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Joseph Smith, Josiah Priest, and the Times and Seasons
Vincent Coon (MS)
Straightforward answers to questions about signed and controversial unsigned newspaper articles on the topic of “Book of Mormon geography”. Joseph Smith’s signed editorials are shown to draw substantially from Josiah Priest’s work on the mound builders, not from John Lloyd Stephens’ bestseller.
Did early Latter-day Saints pay much attention to Book of Mormon details about covenant lands?
No, they did not.
Mesoamerican setting apologist John L. Sorenson agrees that early Mormons did not pay a lot of attention to Book of Mormon details.
Sorenson first cites “revelations to Joseph Smith (e.g., Doctrine and Covenants 28:8; 32:2; 49:24; and 54:8)” which clearly identify native North American peoples as Book of Mormon “Lamanites”. Sorenson states that these revelations were “given to the Church members “after the manner of their language” and understanding (D. & C. 1:24).” What the verse cited by Sorenson actually says is that the revelations and divine commandments were given by God “after the manner of their [the Saint’s] language, that they might come to understanding” - not misunderstanding. Sorenson then admits:
“We must also realize that the Book of Mormon was not an object of careful study in the early days of the Church, in fact it was referred to surprisingly little. (see Grant Underwood, “Book of Mormon Usage in Early LDS Theology,” Dialogue 17 (3, Autumn 1984): 35-74). The scripture anchored faith and clarified aspects of theology, but it was not studied systematically, let alone critically, as history or geography.” 
The Lord warned the Saints not to persist in treating the Book of Mormon lightly; otherwise a condemnation would settle upon “the whole church…even all”. (LDS D&C 84:54-57)
The Book of Mormon clearly describes a localized geography for its principal American lands comparable to the biblical Promised Land. This fact apparently went unnoticed by the vast majority of early church members.
Today, some want to make the term “limited geography” synonymous with limited Mesoamerican geography, but the fact is there is no such things as a completely limited Mesoamerican geography proposed for the Book of Mormon.
Central or South American scenarios have the Nephite prophet
When the record was finally translated by Joseph Smith, it was likened to Book of Mormon peoples, who had “possessed” the land, speaking from the ground. (Mormon 8:23-26) This was not ground thousands of miles away from where Joseph translated the book! (2 Nephi 26:15-16)
Did early members of the Church agree on the geography of Book of Mormon events?
Yes and No! They agreed on the general location of the land
Cumorah, “in a land of many water, rivers, and fountains”. The
W. W. Phelps speculated that the vast prairies of North America were the Book of Mormon land of Desolation. 
early Saints placed the southern most Nephite land and city of
Early Latter-day Saints definitely saw North American mound builder
artifacts as evidence in support of their scripture. January 1, 1842,
“EVIDENCES IN PROOF OF THE BOOK OF MORMON” published in
the Times and Seasons (pg. 640).
The article draws attention to a book by Charles Blancher Thompson,
Apostle John E. Page sought to connect Book of Mormon cities with the
wonderful but anachronistic ruins portrayed in John Lloyd Stephens’ 1841
bestseller, Incidents of travel in
Apostle Orson Pratt proposed a South American landing site for the Book
of Mormon patriarch Lehi – on the coast of
Pratt’s exaggerated hemispheric geography placed Zarahemla in
dubious unsigned document in the hand writing of Frederick G. Williams
alleges essentially the same Chilean landing site as that proposed by
Orson Pratt. This document was unjustifiably promoted as “a revelation
to Joseph, the Seer”.  These indiscretions are still drawn
upon to give the appearance of supporting a South American setting. The
fact is the original geography proposed by Pratt and others was not
localized in South America, but spread Book of Mormon events over much
While there was a general lack of consensus among the various exaggerated geographies proposed by early members of the Church, all the early Saints agreed without exception, on the general location of the Book of Mormon land Cumorah, “in a land of many waters, rivers and fountains” – the Finger Lakes region of western New York. (Mormon 6:4; LDS D&C 128:20) This much had been revealed!
First Presidency member George Q. Cannon was quite certain about the location of Cumorah. At the same time, he had “no confidence” in proposed Book of Mormon maps of his day, and discouraged their distribution. 
Elder B. H. Roberts, willing to admit the possibility of “some misconceptions and ... wrong deductions”; leaned towards a Central American geography straddling the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (not Panama). He found reasons to question South American sites promoted by earlier church leaders. (B. H. Roberts, New Witness for God, “IX. - The Geography of the Book”, Vol. 3, 1895, pp 499-503)
Like LDS leaders before him, Elder Roberts ardently defended the
scriptural location of Cumorah. In an article titled
Like LDS leaders before him, Elder Roberts ardently defended the scriptural location of Cumorah. In an article titled“Central and Western New York and Ancient Battle Field”, Roberts resourced the work of Josiah Priest for its physical evidence. (B. H. Roberts, New Witness for God, Vol. 3, 1895, pp 67-68)
Joseph Smith’s mother Lucy Mack Smith, and Book of Mormon witness David
Whitmer, related that the identity of Cumorah was made known
early on by divine being. [8, 9]
“Cumorah” was “something new” to David Whitmer, who first heard the name
in company with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery near Fayette,
Joseph Smith declared his signed, September 6th, 1842 letter
to the Church (LDS D&C 128) to be “the word of the Lord”.
(LDS D&C 127:10) The most plain and straight forward interpretation of LDS D&C
128, verse 20, is that it refers to the Book of Mormon land Cumorah.
The Hill Cumorah is not specifically mentioned in the verse. The
angelic declaration of the fulfillment of the prophets, and coming forth
of the Book of Mormon, as stated in the verse, took place in the Smith
family home in the Book of Mormon
Apparently not many, if any early members of the Church picked up on the
fact that the land of Zarahemla and the land of many waters (near
Cumorah) were so near each other, that travelers from the
elevated land of Nephi in the south could get lost and end up confusing
one region for the other. According to the Book of Mormon, the
was not LDS members who first devised the notion of a “Cumorah” in
Could church leaders have received revelation, short of complete understanding?
Yes. The general location of Cumorah was known. Other Book of Mormon sites became the subject of far flung speculation.
The Apostle Paul wrote:
“For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” (1 Corinthians 13:9 - 10)
The Book of Mormon prophet Alma received revelation on the subject of resurrection, yet certain details were left to his own opinion. (Alma 40:20)
It is an “all or nothing” fallacy that says that because early church leaders speculated, disagreed and changed their minds about the location of many Book of Mormon sites, that no information had been given on the location of American covenant lands. At the very least Joseph Smith knew and revealed that some Book of Mormon lands were in his own country (e.g. Cumorah). Beyond this he allowed others of the Church to form divergent opinions regarding the whereabouts of other Book of Mormon sites.
In his 1841 bestseller, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, did renowned traveler John Lloyd Stephens actually discuss mound builder antiquities found in his own country?
Yes! Stephens’ two-volume book discusses more than the “comparative
modern” ruins of
Stephens’ bestseller in fact elucidates on the history and antiquities
“…a new flood of light has poured upon the world, and the field of American antiquities has been opened…In our own country, the opening of forests and the discovery of tumuli or mounds and fortifications, extending in ranges from the lakes through the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi, mummies in a cave in Kentucky, the inscription on the rock at Dighton…the ruins of walls and a great city in Arkansas and Wisconsin Territory, had suggested…the strong belief that powerful and populous nations had occupied it and had passed away, whose histories are entirely unknown.”  (Bold emphasis added here and hereafter)
Did Stephens believe that the Central American ruins which he and Catherwood documented were very ancient?
No – he did not!
Stephens in fact devoted an entire chapter in Incidents of Travel in Central America to the conclusion that the hewn stone ruins were relatively recent works – not truly ancient:
“…they are not the works of people who have passed away, and whose history has become unknown; but…they were constructed by the races who occupied the country at the time of the invasion by the Spaniards, or of some not very distant progenitors.” 
