Tour Guide Spin

Joseph Smith and the Geography of the Book of Mormon

If more would simply study their scriptures daily, there’d be no need for articles like this


Mesoamerica, is this the place? Not according to scripture!

Author and artist Phyllis Olive and I are pleased that our books and websites are attracting interest. We now tacitly feature in books at Mormon book stores. We are making a difference, though some perceive our efforts as detrimental to their interests. We believe that if more will simply turn to scripture, in time, our cause will be won!

The basic answer to the Book of Mormon “geography” question has been in the scriptures all along (not unlike the situation of 3 Nephi 27:4-5), but the answer is upsetting to some.

Some feel it’s more important to maintain “unity” (image and business as usual). Don’t trouble the flock! Let the wheat and tares grow together for a while. Don’t be so quick to wield the sword of justice in defense of truth and virtue – even if this controversy is really about more than geography - even if it’s really about covenant lands. Others have an emotional and financial stake in promoting the impression that Book of Mormon lands are where they are not.

It’s been brought to our attention that guides are threatened and have us in their sights. Yet, there is nothing these angry people promote that inclines us to amend anything we have researched, or that shakes our scripturally based conclusions. I see the situation becoming a little like the controversy between the disciples and the silversmiths of Ephesus. (Acts 19:25)

Frankly, tour guides should have better researched their subject before advertising Mexico and Mesoamerica as places of Book of Mormon events. Of course, what they research they tend to spin – all with good intentions no doubt. There’s the greenish book that poses the question in the title, “Mesoamerica, is this the place?” Apparently its author came to the conclusion that its contents were insufficient. More recently it’s been followed by a brown book.

I for one, carefully investigated the non-scriptural sources presented in these books years ago – something most readers don’t do. The sources are not what tour guides crack them up to be. [1] Now it’s relatively easy to stalk Sister Olive’s and my research, come up with some fair sounding but erroneous objections and “bang” another book for sale at Mormon book stores; same size (roughly), similar cover, brown this time.

Renowned American historian and journalist, Hampton Sides published a definite answer to the question “Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, is this the place?” Tour guides will probably not encourage folks to read his assessment anytime soon: See Hampton Sides, This Is Not the Place, published in Americana – Dispatches from the New Frontier, Anchor Books – A division of Random House, Inc, New York.

Hampton Sides gave a stinging review of the Saints’ problems with sacred geography, including the fall of Mesoamerican setting champion Thomas Ferguson, founder of the New World Archaeological Foundation. After years of church member funded endeavors, searching for proof of Nephites in Mesoamerican jungles, an exhausted and deeply disappointed Brother Fergusson wrote, “You can’t set Book of Mormon geography down anywhere because it is fictional…”

Oh really? The geographic setting for the Arthurian legends is real, as is the Bible’s geographic setting. Mainstream academia does not regard these works as completely historical, but the geography is real. We should not be so quick to believe the disgruntled Ferguson when he whined, “I have been spoofed by Joseph Smith.”  A careful look into what Joseph Smith actually said about Mesoamerican ruins, shows Brother Ferguson spoofed himself. Imagine spending your life searching for the ruins of Camelot in Spain.

Many years ago, Elder B. H. Roberts quoted a non-member’s appraisal of the Book of Mormon’s setting, which I think is typical of the impression objective folks outside the faith get when they attentively read the Book of Mormon without picture bias:

"We find almost nothing," continues Dr. Paden, "which would fit with the tropical climate; in fact, the general description would better coincide with Pennsylvania or New York." [2]

But there are Mormons (LDS and Community of Christ) who are enticed by exotic “Book of Mormon” setting propaganda pushed on both sides of the Mexican border. If only the Saints would study their scriptures every day! If only they had been more attentive to scriptural details in the past (LDS Doctrine & Covenants 84:54-59, Enos 1:10), then perhaps we might have avoided the predicament we find ourselves in today when it comes to knowing and telling others about the Book of Mormon’s geography covenant lands.

