Joseph Smith’s Responses to John Lloyd Stephens’s Writings about Mesoamerica
Joseph Smith’s Responses to John Lloyd Stephens’s
Writings about Mesoamerica
In 1841, John Lloyd Stephens published Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan—a two-volume set that soon found its way into the library of Joseph Smith. Joseph was apparently intrigued by the writings of Stephens. Several articles about Stephens’s writings were printed in the newspaper of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Times and Seasons, previous to, during, and after the time when Joseph was the chief editor. Because Joseph either wrote these articles, participated with others in writing them, dictated them, or, at the very least, knew of and approved their content, they have far-reaching consequences in helping Book of Mormon readers in their search for the geographic location of the New World events of the Book of Mormon. They also have a great deal to say in support of the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
The year 1805 witnessed the birth of two men whose paths would inadvertently cross about thirty-six years later. John Lloyd Stephens was born in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, on November 28, 1805. About a month later, Joseph Smith Jr. was born in Sharon, Vermont, on December 23, 1805. John Lloyd Stephens became an explorer, writer, and diplomat and was a pivotal figure in the rediscovery of the Maya civilization in Mesoamerica. Joseph Smith, according to the testimonies of millions of his followers, became a prophet of God after translating the Book of Mormon.
Question: Did John Lloyd Stephens and Joseph Smith know each other personally?
Answer: Not as far as can be determined.
Question: Were the two aware of each other, and did they talk or write about each other during their sojourns on earth?
Question: What did they say about each other?
Answer: Continue reading for an answer to that question. For now, the point merely is made that John Lloyd Stephens authored a unique and significant book that supports the historicity of the Book of Mormon. His book, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, was published eleven years after the 1830 publication of the Book of Mormon. Had his book appeared in print before Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon, anti–Book of Mormon critics would have had a field day in postulating that Joseph Smith relied heavily on John Lloyd Stephens for much of the scheme, content, and geography of the Book of Mormon. As things have turned out, however, Stephens’s writings go a long way in supporting Joseph Smith’s declaration that he translated, rather than authored, the Book of Mormon. Put another way, the writings of John Lloyd Stephens about Mesoamerica contribute positively and significantly to the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
Production costs for publishing Stephens’s 1841 account about the archaeological ruins in Mesoamerica were so low that middle-class Americans could easily afford to purchase a copy of the two-volume set. “For the first time since Spain’s expulsion from the region, accurate information concerning Mexico’s pre–Columbian past was available to Americans in a readable and inexpensive format.” Thus, accurate information about Mesoamerican archaeology was essentially unknown by the general population in 1830 at the time of the publication of the Book of Mormon. That is, “By the time of Stephens and Catherwood’s first trip to Central America in 1839, . . . the subject of Mesoamerican archaeology effectively remained . . . ‘a sealed book’ to the United States’ reading public.”
|John Lloyd Stephens (1805–1852)||Joseph Smith Jr. (1805–1844)|
Proposals for the New World Geography of the Book of Mormon
As of the early part of the twenty-first century, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not taken an “official” stance about the territory involved in the geographic location of the New World events of the Book of Mormon. That attitude has fostered a dynamic environment in which many models for New World Book of Mormon geography have been proposed. For example, relatively recent models have been proposed for Peru, Panama, Mesoamerica, Baja California, the New York-Great Lakes region, and even the Malay Peninsula.
This article deals specifically with only two of the models. The first is the model whose adherents state 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; this model will be called the “Heartland Model.” The second will be called the “Mesoamerica Model” for purposes of this article because most of its adherents believe that all New World events of the Book of Mormon took place in the geographic territory known as Mesoamerica (in general, Mexico City to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, all of eastern and southern Mexico from that point, the countries of Belize and Guatemala, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador).
Obviously, all models cannot be correct. At the same time, from a scholarly perspective, perhaps all models are incorrect. But from the perspective of the early part of the twenty-first century, the Heartland Model and the Mesoamerica Model are the two most widely “cussed and discussed” by Book of Mormon analysts.
Proponents of both models are critically aware of John Lloyd Stephens’s two-volume book because of several articles about it that were printed in the Times and Seasons, the Church’s official newspaper that was published in Nauvoo, Illinois, between the dates of November 1839–February 1846. During that time, the editorship of the Times and Seasons changed hands on several occasions. The first issue of the Times and Seasons that was edited by Joseph Smith was the March 1, 1842, issue in volume three, and he continued in the role of editor throughout the rest of volume three until October 15, 1842.
Mesoamerica Model adherents are positive in their thinking about the Times and Seasons articles associated with John Lloyd Stephens because the articles support Mesoamerica as the location for New World events of the Book of Mormon.
