Heavenly Evidences and Earthly Remains
Transcript of the September 2005 BMAF Conference held at the Red Lion Hotel
Heavenly Evidences and Earthly Remains
There will be a lot of things here that I’ll generally want to cover and touch base on. One of the most important things that I hope to try to communicate here today is the idea is because the topic I have is Heavenly Evidences and Earthly Remains. There is a very definite and a very positive kind of relationship here that most of the people that, not only in this room but that we work with, have a very committed attitude toward having a spiritual understanding of the Book of Mormon as well as being able to study the ruins and have a relationship.
Let me share some things, and I’m just going to read a couple of thoughts as we go through this. And let me begin by saying there is no substitute for a spiritual witness to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon as another testament of Jesus Christ.. There simply is no substitute for that. And I believe as Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley has said about the Book of Mormon, quote, "The evidence for its truth, for its validity in a world that is prone to demand evidence, lies not in archaeology or anthropology, though these may be helpful to some. It lies not in word research or historical analysis, though these may be confirmatory. The evidence for its truth and validity lies within the covers of the book itself. The test of its truth lies in reading it." That was in the February Ensign of 2004 (page 6).
That, I think is a foundational point that is important to understand that what we’re trying to accomplish is to not say we’re going to find a number of evidences here, and hopefully be able to convince people, in the world and out of the world, by virtue of the evidences that the Book of Mormon is an inspired document. I think that the point being here is that these do not have to be in opposition to one another, and that they’re not in opposition with one another and that most people that I know of and associate with, certainly this association and others, as I have traveled rather extensively, have a fundamental, spiritual testimony of the Book of Mormon.
Now, taking that into consideration then what are we hoping to accomplish by taking a look at some of these other earthly remains, as it were. I’d like to pursue that – but, I want to come back to, I think, a very basic and fundamental question, which is, how does one obtain a divine witness? Let me deal for a moment with heavenly evidences and how we might obtain a spiritual testimony of the Book of Mormon. Remember the great verse in James chapter 1, verse 5, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God," and that inspired the prophet Joseph, of course, to go to the grove to receive a great vision of the Father and the Son that we refer to as the "First Vision." We may not have that same experience, in fact, this is one of the points that I’d like to make, is that there are so many gifts of the Spirit. I’m currently up to 105. I’m compiling a list of gifts of the Spirit, and I‘m up to 105 right now. I also realize that that there are more yet, so I refer to it as a partial list of the gifts of the Spirit. Now why is that important? It’s going to be important because each one of us may have a different spiritual gift. It kind of goes back to Section 46 of the Doctrine and Covenants, "To every one is given a gift by the Spirit of God, to some is given one, to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby." Then we are going to remember the reason why we have spiritual gifts, and that’s to benefit and profit and help one another and to help each other to become our highest and best selves. So, really, the gift is only valuable as we come to share.
I think, what is important, and maybe I can best illustrate is by saying that my wife, who is in attendance with us today, and I have been in meetings and have heard somebody say something like this, "Now if you read the Book of Mormon, and read about it and pray and keep your heart open, you will get a spiritual witness by a burning in the bosom." Well, and I’ll apologize in advance for being a little bit facetious about this, but my wife has never had that burning in the bosom, and she’s a very faithful and very devout lady. Now she has had a couple of hot tacos. But that’s about as close as we’re going to get to a "burning in the bosom" with her because she does not respond to that way, however, she is a woman with great faith and great testimony. But if we have to say that everybody is going to have that experience, and that’s all you have to do, maybe that’s how the Holy Ghost works with you, but it may not be how the Holy Ghost works with somebody sitting next to you.
And if there truly are at least 105 different manifestations or spiritual gifts, we might want to be a little more flexible in allowing different people to receive a witness of the Holy Ghost according to their own individual talents. Now, over the years I’ve kind of made it a practice in compiling this list to try to find out our own individual spiritual gifts. And I have a couple of suggestions; one of them is a very careful reading of your patriarchal blessing. For those of you who are members of the Church, you’ll find, that if you have received your patriarchal blessing, that if you will maybe sit down and make a list, and there are a number of different places you can go in addition to Section 46 and Moroni 10, and Alma 9, there are different places you can go and kind of compile that list. In fact, if you’ll remind me I’ll put it on the website, so that if somebody wants it they can just go there and pull that list off of 105 gifts. That website is www.drlund.com, so that’s how you can access that.
