Targeting Book of Mormon Geography
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.
Benjamin Winchester advertises his book for sale in the September 15, 1842
edition of the Times & Seasons newspaper.
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
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.
“…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)
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.
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.
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
Winchester silenced from preaching! Times & Seasons’ NOTICE, May 16,
time the unsigned articles appeared, Apostle William Smith was in charge of
publishing the secular
- 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
have had something to do with the unsigned
Incidents of Travel in Central America
extract articles too?
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.
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
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
RLDS (Community of Christ) church abandoned.
(You will find early twentieth century RLDS articles referenced in
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.
Milton R. and Ferguson, Thomas Stewart,
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
traveling thousands of miles to deposit the
Book of Mormon plates, does not
qualify as a truly limited
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
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
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,
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.
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
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
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)
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!
that a Church approved edition of the
Book of Mormon would promote a
“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)
no surprise that archaeological evidence of Mound Builder settlements can be
found all along the
(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
Dr. Isaac Galland.
It’s also likely that the name
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)
what shall we liken the Iowa “Zarahemla”? It is comparable to the Iowa
Mormon namesake “Mount Pisgah”.
TEACHINGS OF THE PRESIDENTS OF THE
CHURCH – LORENZO SNOW, pp. 107-109)
Folks shouldn’t expect the Iowa “Zarahemla” to reside on the site of
Book of Mormon
of Zarahemla any more
than than they should expect the
to be the
of the Bible.
One of the key things that makes both namesakes appropriate is their
proximity to rivers.
(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.
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
(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
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”)
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
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,
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!
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!
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.
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.
“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
someone as sharp as Orson Pratt advocate such an outlandish geography? The
reasons are simple:
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)
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
- 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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
similarities compelling enough to prove that
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
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.
is no mention of John Lloyd Stephens or his Central American discoveries in Winchester’s March 1841
Gospel reflector articles.
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
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,
earliest mention in the Times and
Seasons of Stephens’ and Catherwood’s discoveries in Central
America is in a reprint from the
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:
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)
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:
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
Guatamala … the 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.
have noticed that, like Joseph Smith and John Taylor,
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.
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
Smith’s signed 1842 editorials, drawing on Priest’s
American Antiquities, are loaded
with similar sounding expressions. This doesn’t prove that
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 -
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)
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
ABOVE ALL OTHER LANDS,
Chapter 3, and Appendix; also
Joseph Smith, Josiah Priest and the Times and Seasons)
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
(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!
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
Because the location of Cumorah was established
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.
Utah. (CHOICE ABOVE ALL OTHER LANDS, Appendix, “An Instance of Mormon
Winchester listed as an agent in the June 15 and July 1, 1842 editions of
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.
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
newspaper articles show a “link between the Book of Mormon and
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,
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)
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
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
(See NOTES) Brother Neville’s scapegoat case doesn’t quite fit
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
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.
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.
of hemispheric geographies
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!
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”.
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
Mormon is that they’re not only incompatible with LDS
scripture; they are inconsistent with the foremost antiquarian works of the
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
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
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)
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
“Traits of the Mosaic History found among the Azteca
Nations”, pp. 199, 202)
John Taylor cited Priest and Stephens in the Times and Seasons, the
Apostle never published their views on migrations from
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,
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.
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
of Nephi” from “the
east sea to the west.”
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
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”.
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)
The Magdalena River
- too long, too far inland to be the river Sidon, and nowhere
Cumorah. The authentic
“narrow neck of land, by
the place where the sea divides the land” is of course, near
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-”
It was probably only a night’s march inland from the coast of “the west sea” to the city of Cumeni
57:7-8); and another night’s march from Cumeni to Manti by
the head of Sidon
22:27). Just across the headwaters of
Sidon from Manti, was the city of Nephihah by “the east sea”.
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
“the east sea”?
Ok, so we can get from scripture some idea of the inland extent of coastal Book of Mormon
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
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 ye Saints! Stephens’ works were printed with maps! Is Neville seriously suggesting
that early church leaders didn’t have access to maps with accurate
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?
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
among many waters” closer
to the Isthmus of Darien. (Journal of
Discourses, Volume 16, pp. 47-49)
contrast, its far more
likely that we have in Brother Neville, a case of someone favoring a client over the whole truth?
parallels between the 1842 unsigned
Times and Seasons articles citing Stephen’s
Incidents of Travel in Central America,
and articles published
the location of Cumorah:
“TIMES AND SEASONS.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 1, 1842.
LETTER FROM JOSEPH SMITH.
Nauvoo, September 6, 1842.
TO THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST
OF LATTER DAY SAINTS, SENDETH GREETING:-
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
I am, as ever, your humble servant and never deviating friend.
JOSEPH SMITH.” (Canonized as
LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128:20)
“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
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)
“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)
does not say how far south in South America
he thinks Lehi landed. Orson Pratt
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,
The “west sea” was apparently a body of freshwater; from which the people spread after a famine.
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)
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
'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)
writers of the overly celebrated “ZARAHEMLA” article appear to misinterpret the
According to scripture, Zarahemla is south of “a small neck of land”, not north.
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”:
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?
ruined cities in far away places:
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,
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
“…relics of a once enlightened nation, who understood arts and sciences...”
Vol. IV. No. 22.] CITY OF
NAUVOO, ILL. October 1, 1843. [Whole No. 82.
STEPHENS’ WORKS ON CENTRAL
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
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
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
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
This little known unsigned
article (above) was published exactly one year after the
“ZARAHEMLA” piece. William Smith was no longer publishing the
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,
may at a convenient time collect and compare many of the important items in
and in the Book of Mormon, and
“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 Guatamala … the 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!
July 1, 1842. NOTICE regarding an unauthorized 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
today? The Prophet denied that he had anything to do with the risqué notice.
Vincent Coon וִינְסֶנט כּוּן