Early Latter-day Saints inappropriately advertised Stephens’ bestseller as a must read and an essential guide to the ruins of Book of Mormon cities. [3] The tradition that came from this, as Hampton Sides describes, has led to confusion, and disappointment. Mormons ignored a lot of little things, like the fact that the Book of Mormon nowhere mentions hewn stone buildings in jungles. Early Saints even ignored Stephens’ conclusions about the age of the Mesoamerican ruins which he and Catherwood documented. [4]

If only the early Saints had pursued their scriptures and not gotten so enthralled in that 1841 bestseller; then we might be better prepared for the secular attack that’s about to embarrass members of both churches. Here’s some advice, still good for these times: Search the scriptures daily and “do not spend money for that which is of no worth…” (2 Nephi 9:51)

Who really wrote the unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” piece?

Certain tour guides desperately need to convince folks that Joseph Smith wrote the unsigned October 1, 1842 Times and Seasons newspaper article - the one that tentatively connects (with a disclaimer) “the ruins of Zarahemla” and the relatively recent ruins in the jungle of Quirigua, Guatemala.

If it is (as some tour guides would assure us) so certain that Joseph Smith wrote this unsigned fall article, why have respected scholars in the past attributed the unsigned fall articles to acting editor John Taylor? [5]

My research convinces me that the fall articles were a collaborative effort. Perhaps Elders Taylor and Woodruff both contributed to them - hence the use of the first person plural in the sensational pieces, and the reoccurrence of similar themes in writings of John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff. [6]

It is true that Elder Woodruff was at home ill during much of that fall (1842), but we also know from his journal that he received visits and was well enough to write during his episodes of recovery. That being said, we really don’t know exactly when the first unsigned articles featuring Stephens’ discoveries were drafted; or how long before they were finalized and printed. The October 1, “ZARAHEMLA” piece seems to have been written as an afterthought, following the publication of the first two unsigned articles, which are not entirely compatible. [6] The unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” article begins:

“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 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:-'And now it was only the distance of a day and half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful, and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea; and thus the land of Nephi, and the land of Zarahemla was nearly surrounded by water: there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward.' [See Book of Mormon 3d edition, page 280-81.]”

The only isthmus identified in the article is Panama’s Isthmus of Darien. But Panama is southward from Guatemala. The Book of Mormon “small neck of land” was northward from Zarahemla. (Alma 22:31-33; 50:34) Did the writers of the article confuse the “narrow strip of wilderness” (Alma 22:27) south of Zarahemla and the northern “narrow neck”? This is an easy mistake to make in a cursory reading!

Was Joseph Smith involved in any of the unsigned T&S articles? Who edited what? A simple signature or “ED” (as in previous articles) would have dispelled much controversy; but no, Joseph did not sign his name, or give his “ED” to any of the articles featuring extracts of John Lloyd Stephens’ 1841 bestseller. This is especially telling in light of the fact that a signed letter to the Church (from Joseph Smith in hiding), indicating the location of Cumorah, was published in the same issue featuring the unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” piece. This is the unsigned piece over which tour guides make such a clamor, barely mentioning several signed articles by Joseph Smith, published earlier that year - articles which placed the Book of Mormon narrative in mound-builder country of the United States. [7] As for Joseph Smith’s epistle (indicating the Finger Lakes location of Cumorah) it became LDS Doctrine & Covenants section 128.

Mesoamerican setting devotees and tour guides have a lot of sand under their feet! It seems they have a hard time bringing themselves to fully disclose and discuss the secondhand and apocryphal stuff they have dug up. Sources they selectively cite again and again and again. [1] At the end of the day, a tour guide sits with apocryphal rumblings and inaccurate unsigned newspaper articles which contradict each other, and which he wants so desperately to stick on Joseph Smith’s apron. The forward to one tour guide’s book proclaims the author a “genius”! As for me and my house, we choose LDS scripture (e.g. LDS Doctrine & Covenants 128:20) over the products of others’ mental digestion.

