Humboldt spent five years in the New World, from 1799 to 1804. His visit to Mexico began in Acapulco on March 22, 1803, and lasted until he set sail from Veracruz for the United States on March 7, 1804. In the intervening months, Humboldt measured, recorded, observed and wrote about anything and everything, with remarkable industry and accuracy. He climbed mountains, burned his boots on active volcanoes, descended into mines, recorded geographical coordinates, and collected specimens and antiquities. He also drew a large number of maps, drawings and sketches. Humboldt’s Political essay on the kingdom of New Spain was the first systematic scientific description of the New World. It appeared in 1811, and marked the birth of modern geography in Mexico. His figures and ideas were used and quoted by writers for many many years.3
Joseph Smith’s June 15, 1842, article deals specifically with Humboldt’s chapter titled “Hieroglyphical History of the Aztecks, from the Deluge to the Foundation of the City of Mexico” and with plate 32 of Mesoamerican hieroglyphic writings as discussed in Humboldt’s book. Plate 32 is an Aztec painting that presumably tells the story of the flood and other events from the perspective of the Aztecs via Aztec hieroglyphics.
We can assume with a high degree of assurance that Joseph wrote, coauthored, dictated, or, at the very least, approved and accepted the article as his own because of the notation “ED.” at the end of the article. During the entire lifetime of the Times and Seasons, from November 1839 to February 1846, the “chief editor” routinely placed his “signature” (the notations “Ed.” or “ED.”) at the conclusion of any articles for whose content he was responsible. In today’s world, the guidelines for such a practice in an organization are spelled out in the policies and procedures manual of the organization. An examination of all issues of the Times and Seasons will verify the “signature” policies and procedures that chief editors followed for authorship purposes.
Interestingly, an article addressed “To the Saints of God” appears on pages 951–52 of the October 15, 1842, issue of the Times and Seasons. This article is “signed” “-Es.” (or “Editors” plural). This procedure helps verify that “Ed.” was used to designate Joseph Smith as the singular editor who was responsible for all articles “signed” with “Ed.” or “ED” while he functioned as the “chief editor.” Obviously, if others in the editorial office had helped coauthor the June 15, 1842, article that deals with Humboldt’s writings, the plural “-Es.” would have been used to signify that fact.
As pointed out in detail in my article, “‘It Will Not Be a Bad Plan to Compare Mr. Stephens’ Ruined Cities with Those in the Book of Mormon’: Outcomes of Joseph Smith’s Reactions to the Writings of John Lloyd Stephens” (see www.bmaf.org/articles/joseph_smith_john_lloyd_stephens__stoddard) proponents of the Heartland Model for Book of Mormon geography maintain that Joseph Smith was not responsible for the content of any Times and Seasons articles to which the notations “Ed.” or “ED.” are attached. The Heartlanders give two reasons for their stance: (1) Joseph was “in hiding” from the legal authorities when such articles were published in the Times and Seasons and (2) because the first-person plural pronoun “we” appears in articles attributed to Joseph by the “Ed.” and “ED.” notations, personnel at the Times and Seasons other than Joseph Smith are responsible for the articles.
What evidence do we have, other than the perceived policies and procedures of the Times and Seasons, that Joseph Smith actually wrote, coauthored, dictated, or, at the very least, approved and accepted as his own any articles with the notations “Ed.” or “ED.” while he functioned as the chief editor?
At the same time we ask ourselves that question, we could just as well ask another question: What does it matter? That is, three persons in the printing office who were responsible for the Times and Seasons in 1842 were Joseph Smith, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff—one 1842 prophet-president and two future prophet-presidents of the Church. The evidence points to Joseph Smith as the responsible person for the 1842 articles, but the credibility of the articles should not be affected negatively if in the next life we discover that John Taylor or Wilford Woodruff also had something to do with them. All three were prophets of God at the time; and none of them ever challenged the content of the articles or said anything negative about them in subsequent issues of the Times and Seasons or in their personal writings.
A careful examination of Joseph’s journal entries, as found in the History of the Church, and of articles in the Times and Seasons—both associated with his role as editor of the Times and Seasons, reveals the following:
On March 2, 1842, Joseph states in his journal, “I read the proof of the Times and Seasons, as editor for the first time, No. 9, Vol. III.”4 And in the March 15, 1842, issue of the Times and Seasons, Joseph states, “This paper commences my editorial career, I alone stand for it, and shall do for all papers having my signature henceforward.”5 As noted previously, the “signature” of the editor of the Times and Seasons for any article for which he was responsible was the abbreviation “Ed.” or “ED.” at the end of the article. At the end of the June 15, 1842, issue, the following notice, which was routine for all issues published while Joseph was the chief editor, appears: “The Times and Seasons, is edited by Joseph Smith. Printed and published about the first and fifteenth of every month, on the corner of Water and Bain Streets, Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, by Joseph Smith.” That notice, along with Joseph’s “signature” for the article that is given at the end of the article, verifies that Joseph is singularly responsible for the June 15, 1842, article’s content.
Contrary to what the Heartlanders maintain, as verified via Joseph Smith’s journal entries in the History of the Church, if he truly was “in hiding” during the period between March 1, 1842, and August 8, 1842, he was merely avoiding “outsiders” to the Nauvoo community, as he obviously went about his normal activities through that time period. As his journal verifies, throughout this time period, Joseph held and attended meetings of various kinds, transacted numerous business dealings, lectured frequently, spent considerable time at home with his family, worked on his farm, rode many places on horseback, received revelation, wrote many letters, participated in city council activities, recuperated from illness, and so forth. And he of course attended to his duties as editor of the Times and Seasons as shown in such journal entries as the following:6 “Examining copy for the Times and Seasons (March 9); “Transacted a variety of business at the store, printing office, etc.” (May 10); “In the afternoon at the printing office” (May 16); “At eight in the evening, called at the printing office” (May 28); “At the printing office in the morning” (June 4); “Called at the printing office for some papers” (June 12); “Issued an editorial on the Gift of the Holy Ghost” (June 15); “In the afternoon, at the printing office reading the papers” (July 11).
In his journal entry for August 8, 1842, Joseph says, “This forenoon I was arrested by the deputy sheriff . . . as ‘being an accessory before the fact, to an assault with intent to kill made by one Orrin P. Rockwell on Lilburn W. Boggs,’ on the night of the sixth of May, AD 1842.” As a result, from August 11 to August 19, Joseph was “in hiding” so he could avoid capture and extradition to Missouri. However, even then he was in relatively close proximity to Nauvoo, and he had numerous visitors while he hid from his adversaries. In a postscript of an August 14 letter to Wilson Law, he told Wilson, “I want you to communicate all the information to me of all the transactions as they are going on daily, in writing, by the hands of my aides-de-camp.”7 And in his August 29 journal entry, he states, “Near the close of Hyrum’s remarks [in the Grove], I went upon the stand. . . . My sudden appearance on the stand, under the circumstances which surrounded us, caused great animation and cheerfulness in the assembly. Some had supposed that I had gone to Washington, and some that I had gone to Europe, while some thought I was in the city. . . . I had been in Nauvoo all the while, and outwitted Bennett’s associates, and attended to my own business in the city all the time.”8
Thus, although Joseph was at times “in hiding” to the point that he successfully avoided his enemies, he was in close proximity to Nauvoo throughout his tenure as editor of the Times and Seasons. Further, as best as we can tell from examining the outcomes of his endeavors, he functioned very well in fulfilling all his responsibilities, including those associated with his role of editor.
