“War of Words and Tumult of Opinions”: The Battle for Joseph Smith’s Words in Book of Mormon Geography

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Review of John L. Lund. Joseph Smith and the Geography of the Book of Mormon. The Communications Company, 2012. 209 pp. + xviii, including index.

In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?

–Joseph Smith Jr.1

Over the years, a plethora of theories have been advanced regarding the geography of the Book of Mormon.2 No doubt that many Latter-day Saints who have inquired on the subject have felt much like the young Joseph Smith: caught between a “war of words and tumult of opinions,” he or she wonders “What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together?” And how is one to know; how does one go about trying to judge between the competing views?

Perhaps ironically, the words of Joseph Smith himself have become a primary battleground in recent years. Though some have been using statements from Joseph Smith (or attributed to Joseph Smith) to try and bolster their geographic model for decades, only in recent years has the question of what Joseph Smith did or did not say (and if anything he said was revelation) become a focal point in the debate. This began around 2007, when Rod Meldrum produced a DVD version of a presentation he had been giving on the Book of Mormon, DNA, and geography. Included in this presentation was a segment on Joseph Smith’s views, concluding that “Joseph knew” exactly where events in the Book of Mormon had taken place.3 Two years later, Meldrum would produce a five-disc set, Book of Mormon Evidence. The second disc in this set expanded on Meldrum’s original presentation of Joseph Smith’s views, once again concluding that “Joseph knew.”4 Meldrum would also author/co-author two books that included sections claiming that Joseph Smith knew where the Book of Mormon lands were located.5 In his presentations, Meldrum adamantly insists that [Page 39]Joseph Smith identified the “heartland” of the United States as the place where Book of Mormon events took place, and that he knew this by revelation.

Also in 2007, John Lund began to promote the idea that Joseph Smith explicitly identified Zarahemla, the narrow neck, Bountiful, and other Book of Mormon sites as being in Central America.6 Lund, like Meldrum, insisted such identifications were based on revelatory knowledge that Joseph Smith had. The crux of Lund’s claims rests on some editorials published in the Times and Seasons of which the authorship is in dispute. Lund believes that he has established that Joseph Smith did indeed write the relevant editorials, but he only touched on this research in his 2007 book.7 This research is the focus of Lund’s 2012 work, Joseph Smith and the Geography of the Book of Mormon, under review here.

Meanwhile, in 2010 Matthew Roper of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship extensively examined the claims Meldrum made regarding Joseph Smith’s knowledge of Book of Mormon geography.8 After thorough analysis of all the primary sources Meldrum’s argument hinges on, Roper concluded that such claims are not founded on a firm foundation.

The preponderance of evidence does not support the claim that Joseph Smith’s revelations included details about Book of Mormon geography, but rather suggest that this, as with many other questions, was an issue in which Joseph Smith, as time allowed him to give it [Page 40]attention, followed the dictates of his own judgement and expressed his own opinion.9

At the same time, Roper also discussed the Times and Seasons editorials, and mentioned ongoing research that he and others were involved in that suggested that Joseph Smith had indeed written the editorials in question.10 This research, recently published, will be further discussed below.

As can be seen from the above, several researchers, with several different approaches, have entered the battle for Joseph Smith’s words on Book of Mormon geography. As Lund’s book focuses on the Times and Seasons editorials, that is the battlefield we will explore here. I strongly recommend Roper’s already mentioned work on the other primary sources. Before reviewing the research that suggests Joseph Smith was responsible for the relevant editorials, some historical context on the Times and Seasons and the editorials is in order.

A Brief History of the Times and Seasons

The Times and Seasons was the Church’s premier periodical during the Nauvoo era, running from November 1839 to February 1846. It started out as a monthly publication for about the first year, and then began printing an issue on a bi-weekly basis until it was discontinued completely. It was launched by the prophet’s brother, Don Carlos Smith, but the editorship of the paper for the first couple of years was somewhat turbulent. In March 1842, Joseph Smith became the editor, and remained so until October of that same year, after which John Taylor [Page 41](with some assistance from Wilford Woodruff until April 1844) became the editor for the remainder of the paper’s history.11

Both Lund and Roper discuss the history of the Times and Seasons and how Joseph Smith came to be the editor.12 Late 1841 into 1842, the editorship was in the hands of Ebenezer Robinson and Gustavus Hill. According to Roper, “In the fall of 1841, the Prophet began expressing concerns about Robinson and Hill’s ownership and operation of the paper. By this time, most of the Twelve had returned from Great Britain, and Joseph was increasingly anxious to place someone else in charge of the paper.”13 Meetings were held in November of that year to address the concern, but it appears no action was taken until early in 1842. At that time Joseph Smith received a revelation that instructed the Twelve to “take in hand the editorial department of the Times and Seasons” (pp. 47, 53).14

Different parties seem to see different significance in this. In his video presentations, Meldrum presents this as evidence that Joseph Smith was giving up the editorial responsibilities to the Twelve, and hence would no longer be involved. After quoting the revelation, Meldrum states, “Certainly, Joseph Smith would have done exactly as the Lord indicated and turned over the responsibility for the Times and Seasons to the Twelve.”15 But at this point, Joseph Smith did not have editorial responsibilities [Page 42]or even ownership of the paper to “turn over” to anybody. The revelation was not for Joseph to “turn over” anything, but to have the Twelve take over the editorial department from Robinson and Hill. Brigham Young had to pay a handsome price to secure the press and then turn it over to the Church.16 It is after the Twelve take over that Joseph Smith is then appointed as editor-in-chief of the paper, evidently being so appointed by the Twelve (p. 53).17 Thus, Lund sees this as signaling that “the Times and Seasons now became an official Church publication” (p. 54). For Lund, that the Lord would intervene with the editorship of the paper via a revelation is a sign that this was a highly significant channel for Church-sanctioned information (p. 47).

Lund appears to be on the right track here. Rather than being evidence of a hands-off approach from Joseph Smith in the editorial department, as Meldrum would have it, it provides evidence of a very hands-on approach. Joseph was paying attention to what appeared in the Times and Seasons, was concerned enough about its content to seek guidance from the Lord on the matter, and in turn the Lord actually gave a revelation, thus signifying just how important the venue truly was to the Saints and to the Lord. When Joseph Smith announced his editorship of the paper, he was sure to include a denouncement of the previous issues:

This paper commences my editorial career, I alone stand responsible for it, and shall do for all papers having my signature henceforward. I am not responsible for the [Page 43]publication, or arrangement of the former paper; the matter did not come under my supervision.18

Under those circumstances, it is hard to imagine Joseph taking his editorial responsibilities casually, thus not noticing, and letting stand, several editorials that contradicted any previous revelation he may have had on Book of Mormon geography (or any other subject, for that matter). He declared full responsibility for “all papers having [his] signature.” Contra Meldrum, this is not just for individual articles having his signature,19 but rather the paper as a whole, which would feature a signature block from Joseph Smith at the end of each edition of the paper, as was customary for editors to do during this time period (see pp. 57–58).

In light of the above, it seems that, regardless of who actually wrote the now-controversial editorials on Book of Mormon geography, to insist that Joseph Smith was not aware of them or did not approve of them seems tenuous, at best. But the case gets worse for those who wish to distance the prophet from these writings.[Page 44]

Joseph Smith and the Central America/Book of Mormon Editorials

Editorials and other material associating the Book of Mormon with Central America—and specifically using the findings of John Lloyd Stephens and Fredrick Catherwood—appeared in the Times and Seasons before, during, and after Joseph Smith’s tenure as editor of the paper. These appear across a span of more than three years. “Before, during, and after his editorship,” Lund points out, “Joseph was not opposed to correcting an error” (p. 83). As noted above, when Joseph was dissatisfied with the editorship of the paper, he had it taken over by the Twelve, who subsequently appointed him as editor. In addition to this episode, Lund points to other instances where Joseph Smith took action to correct what was printed in the Times and Seasons, both during and after his editorship of the paper (pp. 83–84). However, Lund notes, “There were no objections by Joseph to any of the several editorials that specifically mention Stephens and Catherwood before, during, or after his editorship” (p. 70).

It is very hard to imagine that over a wide time span, that included several months in which Joseph himself was the responsible editor, Joseph never noticed or objected to repeated articles contradicting any given revelation. This becomes clear with a brief review of the editorials on Central America and the Book of Mormon from before, during, and after Joseph Smith’s tenure as editor.

Before…

Early in the year 1841, while Joseph’s younger brother Don Carlos was still the editor of the Times and Seasons, an article entitled “American Antiquities—More Proofs of the Book of Mormon,” was published, which, after a brief editorial introduction, reprinted a report from the New York Herald Weekly,[Page 45] on lectures given by Stephens and Catherwood.20 The title of the article itself makes the explicit connection between these finds and the Book of Mormon. Though this appeared the same year Joseph expressed concern over the editorship of the Times and Seasons, that was not until later in the year, after Don Carlos had passed away (in August, per Lund, p. 53) and the editorial chair passed into the hands of Robinson. There is presently no evidence that Joseph disapproved of his brother’s work as editor of the paper.

During…

It is actually during Joseph Smith’s tenure as editor that we see a proliferation of editorials on the Book of Mormon and Central America. This fact, on its face and independent of any question of authorship, ought to be taken as evidence of Joseph Smith’s approval of such content in the paper. The following five articles, some signed “ed.,” some unsigned, appeared during Joseph’s time as editor (March–October 1842):

  • “Traits of the Mosaic History,” Times and Seasons 3/16 (June 15, 1842): 818–820 (signed Ed.)
  • “American Antiquities,” Times and Season 3/18 (15 July 1842): 858–860 (signed Ed.)
  • “Extract from Stephens’ ‘Incidents of Travel in Central America,’ ” Times and Seasons 3/22 (September 15, 1842): 911–915
  • “Facts Are Stubborn Things,” Times and Seasons 3/22 (September 15, 1842): 921–922
  • “Zarahemla,” Times and Seasons 3/23 (October 1, 1842): 927–928

Notice that the first two are signed “Ed.” for “Editor.” Lund claims, “Assistant editors did not sign as editor, unless the editor read, approved, and authorized him to do so” (p. 53). [Page 46]Unfortunately, there is no documentation by Lund to support this assertion, a regrettably common occurrence throughout the book. Nonetheless, in the absence of concrete historical evidence to the contrary, these logically should be attributed to Joseph Smith, as he was the editor at the time. Meldrum and others have sought to circumvent such common sense conclusions by pointing out,

…some issues had an article written by Joseph and another article accredited to “Ed.” in the same issue. In other words, there were two authors, one was Joseph, the other was “Ed.” or editor within the same issue. Had Joseph written both articles, wouldn’t they have both been attributed to him?21

While it is true that there are articles signed as Ed. and others directly signed by Joseph Smith, careful attention to genre quickly answers this objection. Editorials are always either signed Ed. or simply unsigned, never signed by the Editor’s name. Other writings from Joseph which were not written as a part of his editorial responsibilities were signed by his name. These include personal correspondences, notices, affidavits, and other writings made in his capacity as prophet, mayor, lieutenant general, etc. (rather than his role as editor). This is meticulously documented by Lund in “Addendum Five” (pp. 149–161).22

When was Joseph Smith in Hiding?

The typical excuse for not attributing the three unsigned articles to Joseph Smith, which are the most explicit in connecting the [Page 47]Book of Mormon to Central America via the work of Stephens and Catherwood, is that he was in “hiding” at the time, and therefore could not have written the editorials. Rod Meldrum, for example, claims that Joseph Smith was in hiding from August 8, 1842, through October 20, 1842. Thus, they are not written or authorized by Joseph Smith.

Joseph Smith’s life, in the words of one historian, is a “biographer’s dream.”23 It is well documented by primary sources, many of which are first-hand. This means claims like this can be checked against a rich historical record. Probably Lund’s most important contribution to this discussion is his meticulous documentation of Joseph Smith’s whereabouts during his time as editor of the Times and Seasons, pertinent selections of which are provided in “Addendum Nine” (see pp. 179–187).24 Drawing on that documentation, Lund forcefully responds to this charge:

That is blatantly false. Joseph was in Nauvoo for the October 1, 1842 editorial naming Zarahemla as being geographically situated in Guatemala. He was in Navuoo before and during the time of the publication of the September 15, 1842 editorials naming the narrow neck of land as being in Central America. Joseph Smith was home from August 20, 1842, until October 7, 1842, when, at 8:20 p.m., he left for Father Taylor’s farm about fifty miles from Nauvoo. (p. 164)

In addition, when Joseph was in hiding, he “was never more than a few miles from his home in Nauvoo” (p. 164). Joseph still preformed many of his responsibilities. It is even [Page 48]documented that, while hiding, he proofread a segment of his history in preparation for its printing in the next issue of the Times and Seasons, and a copy of that issue was sent to him, which he read (pp. 164–165), while on another occasion, still in hiding, he drafted a notice to be published in the Times and Seasons (p. 186).25 So, even if he were hiding at the time of the Central America/Book of Mormon editorials (which he was not), the evidence suggests that he would have still been aware of and involved in the publishing of the paper.26

Not only was Joseph Smith not hiding at this time, but Matt Roper demonstrates that both Woodruff and Taylor were ill around the time the September 15, 1842, issue was published.

Significantly, both Woodruff and Taylor were seriously ill during this time. “I commenced work this day,” Woodruff recorded on 19 September, “for the first time for 40 days.”  This means that Woodruff had been absent from the printing office for more than five weeks previous to 19 September. On 21 September the Prophet recorded that he had also met with John Taylor, “who is just recovering from a severe attack of sickness” and that he counseled Taylor “concerning the printing office.”  The two met again two days later. We do not know how long Taylor had been ill, but the fact that the two had been seriously ill suggests that [Page 49]the Prophet may have had to bear additional editorial burdens at that time.27

This may indicate that Joseph Smith alone was handling the editorial responsibilities for the September 15, 1842, edition, in which two of the Central America/Book of Mormon articles appear. Regardless, however, Joseph met multiple times with Taylor between the September 15 and October 1, 1842, editions, leading Roper to conclude, “Regardless of who wrote the Times and Seasons articles linking the Book of Mormon to Central America, Joseph Smith could not have been unaware of what was being written. Indeed, even if those articles were written by John Taylor or Wilford Woodruff, clearly Joseph knew what was being written.”28

After…

After Joseph Smith, John Taylor was appointed the editor of the Times and Seasons. Under his editorship, Central America and the works of Stephens and Catherwood once again were highlighted in the pages of the newspaper. In May 1843, a letter introducing the Kinderhook plates was published in the Times and Seasons. In a rather long editorial preface to the letter, John Taylor speaks of the ancient ruins of Mexico and Central America as evidence of the Book of Mormon.29 A few months later, the following appeared in an editorial by Taylor:

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 circumstancial [sic] evidence of the authenticity of the [Page 50]latter book, can be given than that contained in Mr. Stephens’ works.30

Later still, early in 1844, in an editorial preface introducing an article reprinted from the Texas Telegraph, Taylor once again invoked the Stephens and Catherwood volume as evidence of the Book of Mormon.31 All of these were published prior to Joseph Smith’s martyrdom.

After the prophet’s death, the Times and Seasons published a letter from his younger brother, William Smith, addressed to W. W. Phelps. In the letter, dated November 10, 1844, William calls the Times and Seasons “the columns of the Prophet,” despite the fact that Joseph Smith had been dead for over four months and had not been the editor of the paper for two whole years. This suggests that the paper was nonetheless closely associated with the prophet, and views expressed in the paper were likely taken as representative of his own even after he was no longer the editor of the paper. More to the point, in this same letter, William Smith frequently and freely connects the ruins explored by Stephens and Catherwood with the Book of Mormon.32

So the frequent use of the ruins in Central America discovered by Stephens and Catherwood continued after Joseph Smith’s time as editor, several times while the prophet was still alive. This in a paper that, even after his death, was still being taken as representative of him, as the William Smith letter indicates. Granted, Joseph was busy with a lot more to do than check up on the Times and Seasons, but it is nonetheless curious that this was repeated over and over again, without correction, in a paper that served as an important voice for the [Page 51]Church at the time, much as the Ensign and Liahona magazines do today, as Lund points out (pp. 47–50). Not only is there no evidence that Joseph disapproved of this connection, or that he felt it contrary to any revelation from God, but there is good evidence to suggest that he, in fact, supported associating the Central American ruins with the Book of Mormon. Not the least of that evidence is the fact that he probably wrote the five editorials that appeared under his editorship (as discussed below).

Joseph Smith and John Taylor: Trusted Friend, or Rogue Apostle?

Before addressing the question of authorship, however, there is one more point I will explore. Those who want to disassociate Joseph Smith from excitement over the Central American ruins frequently turn to John Taylor (often with Wilford Woodruff as an accomplice) as the culprit. He was assistant editor under Joseph Smith, similar editorial commentary appeared under his own editorship (as mentioned above), and the Bernhisel letter (to be discussed later) appears in his handwriting. Meanwhile, Wilford Woodruff was the one who brought Stephens’ books into Nauvoo in the first place, worked in the printing office while Joseph Smith was editor, and was assistant editor under Taylor.

Even if it were true that Taylor and Woodruff, and not Joseph Smith, were responsible for all the enthusiasm for the Central American ruins, there remains an absence of any evidence that Joseph Smith was not on board. In fact, the evidence suggests that he was.

First, there is the fact that when Joseph stepped down from his position as editor-in-chief of the Times and Seasons, he personally chose John Taylor to take over. Joseph Smith had this to say when he did:

[Page 52]I have appointed Elder John Taylor, who is less encumbered and fully competent to assume the responsibilities of that office, and I doubt not but that he will give satisfaction to the patrons of the paper. As this number commences a new volume, it also commences his editorial career.

Joseph Smith33

Joseph felt Elder Taylor was “fully competent” to serve as the paper’s editor, an opinion no doubt based on whatever editorial or writing tasks Taylor fulfilled on behalf of Joseph as his assistant editor. If Taylor wrote the editorials from September and October 1842, as some suggest, then Joseph’s overall vote of confidence only a month later would suggest that he supported the editorial direction Taylor had taken.

A year later, and one month after Taylor had published an editorial on Central American ruins and the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith wrote a letter to address the Saints through the Times and Seasons, encouraging them to subscribe to it rather than secular newspapers of the day. The whole letter serves as a clear endorsement of the editorial direction of the paper and closes declaring, “[W]hen you support my friends, you support me.” The “friends” he is speaking of are obviously Taylor and Woodruff, who are currently responsible for the paper, and whom he addresses at the beginning of the letter.34 This marks a second opportunity for Joseph Smith to correct the misguided speculations of these rogue apostles, and yet it marks his second ringing endorsement of Taylor’s (and Woodruff’s) editorial choices.

