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 Church newspaper, Times and Seasons, previous to, during, and after the time when Joseph was the chief editor. If he wrote these articles, dictated them, or, at the very least, approved their content, they have far-reaching consequences in helping Book of Mormon readers in their search for the New World setting for 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 and millions of followers, became a prophet of God after translating the Book of Mormon, an ancient record that deals, according to the thinking of most latter-day Book of Mormon scholars, with the founding and incomplete histories of the Olmec and Maya civilizations in Mesoamerica.
Question: Were the two personally acquainted with each other during their mortal existence?
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 is merely made that John Lloyd Stephens unwittingly was responsible for contributing unplanned but unique and significant testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. This testimony is found in his writings about Mesoamerica—accounts that appeared in print about twelve years after the Book of Mormon was published. Had his accounts appeared in print before Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon, anti–Mormon critics would have had a field day in postulating that Joseph Smith relied heavily on John Lloyd Stephens for much of the scheme and content of the Book of Mormon. As things have turned out, however, Stephens’s writings go a long way in testifying that Joseph Smith translated rather than authored the Book of Mormon.
Production costs for publishing Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan 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.”1 Thus, accurate information about Mesoamerican archaeology was essentially unknown by the general population in 1829 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.”2
Proposals for the New World Setting for the Book of Mormon
As 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 setting for the New World events recorded in 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, recent models have been proposed in Peru,3 Panama,4 Mesoamerica,5 Baja California,6 the New York-Great Lakes region,7 and even the Malay Peninsula.8
This article deals specifically with only two of the models. The first has been named the “Heartland Model” by its adherents who state that all New World events of the Book of Mormon took place in the heartland of the continental United States (from the Great Lakes on the north to the Gulf of Mexico on the south). The second will be called the “Mesoamerica Model” for purposes of this article because its adherents state that all New World events took place in the geographic territory known as Mesoamerica (in general, Mexico City to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, all of southern Mexico, 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 end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the Heartland Model and the Mesoamerica Model are the two most widely “cussed and discussed” by readers of the Book of Mormon.
Proponents of both the Mesoamerica Model and the Heartland Model are critically aware of John Lloyd Stephens’s two-volume book, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, 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 until 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 about the Times and Seasons articles associated with John Lloyd Stephens because they support Mesoamerica as the New World setting for the Book of Mormon.
On the other hand, Heartland Model adherents are negative about the Times and Seasons articles because their contents, if written by, dictated by, or approved by Joseph Smith, negate the validity of the Heartland Model’s contention that all New World events of the Book of Mormon took place in the “heartland” of the United States. Simplistically, Heartland Model proponents 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” proves that Times and Seasons editors other than Joseph Smith wrote the articles.
If Joseph Smith wrote, dictated, or, at the very least, approved the Times and Seasons articles, the Mesoamerica Model garners a huge vote of confidence as a valid model for the New World setting for the Book of Mormon. On the other hand, if Joseph Smith did not write, dictate, or approve the articles, the Heartland Model gains significant ground in asserting its claim of validity as the “correct” model for the New World setting of the Book of Mormon.
Interestingly, John Lloyd Stephens has surfaced again in the twenty-first century in connection with Book of Mormon geography and history.
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 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.”9
• John Lloyd Stephens is, in fact, given the distinction of “rediscovering” the lost world of the Maya.
• By some, he 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 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 it was published.
• He 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 hides.
• Through his fellow traveler, Frederick Catherwood, an English artist and architect, Stephens has shared marvelous illustrations and artwork about the ancient Maya people—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 Norte Americanos 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 Mesoamerican cities.
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 U.S. 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,10 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.11|
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 America12 were not savages.13|
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?’”14
Before setting out for Copan, had Stephens read the Book of Mormon, which was first published 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 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.15|
From a hindsight perspective, we 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. We don’t know whether they had an opportunity to do so. We 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.16|
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. We have no reliable information about the extent to which Joseph read Stephens’s volumes or discussed them with Church-member colleagues. On June 25, 1842, he noted the following: “Messrs. Stephens and Catherwood have succeeded in collecting in the interior of America17 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.”18
At this point, Joseph clearly and unequivocally shows his 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 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.19|
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, we can assume that he approved of its content. We can also generally assume that the content of the 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.”20
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.”21 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. We can assume that its author is Joseph Smith for two reasons: (1) the article ends with the notation “-ED” (editor) to signify that Joseph Smith possibly wrote or dictated the article, definitely 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 the 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.22 Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormen unfolds their history. -ED.23|
Though difficult to determine because of inadequate documentation techniques, the major part of the article should probably be attributed to the Antiquarian Society, which disputes the claim that existing native Amerindians of the United States could be responsible for archaeological findings that were taking place at the time: “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.”24 That is, to the typical United States resident at the time, Amerindian natives of the United States were savages who were incapable of constructing the artifacts that archaeological endeavors were beginning to uncover or discover in the Mesoamerican territory of “this continent.”