As for the Heartlanders’ contention that the content of Joseph’s Times and Seasons articles cannot be attributed to him because of the plural pronoun “we” in the articles, an examination of all articles with the notations “Ed.” or “ED.” reveals some important outcomes.
A search of all thirty-four hundred onscreen pages in my comprehensive files of the Times and Seasons shows that a total of sixty-two articles or other items bear the “signature” of the editors (“Ed.” or “ED.”). Routinely, whether the editor in question was Ebenezer Robinson, Joseph Smith, or John Taylor, the articles use the first-person plural “we” in fifty—or 81 percent—of the articles.
Thus, we can conclude with certainty that Joseph’s use of the plural “we” in his articles merely followed the conventions of the editorial staff in the printing office where issues of the Times and Seasons were planned and printed. The June 15, 1842, article below, which has the singular “signature” of Joseph Smith, uses the “we technique” when Joseph moves to the second half of the article and talks about the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel. The first “we technique,” “we insert the following,” probably reflects an example of the collaboration of the personnel in finalizing the article for publication.
The second “we technique,” “we have two records found upon this continent,” is just as intriguing. As we think about the Times and Seasons conventions, we will deduce that the use of “we” in such articles is a natural way of bringing readers “on board” to make them active participants in the story being told. Except in very formal writing, all good writers routinely follow that convention for that reason.
But something else is probably involved in these instances in the Times and Seasons. If we were to pretend that we were witnesses to the daily activities in the printing office where issues of the Times and Seasons were planned, written, reviewed, and set in type, we would observe something like the following.
Editors (and other writers) do not commonly write an article in total isolation and then publish it without review by others. In the case of editors, those “others” are commonly members of the editorial staff. With just a little imagination, we can re-create the scenario at the printing office for one of Joseph’s articles. We know him well enough to know that he often asked other colleagues to write something for him or to help him in composing a written presentation. And he often merely dictated his words while someone wrote them down in anticipation of subsequent review.
Initially, however, Joseph and others in the printing office probably discussed the consequences of Humboldt’s comments about the Aztecs. “What do you think is going on here?” must have been a natural question as they explored Humboldt’s thinking. In the process, Joseph must have formulated answers to that question—answers that became the content of the June 15, 1842, article that was eventually prepared. And the article very likely went through further revision iterations before it was deemed ready for publication. In other words, reaching the point of the final version of an article typically was not an overnight process.
By now, your curiosity about the June 15, 1842, article by Joseph Smith has hopefully been stimulated. Before proceeding with an analysis of the article, I give you below two written presentations: (1) a copy of Joseph’s article in the Times and Seasons and (2) related content from Humboldt’s book. I suggest you read both items several times before proceeding past that point, as the nuances of content meaning are not readily discernible.
Joseph Smith’s June 15, 1842, Times and Seasons Article
Here is Joseph Smith’s June 15, 1842, article from the Times and Seasons. The article is copied and pasted from the Times and Seasons files that were prepared by the Community of Christ. I have highlighted appropriate content in the article with italics. Page numbers in brackets refer to material preceding the numbers as shown in the Times and Seasons. Other than slight changes in the formatting of some punctuation marks, the correction of a few typos, the modernization of some spelling errors, and the use of italics for emphasis, the article reads exactly as it appeared originally in the Times and Seasons.
I personally believe that the Prophet Joseph Smith prepared the article that follows and published it in the June 15, 1842, issue of the Times and Seasons as a function of his role as “chief editor.” Each time you read the article, I suggest you pretend that Joseph Smith himself is reading it to you. After all, this is the Prophet talking to us about his perceptions of the relationships between the content of the Book of Mormon and the content of one native American document from Mexico.
Traits of the Mosaic History, Found among the Azteca Nations
The tradition commences with an account of the deluge, as they had preserved it in books made from the buffalo and deer skin, in which account there is more certainty than if it had been preserved by mere oral tradition, handed down from father to son.
They begin by painting, or as we would say by telling us that Noah, whom they call Tezpi, saved himself with his wife, whom they call Xochiquetzal, on a raft or canoe. Is not this the ark? The raft or canoe rested on or at the foot of a mountain, which they call Colhuacan. Is not this Ararat? The men born after this deluge were born dumb. Is not this the confusion of language at Babel? A dove from the top of a tree distributes languages to them in the form of an olive leaf. Is not this the dove of Noah, which returned with that leaf in her mouth, as related in Genesis? They say that on this raft, besides Tezpi and his wife, were several children, and animals, with grain, the preservation of which was of importance to mankind. Is not this in almost exact accordance with what was saved in the ark with Noah, as stated in Genesis?
When the Great Spirit, Tezcatlipoca, ordered the waters to withdraw, Tezpi sent out from his raft a vulture, which never returned, on account of the great quantities of dead carcasses which it found to feed upon. Is not this the raven of Noah, which did not return when it was sent out the second time, for the very reason here assigned by the Mexicans? Tezpi sent other birds one of which was the humming bird; this bird alone returned, holding in its beak a branch covered with leaves. Is not this the dove?—Tezpi, seeing that fresh verdure now clothed the earth, quitted his raft near the mountain of Colhuacan. Is not this an allusion to Ararat of Asia? They say the tongues which the dove gave to mankind, were infinitely varied; which when received, they immediately dispersed.—But among them were 15 heads or chiefs of families, which were permitted to speak the same language, and these were the Taltecs, the Aculhucans and Azteca nations who embodied themselves together, which was very natural, and traveled they knew not where, but at length arrived in the country of Aztalan, of the lake country of America. [page 818]
The plates or engraving presented here is a surprising representation of the deluge of Noah; and of the confusion of the ancient language at the building of the Tower of Babel, as related in the Book of Genesis. (See chap. vii and xi.)
We have derived the subject of this plate from Baron Humboldt’s volume of Researches in Mexico, who found it painted on a manuscript book, made of the leaves of some kind of tree, suitable for the purpose, after the manner of ancient nations of the sultry parts of Asia around the Mediterranean.
The plate, however here presented shows no more than a picture of the flood, with Noah afloat on a raft, or as the traditions of some of the nations say on a tree, a canoe, and some say in a vessel of huge dimensions. It also shows by the group of men approaching the bird, a somewhat obscure history of the confusion of the ancient language at the building of Babel, by representing them as being born dumb, who receive the gift of speech from a dove, which flutters in the branches of the tree, while she presents the languages to the mute throng, by bestowing upon each individual a leaf of the tree, which is shown in the form of small commas suspended from its beak.