Oh, but Joseph would never have knowingly allowed inaccuracies to be published and go uncorrected in the Mormon newspaper – they say! Regardless of the brethrens’ good intentions, embarrassing and inaccurate things were published in the T&S, even with Joseph Smith’s name appearing in the publisher’s statement at the issue’s end. The unsigned pieces, over which so many tour guides dote, in fact have scriptural misattribution and contradictions in them which went uncorrected! [6]

In the fall of 1842, when the unsigned articles came out, John Taylor was acting editor of the newspaper even though Joseph (keeping a low public profile over the Boggs incident, HC 5:160-162) still officially carried the title. Joseph had turned over his business affairs to others, including “the publication of our paper”. (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 127:1; see also TEACHINGS OF THE PRESIDENTS OF THE CHURCH - LORENZO SNOW, pg. 272) The Prophet needed to be able to flee the city on a moment’s notice. He fled the seclusion of his home to avoid arrest, more than once that fall. Joseph had enough to worry about! The newspaper was not his highest priority. The November 15, 1842 edition of the newspaper featured this statement by a much encumbered Joseph Smith:

“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.”

Tour guides have yet to address some poignant questions:

If Joseph Smith really wrote the unsigned articles on Mesoamerica during his public absence (there is no record of this in his or Wilford Woodruff’s journal) why is it when John Taylor later cites Joseph Smith relative to John Lloyd Stephens’ discoveries, he quotes from Joseph’s signed July 15, 1842 “American Antiquities” article which mostly deals with Josiah Priest’s book and mound-builder archaeology in North America? I have found no statement by John Taylor or Wilford Woodruff attributing any of the unsigned T&S pieces to Joseph Smith.

It’s a fact that John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff managed the Nauvoo printing office in the fall of 1842. [8] They knew who wrote the unsigned articles. Unlike Joseph’s journal, the Woodruff diary gushes over Stephens’ bestseller. [6]

Some tour guides turn to the redacted History of the Church to argue that Joseph Smith mentions Stephens in his journal. This is misleading! Go to the original source. It’s not in Joseph’s papers at all! If tour guides truly wish to find an early Mormon source sympathetic to the insert on Stephens in History of the Church (25 June 1842, Vol. 5, pg. 44), they need look no further than Wilford Woodruff’s journal for 13 September 1841 [2:126). You will not find the source of the extraneous comment on Stephens in Joseph Smith’s journal. [6]

So why didn’t John Taylor in later years attribute the unsigned articles to the Prophet, if Joseph really wrote them, instead of quoting from Joseph’s signed July 1842 article which only briefly mentions Stephens towards the end? [9]

Answer: because John Taylor knew who wrote the unsigned T&S articles. He knew they were little more than provocative press with no high authority, certainly not any given them by the Prophet. Here is what John Taylor wrote years later on the subject of what Joseph Smith had to say about John Lloyd Stephens’ discoveries:

“Some Teachings of the Prophet

THE BOOK OF MORMON RECORD.—Stephens and Catherwood, after examining the ruins that were found at Guatemala, in Central America, and gazing upon magnificent ruins, mouldering temples, stately edifices, rich sculpture, elegant statuary, and all the traces of a highly cultivated and civilized people, said—"Here are the works of a great and mighty people that have inhabited these ruins; but now they are no more. History is silent on the subject, and no man can unravel this profound mystery. Nations have planted, and reaped, and built, and lived, and died, that are now no more; and no one can tell anything about them or reveal their history."

Why, there was a young man in Ontario county, New York, to whom the angel of God appeared and gave an account of the whole. These majestic ruins bespeak the existence of a mighty people. The Book of Mormon unfolds their history. O yes; but his was of too humble an origin, like Jesus of Nazareth. It was not some great professor, who had got an education in a European or an American college, but one who professed to have a revelation from God—and the world doesn't believe in revelation. But nevertheless it is true, and we know it.—JD, 5:240-241, September 13, 1857.”

Now compare Joseph Smith’s statement on Stephens’ discoveries (paraphrased by John Taylor), with its source, the article signed “ED” by Joseph Smith:

“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.” [10]

The Saints should read Joseph’s “American Antiquities” article in full! They will find it really supports a North American mound-builder setting for the Book of Mormon! [7, 10]

According to Josiah Priest (who cites the noted explorer and historian Alexander von Humboldt) mound building peoples, after departing the Tower of Babel eventually arrived in the region of the Great Lakes or “lake country”. Priest wrote:

