If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome. Anne Bradstreet

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. Ether 12:27

Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season therof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul. And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion. D&C 59:18-20

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Book of Mormon Geography: The Joseph Smith Model

The opinions expressed in these twenty-one items are collectively dubbed the Joseph Smith Model and provide some important general information about the advanced nature of the Jaredite and Nephite cultures as well as some key identifications.

The Jaredite and Nephite advancements

"Ancient Ruins," an editorial in the Times and Seasons, January 1844, tells us that at the time the Book of Mormon was translated, "there was very little known about ruined cities and dilapidated buildings. The general presumption was, that no people possessing more intelligence than [the] present race of Indians had ever inhabited this continent, and the accounts given in the Book of Mormon concerning large cities and civilized people having inhabited this land were disbelieved and ridiculed" (390).

The purpose of several articles and editorials is to disprove this notion. “Good Proof,” appearing in the Evening and Morning Star, June 1833, states that “no people that have lived on this continent, since the flood, understood many of the arts and sciences, better than the Jaredites and Nephites, whose brief history is sketched in the Book of Mormon" (99).

In June 1841, “American Antiquities—More Proofs of the Book of Mormon” appeared in the Times and Seasons, echoing the same sentiments: "We feel great pleasure in laying before our readers the following interesting account of the Antiquities of Central America, which have been discovered by two eminent travelers who have spent considerable labor, to bring to light the remains of ancient buildings, architecture &c., which prove beyond controversy that, on this vast continent once flourished a mighty people, skilled in the arts and sciences, and whose splendor would not be eclipsed by any of the nations of Antiquity—a people once high and exalted in the scale of intelligence, but now like their ancient buildings, fallen into ruins" (440).

The Times and Seasons published an editorial in July 1842 entitled “American Antiquities.” This editorial, certainly assumed to express Joseph Smith’s opinion, since he was editor of record, contained some sage advice to the antiquarians, professional and amateur, attempting to explain the mystery of the ruins found in North America: "If men, in their researches into the history of this country, in noticing the mounds, fortifications, statues, architecture, implements of war, of husbandry, and ornaments of silver, brass, &c.—were to examine the Book of Mormon, their conjectures would be removed, and their opinions altered; uncertainty and doubt would be changed into certainty and facts; and they would find that those things that they are anxiously prying into were matters of history, unfolded in that book. . . . Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormon unfolds their history.—ED" (“American Antiquities,” 860, emphasis added).

These statements regarding the advanced state of both the Jaredite and Nephite cultures are essential in helping us to grasp the extent of their travel, road and bridge systems, communication, commerce, and military maneuvers.

Hill Cumorah in New York State is the location of the final Jaredite and Nephite battles and where Mormon deposited the plates (except for the ones he gave Moroni)

In the first issue of the Messenger and Advocate, (October 1834), Oliver Cowdery, the editor, expressed his intent to publish “a full history of the rise of the church of the Latter Day Saints, and the most interesting parts of its progress, to the present time, [which] would be worthy the perusal of the Saints.” He planned to provide an installment in each of the monthly issues (13). Cowdery assured his audience of the history’s authenticity: "That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. Smith jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensable. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative, well worth the examination and perusal of the Saints" (13).

In a postscript, Cowdery noted that his history “will necessarily embrace the life and character of” Joseph Smith (16). In the third issue, December 1834, Joseph Smith publicly responded to Cowdery’s intent by providing details about his birth and early years (40).

Surely, had Joseph Smith not agreed with any of the elements of Cowdery’s recitations, he would have called for a retraction or correction. This subject was just too important to Joseph to allow him to ignore fallacies or misunderstandings. This was, after all, the first official publication of Church History.

After John Whitmer became editor of the Messenger and Advocate, Cowdery’s installments appeared as letters. Letter VII, July 1835, describes the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Cowdery claims that the hill Cumorah in New York is, in fact, the same hill where the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed (158). Cowdery further declares that the hill Cumorah in New York is the very place where Mormon “deposited” the records of the Nephites, with the exception of those he gave to Moroni. Finally, he says this hill Cumorah is the same hill that was called Ramah by the Jaredites, where the Jaredites fought the last battles of their civil war (158).

In response to Cowdery’s description of hill Cumorah, W. W. Phelps submitted a letter to Cowdery for publication in the Messenger and Advocate, November 1835 issue. Phelps reasserted Cowdery’s three claims: the hill Cumorah in New York is where the Jaredites were destroyed as a nation, where the Nephites were destroyed as a nation, and where Mormon deposited the Nephite records (221).