Now we come to the Bernhisel letter. John Bernhisel was a Bishop of the Church back in New York in 1841, when John Lloyd Stephens’ Incidents of Travel in Central America, [Page 53]Chiapas, and Yucatan was published. He purchased copies of the two-volume set and sent them back to Nauvoo as a gift to the prophet Joseph Smith. Wilford Woodruff picked them up from Bernhisel on his way back to Nauvoo from his mission in Great Britain. Woodruff recorded in his journal that on his way to Nauvoo, he read from the volumes and was thrilled, as he felt it provided strong evidence for the Book of Mormon. It is likely he delivered them to the prophet with excitement.35 Joseph Smith sent a letter back to Bernhisel thanking him for the gift. The letter reads:

I received your kind present by the hand of Er [Elder] Woodruff & feel myself under many obligations for this mark of your esteem & friendship which to me is the more interesting as it unfolds & developes many things that are of great importance to this generation & corresponds with & supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon; I have read the volumes with the greatest interest & pleasure & must say that of all histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of this country it is the most correct luminous & comprihensive.36

Because this letter is in the handwriting of John Taylor, Meldrum and others feel that they can dismiss it as not representing Joseph Smith’s views, but rather Taylor’s. But Joseph Smith commonly had his letters, and even his journal entries, written out by scribes, and if we held all such documents with this same level of skepticism then scarcely a thought at all could be attributed to the prophet himself (see the similar [Page 54]point made by Lund, pp. 17–19). To me, the fact that the letter, signed “Joseph Smith,” is written in Taylor’s hand suggests that Joseph trusted Taylor to accurately record and express his (Joseph’s) own views on the book. This would not be likely if Joseph’s feelings towards it—and its relationship to the Book of Mormon—were dramatically different from Taylor’s.

These three lines of evidence—the two endorsements of Taylor’s editorial work, and his being trusted to pen the letter to Bernhisel—come together to paint a picture of Taylor as Joseph Smith’s trusted friend, with whom he shared an excitement over recent archaeological finds thought to be related to the Book of Mormon, not some rogue apostle spinning theories contrary to what Joseph knew by revelation.

Some Additional Historical Considerations

Lund points out that the list of people who accepted the Central American ruins found in Stephens’ book as evidence of the Book of Mormon includes many of Joseph Smith’s closest associates, including Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Orson Hyde (p. 75). To that list can be added the Pratt brothers, Orson and Parley, as documented by Roper.37 Two of Joseph Smith’s brothers (Don Carlos and William Smith) have already been mentioned. It becomes increasingly difficult to maintain that this association was contrary to Joseph Smith’s revelatory knowledge when so many of his closest associates are apparently unaware of the contradiction.

Authorship of the 1842 Editorials

Addressing the issue of authorship for the five editorials on Central America and the Book of Mormon during the time of Joseph Smith’s editorship, Meldrum insists “that their authorship is historically unknown,” and that “official Church [Page 55]historians claim that they simply do not know who authored those articles.”38 There are two interesting points about this approach. First, if the authorship is “unknown,” then, logically, we cannot be certain Joseph Smith did not write them. So long as the authorship remains unknown, it cannot be asserted, as Meldrum often does, that these editorials were not written by Joseph Smith or do not represent his views. This is problematic, since Meldrum wants to insist that Joseph Smith knew by revelation that only the so-called “heartland” of the United States is where the Book of Mormon took place. Until Joseph Smith is definitively ruled out as author of these editorials, such a position cannot be maintained.

This leads to the second point: Meldrum and his followers seem content to leave the question of authorship in the realm of the “unknown.” But what is unknown is not necessarily unknowable, and the good historian will seek to know the currently unknown. Whatever else might be said of Lund’s work, he has at least made the attempt to resolve this vexing historical question.

Meldrum himself understands, in principle at least, that the authorship can be discovered by analyzing the style of writing. In his 2009 video presentation, he asserts, “In other words, when they would write, they would use specific words, and they had certain patterns that they would write [in], and so articles that are signed ‘Ed.,’ if you take a look at the linguistics, many times could be determined who it was that wrote those articles.”39 However, neither Meldrum nor his supporters has attempted a rigorous analysis of the style and linguistics to assess authorship. Instead, he commonly offers up two points of style he feels are at odds with Joseph Smith’s writing [Page 56]style: (1) frequent use of the first-person plural (we, us, our) throughout the editorials; and (2) reference to Joseph Smith in the third-person.40

Lund responds to both of these points. On the first, he notes that the “Editorial We” was very common in the 19th century, even citing a source that states that this was a “near universal” practice (p. 58). This appears to, again, boil down to a genre issue. Joseph Smith may not have typically written in the first-person plural in, say, his personal correspondence (Meldrum compares the editorials to the style of a letter in his video presentation),41 but it seems likely that in his capacity as editor, he would follow the standard stylistic conventions of the day. Lund also points out that it was common practice of the day to refer to oneself in the third-person (p. 55–56). Unfortunately all the examples he attributes to Joseph Smith are also miscellaneous unsigned items from the Times and Seasons during Joseph Smith’s editorship.42 While one would generally assume that Joseph, as the editor, was the responsible author, the nature of these materials gives Meldrum and others the same wiggle room they appeal to with the editorials in question. In any event, these two points hardly constitute an insurmountable case against Joseph Smith’s authorship.

Meanwhile, Lund has taken the challenge to find the author of these editorials very seriously. Taking the authorship of the two signed editorials as a given (p. 49), Lund subjected the three unsigned editorials, from the September 15 and October 1, 1842, editions, to what he calls an “Author Identification [Page 57]Study” (pp. 87–104).43 As early as 2007, Lund reported having used seven different discriminators, and gave details on three of them.44 In a brief summary of that earlier study, Lund reported, “All seven author discriminators identified conclusively Joseph Smith was the author of the editorials in question.”45

In 2012, Lund used 11 different discriminators (nine “objective,” two “subjective”) to create an author profile for the Times and Seasons editorials, and then compared that against the same discriminators in the known writings of Joseph Smith, Wilford Woodruff, and John Taylor. Table 1 shows the results for the nine “objective” discriminators.46

Table 1: Nine Authorship Discriminators Compared Between Joseph Smith, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and the Times and Seasons.

Discriminators

Times & Seasons

Joseph Smith

John Taylor

Wilford Woodruff

(1) Words Exclusive to One Author

(Based on words in the articles)

13

0

0

(2) Probable First and Only Time Word Use

(Based on words in the articles)

2/906

13/906

35/906

(3) Average Vocabulary Size (per 906 words)

300

297

372

364

(4) Most Likely to Use a Word

(32 key words extracted from articles)47

23/32

7/32

2/32

(5) Average Sentence Length

36

40

25

22

[Page 58](6) Closest Match to non-contextual Word Usage Frequency

(Based on frequency in articles of 13 non-contextual words)

11/13

3/13

4/13

(7) Percentage of Sentences ≤ 10 Words

8%

10%

26%

22%

(8) Percentage of Sentences ≥ 100 Words

4%

6%

1%

0.333%

(9) Percentage of Rhetorical Questions

4%

5%

15%

5%

Based on this data, plus his two “subjective” discriminators (for 11 in all), Lund concludes:47

The results of the eleven separate author identification tests were overwhelmingly clear in identifying Joseph Smith as the one who authored the editorials in question. The comprehensive Author Identification Study confirmed Joseph Smith’s authorship of the September 15, 1842, and October 1, 1842, editorials in the Times and Seasons. (p. 103)

He also declares that the results “conclusively sustained Joseph Smith as the author of these editorials” (p. 103). Such strongly worded pronouncements regarding the results of the study can be found throughout the book. Here are just a few more examples:

[Page 59]There can be no equivocation when faced with convincing evidence that Joseph Smith did indeed author the foregoing editorial. The convincing evidence is the comprehensive Author Identification Study that will be reported on in detail. (p. 38)

It is a simple matter; do the facts support Joseph’s authorship? Did Joseph Smith author and/or approve these editorials? The overwhelming evidence from the comprehensive Author Identification Study is that he did. (p. 38)

The conclusive results of the comprehensive Author Identification Study…. (p. 40)

There can be little question that the data, as presented by Lund, strongly supports Joseph Smith’s authorship of the Times and Seasons editorials. However, there are some methodological flaws that suggest greater caution is warranted. First, there is the question of just how strong these discriminators really are. They are not the kind of discriminators usually used in statistical analyses meant to determine authorship attribution. This evokes the question of whether or not they are powerful enough discriminators to distinguish between one author and another. As Lund presents the data, they certainly seem to clearly distinguish between authors, but Lund provides no control group or test cases.

Usually studies of this type include a control group or test cases, where samples from the candidate authors are tested against writings of known origins, both other samples of their own and samples from other candidate and non-candidate authors, to determine whether the selected discriminators can successfully identify the authorship of those writings. Usually only after a method has been shown to successfully discriminate between authors above 90 or 95 percent of the time does the [Page 60]researcher proceed to demonstrate results of their study. Nothing like this appears in Lund’s study. How often does, say, discriminator 4 or 5 successfully identify the author of a 900- to 1000-word block? What is the discriminating power of each discriminator individually, and then what is their power collectively? Lund reports massive sample sizes from each candidate author (p. 89). He needs to divide up those samples into 900- to 1000-word blocks and then run some tests on some of those blocks to see how often each of those discriminators can successfully identify the author of those word blocks.

Another problem has to do with sample size—not the size of the candidate author samples, but rather the size of sample the Times and Seasons editorials allows us to collect. There are only 906 words when all three are combined. Generally speaking, 900–1000 words are a sufficient sample size, but when they are being compared against a vastly larger sample, such as the three runs of 35,000-word samples (for each candidate author), for a total of over 105,000 words per author (p. 89), the results can be skewed. This is another reason this huge sample needs to be broken down into word blocks of comparable size (900–1000 words), after which the discriminators need to be applied to each word block.

This sample size problem becomes evident when reading about the necessary sample required to accurately gauge average sentence length (ASL). Lund explains:

To create a credible base to measure “Average Sentence Length” required a sample of at least 15,000 words per author. To insure a solid sample base 35,000 words per author were used. To replicate the study and to establish a margin of error for each candidate author, three separate samples of 35,000 words per author were gathered. Combined, the three samples totaled more [Page 61]than 106,000 words per author. This was seven times the amount necessary for a valid sample! (p. 96)48

While this was obviously meant to really impress the reader, Lund appears oblivious to the obvious problem this creates. If 15,000 words are required to establish an ASL for a given author, then the 906 words of our unidentified Times and Seasons author are woefully inadequate to the task. In multiplying the sample size for all the candidate authors, Lund may help us be more confident in the ASL of each candidate, but it does nothing to assure us that the ASL of the Times and Seasons articles accurately represents that author’s ASL. This problem can be illustrated by looking at the individual ASLs of each editorial, conveniently provided by Lund in “Addendum Seven” (pp. 167–172). They are 21, 46.5, and 46.3. Notice that there is a wide variance between one of the articles, with an ASL of 21, and the other two much closer to that of Woodruff and Taylor than Joseph’s. It is precisely because there can be these kind of wide variances that proper sample sizes are important.

Finally, there is the problem of assessing just what the probabilities actually are. We are never really told. There are frequent examples of things like this, used when explaining discriminator 2:

Depending on the topic and the context of an article, such as a technical paper, it is possible to use a word or two that one might not use in any other context. One of three “Probable First and Only Times [PFOT] Uses” would be permissible as an acceptable error factor. Four to six PFOT uses become mathematically extremely [Page 62]improbable. Seven to ten PFOT uses (10/906) or one word every 91 words was sufficient to eliminate any candidate author in an editorial of 906 words. (p. 93, brackets added)

This sounds reasonable, but given its claims to mathematical improbabilities, one cannot help but wonder on what basis these claims rest. How do we know that four to six PFOT are “mathematically extremely improbable”? What tests were run to determine that seven to ten PFOT is enough “to eliminate any candidate author” of a 906-word block? This ties back into the power of the discriminators and whether they can really discriminate between authors, and if they can do so for small samples of approximately 900–1000 words.

Some of the additional material provided in the web addendum partially answers or addresses these problems, but none of them are completely resolved for all the provided indicators. While it would be a bit extreme to say that these flaws render Lund’s data analysis completely useless, it does make it rather questionable. Lund’s analysis certainly favors Joseph Smith as author, but to what degree of certainty, we cannot tell. To some, this uncertainty probably does render Lund’s analysis worthless. What can be said for it is that it is more thorough and rigorous than Meldrum’s attempts to dismiss Joseph Smith’s authorship essentially on the grounds of two discriminators (which are even less well understood than Lund’s), and no apparent sample size.

The Wordprint Studies of Roper et al.

Fortunately, another statistical word analysis of these articles was just recently published, this one along the lines of more conventional stylometric, or “wordprint,” studies. As previously mentioned, Matt Roper began reporting on the preliminary results of this study in 2010, but the results were [Page 63]finally published a few months ago (as of this writing).49 Roper, with Paul J. Fields (a research consultant who specializes in statistical analysis) and Atul Nepal (a doctoral student with experience in both statistical and textual analysis), applied a “discriminant analysis” to all five Central American editorials that were published while Joseph Smith was editor. The authors explain:

This technique finds combinations of features (discriminant functions) that can categorize (discriminate) items into known classes, just as plants or animals can be categorized into species based on distinguishing features. The discriminant functions can be used to classify a new item of unknown group membership into its appropriate group based on its features.50

In addition to the five Central American editorials, the authors also created separate groups of text composed of other editorials appearing in the Times and Seasons during Joseph Smith’s editorship, including writings explicitly signed by Joseph Smith (these were not mixed with the Central American editorials). They then collected 29 1000-word blocks from the known writings of Joseph Smith, 30 from John Taylor, and 24 from Wilford Woodruff to form the samples with which to compare the Central American editorials (as well other Times and Seasons editorials). The authors state that in selecting these samples, they tried to stay as close to the editorial genre as possible, and also remain close in time to 1842 (since an author’s style can change over time). Finally, they selected 70 [Page 64]non-contextual words to serve as their discriminators. “Using these words,” they explain, “as the distinctive literary features for the candidate authors, we developed a set of discriminant functions that could classify each writing sample as belonging to the correct author over 98 percent of the time.”51

The results are summed up, with graphs, in their article.52 What they found was that items appearing in the Times and Seasons signed by Joseph Smith were clearly written by him. Unsigned editorials also strongly clustered around Joseph Smith’s writing style, while editorials signed “Ed.” were closest to Joseph Smith’s style as well, though also pulled somewhat in the direction of John Taylor. This may suggest some collaboration between Joseph and Taylor, with Joseph as the primary author (consistent with their roles as editor and assistant editor). Finally, the Central American/Book of Mormon editorials were closest in style to Joseph Smith, though they also indicate some evidence of John Taylor’s influence. They thus concluded:

Our analysis suggests that the editorials on the Central America ruins and the Book of Mormon, published during Joseph Smith’s tenure as editor of the Times and Seasons show a strong alignment with his personal writing style and the editorials to which he signed his name. Consequently, the evidence points to Joseph Smith as the author of the Central America editorials.53

But they also to point out, “We need not presume that the five Central America editorials were the work of only one author. The evidence is more supportive of a collaborative effort [Page 65]within the Times and Seasons office between Joseph Smith and John Taylor.”54 Joseph Smith would remain the primary author, however, and regardless of whether Joseph wrote the articles independently or with help from his assistant editor, it remains problematic for Meldrum’s claims regarding Joseph Smith’s revelatory knowledge. Roper et al. explain, “Even if the Central America editorials were a collaborative work, that still does not reduce the authoritative nature of the statements in the articles since Joseph clearly stated that he took full responsibility for what was published in the paper under his editorship.”55

This rigorous statistical analysis from Roper et al. strongly suggests that Joseph Smith was the author (or at least the primary author) of the editorials connecting Central America to the Book of Mormon. Lund’s study, while problematic, can be used to supplement their work with additional indicators of Joseph Smith’s authorship. While the Roper et al. study stands on its own, it helps to have complimentary work, conducted independently, corroborating their finds. Lund’s authorship study, thorough but flawed, is probably the second most important contribution of his book.

The Reaction from the Heartland

Of Lund’s study, Meldrum dismissively said it is “based solely on comparing word usage of several early brethren of the Church.” He proceeds with even more dismissive remarks:

It is simply an attempt to link the articles in question to the Prophet Joseph, because these few unsigned and unknown authored articles make up the last remaining historical hope for Mesoamerican theorists to shore up their collapsing speculations that Joseph Smith [Page 66]abandoned his earlier revelations wherein he indicated a North American setting.56

It was, however, Meldrum himself who insisted that by analyzing the style and linguistics, the author of these editorials can be determined. Stylometrics merely represents the use of statistical tools to achieve that end, and to do so as rigorously and objectively as possible.

When Meldrum was informed of the preliminary report from Roper et al., before the full study was published, he responded:

All your word print analysis is showing is that data can be manipulated if so desired, all done in an effort to mislead people and make false claims that this somehow “proves” that Joseph Smith was the author and had changed his mind from his own claims of revelation on the matter and had abandoned his these [sic] revelatory statements.… The analysis was done by Mesoamericanists for Mesoamericanists… and it is a shameful disgrace of so-called scholarship.57

All that without even being able to examine the study or its results.58 Just a month earlier, however, when debating a critic of Mormonism, Meldrum appealed to wordprint analysis in defense of the Book of Mormon. “There was no statistical [Page 67]word count analysis back then [when the Book of Mormon was published], yet it has been shown by such analysis that the B[ook] o[f] M[ormon] was written by multiple authors, as it claims.”59 The kind of statistical analysis employed by Roper et al. is the same kind that has been used to demonstrate that the Book of Mormon has multiple authors.60 By dismissively brushing it off as “manipulating” data in one case, while using it to support his point in another, Meldrum has set up a double standard.

Meldrum should take the evidence from both Lund and Roper for Joseph Smith’s authorship of these editorials seriously and, if he can, engage it with his own scholarly analysis. At present, Meldrum’s reaction is not that of a serious scholar who is genuinely interested in understanding and resolving this historical question, but rather that of an ideologue protecting his pet theory from potentially harmful data.

What Historians Think

In responding to Lund, Meldrum claims, “The fact still remains that official Church historians claim that they simply do not know who authored those articles.”61 Be that as it may, unknown is not the same thing as unknowable, as already pointed out. But still, it seems Meldrum is mistaken on this point. Lund points out that editorials during Joseph Smith’s time as editor of the Times and Seasons were accepted as representing Joseph Smith’s words, and hence used as such in the 2007 Joseph [Page 68]Smith Priesthood/Relief Society manual (p. 47–48, 82).62 For this volume, the Church Curriculum Department used a rubric provided by the Church History Department to assess the likelihood that a document was written by Joseph Smith.63 Lund sees this as a “semi-official” endorsement of Joseph Smith’s authorship on the part of the Church (p. 39, 196 n.68).

Meldrum reproduces an email from someone at the Church History Library to support his claim regarding the view of “official Church historians.” But the email does not say that the author of the editorials is unknown, but only that the views expressed therein “should not be taken as a prophetic statement by Joseph Smith.”64 This is entirely true, even if Joseph Smith is the author (see below).

Lund mentions several others who attributed these editorials to Joseph Smith, including Joseph Fielding Smith, Larry Dahl and Donald Q. Cannon,65 Sydney B. Sperry, Hugh Nibley, Dan Ludlow, John A. Widstoe, B.H. Roberts, and even John Taylor (pp. 49, 71, 74, 196 n.70)—who must be considered a primary source on this question, as he was in position to know who wrote the articles. If it were not for the fact that some want to co-opt Joseph Smith to prop up their pet theories regarding Book of Mormon geography, there would be little [Page 69]dispute that the Central American/Book of Mormon editorials were representative of Joseph Smith’s views on the subject.