“As favoring this idea of their [mound building peoples] coming immediately from the region of the tower of Babel, their tradition goes on to inform us, that the tongues distributed…were infinitely various, and dispersed over the earth; but that it so happened that fifteen heads of families were permitted to speak the same language…These traveled till they came to a country which they called Aztalan, supposed to be in the regions of the now United States, according to Humboldt. As favoring this idea, we notice, the word Aztalan signifies in their language, water, or a country of much water. Now, no country on the earth better suits this appellation than the western country, on account of the vast number of lakes found there, and is even, by us, called the lake country.” [11]

There are tour guides who are not eager to tell you that Joseph Smith agreed with Priest and Humboldt; that descendents of mound building peoples eventually migrated from the “lake country of America” to regions as far south as Mexico. [12]

Yes, Joseph Smith believed that the impressive and relatively recent ruins in Mexico and Central America had something to do with descendents of Book of Mormon people who migrated there, but notice that Joseph never said that Book of Mormon lands or cities are there!

Joseph Smith had read both volumes of Stephens’ bestseller and believed it was “most correct” in regards to “the antiquities of this country” (North America). [13] Joseph therefore knew that Stephens had devoted an entire chapter and more to the conclusion that the magnificent Mesoamerican ruins were relatively recent works - not truly ancient! [4, 6]

Joseph delighted to find that Josiah Priest was not the only author to discuss American Antiquities. Stephens’ work highlighted more than the “comparative modern” Central American stone ruins; which according to Stephens were “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.” [4]

Joseph Smith picked up on Stephens’ summary of mound-builder antiquities in his own country (the United States) as well. In the words of Stephens:

“…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…”  [14]

It’s no coincidence that T&S articles signed by Joseph Smith follow the list of mound-builder antiquities outlined by Stephens and elaborated by Josiah Priest. Joseph Smith relates mound-builder antiquities to the Book of Mormon account of Nephi building a temple in the land of Nephi, whereas an unsigned fall article relates the account of Nephi’s temple construction to anachronistic stone ruins in Mesoamerican jungles. [15]

Supposing Joseph wrote the unsigned article identifying the eighth century A.D. ruins of Quirigua as “Zarahemla”, why did John Taylor and the Quorum of the Twelve (including Wilford Woodruff) later approve the geography of Orson Pratt to annotate the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon? Pratt placed Zarahemla in South America, in direct contradiction to the unsigned T&S newspaper article. [16]

Pratt had been excommunicated from the Church shortly before the unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” piece came out. He was reinstated in 1843. If President Taylor and Elder Woodruff knew that Joseph Smith had authored the “ZARAHEMLA” (ruins of Quirigua) article, why would they betray the Prophet’s views by publishing Orson Pratt’s geography to annotate the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon?

The anonymous authors of the “ZARAHEMLA” newspaper piece included this disclaimer:

“We are not going to declare positively that the ruins of Quirigua are those of Zarahemla, but…”

The authors then take the stand that it will require more proof …

“to prove that the ruins of the city in question, are not one of those referred to in the Book of Mormon…”

Did they not believe Stephens’ assessment on the age of the ruins? Did they not completely read Stephens’ volumes as Joseph said he had?

If Joseph is supposed to have taught that Zarahemla was in Central America how does this square with First Presidency member George Q. Cannon’s equally authoritative (unsubstantiated) claim that Joseph Smith had told some person or persons unknown that the Magdalena River of Colombia was in fact the river Sidon (east of Zarahemla)? [17]

Eminent Brother Cannon further claimed that “…It is also known that the landing place of Lehi and his family was near what is now known as the city of Valparaiso, in the Republic of Chili [Chile]”. [17]

President Cannon, like others of his day, became convinced that Lehi landed on the coast of temperate Chile as far south of the equator as Jerusalem is north. This idea had been erroneously published by Church leader Franklin D. Richards as a “Revelation to Joseph the Seer”. [18] The source of the folly is an unsigned document in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams. The document asserts that Lehi landed on the coast of Chile “thirty three degrees south latitude”. Frederick G. Williams, once a counselor and assistant to Joseph Smith had, like Orson Pratt, been excommunicated and reinstated. Church leaders eventually called into question the authority of the William’s document and also withheld Orson Pratt’s speculative geographic footnotes from twentieth century editions of the Book of Mormon. [19]

George Q. Cannon, incidentally, worked in the Nauvoo printing office as a young man.