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 United States to Mesoamerica in pinpointing the peoples of the Book of Mormon and the area where the events of the Book of Mormon occurred. His thinking was clearly influenced by the writing and thinking of John Lloyd Stephens. Before expressing a negative attitude toward those statements, you are invited to read on as I examine events associated with John Lloyd Stephens and the Times and Seasons.25
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, Joseph Smith (at least “Joseph Smith” by virtue of his approval as editor) 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.”26
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.27|
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,28 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.”29
The “remains and ruins” are 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 truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. In a similar fashion, we 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.”30
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.31
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 himself? As is typical with articles in the Times and Seasons, the authorship of items is often not given, so we 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, we can answer a definite “Yes” 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.”32 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. We are on shaky ground if we 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 other than that of editing the Times and Seasons, he indeed was “the editor” at the time and clearly must be ascribed responsibility for 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.
Scholars 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 scholars 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 Smith can be directly associated with this content.
Seven logical 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 in the 2007 manual for Melchizedek Priesthood holders and Relief Society sisters, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith; and (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 stated, “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.”33
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 we would label 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.”34
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, we can assume that 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.”
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.”35 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. 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!”36
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.37
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.38
We learn two significant outcomes from this incident. First, readers of the Times and Seasons, upon seeing the designation “Ed.” following an article, routinely attributed the content of that article to the individual listed in that issue as the editor. Second, readers expected the content of an issue to be reviewed and approved by the editor (as reflected in Ebenezer’s “personal inspection” wording). Therefore, we can legitimately feel confident that Joseph Smith had direct responsibility for any Times and Seasons article that contains the notation “Ed.” at its conclusion and that deals with John Lloyd Stephens and the Book of Mormon while Joseph was the “chief editor.”
Again, if Joseph Smith disagreed with the content of any of the subsequent articles about John Lloyd Stephens and the Book of Mormon, he likely would have “set the record straight” by expressing his disagreement in a later issue. That he did not express any disagreement with the content of the articles certainly suggests that he agreed with them.
4. Joseph Smith’s valedictory statement. Beginning with issue number nine of volume three, Joseph Smith assumed the role of “chief editor” for the next sixteen issues of the Times and Seasons (March 1, 1842, to October 15, 1842). His “valedictory” statement in passing along the “chief editor” responsibilities to John Taylor is found in the November 15, 1842, issue:
|I beg leave to inform the subscribers of the Times and Seasons that it is impossible for me to fulfil the arduous duties of the editorial department any longer. The multiplicity of other business that daily devolves upon me, renders it impossible for me to do justice to a paper so widely circulated as the Times and Seasons. I have appointed Elder John Taylor, who is less encumbered and fully competent to assume the responsibilities of that office, and I doubt not but that he will give satisfaction to the patrons of the paper. As this number commences a new volume, it also commences his editorial career. Joseph Smith.39|
Immediately following the Prophet’s valedictory statement, John Taylor makes the following comments:
|The patrons of the Times and Seasons will unquestionably be painfully disappointed on reading the above announcement. We know of no one so competent as President Joseph Smith to fill the editorial chair, of which the papers that have been issued since he has been editor are sufficient evidence.
We do not profess to be able to tread in the steps, nor to meet the expectation of the subscribers of this paper so fully as our able, learned and talented prophet, who is now retiring from the field; but as he has promised to us the priviledge of referring to his writings, books, &c., together with his valuable counsel, when needed, and also to contribute to its columns with his pen when at leisure, we are in hopes that with his assistence, and other resources that we have at our command, that the Times and Seasons will continue to be a valuable periodical, and interesting to its numerous readers. JOHN TAYLOR40
Thus, John Taylor gives Joseph Smith legitimate praise for Joseph’s editorial leadership for the past sixteen issues—ascribing editorial responsibility for their content to Joseph. Further, John Taylor tells us that Joseph would still play a role in working with the content of future issues of the Times and Seasons. Therefore, we can assume that Joseph played a role of some kind in giving his blessing to the content of future articles about the writings of John Lloyd Stephens in connection with the content of the Book of Mormon.
5. Lack of any retraction by Joseph Smith of the Times and Seasons articles about John Lloyd Stephens. Following the publication of the Times and Seasons articles about John Lloyd Stephens in connection with the Book of Mormon, we can naturally assume that Joseph Smith, at some point, would disclaim or retract such content if he disagreed with it. However, we have no evidence of any instance in which Joseph Smith disclaimed or retracted any statements he had made in the Times and Seasons or disclaimed his responsibility for any of the Times and Seasons content about John Lloyd Stephens. More than adequate time was available to Joseph to take these actions if he did not support the Times and Seasons articles in connection with Stephens and the Book of Mormon.