Was Joseph Smith aware of Stephens’ conclusions regarding the date of the Central American ruins - in other words, had Joseph Smith completely read Stephens two-volume book?
Yes! Having “read the volumes with the greatest interest”, Joseph Smith could not have missed Stephens’ conclusions that the Central American stone ruins dated relatively recent:
In a letter to John M. Bernhisel dated November 16, 1841, in the handwriting of John Taylor, the Prophet praised Stephens’ book saying that it, “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 & comprehensive.” 
Is there anything in Joseph Smith’s reference to “this country” (in
his letter of appreciation for Stephens’ book) that indicates he meant
No! Stephens’ book in fact discusses “a new flood of light”
pertaining to “American antiquities” found in his “own country” (the
Some months after reading Stephens’ bestseller, Joseph Smith
published several signed editorials on North American evidence for the
Book of Mormon. These articles followed the topics highlighted in
Stephens’ brief but accurate historical outline of “American
antiquities” – antiquities found in what Stephens refers to as “our own
“…the field of American antiquities…In our own country, the opening of forests and the discovery of tumuli or mounds and fortifications, extending in ranges from the lakes through the valleys of the Ohio …”  This list predates Joseph Smith’s signed editorial on Josiah Priest’s American Antiquities and Discoveries in the West:
Corroborating earth, timber and rock works described in the Book of Mormon (e.g. Alma 48:7-8), Joseph Smith cites ancient North American “…forts, tumuli, roads, wells, mounds, walls enclosing between one and two hundred, and even five hundred acres of land; some of them stone, and others of earth, twenty feet thick, and exceeding high…”  Joseph Smith summarizes the relationship between mound builder antiquities and the Book of Mormon:
“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…” 
Joseph Smith seems to distinguish these discoveries from
and Catherwood's researches in
Stephens cites, “mummies in a cave in
Joseph Smith later published an entire article on this subject, drawing
mostly from a chapter in Josiah Priest’s American Antiquities.
In this article Joseph Smith equates “North American Indians”
Book of Mormon “descendants of
After John Taylor became official editor of the Times and Seasons,
he published a preface from Stephens’ work in which the renowned
traveler clearly distinguishes the “country”
Does Joseph Smith’s Journal mention John Lloyd Stephens’
No! The redacted History of the Church, however, has inserted the following entry after the date June 25, 1842:
“Transacted Business with Brother Hunter and Mr. Babbit, and sat for a
drawing of my profile to be placed on a lithograph of the map of the
“The Work of Stephens and Catherwood.”
“Messrs. Stephens and Catherwood have succeeded in collecting in the
The above statement was not written or dictated by Joseph Smith. It is a more recent inclusion in a redacted compilation of church history. The Prophet’s journal entry for Saturday, June 25, 1842 (in the handwriting of Willard Richards, clerk) makes no mention of the work of Stephens and Catherwood, or of relics.
Joseph Smith’s Journal actually reads:
25 June, 1842 – Saturday
“Transacted Business with Bro. Hunter and Mr. Babbit. & sat for the drawing of his profile. for lithographing on city chart.” 
Joseph Smith is here referred to in the third person, because the
original journal entry was written by Willard Richards (clerk).
The well meaning redactor of History of the Church apparently thought it acceptable to represent the entry as if Joseph had made it himself. The insertion about Stephens and Catherwood may have been viewed as historically informative, but it is not authentic. Wilford Woodruff’s Journal (September 13, 1841), on the other hand, does mention Catherwood’s presentation “before the publick” praising it as “a wonder to the world.” (2:126)
Did the Times and Seasons newspaper suggest that all
No! Early members of the Church recognized that Book of Mormon
events took place in lands occupied by the
The 1841 Times and Seasons under Editor Don Carlos Smith (brother of Joseph Smith) announced Stephens’ and Catherwood’s discoveries in Central America as proof “that, on this vast continent, once flourished a mighty people, skilled in the arts and sciences, and whose splendor would not be eclipsed by any of the nations of Antiquity…” 
Unsigned articles published September 15, 1842 featured extracts from
Stephens’ Incidents of Travel in Central America. These articles
advocated an exaggerated geography; alleging that the Book of Mormon’s
“narrow neck of land” embraces all of Central America; and that Lehi
landed in South America, just south of
Even the overly touted “ZARAHEMLA” article (October 1, 1842) does not in fact promote a localized Central American geography. The unsigned article speculates that the ruins of Quirigua could be those of Zarahemla or some other Book of Mormon city.  Because the writer(s) of the article had an exaggerated geography in mind, the conflict between the “ZARAHEMLA” article and a Letter from Joseph Smith published in the same issue, went unnoticed. 
The epistle to the Church signed by the Prophet in hiding, places
Cumorah in the Finger Lakes region of
Times and Seasons under John Taylor (editor) referenced the works
of both Josiah Priest and John Lloyd Stephens – a fact more than one
Central American Cumorahists fails to mention. John Taylor saw evidence
for the Book of Mormon coming from both northern and Central
“the accounts given in the Book of Mormon concerning
large cities and civilized people having inhabited this land, was
generally disbelieved and pronounced a humbug.
Priest, since then has
thrown some light on this interesting subject. Stephens in his
"Incidents of Travels in
Early members of the Church overreached in more than geography, in their efforts to defend the Book of Mormon against those who scoffed at the idea of advanced civilizations in ancient American. With John Taylor as acting editor, assisted by Wilford Woodruff, an emphasis was placed in the Times and Seasons on archaeological discoveries described in the popular books of the time - especially Stephens’.
Unlike Josiah Priest, John Lloyd Stephens never openly criticized the Book of Mormon in his bestsellers. An unsigned 1843 article emphasized Stephens’ work “ought to be in the hands of every Latter Day Saint; corroborating, as it does the history of the Book of Mormon. There is no stronger circumstantial evidence of the authenticity of the latter book…than that contained in Mr. Stephens’ works.”  Stephens work was inappropriately promoted as an essential guide to the ruins of Book of Mormon cities.  The ensuing tradition, in time, led to confusion, deep disappointment and embarrassment. 
John Taylor urged that, “the Book of Mormon does not give a more extensive account of large and populous cities than those discoveries now demonstrate to be even in existence”. 
ever his specific views regarding the ruins of
John Taylor quotes an article published in the Texas Telegraph, October 11, 1843, which concludes:
“The antiquarian who is desirous to trace the
Aztec or Toltec races in their migrations from the northern regions
With members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in charge of publishing the Times and Seasons, was anything ever printed in the paper that Joseph Smith did not endorse or agree with?
Unfortunately – yes!
January 28, 1842, the Quorum of Twelve Apostles was instructed by revelation to “take in hand the Editorial department of the Times and Seasons”. The following February the paper was purchased by the Church from Ebenezer Robinson, who since the death of Don Carlos Smith, had been sole proprietor. John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff were then appointed to take charge of the printing establishment. Though the Twelve had been commanded to take the editorial department in hand, it was not fully decided at that time whether Joseph Smith would be the editor instead of the Twelve. 
In the February 15, 1842 edition, Ebenezer Robinson bid farewell to subscribers and made the following, perhaps premature announcement:
“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.
With these considerations, I feel confident that the agents and friends of the Times and Seasons will exert themselves to support the press; 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.” (Bold emphasis added here and hereafter)
Brother Robinson’s ironic parting comments were followed by an announcement to subscribers:
“It will be noticed in the above communication of our much respected friend, E. Robinson, Esq. that the paper is no longer printed, and published by that gentleman; but that it has fallen to our lot to issue this valuable and interesting periodical, and to take the Editorial chair… As it regards ourselves we have very little to say, but shall leave it for the future to unfold; and for a discerning public to judge. The important events that are daily transpiring around us; the rapid advance of truth; …the epistles and teachings of the Twelve; and the revelations which we are receiving from the most High, will ho 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.” (Bold emphasis added)
Regrettably, the February 15, 1842 edition of the paper was published in the Prophet’s name. The end of the paper bears the following:
THE TIMES AND SEASONS, is edited by JOSEPH SMITH.