Significance: Joseph Smith, Geography, and Method

It can no longer be denied that, at the very least, Joseph Smith was involved enough to know what was being published in the Times and Seasons in 1842, and that he never had a retraction published, and never put a stop to such editorials, which continued to be published up through 1844. The combination of historical and statistical evidence reviewed above makes it virtually impossible to maintain that Joseph Smith did not write the 1842 Central American/Book of Mormon editorials. The question now arises: so what? So what if Joseph Smith associated Central American ruins with Book of Mormon cities?

For Lund, the implications are huge. He insists that there was “no room in the serious Church newspaper for wild speculations” (p. 50), and hence the editorials should be seen as “definitive statements” (p. 24), “prophetic utterance” (p. 38), and “a major doctrinal pronouncement” (p. 83) with “historic consequences” (p. 74). Perhaps Lund was just being hyperbolic, but I feel that he has overblown the significance here. Yes, they are important—they serve as evidence that Joseph Smith was interested in Book of Mormon geography, open to new information on the topic, and willing to compare present knowledge with the text to look for correlations. For some, this could provide a model for how to go about doing Book of Mormon geography.66 They also devastate the claim made by Meldrum that revelatory knowledge from Joseph Smith rules out Mesoamerica as the lands of the Book of Mormon. But Lund seems to have made the same mistake Meldrum does, just from the other side—that Joseph Smith “knew,” based on [Page 70]revelatory knowledge, that the primary Book of Mormon lands were in Mesoamerica. Such a claim would be as overstated as Meldrum’s, and stems from a similarly misguided methodology for doing Book of Mormon geography. A discussion and critique of both Lund’s and Meldrum’s methods will bear this out and reveal the inherent problems in their approaches.

Methodology and Priority of Evidence

The study of Book of Mormon geography has long been riddled by amateurs and hobbyists with a disregard for method and theory. The result has been a cornucopia of diverse schemes. All who engage in this enterprise understand this, but (unsurprisingly) few see themselves as contributing to the problem.

About a year ago, I set out to explore different Book of Mormon geographies, paying specific attention to matters of method. What I discovered was that outside of John Sorenson and a small handful of others,67 there was very little attention devoted to method. What little I did find was largely reactive to (but not substantially engaging with) Sorenson’s work: new [Page 71]challengers to the “Mesoamericanists” realizing the need to dethrone Sorenson via a new, alternative method, and some who like the Mesoamerican setting, but don’t like the specific configuration Sorenson’s method leads to. There are also some who are reacting to the “Heartlanders.” For the most part, these have failed to provide more than a superficial discussion of method, and the alternatives they have proposed are not new, fresh, or innovative, but instead are the old, stale, out-of-date ideas Sorenson was combating decades ago, repackaged in fancy garb.

In general, there are three types of evidence: (1) the so-called “prophetic” evidence, coming from either prophetic passages in the Book of Mormon, or things said by Joseph Smith or another modern-day prophet; (2) anthropological evidence, i.e., archaeological, cultural, linguistic, or even genetic data from ancient America; (3) geographic evidence—the actual lay of the land, geologic, topographic, and hydrologic information, etc. Most researchers will engage all three types of evidence, but how much weight is given to evidence from each category can make a major difference. There is also the issue of which evidence is looked at first, or given priority. It is this evidence that tends to be determinative—that is, the evidence looked at first will define the general area the researcher designates as “Book of Mormon lands,” after which the other forms of evidence are typically engaged (selectively) in a supporting role in order to back up the already decided upon location. Thus, I have found it helpful to group all the different methods into three broad categories:

  1. Prophetic priority: Those who use statements from leaders of the Church, or prophetic passages from the Book of Mormon, first to determine the general (and in some cases, specific) location of Book of Mormon lands. From there, some blend of anthropological evidence [Page 72]and geographic evidence will also be advanced to support the identified area.
  2. Anthropological priority: Those who use archaeological, cultural, or, in some cases, genetic data to find the lands of the Book of Mormon. Afterward, the geographic passages in the Book of Mormon (sometimes used only selectively) will be interpreted in ways that agree with this designated location, and selected statements from Church leaders supporting the identification will (sometimes) also be utilized.
  3. Geographic priority: Those who first consult passages of the Book of Mormon containing geographic information (sometimes comprehensively, other times only a select handful), and propose Book of Mormon lands based on how well the features of physical geography fit the criteria derived from the text. After finding the best fit, the anthropological data will also be compared, and statements from Church leaders may also be used to enhance the argument.

Obviously, not all that fall into one group are exactly the same, and the degree of rigorousness varies within each grouping. Nonetheless, this schema proves useful for comparing methods by identifying methods which share the same, or similar, priorities.

Lund and Meldrum both use prophetic priority methods, but they come to radically different conclusions due to emphasis on different sources for “prophetic” insight and their different uses of other forms of evidence. The pitfalls of the prophetic priority approach can be illustrated by looking at each of their methods in turn.[Page 73]

Lund’s Method…

It might be easy to confuse Lund’s method as one of geographic priority. After all, in his book Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon: Is This the Place?, he has a chapter on “Mapping the Lands of the Book of Mormon,”68 in which he quotes John E. Clark, approvingly, as saying, “Dealing with geography is a two-step exercise. An internal geography must first be deduced from clues in the book, and this deduction must then become the standard for identifying a real world setting.”69 Lund refers to maps of the “internal geography” as “templates,” and explains, “Somewhere in Mesoamerica, this template or map is going to fit with some adjustments.”70 Notice here that Mesoamerica is a pre-determined conclusion. Before turning to the text of the Book of Mormon and seeking a geographic correlation to the real world, Lund has already decided that Mesoamerica is the right place.

There is some other priority at work here. Lund hints at this when he explains that he created his Book of Mormon maps based on “internal information given in the Book of Mormon plus the insights added by Joseph Smith.”71 It is through Joseph Smith’s “added insights” (in the Times and Seasons articles) that Mesoamerica is identified as the right place. “Joseph Smith identified the general area where Stephens and Catherwood traveled in Guatemala near Copán and Quiriguá as the Land of the Zarahemla. Joseph’s statement qualifies Mesoamerica as a fixed point for Zarahemla.”72 Before mapping the Book of Mormon lands, Lund places “angelic and [Page 74]prophetic considerations” above all else as he goes point by point through various Book of Mormon places he feels Joseph Smith identified.73

Lund pursues this same methodology in his latest book. Lund explains:

I am an advocate for Mesoamerica or southern Mexico and Central America as the primary American lands for the Book of Mormon. This bias results from two “Supreme Sources.” One “Supreme Source” is the actual and verifiable words of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The other “Supreme Source” is the Book of Mormon itself. (p. 6)

Which of these “supreme sources” takes priority? “The key to Book of Mormon geography will always be Joseph Smith” (p. 27).

The pitfall of nearly every method that prioritizes the “prophetic” evidence is that there really isn’t any such thing. Joseph Smith had no revelations on Book of Mormon geography, and neither has any other prophet. In a moment of true irony, Meldrum identifies this flaw in Lund’s method:

For Lund to proclaim, as he has done in his article, that Joseph Smith stated that Zarahemla was in Guatemala is exaggerated, unsubstantiated and possibly untrue. If Lund’s claims were true, why wouldn’t Church leadership simply adopt that position and come out in open endorsement of Lund’s “Book of Mormon lands?” Yet the fact stubbornly remains that the Church is officially neutral on the subject.74

[Page 75]Ignoring, for the moment, the fact that Meldrum is susceptible to this exact same criticism, he nonetheless makes an important point in regard to Lund’s claims. Lund, of course, realizes both that the Church has no official position75 and that Joseph’s statements, in the Times and Seasons or elsewhere, are not revelations. But he insists, “Joseph Smith’s opinion about the geography of the Book of Mormon is more important than the opinions of others” (p. 7). Lund explains his reasoning thus:

There are and will be sincere LDS scholars who disagree with the basic premise that Joseph Smith is an unimpeachable source…. Relegating Joseph’s statements to opinion gives them permission to pursue their own theories about the geography of the Book of Mormon…. Obviously, I have taken a different stance in regards to the statements of Joseph Smith. Without declaring every word that Joseph wrote or spoke as revelation, there is still merit in sustaining Joseph’s opinion over that of someone less acquainted with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.

Joseph Smith is an unimpeachable source for most Latter-day Saints. Independent of being a Prophet, he was a Seer, whose insights alone qualify his opinion to be held in higher esteem and given greater weight than even the most ardent scholar of the Book of Mormon. He was, by vision, a first person witness of the society of the Nephites and Lamanites. Therefore, I have taken the position that the statements made by Joseph Smith [Page 76]and the angel Moroni will have preeminence over the opinions of others.76

In a similar statement found in his 2012 work (pp. 13–14), Lund goes further, claiming not just that Joseph Smith “witness[ed]… the society of the Nephites and Lamanites,” but rather that he saw “by angelic visitation and panoramic visions the original inhabitants of this continent and the geographical lands upon which they dwelt” (pp. 13–14). Lund thus argues that while Joseph Smith did not necessarily receive a revelation explaining where Book of Mormon lands were, he had visions wherein he saw Book of Mormon life and lands, and thus when he saw the images and read the descriptions from Stephens and Catherwood, they were familiar to him from his visions (pp. 13–17, 76–79).77 “He instantly recognized the architecture, the Maya temples, the stone monuments, and the ruins because of Catherwood’s detailed drawings.”78 Hence, “Joseph’s many visions of the primary American events in the Book of Mormon were given physical presence when two explorers named Stephens and Catherwood’s [sic] discovered evidences of a high civilization in Central America” (p. 65). In Lund’s view, then, Joseph’s commentary in the Times and Seasons, though not revelation itself, is opinion based on revelatory knowledge: it wasn’t revealed to Joseph Smith that it was Zarahemla, but to Joseph (who saw Zarahemla in vision) it certainly looked like it.

The basis for Lund’s argument is that (a) Lucy Mack Smith, the Prophet’s mother, reported Joseph telling the family stories wherein he related details about the lifestyle, material culture, and architecture of Book of Mormon peoples (pp. 14–15), details the prophet probably learned through the many visions he had from Moroni (pp. 15–16), and (b) Joseph Smith saw the [Page 77]hill where the plates were deposited so vividly that he was able to go it, and recognize it (pp. 15, 76–77), and therefore would probably recognize other locations from his visions.

Without denying that it is possible that when Joseph Smith saw the drawings of Catherwood in Stephens’ books he at least vaguely recognized them as similar to what he saw in vision, I am unconvinced by Lund’s argument. It is true that Joseph Smith was able to find the New York Hill Cumorah due to the vision he saw of it, but there is no documentation that Joseph Smith saw any other Book of Mormon location with such specificity. He certainly never said that the buildings he saw in Stephens’ books were the same (or similar to) ones he saw in vision. Furthermore, there was good reason for such detail to be given for the New York hill—namely, Joseph had to actually go there! No similar reason exists for him to see other Book of Mormon places with the same degree of detail. Joseph had the same vision, showing him where the plates were, no less than four times in a matter of hours, and then visited the actual place shortly thereafter (essentially right after the fourth vision of the place), while Joseph only saw drawings (accurate though they may be) of Mesoamerican ruins, and that more than a decade after the visions he had. Clearly, the two cases are not the same. As such, I see no justification for assuming, as Lund does, that Joseph knew the ruins explored by Stephens and Catherwood were Nephite (or Lamanite) based on any kind of revelatory knowledge.

This argument also has the potential to cut the other way. Lund, along with (necessarily) most Mesoamerican proponents, believes in the “two-Cumorah theory,” that is, that the original Hill Cumorah, where the extermination wars of the Book of Mormon were fought, is located in Mesoamerica (pp. 25–26, 127–141).79 But Joseph Smith’s contemporaries [Page 78](and some would argue Joseph himself) frequently associated the hill in Manchester, New York, with the hill in the Book of Mormon.80 Just as with the Central American ruins, whether Joseph made such an identification or not is irrelevant because he never corrected others who did. If Joseph Smith really saw “the very events and the geographical settings” (p. 15) of Book of Mormon history as vividly as Lund maintains he did, why didn’t he ever correct his close associates who claimed that the final battles took place in New York? This silence from Joseph Smith is as much a challenge to Lund’s claims as his failure to denounce the Central American/Book of Mormon editorials is for Meldrum’s.

Other than that, Lund’s argument that for “most Latter-day Saints” Joseph Smith is an “unimpeachable” source on Book of Mormon geography (p. 13) is little more than an appeal to popularity. Such popular acceptance is, itself, worth questioning. Notice how John E. Clark handles this same piece of information.

Most Mormons fall into a more subtle error that also inflates Joseph’s talents; they confuse translation with [Page 79]authorship. They presume that Joseph Smith knew the contents of the book as if he were its real author, and they accord him perfect knowledge of the text. This presumption removes from discussion the most compelling evidence of the book’s authenticity—Joseph’s unfamiliarity with its contents. To put the matter clearly: Joseph Smith did not fully understand the Book of Mormon. I propose that he transmitted to readers an ancient book that he neither imagined nor wrote.81

When we hold Joseph Smith’s opinion about the Book of Mormon up as irreproachable, we play right into our critics hands, mistakenly granting the assumption that he is the book’s author. A translator, however, does not necessarily know a book like an author would. Hence, as Clark points out, when careful examination of the Book of Mormon text reveals that Joseph Smith did not understand the particular details of, say, its geography,82 that strongly suggests that he is not the author, but rather that the book is what it claims to be—an ancient record which Joseph translated.

Clark, also points out the dangers of uncritically accepting the opinions of Joseph Smith as authoritative on this issue.

The dangerous area is where opinion is thought to clarify ambiguities in the text, of which there are many. The minimal fact that various statements are attributed to Joseph Smith that place cities in different lands suggests that he continued to be interested throughout [Page 80]his life in the location of Book of Mormon lands and, consequently, that it remained an open question for him. If he knew where they were, why did he continue guessing? Should we not be similarly open-minded today? Do we go with the Prophet’s early statements or his later statements?83

Opinions, then, whether they be a prophet’s or a scholar’s, should only be regarded as more superior to others when they prove consistent with the text and withstand careful scrutiny. In choosing to uncritically privilege Joseph’s opinions, Lund runs the risk of allowing them to trump the certain knowledge of Book of Mormon authors, which is also an element of Meldrum’s method.

Meldrum’s Method…

Although Meldrum also employs a prophetic priority method, his takes a fairly different form. Meldrum, writing with Bruce Porter, sets the stage for presenting his “new” method of Book of Mormon geography by quoting George Q. Cannon, who stated that the Book of Mormon “was not written to teach geographical truths.”84 Meldrum then explains, “The Book of Mormon is a comprehensive record of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the ‘prophecies and the promises’ to and for those who are led by the ‘hand of the Lord’ to the land of promise. It was not written nor intended as a geographical text.”85

As such, Meldrum proposes that we make what he calls the “prophecies and promises” contained in the Book of Mormon the primary evidence for determining the location of Book of Mormon lands. All in all, Meldrum sees a hierarchy of four [Page 81]categories of evidence, two types of “spiritual” evidence, and two types of “physical” evidence:

  1. Book of Mormon prophecies and promises testified of in relation to the Promised Land and the people associated with it.
  2. Inspired and revealed statements of the Prophet Joseph Smith on geography.
  3. Physical “real world” evidence, such as correlating civilizations in the correct time frame, archaeological findings as described within the text, cultural lifestyles, genetic relationships and linguistic ties.
  4. Geographical indicators or passages contained within the Book of Mormon.86

According to Meldrum, these categories of evidence are arranged “in an order of credibility and strength to qualify as a viable source to determine a setting for the ‘Promised Land’ described in the Book of Mormon.”87 He then claims that this arrangement comes not from himself, but is demanded by the Book of Mormon: “The Order or hierarchy of witnesses to be used are not the author’s arbitrary selection but are rather determined by the Book of Mormon itself.”88 For this, Meldrum appeals to the title page and declares, “The Title Page [of the Book of Mormon] sets the primary standard for the witnesses to be used in the research for a geographical setting for the Book of Mormon.”89

The essence of this argument is as follows: (1) the Book of Mormon was not written, as President Cannon said, for geography, but (2) was written to reveal the prophecies and promises to the Lamanites, thus (3) the proper way to [Page 82]determine the geography of the Book of Mormon is to use these prophecies and promises. “Therefore,” writes Meldrum, “these prophecies about ‘remnant’ and ‘Gentiles’ upon this land becomes a primary witness and testimony that should supersede any geographical passage in the search for a setting for the Promised Land.”90

While Meldrum may, on the surface, appear to have a point, the reality is that his methodology leads to logical absurdities. First, it must be stressed that Meldrum’s method and hierarchy are not mandated or determined by the Book of Mormon, and the title page sets no kind of standard for doing Book of Mormon geography research. The title page says nothing about Book of Mormon geography research. As Meldrum himself quoted President Cannon, “The Book of Mormon is not a geographical primer. It was not written to teach geographical truths.”91 As such, it provides no standards for seeking such truths or doing such research, and anyone who is trying to determine Book of Mormon geography, regardless of whether they privilege the “prophecies and promises” or the actual geographic details in the text, is using the book in an unintended way.

However, someone who uses the geographic details may not be misusing those details.92 The prophecies and promises in the Book of Mormon were not given with anything about the physical setting of the events in mind. Meanwhile, the passages with geographic details obviously were given with the contours of the physical setting in mind. The purpose of giving the details, it would seem, is to allow the reader to orient themselves and understand the things that are going on. V. [Page 83]Garth Norman, an archaeologist who has researched Book of Mormon geography for over 40 years, puts it this way: “Book of Mormon scribes were not primarily concerned about historic details…. On the other hand, Mormon gave very specific geographic details at times… that could have no other purpose than to paint the landscape where these events occurred.”93 The production of an internal map (discussed further below) is an attempt to do precisely that—get oriented to what the landscape was like and make sense of the movements that are going on in the text. Such maps are helpful in this way, regardless of any kind of real world setting.94 Thus, the logical and appropriate thing to do if you want to understand the physical setting of Book of Mormon events is to look at the way the Book of Mormon authors described that setting, for those details were most likely given for the very purpose of helping the reader understand the geographical surroundings. If geography is the purpose for going to the text, then the only logical thing to do would be to read the geographical content.

Second, Meldrum’s methodological hierarchy is extremely problematic. He makes use of the prophecies about the promised land without attempting to understand how the Nephites conceptualized the promised land and its accompanying prophecies at all. The proper understanding of the Nephites’ concepts of promised land seriously undercuts Meldrum’s attempt to limit the Book of Mormon to certain modern political boundaries.95 Lund’s own approach to these prophecies could be better, but at least seems to get the gist of [Page 84]it right (pp. 22, 26–29).96 What’s more, as already pointed out, there are no prophetic statements made by Joseph Smith on the matter.97 We can turn Meldrum’s own argument against him here: “If [Meldrum’s] claims were true, why wouldn’t Church leadership simply adopt that position and come out in open endorsement of [Meldrum’s] ‘Book of Mormon lands?’ Yet the fact stubbornly remains that the Church is officially neutral on the subject.”98

This leaves only criteria 3 and 4, which, stripped of the first two “prophetic” criteria, are essentially an anthropological priority method. When trying to figure out Book of Mormon geography, Meldrum gives the least weight to actual geography. Kevin Christensen proposes a very interesting hypothetical question which serves to illustrate the inherent problems with this kind of approach.