On the other hand, adherents of the Heartland Model are negative in their thinking about the Times and Seasons articles because the articles’ contents—if written by, coauthored, dictated by, or knew of and approved by Joseph Smith—negate the validity of the proponents’ contention that all New World events of the Book of Mormon took place within the continental United States. Simplistically, proponents of the Heartland Model argue that Joseph Smith could not have been responsible for the Times and Seasons articles associated with John Lloyd Stephens because Joseph was in hiding when the articles were written or because the plural pronoun “we” in the articles proves that Times and Seasons editors other than Joseph Smith wrote the articles.
If Joseph Smith wrote, coauthored, dictated, or, at the very least, knew of and approved the Times and Seasons articles, the Mesoamerica Model garners a huge vote of confidence as a valid model for the location of the New World events of the Book of Mormon. And if the Book of Mormon is, indeed, historical, the Times and Seasons articles support its historicity in unique ways that few other nineteenth-century sources can claim.
Interestingly, John Lloyd Stephens has surfaced again in the twenty-first century in connection with Book of Mormon geography and historicity.
John Lloyd Stephens’s Introduction to Mesoamerica
Among the “accomplishments” of John Lloyd Stephens are the following:
- He was an avid explorer and writer who opened new vistas to his readers as he wrote about his worldwide travels in such geographic locations as Egypt, Arabia, Palestine, Greece, Turkey, Russia, Poland, Honduras, Guatemala, Chiapas, and Yucatan.
- He made the nineteenth-century world aware of the mysterious Maya ruins of Copan, Palenque, Uxmal, and Chichen Itza in Mesoamerica and of the people who built them. In the words of Michael Coe, Stephens’s investigations represented “a quantum jump from anything that had been heretofore published on the antiquities of the New World.”
- John Lloyd Stephens is, in fact, given the distinction of “rediscovering” the lost world of the Maya in Mesoamerica.
- By some scholars, Stephens is viewed as the “father of American archaeology” because of his explorations and quasi-archaeological undertakings in Mesoamerica.
- Without setting out to do so, he changed the perspective of some early members of the Church of Jesus Christ about the potential location of the New World lands of the Book of Mormon.
- He opened the door for today’s members of the Church to step through and understand Joseph Smith’s comments and impressions about lands and peoples of the Book of Mormon about a dozen years after the Book of Mormon was first published.
- Stephens unwittingly supported the veracity of the Book of Mormon by disputing the contradictions inherent in the nineteenth-century term “Indian civilization” and thereby proving that some “Indians” of the Americas had lived in domiciles other than teepees covered with buffalo hides.
- Through his fellow traveler, Frederick Catherwood, an English artist and architect, Stephens has shared marvelous illustrations and artwork about the ancient Maya people of Mesoamerica—public-domain artwork that is still highly respected and admired in the twenty-first century.
To his detriment, Stephens manifested a warped version of the United States’ doctrine of Manifest Destiny when he seriously pursued plans to plunder Maya ruins and transport their massive artifacts to New York City for museum purposes. In connection with those plans, he accomplished the amazing feat of purchasing the entire ancient city of Copan for a mere $50. Who knows what would have happened to the nineteenth-century readership of the Book of Mormon had he succeeded in transplanting Copan’s priceless artifacts so North Americans could view them firsthand? That is, had he succeeded with his planned venture, the nineteenth-century Church of Jesus Christ would have undoubtedly promoted nationwide interest in the Book of Mormon by associating its stories about ancient Mesoamerican cities with Stephens’s accounts of and artifacts from ancient Mesoamerica.
Stephens became interested in Central America while reading a book that had been recently published about Palenque. After finishing the book, he and Catherwood, “an experienced traveller and personal friend, who had passed more than ten years of his life in diligently studying the antiquities of the Old World,” discussed the idea of exploring Central America. Further reading of other accounts, which were very few in number at that time, convinced them to make final plans to go to Copan, in Honduras. No maps were available, and the site did not have a road leading to it. Stephens agreed to pay Catherwood’s expenses plus $1,500 at the end of the trip. In return, Catherwood gave Stephens control over all of Catherwood’s drawings, which ended up numbering in the hundreds.
Not long before their October 3, 1839, departure date for Belize, the U.S. minister for Central America, William Leggett, passed away. Stephens applied to United States President Martin Van Buren for Leggett’s job, and Stephens was appointed as an ambassador who was commissioned by the U.S. State Department to present himself to the government of the Confederation of Central America. However, because of civil strife throughout the region, no one knew who was in charge or where the capital was located.
Stephens’s account of his and Catherwood’s travels, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, from this point is replete with stories about unbelievably difficult travel conditions, enormously beautiful, pristine scenery, and depictions of local people ranging from the dregs of humanity to wonderfully gracious men and women. His book reads much like a novel but is entirely nonfiction in its content.