Now, imagine that we’re sitting in a meeting and somebody says, "Now after reading the Book of Mormon you are to get a burning in the bosom, and here is a very sincere individual, who does that, in addition to my wife, who does that and doesn’t get that burning in the bosom. So, what is the alternative? That it’s not true; that God doesn’t care about that individual; and doesn’t answer their prayers? No, I think we have to look at that and say, maybe that was given for Oliver Cowdery – but it’s also mentioned to Oliver Cowdery in Section 6 of the D&C, "Did I not speak peace to your mind?" Peace of mind. And another rather important look at reading the scriptures. In the Hebrew, they think in their hearts and they feel in their bowels. And I can say that I have felt more in my bowels than I have in my heart. The idea here is the feeling in the bowels . . . Look at Section 121, "let you bowels be filled with compassion . . ." because the bowels are the center of feeling to the Hebrew, and the heart is the center of thinking. And then look at Proverbs, "as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." That concept of thinking in the heart.
Now, let me read a scripture, that may talk about the word, heart, and those with a Western orientation tend to think that that’s a ‘feeling’ scripture when it’s really intended to be a ‘thinking’ scripture. So, most of the scriptures that deal with the heart are talking about the mind. That’s why it says "they are a hard-hearted people, it really talks about them being a stubborn-minded people," not that in the sense that they are ‘past feeling.’ I’m talking more about the knot-heads, the hard-heads, the ones who refuse here to allow the mind to open up and receive inspiration from the Lord or anything else. So there’s the challenge, I think, that we face sometimes in reading the scriptures is maybe also understanding the cultural context of that just a little bit. So, why does that relate? Because, as you look at why and how people can receive a witness of the Holy Ghost. We have to read the Book of Mormon, and I think it’s work reading several times. Now, let me just review that here, it’s one that most of us have memorized to a certain extent here – how about this, here we are in Moroni 10:3-4, "Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things -- that ye would read them and remember how merciful the Lord hath been to the children of men from the creation of Adam even down to the time when ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts." Somehow, just reading it and maybe offering a quick prayer, I’m not sure qualifies for what Moroni had in mind. It seems as though he is trying to tell us that we are to get our minds into this, and not only have an open mind, but ponder God’s dealings with man, as outlined here in the Book of Mormon, "And when you shall receive these things," which I think, by the way, is the mercifulness of God, and also that you ponder it in your hearts, "these things that I would exhort you that you would ask God, the eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true. And if ye shall ask with a sincere heart," now if the heart is the mind, that means that you are open-minded to this and you are willing to allow the possibility of the Book of Mormon to be what it claims to be; and not approach that with a closed-minded point of view. ". . . with real intent," which I think is honest intent as well, "having faith in Christ." Now if we do that "He will manifest the truth of it to you by the power of the Holy Ghost," which may manifest itself in numbers of ways.
I talked to a man who I think his spiritual gift is probably the gift of logic. I think that may very well be a gift itself -- to be able to think things through, and I asked him, in particular, I said, knowing that I’d have the opportunity to visit with you here today, I said, "Tell me about your testimony of the Book of Mormon." He said, "Well, I’m a convert to the Church, and when I read the Book of Mormon, I got thru about 50 pages and then I stopped and started thinking about it. And the more I thought, the greater I just felt about it, I didn’t have any visions about it, I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night, I didn’t have a dream, I didn’t hear any voices, I didn’t have what you might call an external witness; nevertheless, I felt calm about it." That, itself, may be a spiritual gift. Just being calm about encountering something. Then I asked him about that. And he said, "I just worked through the process in his mind and thought about those things, and came to the conclusion." (And it may be the same conclusion that Emma Smith came to when she was asked why did she believe that Joseph was a prophet of God, and she said, "I think he was too ignorant to write it on his own.") So, I asked, "you came to the conclusion that Joseph Smith could not have simply written the book on his own." And he said, "The information in the book just wasn’t available to him."