Suppose that in the ongoing Book of Mormon historicity debate we could swap currently plausible solutions for current problems. That is, suppose we had better evidence for metals and horses, a scrap of recognizably reformed Egyptian script, and even some profoundly unlikely DNA that somehow pointed directly to 600 bc Jerusalem. At the same time, suppose we did not have a unique fit for the river Sidon, nor an archaeologically suitable Cumorah, nor the rise and fall of major cultures at the right time (Olmec and Preclassic), nor a Zarahemla candidate that explained various circumstances in the text (physical, geographic, and [Page 85]linguistic), nor evidence of a major volcanic eruption at the right time, nor fortifications of the right kind, nor a candidate for the Waters of Mormon complete with a submerged city, nor a good candidate for the Gadianton movement, nor the other abundant cultural details that Sorenson, Gardner, Clark, and others have detailed…. Given that exchange of current solutions for current puzzles, would the present case for New World Book of Mormon historicity be stronger or weaker?99

A look at the kind of evidence to which Meldrum appeals reveals that this is the kind of exchange Meldrum is asking us to make in shifting our sights from Mesoamerica to the Heartland. But is having artifacts (that might be explained in other ways) really more compelling than having an accurate physical setting made of geographic features (such as a river Sidon and hill Cumorah) that are relatively stable and essentially unchanging? John E. Clark, who is a professional archaeologist, has explained:

It has been my experience that most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when confronted with a Book of Mormon geography, worry about the wrong things. Almost invariably the first question that arises is whether the geography fits the archaeology of the proposed area. This should be our second question, the first being whether the geography fits the facts of the Book of Mormon—a question we all can answer without being versed in American archaeology. Only after a given geography reconciles all of the significant geographic details given in the Book of Mormon does the question of archaeological and historical detail merit attention. The Book of [Page 86]Mormon must be the final and most important arbiter in deciding the correctness of a given geography; otherwise we will be forever hostage to the shifting sands of expert opinion.100

The archaeological and scientific picture can change dramatically as fresh finds shed new light. If we prioritize archaeology, we will, as Clark puts it, “be forever hostage to the shifting sands of expert opinion.” Meanwhile, the geographic details remain constant. Hence, while anthropological data is important and cannot be ignored (it still should be the “second question,” as Clark says), it must take a backseat to the dictates of the land.

All of the scientific and archaeological evidence marshaled by Meldrum is controversial, at best,101 but leaving that aside, the artifacts and DNA to which he appeals are irrelevant if mountains, rivers, valleys, hills, lakes, and seas aren’t where the authors of the text said they were. If it is deemed less important for the physical setting to fit the text, then we might as well place the events back in the Middle East, where we know the DNA and the artifacts will confirm an Israelite presence. “It will do no good to find evidences in Alaska for the Nephites,” John Sorenson explains, “if the Nephites were not in Alaska, anymore than to find evidence in Tibet. We need to be in the right place and in the right time period if we are going to use… [Page 87]archaeological evidences, or linguistic evidence.”102 The logical absurdity of having any other form of evidence “supersede any geographical passage,” as Meldrum put it, is that you can end up with a geography that contradicts the physical setting described by Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni, and other writers—the only ones who truly and undeniably knew what the physical environment of the Nephites was like.

The Strength of Geographic Priority

My critique of Lund and Meldrum is intended to make clear the weaknesses of prophetic priority methods, and also illuminate why the only legitimate method to follow is one that starts with the geographic details.103 There is no genuine prophetic information revealing the specific location of Book of Mormon lands, and without knowing the correct geographic region, we simply cannot know what cultural and archaeological information is actually relevant to the text (and such data is always incomplete). Absent a solid geographic setting, cultural details can easily be cherry-picked from anywhere in a way that makes them seem to fit the text. We must first have a location, “Only when we have an idea of that can we know which historical traditions or archaeological sequences can be compared most usefully with Mormon’s text.”104

It should be quickly pointed out, however, that just as there are different variations on “prophetic priority” methods, so too with geographic priority methods. Sorenson, Clark, [Page 88]Roper, Brant A. Gardner, and William J. Hamblin all advocate similar methods, and hence (unsurprisingly) have more or less accepted Sorenson’s model.105 Other advocates of geographic priority methods include Lawrence Poulsen, V. Garth Norman, Kirk Magleby, F. Richard Hauck, and David A. Palmer.106 What is fascinating is that, although their methods are quite diverse, and their models differ sometimes considerably, they all agree that only Mesoamerica can fit the geographic details in the text. As far as I am aware, all major practitioners of a geographic priority method have converged on Mesoamerica as the only region in which the textual details fit.

With the above in mind, consider Meldrum’s criticisms of this type of method. Meldrum claims, “Over the last few years the majority of geographical theorists have reached a consensus on how to begin the development of a map for Book of Mormon geography.”107 Meldrum explains,

Using this method, proposed Book of Mormon theories have ranged from North to South America, from Granada across an entire ocean to find a home on the Malay Peninsula or Southeast Asia. They have ranged in extent from the entire western hemisphere to a geography encompassing a restricted distance of less than two hundred miles. Each investigator applied the same method of using Book of Mormon geographic [Page 89]passages, and each came to a completely different conclusion.108

Hence, “The method of using the geographical passages from the Book of Mormon as a primary source to create a hypothetical map has resulted in multiple theories and conflicting interpretations.”109 Forcing the conclusion, “The geographical passages lack enough clear information to make a determination, or the method of using these selected passages must be viewed as having severe shortcomings or even insurmountable flaws.”110

There are several problems with this conclusion, however. First, the so-called methodological “consensus” is a fiction. There is a group of LDS scholars (Clark, Gardner, Roper, Hamblin, to name a few) who all agree that Sorenson’s method is the best—and they, consequently, also agree that Sorenson’s model is the best. But among practitioners of Book of Mormon geography, as demonstrated above, there is no such agreement in either method or model. Among some of the several methods at work prior to Meldrum’s arrival are several “prophetic priority” methods not unlike his own.111

Second, strictly speaking, the use of a comprehensive “hypothetical map,” or “internal map,” to correlate the text to the land has only been fully practiced and published by [Page 90]Sorenson, with Clark and Gardner echoing him on this matter. Hence, such a method has, quite successfully, led to only one model. Third, Meldrum makes no attempt to distinguish between those who have made limited and highly selective uses of the geographic data in the text from those who have made fairly comprehensive use of hundreds of passages in the Book of Mormon.

Failing to recognize the methodological diversity that exists, and the varying levels of rigorousness in which these methods are applied, Meldrum simply has the wrong answers to his own question, “If the Book of Mormon had sufficient geographic information to positively produce a cohesive internal map, why would there exist so many different geographies?”112 The correct answer to Meldrum’s question is most people are not making comprehensive use of the Book of Mormon data in creating an internal map. Roper has correctly explained Meldrum’s (and Porter’s) error:

Porter and Meldrum wrongly attribute the abundance of Book of Mormon geographical models to the practice of constructing an internal geography based upon the Book of Mormon text (p. 11). Yet the truth is that much of the diversity of opinion on the question is due to the failure of most proponents to do so. Only after this first exercise is done in a thorough and comprehensive manner can one then proceed to the secondary issue of how this internal picture may or may not correlate with a particular real-world setting.113

[Page 91]In a work cited by Meldrum, Sorenson himself described the reason for the diversity of opinion in Book of Mormon geography:

At least eighty versions of a Book of Mormon map have been produced. Most start with the writer confidently identifying some American area as the center where the Nephites lived and then distributing cities, lands, or other features named in the text to more or less agree with the original “solution.” Ideas have ranged from identifying the promised land as the entire hemisphere to limiting the scene to a small portion of, say, Costa Rica or New York. Few of these writers have been knowledgeable about the range of elements that would go into a comprehensive and critical statement of the geography (such as language distributions, ecological zones, or archaeological finds). The result has been tremendous confusion and a plethora of notions that holds no promise of producing a consensus.114

Contrast this to Meldrum’s claim, quoted earlier, that all these different views were created using “the same method,” i.e., Sorenson’s “internal map” method. Sorenson echoed this same point in his most recent tome:

Heretofore the study of Book of Mormon geography has mainly consisted of making more or less random guesses as to one modern location or another where events portrayed in the Book of Mormon supposedly took place. For the most part, such unsystematic studies have been undertaken after examining only some of the 600 references to geography found in the text. That is, a typical investigator peruses a map of the Americas, finds what he or she intuits to be a [Page 92]correlation, then proceeds to select from the Book of Mormon statements thought to support his correlation of choice.115

Sorenson’s and Roper’s diagnosis is much closer than Meldrum’s to my own observations, as I have looked at the methods of several theorists.

Adding to such observations, I have noticed that the use of any of several different, independently generated internal maps (with varying degrees of detail) to try to identify Book of Mormon lands would consistently lead to Mesoamerica.116 Hence, Meldrum overstates the issue when he says that such maps “are often highly inconsistent with each other in their conclusions.”117 All major theorists using geographic priority methods have converged on Mesoamerica as the only location that fits the criteria in the text, though most do not form an independent “internal map.”

This is all important because the premise upon which Meldrum proposes his “new” prophetic priority method is that the “old” geographic priority (and specifically the internal map) method has failed to produce consistent results. “If the system is working,” Meldrum insists, “one should expect to see the same result, each time a substantiated premise is repeated. This should continue to hold true when exposed to all relevant evidence and witnesses.”118 He concludes his critique by saying, [Page 93]“An effective method of discovery should tend to limit the number of possible solutions to a problem, not encourage more of them.”119 By this standard, geographic priority methods have been successful in limiting results exclusively to Mesoamerica.

Conclusion

I have ranged, at times, far from the specific content of Lund’s book. This has been done because his book is part of a larger conversation on Book of Mormon geography, particularly on Joseph Smith’s views and their evidentiary value, and the evidence and methods to be applied to such an endeavor. Rather than narrowly engage Lund’s book alone, I have sought to examine the broader discussion of these highly relevant issues. While this obviously does not delve into all the different issues and different perspectives available, this broader engagement has now prepared us to reach some conclusions on the value of Lund’s book.

On the matter of what Joseph Smith’s views were in relation to Book of Mormon geography, Lund makes an important contribution. Specifically, he helps us assess a historical conundrum regarding the authorship of certain Times and Seasons editorials from 1842. His thorough documentation of Joseph Smith’s whereabouts settles, definitively, whether Joseph Smith was around Nauvoo to write the editorials or not. He was, and there is evidence to confirm he was involved with the editing and printing of the paper during that period. Added historical analysis by Matt Roper further strengthens this point. Therefore, Meldrum and others simply cannot continue to claim Joseph was in hiding at the time and thus could not have written or would not have been aware of the editorials. This, by itself, has major implications, because it means, minimally, that Joseph was aware of what was being published [Page 94]and never corrected it—a problematic fact for anyone insisting that Joseph “knew” it was in the United States “heartland.”

Lund’s statistical word study, though problematic in a number of respects, does give us some data that suggests (but does not definitively prove—Lund overstates his evidence here) that Joseph Smith was the author of the editorials in question. When used in conjunction with the more rigorous wordprint studies of Roper et al., it becomes virtually certain that Joseph was the primary author of these editorials. The onus probandī (burden of proof) is now on Meldrum and others who wish to continue to maintain that Joseph Smith was not the author of the editorials, as Lund correctly points out (pp. 40, 103). In light of present evidence, it seems impossible to insist that Joseph Smith had any revelatory knowledge that limited the lands of the Book of Mormon to the United States.

Such marks the useful contributions of Lund’s work to the overall battle over Joseph Smith’s words—a battle which, at present, it seems the “Mesoamericanists” are winning, at least for the time being. From there, however, it is evident that Lund engages in a methodology for finding Book of Mormon lands that is as misguided as Meldrum’s, and is susceptible to the same weaknesses. In critiquing the methods employed by both Lund and Meldrum, it becomes apparent that the battle for Joseph Smith’s words is just tangential skirmish. The crucial battlefield is over what the Book of Mormon actually says about its own geography, and the Mesoamericanists have been winning on that front all along.

[Page 95]

1. Joseph Smith—History 1:10.

2. For discussion and overview of a variety of different models, see John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 38–206; Michael R. Ash, Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, 2nd edition (Redding, California: FairMormon, 2013), 174–78. Also see the “Book of Mormon/Geography/All models by name table,” in the FairMormon Answers database, http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon_geography/All_models_by_name_table (accessed May 11, 2014). For some history of thought on Book of Mormon geography, see Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events, 7–35; Matthew Roper, “Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations,” FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 225–276; Joseph L. Allen and Blake J. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, rev. ed. (American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, 2011), 371–399.

3. Rod L. Meldrum, DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography: New Scientific Support for the Truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, DVD (2007), section 3.

4. Rod L. Meldrum, Book of Mormon Evidence, 5 DVD set (2009), disc 2. This presentation can be viewed online in five segments, at http://www.firmlds.org/video_gallery.php, videos 11–15. Further references will use these videos.

5. Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon & the United States of America (Mendon, New York: Digital Legend, 2009), 91–118; Rod L. Meldrum, Exploring the Book of Mormon in America’s Heartland: A Visual Journey of Discovery (Melona, New York: Digital Legend, 2011).

6. John L. Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon: Is This the Place? (The Communications Company, 2007), 19–36.

7. Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, 17–18, 31–32.

8. Matthew Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” FARMS Review 22/2 (2010): 15–85, esp. 51–70.

9. Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” 84.

10. Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” 75–83. Also see Paul Fields, Matthew Roper, and Atul Nepal, “Wordprint Analysis and Joseph Smith’s Role as Editor of the Times and Seasons,” Insights 30/6 (2010): 1–2.

11. See Reed C. Durham Jr., “Times and Seasons,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillam, 1992), available online at http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Times_and_Seasons (accessed May 14, 2014).

12. Lund does so in a two-columned format that is meant to imitate the format of the actual Times and Seasons newspaper (see pp. 52–56). Cf. Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” 75–81.

13. Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” 75.

14. Also cited in Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” 76. The revelation can be found in History of the Church, vol. 4:503.

15. See approx. min. 1:45–1:55 in video 14 at http://firmlds.org/video_gallery.php (accessed May 14, 2014), transcription, punctuation, and emphasis all mine.

16. See Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” 76–77.

17. Cf. Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” 77.

18. Joseph Smith, “To Subscribers,” Times and Seasons 3/9 (March 1, 1842): 710. All issues of the Times and Seasons can be read online at http://lib.byu.edu/collections/mormon-publications-19th-20th-centuries/t/#times-seasons.

19. Immediately after quoting Joseph Smith’s announcement of his editorship, placing emphasis on the line “and shall do for all papers having my signature henceforward,” Meldrum states, “One of the very interesting things that we find the historical documents is that none of these editorials that indicate a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon were actually signed by Joseph Smith himself.” (See approx. min. 2:21–2:38 of video 14 at http://firmlds.org/video_gallery.php). Meldrum thus insinuates that Joseph Smith is not “responsible” for these articles. But Joseph Smith’s signature block does appear at the end of those editions, and it is that signature for the whole paper to which Joseph is referring when he declares responsibility for “all papers having my signature henceforward.”

20. “American Antiquities—More Proofs of the Book of Mormon,” Times and Seasons 2/16 (June 15, 1841): 440–442.

21. Rod L. Meldrum, “Did Joseph Smith Identify Zarahemla in Guatemala?” at The FIRM Foundation website, March 15, 2012, online at http://firmlds.org/feature.php?id=21 (accessed May 15, 2014).

22. Cf. the expanded version, “Web Addendum Five,” online at http://drjohnlund.com/ (accessed May 15, 2014).

23. Larry E. Morris, “Joseph Smith and Interpretive Biography,” FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 359.

24. Cf. the expanded version, Web Addendum Nine,” online at http://drjohnlund.com/ (accessed May 15, 2014), which lays out the activities of Joseph Smith for virtually every day from March 1, 1842–November 16, 1842.

25. More details on this are available in Lund, “Web Addendum Nine,” 13, entries for October 11 and 15, 1842, plus n. 6.

26. There are items in the same issues of the Times and Seasons that are signed by Joseph Smith, a fact which Meldrum well knows (see approx. min 11:00 in video 14 at http://firmlds.org/video_gallery.php, accessed May 14, 2014). The implications should be obvious: one cannot insist that Joseph Smith simply could not have written for the Times and Seasons while in hiding when known writings of Joseph Smith appear in those issues of the Times and Seasons. Hiding or not, Joseph Smith could and did write for those issues of the paper.

27. Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” 78. For the meetings with Taylor, see Lund, “Web Addendum Nine,” 12.

28. Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” 78.

29. “Ancient Records,” Times and Seasons 4/12 (May 1, 1843): 185–186.

30. “Stephens’ Work on Central America,” Times and Seasons 4/22 (October 1, 1843): 346.

31. “Ancient Ruins,” Times and Seasons 5/1 (January 1, 1844): 390–391.

32. William Smith to W. W. Phelps, November 10, 1844, Times and Seasons 5/23 (December 15, 1844): 755–757.

33. “Valedictory,” Times and Seasons 4/1 (November 15, 1842): 8.

34. “To the Saints,” Times and Seasons 4/24 (November 1, 1843): 376–377

35. All this history, including quotation from Woodruff’s journal, is documented in Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” 71–73.

36. Joseph Smith to John Bernhisel, November 16, 1841, as cited in Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” 74; emphasis added.

37. Roper, “Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon,” 244–245, 251–252.

38. Meldrum, “Did Joseph Smith Identify Zarahemla in Guatemala?”

39. See approx. min. 5:03–5:23 in video 14 at http://firmlds.org/video_gallery.php (accessed May 14, 2014), transcription, punctuation, and brackets all mine.

40. See, for example, Meldrum, “Did Joseph Smith Identify Zarahemla in Guatemala?”, where both of these points are raised, or in the video clip reference above.

41. See approx. min. 10:52–12:15 in video 14 at http://firmlds.org/video_gallery.php (accessed May 14, 2014).

42. Due to a misattribution, I was not able to look up one of the references.

43. Cf. “Web Addendum Four,” online at http://drjohnlund.com/ (accessed May 15, 2014).

44. Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, 17–18.

45. Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, 18.

46. For full explanation of the discriminators, one will have to consult Lund, either his book or web addendum.

47. Lund actually reports using 86 key words, of which Joseph Smith was the most likely to use 68 of them. However, the results are not reported from Woodruff and Taylor. In “Addendum Four” (pp. 143–146), he does provide a table with a 32-word sample of his larger pool and provides the numbers I used in this table.

48. The necessary sample size for all his other discriminators is never given, but it is inferred on p. 89 and 103 that similar sample sizes are required for all the other discriminators. As an aside, when a discriminator requires larger sample sizes in order to accurately discriminate between authors it is usually (though not always) a sign that it is a weak discriminator.

49. See Matt Roper, Paul J. Fields, and Atul Nepal, “Joseph Smith, the Times and Seasons, and Central American Ruins,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22/2 (2013): 84–97.

50. Roper, Fields, and Nepal, “Joseph Smith, the Times and Seasons, and Central American Ruins,” 92.

51. Roper, Fields, and Nepal, “Joseph Smith, the Times and Seasons, and Central American Ruins,” 92. Quote, plus all other information reported in this paragraph, can be found on this page of their paper.