Elder B. H. Roberts observed that the geography put forth in the Williams document, and later unfairly attributed to Joseph Smith as a “revelation”, dominated for a while the thinking of church leaders on the subject of Book of Mormon geography. [2] Elder Roberts further remarked:

“We need not follow our researches in any spirit of fear and trembling. We desire only to ascertain the truth; nothing but the truth will endure … the proclamation of the truth in any given case, or upon any subject, will do no harm to the work of the Lord which is itself truth. Nor need we be surprised if now and then we find our predecessors, many of whom bear honored names and deserve our respect and gratitude for what they achieved in making clear the truth, as they conceived it to be—we need not be surprised if we sometimes find them mistaken in their conceptions and deductions; just as the generations who succeed us in unfolding in a larger way some of the yet unlearned truths of the Gospel, will find that we have had some misconceptions and made some wrong deductions in our day and time. The book of knowledge is never a sealed book. …The generation which preceded us did not exhaust by their knowledge all the truth, so that nothing was left for us in its unfolding; no, not even in respect of the Book of Mormon; any more than we shall exhaust all discovery in relation to that book and leave nothing for the generation following us to develop.” [2]

Concerned that “Book of Mormon geography” might lead to too great a controversy, George Q. Cannon counseled Latter-day Saints of his day against circulating detailed maps professing to give the location of Nephite cities and settlements. [20]

Brother Cannon warned that if “our children be permitted to conceive incorrect ideas concerning the location of lands inhabited by the Nephites … it will be difficult to eradicate them [the erroneous ideas]”. Truer words were never published! It is unfortunate that editor Cannon had himself, in the same article, promoted erroneous geographic opinions, probably based on Orson Pratt’s footnotes in the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon, and on the dubious Williams document.

Apparently it didn’t occur to brother Cannon and others that since the seasons of temperate South American are half a year out of phase with seasons of the Law of Moses (which require the “first month” be in the spring of the Northern Hemisphere; Exodus 12:1-2; 13:4, 10, Leviticus 23:5-6, Deuteronomy 16:6), that this fails to fit the scriptural account placing the Nephite “first month” at approximately the same time as the Passover “first month” when the Savior was crucified. (3 Nephi 8:5) We know that faithful Nephites and Lamanites “strictly” observed the Law of Moses “in all things”. (2 Nephi 5:10, Helaman 13:1) Their observance had to have included the divine calendar. These scriptures make perfect sense when we understand that Nephite lands are in the temperate Northern Hemisphere. [21]

Despite the mass of confusion on the subject of “Book of Mormon geography”, George Q. Cannon and his peers were certain about the location of Cumorah! They knew it had been confirmed through the Prophet Joseph Smith. (LDS Doctrine & Covenants 128:20) Brother Cannon listed Cumorah among the few geographic “points which can be identified”. At the same time he entertained “no confidence” in proposed Book of Mormon maps of his day, and discouraged their distribution. [22] But the damage had already been done. Latter-day Saints would carry geographic shrapnel in their brains for generation to come.

Like President Cannon, I too have found Mormon opinion and traditions on the so called subject of “Book of Mormon geography”, to be a mass of confusion! I have found that I cannot trust many of the claims, but turn my attention to the scriptures and things I know for certain Joseph Smith said! I’ve become convinced that God didn’t intend the Book of Mormon land, “choice above all other lands” to be a mystery. (Ether 2:9-12) The covenant land setting of the Book of Mormon should be based on the best sources: LDS scripture and verifiable statements by Joseph Smith. What constitutes verifiable statements by the Prophet? For me, the answer is straightforward: Verifiable statements by Joseph Smith are in his handwriting and or authenticated with his signature! Here is where the arm raises to the square and the false potency of many a tour guide’s arguments slinks back to the jungle of confusion where it belongs.