Among the different nations, according to Humboldt,9 who inhabited Mexico, were found paintings which represented the deluge, or flood of Tezpi.
The painting of which the plate is the representation, shows Tezpi, or Noah, in the midst of the waters laying on his back. The mountain, the summit of which is crowned by a tree and rises above the waters is the peak of Colhucan, the Ararat of the Mexicans. At the foot of the mountain on each side appear the heads of Noah and his wife. The woman is known by the two points extending up from her forehead, which is the universal designation of the female sex among the Mexicans. The horn at the left hand of the tree with a human hand pointing to it, is the character representing a mountain and the head of a bird placed above the head of Tezpi or Noah, shows the vulture which the Mexicans say Tezpi sent out of his acalli or boat to see if the waters had subsided.
In the figure of the bird with the leaves of a tree in his beak, is shown the circumstance of the dove’s return to the ark, when it had been sent out the second time bringing a branch of the olive in its mouth; but in their tradition it had become misplaced, and is made the author of the languages. That birds have a language was believed by the nations of the old world. Some of those nations retain a surprising traditional account of the deluge; who say that Noah embarked in a spacious acalli or boat, with his wife, his children, several animals, and grain, the preservation of which was of great importance to mankind. When the Great Spirit, Tezcatlipoca, ordered the waters to withdraw, Tezpi or Noah sent out from his boat a vulture. But the bird’s natural food was that of dead carcasses, it did not return on account of the great number of dead carcasses with which the earth now dried in some places abounded.
Tezpi sent out other birds one of which was humming bird; this bird alone returned again to the boat, holding in his beak a branch covered with leaves. Tezpi now knowing that the earth was dry, being clothed with fresh verdure, quitted his bark near the mountain Colhucan or Ararat. A tradition of the same fact, the deluge, is also found among the Indians of the Northwest. I received, says a late traveller, the following account from a Chief of one of the tribes in his own words, in the English. “An old man live great while ago, he very good man, he have three sons. The great spirit tell him go make a raft—build wigwam on top; for he make it rain very much.—When this done, Great spirit say, put into of all the creatures, then take sun moon—all the stars, put them in—get in himself with his Equa (wife) children, shut door, all dark outside.—Then it rain much, hard many days. When they stay there long time—Great Spirit say, old man go out. So he take, living animal; say go see if find the earth; so he went, come back, not find any thing. Then he wait few days—send out mushquash see what he find. When he come back, brought some mud in he paw; old man very glad; he tell mushquash he very good, long this world stand be plenty mush-quash, no man ever kill you all. Then few days more he take very pretty bird send him out see what it find; that bird no come back; so he sent out one white bird that come back, have grass in he mouth. So old know water going down. The great Spirit say, old man, let sun, moon, stars go out, old man too. He go out, raft on much big mountain when he see pretty bird he sent out first, eating dead things—he say, bird you do no right, when me send you out no come back, you must be black, you no pretty bird any more—you always eat bad things. So it was black.”
There are many things contained in the above that go to support the testimony of the Book of Mormon, as well as that of the Mosaic history. The Mexican records agree so well with the word 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, that we insert the following:
BOOK OF ETHER—CHAP. I. Which Jared came forth with his brother and their families, with some others and their families, from the great tower at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, and swear in his wrath that they should be scattered upon all the face of this earth; and according to the word of the Lord the people were scattered. And the brother of Jared being a large and mighty man, and being a man highly favored of the Lord; for Jared his brother said unto him, cry unto the Lord, that he will not confound us that we may not understand our words. And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did cry unto the Lord, and the Lord had compassion upon Jared; therefore he did not confound the language of Jared; and Jared and his brother were not confounded. Then Jared said unto his brother, cry again unto the Lord, and it maybe that he will turn away his anger [page 819] from them who are our friends, that he confound not their language. And it came pass that the brother of Jared did cry unto the Lord and the Lord had compassion upon their friends and their families also, that they were not confounded. And it came to pass that Jared spoke again unto his brother, saying, go and inquire of the Lord whether he will drive us out of the land, and if he will drive us out of the land, cry unto him whither we shall go.—And who knoweth but the Lord will carry us forth into a land which is choice above all the earth. And if it so be, let us be faithful unto the Lord, that we may receive it for our inheritance.
And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did cry unto the Lord according to that which had been spoken by the mouth of Jared. And it came to pass that the Lord did hear the brother of Jared, and had compassion upon him and said unto him, go to and gather together thy flocks, both male and female of every kind; and also of the seed of the earth of every kind, and thy families; and also Jared thy brother and his family; and also thy friends and their families, and the friends of Jared and their families. And when thou hast done this, thou shalt go at the head of them down into the valley that is northward. And there will I meet thee, and I will go before thee into a land which is choice above all the land of the earth. And there will I meet thee, and I will go before thee into a land which is choice above all the earth. And there will I bless thee and thy seed, and raise up unto me of thy seed, and of the seed of thy brother, and they who shall go with thee, a great nation.—And there shall be none greater than the nation which I will raise up unto me of thy seed; upon all the face of the earth. And thus I will do unto thee because this long time ye have cried unto me. [Compare with Ether 1:33–43.]
Here, then, we have two records found upon this continent, that go to support the words of eternal truth—the Bible; and whilst these records, both of them, sanction the testimony of the scriptures in regard to the flood, the tower of Babel, and the confusion of languages; the tradition and hieroglyphics of the Zaltees, the Colhuacans, and the Azteca nations, in regard to the confusion of 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.
In regard to the confusion of languages it is said of the above nations, that there were “fifteen heads, or chiefs of families, that were permitted to speak the same language.” The Book of Mormon, concerning the same event, says: “And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did cry unto the Lord; and the Lord had compassion on Jared, therefore he did not confound the language of Jared”—and it further states that Jared’s brother’s language was not confounded; and they then prayed for their families and friends also, and the Lord heard them in their behalf; and their language was not confounded. These accounts, then, precisely agree, one of which was found in Ontario county, N.Y., and the other in Mexico.
Again, those nations, of families, embodied themselves together and traveled they know not where, but at length arrived in the country of Aztalan, of the lake country of America. The Book of Mormon says, that the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, that he would give them another land; the Lord heard him, and told him to go to a certain place, “and there I will meet thee and go before thee into a land which is choice above all the land of the earth.” This it further speaks is the land of America. The coincidence is so striking that further comment is unnecessary.-ED. [page 820]
Selected Content from Alexander von Humboldt’s 1814 Book
Next is the relevant, associated content from Humboldt’s chapter entitled “Hieroglyphical History of the Aztecks, from the Deluge to the Foundation of the City of Mexico.” As you read this material, you will see the similarities in content as reflected in Joseph Smith’s Times and Seasons article. For interest and discussion purposes, I have italicized selected passages. Page numbers in brackets refer to material preceding the numbers as shown in Humboldt’s chapter.