The credibility of Cowdery’s opinions is greatly enhanced in November 1840, when Don Carlos Smith and Ebeneezer Robinson, editors of the Times and Seasons, decided to reprint his series on the rise of the Church in its entirety. The editors introduced the series with the following statement: "As the greater portion of our readers, are those who have not had the privilege of being conversant with the former publications of this church, we therefore deem it proper to extract some articles from them. We have commenced, in this number a series of letters written by O. Cowdery, in 1834, on the subject of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the rise of the church, and the restoration of the Priesthood; these three subjects excite more curiosity, create more enquiry, and cause more labor to answer, than any others of our faith. Therefore, that all who wish may have the desired intelligence, we shall publish them from the pen of a living witness" (2).

Cowdery’s letter regarding the hill Cumorah appeared, unedited, in the April 15, 1841 issue. Absolutely no correction or retraction from Joseph Smith followed this reprint. Short of canonization, Cowdery’s opinions could not have received greater validation.

The Jaredites colonized most, if not all, of the United States and also parts of Mexico

Several of the articles describe the extent of the Jaredite possessions. “The Book of Ether,” which appeared in the Evening and Morning Star in August 1832, claims the Jaredites occupied the United States (22).

The article “The Far West,” published in the Evening and Morning Star, October 1832, claims the Jaredites inhabited the territory then called the Far West, encompassing the country “from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains” (37). In his letter to the Messenger and Advocate, Phelps also claims that the Jaredites were “one of the greatest nations of this earth,” and her “inhabitants spread from sea to sea, and enjoyed national greatness and glory, nearly fifteen hundred years” (221) An article entitled “Facts Are Stubborn Things,” appearing in the Times and Seasons in September 1842, and under Joseph Smith’s editorship, claimed the Jaredites “covered the whole continent from sea to sea, with towns and cities” (922).

Other articles opined a Jaredite presence in parts of Mexico. In June 1842, the Times and Seasons, under Joseph Smith’s editorship, printed the editorial “Traits of Mosaic History. Found Among the Azteca Nations.” This editorial points out how “the Mexican records agree so well with the words of the book of Ether (found by the people of Limhi, which is contained in the Book of Mormon) in relation to the confounding of languages” and included a lengthy extract from the Book of Ether. The editorial continues by claiming that “the tradition and hieroglyphics of the Zaltees, the Colhuacans, and the Azteca nations, in regard to the confusion of the languages and their travels to this land, is so like that contained in the Book of Mormon, that the striking analogy must be seen by every superficial observer” (820). Finally, the editorial concludes with, “The coincidence is so striking that further comment is unnecessary--ED” (820, emphasis added).

Another article, a letter from Chas. W. Wandell appearing in the Times and Seasons, September 1841, discusses the striking similarities between the “glyphs of Otolum,” a stone city found in Mexico and described by the antiquarian Rafinesque, and the description Professor Anthon gave of the characters Martin Harris brought to him for review and which Joseph Smith had copied from the Gold Plates.

Stretching over a ten-year period, these articles and editorials are not presented as individual claims to a restricted colonization by the Jaredites. Rather, they build upon each other to fully realize the extent of the Jaredite colonization. Collectively, they emphatically reflect the opinion that the Jaredites, during the course of their 1500-year existence, colonized most, if not all, of present day United States and Mexico. Not a single one restricts the Jaredite colonization to only a portion of North America, and not a single article in any of the church publications during Joseph Smith’s lifetime retracts or disputes these claims.

Lehi’s colony landed in South America, a little south of the Isthmus of Darien

Regarding the Nephites, one of the most important opinions expressed describes where Lehi’s colony landed. “Facts Are Stubborn Things,” appearing in the Times and Seasons in September 1842, and under Joseph Smith’s editorship, claims “Lehi went down by the Red Sea to the great Southern Ocean, and crossed over to this land, and landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien, and improved the country, according to the word of the Lord, as a branch of the house of Israel” (922). South of the Isthmus of Darien places the landing site somewhere on the western coast of South America.

This is the only opinion expressed on Lehi’s landing, and it stood without correction or retraction for the remaining 21 months of Joseph’s life.