Printed and published about the first and fifteenth of every month, on
the corner of Water and Bain Streets, Nauvoo,
This has given some the misinformed impression that Joseph Smith began his editorial career in February 1842. Though members of the twelve were responsible for the paper at this time and even published in the Prophet’s name; an untoward, and embarrassingly risqué notice was printed in the paper giving every appearance of being endorsed by the editor “JOSEPH SMITH” and or John Taylor. The following apologetic notice “TO THE PUBLIC” was published in the March 15, 1842 in the Times and Seasons, pg. 729:
“Lest wrong impressions should obtain abroad, detrimental to the interest and influence of President Joseph Smith, respecting a marriage notice, which appeared in the Times and Seasons, of the 15th of February ult. I deem it a privilege to make a short statement of facts concerning the matter, which, I am confident, will entirely exonerate that gentleman from all blame or censure, which may have been put upon him on account of the publication of said notice.
On the 6th of Feb. I gave possession of the establishment, to Willard Richards the purchaser on the behalf of the Twelve; at which time my responsibility ceased as editor. On the 7th this marriage took place, and the notice was written by one of the hands in the office, and put in type by one of the boys, without, undoubtedly, any expectation of its being printed. At this time it was not fully decided whether President Smith should take the responsibility of editor, or not, therefore that paper went to press without his personal inspection; and as this article was standing in type with the other matter, it found its way into the paper unnoticed, as both the person who wrote it, and the boy, together with either journeymen, had been discharged by the purchasers, also, the proof reader did not observe it, as the words used were printer's phrases and he was not looking for any thing indecorous or unbecoming. The first time Pres't Smith or myself saw the article, was after the papers had been struck off, when it was too late to remedy the evil. We both felt very sorely mortified, at the time; but I am fully persuaded that the kind readers of the Times will cheerfully overlook whatever fault there may be, as that was the first time any such thing ever appeared in the columns of this paper, and not attribute any blame to Pres't Smith, as he is not guilty in the least, and had no knowledge of the thing until it was too late.
I will here take the liberty to state that from an intimate acquaintance of near seven years with Pres't. Joseph Smith, I never yet have seen a single indecent or unbecoming word or sentence, from his pen, but to the reverse; therefore I can with all confidence, assure the patrons of this paper, that they have nothing to fear, but every thing to hope for, in the exchange of editors.
Is there any known revelation indicating that the Lord changed his mind and wanted Joseph Smith to take editorial responsibility for the Times and Seasons.
No. This appears to have been Joseph’s own decision, or rather his concession.
The January 28, 1842 revelation specifically states:
“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 the manifestation which shall be given unto them by the Power of my Holy Spirit in the midst of their counsel Saith the Lord. Amen.” 
Elder Woodruff’s insightful journal (February 3) records:
“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 and Seasons… After consulting upon the subject the quorum appointed Elders J. Taylor and W Woodruff of the Twelve to Edit the Times & Seasons & take charge of the whole establishment under the direction of Joseph the Seer.” (2:153 - bold emphasis added)
History of the Church 4:513 states that on Thursday, February 3, 1842 “Elder Woodruff took the superintendence of the printing office, and John Taylor the editorial department of the Times and Seasons…” This note was not entered in Joseph Smith’s Journal. Wilford Woodruff’s Journal shows that Elders Woodruff and Taylor were laboring in the “printing esstablishment” in early February 1842. (2:153-154)
If members of the Twelve knew that “it was not fully decided whether President Smith should take the responsibility of editor, or not”, and that Joseph Smith had not personally inspected the paper, why then did they allow the February 15, 1842 edition to indicate that the paper was “edited by JOSEPH SMITH. Printed and published… by JOSEPH SMITH”?
Though Joseph Smith was not directly involved in editing and publishing the issue, the publishers note at the end of the paper was apparently regarded as true in the sense that the newspaper was perceived to be under the direction of Joseph Smith or his delegation.
It is clear, from the previous editor’s comment, that the proof reader of the February 15 edition, was not Joseph Smith; for, according to Ebenezer Robinson, the paper “went to press without his [Joseph Smith’s] personal inspection”, and “the proof reader did not observe it [the embarrassing article], as the words used were printer's phrases and he was not looking for any thing indecorous or unbecoming.” (See above, Times and Seasons, “TO THE PUBLIC”, March 15, 1842, pg. 729)
Granted, Joseph Smith never issued an endorsement or “ED” to the
unbecoming article. Granted the embarrassing piece was overlooked by
members of the Twelve, put in charge of the paper. The question remains:
Why did members of the Twelve allow the paper to claim publication “by
JOSEPH SMITH”? The answer could be that they saw themselves as agents
acting in the Prophet’s behalf. It is evident that they did not require
Joseph’s active participation in the newspaper in order to claim that
the paper was published “by JOSEPH SMITH”.
Several days after the embarrassing incident with the newspaper, Elder Woodruff recorded (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.”
Is Joseph Smith’s signature, “ED” at the end of articles important?
Joseph Smith publicly announced his editorship of the Church’s newspaper, March 15, 1842. The respectability of the periodical needed help, and who better to lift the reputation of the paper among the Saints. Joseph took up the duty even though his heart and mind were already engaged in greater concerns. To his subscribers, the Prophet wrote:
“This paper commences my editorial career, I alone stand responsible for it, and shall do for all papers having my signature henceforth. I am not responsible for the publication, or arrangement of the former paper; the matter did not come under my supervision, JOSEPH SMITH.” (Bold emphasis added)
Eight months later Joseph officially resigned. The November 15, 1842 edition contained his statement of resignation:
“I beg leave to inform the subscribers of the Times and Seasons that it is impossible for me to fulfil [fulfill] the arduous duties of the editorial department any longer. The multiplicity of other business that daily devolves upon me, renders it impossible for me to do justice to a paper so widely circulated as the Times and Seasons. I have appointed Elder John Taylor, who is less encumbered and fully competent to assume the responsibilities of that office, and I doubt not but that he will give satisfaction to the patrons of the paper. As this number commences a new volume, it also commences his editorial career. Joseph Smith.” (Bold emphasis added)
The 19th century use of the term “signature” includes editorial marks such as “ED”. 
It is academically irresponsible to claim Joseph Smith’s full endorsement of statements that do not have his signature or “ED”. Given the plurality of those involved with the Time and Seasons newspaper, the complications of their lives, their varying backgrounds, opinions, degrees of inspiration and authority, distinction must be given to articles endorsed with Joseph Smith’s “ED” or signature. In short, Joseph’s signature or “ED” at the end of articles in the newspaper serves a purpose. Joseph Smith refused to take responsibility for things published outside of his supervision; or for things not endorsed with his signature. “ED” or his signature signifies Joseph Smith’s endorsement during the time period when he served as official editor.
Had others been allowed to sign articles “ED”, without Editor Joseph Smith’s approval, they certainly could have signed the unsigned articles printed during the official editor’s public absence. This never happened. It is clear that Joseph Smith alone took responsibility for articles signed “ED” during his editorship.
Is Joseph Smith’s name appearing at the end of issues of the Times and Seasons newspaper, the same as his signature?
No. His name at the end of the newspaper is part of a statement, not a signature.
Remember, the February 15, 1842 edition of the Times and Season bore Joseph Smith’s name, yet Joseph Smith refused to take responsibility for it. His name appearing at the end of a newspaper does not mean that he authored all of its content. “ED” is the editor’s signature appearing at the end of articles in the paper, which he wishes the public to know he endorses in a particular way.
Issues of the Times and Seasons actively edited by Joseph Smith (after February 1842), end with:
and Seasons, IS EDITED BY Joseph Smith. Printed and published about the
first and fifteenth of every month, on the corner of Water and Bain
Issues of the newspaper published during a “short season” when Joseph Smith found it necessary to delegate his editorial and other business responsibilities to others (e.g. Fall of 1842, LDS D&C 127:1) end with:
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.
