Book of Mormon Covenant Lands According to the Best Sources



Targeting Book of Mormon Geography Scapegoats!

Winchester Rifle

Returning fire on a recent article (new book add) published in Rod Meldrum’s “FIRM FOUNDATION” newsletter (June 25, 2015), titled “THE SMOKING GUN of Book of Mormon Geography” by Jonathan Neville. Not surprisingly (given his background) Brother Neville handles the subject like an attorney aiming to exonerate his client (esteemed brethren of the early Church) and quite possibly also to make a buck. Neville’s article is both interesting and dismaying. WANTED is the thorough and objective researcher who gets at the whole truth and gets it out - free of charge to others. So for those fanning the air for a better view of details obscured in Brother Neville’s article, you have come to the right place - read on.

Winchester's book for sale

Benjamin Winchester advertises his book for sale in the September 15, 1842 edition of the Times & Seasons newspaper.

BYU law school graduate and former JAG Attorney Jonathan Neville would extend the line of suspects in the case of the anonymous Times and Seasons extract articles. We’re talking about the unsigned newspaper publications which sought to bolster belief in the Book of Mormon, by drawing upon John Lloyd Stephens’ 1841 bestseller Incidents of Travel in Central America. The anonymous newspaper pieces appropriated Stephens’ work in ways that the renowned traveler would not have approved. The inconsistent articles appeared in the Mormon newspaper in the fall of 1842, and have been relied on ever since by Mormons (LDS and Community of Christ) to justify exotic geographic settings for the Book of Mormon.

Understand that no expert of nineteenth century American Literature sees these latecomer newspaper articles as authoritative for placing the literary setting of the Book of Mormon (1830). Mainstream American History and Literature scholars place the Book of Mormon in the Mound Builder genre of Joseph Smith’s own time and country. (Silverberg, Robert, “…and the mound-builders vanished from the earth”, American Heritage Magazine, Vol. 20, Issue 4, June 1969; The Mound Builders, 1970; Garlinghouse, Thomas S., “Revisiting the Mound-builder Controversy”, History Today, Sept. 2001, Vol. 51, Issue 9., pg. 38)

Only Mormons, especially those tied to member-media sales and/or tours, make a big deal of the unsigned newspaper articles. The controversy between members over the unsigned articles has grown so contentious that parties from the Mormon Mesoamerican interest have resorted to pseudoscientific writing analysis arguments to try and keep their following.

Neville clearly sees that the authentic setting for the Book of Mormon is in Mound Builder North America. He is currently invested in the exaggerated Heartland geography model, which stretches LDS Doctrine and Covenants 125:3 to sell the idea that the Book of Mormon’s land of Zarahemla is in Iowa, across the Mississippi from Nauvoo.

At the business end of his article, Neville accuses Mormon renegade Benjamin Winchester of authoring the Incidents of Travel in Central America extract pieces. Neville argues that Winchester was in league with the Prophet’s temperamental brother, William Smith.

Winchester silenced from preaching!

Winchester silenced from preaching! Times & Seasons’ NOTICE, May 16, 1842.

At the time the unsigned articles appeared, Apostle William Smith was in charge of publishing the secular Nauvoo Wasp - using the same printing office facilities as the Times and Seasons. Benjamin Winchester had previously started his own newspaper called the Gospel reflector, based in Philadelphia. Winchester had published articles about the Book of Mormon which drew on Josiah Priest’s American Antiquities for backup.

Could Winchester have had something to do with the unsigned Incidents of Travel in Central America extract articles too?

Winchester - get out of town!

Winchester pardoned, but told to get out of town! Times & Seasons, July 15, 1842; the same issue featuring Joseph Smith’s largely unappreciated “American Antiquities” editorial.

Neville is certain he has found the “Smoking Gun(s)” linking the unsigned 1842 articles with the 1841 writings of Benjamin Winchester. Neville critically refers to Winchester’s March, 1841 Gospel reflector articles as “Mesoamerican promoting articles”. This is a somewhat misleading description of their content. Neville makes it sound like the quasi-limited Mesoamerican model started with the unsigned T&S articles, and that “the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography” exists in the LDS Church today “All because of one Benjamin Winchester”. Neville’s claim is not accurate.

The quasi-limited Mesoamerican model wasn’t born until twentieth century members of the RLDS church turned their back on Joseph Smith’s Cumorah (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128:20) and inaugurated their own high place in southern Mexico close to Stephens’ famed discoveries. The scriptural location of Cumorah is given in one of the Prophets’ revelatory epistles on “baptism for the dead”, a practice which the RLDS (Community of Christ) church abandoned. (You will find early twentieth century RLDS articles referenced in Promised Lands)

Foolish but influential LDS (e.g. Thomas Fergusson) inhaled the Mexican Ramah (Hebrew for high, Ether 15:11) – and startled peddling it in subtle ways to the LDS community. (Hunter, Milton R. and Ferguson, Thomas Stewart, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon, pp. 144-45, 185, Fourth Printing, 1957)

I use the term “quasi-limited” because any Book of Mormon geography hypothesis that has Moroni traveling thousands of miles to deposit the Book of Mormon plates, does not qualify as a truly limited geography. The Near Cumorah setting in Joseph Smith’s boyhood countryside is the only truly local, or limited setting for the Book of Mormon.

Yes, the unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” article (T&S, October 1, 1842) announced (in disregard of the anachronism) that Quirigua’s ruins are those of the Book of Mormon city of Zarahemla, but it’s not because the unsigned article was promoting anything like a quasi-limited Mesoamerican geography.

