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About Matthew Roper

Matthew Roper is currently a Research Scholar at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. He received a B.A. in History and a M.A. in Sociology from Brigham Young University. He has published numerous articles and review essays on issues relating to Latter-day Saint history and Scripture. 

Zarahemla Revisited: Neville’s Newest Novel

Abstract: This article is the third in a series of three articles responding to the recent assertion by Jonathan Neville that Benjamin Winchester was the anonymous author of three unsigned editorials published in Nauvoo in 1842 in the Times and Seasons. The topic of the unsigned editorials was the possible relationship of archeological discoveries in Central America to places described in the Book of Mormon narrative. The first article shows that, contrary to Neville’s claims, Winchester was not a proponent of a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon, but rather a hemispheric one. Since this was a view commonly held by early Mormons, his ideas did not warrant any anonymity for their dissemination. The second article shows that, also contrary to Neville’s claims, Joseph Smith was not opposed to considering Central American geographic parallels to the Book of Mormon. The Prophet even seemed to find such possibilities interesting and supportive of the Book of Mormon. This third article shows that despite Neville’s circumstantial speculations, the historical and stylometric evidence is overwhelmingly against Winchester as the author of the Central America editorials. Continue reading

John Bernhisel’s Gift to a Prophet: Incidents of Travel in Central America and the Book of Mormon

Abstract: The claim that God revealed the details of Book of Mormon geography is not new, but the recent argument that there was a conspiracy while the Prophet was still alive to oppose a revealed geography is a novel innovation. A recent theory argues that the “Mesoamerican theory” or “limited Mesoamerican geography” originated in 1841 with Benjamin Winchester, an early Mormon missionary, writer, and dissident, who rejected the leadership of Brigham Young and the Twelve after 1844. This theory also claims that three unsigned editorials on Central America and the Book of Mormon published in the Times and Seasons on September 15 and October 1, 1842, were written by Benjamin Winchester, who successfully conspired with other dissidents to publish them against the will of the Prophet. Three articles address these claims. The first article addressed two questions: Did Joseph Smith, as some have claimed, know the details of and put forth a revealed Book of Mormon geography? Second, what is a Mesoamerican geography and does it constitute a believable motive for a proposed Winchester conspiracy? This second article provides additional historical background on the question of Joseph Smith’s thinking on the Book of Mormon by examining the influence of John L. Stephen’s 1841 work, Incidents of Travel in Central America, upon early Latter-day Saints, including Joseph Smith. Continue reading

The Treason of the Geographers: Mythical “Mesoamerican” Conspiracy and the Book of Mormon

Abstract: The claim that God revealed the details of Book of Mormon geography is not new, but the recent argument that there was a conspiracy while the Prophet was still alive to oppose a revealed geography is a novel innovation. A recent theory argues that the “Mesoamerican theory” or “limited Mesoamerican geography” originated in 1841 with Benjamin Winchester, an early Mormon missionary, writer, and dissident, who rejected the leadership of Brigham Young and the Twelve after 1844. This theory also claims that three unsigned editorials on Central America and the Book of Mormon published in the Times and Seasons on September 15 and October 1, 1842 were written by Benjamin Winchester, who successfully conspired with other dissidents to publish them against the will of the Prophet. Three articles address these claims. This first article addresses two questions: Did Joseph Smith, as some have claimed, know the details of and put forth a revealed Book of Mormon geography? Second, what is a Mesoamerican geography and does it constitute a believable motive for a proposed Winchester conspiracy? Continue reading

Animals in the Book of Mormon: Challenges and Perspectives

INTRODUCTION

Providing another witness of Jesus Christ is the primary purpose of the Book of Mormon. His teachings are the central reason for this sacred Book. Within the Book of Mormon itself evidences are provided which attest to its truthfulness. This includes some of the animals mentioned as well as plants, materials (raw and manufactured), culture(s), words used and more. The degree of consistency concerning all these topics in our view overwhelmingly indicates that Joseph Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon of his own knowledge. Even the most informed experts of his day would not have known much about the archaeological or other scientific details given in this Book. At age 22, when Joseph Smith Jr. first began translating the gold plates, he had but a smattering of formal education. In his own words, “Deprived of the bennifit of an education, suffice it to say I was merely instructttid in reading and writing and the ground <rules> of Arithmatic which const[it]uted my whole literary attainments.”1  His wife Emma observed that at the time he translated the Book of Mormon Joseph Smith, “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictate a book like the Book of Mormon.”2 Continue reading