52. Roper, Fields, and Nepal, “Joseph Smith, the Times and Seasons, and Central American Ruins,” 93–96.

53. Roper, Fields, and Nepal, “Joseph Smith, the Times and Seasons, and Central American Ruins,” 94.

54. Roper, Fields, and Nepal, “Joseph Smith, the Times and Seasons, and Central American Ruins,” 94.

55. Roper, Fields, and Nepal, “Joseph Smith, the Times and Seasons, and Central American Ruins,” 96.

56. Meldrum, “Did Joseph Smith Identify Zarahemla in Guatemala?”

57. Email from Rodney Meldrum to Louis Midgley, October 4, 2011. First ellipses mine, second ellipses in original. I thank Midgley for sharing this with me.

58. It is doubtful Meldrum even read the preliminary report, since he told Midgley, in the email quoted earlier, “Enough wasted time for another several months. I’m sorry, but I most likely will find better and more productive things to do with my time than pour [sic] over the articles you published.” In other words, reading research that challenges Meldrum’s theories is a waste of time, and it is a foregone conclusion — before that work is even published — that it is all just deceitful, Mesoamericanist propaganda.

59. Richard Packham and Rod L. Meldrum, “Is the Book of Mormon Historically Accurate,” part 4, September 7, 2011 at PublicSquare, online at http://www.publicsquare.net/book-mormon-historically-accurate/ (accessed May 17, 2014).

60. For some history of wordprinting the Book of Mormon, highlighting all the major studies, see Matthew Roper, Paul J. Fields, G. Bruce Schaale, “Stylometric Analyses of the Book of Mormon: A Short History,” Journal of Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 21/1 (2012): 28–45.

61. Meldrum, “Did Joseph Smith Identify Zarahemla in Guatemala?”

62. See Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007), 559.

63. This is described in Ron Barney, “The Reliability of Mormon History Produced by the LDS Church,” presentation given at the 2009 FairMormon Conference, online at http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/fair-conferences/2009-fair-conference/2009-the-reliability-of-mormon-history-produced-by-the-lds-church (accessed May 17, 2014).

64. Email from Sherry Smith, LDS Church History Library, March 14, 2012; emphasis mine, reproduced in Meldrum, “Did Joseph Smith Identify Zarahemla in Guatemala?”

65. Meldrum is quite fond of Cannon’s work on the Zelph incident. See approx. min. 9:26–10:43 in video 12 at http://firmlds.org/video_gallery.php (accessed May 14, 2014)

66. See David A. Palmer, In Search for Cumorah: New Evidences for the Book of Mormon from Ancient Mexico (Springville, Utah: Horizon, 1999), 21–22.

67. For Sorenson’s work on methods, see John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985), 1–95; Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events, 209–367; John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Map (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000); John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2013), 1–115. Other serious methodological discussion can be found in F. Richard Hauck, Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1988), though Hauck’s method is flawed. See the review, John E. Clark, “A Key for Evaluating Nephite Geographies,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 1 (1989): 20–70; reprinted with revisions in Mormon Studies Review 23/1 (2011): 13–43, a quality discussion of methodology in on its own. Also see William J. Hamblin, “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 161–197; Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: An Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2007–2008), 1:327–356.

68. Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, 53–64.

69. Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, 53, quoting from an audio-recording of John E. Clark.

70. Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, 57.

71. Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, 57, emphasis mine.

72. Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, 56. Lund’s use of “fixed points” is also a popular technique among Book of Mormon geographers. This technique has its own set of problems that I will not go into in the present article.

73. Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, 19–36.

74. Meldrum, “Did Joseph Smith Identify Zarahemla in Guatemala?” The irony, of course, is in the fact that Meldrum uses a prophetic priority method, claiming that “Joseph knew” and identified Book of Mormon lands. Hence, the question can just as quickly be turned around on him: “If [Meldrum’s] claims were true, why wouldn’t Church leadership simply adopt that position and come out in open endorsement of [Meldrum’s] ‘Book of Mormon lands?’ Yet the fact stubbornly remains that the Church is officially neutral on the subject.”

75. Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, xv.

76. Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, 11, emphasis in original.

77. Also see Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, 20–22.

78. Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, 22.

79. Also see Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, 36–41. For the standard scholarly treatments on the topic, see Palmer, In Search for Cumorah; Sydney B. Sperry, “Were There Two Cumorahs?,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4/1 (1995): 260–268; John E. Clark, “Archaeology and the Cumorah Question,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 13/1–2 (2004): 144–151. Also see the debate on the topic between Hedges (for the New York hill) and Roper (two-Cumorah advocate): Andrew H. Hedges, “Cumorah and the Limited Mesoamerican Theory,” Religious Educator 10/2 (2009): 111–134; Matthew P. Roper, “Plausibility, Probability, and the Cumorah Question,” Religious Educator 10/2 (2009): 135–158; Andrew H. Hedges, “Problems with Probability: A Response,” Religious Edicator 10/2 (2009): 159–162. For my response to this debate, see Neal Rappleye, “Cumorah, Cumorah, Where Art Thou, Cumorah?” at Studio et Quoque Fide: A Blog on Latter-day Saint Apologetics, Scholarship, and Commentary, August 14, 2012, online at http://www.studioetquoquefide.com/2012/08/cumorah-cumorah-where-art-thou-cumorah.html (accessed May 22, 2014).

80. There is no firsthand account of Joseph Smith ever calling it Cumorah. The earliest documented reference to the New York hill as that of the Book of Mormon is from Oliver Cowdery in 1835. See Palmer, In Search for Cumorah, 20.

81. John E. Clark, “Archaeological Trends and Book of Mormon Origins,” in The Worlds of Joseph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress, ed. John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 2006), 85.

82. See John L. Sorenson, “How Could Joseph Smith Write So Accurately about Ancient American Civilization?” in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), 267–269.

83. John E. Clark, “Evaluating the Case for a Limited Great Lakes Setting,” FARMS Review of Books 14/1–2 (2002): 28.

84. Quoted in Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 9.

85. Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 11.

86. Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 14-15.

87. Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 15.

88. Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 16.

89. Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 17.

90. Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 17, emphasis added.

91. Quoted in Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 9, I have altered the emphasis given to this quote from that found in Prophecies and Promises.

92. Notice, that this is not the purpose of the whole Book of Mormon, rather the narrow purpose of the textual details about geography. What else would be the point of those details?

93. V. Garth Norman, Book of Mormon—Mesoamerican Geography: History Study Map (American Fork, Utah: ARCON/Ancient America Foundation, 2008), iix.

94. See Sorenson’s Mormon’s Map, for example.

95. For how the Nephites conceptualized the Promised Land, see Steven L. Olsen, “Prospering in the Land of Promise,” FARMS Review 22/1 (2010): 229–245; Steven L. Olsen, “The Covenant of the Promised Land: Territorial Symbolism in the Book of Mormon,” FARMS Review 22/2 (2010): 137–154.

96. Also see Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, 43–51, esp. 45–47.

97. I refer readers again to Roper’s thorough review of Meldrum’s claims in this regard. Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” 51–70.

98. Meldrum, “Did Joseph Smith Identify Zarahemla in Guatemala?” That the Church has no official position is also stated in Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, xviii.

99. Kevin Christensen, “Hindsight on a Book of Mormon Historicity Critique,” FARMS Review 22/2 (2010): 167.

100. Clark, “A Key for Evaluating Nephite Geographies,” 21; reprinted in Mormon Studies Review 23/1 (2011): 13-14.

101. For discussion of some of the artifacts Meldrum likes to use, see Brant A. Gardner, “This Idea: The ‘This Land’ Series and the U.S.-Centric Reading of the Book of Mormon,” FARMS Review 20/2 (2008): 147-154. Though this review is not directed toward Meldrum, it is a critique of Wayne May, who is a cohort of Meldrum’s, and they both use this evidence. For the scientific claims, see Gregory L. Smith, “Often in Error, Seldom in Doubt: Rod Meldrum and Book of Mormon DNA,” FARMS Review 22/1 (2010): 17–161.

102. John L. Sorenson, “The Book of Mormon in Ancient America,” (FARMS Transcript, 1994), 6.

103. For a detailed critique of one version of the “anthropological priority” (which I was, at the time, calling “archaeological priority”), see Neal Rappleye, “Models and Methods in Book of Mormon Geography: The Peruvian Model as a Test-Case,” Interpreter (blog), January 28, 2014, at http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/models-and-methods-in-book-of-mormon-geography-the-peruvian-model-as-a-test-case/ (accessed May 26, 2014).

104. John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America: Visualizing Book of Mormon Life (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998), 188.

105. For their works detailing this, see note 67. On Roper, see quote below.

106. See, respectively, Lawrence Poulsen, Lawrence Poulsen’s Book of Mormon Geography, online at http://bomgeography.poulsenll.org/ (accessed May 26, 2014); Norman, Book of Mormon—Mesoamerican Geography; Capitan Kirk (Kirk Magleby), “Book of Mormon Model,” at Book of Mormon Resources, July 28, 2012 (updated October 2, 2013), online at http://bookofmormonresources.blogspot.com/2012/07/book-of-mormon-model.html (accessed May 26, 2014); Hauck, Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon; Palmer, In Search for Cumorah.

107. Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 5.

108. Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 8.

109. Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 8.

110. Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 8-9.

111. Long before the “Heartland” theory was the “Limited Great Lakes” models, which clearly shares an intellectual heritage with that of the Heartlanders. In making their case, they often rest their general selection of the land on the same Book of Mormon prophecies, and on statements from Joseph Smith (plus other leaders), just as Meldrum does. See, for example, Duane R. Aston, Return to Cumorah: Piecing Together the Puzzle Where the Nephites Lived (Salt Lake City, UT: Publishers Press, 1998), 5 (appeals to Joseph Smith for location of Cumorah), 8–20 (makes case for NY Cumorah using many of the same early Church history sources used by Meldrum), 14, 137–141, 159–160 (all appeals to the same Book of Mormon promises as Meldrum).

112. Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 9.

113. Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” 26. The parenthetical page number is to Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 11.

114. Sorenson, Mormon’s Map, 5, emphasis added.

115. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, 17.

116. To view several such maps, see Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events, 54–55, 80, 103, 104, 121, 123, 125, 148, 173, 179, 190, 202–203; Stephen L. Carr, “A Summary of Several theories of Book of Mormon Lands in Mesoamerica,” at http://www.bmaf.org/conference/2008/stephen_carr (accessed June 27, 2014). I invite interested and dedicated readers to try and situate any one of these internal maps somewhere in the real world and see if they can plausibly find a location that meets the criteria better than Mesoamerica. Then repeat the exercise with all the others.

117. Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 6.

118. Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 4.

119. Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 12.

67 thoughts on ““War of Words and Tumult of Opinions”: The Battle for Joseph Smith’s Words in Book of Mormon Geography

  1. Small note re footnote 80:

    On Joseph calling the NY hill Cumorah, I would note the reference now found in D&C 128.

    WW Phelps made an association between the NY hill and the name Cumorah in 1833 (E&M Star, Jan. 1833).

    • The meaning of the name Cumorah in D&C 128:20 is ambiguous. This verse says: “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed.”

      It’s possible that the name Cumorah is not used in this verse to refer to a hill in New York. (No hill is mentioned.) The name Cumorah may be used here to refer to the ancient (and perhaps distant) land of Cumorah.

      Mormon made the entire abridged record that became the Book of Mormon in the land of Cumorah (see Mormon 6:6). The source materials for his abridgment were then “hid up in the hill Cumorah” and Momon gave the abridged record, which he calls “these few plates” (Mormon 6:6) to his son, Moroni. Hence, this abridged record was written in the land of Cumorah. Moroni later “hid up” this abridged record “unto the Lord” (Mormon 8:4) in a location never identified in the Book of Mormon.

      On September 21, 1823, the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and declared that the record compiled anciently by Mormon would soon be revealed. D&C 128:20 alludes to this declaration, which took place in the upstairs bedroom of the Smith home (see Joseph Smith History 1:27-50).

      After receiving Moroni’s declaration, Joseph went to the hill near his home where the plates were deposited. That hill soon came to be called Cumorah by at least some members of the Church. Because of this, it’s possible that, in D&C 128:20, the name Cumorah refers to that hill. However, it’s at least as likely that the name Cumorah is used in this verse to refer to the ancient (and perhaps distant) land of Cumorah—the place where the “glad tidings” were written by Mormon. Similarly, it would be proper to say that the message of the Book of Revelation comes to us from the island of Patmos, where it was written (see Revelation 1:9), even though the manuscripts from which this message was eventually translated were “hid up,” so to speak, in other locations.

  2. Neal,

    Among other things, you have made a good case that Joseph Smith supported the idea of Book of Mormon events in Mesoamerica. An equally good case can be made for the idea that he also supported Book of Mormon events in the “Heartland.”

    These two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

    • Theodore,

      I agree that Joseph Smith also made statements more consistent with the “Heartland” model. My point is he did not exclusively support the Heartland model, and that those who so argue are misleading and misusing the evidence. Also, I think I made it abundantly clear that I do not think Joseph Smith’s words should be used as evidence for either location, contra the views of both Lund and Meldrum.

    • Theodore:

      Why adopt Rodney Meldrum’s label for an amorphous area that includes the area around the Great Lakes and also the Mississippi Valley? “Heartland” of what? The United States of America? But not the American continent? Meldrum operates on extreme American exceptionalist assumptions, which provides much of his appeal. I have labeled this a “jingo geography”–that is, his insistence that the peoples mentioned in the Book of Mormon must all necessarily have been located in what are now the boundaries of the United States. This also leads to some annoying anomalies. For instance, the indigenous people of Hawaii presumably both have and can correctly claim the promises that attend what he considers the promised land, but their close cousins in New Zealand and French Polynesia cannot, since they are not part of the USA. And First Nation peoples in Canada are not children of promise, but presumably the Native Americans in Alaska are. Given his ideology, American Samoans are in, while the larger population of Samoans are out.

      This sort of thing seems to work well when one is making a living selling tours, waving the flag, promoting patriotic paintings and joining others in promoting fake Michigan relics, and exhibiting what presumably was Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo Legion sword, and so forth. But it is not serious scholarship and does not contribute to the conversation.

      • Louis,

        I also do not agree with the “Heartland” theory. That is why I put it in quotes.

        After three years of research matching the text of the Book of Mormon to the geography and the facts on the ground, I am convinced that the saga in America began on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica and ended at Cumorah in Upstate New York.

        This North American setting, like the Book of Mormon itself, can be ignored, but I do not believe that it can be refuted. I have a high degree of confidence that it is true.

        • Just some questions I have:

          “What makes you think the seeds from Jerusalem (1 Nephi 18:24), a Mediterranean Climate, would have grown at all in 600 B.C. in North America.. or even Mesoamerica?

          “Where are the two animals in North America or in Mesoamerica the Jaredites brought to, or domesticated from, those animals they brought to the Land of Promise? (Ether 9:19).
          Two unknown animals linked with these more common beasts of burden, the horse, ass, and elephant?

          “Where are the ‘mountains whose height is great’ that Samuel the Lamanite prophesied about in the Land of Promise?” Samuel proclaimed: “and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains, whose height is great” (Helaman 14:23).

          “Using your model of the Land of Promise, what makes you think that the beleaguered Nephite Army, having retreated all across the entire Land of Promise from the Land of Zarahemla (Mormon 1:10) clear to the Land Northward before an overwhelming Lamanite army they had seldom been able to stand against in battle, would suddenly decide to stop and fight a final battle when they could have continually retreated northward into Mexico and the area of present day United States?”

        • You posted some time ago, but perhaps you are still following the comments here. I wondered, why the western coast of Costa Rica? Why not the eastern coast of Costa Rica? Or Nicaragua? Or the northern coast of Honduras?

          It seems to me that a genuinely valuable contribution of the “Heartland” theorists, in all of their several varieties, is the idea that Tribe Lehi may have followed the currents and prevailing winds by traveling West from Oman, coming into the Americas by way of the Cape of Good Hope rather than through the South Pacific. Looking at Ocean currents, that makes sense to me (Somali -> Agulhas -> Benguela -> Atlantic South -> Guiana -> Caribbean, which would still land the party in Mesoamerica). And that voyage could have been completed between the same year’s harvest and planting, which seems to be what the text suggests.

          Do you think they sailed East from Oman? And if so, is that based on tradition, or is there something in the text? I am genuinely curious.

          • Russell, thank you for your sincere question.

            In Alma chapter twenty-two, Aaron taught the gospel in the Land of Nephi to the Lamanite king, father of King Lamoni. While Mormon was writing this abridgement for us, he paused in the narrative and gave us a condensed description of the entire geographical area of the Lamanites and the Nephites. The relevant portion to your question is verse 28:

            “Now, the more idle part of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness, and dwelt in tents; and they were spread through the wilderness on the west, in the land of Nephi; yea, and also on the west of the land of Zarahemla, in the borders by the seashore, and on the west in the land of Nephi, in the place of their fathers’ first inheritance, and thus bordering along by the seashore.” (Alma 22:28)

            Notice that Lehi’s landing was west of the land of Zarahemla, and by the seashore, west in the land of Nephi. This is as far west as it gets and therefore somewhere along the Pacific Coast of the Americas.

            The Arabian Bountiful has been well established as the place now known as Kharfot, near the border of Yemen and Oman, where Wadi Sayq meets the Arabian Sea. Evidence for this location as Bountiful was first presented by Warren and Michaela Aston in their book, “In The Footsteps of Lehi: New Evidence for Lehi’s Journey across Arabia to Bountiful.” To get from the Arabian Peninsula to the Pacific Coast of the Americas Lehi and his family had to have sailed east, being guided by the Liahona for favorable winds and currents.

            In his description of their arrival at the Promised Land, Nephi wrote that their seeds grew exceedingly and they were blessed with abundance. He described beasts in the forests of every kind, and all manner of wild animals. Nephi wrote that they found all manner of ore, “both of gold, and silver, and of copper” (1 Nephi 18:23-25).

            That Lehi’s landing was in North America rather than on the South American Pacific Coast is supported by the fact that the Panama land-bridge between the continents is almost impenetrable. For example, the 16,000 mile Pan American Highway that runs from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean to the southern tip of Argentina, has only one break—the fifty-four mile gap through the Darien Jungle between Panama City, Panama, and Columbia, South America. Modern equipment and engineering have not yet been able to build a permanent road through this dense swamp and formidable growth. In 1854 an American Expedition searching for a route for the Panama Canal could not hack their way through this jungle. They became so lost and hungry in this forty-mile wide isthmus that they ate their dead. If Lehi had landed in South America, the Nephites would not likely to have able to migrate to North America by land.

            The first things to look for in searching for Lehi’s Landing are the ore deposits. US Geological Survey maps show that from Mexico to Panama there is only one spot on the Pacific coast where there are known deposits of “gold, silver and copper,” all within a radius of thirty miles of a coastal point. That point is the middle of the Pacific coastline of Costa Rica.

            The second major point for Costa Rica is that the almond tree is indigenous to the Levant of the Middle East, and is mentioned ten times in the Old Testament. However, the almond is also considered to be native to Costa Rica. Lehi’s family brought many fruit and grain seeds and planted them in the Promised Land and the almond probably would have been among them (1 Nephi 8:1, 18:24).

            Costa Rica has all the other features Nephi described. It has fertile soil and 150 inches of rainfall per year. Fruit trees such as avocado, nance and guapinol, as well as tubers such as yucca and “name,” are indigenous to Costa Rica. Today the rich soils produce bananas, pineapple, oranges, nuts, coconuts, yams, and a long list of exotic fruits and vegetables. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve has two thousand plant species with various orchids, and a hundred species of wild animals. There are eight hundred species of birds in Costa Rica. Nephi’s description of all manner of wild animals still holds true today.