The absence of any retraction or disclaimer by Joseph, such as the retraction of his responsibility for the marriage-notification incident alluded to earlier, seems to support his full acceptance of the content in the Times and Seasons about John Lloyd Stephens in connection with the Book of Mormon. In his history, as noted earlier, he makes only one casual comment about Stephens—the content of which supports the Times and Seasons articles: “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.”41
6. An official 2007 statement by the Church. Under the copyright date of 2007, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published the manual for use by males in Melchizedek Priesthood meetings and by females in Relief Society meetings. In the “Introduction” of this manual, which was designed as the instructional manual for the two-year period of 2008 and 2009, the following comments are made:
|The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have established the Teachings of Presidents of the Church series to help you deepen your understanding of the restored gospel and draw closer to the Lord through the teachings of latter-day Presidents of the Church. . . .
This book [Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith] features the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who was called of God to open the dispensation of the fulness of times in these latter days. . . .
The teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith presented in this book have been taken from several categories of source materials: the Prophet’s sermons, articles prepared for publication by the Prophet or under his direction, the Prophet’s letters and journals, recorded recollections of those who heard the Prophet speak, and some of the Prophet’s teachings and writings that were later canonized in the scriptures. Many of Joseph Smith’s teachings have been quoted from the History of the Church. For further information about these sources, see the appendix.42
Then, under the title of “Appendix: Sources Used in This Book,” the following statement is made:
|Joseph Smith wrote or dictated some material for publication. Also, he frequently directed a scribe, another member of the First Presidency, or another trusted individual to write an article regarding specific matters he wished addressed. The Prophet would then endorse the text, having approved it as representing his thinking, and publish it under his name. For example, this book quotes from several editorials published in the Times and Seasons in 1842. During an eight-month period of that year, from February to October, Joseph Smith served as the editor of this periodical and frequently published articles signed “Ed.” Though others helped to write many of these articles, the Prophet approved them and published them in his name.43|
This “official” statement by the Church in 2007 supports the content of this article in connection with Joseph Smith’s role as “Editor” of the Times and Seasons. That is, scholars and historians have been hesitant for years to declare unequivocally that Joseph Smith “wrote” the content in the Times and Seasons about Mesoamerica’s being the New World setting for the Book of Mormon. However, all the circumstances associated with the articles in the Times and Seasons suggest that he wrote, dictated, or, at the very least, approved the content of these articles. That being the case, readers of the Book of Mormon are most assuredly on firm footing in believing that Joseph favored—about two years before his martyrdom—Mesoamerica as the New World setting for the Book of Mormon.
7. The projected stance of the Joseph Smith Papers Project toward the Times and Seasons articles. “The Joseph Smith Papers Project is a ‘papers’ project that will publish, according to accepted scholarly and documentary editing standards, documents created by Joseph Smith or by staff whose work he directed.”44 At some point, therefore, the personnel in charge of the project will deal with the Times and Seasons articles about John Lloyd Stephens and Mesoamerica. If the Times and Seasons content associated with John Lloyd Stephens can be attributed legitimately to Joseph Smith, Book of Mormon readers will have substantial evidence that the New World setting of the Book of Mormon is Mesoamerica. That line of reasoning naturally makes scholars inquisitive about the stance that the Joseph Smith Papers Project personnel will take toward the Times and Seasons articles.
In an attempt to determine the stance of the Joseph Smith Papers Project personnel toward the Times and Seasons articles as of October 2009, I enlisted the support of Professor Richard Neitzel Holzapfel of the Brigham Young University Church History and Doctrine Department. Dr. Holzapfel in turn forwarded my query to Dr. Ronald Kent Esplin, who was the managing editor of the Joseph Smith Papers Project at that time. Via Dr. Holzapfel, Dr. Esplin answered my query as follows:
|Your correspondent on Book of Mormon geography has done a bit of research himself, and I don’t know that we will or can solve to his satisfaction the questions he raises. For one thing, though we are very cautious about presenting something that may not be JS at all, or that is misattributed, . . . something done by others in Joseph’s name and by his direction is for us very much a “Joseph Smith document.” We don’t have to sort out if he wrote it, read and approved before hand, or gave some general “this is an interesting book and I want you to write something about in the Times and Seasons.” An unsigned editorial at a time when JS is the editor becomes a Joseph Smith document. Now if it is clear to us that John Taylor or Willard Richards (or whomever) wrote the piece . . . we will note that in the historical introduction. But according to our definition, it is still a JS document. Readers, then, will make of it what they will, taking into consideration all the data we can provide and their own criteria.