I remember, on one occasion, I challenged someone to write me a history of a 600 square mile area in Australia for the same period of time and tell me what was happening in Australia from about 600 B.C. to about 400 A.D. I said, "Now, just draw upon the own resources that you have right now, currently; and you can’t use the internet. Just draw upon your natural knowledge and skills that you have and let’s see how you do with that assignment. And, remember, as you write this you will have to say things and do things that will stand up to a certain kind of scrutiny, and are you willing to do that?" Well, you can see the monumental nature of that task. It becomes overwhelming, to say the least.
People come to the recognition of answers to their prayers differently; as I said, this one man came by logic, and my wife feels a certain calmness about a thing. I remember as a young man (I’m a convert to the Church) that my first experience as a young man of about 14 years of age coming to Salt Lake City and hearing President David O. McKay bear his testimony. And I remember that my first impression was this – I don’t know what he knows but I believe that he knows what he knows, and that’s good enough for me right now. And at that time, I think I had the spiritual gift of believing on the testimony of another. And that, by the way, is a very, very beautiful gift in and of itself, one that is not to be depreciated. And I think one that is, frankly, misunderstood, or that even a statement made in 1970 by President Harold B. Lee that you cannot live on borrowed light. What if my spiritual gift . . . and see, Section 46 makes it very clear that if you have that spiritual gift . . . . Let’s take a look at Sam, for instance, in the Book of Mormon, in 2nd Nephi 2:17, you have Sam with Nephi coming to him and telling him all the things that the Holy Ghost had manifested to him, and it simply says, "And he did believe all my words." Now I think that’s interesting because in the previous verses there, you find that Nephi, who may have had a hard heart to start with said, "And I did go unto the Lord, and the Lord did soften my heart that I did believe all the words of my father." So here’s Nephi, whose heart is softened, but here is Sam, who has a very great spiritual gift to simply believe on that testimony.
Now I believe that if that’s your spiritual gift, you’re not living on borrowed light. That is your gift, and what I said earlier is (found in Section 46 of the D&C) "if they remain faithful, they also will have, or might have, eternal life." This is the greatest of all the gifts of God. Of all the gifts of God, my goodness, to be able to have eternal life. So, that’s not a gift to be depreciated. And then I think sometimes somebody would say, "Well, you better get your own gift," but that may be my gift, and at my age 14 that was my gift. I also remember a wonderful man; he had a big barrel chest and he was a real brick mason type person; and he was strong and had a big bellowing voice, and he sat right behind the deacons. He was a wonderful man and we loved to hear that great big voice, and whenever he bore his testimony, he would stand up and did what I like to call McConkie-esque (imitates with deep voice), "My brothers and sisters," in a very deliberate voice and when he would bear his testimony, I would remember thinking at the time, "Brother Nibley knows; and I trust Brother Nibley; he is a good man, and right now that’s enough for me." This is a spiritual gift of believing on the testimony of others
I don’t know where it was, whether it was on the mission or if it was sometime afterwards, or if it was one single experience -- I don’t know which time I was reading through the Book of Mormon that I can tell you that I received my own personal validation, and that is certainly where it came. I think the important point that I’m trying to make is that in terms of heavenly evidence we need to be flexible and allow different people to have different experiences; and maybe not grade on the curve for ourselves, because if you hold yourself to that standard that you must have a burning in the bosom or you are not really going to get a testimony, you might find that is not your gift. I thought it was interesting that the Lord told the Prophet Joseph that he was to (and this is in Section 5, verse 4) pretend to no other gift than the gift that he’d been given, and the gift that Joseph was given was the gift of translation, and that other gifts would be added unto him as he pursued the gift of translation. Let’s look at the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith -- he starts out, of course, really with the Book of Mormon, and then we have him with the Pearl of Great Price; we also have him going through the Old and the New Testaments; and he had gone through one time and was on his way through the second time when he was martyred. And, because of that he didn’t finish that process, the LDS Church, anyway, had not published the Joseph Smith translation; and what has happened, of course, is that is in his personal history. Dr. John Bernhisel copied down out of the original Bible that Joseph Smith used and made all the corrections with. Dr. Bernhisel copied that entire thing over, and it came out with Brigham Young. But the Community of Christ, originally known as the Reorganized Church, they had the original copy, and then a few years ago, I think it was around 1971 or ’72, we had Brother Robert J. Matthews, former dean