There is abundant evidence that the ones responsible for the unsigned articles were in fact advocating a hemispheric geography. The distinction between the Book of Mormon “small neck of land” called “the narrow pass” , “the narrow neck” and “the narrow strip of wilderness” was lost on them. It was easy to get confused about the “small neck of land” (Alma 22:32), which they supposed was Panama’s Isthmus of Darien. Was the “small neck of land” the same as “the narrow strip of wilderness” (south of Zarahemla, Alma 22:27)? If so, maybe Zarahemla could be north of the Darien Isthmus – in Central America. It wasn’t because they thought Book of Mormon lands were all localized in Central America! No - they still had Lehi landing in South America, and the Nephite nation’s last stand in western NY. (Cumorah! Not Quirigua)

The Prophet’s signed letter to the Church, written while he was in hiding, indicating the Finger Lakes location of Cumorah, was in fact published in the same issue as the dubious “ZARAHEMLA” article. John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, in charge of the Times and Seasons, apparently didn't see any problem with having Zarahemla in a Mesoamerican jungle, and Cumorah thousands of miles away in western NY.

Years later, after it became scripturally clear to the brethren that Zarahemla had to be south of “the narrow neck of land”, they turned their support to reinstated Apostle Orson Pratt’s hemispheric model which placed Zarahemla south of Panama in South America. (See the footnotes to the 1879 LDS edition of the Book of Mormon, e.g. Alma 22:31, pg. 303, footnote 2q)

It should be clear then that John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff did not betray the Prophet Joseph Smith when they later dismissed the Central American  “ZARAHEMLA” idea (advanced in the October 1, 1842 T&S article) in favor of Elder Pratt's South American “Zarahemla”. Why? Because Joseph Smith did not write or endorse the unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” article. The unsigned article was nothing more than a piece of provocative press!

The fact that a Church approved edition of the Book of Mormon would promote a South American “Zarahemla” in it’s speculative footnotes, is also  strong evidence that Joseph Smith never taught that the Book of Mormon’s Zarahemla was in Iowa. By contrast the early brethren all knew where Cumorah was! (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128:20)

Now it’s no surprise that archaeological evidence of Mound Builder settlements can be found all along the Mississippi. (E.g. the Mississippi Culture) Finding Mound Builder artifacts near the Iowa Mormon settlement (Lee County, Iowa Territory,) across Old Man River from Nauvoo, does not prove that the settlement was named with anything more than a divinely approved namesake. There was “Zarahemla Hill” (not named in the Book of Mormon) located opposite Nauvoo, on the Iowa side of the river. (Joseph Smith Diary, recorded by Willard Richards, The Words of Joseph Smith, compiled by Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, pg. 173.)

One of the first persons to propose that the Saints locate in Iowa was a Dr. Isaac Galland. Its also likely that the name “Zarahemla” was proposed by someone just as mortal as Dr. Galland. The idea of establishing a settlement in Iowa and naming it “Zarahemla” then became approved  by revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith. (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 125:3)

Unto what shall we liken the Iowa “Zarahemla”? It is comparable to the Iowa Mormon namesake “Mount Pisgah”. (Deuteronomy 3:27, TEACHINGS OF THE PRESIDENTS OF THE CHURCH – LORENZO SNOW, pp. 107-109)

Folks shouldnt expect the  Iowa “Zarahemla” to reside on the site of the Book of Mormon land of Zarahemla any more than than they should expect the Iowa “Pisgah” to be the Pisgah of the Bible.

One of the key things that makes both namesakes appropriate is their proximity to rivers.

 "Mount Pisgah", Iowa

As Jordan (westward from the biblical Pisgah or Mount Nebo) had to be crossed by Israel in order to enter the Promised Land; so a river (actually more than one) west of Iowa’s "Mount Pisgah" had to be crossed by the early Latter-day Saints in their exodus from Nauvoo. (Deuteronomy 3:27-28)


"Zarahemla", Iowa

As northward flowing Sidon is east of the Book of Mormon Zarahemla, so the southward rolling Mighty Mississippi is east of the Iowa Mormon settlement “Zarahemla”. Apostle Bruce R. McConkie was mindful of scriptural details indicating the general direction of Sidon’s flow. (The river SIDON Scriptural IQ Test) Going along with what was once the mainstream hemispheric geography, many of the brethren held the unfounded opinion that Sidon was Colombia’s northward flowing Magdalena River. (1879 LDS edition, Omni 1:13, pg. 155, footnote h, Alma 2:15, pg. 238, footnote g; see also CHOICE ABOVE ALL OTHER LANDS, Chapter 3, “Brethren Speculate”)

The fact is, the Church approved 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon with Orson Pratt’s footnotes, did more to geographically mislead the Saints than any of the unsigned T&S articles! Tempering this statement is the fact that one can trust the 1879 edition footnotes that are truly deduced from scripture. For example Ether 15:8-11, pg. 606, footnotes c, d and e identify “the waters of Ripliancum”, north of Cumorah, as “Lake Ontario”. See LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128:20.

Intentional or not, the term “Book of Mormon Geography” has been used for decades in a way that dodges the real issue. The issue is really about covenant lands of the LORD, and the heritage, and identity of his people Israel. It may be only a geographic controversy to Gentile minded Mormons, but it certainly wasn't meant to be a mystery in scripture. (1 Nephi 13:30, 2 Nephi 10:10-12, 19, Ether 2:9-12, LDS Doctrine and Covenants 10:49-51) Quasi-limited Mesoamerican and South American geographies should be seen for what they are; an unwitting betrayal, if not a kind of covenant land identity theft.

But a quasi-limited geography is not what Benjamin Winchester had in mind!