The land of Zarahemla is located in the former Kingdom of Guatamela

Another significant opinion concerns the location of the land of Zarahemla. The article “Extract. From Stephens’ Incidents of Travel in Central America,” appearing in the September 15, 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons, under Joseph Smith’s editorship, claims the ruins of Palenque, in the state of Chiapas, Mexico are “among the mighty works of the Nephites.” The article further claims that the Nephites “lived about the narrow neck of land, which now embraces Central America, with all the cities that can be found” (914-15).

In Joseph Smith’s day, Central America was the abbreviated name for the United States of Central America. Previously, it was called the Kingdom of Guatemala, which included the province of Chiapas in Mexico, Guatemala, San Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. When the Kingdom of Guatemala declared its independence from Spain in 1823, it converted to a confederacy of five states: Guatemala, San Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Chiapas was invited to join, but never did (Stephens 194-195).

The article “Zarahemla,” makes reference to the Kingdom of Guatemala, and claims that “The city of Zarahemla, burnt at the crucifixion of the Savior, and rebuilt afterwards, stood upon this land” (927). The city of Zarahemla is the capital city of the land of Zarahemla. “Zarahemla” appeared in the Times and Seasons under Joseph Smith’s editorship.

“Zarehemla” further suggests Quirigua as the site of the city of Zarahemla. Quirigua, if not Zarahemla, is at least one of the Nephite ruins. The article concludes that “It will not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens’ ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon” (927), and a subsequent article, “Stephens’ Work on Central America,” claims Stephens’ work “ought to be in the hands of every Latter Day Saint; corroborating, as it does the history of the Book of Mormon. There is no stronger circumstantial evidence of the authenticity of the latter book, can be given, than that contained in Mr. Stephens’ works” (Times and Seasons, October 1843, 346). The sites described in Stephens’ book are all located in the Kingdom of Guatemala. Website with very good map showing Quirigua and Palenque

This is such an important identification because so much of the Book of Mormon’s narration is of events that transpired in the land of Zarahemla.

The Nephites colonized much of the United States, including the Great Plains and the Mississippi Valley

On June 4, 1834, as Joseph Smith made his way from Ohio to Missouri with Zion’s Camp, he wrote a letter to Emma, describing the countryside he had just traversed.

"The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendour and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed." (qtd. in Godfrey, 31).

Calling this countryside the “plains of Nephi,” referring to “picking up their skulls & their bones”—all indicate that Joseph Smith believed the Nephites had extended their civilization to the Mississippi Valley.

This is one of the earliest opinions expressed and one that is repeatedly iterated as archaeological discoveries in the United States gave it the support and proof Joseph Smith’s generation so yearned for.

The article “Evidences in Proof of the Book of Mormon,” appearing in the Times and Seasons in January 1842, and under Joseph Smith’s editorship, claimed the ruins left by the Mound Builders of North America were Nephite ruins. The article contains extensive extracts from a book, by the same name, authored by Charles Thompson. The introduction to Thompson’s book includes liberal praise: “We have laying before us, a neat little work of 256 pages . . . entitled “Evidences in proof of the Book of Mormon” &c. By Charles Thompson, minister of the gospel; published at Batavia, N.Y. We are much pleased with the spirit manifested by the writer, and feel to commend him in his laudable undertaking” (640).

Thompson’s stated thesis is to “introduce the description of some of these ancient fortifications and military works of defence, as recorded in American Antiquities, by Josiah Priest, and also introduce a history of the building of these fortifications and works of defence, as recorded in the Book of Mormon” (640) He compares Priest’s description of the mounds near Newark and Circleville, Ohio, with the fortifications erected under Captain Moroni’s supervision in the Book of Mormon and undoubtedly copied by successive Book of Mormon military leaders, including Mormon. Thompson believes that “the corresponding accounts of fortifications and works of defence” found “in the Book of Mormon and American Antiquities . . . are sufficient to show to the public that the people whose history is contained in the Book of Mormon, are the authors of these works.” (641-42)

The article also includes Thompson’s claim that certain ruins in North America are those built by the Gadianton robbers in the Book of Mormon. He describes the discoveries in 1832 by a Mr. Ferguson and published in the Christian Advocate and Journal. Thompson compares Ferguson’s description of “Lookout Mountain,” which belongs to the “vast Allegheny chain, running between the Tennessee and Coos rivers,” with descriptions of the strongholds and secret places built by the Gadianton robbers in the Book of Mormon (642).