of the College of Religion at BYU, for his doctoral dissertation, got permission from both the Church and the Reorganized Church to compare the two, the Dr. Bernhisel manuscript with the original translation from the Bible corrections that Joseph Smith made. His conclusion was that there was no significant difference whatsoever. I went out and purchased the translation as published by the Community of Christ and I think it is a highly reliable document. Are there changes that might have been made? And the answer is, yes. The real point in sharing that story with you is to point out that here is the Prophet Joseph, who has been given a spiritual gift, and other gifts were added unto him as he pursued the gift that the Lord gave him. That’s why I wonder if maybe one of the most important things we can do in this life is to find out how the Holy Ghost works with us individually. That becomes a great quest, because once we can answer that question then it becomes a tool, I believe, to unlock a number of doors that we might be able to open up to our understanding and inspiration and revelation, and maybe like the Prophet Joseph. I found it of interest that many people have simply one gift. And a nice way to approach that, and I may suggest as a recommendation, is to find your spiritual gift if you happen to have your patriarchal blessing. Sit down with a piece of paper and draw a ‘T’ on that piece of paper and put on one side ‘Blessings,’ and on the other side put ‘Admonitions.’ Now what you’re going to find is that some blessings stand independent of anything else. "I bless you with health and strength." Whatever it may say, you might find a blessing independent of any admonition. On the other hand, you’re going to find that there are some admonitions in your patriarchal blessing that are quite independent of anything else. Then you’re going to find that there are certain blessings that are tied to admonitions. "I bless you with the gift of wisdom, or I bless you with the gift of knowledge, or with the gift of whatever it may be as you abide by the Word of Wisdom." Now, because I’ve made sort of a study of these patriarchal blessings, it’s been interesting that sometimes the Lord will promise two different people the same blessing but the motivation for the two, or what they must do to qualify for that blessing, are different. So, for example, I remember reading one that said (quoting with permission), "I bless you with the gift of knowledge as you abide by the Word of Wisdom." That was a very individual personal blessing for that specific person; and yet here is someone else who was told "I bless you with the gift of knowledge as you study the good books of the Church." So, the same gift of knowledge may be acquired by two different individuals, and they may receive, then, their heavenly evidence through different channels, depending on what is said there. So if you look at an interesting dissection of your own patriarchal blessing (and a serious perusal of that may take you an hour or a couple of hours to do that) and you put the notes on your paper, you may have questions as to whether an item is a blessing or an admonition. As you try to sort through that (and it takes a little bit of practice), I’m sure that as you do that you will be able to find then your spiritual gift or gifts.
Just another observation – you know, people who have just one spiritual gift don’t seem to be as confused as those people who seem to have many. Isn’t that interesting? Sometimes people who are multitalented have a very hard time focusing, and it is probably because they can do several things very well, being multi-gifted. Then not being able to be really focused on a gift or to develop those gifts, becomes a greater challenge. I see that in personal experience in visiting with many people who have worked with that.
So, heavenly evidence, working with the Holy Ghost, there cannot be a substitute for that, nor do we want anybody to gain a testimony just on the basis of physical evidence. Too whimsical and too fleeting and we just don’t want to go that direction, nor do I believe that anybody here in this group have that as an orientation.
Okay, let me kind of move ahead here. I think I’ve mentioned and covered enough the idea of receiving a spiritual witness, which is our first and foremost obligation. The things we are going to talk about today are primarily going to be focusing on some of the earthly remains from archaeology and anthropology and the historicity of the Book of Mormon, on internal and on external evidences of the Book of Mormon, and those kinds of things, but not, not in any way, to be a substitute for the importance of the heavenly evidence that can only come by a witness of the Holy Ghost to your spirit in whichever way you and the Holy Ghost work out how to communicate. But I believe that that great quest will reap a wonderful harvest and open up the door for many, many blessings that will come to you. I believe that as President Hinckley has inspiredly said in challenging all of us that no matter how many times we have read the Book of Mormon to read it one more time before the end of the year. I think we’ll find there will be many who will discover their spiritual gift is in getting in touch with Holy Ghost as he comes to them as they read the scriptures, with revelation and inspiration and insight and witnesses of all Holy Ghost; and even answers to many prayers will come to them as they feast upon the words of God.