If Winchester was promoting a “Mesoamerican” setting for the Book of Mormon, he was also definitely promoting a North American Mound Builder setting, and a South American setting all at the same time. Winchester was promoting a hemispheric model for the Book of Mormon – one that took in North and South America!

A hemispheric setting for the Book of Mormon might seem obtuse, but that’s what was in the minds of many early Latter-day Saints, including several church leaders – and it didn’t start with Benjamin Winchester.

Young Mormon missionary Orson Pratt was the first on record promoting this kind of exaggerated geography for the Book of Mormon. Pratt promoted the hemispheric geography idea as early as 1832. (Roper, Matthew, “Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations”, section titled “Hemispheric Interpretations of Book of Mormon Geography”, Note 6, BYU Maxwell Institute, 2004)

Why would someone as sharp as Orson Pratt advocate such an outlandish geography? The reasons are simple:

(1) Almost nobody in the early Church paid attention to Book of Mormon details about distances between places – in fact there were things about the Book of Mormon that essentially the whole Church “treated lightly”. (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 84:54-59)

Sure it was known that Cumorah was in the Finger Lake's region of western NY, south of Lake Ontario and east of Lake Erie, but looking on a globe, or at a map of the Western Hemisphere, the “small neck of land” or “narrow neck of land” has to be at Panama - right? I mean, is there anything at all near Cumorah, in Joseph Smith’s boyhood state of NY that qualifies as “the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land” (Ether 10:20)? I mean Lake Erie doesn’t have anything to do with dividing the Niagara Isthmus – does it? Ok, well a lake or inland body of water would never be referred to as a “sea” in scripture – would it? (Joshua 15:5, 12, Ether 2:7)

(2) At any rate, it must have felt right in Elder Pratt’s missionary heart, to broaden the setting of the Book of Mormon to include the various native peoples of the whole Western Hemisphere. LDS scripture never made this claim – nor did scriptural details support it.

There was no consensus on hemispheric geographies in the early days of the Church, at least not like there would be (i.e. the footnotes of the 1879 LDS edition of the Book of Mormon – withdrawn at a later day). But there were others who thought (or felt) like Orson Pratt. This brings us back to missionary minded (big missionary hearted) Benjamin Winchester.

Benjamin Winchester’s Gospel reflector articles make no explicit mention of John Lloyd Stephens or his Central American discoveries. WHAT? That’s right! Benjamin Winchester refers to other sources like Josiah Priest’s American Antiquities and Discoveries in the West.

Priest, dwells at length on North American Mound Builder antiquities, but also dips south (in his work), to describe discoveries in Mexico and Central America – those fabulous “hewn stone” ruins that the Book of Mormon never mentions. So how can Winchester’s 1841 Gospel reflector articles be the basis for the unsigned 1842 Incidents of Travel in Central America extract articles? Well, as Neville has found, there are some similarities between the articles.

Are the similarities compelling enough to prove that Winchester is the lone hand behind the unsigned T&S articles, and that William Smith, alone, had to have conspired with him to get the articles printed during Joseph’s public absence? No! It’s entirely possible that the unsigned T&S articles were influenced by Winchester’s earlier articles to the point of even repeating certain words, phrases and concepts.

Contrary to the case that Neville seems to want to make, it’s likely, that Apostles John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff (in charge of the Times and Seasons) had something to do with the anonymous articles.

Here are the facts:

(1) There is no mention of John Lloyd Stephens or his Central American discoveries in Winchester’s March 1841 Gospel reflector articles.

(2) There is no mention of John Lloyd Stephens or Central American ruins in William Smith’s Nauvoo Wasp – not even a secular reprint like the one published by John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff (following the official resignation of Joseph Smith as Editor). See “RUINS RECENTLY DISCOVERED IN YUCATAN MEXICO”, Times and Seasons, November 15, 1842. This interesting article was printed by Elders Talyor and Woodruff without a puff of LDS commentary. (CHOICE ABOVE ALL OTHER LANDS, Appendix)

(3) The earliest mention in the Times and Seasons of Stephens’ and Catherwood’s discoveries in Central America is in a reprint from the New York Weekly Herald published June 15, 1841 (coincidentally the same date as the last issue of Winchester’s Philadelphia Gospel reflector). Don Carlos Smith was the T&S editor at the time. The article entitled “AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES-MORE PROOF OF THE BOOK OF MORMON” begins with the following commentary:

“We feel great pleasure in laying before our readers the following interesting account of the Antiquities of Central America, which have been discovered by two eminent travelers … which prove beyond controversy, that on this vast continent, once flourished a mighty people, skilled in arts, sciences, and whose splendor would not be eclipsed by any of the nations of Antiquity - a people once high and exalted in the scale of intelligence, but now like their ancient buildings, fallen into ruins.” (Cited in CHOICE ABOVE ALL OTHER LANDS, Chapter 4)

The wording of the article is somewhat similar to that found in a piece published previously in Winchester’s Gospel reflector, dated March 1841, pg. 106:

“We shall now proceed to prove; first, from various relics of antiquity, that America has been inhabited by an enlightened people, far in advance of the savage state of the red men of the forest

Now when the antiquarian traverses the Western wilds, he has the privilege to behold the relics of a once enlightened nation, who understood arts and sciences to some extent. He there can walk upon the ruins of once magnificent cities abounding in wealth and prosperity, but now depopulated, and lying in heaps of massive ruins. And if he is onward with his researches – he gazes upon numerous forts, mounds, obelisks, and catecombs, which he marks with wonder and amazement. When he surveys the Southern part of North America – he there can feast his mind upon the works of antiquity until it is absorbed in contemplating the scenes of destruction that have come upon this nation of the dead, and leveled their cities in ruins. In Guatamalathe ruins of a once splendid, beautiful, and populous city, perhaps as ever was on the globe; (we allude to the city of Otolum near Pulenque) … America was inhabited by an enlightened nation anterior to its discovery by Columbus.”