After great trials and tribulations in getting to the opposite side of the Copan River, Stephens first saw the ruins of Copan. He crossed the river and entered the ruins. Later, he reported his feelings:
It is impossible to describe the interest with which I explored these ruins. The ground was entirely new; there were no guide-books or guides; the whole was a virgin soil. We could not see ten yards before us, and never knew what we should stumble upon next. At one time we stopped to cut away branches and vines which concealed the face of a monument, and then to dig around and bring to light a fragment, a sculptured corner of which protruded from the earth. I leaned over with breathless anxiety while the Indians worked, and an eye, an ear, a foot, or a hand was disentombed; and when the machete rang against the chiselled stone, I pushed the Indians away, and cleared out the loose earth with my hands. The beauty of the sculpture, the solemn stillness of the woods, disturbed only by the scrambling of monkeys and the chattering of parrots, the desolation of the city, and the mystery that hung over it, all created an interest higher, if possible, than I had ever felt among the ruins of the Old World.
Both Stephens and Catherwood were astonished at the exquisitely carved “idols” and altars and the massiveness of the buildings of the ancient city of Copan. They knew they were exploring the ruins of a civilization that rivaled or exceeded those of the Old World. At the outset, Stephens expressed his fundamental conclusion after they had cleared away the debris from the first stela they investigated:
The sight of this unexpected monument put at rest at once and forever, in our minds, all uncertainty in regard to the character of American antiquities, and gave us the assurance that the objects we were in search of were interesting, not only as the remains of an unknown people, but as works of art, proving, like newly-discovered historical records, that the people who once occupied the Continent of America were not savages.
In that same respect, Stephens and Catherwood, in the midst of the ruins of Copan, sat down on the edge of a wall and tried “in vain to penetrate the mystery by which we were surrounded. Who were the people that built this city? In the ruined cities of Egypt, even in the long-lost Petra, the stranger knows the story of the people whose vestiges are around him. America, say historians, was peopled by savages; but savages never carved these stones. We asked the Indians who made them, and their dull answer was ‘Quien sabe?’ ‘who knows?’”
Before setting out for Copan, had Stephens read the Book of Mormon, which was first published in 1830, over a decade before he explored Copan, he would at least have had one account that dealt with the ruined cities of the New World. In the absence of that knowledge, he was left on his own to conjecture about Copan’s origins and people:
Books, the records of knowledge, are silent on [the] theme [of Copan’s origins]. The city was desolate. No remnant of this race hangs around the ruins, with traditions handed down from father to son, and from generation to generation. It lay before us like a shattered bark in the midst of the ocean, her masts gone, her name effaced, her crew perished, and none to tell whence she came, to whom she belonged, how long on her voyage, or what caused her destruction; her lost people to be traced only by some fancied resemblance in the construction of the vessel, and, perhaps, never to be known at all. The place where we sat, was it a citadel from which an unknown people had sounded the trumpet of war? or a temple for the worship of the God of peace? or did the inhabitants worship the idols made with their own hands, and offer sacrifices on the stones before them? All was mystery, dark, impenetrable mystery, and every circumstance increased it.
From a hindsight perspective, readers of the Book of Mormon can only wonder what thoughts would have gone through Stephens’s and Catherwood’s minds as they explored Copan if they had seriously read the Book of Mormon prior to their explorations. No one has ever confirmed that they had an opportunity to do so. For purposes of this article, readers can deduce, however, that Stephens was aware of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Though not by name, Stephens alluded to Joseph once in one paragraph in his Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan:
I am entering abruptly upon new ground. Volumes without number have been written to account for the first people of America. By some the inhabitants of this continent have been regarded as a separate race, not descended from the same common father with the rest of mankind; others have ascribed their origin to some remnant of the antediluvian inhabitants of the earth, who survived the deluge which swept away the greatest part of the human species in the days of Noah, and hence have considered them the most ancient race of people on the earth. Under the broad range allowed by a descent from the sons of Noah, the Jews, the Canaanites, the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Scythians in ancient times; the Chinese, the Swedes, the Norwegians, the Welsh, and the Spaniards in modern, have had ascribed to them the honour of peopling America. The two continents have been joined together and rent asunder by the shock of an earthquake; the fabled island of Atlantis has been lifted out of the ocean; and, not to be behindhand, an enterprising American has turned the tables on the Old World, and planted the ark itself within the State of New-York.
Stephens’s reference to “the two continents” reflects the common view during the first half of the nineteenth century that the world consisted of two continents—the eastern continent and the western continent. The western continent, obviously, included North America, Central America, and South America. Many treatises of this time period refer to the components of the western continent as “South America” and “North America,” with North America beginning at the Isthmus of Darien (Panama).
Joseph Smith’s Awareness of John Lloyd Stephens
Thus, John Lloyd Stephens was at least aware of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. But was Joseph aware of Stephens?