Joseph Smith’s name in these printings is part of a publication statement. The fact that there is no explicit “IS EDITED BY Joseph Smith” printed at the end of issues during the fall of 1842 is significant. It was during this period that Joseph Smith found it necessary to keep a low public profile in an effort to avoid arrest. He had delegated his business concerns to others. (LDS D&C 127:1; 128:1) His name appearing in the publication note at the end of the paper simply signifies that he had authorized others to actively edit, and publish the paper in his behalf.
Joseph Smith’s name appearing at the end of the paper should not be construed as a blanket endorsement of everything in it.
Of the Times and Seasons articles actually signed by Joseph Smith, how many are there that relate to the subject of Book of Mormon lands?
There are five signed articles, and one that consists entirely of a self explanatory extract from Josiah Priest’s American Antiquities, with no accompanying LDS commentary or signature.
By comparison, there are three unsigned articles that draw from Stephens’ bestseller, that were published during Joseph Smith’s public absence in the fall of 1842.
What are the six articles that Joseph Smith published and how many of them draw on Josiah Priest’s American Antiquities for archaeological support of the Book of Mormon?
Four of the six articles by Joseph Smith cite Josiah Priest’s work on the mound builders, as providing evidence in support of the Book of Mormon. The six articles are:
(1) The “Wentworth Letter” published under “CHURCH HISTORY” 
Joseph relates in the Wentworth Letter how a heavenly messenger appeared to him with a mission to “bring the joyful tidings, that the covenant which God made with ancient Israel was at hand to be fulfilled, that the preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah was speedily to commence…”
Regarding the Book of Mormon and its ancient covenant peoples, Joseph explains:
“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…”
“In this important and interesting book the history
The letter is signed, “JOSEPH SMITH”
“A CATACOMB OF MUMMIES FOUND IN
article draws from a chapter in Josiah Priest’s American Antiquities
and Discoveries in the West. In the article Joseph Smith clearly
relates Book of Mormon
article resources Josiah Priest, American Antiquities and Discoveries
in the West, 1833 edition, pp. 110-112 .
The article follows Stephens’ list of discoveries in
(3) “From Priest’s American Antiquities” 
extract discusses North American
“tokens of the presence of
Jews… along countries adjacent to the
article extracts: Josiah Priest, American Antiquities and Discoveries
in the West, 1833 edition, pp. 65-67 .
(4) “TRAITS OF THE MOSAIC HISTORY, FOUND AMONG THE AZTECA NATIONS.” 
article draws from a chapter in Josiah Priest’s American Antiquities
and Discoveries in the West. Priest cites renowned naturalist and
traveler Alexander von Humboldt in favoring the idea that certain
ancestors of the mound builders arrived in the “lake country” (Great
Lakes region), and that their descendents eventually migrated as far
Joseph Smith concludes that the Jaredites arrived in the “lake
country of America”
article resources Josiah Priest, American Antiquities and Discoveries
in the West, 1833 edition, pp. 199-202 .
(5) “AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES” 
The first part of this article quotes directly from the 1833 edition of Priest’s American Antiquities. The opening line begins: “Some have supposed that all the great works of the west, of which we have been treating, belong to our present race of Indians…” The article then relates North American earth and timber constructions and artifacts to the Book of Mormon narrative. The Book of Mormon is set forth as explaining the mysterious works of the mound builders. It is in this article that Joseph Smith concludes:
“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 more
than realized-that a great and 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
Stephens’ and Catherwood’s researches in
The article resources Josiah Priest, American Antiquities and Discoveries in the West, 1833 edition, pp. 216-224.
(6) “LETTER FROM JOSEPH SMITH” 
Published in the October 1 issue of the Times and Seasons, this
epistle to the Church from the Prophet in hiding has been canonized as
LDS D&C 128. According to
LDS D&C 127:10, it is “the word of the Lord”.
Were the signed articles published in any particular order relative to topics discussed in Priest’s book?
The signed articles that rely on Priest’s book draw on topics from
pages 110-112, 199-202 and 216-124 (in that order) from the 1833 edition
of American Antiquities. The Times and Seasons articles
discuss in greater details subjects which Joseph Smith found summarized
in Stephens’ Incidents of Travel in Central America. These are
discoveries actually listed by John Lloyd Stephens relating to “the
field of American antiquities” in his “own country [the
Do any of the signed articles mention John Lloyd Stephens?
Yes. One briefly mentions Stephens at the end of the article; but the article mostly relies on Josiah Priest’s work treating the mound builders, as well as on quotes from the Book of Mormon.
final example of a “great and mighty people” inhabiting the
Joseph Smith does not claim that these relatively recent ruins are
described in the Book of Mormon. Indeed the stone ruins of
Priest emphasizes Humboldt’s conclusion that North American mound
builder descendents eventually migrated into
Do any of the articles signed by Joseph Smith explicitly place Book of
Mormon lands in
Without exception, the signed articles relating to Book of Mormon lands,
place Book of Mormon events in mound builder country,
If Joseph Smith regarded Stephens’ writing as “the most correct luminous & comprehensive”, “of all histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of this country”, why did Joseph Smith’s signed articles rely so heavily on Priest’s American Antiquities?
Josiah Priest’s work deals primarily with the mound builders of
Even though Stephens’ comprehensive summary of mound builder antiquities was favored by Joseph Smith, the editor nevertheless found it necessary to draw from Priest’s detailed work for material support of the Book of Mormon.
Joseph may have chosen to praise Stephens’ accurate historical
commentary on the antiquities of his own country (the
Is there any proof that Joseph Smith planned to segue from articles featuring Priest’s American Antiquities, to articles relying on Stephens’ Incidents of Travel in Central America?
Joseph Smith’s signed articles featuring Priest’s American Antiquities were published almost consecutively from May through July, 1842. There is a notable break of several issues (including the entire month of August, 1842) between Joseph Smith’s signed editorials on Priest’s work, and the unsigned articles highlighting Stephen’s bestseller.
The unsigned articles cluster in the September 15, through October 1, 1842 issues of the newspaper. Joseph Smith’s July 15, “American Antiquities” article briefly mentions Stephens and Catherwood near the end of the article, but their discoveries are not central to the article. The “American Antiquities” article does not necessitate or even adumbrate the unsigned articles published in the fall. The very next issue (August 1, 1842) in fact, published a discussion citing “American Antiquities, to prove that the aborigines were descendents of Joseph”. (“GREAT DISCUSSION ON MORMONISM BETWEEN DR. WEST AND ELDER ADAMS, AT THE MARLBORO’ CHAPEL”, Times and Season, August 1, 1842, pg. 864)
What are the three unsigned Times and Seasons articles that
extrapolate on Stephens’ 1841 bestseller, and in what ways do they
contradict each other and LDS scripture?
These are the unduly celebrated unsigned articles published in the
fall of 1842. Their geographic scenarios are incompatible with each
other and they misconstrue the Book of Mormon!
Their geographic scenarios are incompatible with each other and they misconstrue the Book of Mormon!
of the unsigned articles featuring extracts from Stephens’ bestseller,
appeared in the September 15, 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons.
The first of these alleges the “wonderful ruins of
The unsigned commentary uses the first person plural, e.g. “We are sorry…” possibly indicating joint authorship.
authors clearly have an exaggerated geography for the Book of Mormon in
mind, in alleging that the Nephites “lived about the narrow neck
of land, which now embraces
exaggerated geography is also implied in the last unsigned article
printed in the September 15, 1842 issue. Though this article quotes from
Stephens’ book on the “Toltecan Indians”
Regrettably, this dubious Times and Seasons article got inserted in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith’s assistants in the Historian’s Office of the Church. This has tended to give the piece more prominence than it deserves. Since then, the anonymous article has indiscriminately shown up in more recent compilations – likely a carry over from Joseph Fielding Smith’s work. 