Humboldt begins by alluding to the hieroglyphic-laden document, which he labels as “plate 32,” that presumably deals with the flood at the time of Noah and the confusion of languages at the time of the Tower of Babel. Notice also the direct connections between Joseph’s article and Humboldt’s chapter. Some of the comments of Humboldt lead me to believe that he probably had access to the writings of Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, whom I cite at the conclusion of this article.
Hieroglyphical History of the Aztecks, from the Deluge
to the Foundation of the City of Mexico
The sketch of the migration of the Aztecks formerly made part of the distinguished collection of Dr. Siguenza, who inherited the hieroglyphic paintings of a noble Indian, Juan de Alba Ixtlilxochitl. This collection, as Abbes Clavigero affirms, was preserved, till 1759, in the college of the Jesuits at Mexico. We are ignorant of its fate after the destruction of the order. I turned over the leaves of the Azteck paintings preserved in the library of the University, without being able to find the original of the drawing represented in the 32d plate; but several old copies exist at Mexico, which certainly were not made from the engraving of Gemelli Carreri. If we compare all that is symbolical and chronological in the painting of the migrations with the hieroglyphics contained in the manuscripts of Rome and Veletri, and in the collections of Mendoza and Gama, no one certainly would give credit to the hypothesis, that the drawing of Gemelli is the fiction of some Spanish monk, who has attempted to prove, by apocryphal documents, that the traditions of the Hebrews are found among the indigenous nations of America. All that we know of the [page 60] history, the worship, the astrology, and the cosmogonical fables of the Mexicans, forms a system, the parts of which are closely connected with each other. The paintings, the bas-reliefs, the ornaments of the idols and of the divine stones . . . all bear the same character, and the same physiognomy. The deluge that begins the history of the Aztecks, and from which Coxcox saved himself in a bark, is indicated with the same circumstances in the drawing, which represents the destructions and regenerations of the world. [page 61] . . .
I am inclined to think, that the picture . . . is a copy made after the conquest, either by a native, or the descendant of a Spaniard and a Mexican. . . .
The following are the principal events indicated in the 32d plate, . . . to which we shall add a few incidents taken from the historical annals of the Mexicans.
The history begins by the Deluge of Coxcox, or the fourth destruction of the world, which, according to the Azteck cosmogony, terminates the fourth of the great cycles, atonatiuh, the age water. [page 63] . . . Of the different nations that inhabit Mexico, paintings representing the deluge of Coxcox are found among the Aztecks, the Miztecks, the Zapotecks, the Tlascaltecks, and the Mechoacanese. The Noah, Xisuthrus, or Menou of these nations, is called Coxcox, Teo-Cipactli, or Tezpi. He saved himself conjointly with his wife, Xochiquetzal, in a bark, or, according to other traditions, on a raft of ahuahuete (cupressus disticha). The painting represents Coxcox in the midst of the water, lying in a bark. The mountain, the summit of which, crowned by a tree, rises above the waters, is the Peak of Colhuacan, the Ararat of the Mexicans. The horn, which is represented on the left, is the phonetic hieroglyphic of Colhuacan. At the foot of the mountain appear the heads of Coxcox and his wife. The latter of these is known by the two tresses in the form of horns, which, as we have often observed, denote the female sex. The men born after the deluge were dumb: a dove, from the top of a tree, distributes among them tongues, represented under the form of small commas. [page 64]
We must not confound this dove with the bird which brings Coxcox tidings, that the waters were dried up. The people of Mechoacan preserved a tradition, according to which Coxcox, whom they called Tezpi, embarked in a spacious acalli with his wife, his children, several animals, and grain, the preservation of which was of importance to mankind. When the great spirit, Tezcatlipoca, ordered the waters to withdraw, Tezpi sent out from his bark a vulture, the zopilote (vultur aura). This bird, which feeds on dead flesh, did not return on account of the great number of carcases, with which the earth, recently dried up, was strewed. Tezpi sent out other birds, one of which, the humming bird alone, returned, holding in its beak a branch covered with leaves; Tezpi, seeing that fresh verdure began to clothe the soil, quitted his bark near the mountain of Colhuacan. [page 65] . . .
The tongues, which the dove distributed to the nations of America, being infinitely varied, these nations disperse, and fifteen heads of families only, who spoke the same tongue, and from whom the Toltecks, the Aztecks, and the Acolhuans descended, unite, and arrive at Aztlan, (the country of the garces or flamingoes). The bird placed on the hieroglyphic of water, atl, denotes Aztlan. The pyramidical monument with steps is a teocalli [a house of God]. I am astonished at finding a palm tree near this teocalli: this plant certainly does not indicate a northern region; nevertheless it is almost certain, that we must look for the first country of the Mexican nations, Aztlan, Huehuetlapallan, and Amaquemecan, at least North of the 42d degree of latitude. Perhaps the Mexican painter, inhabiting the torrid zone, placed a palm-tree near the temple of Aztlan only because he was ignorant, that this tree was a stranger to the northern countries. The fifteen chiefs have the simple hieroglyphics of their names above their heads. [page 66] . . .
The singular idea of recording on a single sheet of small size what in other Mexican paintings often fills pieces of cloth, or skins, ten or twelve metres in length, has rendered this historical abridgment extremely incomplete. It treats of the migration of the Aztecks only, and not of that of the Toltecks, who preceded the Aztecks more than five centuries in the country of Anahuac [Mexico].10 [page 70]
Let’s now test your observational knowledge about what is going on “behind the scenes” of these two accounts. Hopefully, you have read both accounts several times to absorb as much understanding as possible of what is being said by Joseph Smith and Alexander von Humboldt.
“The Country of Aztalan, of the Lake Country of America”
According to the traditions of the Aztecs, the Aztec culture originated in north or northwestern Mexico at a location known as Aztlan, which presumably was located on an island associated with a massive lake system. As explained in more detail below, when the Aztecs left Aztlan, they migrated to the Mexico valley where Mexico City is located today and settled on an island in the massive lake system of the valley.
In his Times and Seasons article, Joseph Smith says: “They say the tongues which the dove gave to mankind, were infinitely varied; which when received, they immediately dispersed.—But among them were 15 heads or chiefs of families, which were permitted to speak the same language, and these were the Taltecs, the Aculhucans and Azteca nations who embodied themselves together, which was very natural, and traveled they knew not where, but at length arrived in the country of Aztalan, of the lake country of America.”
Because I was familiar with the Aztec traditions associated with Aztlan, the culture’s place of origin, when I initially read Joseph Smith’s article, I was convinced that “the country of Aztalan, of the lake country of America” referred to the arrival of the Aztecs at the shores of the massive lake system of the Mexico valley. Some time thereafter, I noticed that Joseph used the spelling of “Aztalan,” whereas the correct spelling in Mexico and in Humboldt’s writings is “Aztlan.” That discrepancy caused me to look further in an attempt to answer the question in my mind, “What’s going on here?”