Not long after John Lloyd Stephens’s 1841 Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan was available for sale to the public, Joseph was given a copy of the two-volume set as a gift. No reliable information has been discovered about the extent to which Joseph read Stephens’s volumes or discussed them with Church-member colleagues. Under the date of June 25, 1842, either Joseph Smith or the compilers of History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints noted the following: “Messrs. Stephens and Catherwood have succeeded in collecting in the interior of America a large amount of relics of the Nephites, or the ancient inhabitants of America treated of in the Book of Mormon, which relics have recently been landed in New York.”
At this point, readers should appreciate the fact that either Joseph himself or the compilers of History of the Church interestingly show Joseph’s apparent support for the thinking that the Nephites lived in Mesoamerica. The date of June 25, 1842, is a year later than the first mention of Stephens’s Mesoamerican explorations in the 1842 Times and Seasons under the title of “American Antiquities—More Proofs of the Book of Mormon”:
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 travellers 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.
Following this June 15, 1841, introduction, this issue of the Times and Seasons contains a lengthy article about lectures given by Stephens and Catherwood. The article was originally published in New York City in the Weekly Herald. Though Joseph Smith was not the editor of this issue of the Times and Seasons, Book of Mormon readers can confidently assume that he knew of and approved of its content. Readers can also generally assume that the content of the 1842 Times and Seasons was “official” because it was the periodical of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during its publication. It was published in Nauvoo, Illinois, from November 1839 until February 1846. During that time, the editorship changed hands on several occasions.
The first issue of the Times and Seasons containing the notation that the newspaper was edited by Joseph Smith is dated February 15, 1842. In this issue, in an article titled “Valedictory,” Ebenezer Robinson announced that he was relinquishing his role as editor of the Times and Seasons. He states, “The Editorial chair will be filled by our esteemed brother, President Joseph Smith, assisted by Elder John Taylor, of the Quorum of the Twelve, under whose able and talented guidance, this will become the most interesting and useful religious journal of the day.”
In the next issue, March 1, 1842, the following announcement was made: “TO SUBSCRIBERS. This paper commences my editorial career, I alone stand for it, and shall do for all papers having my signature henceforward. I am not responsible for the publication, or arrangement of the former paper; the matter did not come under my supervision. JOSEPH SMITH.” Thus, although the February 15 issue announced that Joseph Smith would thereafter be the editor of the Times and Seasons, he did not assume that role officially until the next issue, March 1.
In the July 15, 1842, issue, which was “edited, printed and published” by Joseph Smith, an article entitled “American Antiquities” was printed. That its author is Joseph Smith can be assumed for two reasons: (1) the article ends with the notation “-ED” (editor)—the equivalent of Joseph Smith’s “signature” to verify that Joseph Smith possibly wrote or dictated the article, definitely knew about it and approved it, and clearly approved the concluding statement that precedes the notation of “-ED,” and (2) in the March 1, 1842, issue, Joseph had forthrightly told readers that he alone would be responsible for all forthcoming articles attributed to his role as editor. The concluding paragraph of the “American Antiquities” article refers to Stephens and Catherwood:
If men, in their researches into the history of this country, in noticing the mounds, fortifications, statues, architecture, implements of war, of husbandry, and ornaments of silver, brass, &c.—were to examine the Book of Mormon, their conjectures would be removed, and their opinions altered; uncertainty and doubt would be changed into certainty and facts; and they would find that those things that they are anxiously prying into were matters of history, unfolded in that book. They would find their conjectures were more than realized—that a great and a mighty people had inhabited this continent—that the arts sciences and religion, had prevailed to a very great extent, and that there was as great and mighty cities on this continent as on the continent of Asia. Babylon, Ninevah, nor any of the ruins of the Levant could boast of more perfect sculpture, better architectural designs, and more imperishable ruins, than what are found on this continent. Stephens and Catherwood’s researches in Central America abundantly testify of this thing. The stupendous ruins, the elegant sculpture, and the magnificence of the ruins of Guatamala, and other cities, corroborate this statement, and show that a great and mighty people—men of great minds, clear intellect, bright genius, and comprehensive designs inhabited this continent. Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormen unfolds their history. -ED.
Though difficult to determine because of inadequate documentation techniques, the major part of the article should probably be attributed to the Antiquarian Society, which disputed the claim that existing Native Americans of the United States could be responsible for archaeological findings in the eastern United States: “To this we respond, they never have: no, not even their traditions afford a glimpse of the existence of such things, as forts, tumuli, roads, wells, mounds, walls enclosing between one and two hundred, and even five hundred acres of land; some of them of stone, and others of earth, twenty feet in thickness, and exceeding high, are works requiring too much labor for Indians ever to have performed.” That is, to the typical United States resident at the time, Native Americans of the United States were savages who were incapable of constructing the mounds and other structures attributed to the Mound Builders.