Joseph Fielding Smith by the way was a sharp critic of the Mesoamerican “Cumorah” prevarication, and a staunch defender of scriptural Cumorah. Unfortunately he tried to fit scriptural Cumorah in the context of a traditional albeit non-scriptural hemispheric geography. See Doctrines of Salvation 3:233-234; 73-74.
Neither of the unsigned articles in the September 15, 1842 issue is compatible with the limited setting described in the Book of Mormon.
last and most unduly celebrated unsigned article was printed in the
October 1, 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons. This is the same
issue in which Joseph Smith’s signed letter to the Church appears - the
Prophet’s canonical epistle that indicates the
The unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” article speculates (with a disclaimer), that the stone ruins at Quirigua found by Stephens and Catherwood have something to do with the ruins of Zarahemla or some other Book of Mormon city. The article reads:
“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.” 
Had the writers of this article more carefully read the Book of Mormon and both volumes of Stephens’ work (as Joseph Smith had), they may have discovered reasons to question their hasty conclusions. For instance:
§ The Quirigua ruins documented by Stephens and Catherwood date more recent than Book of Mormon times. Stephens himself suspected the ruins were relatively recent. 
Book of Mormon city of
was Amaleki the son of Abinadom who told of “a large stone… with
engravings on it” brought to
only Isthmus mentioned in the article is the Isthmus of Darien at
“Since our 'Extract' was published from Mr. Stephens'
'Incidents of Travel,' &c., we have found another important fact
relating to the truth of the Book of Mormon.
Central America, or
cannot be in
The unsigned articles are a mass of confusion! The good brethren who contributed the provocative articles definitely had one or more exaggerated setting in mind, and had apparently not studied the Book of Mormon thoroughly enough to see the conflict between Joseph Smith’s epistle to the Church and their sensational extrapolations from Stephens’ bestseller.
In the November issue in which Joseph Smith officially resigned as editor, because it was, “impossible” for him “to fulfil [fulfill] the arduous duties of the editorial department any longer”, the Times and Seasons published an article titled “RUINS RECENTLY DISCOVERED IN YUCATAN MEXICO.” The article describes the stone ruins of “Chi-Chen” but it does not speculate on their origin. The article concludes:
“The subject is one that should excite the deepest interest in the minds of Americans. It is as yet wrapped in profound mystery, which will doubtless require many years of laborious research to unfold.” 
article is more careful than the unsigned Times and Seasons
pieces that extrapolated on Stephens’ work several weeks prior. There is
no written attempt in the article to connect the
Were the unsigned articles published in any order reflected in Stephens’ bestseller?
Unlike Joseph Smith’s signed articles drawing on Priest’s
American Antiquities, the unsigned articles commenting on Stephens’
book do not follow an order of topics presented in his book. The first
“Extract” article (September 15, 1842) draws from Stephens’ writings
Did Joseph Smith ever insert a disclaimer in any of his signed articles that drew from Priest’s American Antiquities?
No, he did not!
Unlike the unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” article which states “the ruins of Zarahemla have been found where the Nephites left them” and later adds: “We are not going to declare positively that the ruins of Quirigua are those of Zarahemla…” there is no disclaimer in any of Joseph Smith’s signed American Antiquities commentaries.
Do Joseph Smith’s commentaries on Priest’s American Antiquities use the first person plural, “we”, “us” and “our”?
Josiah Priest uses the first person plural, but Joseph Smith’s commentaries, by enlarge do not.
A line from one of Joseph’s editorials reads: “Here, then, we have two records found upon this continent…”  Joseph Smith’s use of “we” in this line doesn’t really suggest joint authorship. Contrast Joseph Smith’s line above with lines from the unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” piece which read: “Since our 'Extract' was published… we have found another important fact… we are of opinion… and so we make another EXTRACT…” 
It is most probable that the unnamed “we” appearing in the “ZARAHEMLA” article were members of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Why would the author(s) of the unsigned articles choose to attribute the Central American ruins to the Nephites, when Stephens himself concluded that the ruins were relatively recent? Did they completely read Stephens’ work as Joseph Smith had?
Perhaps the newspaper writer(s) did not fully read or accept certain conclusions in Stephens’ bestseller. Joseph Smith had “read the volumes” and regarded Stephens’ historical digest pertaining to his own country’s antiquities as “the most correct”.
Wilford Woodruff recorded in 1843 (October 17) that he had read
Stephens’ Incidents of Travels in Central America on his “Journey
to Nauvoo with family in 1841.” (2:319) The two-volume bestseller
carried by Elder Woodruff, was a present “for President Joseph Smith”
from Dr John M. Bernhisle of
their eagerness to forge a connection between Stephens’ bestseller and
the Book of Mormon, the writer(s) of the unsigned articles appear to
have overlooked things in both books. On the other hand they definitely
were mindful of the revealed location of Cumorah given in the
Prophet’s letter of September 6, 1842.
(LDS D&C 128:20) The Prophet’s
epistle was read to the Saints on Sunday, September 11, 1842, “at the
Grove near the
Whose copy of Incidents of Travel in Central America was used for the unsigned newspaper articles?
Could Joseph Smith’s personal copy of Stephens’ bestseller have been borrowed by someone laboring in the printing office? It’s possible. It’s uncertain whose copy of American Antiquities was resourced by Editor Joseph Smith for his signed articles. We do know that by October of 1843, Wilford Woodruff was reading a copy of Stephens’ 1843 sequel, Incidents of Travel in Yucatan. (2:319) Members of the Church in general had an interest in getting and reading Stephens’ works.
Is there any indication in either Joseph Smith’s or Wilford Woodruff’s Journal that Joseph visited the printing office during his public absence, when the unsigned articles were printed?
No, there is not.
According to Wilford Woodruff’s faithful diary of August and September, 1842, Joseph Smith had been “deprived of the privilege of appearing openly, & deprived of the society of his own family” because sheriffs were “hunting him to destroy him without cause…”  According to Elder Woodruff, he and John Taylor of the Quorum of the Twelve continued “in the printing Business.”  It was Joseph’s desire in particular that “Elder Taylor publish the Times & Seasons in Nauvoo.” 
Wilford Woodruff makes several references to his work in the printing office during the fall of 1842.  Though Elder Woodruff was confined to his house from the 10th of August to the 19th of September with periodic relapses of sickness, he was nevertheless in regular communication with other brethren who thought it “wisdom” for Elder Taylor and himself “to continue in the printing Business” and not be called away on missions.  Wilford Woodruff records for September 26: “Commenced labours this day again in the printing Office the first time I have been to the printing Office in 40 days.” This entry evidently did not count his early morning visit to the printing office the day before. His journal notes that he spent the 27th through the end of September in the printing office “most of the time [though not all] Posting Book.” 
It is evident that during his confinement at home, Elder Woodruff was nevertheless able to write, in as much as his journal mentions a letter which he wrote to a Brother Webster.  It is entirely possibly that between his bouts with illness, Elder Woodruff was able to make short handwritten drafts, edits or contributions to the paper. In fact, in light of Elder Woodruff’s sedulous character it is almost inconceivable that he did nothing for the newspaper during his convalescences at home. The fact the Elder Woodruff had previously been assigned the “Business part” of the printing establishment, doesn’t mean he did not assist John Taylor in the troubled fall of 1842. After all, the initial divine directive was for members of the Twelve to “take in hand the editorial department of the Times and Seasons”. 
Responsibility for the
Times and Seasons weighed so heavily on Elder Woodruff
that on the 6th of August, 1842 he had scarcely arrived home
to Nauvoo from a difficult journey up the
If sick and aching Elder Woodruff could row against the current of the River back to Nauvoo to supply the paper; he could certainly have put his hand to a few speculative articles intended to strengthen the saints’ faith, during his recovering episodes.
