff who wrote this unsigned article.[8] [9] [The historical evidence points to none of those three, but instead to William Smith, W.W. Phelps, and Benjamin Winchester.] John Taylor later became the editor of Times and Seasons. Regardless of whether it was Joseph Smith, Wilford Woodruff, or John Taylor who wrote this article, its publication occurred prior to the death of Joseph Smith. The subject being discussed is a very popular book by John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, which Joseph Smith read and enjoyed:
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. Read the destruction of cities at the crucifixion of Christ...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:—and the mystery is solved...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. Read the destruction of cities at the crucifixion of Christ, pages 459-60. Who could have dreamed that twelve years would have developed such incontrovertible testimony to the Book of Mormon? (emphasis added)<ref?John Taylor (editor), "Extract from Stephens' 'Incidents of Travel in Central America'," Times and Seasons 3 no. 22 (15 September 1842), 915. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)

1 Oct. 1842: Zarahemla "stood upon this land" of Central America

NOTE: Page 942 of this issue of the Times and Seasons states: "The Times and Seasons, Is edited, printed and published about the first fifteenth of every month, on the corner of Water and Bain Streets, Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, by JOSEPH SMITH." [The historical evidence points not to Joseph Smith, but instead to William Smith, W.W. Phelps, and Benjamin Winchester. Notice, too, that this same issue contains the letter that became D&C 128, with its reference to Cumorah, Moroni's visit, the Three Witnesses, and other events that took place in New York and Pennsylvania. People forget this letter was written in the context of Letter VII, which had been reprinted in the Times and Seasons just a year earlier and would be reprinted in England in 1844 to satisfy the demand for more copies.]
[W]e have found another important fact relating to the truth of the Book of Mormon. 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...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 going 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.(emphasis added)[citation needed]


  1. Jump up Joseph Smith, “Mormonism,” The American Revivalist and Rochester Observer 7/6 (February 2, 1833). Only the last two paragraphs of Joseph’s letter to the newspaper were printed. The entire letter appeared eleven years later in the November 15, 1844 issue of the Times and Seasons.
  2. Jump up Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, [original edition] (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1984). ISBN 0877479747GL direct link
  3. Jump up JS Journal, Nov 1835 [citation needed]
  4. Jump up Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, [edited by Dean C. Jessee], "Joseph Smith's July 19, 1840 Discourse," Brigham Young University Studies 19 no. 3 (Spring 1979), 392.
  5. Jump up Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 533.
  6. Jump up Joseph Smith, "Church History," Times and Seasons 3 no. 9 (1 March 1842), 707. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.). See also History of the Church, 4:535–541. Volume 4 link
  7. Jump up Joseph Smith (editor), "American Antiquities," Times and Seasons 3 no. 18 (15 July 1842), 860. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  8. Jump up Kenneth W. Godfrey, "What is the Significance of Zelph In The Study Of Book of Mormon Geography?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 (1999): 70–79. off-site wiki Godfrey believes that the author was either John Taylor or Wilford Woodruff.
  9. Jump up John E. Clark, "Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/2 (2005): 38–49. off-site wiki Clark believes that the author was Joseph Smith.