But the point to note here—in 1842 based on the content of articles in the Times and Seasons—is that Joseph Smith was conceivably shifting his focus from the continental United States to Mesoamerica in pinpointing the peoples of the Book of Mormon and the area where the New World events of the Book of Mormon occurred. His thinking was undoubtedly influenced by the writing and thinking of John Lloyd Stephens. Before expressing a negative attitude toward those statements, readers are invited to read on as the events associated with John Lloyd Stephens and the Times and Seasons are examined.
The September 15, 1842, issue of the Times and Seasons, which again was “edited, printed and published” by Joseph Smith, begins with a lengthy quotation from Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. The content deals with Palenque. Following almost four pages of direct quotation from Stephens, the author of the article states the following: “The foregoing extract has been made to assist the Latter-Day Saints, in establishing the Book of Mormon as a revelation from God. It affords great joy to have the world assist us to so much proof, that even the most credulous cannot doubt.”
The Times and Seasons article then reads as follows:
Let us turn our subject, however, to the Book of Mormon, where these wonderful ruins of Palenque are among the mighty works of the Nephites. . . . Mr. Stephens’ great developments of antiquities are made bare to the eyes of all the people by reading the history of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. They lived about the narrow neck of land, which now embraces Central America, with all the cities that can be found. Read the destruction of cities at the crucifixion of Christ, pages 459–60 [of the first-edition Book of Mormon]. Who could have dreamed that twelve years would have developed such incontrovertible testimony to the Book of Mormon? Surely the Lord worketh and none can hinder.
At this point, readers are invited to visualize the potential day-to-day working environment associated with the Times and Seasons. The editorial staff had access to a copy of Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. Any analysis of all the articles in the 1841 and 1842 issues of the Times and Seasons shows that the staff members apparently read Stephens’s book and talked about it with each other in relation to the content of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith was very likely involved in these discussions. Thus, all members of the editorial staff, including especially three prophets of the Church, Joseph Smith, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff, gave overt and covert approval of the apparent shift in thinking about the New World location of the events of the Book of Mormon.
Under “Facts Are Stubborn Things,” the September 15, 1842, issue contains another item dealing with John Lloyd Stephens:
From an extract from “Stephens’ Incidents of Travel in Central America,” it will be seen that the proof of the Nephites and Lamanites dwelling on this continent, according to the account in the Book of Mormon, is developing itself in a more satisfactory way than the most sanguine believer in that revelation, could have anticipated. It certainly affords us a gratification that the world of mankind does not enjoy, to give publicity to such important developments of the remains and ruins of those mighty people.
When we read in the Book of Mormon that Jared and his brother came on to this continent from the confusion and scattering at the Tower . . . and then read such a goodly traditionary account, as the one below, we can not but think the Lord has a hand in bringing to pass his strange act, and proving the Book of Mormon true in the eyes of all the people. The extract below, comes as near the real fact, as the four Evangelists do to the crucifixion of Jesus.—Surely “facts are stubborn things.” It will be as it ever has been the world will prove Joseph Smith a true prophet by circumstantial evidence, in experiments, as they did Moses and Elijah. Now read Stephen’s [John Lloyd Stephens’s] story:
“According to Fuentes, the chronicler of the kingdom of Guatimala, the kings of Quinche and Cachiquel were descended from the Toltecan Indians, who, when they came into this country, found it already inhabited by people of different nations. According to the manuscripts of Don Juan Torres, the grandson of the last king of the Quiches, which was in the possession of the lieutenant general appointed by Pedro de Alvarado, and which Fuentes says he obtained by means of Father Francis Vasques, the historian of the order of San Francis, the Toltecas themselves descended from the house of Israel, who were released by Moses from the tyranny of Pharaoh, and after crossing the Red Sea, fell into Idolatry. To avoid the reproofs of Moses, or from fear of his inflicting upon them some chastisement, they separated from him and his brethren, and under the guidance of Tanub, their chief, passed from one continent to the other, to a place which they called the seven caverns, a part of the kingdom of Mexico, where they founded the celebrated city of Tula.”
The “remains and ruins” are associated with those in Mesoamerica as reported by John Lloyd Stephens. By now, readers of the Times and Seasons should clearly have discerned the manner in which Stephens’s discoveries were influencing Joseph Smith’s thinking about where the New World events of the Book of Mormon occurred. That influence is clearly seen in the wording, “we can not but think the Lord has a hand in bringing to pass his strange act, and proving the Book of Mormon true in the eyes of all the people.” That is, this item in the September 15, 1842, Times and Seasons suggests that the Lord was responsible for Stephens’s sojourn to Mesoamerica because his findings and writings would, in turn, “prove” the historicity of the Book of Mormon. In a similar fashion, Book of Mormon analysts could say that the Lord, through John Lloyd Stephens, influenced Joseph Smith into understanding that the New World events recorded in the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica rather than in the continental United States.
Joseph probably did not author this item, but he must have given his approval via his role as editor—that is, the usual next-to-last paragraph in the issue states the following: “The Times and Seasons, is edited, printed and published about the first fifteenth of every month, on the corner of Water and Bain Streets, Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, by JOSEPH SMITH.”