It may be worth noting that Winchester here spells “Guatamala” (Guatemala) as Priest does, and not “Guatimala” as found in the unsigned articles, and in Stephens’ work. Winchester misspells “Palenque” in the quote above, but spells it acceptably elsewhere; as do Priest and Stephens.

You may have noticed that, like Joseph Smith and John Taylor, Winchester is prone to write long sentences. Long sentences and similar sounding, or borrowed, expressions are not enough to stick the unsigned articles on Joseph Smith’s apron, or on Winchester’s belt. (Lies, DARN LIES and STATISTICS!)

The similarities between the June 15, 1841 T&S commentary and Winchester’s March 1, 1841 Gospel reflector piece does not prove that Winchester wrote the “AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES – MORE PROOF OF THE BOOK OF MORMON” commentary published by Don Carlos Smith. Winchester’s earlier article could have influenced the wording, phrases and presentation of the T&S commentary - that’s all.

Joseph Smith’s signed 1842 editorials, drawing on Priest’s American Antiquities, are loaded with similar sounding expressions. This doesn’t prove that Winchester wrote these either. Compare for example, the Gospel reflector excerpt (above) with the following:

“If men, in their researches into the history of this country, in noticing the mounds, fortifications, statues, architecture, implements of war, of husbandry, and ornaments of silver, brass, &c.-were to examine the Book of Mormon, their conjectures would be removed, and their opinions altered; uncertainty and doubt would be changed into certainty and facts; and they would find that those things that they are anxiously prying into were matters of history, unfolded in that book. They would find their conjectures were more than realized-that a great and a mighty people had inhabited this continent-that the arts sciences and religion, had prevailed to a very great extent, and that there was as great and mighty cities on this continent as on the continent of Asia…-ED.” (“AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES”, T&S, July 15, 1842, Joseph Smith - Editor)

Note that Joseph Smith associates Mound Builder antiquities with the Book of Mormon and that he never actually says that Book of Mormon lands are to be found in Central America. American Antiquities suggests that peoples of Central America migrated there from “the regions of the now United States ... called the lake country.” (American Antiquities, "Traits of the Mosaic History found among the Azteca Nations", pg. 202)

(4) There are more documented publications and statements tied to John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff on the topic of Stephens’ discoveries, including statements promoting Stephens works as a guide to Book of Mormon cities, than can be pinned on forgotten Benjamin Winchester, brother-in-law to the Prophet. (CHOICE ABOVE ALL OTHER LANDS, Chapter 3, and Appendix; also Joseph Smith, Josiah Priest and the Times and Seasons)

Of course John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff accepted the scriptural location of Cumorah. They promoted Stephens works in the context of an erroneous hemispheric setting. They didn’t know better! They and the Saints in general could have paid more attention to scriptural details - as the Lord had warned. (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 84:54-59) They may have let missionary objectives get in the way of some scriptural facts. Their hearts were in the right place!

The closest thing to a localized Mesoamerican setting in the early days of the Church, may have been the geography evolved by Apostle John E. Page. Elder Page seems to have noticed from reading the Book of Mormon that its principal lands were fairly close together. Unfortunately, Page too became engrossed in the sensational discoveries described in Stephens’ bestseller.

Because the location of Cumorah was established through Joseph Smith, it’s likely that Page thought the Nephite people made a mass exodus from Central America to upstate NY, to take their final stand as a nation against their enemies. The scenario is similar to that described by Patriarch William McBride in 1881 at a prayer meeting at St. George, Utah. (CHOICE ABOVE ALL OTHER LANDS, Appendix, “An Instance of Mormon Apocrypha”; Gross Geographies)

Winchester listed as an agent!

Winchester listed as an agent in the June 15 and July 1, 1842 editions of the Times & Seasons.

5) The unsigned articles are just that - anonymous! Suppose Elder Winchester did draft something about Stephens’ discoveries and get it into the hands of Apostle Smith. We still don’t know who arranged, redacted and edited what in the unsigned articles. Stylometry statistics will not resolve this issue.

Let’s concede to Brother Neville that a link may exist between Agent Winchester (The T&S actually lists Winchester as an agent) and T&S features on the Boston show down, or debate between Dr. West and Elder Adams.

In “THE SMOKING GUN” article, Brother Neville states that these Boston newspaper articles show a “link between the Book of Mormon and archaeological discoveries”.  Yes, it was noted in “Joseph Smith Josiah Priest and the Times and Seasons” back in 2011, that one of the Boston show down features refers to Priest’s “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)

So let’s say that Agent Winchester (in disguise) was referencing Priest again; this time in one of the Boston show down pieces. So what! Winchester wasn’t the only member of the Church who had read Josiah Priest and thought things in American Antiquities proved the Book of Mormon. See for instance Thompson, Charles (also listed as an agent), EVIDENCE IN PROOF OF THE BOOK OF MORMON, published at Batavia, NY; and the T&S article, January 1, 1842; CHOICE ABOVE ALL OTHER LANDS, Appendix.