            The most probable point for Lehi and his family to land would have been on the lush Pacific costal strip where the fresh water of the Rio Grande Tárcoles River flows into the Gulf of Nicoya, near the present town of Tárcoles. When Lehi left Jerusalem, the first place he camped was beside a river of fresh water where it emptied into the Red Sea. He named the river, Laman, and admonished this son to be “like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness!”(1 Nephi 2:6-9) When Lehi landed in the Promised Land he surely would have settled his family along a fresh water river, not far from the sea. They may have sailed a short distance up the River Grande Tárcoles and found a good settlement site on the rich flat soil on the north bank of the river.

            After eight years in the desert, and traveling more than half way around the world by sea, the tropical paradise of Costa Rica would have been an unimaginable fulfillment of the promised blessing to Lehi and his family.

          • (Replying to Theodore Brandley @7:10 am)

            Thank you! That’s exactly what I was asking (and a very thorough response).

          • Theodore.. I am a bit confused here: You said:

            “Notice that Lehi’s landing was west of the land of Zarahemla, and by the seashore, west in the land of Nephi. This is as far west as it gets and therefore somewhere along the Pacific Coast of the Americas.”

            The scripture (Alma 22:28) does NOT say that Lehi’s landing was west of the land of Zarahemla.

            Please… let us read it again:

            Now the more idle part of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness and lived in tents.
            And they were spread through the wilderness on the west in the land of Nephi,
            yea, and also on the west of the land of Zarahemla in the borders by the seashore,
            and on the west in the land of Nephi in the place of their fathers’ first inheritance,
            and thus bordering along by the seashore.

            In other words.. The more IDLE parts of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness and lived in tents.

            And…
            1. they were spread through the wilderness on the west in the land of Nephi

            and…
            2. also on the west of the land of Zarahemla in the borders by the seashore.

            and….
            3. on the west in the land of Nephi in the place of their fathers’ first inheritance.

            and…
            4. thus bordering along by the seashore.

            They were in four different places.

            The land of Nephi is south of Zarahemla. Just read the preceding verse.. verse 27.. and you will see that.

            First look in verse 1.. it tells you there where Aaron was. “he was led by the Spirit to the land of Nephi”.

            And in verse 27.. it says: the king sent a proclamation throughout all the land, amongst all his people who were in all his land, who were in all the regions round about, which was bordering even to the sea, on the east and on the west, and which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west,…. and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla.

            So I don’t know how you got the landing spot west of Zarahemla.

          • MrNirom,

            There is no question that the Land of Nephi was south of the Land of Zarahemla.

            “Now the land south was called Lehi, and the land north was called Mulek, which was after the son of Zedekiah; for the Lord did bring Mulek into the land north, and Lehi into the land south.” (Helaman 6:10)

            But there is also evidence that the land Nephi was also west of the land of Zarahemla, making it actually southwest of the land of Zarahemla.

            You are correct in your reading of Alma 22:28 in that it does not say that the land of Nephi was west of the land Zarahemla. What it does establish is that there was a wilderness west of the land of Zarahemla inhabited by Lamanites. We get a fuller picture by combining this with other passages. In Alma chapter 2 for example we read of a horrendous battle between the Nephites and the dissenting Amlicites at the hill of Amnihu, on the east of the river Sidon and south of Zarahemla. Alma and his armies drove them west across the river Sidon and sent spies to follow them. The Amlicites connected with an army of Lamanites who were coming in from the “course of the land of Nephi” (Alma 2:24). This indicates that the trail to the land of Nephi went through the wilderness on the west of the land of Zarahemla. That this wilderness was quite extensive is demonstrated later in this same battle when the Lamanites and Amlicites were driven west and north through this wilderness until they came to another wilderness called the wilderness of Hermounts (Alma 2:36-37).

          • I do note that this speaks of where a trail might be, not the cit from which the combatants arrived at that trail, nor that they had come from Nephi.

          • I agree, but the main point is that the trail that led to the land of Nephi went through the wilderness on the west of the land of Zarahemla, not the south. Additionally, the land of Nephi could not be straight south of the land of Zarahemla because there is a sea to the south of the land of Zarahemla. Alma 22:27 notes that there was a narrow strip of wilderness south of the land of Zarahemla which ran east and west, and the seashore was on the other side of that narrow strip. The textual evidence is that the land of Nephi was southwest of the land of Zarahemla.

      • I agree that US Mormons often tend to read “USA” into all or most Book of Mormon references about latter-day Gentile nation(s), even when other interpretations might make more sense, and I have often been guilty of this myself. About a year ago, it struck me that the “mighty nation” referenced 1 Nephi 22:7 may well have been the Spanish Empire rather than the relatively small, young, and weak United States [link removed]. I suspect other Book of Mormon verses could likewise have broader or different interpretations than those we tend to hear in the US.

    • Those who probably are very sincere writers have tried to place the events depicted in the Book of Mormon in the Malaysian Peninsula, Peru (in one version Peru was an island until Jesus appeared in America. One writer has even insisted on Abyssinia in Africa, and another bit of speculation, presumably ground in a revelation from God, asserts that large portions of the events depicted in the Book of Mormon took place in the Gulf of Mexico. This one ignores geology entirely and hence also the depth of the Gulf. Theodore Brandley has his own hemispheric geography. He has the Jaredites landing in northern New Jersey, and the Lehi colony landing in Costa Rica and then the Nephites and Lamanites in lockstep spreading north and northeast, where the Nephite nation came to its final end at the drumlin that he claims, on the basis of hymns and hints, was the Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

      When speculating about the location of events in the Book of Mormon, recently it has become both common and, I believe, quite fruitful to focus on the host of geographical detains in that text. When serious efforts have been made to trace and understand Lehi’s flight from Jerusalem, paying very close attention to the text has yielded much. But some inclined to speculate most often cease to continue to do that when they try to locate the Lehites in America. They do not begin with an internal map. They most often locate Lehi’s landing and then march both the Nephites and Lamanites to the drumlin in New York. Theodore Brandley provides a good example of this mistake with his hemispheric geography. Some others have also had the need to fix this one location. Brandley does this by claiming a that Moroni revealed this to Joseph Smith, and then he is free to have the Lehites land in Costa Rica. And then he can locate willy nilly the names of places and topography on a map. An important difference between Brandley and Rodney Meldrum (and his two allies) is that Brandley does not restrict the blessings of a land of promise to the current borders of the United States. Otherwise his efforts, though more specific about actual locations, suffers from the same flaws that are associated with the label “heartland.”

      Having made in brief form the points I wished to make, I must now add that from my perspective, this is not the place for Brandley to promote his own Book of Mormon geography. Comments should be directed, I believe, to the soundness of Neal Rappleye’s review essay. In addition, the early identification of the drumlin with the word Cumorah (in hymns and in popular opinion) has been covered more than sufficiently.

      • Louis,
        Contrary to your mischaracterization of my research, every step of my thesis is based primarily on the minute details of the text of the Book of Mormon. It contains over 200 references to Book of Mormon passages. The entire thesis was developed by matching the text of the Book of Mormon to the facts on the ground. The above small sample of how I deduced Lehi’s landing from the details of the text is the method I used throughout.

        Your charges against this research obviously come from something other than reading it. I welcome detailed sincere questions and discussion regarding my research and reasoning but reject your general mischaracterizations.

        • Theodore:

          I applaud you for not turning to the LDS travel industry to sell your Book of Mormon geography. I am also confident that you are sincere and also convinced that you have figured out where the Lehites landed and then lived. But your conviction does not make it so.

          Your claim that there is a known fixed point in the long and often grim history of the Lehites–the exact location of the place where the Nephite nation came to and end–has been shown in these comments to be, if not flat out false, at lease very likely wrong. And despite your not using the slogan “heartland,” and despite three years matching Book of Mormon passages to your geography, you have made some of the same mistakes that are made by those who huddle around that label. How so? You have scattered willy nilly Lamanites and Nephites over many thousands of miles as you have then move lockstep from the west coast of Costa Rica north through Mexico and then over about half of the United States. The primary difference is that yours is not a jingo geography. Finally, you don’t seem to realize that this is not the proper venue to advance your speculation.

          • Louis,

            Thank you for a more civil condemnation. You wrote:

            “You have scattered willy nilly Lamanites and Nephites over many thousands of miles as you have then move lockstep from the west coast of Costa Rica north through Mexico and then over about half of the United States.”

            Your using the terms “willy nilly” and “lockstep” demonstrate again that you have not read the thesis and have only glanced at the maps. The thesis follows the text of the Book of Mormon in great detail. It tracks the Nephites from Costa Rica to Guatemala and the original city of Nephi. Over the next 400 years the Lamanites drove the Nephites northward through Mexico to the Rio Grande. King Mosiah 1st then led his people across the vast wilderness plains of Texas to the Mississippi River. The Nephites then migrated east to the Atlantic Ocean then up the Atlantic Coastal Plain, which they called the land of Bountiful. In time they moved further north past the “Narrow Neck of Land,” which we know as the Delmarva Peninsula, and into the Northeastern US. They also migrated up the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes. All of this comes from matching the text of the Book of Mormon to the facts on the ground.

            You wrote:

            “Finally, you don’t seem to realize that this is not the proper venue to advance your speculation.”

            You commend me for not writing a book on the subject and then condemn me for posting thoughts from my thesis, on your otherwise open forum, when the subject of Book of Mormon Geography arises. Why should my ideas and thoughts be banned from this forum? Where else would it be better to vet these ideas than on a blog of LDS scholars who are mostly committed to the Mesoamerica theory? Louis, you don’t need to be afraid of what may be the truth.

  3. It seems to me that some turn to tours in place of the work of grounding solid scholarship on the Book of Mormon in what it says about locations and distances and so forth. Sometimes out of guilt for not having taken the contents of the Book of Mormon sufficiently seriously, those with disposable income seem vulnerable to sales pitches that promise to provide (for a price) a fine feel-good experience.

    In this essay Neal Rappleye has done an excellent job sorting the mistakes made by those essentially in the travel business who sell Book of Mormon geographies by claiming that Joseph Smith through divine special revelations provided the Saints with a full, final and fixed geography that just so happen to fit their travel brochure. Without a bit of shame for incoherence, they also grant that the Church (meaning the Brethren) have never endorsed any Book of Mormon geography, and have, instead, welcomed among the faithful serious academic work on these matters.

    • Louis

      I believe that I am in agreement with you that Meldrum’s approach to Book of Mormon geography is not scholarly, scientific or even faith building. Having perused (in the literal meaning of the word) his site, I find little of real value. But, I am not convinced that he is a huckster selling snake oil to unsuspecting buyers. He may truly believe the things he promotes. I am curious why and how you have formed such strong opinions about his “movement” as he calls it, which also appear to spread to him personally. Perhaps I am reading your comments incorrectly. If so, please correct me.

  4. Loren:

    I very much appreciate your comment. I am confident that Rodney Meldrum is sincere, though both wrong and incorrigible. He has joined with two other fellows to promote, among other thing, fake Michigan artifacts. All three employ the flourishing LDS travel industry to peddle their ideology. Some of the evidence can be found in the first issue of the FARMS Review for 2010. For my introduction to that issue, see http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/22/1/S00001-5176a0e200ca31Midgley.pdf. For the first in a series of essays setting out the long list of problems in Meldrum’s ideology and hence his “movement,” have a close look at Gregory L. Smith, “Often in Error, Seldom in Doubt: Rod Meldrum and Book of Mormon DNA,” FARMS Review 22/1 (2012): 17-161. See

    The fact is that one can be sincere, and devout, and still very wrong and poorly informed. I urge you to read the last paragraph in Greg Smith article. I agree with it fully. I hope this clears up any misunderstanding.

    I must add that one cannot separate a person from their ideas and hence also with the soundness and coherence of their opinions. Latter-day Saints have a tendency to flinch when they see this being done. We tend to prefer “why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along” style discourse. This, unfortunately, opens the door to hucksters. My argument in my essay cited above is that we can’t make progress without weeding the garden.

      • Louis

        Thanks. I had previously read Greg Smith’s paper, but not yours. I am in agreement with both of you. Meldrum’s approach of providing a long list of “testimonials” and bios of supporters (perhaps in an attempt to dismiss the need for sound research?) seems very similar to the approach taken by the “Ordain Women” movement. “How can all of those people be wrong?” seems to be the desired effect.

        While I am in agreement with you on these issues, I still do not understand the passion that seems to underlie your comments. Is your concern that Meldrum, as a “pied piper,” will lead away unsuspecting members who will eventually lose their testimony when Meldrum’s theories come to naught? Or is your concern with Meldrum himself?

        • Loren,

          I won’t speak for Louis personally, but if I were to answer your question, the answer would be: yes, and yes, and then some.

          Meldrum has asserted that if you accept that Joseph is the prophet of the restoration, then you must believe his (Meldrum’s) theory for the Heartland. He has asserted that if you believe in genetics, (but not really because Meldrum flat out mocks evolution) then you will see the obvious genetic correlation between the Hopewell tribe and the Middle East.

          It doesn’t matter if the evidence doesn’t really back up these claims. It doesn’t matter that Meldrum supports himself financially proclaiming this theory. It doesn’t matter that he fails to get any meaningful scholars to back him up on any of his claims. It doesn’t matter that Meldrum openly mocks scholars who have dedicated their lives to relevant fields of scholarship when they fail to fall lock step into his propositions.

          Meanwhile, hundreds (maybe thousands) of Latter-day Saints are contributing financial resources to Meldrum and his organization.

          There are those who find themselves offended and/or annoyed at Meldrum’s antics. I can’t help but agree with them.

          • Ike and Louis

            Thanks for your responses. I agree that Meldrum is arrogant, unbending and dogmatic. I believe that this is the result of his lack of a real doctrinal, archaeological, and scientific foundation upon which to stand. I get that.

            However, the passionate personal rhetoric still evades me. I understand attacking the message. That is fair and appropriate. But, I think that the best way to deal with the Meldrum’s of the world is to ignore them.

        • Loren has a good point. One must constantly be on guard against the unruly passions, which are often base and debasing, or. to roughly paraphrase Aristotle, passion perverts even the best of men. But David Hume argued, and I believe correctly, that reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions. The question then becomes sorting for ourselves the passions. If what drives us is something like the Greek words that sometimes get rendered into English as “likeness” or “affection,” then we are probably close to being in the right “way,” which is also called “light” and “truth.” Is it not the case that the light must shine into dark places, or the way is obscured?

          • Loren,

            To ignore the Heartland movement would be folly. They have had fantastic success in the recent years, and given what has already been established in the discussion on this forum, just letting it go could have potentially devastating consequences to the fields of academia and possibly even the religious body of the church.

            As of late I have wondered into a few different forums wherein I engage the debate with some vigor. Although I don’t pull punches, I am very careful no to step into the ad hominem. I certainly haven’t forgotten that I’m talking to my fellow Mormons.

          • Ike

            If you reread my comments you will notice that I believe that it is fair and appropriate to attack the message when it is wrong, which in the heartland case would embrace “the movement” also. My problem is with personal attacks against Meldrum or others in the movement. I believe that that is when we cross the line into ad hominem attacks.

  5. Ike has this sorted rather well. To borrow an old observation about a certain Roman Emperor, these folks who opine on tours end up fiddling while Rome burns. They can, I suppose, be forgiven, since they neither know that they fiddle, nor that Rome burns. So we should, I believe, both mourn for those who get taken in by those making a living in the LDS tour business, and those driven to peddle rubbish. But many of those caught in this web will probably remember little of what they were told a month after their feel-good experience other than, unfortunately, a deepened hostility towards to serious scholarship on issues like DNA and the Book of Mormon..

    In addition, pushing mounds, and fake Michigan relics, phony DNA proofs and other bits of rubbish is game in which more than merely Rodney Meldrum are currently engaged. He is flanked by Wayne N. May, Bruce H. Porter, and others (who are often involved in the LDS travel business).

    • When I first read your comments about the travel business, I thought you were talking about the tours to Central and South America also hosted by LDS travel companies and also claiming tours of Book of Mormon lands. The fact that they support themselves by offering tours of what they believe to be Book of Mormon Lands is not a problem. I’m fine with that. I’m not fine with your insinuation that such activity automatically makes them snake oil salesmen. They have every right to their opinion just as you have yours about where the Book of Mormon lands are.

      One thing is certain, there is no such thing as “solid grounding in scholarly research.” It doesn’t exist. Few things change faster than scholarly research. What will you do if the Heartland theory is right and the Central America theory is wrong? Hopefully, nothing because it doesn’t make any difference.

      As far as I know, there is only one absolute certainty when it comes to Book of Mormon lands… and that is, the Golden Plates came out from it’s resting place in a hill in New York. After that, the Book of Mormon geography is a guessing game, grounded somewhat in scholarly research.

      That’s my 2 cents.

      • Yaya,

        I ran into the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (bmaf.org) about three years ago wherein most people tend to agree on a Mesoamerican setting for the Nephite culture. But, as I try to gauge intellectual honesty, what draws me to BMAF is the considerable amount of open and vigorous debate even within the forum itself. Such a debate is indicative of a thinking body that isn’t afraid to have their ideas challenged, and also a group that is at least somewhat more willing to have their minds changed on the subject.

        I will admit that it will take a considerable effort to change my mind against the general Mesoamerican model. But your comment is important, and one that I must always keep in mind.

  6. Has anyone thought that maybe the BofM location might be in the Gulf of Mexico, underwater? Would that explain the lack of physical evidence of the BofM civilization? Maybe it’s spiritual and not physical as another alternative?

  7. I once had an Institute teacher propose this idea in class about four years ago. For myself, I haven’t discounted the idea entirely, but at this point everything anyone has put forth has largely been unsubstantiated. Meanwhile, there is fair amount of correlations and/or evidences that point to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec that I personally find compelling.

    One thing seems pretty certain, however. The Nephites in principle very likely didn’t live in North America, South America, Malaysia or even Baja California. This doesn’t rule out your theory, but then again I don’t see a lot to support your theory to begin with.

    Either way, I’m all for digging deeper – or in your case, (SCUBA) diving deeper. It’s all race to find that sign that reads: Welcome to Zarahemla. Population: 365,321.

  8. Sorenson’s Mormon Codex is an exhaustive survey of the correspondences between the Book of Mormon and a mesoamerican setting, borne of decades of research and study. Heartland followers have much work to do if they want to be compared to the study and validation contained therein.

    • Brethren,

      The preponderance of documentary evidence is that it was Moroni who told Joseph Smith that the hill in Palmyra,
      New York was known ancient as Comorah. Any proposal, including Sorenson’s Codex, that ignores this fact is only imaginative speculation.

      One must begin with the premise that Moroni knew of what he spoke. Otherwise it is all an imaginative tale.

      • Theodore,

        In regards to the hill where Joseph was directed, the name “Cumorah” never came up. It seems that the name derived from either Oliver Cowdrey and/or David Whitmer. Since nobody argued with the point, the name stuck. Therefore, we think of the site in Palmyra as the Hill Cumorah, even if there is no record of Joseph or Moroni giving it that name.