The editorial “A Catacomb of Mummies Found in Kentucky” appeared in the Times and Seasons in May 1842, under Joseph Smith’s editorship. It discusses the finding of a “catacomb, formed in the bowels of the limestone rock, about fifteen feet below the surface of the earth, adjacent to the town of Lexington,” discovered in 1775. Lexington, Kentucky, the article says, “stands nearly on the site of an ancient town, which was of great extent and magnificence, as is amply evidenced by the wide range of its circumvalliatory works, and the quantity of ground it once covered” (781). Mr. Ash, who relates the find, reflects: "How these bodies were embalmed, how long preserved, by what nations, and from what people descended, no opinion can be formed, nor any calculation made, but what must result from speculative fancy and wild conjecture. For my part, I am lost in the deepest ignorance. My reading affords me no knowledge, my travels no light. I have neither read nor known of any of the North American Indians who formed catacombs for their dead, or who were acquainted with the art of preservation or embalming" (782).

The editorial responds to Mr. Ash’s reflections: “Had Mr. Ash in his researches consulted the Book of Mormon his problem would have been solved, and he would have found no difficulty in accounting for the mummies being found in the above mentioned case” (782). The editorial gives a brief description of the emigration of “a number of descendants of Israel coming to this continent; and it is well known that the art of embalming was known among the Hebrews, as well as among the Egyptians, although perhaps not so generally among the former, as among the latter people” (782).

The editorial concludes with the claim, “This art was no doubt transmitted from Jerusalem to this continent, by the before mentioned emigrants, which accounts for the finding of the mummies, and at the same time is another strong evidence of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.—Ed." (782).

Like those describing the extent of the Jaredite occupation, these opinions do not compete against each other as models, but rather complement each other to describe the fullness of the Nephite occupation. And, again, no correction or retraction of any of these opinions ever appeared in any of the church publications during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.


In summary, these 21 articles provide the following six key identifications:
  1. the hill Cumorah in New York state is where the Nephites and Jaredites fought their last battles and where Mormon buried the plates
  2. the Jaredites occupied most if not all of present day United States and Mexico
  3. Lehi landed just south of the Isthmus of Darien
  4. the Land of Zarahemla was located in the former Kingdom of Guatemala
  5. the Maya Ruins in Stephens' Incidents of Travel are primary candidates for cities named in the Book of Mormon
  6. the Nephites spread throughout the United States


1modelcitizen said...

With the recent news of pre-Incan mummies found in Lima, Peru; and the fact that one mummy had blue stones in the eye sockets, I wondered if they were the remains of the "fair and delightsome" people referred to in the BOM. Thank you for sharing your research. With respect and admiration, Brian.
p.s. By way of introduction, here is my blog: www.briankeithanderson.com

Anonymous said...

Hi! I really like your posting. Please visit my blog at www.platesofmormon.wordpress.com . You have expressed my thoughts on this topic very well. I hope we can get together and talk about this some more. Thanks.

Brian Horne said...

The articles in the Times and Season in July, Sept and Oct 1842 that refer to The Ismus of Darien and Zarahemla, and or Central America were neither written nor approved by Joseph Smith. The articles were written by Benjamin Winchester, a member of the first quorum of the 70, and added to the paper by the current editor, William Smith (Joseph's brother), both of which were excommunicated later. Winchester was trying to answer the critics of the Book of Mormon that there was no evidence of these people. Joseph Smith never said or implied that the Nephites landed or lived in Central America. He did comment that the ruins of Guatemala give evidence that the people of the Book of Mormon migrated to Guatemala and those ruins are evidence of a once great people. For a whole book on the subject read The Lost City of Zarahemla by Jonathan Neville.

Marlene Newell said...

Brian Horne, thank you for your comment. Just a couple of thoughts. First, let's not forget that Joseph Smith was very much involved in what went into the official church publications, and so to assume that something that was not in harmony with his thinking on the subject, in my opinion, is a bad mistake. Second, my geography does not agree in detail with the Central America articles -- none of the sites proposed in the Times and Seasons works with the internal geography of the Book of Mormon, so it doesn't make sense to reject my geography because you disagree with those articles. Joseph Smith gave us a very expanded view of the Book of Mormon geography, and in my opinion, internal descriptions are very much in harmony with that view.

Thank you for the invitation to read Neville's book, but I've lost interest in this subject, as you can tell from how long its been since I wrote anything on the subject. I'm satisfied that there isn't sufficient external evidence to prove any one theory over another, and it's quite obvious that the internal evidence isn't sufficient either, so it is a quite useless argument, unless one is trying to make money, which I'm not.