The Boston show down reprints started in the July 15, 1842 issue. This was the same T&S issue that featured Joseph Smith’s signed “American Antiquities” editorial, and the Winchester get-out-of-town NOTICE! It’s unlikely that co-conspirator William Smith was singularly responsible for printing the issue. I think the relationship between the Apostles in the printing office was more complex (even collaborative) than Neville wants the jury to understand. After all, it was the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that had been instructed to “take in hand the Editorial department of the Times and Seasons”. (Friday, January 28, 1842, History of the Church 4:503)

Neville alleges that “for reasons (which are discussed in detail in the book [Neville’s new book] he [Joseph Smith] couldn’t simply retract the articles [unsigned T&S articles]. But he [Joseph Smith] took action to mitigate their impact and prevent their reoccurrence.”

Prevent their reoccurrence? Does Neville not know about the unsigned “STEPHENS’ WORKS ON CENTRAL AMERICA” article published by John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff? This article was published in the Times and Seasons on the anniversary of the unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” piece – exactly one year later! The anniversary article is as sensational and overreaching as the “ZARAHEMLA” piece. The 1843 article shoots beyond the mark of scripture and promotes Stephens’ written works to the Latter-day Saints as an essential guide to Book of Mormon cities. As far as we know, there was no William Smith sharing the printing office this time around. It’s evident that John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff had something to do with the unsigned article(s). (See NOTES) Brother Neville’s scapegoat case doesn’t quite fit the facts.

As for the true location of Zarahemla, Joseph didn’t explicitly tell the Church where the city of Zarahemla was. He told us enough. He told us where the land Cumorah is; and by so doing, he actually gave us enough information to determine the general whereabouts of the land Zarahemla – if we rigorously follow scripture. For example: Mosiah 8:8; 21:26, Mormon 6:4. The coastal land of Zarahemla and Cumorah were so near each other that a place near Cumorah in “a land among many waters” could be mistaken for Zarahemla.

The Lord had warned the Saints not to treat the Book of Mormon lightly. (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 84:54-59) Joseph left the Saints to choose between scripture and other sources – he left us to choose between silver and lead. Most members of the Church have chosen a little of both.

The ruin of hemispheric geographies   

Neville acknowledges that “Early church members speculated that the Book of Mormon events took place across the Americas.” But he oversimplifies and misrepresents hemispheric geographies when he says that; “The “narrow neck of land” had to be Panama, they guessed, while the Nephites lived in North America and the Lamanites in South America.”

Is Brother Neville willing to overlook the exaggerated geographies of esteemed brethren of the Church, because he thinks they had the Nephites all the while in North America? The North American Continent includes Central America!

There were a variety of exaggerated geographies proffered in the early days of the Church and they all didn’t settle on Panama as “the narrow neck of land”. (Gross Geographies)

The hemispheric geography church leaders settled on (temporarily - in the footnotes of the 1879 LDS edition of the Book of Mormon) had Nephite lands in South, Central and temperate North America. Neville makes a big smoke about Zarahemla not being in Central America, but seems to be willing to give esteemed brethren a pass when it comes to their placing Zarahemla in South America – assuming he knows they did.

The trouble with hemispheric settings for the Book of Mormon is that they’re not only incompatible with LDS scripture; they are inconsistent with the foremost antiquarian works of the nineteenth century – the very ones church members selectively cited. Why? It’s  because hemispheric geographies for the Book of Mormon did not originate with Joseph Smith or the renowned authors of his time. These exaggerated geographies were the well meaning extrapolations of other men (church brethren) who didn’t seem to catch (or favor) the vision that various native peoples of North and South America could be tied to the heritage of Book of Mormon peoples through migrations and intermarriage. Instead, they wanted the principal lands of the Book of Mormon to stretch over the vast Western Hemisphere to include all natives in all the places they call home.

Part of the problem with hemispheric settings is the fact that a large number Mesoamerica’s ruins date more recent than the Book of Mormon timeline.

In promoting a hemispheric geography, note how selective Winchester’s quotes are in giving the reader the impression that the ruins of Central American cities (Palenque in particular) are of great age:

“In surveying its ruins, the traveler is led to believe that it was founded at as early a period as the renowned cities of Egypt

The antiquities of America spread from the great lakes of the North and West to Central America, and the Southern parts of Peru on the South; from the Allegheny Mountains on the East, to the Rocky Mountains on the West …” (“THE CLAIMS OF THE BOOK OF MORMON ESTABLISHED”, Gospel reflector, March, 1841, pg. 108)

But Ethan Smith, Josiah Priest, John Lloyd Stephens and other informed writers of Joseph Smith’s day, did not attribute great antiquity to the hewn stone ruins of Central America. In their view(s) the ruins were “comparatively modern” (many centuries A.D.); constructed by peoples who had migrated from more ancient mound and palisade building cultures found in “the lake country” of temperate North America. (Stephens, John Lloyd, Incident of Travel in Central America Chiapas and Yucatan, Vol. II, Chapter XXVI, “COMPARATIVE MODERN DATE OF RUINS”, pp 442-443; Priest, Josiah, American Antiquities, 1833 edition, “Traits of the Mosaic History found among the Azteca Nations”, pp. 199, 202)

Though John Taylor cited Priest and Stephens in the Times and Seasons, the Apostle never published their views on migrations from the temperate north, except perhaps in the instance of a single line reprinted from The Texas Telegraph. The reprint tells of “The antiquarian who is desirous to trace the Aztec or Toltec races in their migrations from the northern regions of America”. (“ANCIENT RUINS”, Times and Seasons, January 1, 1844)

What hemispheric geographies all had in common was not the Isthmus of Darien as “the narrow neck of land”, but the unjustified assumption that Book of Mormon real-estate (and therefore societies) overspread much of the Western Hemisphere. The authors of these settings evidently over looked scriptural details; like the fact that the city of Mulek (in the Lamanite held borders of the land of Nephi) was less than a night’s march from the Nephite land of Bountiful north of Zarahemla. (Alma 52:18-28; 53:6)