The October 1, 1842, issue of the Times and Seasons continued to reflect the influence that Stephens had on the Prophet’s thinking about the lands and peoples of the Book of Mormon. The issue begins with the following paragraphs that deal with Stephens’s findings about Quirigua, Guatemala:
Since our “Extract” was published from Mr. Stephens’ “Incidents of Travel,” &c., we have found another important fact relating to the truth of the Book of Mormon. Central America, or Guatimala, is situated north of the Isthmus of Darien and once embraced several hundred miles of territory from north to south.—The city of Zarahemla, burnt at the crucifixion of the Savior, and rebuilt afterwards, stood upon this land. . . .
It is certainly a good thing for the excellency and veracity, of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, that the ruins of Zarahemla have been found where the Nephites left them: and that a large stone with engravings upon it as Mosiah said; and a “large round stone, with the sides sculptured in hieroglyphics,” as Mr. Stephens has published, is also among the left remembrances of the, (to him,) lost and unknown. We are not going to declare positively that the ruins of Quirigua are those of Zarahemla, but when the land and the stones, and the books tell the story so plain, we are of opinion, that it would require more proof than the Jews could bring to prove the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb, to prove that the ruins of the city in question, are not one of those referred to in the Book of Mormon.
It may seem hard for unbelievers in the mighty works of God, to give credit to such a miraculous preservation of the remains, ruins, records and reminiscences of a branch of the house of Israel: but the elements are eternal, and intelligence is eternal, and God is eternal, so that the very hairs of our heads are all numbered. It may be said of man he was and is, and is not; and of his works the same, but the Lord was and is, and is to come and his works never end; and he will bring every thing into judgment whether it be good, or whether it be evil; yea, every secret thing, and they shall be revealed upon the house tops.
Almost hidden among the words of this quotation is some quasi-revelatory information either stated by or approved by Joseph Smith as editor. Based on the content of the above quotation, if the Isthmus of Darien (Panama) were the narrow neck of land, then Guatemala would have to be in the land northward. However, the quotation clearly suggests that Zarahemla was located in what today is known as part of Mesoamerica (Guatemala). In the Book of Mormon, Zarahemla is unequivocally located in the land southward, which means that (1) Guatemala is in the land southward, (2) the Isthmus of Panama cannot be the narrow neck of land, and (3) South America cannot be the land southward. Those facts lend quasi-revelatory support for Mesoamerica being the location of the New World events of the Book of Mormon.
Joseph Smith’s Responsibility for the Content of the Times and Seasons
What role did Joseph Smith play in support of the preceding quotation? Did he write it or dictate it? As is typical with articles in the Times and Seasons, the authorship of items is often not given, so Book of Mormon analysts cannot say unequivocally that Joseph authored the preceding quotation. But even if he did not write (or dictate) the above material, did he support its content?
To this question, a definite answer of “Yes” can be given for three reasons:
1. Joseph was the editor of the October 1, 1842, issue, as shown in the usual next-to-last paragraph of that issue: “The Times and Seasons, Is edited, 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.” As such, he undoubtedly would have, at the very least, approved or supported the content of the article.
2. The first-person plural “we” in the opening paragraph of the article involves all those responsible for the Times and Seasons and clearly suggests that Joseph was directly involved in preparing the article. Analysts are on shaky ground if they reason that Joseph was not involved in the article because he was in hiding or traveling outside of Nauvoo on the day the article was published. Such articles are planned, written, reviewed, and edited over time. Therefore, even though Joseph was involved in many activities besides that of editing the Times and Seasons, he indeed was “the editor” at the time and clearly must be ascribed responsibility for at least approving the issue’s content.
3. That he accepted responsibility for the content of the article is evident by the fact that he did not publish a disclaimer of the article’s content—or of the content of other articles dealing with John Lloyd Stephens’s findings—in previous or subsequent issues. In other words, he accepted—or approved—the content of all these articles while he was “the editor” by his overt role as editor and his covert acceptance of their contents as evidenced by the lack of any subsequent disclaimers or rebuttals by him.
Analysts who research the history of Joseph Smith and his writings try to determine precisely (1) what he wrote himself, (2) what he dictated to a scribe, (3) what he said as reported in writings by others, and (4) what written accounts he personally approved. Such analysts face the task of carefully examining the Times and Seasons content about the discoveries of John Lloyd Stephens and their relationship to the Book of Mormon to determine the extent to which Joseph can be directly associated with this content.