While Joseph was secluded at his home, he met with John Taylor on a couple of occasions. Joseph’s journal notes that on the evening of Wednesday September 21, 1842, Joseph talked with Elder Taylor about the removing of a printing press to Keokuk. There were prospects of Keokuk becoming a Mormon town, and Joseph wanted one of the printing presses moved there for publishing a political paper. Clearly, John Taylor was overseeing the presses at Nauvoo.
Still secluded at his home, Joseph was again visited by Elder Taylor on Friday, September 23, 1842. There is no indication that during these meetings, the upcoming October 1, unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” article was ever regarded as an item of sufficient importance to be discussed.
Had it been important to recognize the speculative article as authoritative, the Prophet could have openly given his “ED” to the piece as he had the “AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES” article of the previous July; or signed his name to it, as he did the letter to the Church that featured in the same fall issue as the unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” piece. Its publication could also have been postponed till there was no longer a need for the Prophet to keep a low public profile.
Neither Wilford Woodruff’s nor Joseph Smith’s Journal mentions any of the dubious unsigned articles. On the other hand, Joseph’s canonical epistle, written while he was in hiding, and giving the location of Cumorah, is found in its entirety in his journal!
Regarding the Prophet’s public absence, an epistle from Joseph Smith to the Latter-day Saints, dated September 1, 1842 explains:
“…I have thought it expedient and wisdom in me to leave the place for a short season, for my own safety and the safety of this people…I have left my affairs with agents and clerks who will transact all business…When I learn that the storm is fully blown over, then I will return to you again.” (LDS D&C 127:1)
In name Joseph Smith was still official editor of the Times and Seasons during his public absence. Wilford Woodruff’s Journal records for November 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 & 12, 1842:
“Was spent in the Printing Office & in the city Council. Elder Taylor & myself had an interview with Joseph Smith & he wishes us to take the responsibility of the Printing Office upon ourselves & liberate him from it.”
The journal does not say that this interview took place in the printing office. In as much as John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff had been actively managing the printing office, The Times and Seasons was now to be officially “…EDITED BY JOHN TAYLOR. Printed and published…by JOHN TAYLOR & WILFORD WOODRUFF.” When he officially resigned, Joseph Smith explained that he had too many concerns to be effective as editor of the newspaper. 
According to Wilford Woodruff’s November 12th, 1842 diary entry, Joseph had up till then, not really felt “secure to stay at home”. It was on that date that the Nauvoo city council passed an ordinance “regulating the proceedings on writs of habeas corpus”.  It is important to appreciate that even though Joseph was many times at his home in Nauvoo during the fall of 1842, he was nevertheless keeping a low profile, avoiding being seen by those who sought his arrest. Though he discretely made contact with the brethren and on occasion appeared before a gathering of the Saints “unexpectedly” , it is clear that Joseph had delegated business responsibilities such that he could flee the city without greatly interrupting daily operations.
There is no record in either Joseph Smith’s or Wilford Woodruff’s Journal of a visit by the Prophet to the Nauvoo printing office during the period of his public absence when the unsigned articles came out. Even if Joseph had risked appearing in public at the printing office, this would hardly prove that the Mesoamerican ruins of Quirigua are those of Zarahemla. Joseph’s journal records that he came to call at the printing office on Saturday, December 3, 1842. By that time the Prophet had officially resigned as editor. Recorded in his journal are multiple visits to the printing office prior to his public absence.
Did publishing the overreaching and erroneous unsigned Times and Seasons articles demonstrate dishonesty or disloyalty to the Prophet?
The unsigned articles, though contradictory and scripturally inconsistent, were the effort of sincere men who, while accepting the revealed location of Cumorah, nevertheless entertained exaggerated views of Book of Mormon geography. These good brethren were allowed to speculate, sensationalize, and publish their ideas. Though they wrote with exuberance, they did not explicitly claim their opinions to be divine revelation. Joseph Smith did not endorse their contradictory articles with his signature; neither did he upbraid their opinions. There is no indication that these articles were ever intended to be anything more than interesting and provocative press.
The location of Cumorah was secured by revelation and the Prophet’s signature in the very issue as the last of the unsigned, unendorsed articles.
The Saints today are given the opportunity to choose between silver and dross; between the revealed location of a covenant Book of Mormon land, as set forth in scripture, or exotic geographic pottage extrapolated from an 1841 bestseller. They can build their understanding of Book of Mormon covenant lands on bedrock or try to build a mansion of erudition on speculative sand.
As was characteristic of his leadership style, Joseph Smith did not micromanage the Times and Seasons, especially during his public absence in the fall of 1842. He likely thanked the brethren who governed themselves, and carried on in his absence. His “ED” or signature was sufficient to show what publications bore his full endorsement and authority.
All of the early brethren agreed with the revealed location of Cumorah. The authentic setting for the Book of Mormon rests closer to where they agreed, than where their geographic speculations diverged.
Just because we do not have a signed statement by Joseph Smith addressing Lehi’s proposed landing on the coast of Chile, or Lehi’s proposed landing a little south of Panama, “Zarahemla” in South America, or “Zarahemla” in Guatemala, or “Manti” (south of Zarahemla) in Missouri etc., does not mean that Joseph Smith agreed with all these contradictory geographies promulgated by early Latter-day Saints.
Is there any known, firsthand verifiable statement by Joseph Smith that supports the Central and South American speculations found in the unsigned Times and Seasons articles?
The Prophet Joseph Smith stated:
“The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western
tribes of Indians…after having been hid up in the earth for the last
fourteen hundred years, containing the word of God which was delivered
unto them. By it we learn that our western tribes of Indians are
descendents from that Joseph who was sold into
Nephi, in the land of promise stated:
“…the Lord God will raise up a mighty nation among the Gentiles, yea, even upon the face of this land; and by them shall our seed be scattered.” (1 Nephi 22:7 – emphasis added)
Joseph’s expression “our western tribes of Indians” referred to
Native American tribes who lived west, or were pushed west from the east
coast by European expansion.
(2 Nephi 1:10-11,
Missionaries were sent to these peoples in the early days of the Church.
Of particular interest were those “western” native people who settled
near Lake Erie in western
Joseph Smith’s use of the term “western tribes of Indians”
parallels his contemporary Josiah Priest’s usage. Priest describes mound
builder antiquities of Ohio etc. as “Discoveries in the West”. The
modern borders of the
History of the Church records that in 1830 there was “a great desire manifest by several
of the Elders respecting the remnants of the house of Joseph, the
Lamanites, residing in the west-…” This desire had come from what
the brethren had learned from the Book of Mormon about the promises of
God to the Lamanites. The brethren inquired of the Lord and were
directed by revelation to go to the “Lamanites” residing in the west.
The elders were sent to Native Americans living near
Author and publisher Wayne N. May for one, has pointed out that Joseph’s
statement about the Book of Mormon being “a record of the forefathers of
our western tribes of Indians…” should not be regarded as merely the
Prophet’s opinion. The Prophet’s statement was part of a letter to
According to Joseph Smith, it was the same messenger sent from God to
reveal the location of the gold plates, who also told Joseph that “the
Indians were the literal descendents of Abraham…” 
During the march of
“We arrived this morning on the banks of the Mississippi…we left the eastern part of the state of Ohio…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 occasionaly [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 proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendor and the goodness so indescribable.” 
Thus the Prophet positively identifies certain of the ancient mound
It was the Prophet’s conviction that the remains associated with a
hill near Col. Lyman Wight’s home in
an early age, Joseph exhibited a detailed knowledge of the ancient
At the very least, Joseph Smith knew and revealed that some Book of
Mormon events and lands (e.g. Cumorah) were in his own country.
Early members of the Church accepted this. It was their exaggerated
competing geographies which went beyond; taking in Central, and in many
Did John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff repeat the speculations found in the unsigned, fall 1842, articles?
Indeed, they did!
In 1841, Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal that while
journeying to western
Continuing their inland voyage the next day towards
“[September] 14th Our baby was quite unwell with the bowel complaint. I continued reading Stephens travels & felt hily interested in them.” 