Keep that geographic fact in mind as you consider that “the line Bountiful”  “was only a day and a half’s Journey … from the east to the west sea”. (Alma 22:32)  If Mulek (near “the east sea”) was less than a day’s (or a night’s) march from Bountiful, then the breadth of the east to west “narrow strip of wilderness” between the land of Zarahemla on the north and the land of Nephi on the south, could have been crossed on foot in a few days, perhaps less than three. That’s the distance along “the line between … the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi” from “the east sea to the west.” (Alma 22:27; 50:8, 11)

This is the same “narrow strip of wilderness … ” that scripture says “ran … by the head of the river Sidon, [the narrow strip] running from the east towards the west”.

Contrary to what was once the majority view in the Church, the Magdalena River of Colombia is not a likely candidate for the Book of Mormon Sidon. The head of the Magdalena River is over 150 miles inland from the Pacific, on the eastern side of the Andes  – a journey of many days on foot. The thousand mile Magdalena River is also far too long to be the northward flowing Sidon of the Book of Mormon.

Orson Pratt’s 1879 edition footnote h, to Omni 1:13 (pg. 155) reads, “The land of Zarahemla is supposed to have been north of the headwaters of the river Magdalena [proposed Sidon], its northern boundary being a few days’ journey south of the isthmus [of Panana].” But the Nephite cities near “the east sea” were not far from “the head of Sidon”. (Alma 56:25; 50:13-14; 59:6-7) The city of Mulek on the coast of “the east sea”, at the eastern end of “the narrow strip of wilderness, which [narrow strip] ran from the sea east even to the sea west … by the head of the river Sidon ...”, was only a night’s march from Bountiful north of Zarahemla! See the problem? (Why Lake Erie, and not Tonawanda, is the Western Terminus of the Land Bountiful)

Rio Magdalena

The Magdalena River - too long, too far inland to be the river Sidon, and nowhere near scriptural Cumorah. The authentic “narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land” is of course, near Cumorah.

Regarding the fortified “line between the Nephites and the Lamanites, between the the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi, from the west sea, running by the head of the river Sidon-” (Alma 50:11) It was probably only a night’s march inland from the coast of “the west sea” to the city of Cumeni (Alma 53:22; 57:7-8); and another night’s march from Cumeni to Manti by the head of Sidon (Alma 58:13-14; 22:27). Just across the headwaters of Sidon from Manti, was the city of Nephihah by “the east sea”. (Alma 59:5-6; 56:25; 50:13-14) The distance between “the west sea” and “the head of Sidon” near “the east sea” has to be less than 60 miles! The major fortified cities would not have been spread too far apart.  

Hmmm - I wonder: Would ancient Israelites on the coast of Lake Erie have named an inland, eastern body of water (e.g. a finger lake) “the east sea”? (Ezekiel 47:18, Joel 2:20, Numbers 34:2-3)

Ok, so we can get from scripture some idea of the inland extent of coastal Book of Mormon lands. What was the distance between the city of Lehi-Nephi (in the southern land of Nephi) and Zarahemla?

If one knew the way, and didn’t get lost in the forested hill country, the distance between Lehi-Nephi and Zarahemla could be traversed in only 12 – 8 = 4 days.  (Mosiah 18:31-34; 23:1-3, 19; 24:20, 25) This assumes, for good reasons, that the land of Helam is not northward from Lehi-Nephi, but is in another (possibly opposite) direction. (American Land of Israel)

Inconsistent though it is, Neville wants to give the early Saints a pass on hemispheric geographies: “Such a hemispheric model” says Neville, “might have made sense in a day when people did not have accurate maps - let alone satellites - to reveal the distances and geography involved.”

Come, come ye Saints! Stephens’ works were printed with maps! Is Neville seriously suggesting that early church leaders didn’t have access to maps with accurate enough distances scales? Is he suggesting that without GPS the brethren were bound to think that a Nephite search party sent out from a South American “land of Nephi” to find a South American “Zarahemla”, could get lost in the wilderness, end up at the Finger Lakes in North America; and there mistakenly think they had found Zarahemla in ruins?

The 1879 edition, pg. 180, Mosiah 8:8, footnote i, correctly relates “many waters” to Mormon 6:4, near “the land of Cumorah” in the Finger Lakes region. Footnotes speculating on Sidon being the Magdalena River, and Zarahemla being a little south of Panama, are unscriptural, and are asking for trouble.

The reader of the 1879 edition footnotes is left to supposed that either Limhi’s search party got lost looking for Zarahemla in tropical South America, wandered and thought they had found its ruins in temperate North America near the Finger Lakes, or the prophet Ether packed the Jaredite record (that the search party found), all the way from the Finger Lakes to another Jaredite land among many waters closer to the Isthmus of  Darien. (Journal of Discourses, Volume 16, pp. 47-49)

By contrast, its far more likely that we have in Brother Neville, a case of someone favoring a client over the whole truth?



Some additional parallels between the 1842 unsigned Times and Seasons articles citing Stephen’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, and articles published in Winchester’s Gospel reflector:

On the location of Cumorah:





Nauvoo, September 6, 1842.