        • Ike,

          What you have written is the promulgation of a myth produced by ignoring the documentary evidence for the purpose of supporting the Limited Mesoamerica theory. The facts are as follows:

          There are five documentary sources that confirm it was Moroni who told Joseph Smith, prior to the translation of the Gold Plates, that the hill in Palmyra was anciently known as Cumorah.

          1. The only first-person source comes from the epistle that Joseph Smith dictated on September 6, 1842, which was later canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 128.
          “Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfillment of the prophets — the book to be revealed.” (D&C 128:20)
          The inference is that Joseph knew the name “Cumorah” before the book was revealed. That knowledge could only have come from Moroni. This is substantiated in the subsequent documents.

          2. An early documentary source confirming the above are the lines from a sacred hymn, written by W.W. Phelps. William Phelps lived with the Prophet in Kirtland and was in essence his executive secretary during the Nauvoo period.
          “An angel came down from the mansions of glory,
          And told that a record was hid in Cumorah,
          Containing the fulness of Jesus’s gospel;”
          (Collection of Sacred Hymns, 1835, Hymn 16, page 22,
          It was the angel who told Joseph that the record was hid in “Cumorah.” This hymn was selected by Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet, approved by the Prophet, and published in 1835 with a collection of hymns, under instructions and directions from the Lord. “And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church.” (D&C 25:1)
          This hymn was also included in the 1841 edition as hymn #262.

          3. Oliver Cowdery, Second Elder of the Church and Co-President with Joseph Smith, stated the following in 1831:
          “This Book, which contained these things, was hid in the earth by Moroni, in a hill called by him Cumorah, which hill is now in the state of New York, near the village of Palmyra, in Ontario County.” (Autobiography of P.P. Pratt p 56-61)
          The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt was complied, edited and published in1881 by his son, from the documents and records left by his father after his death. From the length and detail of the address given by Oliver Cowdery in 1831, from which the above quote is taken, it had to have been recorded by Parley P. Pratt at the time it was spoken. “In writing his autobiography, Pratt relied heavily on his previous writings. After extensive analysis, Pratt family historian Steven Pratt concluded that almost ninety percent of the text is either based on or copied from earlier works” (Matt Grow, assistant professor of history at the University of Southern Indiana.)

          4. The Prophet’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, provides two separate items of evidence in the original manuscript of her memoirs. In the first item, Lucy is remembering what Joseph told her after Moroni first appeared to him. The quote begins with what Moroni had told Joseph:
          “Now Joseph beware when you go to get the plates your mind will be filld with darkness and all man[n]er of evil will rush into your mind. To keep you from keeping the comman dments of God and you must tell your father of this for he will believe every word you say the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place remove the Grass and moss and you will find a large flat stone pry that up and you will find the record under it laying on 4 pillars — then the angel left him. [sic]” (Lucy Mack Smith, History 1844–1845, Original Manuscript, page 41)
          Lucy dictated the above about 20 years after the fact, but it is consistent with other evidence. In the following, Lucy recalls directly what her son said in her presence. Following Joseph’s meeting with Moroni at Cumorah, one year before Joseph received the plates, Joseph told his parents that he had “taken the severest chastisement that I have ever had in my life.” Joseph said:
          “it was the an gel of the Lord— as I passed by the hill of Cumo rah, where the plates are, the angel of the Lord met me and said, that I had not been engaged enough in the work of the Lord; that the time had come for the record to brought forth; and, that I must be up and doing, and set myself about the things which God had commanded me to do: [sic]” (Lucy Mack Smith, History 1844–1845, Original Manuscript, page 111)
          In both of these quotes from the Prophet’s mother, she demonstrates that in her mind it was Moroni, who told Joseph, prior to the translation of the plates, that the hill in Palmyra was named Cumorah.

          5. David Whitmer confirmed this in an interview in his later years when he stated:
          “[Joseph Smith] told me…he had a vision, an angel appearing to him three times in one night and telling him that there was a record of an ancient people deposited in a hill near his fathers house called by the ancients “Cumorah” situated in the township of Manchester, Ontario county N.Y…” (Milton V. Backman, Jr., “Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration,” p. 233)

          All of the documentary evidence is consistent that it was Moroni who told Joseph Smith, prior to the translation of the Gold Plates, that the ancient name of the hill in Palmyra was “Cumorah.” There is no documentary evidence to the contrary. Any geographical setting that does no have the ancient Cumorah in the State of New York is imaginative speculation that cannot be true.

          • In order to locate the hill Cumorah in the Land of Promise, we first must locate the Land of Promise, not the hill. After all, numerous hills could be pointed out to be the original hill Cumorah. And for those who want to claim the upstate New York site of the hill where Joseph found the plates under Moroni’s direction, it is of interest that Joseph never called the hill by that name.

            Hill Cumorah in upstate New York. The hill was named by early Church members as a result of the plates found there by Joseph Smith. If you have ever actually noted the shape of the hill and try comparing that to descriptive information in the scriptural record, such as seeing from the top over a battlefield containing about 700,000 combatants.. you would find that the hill lacks those qualities.

            In fact, in Joseph’s account in the Pearl of Great Price, he refers to the hill where the plates were buried, but never calls it by any name.

            In the Doctrine and Covenants the name ‘Cumorah’ only appears once, in an 1842 epistle written by Joseph Smith: “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah” (D&C 128:20). No other use of “Cumorah” has been found in any other of Joseph Smith’s personal writings. When this name does appear it has been added by later editors or is being quoted from another individual.

            At the present time, the Church has no official position on any New World location described in the Book of Mormon. There is no official revelation in the Church establishing the drumlin in New York as the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon where two nations were destroyed. It is true that a number of Church leaders in the past expressed the opinion that the hill in New York is the same hill described in the Book of Mormon, though many comments are contradictory, and on what basis the opinions are based is unknown. And it should be understood that no person’s personal comment, no matter their position, is binding on the Church or considered an official statement of the Church. Only new revelation following proper procedure, and being accepted by the Church as a whole, would clear up this point. And despite the claims of many Theorists, statements from Joseph Smith or others on geography, are not binding on the Church, since they have never been included in official Church statements.

            At what point in modern times this New York hill was first called Cumorah is difficult to determine. A late account from David Whitmer’s diary dated September 7-8, 1878, is the earliest possible association of the name with the New York hill, in which he wrote: “When I was returning to Fayette, with Joseph and Oliver, all of us riding in the wagon, Oliver and I on an old fashioned, wooden spring seat and Joseph behind us, while traveling along in a clear open place, a very pleasant, nice-looking old man [walking] in a clear open place, who saluted us with “Good morning, it is very warm,” at the same instant wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation, and by a sign from Joseph I invited him to ride if he was going our way, but he said very pleasantly, “No I am going to Cumorah.”

            This was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant, and as I looked enquiringly at Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared so that I did not see him again.”

            However, even this use of the term does not identify any specific site with Cumorah.
            In 1938 Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote an article published in the Deseret News arguing against what he then termed the “modernist” theory that the final battlefield of the Nephites and Jaredites may have been in Central America rather than in New York. In 1956 this article was included in a selection of Elder Smith’s writings compiled by his son-in-law Bruce R. McConkie. Although Elder Smith would become president of the church 32 years later, he apparently never revisited the question as president of the church. However, in a letter written to Fletcher B. Hammond, who argued emphatically for a Central American location and had sent Elder Smith a copy of his findings, the apostle explained, “I am sure this will be very interesting although I have never paid any attention whatever to Book of Mormon geography because it appears to me that it is inevitable that there must be a great deal of guesswork.” Apparently, he did not consider his 1938 argument as settled and definitive or as a doctrinal statement.

            Sidney B. Sperry, after whom an annual Brigham Young University symposium is named, was also one who initially supported the New York Cumorah view as that area being the final battlefield of the Nephites and Jaredites. During the 1960s, as he began to explore the issue, he came to a different conclusion. Reversing his earlier position, he wrote:

            “It is now my very carefully studied and considered opinion that the Hill Cumorah to which Mormon and his people gathered was somewhere in Middle America. The Book of Mormon evidence to this effect is irresistible and conclusive to one who will approach it with an open mind. This evidence has been reviewed by a few generations of bright students in graduate classes who have been given the challenge to break it down if they can. To date none has ever been able to do so.”

            Sperry, who was very familiar with what Joseph Fielding Smith had previously written, told him that he did not feel comfortable publishing something that contradicted what the apostle had written, but that he and other sincere students of the Book of Mormon had come to that conclusion only after serious and careful study of the text. As reported by Matthew Roper, Sperry said that Elder Smith then lovingly put his arm around his shoulder and said, “Sidney, you are as entitled to your opinion as I am to mine. You go ahead and publish it.”

            It seems clear, then, that Elder (later President) Smith did not regard his views as the product of revelation, nor did he regard it as illegitimate to have a different view of the matter.

            Another issue with this site is that it simply does not meet the Book of Mormon criteria as set down by Mormon. First of all, the hill Cumorah in the scriptural record is located to the north of the Narrow Neck of Land, in what is called the Land Northward.

            In Alma we find that “Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward” (Alma 63:5); and Mormon wrote that the narrow neck separated the Land Southward from the Land Northward, and was the distance in width that a Nephite could cover in a day and a half (Alma 22:32), and that the Land Southward was surrounded by water except for the Narrow Neck of Land. Not only was the Land of Desolation north of the narrow neck, but that it went so far northward it came into the old Jaredite land (Alma 22:30), and the land on the south was called Bountiful and the land on the north was called Desolation (Alma 22:31). The key understanding in this is that the Land of Cumorah was so far northward,” and this area of the Jaredite lands continued northward to the Land of Many Waters (Mormon 6:4), where the Hill Cumorah was located in the Land of Cumorah (Mormon 6:2).

            Mesoamerican Theorists want to claim that “the text requires a relatively short distance between Cumorah and the neck of land,” however, as can be seen, the scriptural record suggests otherwise. Consequently, along with the upstate New York area model, the Mesoamerican model simply does not fit the scriptural record in this regard.

          • Mr Nirom,

            You obviously totally ignored all the documentation above that establishes beyond reasonable doubt that it was Moroni, prior to the translation of the plates, who told Joseph Smith that the ancient name of the hill in Palmyra was “Cumorah.”

            Just take WW Phelp’s hymn by itself, published in 1835 in the Church’s first hymnal.

            “An angel came down from the mansions of glory,
            And told that a record was hid in Cumorah,
            Containing the fulness of Jesus’s gospel;”
            (Collection of Sacred Hymns, 1835, Hymn 16, page 22)

            It was Moroni who said the record was hid in Cumorah.

            This hymn was sung at their meeting and all the members would have been familiar with it. This hymn was approved and published by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Hymns approved and published by our prophets become doctrine. For example, from where else do we learn the doctrine of our Heavenly Mother? The fact that Moroni told Joseph Smith that the ancient name of the hill in New York was Cumorah would have been doctrine to the Church from 1835. Now, nearly 200 years later, you and others want to ignore or change the doctrine because it does not fit your perception of the geography.

            Mr Niron, between believing Moroni or your philosophies, whom do you suggest I follow on this issue?

          • Theodore, you missed the point of Mr Nirom’s citations. The name Cumorah became attributed late and appears because it had become the way to refer to the hill. There is no early documentation (1830 and before) from Joseph indicating that he ever used that term. He came to it later. When you cite people like Whitmer, you are citing remembrances from 50 years later. That isn’t documentary evidence that the name was used earlier, only that it became associated and was used later. The documentation you note is all of that type. It is referential and later. It was unquestionably an early identification, but not one that can be traced directly to Joseph or from him back to Moroni.

          • Theodore said:

            “Hymns approved and published by our prophets become doctrine.”

            Theodore, a couple of things here. The Church publishes hymns, not the prophets. Second, where did you read something like that? It is certainly not in the Handbook of Instructions, nor in the scriptures. Do you have an authoritative statement from the church or one of its leaders stating that hymns published by the Church are to be taken as doctrine? You know, the Church has published “Popcorn popping” and “Give, said the little stream.” Are those doctrine too?

          • Brant, you wrote:
            “The name Cumorah became attributed late and appears because it had become the way to refer to the hill.”

            How can you write such an unsubstantiated speculative statement after just reading the documentation that the early saints by 1835 were singing in their congregations that it was Moroni who first called the hill Cumorah?

            The first quotation is in the first person and the others are from someone close to the Prophet quoting what he had told them. Five synoptic testimonies! There is a formula for computing the probability of the truth of an event based on the number of independent witnesses to the fact. With each witness the probability goes up. When you have five witnesses testifying to the same thing the probability of the fact being true reaches over 90%.

            What evidence do you have that Moroni did not tell Joseph Smith that the hill in New York was the ancient Cumorah? You have none. All you have is the circular reasoning that begins with the premise that the Limited Mesoamerica theory is true, therefore the ancient Cumorah has to be in Mesoamerica. You have too much invested in the Mesoamerica theory to even contemplate that it might not be true. Whereas I begin with the premise that Moroni told Joseph Smith that the ancient Cumorah was in New York and that Moroni knew what he was talking about and could not lie.

          • Theodore:
            You have the question wrong. It isn’t a question of proving that Joseph didn’t say there was a connection. It is a case of not finding any such connection until late. I am not the one to make the assertion. Reeve, Rex C., Jr., and Richard O. Cowan. “The Hill Called Cumorah.” In Regional Studies in LDS History: New York and Pennsylvania, edited by Larry C. Porter, Milton V. Backman Jr., and Susan Easton Black. Provo, Utah: BYU Department of Church History and Doctrine, 1992, 73–74:

            At what point in modern times this New York hill was first called Cumorah is difficult to determine. In his account in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith refers to the hill where the plates were buried, but never calls it by any name. In the Doctrine and Covenants the name “Cumorah” only appears one time, in an 1842 epistle written by Joseph Smith: “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah!” (D&C 128:20). No other uses of “Cumorah” have been found in any other of Joseph Smith’s personal writings. When this name does appear it has been added by later editors or is being quoted from another individual.

            As I noted, it is easy to find later attributions by other people, and even later ones when Joseph adopted the terminology. There is no evidence that it originated with Joseph (nor, therefore, with Moroni).

          • Loren,

            “Hymns teach doctrine” (The Power of Hymns, Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Seventy, Ensign July 2001), is an adage that the Brethren have repeated over the years. As for “Popcorn” it is not in our standard hymnal. I prefer the example of “O My Father.” ☺

            The hymn in question was chosen by commandment from God to Emma and approved by the Prophet Joseph for publishing (see D&C 25:1)

          • Brant,

            Reeve and Cowan were simply in error in their statement and with it they have created an erroneous myth. I will demonstrate. They wrote:

            a) “At what point in modern times this New York hill was first called Cumorah is difficult to determine.” That is not difficult at all. Oliver Cowdery is recorded as referring to it as Cumorah in 1831 and the Saints were singing hymns about it in 1835.

            b)“In the Doctrine and Covenants the name “Cumorah” only appears one time…” So what? In the context of that scripture (D&C 128:20) the prophet specifically states that Moroni declared from Cumorah that the book was TO BE revealed. The inference is that Joseph knew the name of the hill before the record was revealed. This fact is supported by four other witnesses.

            c) “No other uses of “Cumorah” have been found in any other of Joseph Smith’s personal writings.” So what? It is found and supported by four other witnesses who either directly or in context state that it was Moroni who first called the hill Cumorah.
            The evidence is all that it was Moroni who told Joseph Smith that the ancient name of the hill in New York was Cumorah.

            If you had this much evidence that Moroni told Joseph Smith anything about geography in Mesoamerica you would consider it a slam dunk. Cumorah is the only geographical location from the Book of Mormon that we do know by revelation directly from an angel who was there. If you reject this revelation you are doomed to never understand the geography of the Book of Mormon.

          • Theodore, we clearly hold different opinions. I notice that your objection to Reeve and Cowan (historians who have looked at the documents) is basically that they are wrong because they don’t agree with you. I have seen the same kind of evidence in the historical development of the use of Cumorah as they have, so I’ll go with their conclusions. You will, of course, continue with your own. I don’t think we need to press this issue any more since there is obviously not going to be any resolution. Readers will have enough information to make their personal decisions, which is the value of these discussions.

          • Theodore

            “Teaching” doctrine and “becoming” doctrine are very different things, as I am sure you are aware. Sunday school and institute manuals teach doctrine but never establish or create doctrine.

            Why do you limit “doctrinal” music to the hymn books in the chapel? Why not include the children’s song book? It is also an official church publication. But, since you are making the rules I will live by them. How about the last hymn in the hymn book, “God save the King.” Is that doctrine too, or only in England?

          • Loren,

            The hymn, “God Save The King” would not be appropriate to sing in America but is sung the LDS congregations in England, and in Canada near the First of July, Canada Day. The footnote on that hymn references the doctrine found in the Twelfth Article of Faith and in Psalms 33:12.

            Perhaps my original statement on this subject was too strong and definitive, so please allow me to modify it somewhat. “Hymns approved and published by our prophets MAY become doctrine.” “O My Father” is the prime example, as the doctrine of our Heavenly Mother is found nowhere else in the Standard Works.

            The hymn I was referencing would be a prime candidate for becoming doctrine or scripture as it quotes the message of an angel of God (see also D&C 68:4).

            “An angel came down from the mansions of glory,

            And told that a record was hid in Cumorah,

            Containing the fulness of Jesus’s gospel;”
(Collection of Sacred Hymns, 1835, Hymn 16, page 22,

            When Moroni came down he said, “a record was hid in Cumorah.”

          • Theodore:

            You won’t find anyone suggesting that early Saints didn’t identify the NY hill as Cumorah. They certainly did. It entered the vocabulary of the Saints early and became pervasive. What it became is not evidence of its origin.

          • Loren,

            BTW, that hymn message and quotation was perpetuated by Parley P Pratt in our hymn, 328, An Angel From On High:

            An angel from on high
            The long, long silence broke;
            Descending from the sky,
            These gracious words he spoke:
            Lo! in Cumorah’s lonely hill
            A sacred record lies concealed.
            Lo! in Cumorah’s lonely hill
            A sacred record lies concealed.

            Notice the quotation from Moroni, the words he spoke, “Lo! in Cumorah’s lonely hill
            A sacred record lies concealed.”

            The recorded sources all agree that it was Moroni, prior to the translation of the gold plates who referred to the hill in New York as Cumorah. You can ignore it if you must, but you cannot refute it.

          • It does not matter how many people say it.. or believe it.. if it is based on a false premise.. it is still false.

            Who ever came up with the idea that the hill in NY where the plates were buried should be called Cumorah.. is an ok idea. But to then go and say that hill called Cumorah is the same hill.. has no foundation. It was never said that Moroni buried the plates at Cumorah. It did say that Mormon did.. but the plates that Moroni had where not the plates that Mormon buried. The Saints can call the hill Cumorah all they want to.. make up songs about it.. talk about it.. and some can even try to convice others that it is the same hill… but that would not make it true.

            The Hill Cumorah was a very bill hill. Big enough that even the King of the Lamanites knew where it was and agreed to allow the Nephites to gather there for the last battle.

            Find the right land of promise.. and the hill Cumorah will be there. And so will all the other tell tale signs.

            Ask yourself.. if Hagoth’s ships sailed North.. just where did they sail to?

          • The Jaredite final battle commenced at the hill the Jaredites called Ramah, which was the same hill the Nephites called Cumorah (Ether 15:11).