Seven evidences, which are tied directly to the Times and Seasons itself, must be considered by anyone who tries to determine Joseph’s personal Times and Seasons role in relation to the content about John Lloyd Stephens’s discoveries in connection with the Book of Mormon. These seven evidences are the following:
1. The valedictory statement by Ebenezer Robinson when he gave up the editorship of the Times and Seasons.
2. Joseph Smith’s inaugural statement when he took over as editor of the Times and Seasons.
3. Evidence resulting from a marriage notice—printed in the Times and Seasons—that shows the personal involvement by Joseph in approving the content of the Times and Seasons.
4. Joseph’s valedictory statement when he gave up the role of “the editor” of the Times and Seasons.
5. The absence of any effort on Joseph’s part to retract any of the Times and Seasons content about Stephens’s discoveries in connection with the Book of Mormon.
6. An official statement by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 2007 manual for Melchizedek Priesthood holders and Relief Society sisters, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith.
7. The projected attribution of the Times and Seasons articles to Joseph Smith by those responsible for the Joseph Smith Papers Project.
1. Valedictory statement by Ebenezer Robinson—On two separate occasions, Ebenezer Robinson served as editor of the Times and Seasons. As noted previously, in the February 15, 1842, issue, he gave his second “valedictory” statement. On that occasion, he states, “I now take leave of the editorial department of the Times and Seasons. . . . The Editorial chair will be filled by our esteemed brother, President Joseph Smith, assisted by Elder John Taylor, of the Quorum of the Twelve, under whose able and talented guidance, this will become the most interesting and useful religious journal of the day. With these considerations, I feel confident that the agents and friends of the Times and Seasons will exert themselves to support the press; knowing that while it is under the supervision of him whom God has chosen to lead his people in the last days, all things will go right.”
Ebenezer was forced to give up his editor’s role on the second occasion because of disapproval of his work by the Twelve Apostles. When he relinquished his role as editor, his statement, “all things will go right,” shows his support for Joseph Smith as the incoming editor—verifying that only appropriate, “fully approved” content would be published under the editorial eye of the Prophet. Much of the content about John Lloyd Stephens’s writings in connection with the Book of Mormon was published while Joseph Smith was editor.
2. Joseph Smith’s inaugural statement as editor—Joseph Smith then assumed the role of what today would be labeled as “editor-in-chief” (the “chief editor” who is solely responsible for all the content) of the Times and Seasons beginning with the next issue, March 1, 1842. In this issue, as noted previously, he states, “TO SUBSCRIBERS. This paper commences my editorial career, I alone stand for it, and shall do for all papers having my signature henceforward. . . . JOSEPH SMITH.”
Joseph’s statement, “I alone stand for it,” supports the role he assumed as an “editor-in-chief” (chief editor). That is, he assumed exclusive responsibility for the reliability, accuracy, and veracity of the issues published under his editorial leadership. Thus, under the “rules of the game” for editors, he wrote, dictated, or approved all content associated with John Lloyd Stephens’s writings in connection with the Book of Mormon while he was “editor-in-chief.”
Book of Mormon Heartland advocates’ methods of dealing with this aspect of Church history reflect “wishful thinking” as they try to divorce Joseph Smith entirely from any connection with the articles that involve the work of John Lloyd Stephens in Mesoamerica. We can agree with Heartland advocates that Joseph may not have written some or all of the articles. However, from that point, the facts of history seem to be self-evident. That is, Joseph Smith must have at least approved the articles before their publication or been positive thereafter about their inclusion in the Times and Seasons. He never disapproved of the articles and must have given either tacit or openly vocal support for publishing them. “I alone stand for it” says a great deal about his apparently favorable attitude toward the articles.
3. The marriage notification incident. During the Nauvoo period, a principal antagonist of the Church of Jesus Christ was Thomas C. Sharp, who was editor of the Warsaw Signal. He was alarmed over the Church’s secular power, and he used his paper to oppose it. Issues of the Warsaw Signal frequently contained negative articles about the Church, and issues of the Times and Seasons frequently contained articles that countered the content and claims of items in the Warsaw Signal.
One exchange of barbs and counter-barbs occurred in February 1842. As noted above, in the February 15, 1842, issue of the Times and Seasons, Ebenezer Robinson printed his valedictory statement that ended his role as editor. Further, as noted above, in the next issue, March 1, 1842, Joseph Smith printed his inaugural statement that announced the commencement of his role as editor. However, for some reason, in the February 15 issue, Joseph was identified as the “editor”: “THE TIMES AND SEASONS, is edited by JOSEPH SMITH.” This designation of Joseph as the editor of the February 15 issue subsequently caused Joseph and the personnel at the Times and Seasons considerable consternation because the content of marriage notices in that issue was attributed to Joseph because he was “the editor” and therefore was “responsible” for all content of this issue. Those marriage notices are as follows:
Married—In this city on the 6th inst. by the Rev. Erastus H. Derby, Mr. Gilbert H, Rolfe, to Miss Eliza Jane Bates, all of this city.