As we answer that question, the first issue is the location of Aztlan. Even today, Mesoamerican scholars do not know with any degree of certainty where Aztlan was located. After 1814, however, Humboldt’s words caused some people to search for Aztlan in the United States: “It is almost certain, that we must look for the first country of the Mexican nations, Aztlan, Huehuetlapallan, and Amaquemecan, at least North of the 42d degree of latitude.” Other writers through the years, such as George Palmer, listened to Humboldt and made similar conjectures:
At present  we have to trace the Aztec migration after their arrival in America, and we at once pass from mere conjecture to some certainty, as according to Prescott this migration commenced from the country of Aztalan, about AD 778, and continued during a period of four hundred and sixteen years, until they reached the Mexican lake. Whether we shall ever ascertain with certainty where the country of Aztalan was situated in which the Aztecs first settled on arriving in America, is doubtful, but Humboldt places it about the North American lakes, in lat. 42 N. “Atl” signifies “water,” and thus Aztalans, or Aztecas, would mean “people of the lakes.”11
The words of Humboldt, Palmer, and a host of early nineteenth-century writers are indicative of the thinking of writers at the time about the location of Aztlan. “North of 42 degrees north latitude” is a location near the Great Lakes of the United States, which presumably fulfills the Aztec tradition that Aztlan was associated with a large system of lakes.
The Web site of the Milwaukee Public Museum gives a comprehensive overview of Aztalan:
Aztalan was first discovered by Europeans in the fall of 1835 by early Wisconsin Territory settler Timothy Johnson of Watertown. Upon hearing stories of the site, Judge Nathaniel Hyer, a Milwaukee settler visited [it]. His description, the first at length published account of Aztalan appeared in the Milwaukee Advertiser, Volume One, Number 29 on Saturday, February 25th, 1837. In this account Judge Hyer also produced the first rudimentary map of the site. . . .
It was Judge Hyer who first gave Aztalan its name. The name Aztalan comes from the mistaken idea, prevalent in the early nineteenth century, that the site may have been the northern place of origin of the Aztecs of Mexico as mentioned in their legends and oral traditions. Judge Hyer related Aztalan to the Aztecs based on the resemblance he saw between its mounds and the Aztec pyramids; he was heavily influenced by the writings and observations of Prussian naturalist and scientific traveler Baron Alexander Von Humboldt (1769–1859) who wrote about his travels in Mexico. Humboldt stated that the Aztec’s original homeland was to the north and was called Aztlan. Hyer’s early written account of Aztalan was eventually widely published in newspapers, magazines, and journals in the United States, helping to fuel great public interest in the site and its antiquities. This led to a flood of relic hunters at Aztalan who damaged the mounds while digging for artifacts. In addition, this interest led to many questions about who built Aztalan and why. Native Americans of the region at the time of Aztalan’s discovery made no such mound structures. This became a subject of great speculation and mystery which would lead to a series of erroneous observations about the nature of the site of Aztalan itself.12
In writing about the antiquities of Wisconsin, Increase A. Lapham explains the origin of the name Aztalan as follows: “The name Aztalan was given to this place by Mr. Hyer, because, according to Humboldt, the Aztecs, or ancient inhabitants of Mexico, had a tradition that their ancestors came from a country at the north, which they called Aztalan; and the possibility that these may have been remains of their occupancy, suggested the idea of restoring the name. It is made up of two Mexican words, atl, water, and an, near; and the country was probably so named from its proximity to large bodies of water. Hence the natural inference that the country about these great lakes was the ancient residence of the Aztecs.”13
As indicated on the Milwaukee Public Museum Web site, Hyer’s written account of Aztalan was “widely published in newspapers, magazines, and journals in the United States.” Joseph Smith probably read one of the accounts and then subsequently wrote his article, “Traits of the Mosaic History, Found among the Azteca Nations,” for the Times and Seasons.
Confusion about a northern location for Aztlan is not limited to Wisconsin and the Great Lakes region. One far-fetched proposal positions Aztlan in the Lake Powell region of Utah and Arizona: “It has also been proposed that the original site of Aztlan was the area around what is now Lake Powell. Part of the migration legend also describes a stay at Culhuacan (‘leaning hill’ or ‘curved hill’). Proponents of the Lake Powell theory equate this Culhuacan with the ancient home of the Anasazi at Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park."14
Another equally untenable proposal positions Aztlan near the Great Salt Lake in Utah:
Amongst its notable features, Humboldt’s map preserves the tradition that the Aztecs migrated into Mexico from the land of Aztlan, a mysterious place which the Spanish thought was located near the Great Salt Lake in modern day Utah. One of the sources for such a belief is this quote by Fray Alonzo de Posada in 1686 who says in a special report to the Council of the Indies “From the Rio San Juan, which runs west for 70 leagues and is possessed by the Navajo nation, the trail passes into the land of the Yutahs, a warlike nation. Crossing this nation for 60 leagues in the same northwest direction one comes to some hills, and travelling through that country for another 50 leagues, more or less, one arrives at the great lake in the land Indians of the north call Teguayo. The Mexicans call the lake Copalla, according to their ancient traditions the place where all Indians, even those of Mexico, Guatemala and Peru originated.”15
In summary to this point, according to their legends, the Aztec culture originally lived north or northwest of their eventual homeland, Tenochtitlan, which was located on an island in the massive lake system of the Mexico valley where Mexico City is located today. Probably because the traditions associated Aztlan with an extensive system of lakes, Alexander von Humboldt positioned the Aztecs’ original homeland near the Great Lakes region of the United States. Influenced by Humboldt’s thinking, Nathaniel Hyer published in 1837 in the Milwaukee Advertiser a description of a possible site for Aztlan in Wisconsin and named the site with the misspelled name of Aztalan, by which it is still known today. “The occupants of the site, known archaeologically as Middle Mississippian peoples, may have migrated there just prior to 1100 AD. There might have been direct migration from the largest known Mississippian city state in North America called Cahokia, near East St. Louis, Illinois or possibly from some other site within the Cahokia social sphere. Regardless, archaeologists have traced Aztalan to Cahokia through the thousands of prehistoric cultural remains excavated from the site.”16
Other writers of the period wrote about Aztalan, and Joseph Smith evidently read one or more of the published articles in connection with Humboldt’s account about Aztlan. Joseph’s reactions to what was written about Wisconsin’s Aztalan in conjunction with his reactions to Humboldt’s interpretation of an Aztec hieroglyphic document about the origins of the Aztecs resulted in Joseph’s Times and Seasons article, “Traits of the Mosaic History, Found among the Azteca Nations.”
Observations about Joseph Smith’s June 15, 1842, Article
As the second decade of the twenty-first century gets underway, readers and scholars of the Book of Mormon are involved in discussions and disputes about Joseph Smith’s knowledge—or lack of knowledge—of the New World geography of the Book of Mormon. One group, whom I have labeled as proponents of the Heartland Model, advocates that all New World events of the Book of Mormon took place in the continental United States from the Great Lakes on the north to the Gulf of Mexico on the south. Most Latter-day Saint scholars, on the other hand, advocate that all New World events of the Book of Mormon took place in the geographic territory of Mesoamerica; hence, I have labeled this group the Mesoamerica Model.