Desperate Measures

Sentence length and vocabulary “analysis” in lieu of Joseph’s signature is pseudo scientific bunk! These are desperate measures taken by supporters of the Mesoamerican setting business. There is no statistical method for sorting out each edit made by each contributor to the unsigned articles. Without an approving signature or “ED”, it is impossible to tell who stood by what in the unsigned articles. [23]

Speculative liberties can be taken with an article which no one intends to sign! Fall 1842 issues of the T&S even dropped the explicit “IS EDITED by Joseph Smith” in the publication statement at the end of the newspaper. Members of the twelve had been put in charge of publishing the paper in Joseph’s name even when Joseph was not actively involved in editing all of its contents. [6] The publication statement at the end of each issue is not a signature. There are those who desperately want it to be. Readers can trust their common sense here. Folks should be asking why the T&S extrapolations on John Lloyd Stephens’ bestseller were left unsigned. One gets the sense that if certain tour guides had their way, they’d canonize the unsigned articles and supplement the Doctrine and Covenants with them.

Of course South and Central American setting tour guides have it out for what they call “Great Lakes settings”. Exaggerated and scripturally intractable geographies like the Heartland Model are much more vulnerable. Tour guides may see Sister Olive’s setting as the most threatening. They should!

For the record, Sister Olive’s setting doesn’t just involve the region of the Great Lakes. While it is true that the principal lands named in the Book of Mormon are localized in the region of scriptural Cumorah (near Lake Ontario, the Finger Lakes and Lake Erie), the Book of Mormon “south countries” (e.g. Mormon 6:15) are the same as those referred to as “south countries” (south of Amherst Ohio and Lake Erie) by the Lord in LDS Doctrine & Covenants 75:8, 17. The heartland of America, south of Lake Erie, is truly Book of Mormon territory, but it is not the principal Book of Mormon territory heartland setting tour guides claim.

Cumorah being where scripture says it is (LDS Doctrine & Covenants 128:20) the Book of Mormon “west sea” has to be Lake Erie. It’s that simple!

The native peoples “residing in the west” near Lake Erie were identified by the Lord as “the Lamanites”. See for instance LDS Doctrine & Covenants 32:1-2 and History of the Church, Vol. 1, pp. 118-120. Long standing Mormon tradition went too far in claiming that the Lamanites were the ancestors of native peoples of North and South America. Scripture never said it. Now the modern Introduction to the Book of Mormon reads differently – implying the presence of other ancient peoples in America.

This writer has stated repeatedly that Lehi’s American inheritance could have extended as far south as lands with seasons compatible with the Law of Moses.  After the Law was fulfilled, the Lord could have extended the blessing of the Promised Land to lands previously excluded by the Law’s requirements. [24]

Joseph in the Nauvoo period, named the whole of America as the land of Zion. This does not mean he endorsed a hemispheric geography for the Book of Mormon!  There is no verifiable statement by Joseph Smith promoting a hemispheric geography for the Book of Mormon. Arguments to the contrary are pure speculation. There are problems with the arguments:

If Joseph promoted a hemispheric geography for the Book of Mormon as an oral tradition, why were Saints in 1838 free to postulate that the extreme southern Nephite land and city of Manti (south of Zarahemla) was in Missouri? [25]

Why did Apostle John Page (contemporary of Joseph Smith and the Pratt brothers) think it okay to devise a non-hemispheric geography based on the exciting, anachronistic discoveries featured in Stephens’ 1841 bestseller? [5]

Why didn’t Orson Pratt and his brother Parley agree on their hemispheric geographies, and why didn’t they attribute either of their geographies to Joseph Smith? Orson essentially admitted his hemispheric model was supposition! [26] Of course Apostle Pratt believed Joseph when he identified certain mound-builders of North American as Nephites. [27] It’s just that Elder Pratt went to extremes with his mound-builder setting and spread it far and wide over North and South America. [28]

Despite their contradicting geographic opinions, all the early brethren agreed where the land Cumorah was, because that much had been revealed in LDS scripture! The Book of Mormon’s authentic American setting resides closer to where the early members of the Church all agreed, than where their competing, far flung speculations diverged!

Just because we have no written refutation from Joseph Smith on the subject of Lehi landing on the coast of Chile, or Lehi landing a little south of Panama (unsigned T&S article), Zarahemla in Colombia, or Zarahemla in the jungles of Quirigua (unsigned T&S article), or Manti (south of Zarahemla) in Missouri, does not mean Joseph agreed with all these opinions.