It is evident that Elder Woodruff was taken with Stephens work and
saw in Incidents of Travel in Central America “proof” of the Book
of Mormon which neither book claim. There is, for instance, no mention
of stone pyramids in the Book of Mormon.
Elder Woodruff said he “perused the 2d Vol of Stephens travels In
Central America Chiapas of [should be “&”]
Did Elder Woodruff overlook Stephens’ arguments to why the Central American ruins were relatively recent works? What is clear, from his journal entries, is that Wilford Woodruff had formed a strong opinion about Central American ruins proving the Book of Mormon, before Joseph Smith even had the chance to read Stephens’ bestseller.
Other presumptuous and overreaching articles similar to the unsigned fall 1842 articles were published with Wilford Woodruff’s assistance while John Taylor served as both official and acting editor of the Times and Seasons. See for instance the article titled: “STEPHEN’S WORKS ON CENTRAL AMERICA”. 
This article was published exactly one year after the “ZARAHEMLA” article, possibly by the same author(s). The article begins:
“We have lately perused with great interest,
Stephen's works on
The article exuberantly advertises that
“has been read with
great interest throughout this continent, and tens of thousands of
copies have been sent to, and sold in
The article overreaches, as in the unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” piece, asserting that the Book of Mormon gives “accounts… of cities that bear a striking resemblance to those mentioned by Mr. Stephens, both in regards to magnificence and location…”
Though published before the Prophet’s death, the piece bears no signature and carries no prophetic authority. Recall Joseph’s refusal to take responsibility for things not under his supervision and not signed by him.  It was with the best of intentions that early members of the Church sought to strap their sacred scripture to the coattail of Stephens’ success.
The writer(s) of the 1843 article on Stephens’ works
exuberantly announced that
Incidents of travel in
The issue ends with the following publication note:
“The Times and Seasons, is edited by JOHN TAYLOR.
Printed and published about the first and fifteenth of every month, on
the corner of Water and Bain Streets, Nauvoo,
Later that same month, Elder Woodruff found occasion to do a little more than “peruse” Stephens’ latest book. His October 17, 1843 journal entry reads:
have been for the last two days reading Stephens works & travels in
Elder Woodruff makes no explicit reference to Joseph Smith’s opinion on the subject.
On January 1, 1844 another article was published in the Times and Seasons unmistakably by the editor (John Taylor). The editorial titled “ANCIENT RUINS” appeared with these comments:
“Every day adds fresh
testimony to the already accumulated evidence on the authenticity of the
“Book of Mormon”. At the time that book was translated there was very
little known about the ruined cities and dilapidated buildings. The
general presumption was, that no people possessing more intelligence
than our present race of Indians had ever inhabited this continent, and
the accounts given in the Book of Mormon concerning
large cities and
civilized people having inhabited this land, was generally
disbelieved and pronounced a humbug. Priest, since then has thrown
some light on this interesting subject. Stephens in his “Incidents
of Travel in
The article, bearing John Taylor’s editorial signature, then quotes
from the October 11, 1843, Texas Telegraph on stone ruins found
“…vestiges of ancient
cities and ruined castles or temples on the Rio Peurco and on the
Colorado of the west…huge blocks of limestone regularly hewn and
laid in cement…there are similar ruins on the Colorado of the west,
which empties into the California sea…Neither the Indians residing in
the vicinity, nor the oldest Spanish settlers of the nearest
settlements, can give any account of the origin of these buildings. They
merely know that they stood there from the earliest periods to which
their traditions extend. The antiquarian who is desirous to trace the
Aztec or Toltec races in their migrations from the northern regions of
Note that the Times and Seasons article mentions Josiah
Priest, whose work the previous editor (Joseph Smith) editorialized.
Quoting from Priest, Joseph Smith had defended the existence of advanced
societies in northern
John Taylor definitely accepted the scriptural location of
Cumorah near the
When John Taylor quotes Joseph Smith relative to Stephens’ discoveries, he quotes from Joseph’s signed “American Antiquities” article.  There is also no known statement by Wilford Woodruff attributing any of the unsigned articles to Joseph Smith.
Are all of Joseph Smith’s statements on Book of Mormon lands consistent?
Yes they are!
scripture and firsthand verifiable statements by Joseph Smith place the
Book of Mormon’s literary setting with the mound builders of
Suppose hypothetically, that Joseph Smith had chosen to endorse the speculative “ZARAHEMLA” article with his signature (something he did not do). What would this have proven?
Hypothetically, it might have shown that he, like his associates, knew “in part” and prophesied “in part” on the subject of covenant lands. (1 Corinthians 13:9)
would not prove that Zarahemla is in
Just before attaching their disclaimer, the publishers of the unsigned “ZARAHEMALA” piece announced “the ruins of Zarahemla have been found where the Nephites left them”. In all honesty and fairness, this claim should be recognized for what it is – an exuberant blunder. The publishers did not give careful consideration to Stephens’ opinion on the date of the ruins. Nor did they consider the scriptural fact that Cumorah (whose location they accepted) and Zarahemla cannot possibly be thousands of miles apart. (Mosiah 21:26)
It is the location of Cumorah, given by Joseph Smith that fits the Book of Mormon’s authentic literary setting, not the sensational ruins at Quirigua.
Can statistics demonstrate that Joseph Smith endorsed any of the unsigned Times and Seasons articles?
There is no statistical substitute for Joseph Smith’s written endorsement.
Statistics is unable to sort out who edited what in the unsigned Times and Seasons articles. The editing of a single word can change the tone and meaning of a sentence without dramatically affecting sentence length. Who made what edits, and the extent to which Joseph Smith endorsed the conflicting ideas in the articles is unknown.
So why did nobody sign the fall 1842 extract articles?
The Times and Seasons commentaries were speculative and controversial, even for Latter-day Saints; who had different geographic opinions on the whereabouts of Book of Mormon sites south of Cumorah.
The allegations that “Zarahemla” was at Quirigua and that Lehi landed just south of Panama conflicted with geographies promulgated by Orson Pratt, Frederick G. Williams and others. 
The use of the first person plural in the unsigned articles suggests they were a joint effort. Believing their ideas to be interesting and faith promoting, the writers decided to go ahead and publish the articles! Because the articles were speculative and controversial, it isn’t surprising that the articles were not signed.
Feedback from the LDS community probably convinced the Times and Seasons writers that they had done a good thing. One convert wrote:
“As you enquire [inquire] after the reasons that operated to change my mind to the present faith, I only remark that Stevens’ [Stephens’] Travels had some influence, as an external evidence of the truth of the Book of Mormon.” 
The argument that Joseph Smith wrote but did not sign the speculative and controversial articles because he did not want to draw attention to his whereabouts, does not explain the unsigned “STEPHEN’S WORKS ON CENTRAL AMERICA” published October 1, 1843, nor the unsigned eulogy alleging “cities … discovered by Mr. Stevens in Central America, exactly were the Book of Mormon left them”  These unsigned articles were published after the Prophet came out of hiding, and after he had officially resigned as editor; the latter being printed after his death.
In the long run the erroneous articles contributed to a tradition which led to profound disappointment.
There could have been no greater devotee of the Central American “Zarahemla” tradition than Thomas Stuart Fergusson, founder of the New World Archaeological Foundation. After years of searching for Book of Mormon cities in Central American jungles, a disenchanted Fergusson charged “I have been spoofed by Joseph Smith.”  The truth is Fergusson spoofed himself!
If the unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” article was written by Joseph Smith (as some presume), why then did John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff allow the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon to feature Orson Pratt’s geographic views?
John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff knew who actually contributed the
“ZARAHEMLA” article of October 1, 1842. They knew it was only a
speculative piece with no real authority.
The President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1879 was John Taylor. He and the Quorum of the Twelve assumed leadership of the Church after President Young’s passing. Apostles Parley P. Pratt and John E. Page (excommunicated), who held different Book of Mormon geography views from that of Orson Pratt, had passed away.