Well, so there’s not that contrast that we have to worry about. Now I’m kind of excited to share some things recently as we have had the launching of this third annual Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum. And I just wanted to share something that I think some of you are familiar with, because I believe that we can relate to this. Let me give you a for instance – when we study the Book of Mormon, I’m not looking to study it whether I’m traveling with the cruise lady or whoever you may be going with, but when I travel and go to these different places (and some of you have been on those tours with us, and they are wonderful experiences) what we hope that people will accomplish is not that they’ll gain a testimony by physical evidence, but that they will gain a ‘spirit of place’.
Let me address that ‘spirit of place’. Let me ask, how many of you have been to Israel? Just raise your hands. That’s quite a goodly number of you here. It changes you. When you go to Israel and you come back and read the scriptures, every place you went is not going to be, ‘I walked where Jesus walked,’ because you’re going to be walking about 20 feet above where he walked through the rubble, and maybe through several foreign cultures over centuries of time. But there are places you can walk where Jesus walked. And you can truly feel a ‘spirit of place’. Now, do we go to the Holy Land to try to find proof that Jesus existed? The answer is, no. We go to the Holy Land all already with the testimony in place to be able to have an appreciation for that geography. And I’m suggesting to you that is the motivation of most of the people that I know. And most of the people that I work with, that is their orientation. It’s and not about trying to use evidence to be a substitute for the spiritual witness.
Again, let me ask another question by show of hands – How many of you have been to the Sacred Grove in Palmyra? Well, that’s a little bit more isn’t it? Did you go there to find the Father and the Son? That’s where they were. Did you go there to find evidence of them? And the answer is, no. You went there to obtain a ‘spirit of place’. And when you come away from there you come with a great spirit. It’s in that same sense that we’re looking to identify some of these places in the Book of Mormon: that same ‘spirit of place’ and a sense of appreciation. And I think, for example, of Columbus. In 1st Nephi where he talks about Columbus, although not identified here by name, (and see if this doesn’t identify to a certain extent what we’re talking about). Here we are in 1st Nephi chapter thirteen, verse twelve, "And I looked and I beheld a man among the gentiles who was separated from the seed of my brethren by many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God that it came down and wrought upon the man. And he went forth upon the many waters even unto the seed of my brethren who were in the promised land." Now there was a man by the name of Jacob Wasserman who wrote a book called, Columbus, Don Quixote of the Seas. On pages nineteen and twenty where he translates Christopher Columbus from his journal. This is what Columbus said in his journal, "Our Lord unlocked my mind. He set me upon the sea, and he gave me fire for the deed. Those who heard of my enterprise called it foolish, mocked me and laughed. But who could doubt but that the Holy Ghost inspired me." That’s from Christopher Columbus’s own journal. Mocked, scorned, laughed at for pursuing this?
We haven’t found a tablet yet that says, ‘I, Nephi.’ Haven’t found that yet, and we may never find it, but I believe that we will, through the sheer mass of evidence and other things, be able to have a high degree of reliability to where these four first basic areas of the primary events of the Book of Mormon take place: meaning the land of first inheritance, the Land of Nephi, the Land of Zarahemla, and the Land of Desolation. They are pretty much like Professor John Sorenson talked about, maybe within a distance of 500 miles in one direction and 200 miles wide. Remember, again, that when you consider the Holy Land, you’re looking at a land of considerably smaller distances, yet, here we are, archaeologically still looking for historical evidence of Jesus. For those who have a testimony of Jesus, it’s not a matter of going there to try to find that. I find it ironic that a lot of Biblical archaeologists profess a kind of atheism in their belief system. Why would you want to study the Bible if you believe in that?