Proponents of the Heartland Model teach that “Joseph knew” the details of the geography of the Book of Mormon. From my perspective in interpreting the writings of the Heartlanders, Joseph knew “early on” based on historical events of the Church of Jesus Christ associated with the march of Zion’s Camp, missionary efforts among the Lamanites of the continental United States, and the content of revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants. The Heartlanders’ writings seem to reflect the mentality of “Once a prophet, always a prophet.” That is, Joseph Smith is undoubtedly a prophet. As such, he must have had sure knowledge about the New World territory of the book that he translated by the gift and power of God. In fact, the angel Moroni must have taught Joseph about the New World geography of the Book of Mormon. And he must have received revelations about the geography—such as occurred at the uncovering of the Zelph skeleton during the Zion’s Camp march.
On the other hand, many proponents of the Mesoamerica Model, in examining all the evidence, are not convinced that Joseph knew from the beginning the specifics of the New World geography of the Book of Mormon. When Joseph read John Lloyd Stephens’s book about Mesoamerica, Joseph seemed to change his opinions about Book of Mormon geography—as evidenced by what are apparently Joseph’s writings in the Church’s newspaper of the time, the Times and Seasons. If indeed Joseph wrote the articles in the Times and Seasons, then the events of the Book of Mormon must have taken place in Mesoamerica rather than in the continental United States. Further, that Joseph Smith changed his mind about the location of Book of Mormon lands and events does not impact in any way the fact that he is a prophet. In the beginning, he simply was not concerned about the precise territory where the New World events of the Book of Mormon occurred. To him, the Book of Mormon dealt with all the territory in the Americas—North, Central, and South America. From his perspective, all that territory constituted the continent of America.
Sandwiched among Joseph Smith’s Times and Seasons articles about Stephens and Mesoamerica is Joseph’s June 15, 1842, article, “Traits of the Mosaic History, Found among the Azteca Nations.” What can we conclude about the Book of Mormon geographic controversies as a result of a careful analysis of Joseph’s article and the circumstances surrounding it?
Following are several observations that seem legitimate and relevant. They relate directly to the article by Joseph Smith and the chapter by Alexander von Humboldt.
1. Joseph did not have the benefit of the findings of radiocarbon dating when he associated the Middle Mississippian people at Aztalan, Wisconsin, with the Book of Mormon. Based on radiocarbon dating, they are post–Book of Mormon by several hundred years—as are the Aztecs as a culture of Mesoamerica.
2. In a similar vein, Humboldt had no knowledge of the eventual radiocarbon dating of the cultures in the United States north of 42 degrees north latitude as well as the dating of cultures in Mesoamerica. If he had had this knowledge, he would not have made the unintended but nevertheless foolish error of identifying the territory near the Great Lakes as Aztlan—the place of origin of the Aztec culture.
3. Humboldt unleashed a series of illogical, invalid attempts to identify the location of Aztlan when he stated that Aztlan must be situated north of 42 degrees north latitude. That positioning places Aztlan near the Great Lakes of the United States with its attendant cold-weather climate for much of the year. In trying to interpret the Aztec hieroglyphic writing, he should have realized his error via his own analysis: “I am astonished at finding a palm tree near this teocalli: this plant certainly does not indicate a northern region. . . . Perhaps the Mexican painter, inhabiting the torrid zone, placed a palm-tree near the temple of Aztlan only because he was ignorant, that this tree was a stranger to the northern countries.” If Humboldt were sitting across the table from us today after making such a statement, we might be tempted to say something like, “Well, duh, Baron, can’t you see plainly that Aztlan is located in a temperate climate—as that palm tree signifies—rather than in the frigid winter environment north of the 42nd north latitude?”
4. At one point in his article, Joseph says, “Here, then, we have two records found upon this continent, that go to support the words of eternal truth.” Later, he says, “These accounts, then, precisely agree, one of which was found in Ontario county, N.Y., and the other in Mexico.” He of course is talking about the Book of Mormon that came from the hill we now call the Hill Cumorah of upstate New York and the Aztec document about which Humboldt wrote. Joseph then points out that the Aztec document “is so like that contained in the Book of Mormon, that the striking analogy must be seen by every superficial observer.” The simplicity of that language is such that Book of Mormon readers and scholars should easily recognize and admit that “something is going on in Mesoamerica in connection with the Book of Mormon.”
5. Humboldt’s account about the location of Aztlan reads like a fairy tale compared with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Mexican historians’ and modern archaeologists’ accounts about the origins of the Aztecs. Clearly, Aztlan was located somewhere in Mexico north or northwest of the Mexico valley—not in the United States north of the 42nd north latitude. From a hindsight perspective, we can legitimately challenge Humboldt’s credentials as a reputable historian because he made such an illogical, egregious error as to position Aztlan in the United States merely because Aztlan’s origins required close proximity to a massive lake system.
6. The 1842 Times and Seasons articles by Joseph Smith verify that he was not intimately familiar with the New World geography of the Book of Mormon. At the very least, the articles confirm that Joseph had not internalized the Book of Mormon’s dating requirements for its peoples compared with the dating requirements for the various native cultures of the New World, especially the cultures living in the eastern United States. In this respect, we must realize again that Joseph did not have the benefit of radiocarbon dating that would have negated, in 1842, any thoughts that the Aztalan site in Wisconsin originated as part of the Jaredite culture of the Book of Mormon. In fact, no culture in all of the Americas was dated with dates that coincided with the Jaredites until the 1940s when archaeologists announced that the Olmec civilization was the “mother culture” of Mesoamerica—and hence of all the Americas. (See my article, “The Book of Mormon’s ‘Mother Culture’ of the Americas,” www.bmaf.org/articles/mother_culture_new_world__stoddard.)
7. We must be judiciously careful when trying to interpret what Joseph Smith meant when he used the terms “America” and “continent” in his writings. Inevitably, his choice of words in his writings supports the definitions of “America” and “continent” as found in Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, American Dictionary of the English Language. At issue here is what the words “America” and “continent” meant in nineteenth-century America at the time of Joseph Smith.
First, Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “America” as follows: “One of the great continents, first discovered by Sebastian Cabot, June 11, O.S. 1498, and by Columbus, or Christoval Colon, Aug. 1, the same year. It extends from the eightieth degree of North, to the fifty-fourth degree of South Latitude; and from the thirty-fifth to the one hundred and fifty-sixth degree of Longitude West from Greenwich, being about nine thousand miles in length. Its breadth at Darien [Panama] is narrowed to about forty-five miles, but at the northern extremity is nearly four thousand miles. From Darien to the North, the continent is called North America, and to the South, it is called South America.”17 Thus, to Joseph Smith, “America” consisted of one continent, referenced by the singular pronoun it. That continent, in today’s jargon, was indeed “hemispheric” because “it” included all the territory north and south of the Isthmus of Darien (Panama).