On receipt of the above notice, we were favored with a rich and delightful loaf of cake by no means below the medium size; which makes us anxious that all their acts through life may be justified; and when life wanes and they find a peaceful abode in the “narrow house,” may the many outs and ins they have made, leave to the world an abundant posterity to celebrate their glorious example.
Married—In this city by Pres’t. Hyrum Smith, Mr. J. W. Johnson to Miss Elizabeth Knight, all of this city.
The above notice was accompanied with the usual Printer’s fee, (a nice piece of bridal cake,) for which we tender our sincere thanks, and our best wishes for the future prosperity of the happy pair. Ed.
In its February 23, 1842, issue, the Warsaw Signal used those marriage notices in an attempt to embarrass Joseph Smith—under the assumption that he was the author because “Ed.” appeared at the end of the notices. The content that was written with the intent of embarrassing the Prophet reads as follows: “The Scamp!—An editor [Joseph Smith] away off somewhere, says he estimates the happiness of a newly married couple, by the size of the cake they send him. Awful!”
In an attempt to set the editorial record straight, Ebenezer Robinson wrote an explanatory piece for the March 15, 1842, issue that clarified the situation:
Lest wrong impressions should obtain abroad, detrimental to the interest and influence of President Joseph Smith, respecting a marriage notice, which appeared in the Times and Seasons, of the 15th of February ult. I deem it a privilege to make a short statement of facts concerning the matter, which, I am confident, will entirely exonerate that gentleman [Joseph Smith] from all blame or censure, which may have been put upon him on account of the publication of said notice.
On the 6th of Feb. I gave possession of the establishment, to Willard Richards the purchaser on the behalf of the Twelve; at which time my responsibility ceased as editor. On the 7th this marriage took place, and the notice was written by one of the hands in the office, and put in type by one of the boys, without, undoubtedly, any expectation of its being printed. At this time it was not fully decided whether President Smith should take the responsibility of editor, or not, therefore that paper went to press without his personal inspection; and as this article was standing in type with the other matter, it found its way into the paper unnoticed, as both the person who wrote it, and the boy, together with either journeymen, had been discharged by the purchasers, also, the proof reader did not observe it, as the words used were printer’s phrases and he was not looking for any thing indecorous or unbecoming. The first time Pres’t Smith or myself saw the article, was after the papers had been struck off, when it was too late to remedy the evil. We both felt very sorely mortified, at the time; but I am fully persuaded that the kind readers of the Times will cheerfully overlook whatever fault there may be, as that was the first time any such thing ever appeared in the columns of this paper, and not attribute any blame to Pres’t Smith, as he is not guilty in the least, and had no knowledge of the thing until it was too late.
I will here take the liberty to state that from an intimate acquaintance of near seven years with Pres’t. Joseph Smith, I never yet have seen a single indecent or unbecoming word or sentence, from his pen, but to the reverse; therefore I can with all confidence, assure the patrons of this paper, that they have nothing to fear, but every thing to hope for, in the exchange of editors.
Immediately following Ebenezer’s explanation of the incident, the March 14, 1842, issue contains a letter of that same date written by Lyman O. Littlefield and addressed to “President Joseph Smith”:
Dear Sir: I see, in the last ‘Warsaw Signal,’ a very wanton and ungentlemanly attack upon yourself, made by the editor of that paper. The editor’s article, however, is in perfect keeping with his feel and natural spirit for calumniating the innocent and oppressed. I have, for some time past, been a constant reader of that paper, and feel myself perfectly safe in saying, that scarcely a single number of it has ever been issued, that was not surcharged with epithets of the foulest and basest character, perpetrated against a high-minded and intelligent portion of community, and fabricated by himself—or some individual equally as corrupt—to answer his own wicked and nefarious purposes.
What I allude to, more particularly, is his remarks relative to a marriage notice which appeared in a former number of the Times and Seasons, charging you with being its author. I should have remained silent upon this subject, had he made the attack upon any individual but yourself. But justice to your character renders it an imperious duty for me to speak and exonerate you from the false imputations of the editor. Therefore, be it known to that gentleman—if his heart is not wholly impervious to declarations of TRUTH—that the little notice that has so much ruffled his very chaste and moral feelings emenated from the pen of no individual other than—myself(!) “Urekah! Urekah!!” Then I would say to the sagacious editor of the Signal—
“Hush, babe, lay still and slumber!
I speak knowingly when I say, that notice went in the Times and Seasons entirely without your sanction, and you [Joseph Smith] knew nothing of its existence until that edition had been ‘worked off’ and circulated the proof sheet not being examined by you.
After this declaration, I hope the editor of the Signal will do you the justice to exculpate you from the wholesale charges which I have been, in some degree, the means of calling upon your head; and, if he must blame any person for the notice, let his anathemas, like an avalanche, flow upon me—I will bear the burthen of my own foibles.
With sentiments of respect, I remain, Sir, your ob’t serv’t, L. O. LITTLEFIELD.