Now there is a high degree of reliability that the Bible is a good historical document; and that is one of the objectives, I believe, of the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, that it should also establish the Book of Mormon as great historical document, that will allow people to be able to have a high degree of confidence in some of the various geographical locations Now I’m a real believer that we need to be very cautious in proclaiming that this place or that place is the absolute, for sure, ‘This is the Place.’ When a prophet of God, whether it be Brigham Young or Joseph Smith, says ‘This is the Place,’ or, for example, Harold B. Lee as he stood outside the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem and made a statement in the presence of Joseph Ginot, who related it to me. He said, "I heard him say the Holy Ghost has born witness to my spirit that this is the spot where the Savior was resurrected." That will do it as far as I’m concerned. That has now been elected; it’s no longer a candidate. That has been elected because a prophet of God, under inspiration, has so declared it to be. Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to still be people like the Catholics who have some very strong feelings about where the Savior was resurrected; they have a huge cathedral erected over their spot; and you have the Garden tomb – and there are some who believe that the Garden tomb is not the correct spot it even though President Lee may have announced that, and they are thinking that maybe there are some other places that are good candidates for that. Well, that’s a matter of personal faith or choice in what you decide what you want to do with it. And unless a prophet of God, in my own opinion, selects a spot and says, ‘This is the Place,’ then I think we’re safe when talking about the candidates for various places. When we have an election, we have candidates for offices, and they haven’t been elected yet. So there a number of places that are great candidates.
I think that the River Grijalva is a great candidate for the River Sidon, and I also see that the River Usumacinta may be the River Sidon; and I’m not sure we have enough information yet, no matter how much that you may feel about it, that we can say with any definitive statement, that we are ready to declare that this is the final thing. I have a bias that has swung me in both directions, as a matter of fact, and I think we need to wait for more information, and possibly others during these sessions will speak to that end more definitively.
Let me say, then, that finding the ‘spirit of place’ is very, very important. That’s a primary objective after you have received a spiritual witness -- getting the ‘spirit of place’. I remember walking through the jungles (I actually served a mission in Mexico) and got lost in the jungles with my companion, and at that time we had an eighteen-year-old young man with us, and we were lost in the jungles of Veracruz for three days out by Jalapa. And after three days of being lost to those jungles, I could understand very clearly how Captain Moroni could hide an entire army 10 feet off a trail. After awhile, we heard a truck and we made our way over to where the noise of the truck was, and there was a highway. We’d been walking along for about a mile-and-a-half, and it was about 15 feet away. There hadn’t been any traffic before so we didn’t know it was a highway.
Then, I remember saying to my companion, "I see these huge flashes in my eyes and I didn’t know what they meant." And he said those were lightning bugs, and they were something like 50-watters, not the little tiny ones that I see in Georgia sometimes. And, I remember thinking at the time, "My goodness, we have we been walking along 15 feet away from a road and not even knowing it was there;" and that’s what I call a sense of place.
We talked sometimes to people from the highlands of Guatemala and then down to the lowlands where you would have Zarahemla. And I wonder, why would anybody want to be going back to a hostile area; why would these Nephites want to return to the Land of Nephi when it was totally occupied by Lamanites? All you have to understand is that Guatemala is between 65 and 75 degrees year-round, it means eternal spring, and when you’re down in the lowlands, such as in Chiapas, or down between the two rivers, you can hardly walk a few steps without beginning to perspire, and I could understand just on the basis of climate, alone, why one might want to return. So, some interesting things about that.
Now, let me jump, if I may, to some final thoughts here, that I’d like to share with you. And these are really much more geographical in nature; and, also, I would call myself a Mesoamerican in the sense that I advocate Mesoamerica to be the land of first inheritance, the land of Nephi, the Land of Zarahemla, and the land of final destruction. So, just so you know that’s my bias, without reservation.