As I stated to you in my letter before I left my place, that I would write to you from time to time, and give you information in relation to many subjects, I now resume the subject of the baptism for the dead; as that subject seems to occupy my mind, and press itself upon my feelings the strongest, since I have been pursued by my enemies…

And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an Angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment [fulfillment] of the prophets-the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book. The voice of Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna, detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light. The voice of Peter, James and John, in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broom county, on the Susquehanna River, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness [fullness] of times. And again, the voice of God in the chamber of old father Whitmer, in Fayette, Seneca county, and at sundry times, and in divers places, through all the travels and tribulations of this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints…

I am, as ever, your humble servant and never deviating friend.

JOSEPH SMITH.” (Canonized as LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128:20)

Compare with:

“THE Book of Mormon was found in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven, in Ontario county, New York… It contains the history of the ancient inhabitants of America, who were… of the tribe of Joseph; of whom the Indians are still a remnant… Moroni, who being hunted by his enemies, was directed to deposit the record safely in the earth … This deposit was made about the year four hundred and twenty, on a hill then called Cumora, now in Ontario County

In Cumora’s lonely hill it was concealed-” (“THE CLAIMS OF THE BOOK OF MORMON ESTABLISHED”, Gospel reflector, March, 1841, pp. 105, 108)

Notice that the Gospel reflector article parallels a verse from Apostle Parley P. Pratt’s “An Angel from on High”. The verse goes: “Lo! in Cu-mo-rah’s lonely hill A sa-cred rec-ord  lies con-cealed…” implying that the hill belongs to the Book of Mormon “land Cumorah”. (Mormon 6:5, 1986 edition or earlier; LDS Hymn 13) More recent editions have changed the scripture to read “land of Cumorah”. Mormons tend to think of Cumorah as a hill and forget that it is also the name of a Book of Mormon land.

Speculating on Lehi’s landing in the context of a far-flung hemispheric geography:

“When we read in the Book of Mormon that Jared and his brother came on to this continent from the confusion and scattering at the Tower, and lived here more than a thousand years, and covered the whole continent from sea to sea, with towns and cities; and that Lehi went down by the Red Sea to the great Southern Ocean, and crossed over to this land and landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien, … and then read such a ..  traditionary account, as the one below, we can not but think the Lord has a hand in bringing to pass his strange act, and proving the Book of Mormon true in the eyes of all the people.” (Unsigned, “FACTS ARE STUBBORN THINGS”, T&S, September 15, 1842)

Compare with:

 “After a long and tedious journey, they [Lehi’s company] came to the waters, or the Ocean. Nephi … was commanded and instructed to build a ship sufficiently large to transport them over the sea… They set sail, and in a proper time they landed, as we infer from their record, somewhere on the Western coast of South America.” (“HISTORY OF THE ANCIENTS OF AMERICA”, Gospel reflector, March 15, 1841, pg. 124)

Winchester does not say how far south in South America he thinks Lehi landed. Orson Pratt and reinstated Frederick G. Williams wrote that Lehi landed far to the South in temperate Chile. Elder Pratt essentially admitted that this conclusion was based on supposition, not revelation. (Journal of Discourses, Volume 14, pg. 325) Quasi-limited South American settings have condensed from the unscriptural presumptions of hemispheric traditions.

The Book of Mormon does not say that Lehi’s company sailed across the vast Pacific Ocean. Their lives were in danger near the Mediterranean coast. They had to flee into the Arabian desert! The Book of Mormon tells how they crossed “the large waters into the promised land...” arriving near the shore of “the west sea”. (1 Nephi 1, Alma 22:28, 33) The “west sea” was apparently a body of freshwater; from which the people spread after a famine. (Helaman 11:20)  

 Narrow neck presumptions:

“Mr. Stephens’ great developments of antiquity are made bare in the eyes of all the people by reading the history of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. They lived about a narrow neck of land, which now embraces Central America, with all the cities that can be found…” (Unsigned, “EXTRACT from Stephen’s “Incidents of Travel in Central America”, T&S, September 15, 1842)

The authors of this unsigned article stake quite a claim to “all” the American ruins “that can be found”. Were they suggesting, at the time, that the “narrow neck of land” embraced all of Central America?

 “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 … stood upon this land as will be seen from the following words in the book of Alma:-'… 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.]” (Unsigned, “ZARAHEMLA”, T&S, October 1, 1842)

The writers of the overly celebrated “ZARAHEMLA” article appear to misinterpret the verse in Alma 22:32. According to scripture, Zarahemla is south of “a small neck of land”, not north. (Alma 22:27-31; 50:34) The anonymous authors are not advocating a quasi-limited Mesoamerican setting. They simply erred in supposing that Zarahemla was north of the “small neck”, which in their minds (since the September 15 T&S publication) had narrowed to Panama’s Darien Isthmus.

Winchester, like the excommunicated Orson Pratt, had apparently already considred Panama's isthmus as a candidate for “the narrow neck of land”:

Compare with:

“They [the Nephites] were constantly emigrating to the North. At length they commenced settlements in the region of country, not far from the Isthmus of Darien, and [sic] at any time previous; and built more spacious cities, and buildings than they did before” (“HISTORY OF THE ANCIENTS OF AMERICA”, Gospel reflector, March 15, 1841, pg. 124 -25)

Did Winchester correctly understand Zarahemla to be south of “the narrow neck of land”? It’s not entirely clear that he did. If he is referring to the land of Zarahemla as “not far from the Isthmus of Darien” how could he have supposed that Zarahemla was at Quirigua as proposed in the unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” article? Let’s not forget that Winchester’s geography, like the one in the “ZARAHEMLA” article, was too big already! In his mind did Quirigua qualify as “not far from the Isthmus of Darien”? Did he change his mind? Or was the Guatemalan Zarahemla idea the blunder of other brethren who were all too eager to publish something (even anonymously) in the wake of Stephens’ bestseller?