            About this hill both sides gathered together for four years all the Jaredites left on the land except Ether (Ether 15:12, 14). Here tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Jaredites died in battle during seven days of horrific fighting leaving only 59 still alive (Ether 15:15-25).

            At this same site, we know that some 300,000 or more Nephites and Lamanites died in battle.

            Yet, not a single artifact has been found—not arrowheads, nothing in this area where farmers have plowed the land for a century and more.

            Certainly one would think that something would have been found, but locals are adamant that nothing has ever been found on their properties.

            Again.. the hill named Cumorah in NY is NOT the same hill that is described in the Book of Mormon.

          • Oliver Cowdery wrote about approaching the hill Cumorah, “We were watching for the highest hill in the neighborhood, but forgot we were approaching it from the south side. “Where is the Hill?” we asked our driver. “There it is,” he said, pointing to a low hill gradually rising at its summit to the northward. It was only one of many hills; not a series of foot hills tied or held together with slight elevations, but rising, most of them from the plain, in varied and graceful lines” (Susa Gates Young, “A Visit to the Hill Cumorah”).

            It is the highest of several such hills in the area, but it is not the type of hill most would think it to be. As one early visitor described it: “Commences to rise away south and is highest near the north end. Here it ends rather abruptly, and the descent on the northwest and east is quite steep and, being covered with grass, slippery.” At the time early church leaders visited the area, the hill was planted over with corn.

            According to Oliver Cowdery, “The whole of the eastern and southern sides is planted out to corn; and along the very summit, which is quite narrow—at the north stood great shocks of corn, looking like stacked guns in the red sunset.”
            As can be seen, the rise of the hill from the sides is quote gradual, and not at all difficult to climb, and when covered with trees, appears as a very low hill.

            From all these descriptions, we find that this hill in New York is 1) unimpressive, 2) one of many similar hills in the area, and 3) only about 130 feet in height, with a slow, gradual rise at one end.

            All of this should suggest that it could not have been the Hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon, which was such a prominent hill that it was known to the Lamanite king, who was not from this area, nor had the Lamanites ever been in the Land Northward until 360 A.D. (Mormon 2:29), and not near the northern portion of the land until around 380 A.D. (Mormon 5:6), prior to the letter Mormon wrote to the Lamanite king around 384 A.D. (Mormon 6:2). Since the king agreed to stage the battle in “the land of Cumorah, by a hill which was called Cumorah,” it would have to have been a hill of some significance for the king to know of it and obviously different from what lay around it.

            Now, if we consider all this in light of the scriptural record, we find that:
            1) Mormon wrote to the Lamanite king offering to gather at this hill area for a final battle (Mormon 6:2-3);

            2) The Nephites pitched their tents around about the hill Cumorah awaiting the Lamanite army (Mormon 6:4);

            3) The Nephites awaited the Lamanite army on the level ground to the side of the hill, which must have been treeless for two reasons: a) There were 230,000 Nephite warriors; and b) They could see the size of the Lamanite army approaching so much so that “every soul was filled with terror because of the greatness of their numbers” (Mormon 6:8);

            4) After the first day of battle, the Nephite force of nearly a quarter of a million people were killed, the 24 remaining were at “the top of the hill Cumorah” (Mormon 6:11);

            5) From the top of the hill, they could observe a large enough area where 230,000 warriors lay dead on the ground (perhaps more if the women and children were not part of the military figure of 10,000, which seems likely);

            6) The victorious Lamanite army withdrew after the battle and did not follow the 24 surviving Nephites up onto the hill Cumorah.
            Now if we consider this, we should realize that the hill Cumorah would have to be: a) very large, b) very tall, c) difficult to climb, d) offer formidable defenses, or all of these. First of all, it is impossible to observe a battlefield where a quarter of a million people were killed from a low-lying hill such as the one in upstate New York. Secondly, what would keep the Lamanites from finishing off the job rather than “returning to their camps,” unless a) the hill offered a difficult climb at night, or b) the hill was so large, it would have been difficult to find the survivors in the dark, or c) the hill offered so much coverage that survivors could not have been located. None of these apply to the hill Cumorah in upstate New York. It is a small hill, with no escarpments, sheer sides, depressions or other defensive or hard-to-find locations. It has been described, as other drumlin hills in the area, as looking like an egg half-buried lengthwise in the ground.

            In addition, and one of the important factors to be considered, is that the Hill Cumorah in the Land of Cumorah, was “in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains” (Mormon 6:4).

            While many places can be found where waters (lakes) and rivers abound, the differing factor involved in this Land of Many Waters, are the “fountains.” Fountains are areas where water bubbles up from the ground, where water sources begin, from which flows the rivers and forms the lakes. These fountains, generally called fountain heads today, are the sources of rivers and streams, typically at higher elevations, such as the source of the Galilee and the Jordan, where the fountain head is located at the foot of a limestone cliff near the town of Banias, or the one at Tell-el-Kadi which emerges from its rocky birth-place and flows in a strong torrent over a rocky bed fringed with oleanders, flow past the ancient city and falls from this point to become the Jordan River which flows to the Dead Sea.

            El-Sededon, the fountain at Tell El-Kady, bursts forth one of the largest fountains in Syria, and what is said to be the largest single fountain in the world, which rushes across the plain southward in a deep, rapid river and is called the “lower springs of the Jordan”

            Nowhere around the hill Cumorah in upstate New York is there a river source, or fountains. Any waters around the Finger Lakes flow from those lakes northward into Lake Erie or Ontario, as has been the case since the last ice age and glacier melts.

            The point of all of this, and of all of my little postings, is simply this—

            Ff it does not agree with the scriptural record, then it is not the place of the Book of Mormon.

            As for this hill Cumorah, one will have to look elsewhere than upstate New York for the Land of Promise.

          • Brethren,

            A brief summary if I may:

            The Parley P Pratt hymn, “An Angel From On High” (Hymn 13 and 328), which was first published in the Second Edition of LDS Hymns in 1840, brings a total of six predominant witnesses of the early restoration who testify that in their minds it was the Angel Moroni who told Joseph Smith, prior to the translation of the gold plates, that Cumorah was the name of the hill in Palmyra, New York. They are Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, W.W Phelps, Parley P Pratt, Lucy Mack Smith and David Whitmer. If we assign only a minimal 20% probability of being correct to each testimony, their combined weight of probability of being correct is over 100%. The only evidence produced to date that is contrary to this is given by Reeve and Cowan, who after a superficial examination of only some of the evidence stated, “At what point in modern times this New York hill was first called Cumorah is difficult to determine.”

            It would appear that any geographical setting for the Book of Mormon, which does not include the New York Cumorah, can not be true.

          • Theodore:
            For some reason you are missing the importance of dates. Certainly by the time that we have these hymns and the remembrances (some of which are almost 50 years after the fact), the name Cumorah was firmly established. That is not in question. It is not in question that Joseph eventually used Cumorah to refer to the hill, just as he eventually used urim and thummim to refer to the interpreters (that one we can trace to Phelps and then to tradition–it didn’t begin with Joseph, but he did eventually adopt the term that everyone else was using).

            The timing is important. Later witnesses to the name simply tell us what we already know, which is that tradition has long associated the NY hill with Cumorah. That is not the same as early evidence that the identification came from Joseph or from Moroni to him. That evidence is lacking. You might argue that “people close to Joseph” used the term–and you would be right. However, we already have evidence that Joseph picked up terminology from them and didn’t contradict them. Their use does not place the origin of the term with Joseph. If Joseph did declare it to be the Book of Mormon Cumorah, we have no evidence the corroborates that hypothesis. We do have evidence that Joseph did not use the term until much later than others around him were using it. If Joseph had declared it, we would expect that he wouldn’t vary and he would use the term from the start. He didn’t. That strongly points to a later identification that came from the community of the faithful who had read the Book of Mormon and make the association according to what they thought they read in the book. However, even in the Book of Mormon, it specifically states that the record given to Joseph was not buried in Cumorah with the rest of the plates (see Moroni 6:6).

          • Theodore

            Thanks for your reply. The footnotes to “God save the king,” as you are aware, are not part of the hymn. While I know that “we believe in being subject to kings,” there is nothing doctrinal about the idea of kingship. In fact, the whole idea of a king goes very much against the doctrines taught in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon. Samuel, Nephi, Mosiah, and others all preached against the potential evils of kingship. As the brother of Jared said, “Surely this thing leadeth into captivity.”

            My point in discussing this is not to criticize the idea of a monarchy. Rather, it is to point out that although hymns teach doctrine, not everything in every hymn is doctrinal.

            The idea of a heavenly mother was not original with Eliza Snow when the penned the words to “O my Father.” First, it would not be her place to introduce new doctrine for the church. Second, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism includes this, “As early as 1839 the Prophet Joseph Smith taught the concept of an eternal mother, as reported in several accounts from that period. Out of his teaching came a hymn that Latter-day Saints learn, sing, quote, and cherish, “O My Father,” by Eliza R. Snow.” So, the hymn did not originate this doctrine since it was merely a distillation of Joseph’s prior teachings. Third, it is not the Lord’s pattern to deliver new revelations to his children through hymns written by miscellaneous persons.

            You cite Moroni as having said “a record was hid in Cumorah.” The problem is that these are not the words of Moroni. They are the words of a song written by an unknown author in the 1835 hymnal. The words of the hymn also say, “A heavenly treasure; a book full of merit: It speaks from the dust by the pow’r of the Spirit;” But it was not the Spirit who called it “a book full of merit.” Again, those are the words of the author of the hymn.

            Theodore, I must side with Brant, Ike and MrNirom on this issue. Words in a hymn do not and cannot make something doctrinal. Hymns are merely reflections of doctrines, beliefs and traditions.

          • Brant,

            Oliver Cowdery is recorded in 1831 by Parley P Pratt as stating:
            “This Book, which contained these things, was hid in the earth by Moroni, in a hill CALLED BY HIM Cumorah, which hill is now in the state of New York, near the village of Palmyra, in Ontario County.”
            This is a direct quote and did not come from someones erroneous tradition.

            W.W. Phelps wrote in 1835, with the Prophet’s sanction:
            “An angel came down from the mansions of glory,
            AND TOLD THAT A RECORD WAS HID IN CUMORAH,”
            This is another quote stating the same thing.

            The mother of Joseph Smith recalls him using the term Cumorah several times before he received the plates.

            Etc. Etc.

            As I understand your assertion, these statements are all attributed to “someone’s” erroneous tradition. But this is all a hopeful supposition on your part because there is no evidence to support it.

            And Brant, your bringing up Mormon 6:6 as evidence that the plates given to Moroni could not have been buried in Cumorah is absurd reasoning. There is nothing in Mormon’s statement that precludes Moroni from years later burring those plates in the same hill that his father hid the other plates.

          • Two things. One, I’m still not disputing that other people used Cumorah for the NY hill. They did. Your evidence shows that. Agreed. What it does not do is tie it to Joseph. You can assert that Joseph must have told them, but that is only an assertion and the evidence from the way Joseph referred to the hill contradicts that hypothesis.

            Two, of course it is possible that Moroni went back to the hill years later and deposited the plates. Notice, however, that we are back to assertions. It isn’t stated in the Book of Mormon. The only textual evidence is that they were not in Cumorah.

            If you really need to continue to make your point, please find direct references to Joseph Smith using Cumorah to identify the NY hill where the textual evidence comes before 1831 and is contemporary rather than an reminiscence that is subject to the intervening tradition.

            You may certainly continue to hold your hypothesis, but you cannot assert that documentary evidence supports it. You have the wrong people saying it at the wrong times.

          • Brant,

            Please allow me to post a closing comment on this issue.

            Almost all of the early saints recorded uses of the word “Cumorah” are in context with Moroni. If anyone made a mistake in the use of the name it could only have been Moroni.

            Your personal requirement that you will not accept anything other than an early first person statement from Joseph is your prerogative, but it is an unrealistic and impossible standard of proof, which does not exist. If it did we would not be having this discussion.

            As for requiring textural proof as to where Moroni buried the plates, how could Moroni have written where he buried them, after he had buried them? Mormon could only comment on what he did with the gold plates, not what his son would later do with them.

          • Let’s all consider this the closing post on this particular topic. Thanks.

  9. “War of Words and Tumult of Opinions”

    The title of the article does describe the nature of the debate over proposed Book of Mormon lands. It drew me into the article. That said, Joseph Smith made the statement with respect to alternative visions of salvation–those of the Presbyterians (Calvinism) and Methodists (Arminianism). Salvation was at stake.

    I don’t think we are going to be asked at the court of the Great Jehovah about our views on where Book of Mormon lands were. I read all claims with interest trying to understand how they interpret various points in the Scriptures. The debate gets bitter at times because, in my opinion, many people have devoted much of their lives to developing and promoting a particular solution.

    I appreciate the article and largely agree with the conclusions. It is too easy to use Joseph Smith to support multiple conclusions, but it doesn’t appear to me at all that Joseph Smith actually knew where they were and had similar interest in trying to locate them as we do.

    I think if the Lord wanted us to know where the lands were, he would have revealed it. Sometimes I wonder if he wants us to put the puzzle together. Sometimes, I wonder if other considerations might be on his mind. One such consideration might be that anything from the history or culture of the Book of Mormon lands pointing to Nephites would be viewed through the lens of the Lamanites and they didn’t have much good to say about the Nephites. So, our Nephite heroes may not come through to us in anything like a positive light.

  10. I am amazed at what these theorist put forth. Prophets or not.. God reveals information when he WANTS man to know more than they do. We should first goto the Book that has the description of what the land looked like.. what kind of plants and animals were there?.. what kind of changes were going to be made in the land?.. and what kind of changes were made in the land? Those who lived in the promised land.. knew east from west.. and north from south. It is simple.. it is not hard.

    Start with those who wrote the the scriptures down. What did they say? It doesn’t matter what anyone else says. If Nephi says he traveled east.. or west.. we certainly don’t need the MesoAmerican theorist giving us a new “Nephite” lesson how how they viewed the points on a compass. East sea, west sea, north sea, south sea. Four seas.. surrounding the land of promise. In Mesoamerica.. the “narrow neck of land” runs east and west.. not north and south.

    The question to ask is quite simple and strictly scripturally based:
    “Where are the four seas in your Mesoamerican model that Helaman tells us existed in the Land of Promise?” (Helaman 3:8)
    And the followup questions, Where is the Sea that Divides the Land, Ether mentioned?” (Ether 10:20).

    MesoAmerica is NOT the Book of Mormon lands!

    Sea.. is not a lake. Sea is a sea.

    Joseph received the translation of the Book of Mormon by the power of God. How did he do that? He put the seer stone into the bottom of a hat.. put his face over the opening of the hat to block out all the light.. and then read the words that appeared on the rock to his scribe.. whomever it would be.. his wife Emma.. Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris.. it didn’t matter. It was Simple. Not hard to understand. Joseph was given the words that were familiar to him.. and anyone else who would read what he wrote at the time he wrote it. Sea means sea.. Not the Great lakes. Grab a 1828 dictionary and look up the words he wrote and see what the definition of those words were at the time.

    1828 Dictionary
    Sea: 2. A large body of water, nearly inclosed by land, as the Baltic or the Mediterranean; as the sea of Azof. Seas are properly branches of the ocean, and upon the same level.

    Large bodies of water inland, and situated above the level of the ocean, are lakes.

    The appellation of sea, given to the Caspian lake, is an exception, and not very correct. So the lake of Galilee is called a sea, from the Greek.

    3. The ocean; as, to go to sea. The fleet is at sea, or on the high seas.

    4. A wave; a billow; a surge. The vessel shipped a sea.

    5. The swell of the ocean in a tempest, or the direction of the waves; as, we head the sea.

    Is there any doubt that the north, south, east and west sea in the Book of Mormon is not a lake? Why are we listening to a bunch of people who are trying to fit square pegs into round holes? The Great Lakes Theory is not the lands where those in the Book of Mormon resided!

    Food for thought..

    And it came to pass
    that in the thirty and seventh year of the reign of the judges,
    there was a large company of men,
    even to the amount of five thousand and four hundred men,
    with their wives and their children,
    departed out of the land of Zarahemla
    into the land which was northward.

    And it came to pass that Hagoth,
    he being an exceedingly curious man,
    therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship,
    on the borders of the land Bountiful,
    by the land Desolation,
    and launched it forth into the west sea,
    by the narrow neck which led into the land northward.

    And behold, there were many of the Nephites
    who did enter therein and did sail forth
    with much provisions,
    and also many women and children;
    and they took their course northward.
    And thus ended the thirty and seventh year.

    And in the thirty and eighth year,
    this man built other ships.
    And the first ship did also return,
    and many more people did enter into it;
    and they also took much provisions,
    and set out again to the land northward.

    Look at MesoAmerica.. what direction would you sail to go northward? West!

  11. @Theodore Brandley Please show me where Moroni ever said he buried the plates in Cumorah. Men write hymns.. not Angels. As I stated.. which you some how missed.. “In fact, in Joseph’s account in the Pearl of Great Price, (which by the way is scripture) he refers to the hill where the plates were buried, but never calls it by any name.” It was named by the people.. not Moroni.. and not Joseph. But even if that is the name that was given the hill.. it does not mean it was the same hill… any more than the towns in Utah like Nephi, Bountiful, & Lehi refer to the towns in the Book of Mormon.

    I asked other questions.. and let me add to that list of questions:

    “Where are the fault lines and mega earthquake activity in the Great Lakes or Heartland area lands of promise of the type that have been estimated at around 9.0 to 11.0 in magnitude that led to a “great quaking of the whole earth” as described by Nephi?” (3 Nephi 8:12).

    This is the problem.. ignore what the Book of Mormon has to say about the land.. dismiss the words in the Book of Mormon.. because those people didn’t know what they were talking about.

    What does Jacob say concerning the land they were on?

    Lets read together.. 2 Nephi 10:20

    And now, my beloved brethren,
    seeing that our merciful God
    has given us so great knowledge concerning these things,
    let us remember him,
    and lay aside our sins,
    and not hang down our heads,
    for we are not cast off;
    nevertheless, we have been driven out of the land of our inheritance;

    but we have been led to a better land,
    for the Lord has made the sea our path,
    AND WE ARE UPON AN ISLE OF THE SEA.

    Ok.. so are you now going to tell me that Jacob does not know what it means to be on an isle of the sea?

    Read the next verse.. 21

    But great are the promises of the Lord
    unto them who are upon the isles of the sea;
    wherefore as it says isles,
    there must needs be more than this,
    and they are inhabited also by our brethren.

    Are we now going to dismiss Jacob and what he had to say?

    Who do I listen to? You and your perception of what Moroni said?.. the theorists?.. or a prophet of God who lived in the land and wrote in the scriptures the description of the land he was on?

  12. I appreciate your commentary on the geography of the Book of Mormon. I agree we need to first look at what the Book of Mormon prophets say about their geography first. I have found a website that I think is true to that statement and provides a very interesting insight into where the Book of Mormon took place. Please take a look at http://www.achoiceland.com and let me know what you think.

    The geographical connections are right on. The Book of Mormon needed to take place on a peninsula and Baja California matches all the elements in the Book of Mormon.

    • My first question regarding a peninsula and Baja California would be.. where are the four seas?

      Second question.. where are mountains “who’s height is great”?

      “And there shall be many mountains laid low, like unto a valley, and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains, whose height is great” (Helaman 14:23)

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