Early members of the Church simply failed to seize upon the scriptural fact that the land of Zarahemla was so near to Jaredite country (including Cumorah, and the hill Ramah), that one region could be mistaken for the other by travelers from the more southern land of Nephi. [29] According to scripture, Zarahemla cannot possibly be thousands or even many hundreds of miles away from Cumorah! Based on travel times recorded in scripture, the maximum estimated distance between the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla is about 21 days on foot. But the minimum possible distance is on the order of 12 – 8 = 4 days journey. [29] Sister Olive’s setting is not too small! Critics should study their Bible and the relative distances of its literary setting. The land of Israel, where much of the biblical narrative centers, is surprisingly small.

It took twentieth century members of the Reorganized LDS church to first propose a Cumorah in southern Mexico, closer to Stephens’ and Catherwood’s sensational but anachronistic discoveries. We Latter-day Saints, like sheep, would later buy into the misguided idea. [1] What LDS may not realize is that the RLDS doctrinally dismissed LDS Doctrine & Covenants 128. This freed them up to discount verse 20 which places “Cumorah” in the Finger Lakes region of western New York.

Covenant Land Identity Theft!

With all the good that may be to their credit, I believe tour guides are doing the Saints a disservice. Not only are they prone to misconstrue scripture, misrepresent Lehi’s covenant land of liberty (which is not the land of Emperors Iturbide, Maximilian and Dictator Santa Anna etc, 2 Nephi 10:10-14), and unwittingly betray the true American remnant of the House of Israel (the scripturally identified Lamanites of North America; i.e. LDS Doctrine and Covenants 10:46-51; 19:27; 28:8-9; 30:5-6; 32:1-2; 54:8; 57:4), but paid guides, lecturers and authors are distracting the Saints from becoming prepared for the reeling criticism that someday will come from the mainstream secular community.

This attack will employ the defensible mound-builder literary setting of the Book of Mormon – a setting already announced by mainstream American History and Literature authorities. [30]

One day the Mound-builder literary genre will be made common knowledge by mainstream academia. It won’t take much to make the Saints look silly. How could they have gotten something so obvious, so wrong for so long? Respected secular authorities will cogently present to a far larger audience than ever before, how the Book of Mormon fits perfectly in the 19th century Mound-builder genre. [31] It will be explained that the Book of Mormon’s mythic setting was inspired by the earthworks and old native fortifications of western New York – the Smith family’s “backyard” as it were. [32] These old sites were opened and explored by 18th and 19th century amateurs called “money diggers”, who told tales about them, and the people who made them. [33]

More than a decade after the Book of Mormon was published, a persecuted Latter-day Saint community latched onto John Lloyd Stephens’ bestseller in an effort to bolster faith and counter criticism. Misadventures followed. Confused, exaggerated geographic traditions held Mormon attention on places thousands of miles away. Thus, Mormons have in large measure failed to focus on the authentic literary background of their own sacred scripture. Now it takes the secular community to speak up and help get on track, a people who claim to talk with God… Such will be the majority view.

As for the Lord’s ancient covenant people:

“… behold, Zion hath said: The Lord [Sacred Hebrew Name: The Eternal, He Who Will Ever Be] hath forsaken me, and my Lord [Hebrew: “Adonai”] hath forgotten me – but he will show that he hath not. For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.” (1 Nephi 21:14-16)

And scripture also warns:

“…when the Lord shall see fit, in his wisdom, that these sayings shall come unto the Gentiles…then ye may know that the covenant which the Father hath made with the children of Israel, concerning their restoration to the lands of their inheritance, is already beginning to be fulfilled… And ye need not imagine in your hearts that the words which have been spoken are vain… Therefore ye need not suppose that ye can turn the right hand of the Lord unto the left, that he may not execute judgment unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the house of Israel.” (3 Nephi 29:1-9)

References and Links:

[1] Promised Lands - Example of a Dubious Source

[2] B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, “IX. - The Geography of the Book”, Vol. 3, pg. 499-503