Lost, ruined cities in far away places:

“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.” (Unsigned, “ZARAHEMLA”, T&S, October 1, 1842)

Compare with:

“After viewing these works of antiquity he [the antiquarian] is anxious to learn their origin; for which he searches for something that will disclose the secret – but in vain. Again he hears of the discovery of some other city with numerous writings, or inscriptions on stones; at this he takes new courage and sets out for the place, hoping to find something that will divulge the secret. – Vain hope – He sinks in despair; his mind is still left in the wide field of conjecture, doubt and uncertainty.” (“THE CLAIMS OF THE BOOK OF MORMON ESTABLISHED”, Gospel reflector, March, 1841, pg. 107)

Keep in mind that Winchester was not drawing on Stephens’ work in the article above.

“…relics of a once enlightened nation, who understood arts and sciences...”:


“Truth will prevail.”

Vol. IV. No. 22.] CITY OF NAUVOO, ILL. October 1, 1843. [Whole No. 82.


We have lately perused with great interest, Stephen’s works on Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan.

Mr. Stephens published about two years ago, a very interesting work entitled ‘Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan,’ in which he details very many interesting circumstances; discovered the ruins of magnificent cities, and from hieroglyphical representations, sculpture and rich specimens of architecture, proved one important fact, which had been disputed by many of our sages; that America had once been peopled by a highly polished, civilized and scientific race, with whom the present aborigines could not compare.

This work has been read with great interest throughout this continent, and tens of thousands of copies have been sent to, and sold in Europe, where it has been investigated with the greatest scrutiny and interest. It has already passed through twelve editions; it is published in two volumes, 8 vo.

Since the publication of this work, Mr. Stephens has again visited Central America, in company with Mr. Catherwood, and other scientific gentlemen, for the purpose of making further explorations among those already interesting ruins. They took with them the Daguerreotype, and other apparatus, for the purpose of giving views and drawings of those mysterious relics of antiquity. His late travels and discoveries, have also been published in two volumes of the same size, entitled ‘Incidents of travel in Central America.’

It is a work of great interest, written with precision and accuracy. The plates are elegantly executed, and its history unfolds the ruins of grandeur, civilization and intelligence. It is published by Harper & Brothers, N. Y.

This is a work that 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, can be given, than that contained in Mr. Stephens’ works.

Mr. Stephens gives an account of ancient cities he has visited, where once dwelt the powerful, the wise, the scientific, and to use his own words; 'architecture, sculpture and painting, all the arts which embellished life had flourished in this overgrown city; orators, warriors, and statesmen, beauty, ambition, and glory, had lived and passed away, and none knew that such things had been, or could tell of their past existence.' In the last clause, Mr. Catherwood is mistaken. It has fallen to his lot to explore the ruins of this once mighty people, but the ‘Book of Mormon’ unfolds their history; and published as it was, years before these discoveries were made, and giving as it does, accounts of a people, and of cities that bear a striking resemblance to those mentioned by Mr. Stephens, both in regard to magnificence and location, it affords the most indubitable testimony of the historical truth of that book, which has been treated so lightly by the literati and would be philosophers of the present age.

For the information of our friends who do not possess this work, we may at a convenient time collect and compare many of the important items in this work, and in the Book of Mormon, and publish them. To give some idea of the nature of the last work, we publish the following from the preface: …


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, Hancock County, Illinois, by JOHN TAYLOR AND WILFORD WOODRUFF.

This little known unsigned article (above) was published exactly one year after the “ZARAHEMLA” piece. William Smith was no longer publishing the Nauvoo Wasp! The use of first person plural in the article (similar to the fall 1842 unsigned articles) very likely refers to John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, i.e. “..we may at a convenient time collect and compare many of the important items in this work [Stephens’], and in the Book of Mormon, and publish them.

Compare with:

“We shall now proceed to prove; first, from various relics of antiquity, that America has been inhabited by an enlightened people, far in advance of the savage state of the red men of the forest

Now when the antiquarian traverses the Western wilds, he has the privilege to behold the relics of a once enlightened nation, who understood arts and sciences to some extent. He there can walk upon the ruins of once magnificent cities abounding in wealth and prosperity, but now depopulated, and lying in heaps of massive ruins. And if he is onward with his researches – he gazes upon numerous forts, mounds, obelisks, and catecombs, which he marks with wonder and amazement. When he surveys the Southern part of North America – he there can feast his mind upon the works of antiquity until it is absorbed in contemplating the scenes of destruction that have come upon this nation of the dead, and leveled their cities in ruins. In Guatamalathe ruins of a once splendid, beautiful, and populous city, perhaps as ever was on the globe; (we allude to the city of Otolum near Pulenque) … America was inhabited by an enlightened nation anterior to its discovery by Columbus.” (“THE CLAIMS OF THE BOOK OF MORMON ESTABLISHED”, Gospel reflector, March, 1841, pg. 106)

It is evident that Winchester was promoting a hemispheric geography for the Book of Mormon that included Mound Builder North America.

So unauthorized things did get printed in the Times and Seasons after all - the Prophet’s name at the end of the paper was no guarantee!

Regarding an unauthorized notice!

Times & Seasons, July 1, 1842. NOTICE regarding an unauthorized notice.


Embarrassing Notice!

Notice from the February 1, 1842 edition of the Times & Seasons. The issue was erroneously published in the Prophet’s name. Can you imagine this sort of thing getting printed in the Church’s Ensign today? The Prophet denied that he had anything to do with the risqué notice.



Vincent Coon וִינְסֶנט כּוּן ּ © Copyright 2015


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