President Taylor chose to allow the new 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon to convey Elder Orson Pratt’s views on Book of Mormon geography in the footnotes.  These views were inconsistent with the placement of ancient Zarahemla at Quirigua; as alleged in the unsigned Times and Seasons article.  Orson Pratt, you will recall, had Zarahemla south of Panama's isthmus, in the Torah incompatible Southern Hemisphere.
Despite the oversights in Elder Orson Pratt’s exaggerated geography, there were insightful scriptural deductions which he and his associates made that deserve recognition:
Ether 15:8, in the 1879 edition (pg. 606), reads: “…c waters of Ripliancum…”
footnote reads: “c, supposed to be
Footnotes d and e corresponding to verses 10 and 11 read: “d, southward, brought them into the region, near the hill, called by the Nephites, Cumorah.” “e, Ramah was the hill Cumorah.”
It is evident that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1879, including President Taylor and Elder Woodruff, accepted the scriptural location of Cumorah as revealed by the Prophet Joseph Smith.  This location near the Finger Lakes and the Montezuma Marsh of western New York is truly within “a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains”, south of a great body of water (Ripliancum), which is comparatively larger than any of the Finger Lakes – exactly as the Book of Mormon describes.
the northern end of this inland sea and go eastward a day and a half’s’
journey on foot,
(Alma 22:32) and you
will have successfully crossed the inland breadth of the authentic Book
of Mormon land
It is hard to imagine the God of Israel ever intending covenant lands to be a mystery to his covenant people. According to the Book of Mormon, even the Gentiles should recognize the land of promise choice above all other lands, if they do not treat the scriptures lightly. (Ether 2:7-12)
Why were the footnotes published in the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon absent in later editions?
Some of the geographic footnotes in the 1879 edition were recognized as problematic.
For one thing, the Chilean landing hypothesis  was critically reviewed and called into question.  Competing exaggerated geographies of the day became subjects of controversy, and confusion among members of the Church.  All geographic footnotes were absent in the 1920 edition of the Book of Mormon (Edited by James E. Talmage).
Should so called “Book of Mormon geography” even matter?
Some Latter-day Saints forget that the subject of Book of Mormon lands is not so much about “geography” as it is about covenant lands!
Covenant lands matter, especially to God and to faithful Israelites (Leviticus 26:42), but as the scripture above (Ether 2:7-12) indicates, this is also a subject that should concern Gentiles. It makes reason stare to think that the God of Israel would not place keys in scripture for accurately identifying covenant lands. The challenge for the Latter-day Saints is to pay enough attention to scripture to see these keys clearly.
John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A
W.W. Phelps, “THE FAR WEST”, EVENING AND MORNING STAR,
1832, pg. 37;
Journal of Samuel D.
“Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents
 Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 14:325
The official position of the Church regarding the Williams document was issued in 1938 by George D. Pyper (asst. editor of The Instructor) and Frederick J. Pack, then Chairman of the Gospel Doctrine Committee of the Church. The authority of the document was called into question. (“ROUTE TRAVELED BY LEHI AND HIS COMPANY”, The Instructor, Vol. 73, No. 4, April 1938, pg 160) B. H. Roberts also critically examined the Williams document, and concluded that the evidence in favor of it being “a revelation to Joseph, the Seer” is “very unsatisfactory”. (B. H. Roberts, New Witness for God, Vol. 3, pp 501-503)
George Q. Cannon (editor),
“Topics of the Times”, Juvenile Instructor, July 15, 1887,
73, No. 4, April
1938, pp 159-160 - reprinted from Juvenile Instructor,
Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith By His Mother, Edited by
David Whitmer Interviews, edited by Lyndon W. Cook, Grandin Book,
 Millennial Star, Vol. 40, 1870, pg. 722
 Louis Edward
Hills (RLDS), Geography of Mexico and Central America from 2234 B.C.
Book of Mormon Geography,” Saints Herald 69/46 (1922), pp. 1074-1076
Mark E. Petersen, 123rd Annual
Conference of the LDS Church, April 4-6 1953,
John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America,
pp. 97-98 – bold
 Ibid. Vol. II, Chapter XXVI, “COMPARATIVE MODERN DATE OF RUINS”, pp. 442-443
The Personal Writings of Joseph
Smith, compiled and edited by Dean
C. Jessee, S.L.C,
Times and Seasons,
Vol. 3, July 15, 1842, pg. 858-860,
American Antiquities and Discoveries in the
West, “A CATACOMB OF
“A CATACOMB OF MUMMIES FOUND IN KENTUCKY”, Times and Seasons,
Vol. 3, May
“Stephens’ Works on
Joseph Smith, “CHURCH HISTORY”, Times and Seasons, Vol. 3,
March 1, 1842, pg.
 History of the Church 5:44
Papers of Joseph Smith, Vol. 2, pg. 391; see also “Introduction to
“AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES—MORE PROOFS OF THE BOOK OF MORMON”,
Times and Seasons, April 1, 1845, Vol. 6, pg. 855 –
 Hampton Sides, “This Is Not the Place”, Double
Take Magazine, Vol. 5, No 2; also
John Taylor, Journal of Discourses 10:127-128, March 1,
The Papers of Joseph Smith Vol. 2, edited by Dean C.
Jessee, pp. 356, 358, 362,
 Ibid., pg. 362 – bold emphasis added
“From Priest’s American Antiquities”, Times and Seasons,
Vol. 3, June 1, 1842, pg.
 “TRAITS OF THE MOSAIC HISTORY, FOUND AMONG THE AZTECA NATIONS.”,
Joseph Smith, “LETTER FROM JOSEPH SMITH”, Times and Seasons,
Vol. 3, October 1,
Josiah Priest, American Antiquities, 1833 edition, pp.
see also Robert S.
Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, edited by Larry
E. Dahl and Donald Q.
Times and Seasons, October 1, 1842,
unsigned – bold
“RUINS RECENTLY DISCOVERED IN
EXTRACT From Stephens’
“Incidents of Travel in
 Ibid., pp 921-922, unsigned
 Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, September 13 and 14, 1841; 2:126
 Ibid., September 16, 1841; 2:126
 The Papers of Joseph Smith, Vol. 2, pg. 468
Stan Larson, Quest for the Gold Plates, 1996,
Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, August - September, 1842;
2:185-188, in particular pg.
 Ibid., September 22, 1842; 2:188
Ibid., September 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, & 30
 “Valedictory”, Times and Seasons, Vol. 4, November 15, 1842
 History of the Church 5:185-192
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph
Smith, pg. 17; also History of
the Church 1:315 –
 History of the Church 1:119-120 – bold emphasis added
 The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, pp. 299-300
Papers of Joseph Smith, Vol. 2, pg 70; The Joseph Smith Papers,
Vol. 1, 9
 The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, pp. 344-346 – bold emphasis added
The Papers of Joseph Smith, Vol. 2, pg. 244; The Joseph
Smith Papers, Vol. 1, 19
 History of Joseph Smith by His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, pg. 83
“STEPHEN’S WORKS ON CENTRAL
AMERICA”, Times and Seasons, October 1, 1843,
 “TO SUBSCRIBERS.”, Times and Seasons, March 15, 1842
 John Taylor, The Mediation and Atonement, pg. 160
 John Taylor,
The Gospel Kingdom, pg. 357; see also Journal of Discourses
 Thomas Garlinghouse (PhD Anthropology, University of California, Davis), “Revisiting the Mound-builder Controversy”, History Today, Sept 2001, Vol. 51, Issue 9, starting
pg. 38; See also Robert Silverberg, The Mound Builders;
and Roger G. Kennedy,
Book of Mormon,
1879 LDS edition, entered in the library of congress by Joseph
Deseret News Printing and Publishing Establishment, e.g. Alma 22:31, pg.
understood to be located “in
 “LETTER OF ORSON SPENCER”, Times and Seasons, January 2, 1843, Vol. 4, pg. 51