So let me just suggest something about the Hill Cumorah in New York; and just share something with you about that. That area up there – now you have the statements made by two different brethren, Brother Hamilton there and Patriarch McBride. Some of you may be familiar with this reference. You can find it in the Don L. Peterson quote in Moroni, the Last of the Nephite Prophets, and it’s in a BYU religious studies magazine that they produced there from 1988-95, pages 244-247. I give you that reference so you can refer to it later. That’s where these two men claimed that the Prophet Joseph Smith (two men and one of them is a patriarch, and that adds a lot of stature in my eyes, because in those days when they were calling patriarchs there were very few of them, and it was probably next to the office of a General Authority, and so this man has a lot of credibility). And Brother Hamilton, he was a temple worker there in St. George, and a very, very faithful man – and both of them from the Richfield, Utah, area. And they claimed that Joseph Smith told them that Moroni took a small number of the plates and walked from Central America. Both men record that, and they said that he also gave them a map. You can see that if you go to the references, there are two maps, very similar, almost identical, and claimed that Moroni dedicated temple sites along the way. Now, because that information has been out there, for some of you that may be new information, but I believe that that, indeed, happened. You have Moroni walking, and how would you say that happened, . . . and this is not my major point, but to build up to the point here? Again, I think I mentioned it to you earlier, but you have Lewis and Clark being celebrated 200 years last year, where they made a journey of 4000 miles from St. Louis, Missouri, to the mouth of the Columbia River and back again in 2 ½ years, crossing the Rocky Mountains twice. You have Moroni, the last great prophet recorded, taking about 16 years for one journey, and a total of about 36 ½ years to be able to make that journey of about 2500 miles, more than ample time to be able to do that.
He may have gone on that journey with some of the 24 who survived with him, but there are lots of questions about that. My point in even mentioning that is really because I want to go to another thing about this area. And this, I thought, was kind of fascinating. If you have your Book of Mormon with you, would you mind opening up to Alma, chapter 2, verse 38. Now the background setting for those of you who don’t have your Books of Mormon with you is this is where the Amlicites, who are Nephite dissenters, are going to break off and meet with the Lamanites, and what happens? There is a tremendous battle that takes place in Zarahemla and west of there, and a little bit north, as well. And here’s what it says in verse 38, "And it came to pass that many died in the wilderness of their wounds, and were devoured by those beasts and also the vultures of the air; and their bones have been found, and have been heaped up on the earth." So, I contacted the American Turkey Vulture Society and found that the Turkey Vulture is found everywhere in North and South America except south of the Great Lakes, because of the ‘lake effect’ as they call it. They have to soar and they have to have the uplift under the wing, which is absent from the ‘lake effect.’ So, the only place where they are not found is in that New York area south around Palmyra and around Buffalo and around Rochester, New York, because they don’t have the natural updraft that soaring birds need.
The last thing to conclude here – we were talking about serpents and about the symbolism about raising the serpent. This is from a book called, The Cultures of Mesoamerica by Dimitrio Sordey. The author makes this observation on page 161, and this took place in 1323 when the Aztecs were coming down to find the ‘promised land’ of which the symbol on the Mexican flag is a sign. They were actually the Mexicas (they are usually not referred to as the Aztecs anymore). The settled in an area outside of Mexico City and met the chief of the Toltecs, and they said to him we’d like to settle. And he was afraid of them, so what he did was to counsel with his people, and told them, ‘These Aztecs are kind of weak, but they could get strong, and I worry about them. So let’s send them down.’ (Now, let’s jump ahead to Ether 9. We’re going to send them down to the Narrow Neck of Land, to the place that is infested with poisonous snakes.) This is from Dimitrio Sordey, he said, "The land is so filled with poisonous snakes that they will perish, the entire population, if we send them down there." So they sent them down south of Mexico City toward the Narrow Neck of Land to destroy them. What happened, however, was this – the Aztecs had learned to survive on snakes and rodents. So, when they were sent down to that area, the Aztecs wrote a poem of praise to the chief of the Toltecs. (This is a direct translation from Nahautl into Spanish and from Spanish into English.) "We, the Aztecs, are overjoyed when we saw the serpents we roasted them all; we roasted them and ate them up. The Aztecs ate them up." That is a poem written in 1323, dedicated to the chief of the Toltecs, for saving the people. And, two years later, in 1325, the Mexicas conquered the Toltecs and set up Mexico City, and were there until destroyed by Cortez, who conquered them in 1524.
Brothers and sisters and friends, in conclusion I tell you that I have a personal testimony of the Book of Mormon that I have received from a heavenly witness from the Holy Ghost, who has borne witness to my spirit that this is, indeed, what it claims to be. And, having had that witness, I now seek and study, and am excited to learn about the Book of Mormon and all about the earthly remains, not as a substitute, but as a way to be able to appreciate the ‘spirit of place’. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.