[3] “STEPHEN’S WORKS ON CENTRAL AMERICA”, Times and Seasons, October 1, 1843, Vol. 4, No. 22, pg. 346; April 1, 1845, Vol. 6, pg. 855 – John Taylor, Editor and Proprietor

[4] John Lloyd Stephens, Incident of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, Vol. II, Chapter XXVI, “COMPARATIVE MODERN DATE OF RUINS”, pp. 442-443

[5] Matthew Roper, “Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations”, BYU Maxwell Institute, 2004

[6] Joseph Smith, Josiah Priest and the Times and Seasons

[7] Book of Mormon lands & the Times and Seasons newspaper

[8] Wilford Woodruff Journal, 22 September, 2 October, 1842; see also The Papers of Joseph Smith Vol. 2, pg. 482 footnote

[9] John Taylor, The Gospel Kingdom, pg. 357; see also Journal of Discourses 5:240-241, September 13, 1857

[10] “American Antiquities”, Times and Seasons, 15 July, 1842, Vol. 3, No. 18, pp. 858-860) – signed “ED” by Joseph Smith

[11] Josiah Priest, American Antiquities, “Traits of the Mosaic History found among the Azteca Nations”, pg. 202, 1833

[12] ibid, pp. 191, 197-202; see also “Traits of the Mosaic History Found Among the Azteca Nations”, Times and Seasons, June 15, 1842, Vol. 3, No. 16, pp. 818-820, Singed “ED” by Joseph Smith; see also [6 , 7 ]

[13] Letter to John Bernhisel 16 November 1841, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, compiled and edited by Dean C. Jessee, S.L.C, Deseret Book, 2002, pg. 533

[14] John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, pp. 97-98

[15] Compare “American Antiquities”, Times and Seasons, 15 July, 1842, Vol. 3, No. 18, pp. 858-860 – signed “ED” (editor Joseph Smith] with “EXTRACT”, Times and Seasons, September 15, Vol. 3, No. 22, pp. 911-915 - unsigned

[16] Book of Mormon - 1879 LDS Edition, Alma 22:31, footnote 2q, pg. 303

[17] George Q. Cannon (editor), “Topics of the Times”, Juvenile Instructor, July 15, 1887, Vol. 22, No. 14, pg. 221 

[18] Franklin D. Richards, A Compendium of the Doctrines of the Gospel, 1887, pg. 298

[19] Vincent Coon, CHOICE ABOVE ALL OTHER LANDS, Chapter 3 - Unsigned Articles and a Popular Book, Brethren Speculate

[20] “BOOK OF MORMON GEOGRAPHY”, The Instructor, Vol. 73, No. 4, April 1938, pp. 159-160 - reprinted from the Juvenile Instructor, January 1, 1890, George G. Cannon (editor)

[21] Nearly NAKED WARRIORS in winter?

[22] “Topics of the Times”, Juvenile Instructor, July 15, 1887, Vol. 22, No. 14, pg. 221, George Q. Cannon (editor); see also (20). Note: Cannon actually writes “hill known as Cumorah”. Many forget that Cumorah is a land. (Mormon 6:5)

[23] Lies, Darned lies & Statistics

[24] Seasons - On the Extent of Lehi’s American Inheritance

[25] Journal of Samuel D. Tyler, September 25, 1838

[26] Journal of Discourses, Vol. 14, pg. 325

[27] Letter to Emma Smith from Zion's Camp, June 4th, 1834, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, edited by Dean C. Jessee, pp. 344-346

[28] Robert Silverberg, The Mound Builders, 1970, pp. 72-73; see also Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13, pg. 131; Vol. 14, pp. 297-298; Vol. 16, pp. 56-57; Vol. 19, pg. 312

[29] American Land of Israel

[30] Robert Silverberg, “…and the mound-builders vanished from the earth”

[31] Thomas S. Garlinghouse, “Revisiting the Mound-builder Controversy”, History Today

[32] Roger G. Kennedy, Hidden Cities – The Discovery and Loss of Ancient North American Civilization,1994, pp. 228-231

[33] Ephraim G. Squier, Aboriginal Monuments of the State of New York, Smithsonian Contribution to Knowledge, 1849, Chapter IV - "Mounds, Bone-heaps, Etc.", pg. 67; see Earth and Timber


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