Second, Webster defines “continent” as follows: “In geography a great extent of land, not disjoined or interrupted by a sea; a connected tract of land of great extent; as the Eastern and Western continent. It differs from an isle only in extent.”18 Thus, Webster again consistently uses hemispheric language in using “Western continent” in the singular to refer to all the territory commonly referred to today as North America, Central America, and South America.
For example, in his June 15, 1842, article, Joseph says: “The Book of Mormon says, that the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, that he would give them another land; the Lord heard him, and told him to go to a certain place, ‘and there I will meet thee and go before thee into a land which is choice above all the land of the earth.’ This it further speaks is the land of America. The coincidence is so striking that further comment is unnecessary.” To interpret Joseph as meaning the United States of America exclusively with “land of America” is invalid because “America” to nineteenth-century writers of Joseph Smith’s period interpreted “America” as meaning all the territory of North, Central, and South America.
Clearly, proponents of the Heartland Model are confused when they interpret “America” and “continent” to mean territory that is found exclusively in the continental United States.
8. The words used by personnel at the Milwaukee Public Library Web site give guidance today for anyone trying to associate Aztlan of the Aztecs with the Mississippian culture in northern Wisconsin that was given the Aztalan name: “It was Judge Hyer who first gave Aztalan its name. The name Aztalan comes from the mistaken idea, prevalent in the early nineteenth century, that the site may have been the northern place of origin of the Aztecs of Mexico as mentioned in their legends and oral traditions.” That is, no credibility whatsoever can be attached to the nineteenth-century hypothesis that Aztalan is indeed the site of the Aztecs’ northern origins called Aztlan. For example, if proponents of the Heartland Model were to use Joseph Smith’s Times and Seasons June 15, 1842, article in support of their contention that Book of Mormon peoples originated in the eastern United States, they would do so from a perspective of fraud and deception as a way of promoting their model for Book of Mormon geography. The language of “mistaken idea” is a mild way of saying what other investigators of the twenty-first century say about Humboldt’s proposal that Aztlan of the Aztecs must be located north of the 42nd degree north latitude.
9. Joseph Smith seems to be “equating apples with oranges” when he uses the eleventh-century story of the origin of the Aztecs as proof of the validity of the travels of the Jaredites from the Tower of Babel to the New World. As noted previously, today’s New World scholars generally agree that the “mother culture” of the New World is the Olmecs, who dovetail nicely in most respects with the Jaredite culture of the Book of Mormon. The Aztecs are separated from the Olmecs by hundreds of years, and the Aztecs’ migration from Aztlan to the Mexico valley is in no way related to the migration of the Olmecs to the New World—except that both cultures are associated exclusively with Mesoamerica.
10. Joseph Smith’s June 15, 1842, article suggests, frankly, that he was confused about the specific territory where the New World events of the Book of Mormon occurred. That is, at the time of the Zion’s Camp march, his statements are sometimes interpreted to mean that he thought the New World events of the Book of Mormon took place in the eastern United States. However, in his 1842 editorials in the Times and Seasons, he clearly states that the events of the Book of Mormon took place in territory that today is known as Mesoamerica. Contiguous to the time when he wrote his editorials, he wrote the June 15, 1842, article, which might be interpreted—at least sort of—as a contradiction in some respects of the content of other Times and Seasons articles for which he was responsible. That is, in the June 15 article, (a) he illogically associates the Aztecs of Mexico with the Jaredites of the Book of Mormon and (b) he illogically begins the Jaredite civilization at the Aztalan site in Wisconsin. Through all of these incidents, he seems to be reaching out for physical evidence of the Book of Mormon’s truthfulness wherever such evidence pops up—the Zelph incident and the “plains of the Nephites,” the erroneous Aztalan-Aztec hypothesis in Wisconsin, Amerindian folklore accounts of the origins of native cultures in the United States, and the accounts of John Lloyd Stephens’s travels in Mesoamerica. Clearly, he never received a revelation about the specifics of the New World geography of the Book of Mormon.
Thus, the perverted Aztlan theory about the origins of the Aztecs in Aztalan, Wisconsin, apparently influenced Joseph Smith to position the New World origins of the Jaredites in the continental United States. In 1842, however, he apparently did not have the sure knowledge that nowhere in the continental United States can evidence be found of a culture equivalent in dates and magnitude to that required of the Jaredites. Further, Joseph appears to confuse the migration of the Aztecs with what he postulates as the migration of the Jaredites. Clearly, he was confused and had not thought through the consequences of that confusion.
11. In his book, Humboldt said that “we must look for the first country of the Mexican nations . . . at least North of the 42d degree of latitude.” That location, of course, would place the “first country of the Mexican nations” in the continental United States near the Great Lakes. We do not know whether Joseph Smith believed that proposition before reading Humboldt or whether Humboldt influenced Joseph in that direction. Clearly, both Humboldt and Joseph were unaware of traditions of Mesoamerican peoples that place the origins of Mesoamerica’s cultures in Mesoamerica rather than in the United States. In that respect, see the comments that follow about Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, the Spanish-Mexican historian who apparently used original Mesoamerican documents in writing about the origins of the first settlers of Mesoamerica.
In writing the final comments of his June 15, 1842, article, Joseph Smith said, “Here, then, we have two records found upon this continent, that go to support the words of eternal truth [in] the Bible. . . . These accounts . . . precisely agree, one of which was found in Ontario county, N.Y., and the other in Mexico.” Joseph is referring to the Book of Mormon and to the Aztec hieroglyphic painting that Humboldt labels “plate 32.”
About AD 1600, a native-born historical scholar of Mexico named Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl (1578–1650) wrote the following: “Of a truth I have the ancient histories in my hand, and I know the language of the natives, because I was raised with them, and I know all the old men and the principals of this land. . . . It has cost me hard study and work, always seeking the truth on everything I have written.”19
Ixtlilxochitl was born of both Spanish and Mexican royalty and grew up near Mexico City. As a native historian, he wrote his works during the latter part of the sixteenth and the early part of the seventeenth centuries. He affirms that his source material consisted of the native painted records of the Mexicans. He probably had access to a copy of the same hieroglyphic painting that Humboldt referred to as plate 32 and that Joseph Smith related to in writing his June 15, 1842, article in the Times and Seasons. When Humboldt said, “I am inclined to think, that the picture . . . is a copy made after the conquest, either by a native, or the descendant of a Spaniard and a Mexican,” he very likely was referring to Ixtlilxochitl via the “descendant of a Spaniard and a Mexican” comment.
Among Ixtlilxochitl’s writings are the following words, translated from Spanish to English by Joseph L. Allen. The material comes from an account written by Ixtlilxochitl in attempting to explain the origins of the original settlers of Mexico:
The records indicate that the world was created in the year Ce Tecpatl, and the period of time from the creation to the flood is called Atonatiuh, which means the age of the sun of water because the world was destroyed by the flood. And it is recorded in the Tulteca history that this period or first world, as they called it, lasted for 1,716 years, after which time great lightning and storms from the heavens destroyed mankind, and everything in the earth was covered by water including the highest mountain called Caxtolmolictli, which is 15 cubits high.
To this they recorded other events, such as how, after the flood, a few people who had escaped the destruction inside a Toptlipetlacalli, which interpreted means an enclosed ark, began again to multiply upon the earth.
After the earth began again to be populated, they built a Zacualli very high and strong, which means the very high tower, to protect themselves against a second destruction of the world.
As time elapsed, their language became confounded, such that they did not understand one another; and they were scattered to all parts of the world.
The Tultecas, consisting of seven men and their wives, were able to understand one another, and they came to this land, having first crossed many lands and waters, living in caves and passing through great tribulations. Upon their arrival here, they discovered that it was a very good and fertile land.20
Without question, the “very good and fertile land” that Ixtlilxochitl referred to as “this land” is the territory of Mesoamerica as we call it today. Working with native-Mesoamerican documents, such as those of Ixtlilxochitl and others, most Book of Mormon scholars of today state that the Jaredites, Lehites, and Mulekites of the Book of Mormon landed on the shores of Mesoamerica—not the shores of the United States—and then eventually spread northward and southward from their original landing sites.21
If the geography of the Book of Mormon had caused the contentious issues during Joseph Smith’s lifetime that it fosters today, he perhaps would have sought a revelation to resolve the issues. When we look at the evidence that has accumulated as of the twenty-first century, such as Joseph’s June 15, 1842, article about the Aztecs and Jaredites, we can confidently state that Joseph apparently neither received a revelation about the specifics of Book of Mormon geography nor even sought such a revelation.
Likewise, as readers and scholars of the Book of Mormon, we should neither plead for a revelation about the specifics of Book of Mormon geography nor expect one to be given to the President of the Church of Jesus Christ. However, aided by the phenomenal research capabilities of the information age, we should take comfort today in knowing that we are able to search for answers to geographic issues via processes that almost approach revelation itself in their scope and outcomes. As one example in support of that statement, within the lifetimes of most senior-citizen members of the Church, archaeologists have discovered the Olmec civilization that correlates very precisely with the Jaredite civilization of the Book of Mormon. As another example, within the lifetimes of a majority of members of the Church today, epigraphers can now read about 90 percent of the Mesoamerican Maya glyphs, resulting in additional correlations of the Maya kings and of Mesoamerican warfare with Book of Mormon accounts of New World kings and warfare in the land southward of the Book of Mormon.
In the final analysis, the Book of Mormon is, indeed, a real account about real people who lived somewhere in the New World. As of the outset of the second decade of the twenty-first century, a mountain of evidence is accumulating in support of Mesoamerica as the territory of that “somewhere.” From the perspective of correctly interpreted Aztec traditions, the “country of Aztlan” is located in Mexico somewhere north or northwest of the Mexico valley—not in the Great Lakes region of the United States. And from the Aztec perspective, the original Aztlan “lake country of America” is still undiscovered. Further, the “lake country of America” to which the Aztecs migrated from Aztlan is the massive lake system of the Mexico valley that became the final homeland of the Aztec culture.
This article pointedly and purposely hints at the importance of geography in our studies of the Book of Mormon. Personally, as one aspect of my Book of Mormon studies, I try to resolve geographical issues when I am exposed to them because I think Mormon and Moroni expect that outcome from readers of the book. Without question, the more we know about the geography of the Book of Mormon, the more we know about the Book of Mormon. As a “sample of one,” I certainly do not intend to meet Mormon and Moroni in the next life and try to explain to them that the geography of the Book of Mormon is not important and that they were misguided when they included geographic pointers in about a fourth of the verses of the book.
Having made those bold statements, I again point out that we have the means at our disposal as participants in the information age to resolve—for the first time in many instances—issues associated with the geography, archaeology, history, and culture of Book of Mormon peoples. In that respect, I am convinced that Joseph Smith did not know the specifics of Book of Mormon geography prior to his martyrdom, and the evidence of this article supports that statement. That evidence in no way makes him less of a prophet than I believe he is, and I look forward to visiting with him in the next life so we can discourse about the conclusions I’ve drawn from attempting to understand his June 15, 1842, Times and Seasons article about the Aztecs and Jaredites.
1. Joseph Smith, “Traits of the Mosaic History, Found among the Aztaeca Nations,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 16, June 15, 1842, 818–20.
2. Alexander von Humboldt, Researches, Concerning the Institutions and Monuments of the Ancient Inhabitants of America: with Descriptions and Views of Some of the Most Striking Scenes in the Cordilleras, trans. Helen Maria Williams (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown, J. Murray & H. Colburn, 1814), http://books.google.com/books?id=qttS5c_70XIC&pg =PA71&output=text#c_top (accessed December 10, 2010).
3. “A Tribute to Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), the Father of Modern Geography in Mexico,” http://geo-mexico.com/?p=821 (accessed December 10, 2010).
4. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1980), 4:542.
5. Joseph Smith, “To Subscribers,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 9, March 1, 1842, 710; emphasis added.
6. See Smith, History of the Church, vols. 4 and 5 for the dates indicated.
7. Smith, History of the Church, 5:94–95, August 14, 1842.
8. Smith, History of the Church, 5:137, August 29, 1842; emphasis added.
9. Joseph probably is referring to one of the volumes in the eight-volume set of Alexander Humboldt, Researches, Concerning the Institutions and Monuments of the Ancient Inhabitants of America, with Descriptions and Views of Some of the Most Striking Scenes in the Cordilleras! (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, 1814). Helen Maria Williams translated these volumes of Humboldt into English.
10. Humboldt, Researches, Concerning the Institutions and Monuments of the Ancient Inhabitants of America, 60–71.
11.George Palmer, The Migration from Shinar or, the Earliest Links between the Old and New Continents (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1879), 130.
12. “The Discovery and Excavation of Aztalan,” http://www.mpm.edu/collections/artifacts/ anthropology/aztalan/history/ (accessed December 13, 2010); emphasis added.
13. See http://genealogytrails.com/wis/jefferson/Aztalan.html (accessed December 9, 3010), emphasis added; originally found in Increase A. Lapham, The Antiquities of Wisconsin, As Surveyed and Described, reprint of 1855 original (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001).
14. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztl%C3%A1n (accessed December 10, 2010).
15. “Aztlan and the Origin of the Aztecs,” http://www.unexplainable.net/artman/publish/article_2369.shtml (accessed December 10, 2010).
16. See “Aztalan Collection,” http://www.mpm.edu/collections/artifacts/anthropology/aztalan/ (accessed December 13, 2010).
17. Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. “America”; emphasis added.
18. Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “continent.”
19. Joseph Lovell Allen and Blake Joseph Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon (Orem, UT: Book of Mormon Tours and Research Institute, 2008), 263.
20. Allen and Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 267–68.
21. See Allen and Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, for complete documentation of these landing sites in Mesoamerica.