One interesting example may help. It seems clear to us that Sidney Rigdon had much more to do with nearly all the Lectures on Faith than did Joseph Smith. We will say as much and hope that many readers will understand the specific language and formulations, even the format, probably owes more to Rigdon than to JS. But a preface or endorsement signed by the First Presidency in February 1835 makes it clear that Joseph and the full First presidency are publishing the Doctrine and Covenants, the Doctrine part (Lectures, separately enumerated in their preface) and the Covenants (or revelations and commandments); all of it is endorsed by the Presidency.
Back to the case in point. There is considerable evidence that Joseph Smith made statements early and throughout the 1830s that suggest he saw North America as a setting for the Book of Mormon. It is also almost certain that he was among those in Nauvoo who took keen interest in the new information from Central America. Though the two views may seem incompatible and it is not impossible that Joseph came to favor Central America as he learned more about it, it is also possible that he saw the entire landscape as part of the story.45
Esplin concluded his email by noting that the Joseph Smith Papers “will not be able to settle . . . what is the right ‘answer’ to the location riddle” as scholars choose between Mesoamerica and the Eastern United States as the New World setting for the Book of Mormon. Clearly, however, the Joseph Smith Papers Project personnel will view the Times and Seasons articles about John Lloyd Stephens and Mesoamerica as “Joseph Smith documents” that had Joseph’s “endorsement.”
Based on Esplin’s comments, proponents of the Heartland Model who maintain that all New World events of the Book of Mormon took place in the Eastern United States are on shaky ground in maintaining that Joseph Smith was not responsible for the Times and Seasons articles because (1) he was in hiding at the time the articles were published or (2) the use of the plural pronoun “we” signaled that Times and Seasons personnel other than Joseph were responsible for the articles’ contents.
So did Joseph Smith change his opinion about the location of the New World setting for the Book of Mormon? For example, an examination of his potential June 1834 statements about the Zelph incident46 and his statements in a June 4, 1834, letter to his wife Emma Smith47 compared with his Times and Seasons statements in 1842 (written by him, dictated by him, or approved by him) clearly suggests that he indeed preferred Mesoamerica to upstate New York and vicinity just two years before he was martyred.
John Lloyd Stephens’s Influence on Joseph Smith’s Thinking
What do the quotations from Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, along with the Times and Seasons content about John Lloyd Stephens’s comments, show about the influence that John Lloyd Stephens had on the Prophet Joseph Smith’s thinking? A careful (even casual?) reading of the Times and Seasons materials suggests the following outcomes:
1. Without any question, as we read from the Book of Mormon itself, Zarahemla was in the land southward, which was southward of the narrow neck of land. If Joseph believed that the Isthmus of Darien (Isthmus of Panama) were the narrow neck of land, he clearly would not have associated Quirigua, Guatemala, with the city of Zarahemla because Zarahemla would then have to be in the land northward if the Isthmus of Panama were the narrow neck of land.
2. Therefore, the Isthmus of Panama cannot be the narrow neck of land, so we must look elsewhere for that dominant geographical landmark. It could not be anywhere near New York state because the internal Book of Mormon distance from Zarahemla to the narrow neck of land is a very limited distance rather than the several thousand miles required to position the narrow neck close to upstate New York.
3. If Zarahemla indeed “stood upon this land” (Mesoamerica), Joseph is now convinced that the New World events associated with the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica rather than in the continental United States.
4. Joseph is absolutely of the opinion that John Lloyd Stephens has been exploring ruins of cities that are named in the Book of Mormon. Joseph now realizes that equivalent ruins in magnitude or construction do not exist in the continental United States.
5. Joseph, about a year and a half before his martyrdom, is moving closer and closer to making authoritative announcements about the Mesoamerican geography of the Book of Mormon.
In fact, item five is essentially what happens at this point. Because of Joseph’s role as editor, printer, and publisher of the October 1, 1842, issue of Times and Seasons, we can attribute the next two sentences to Joseph Smith:
|It will not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens’ ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon: light cleaves to light, and facts are supported by facts. The truth injures no one, and so we make another extract from Stephens’ “Incidents of Travel in Central America.”48|
The next sequential Times and Seasons article dealing with John Lloyd Stephens is in the October 1, 1843, issue, a year later and less than a year before Joseph Smith’s martyrdom. Because of heavy administrative responsibilities, Joseph had to give up the editorship of the Times and Seasons; John Taylor is the editor of this issue. The article begins with the first-person plural pronoun “we,” so we are left to wonder whether we can attribute any of the content to Joseph Smith. Clearly, however, Joseph’s stance as editor in previous Times and Seasons articles supports the content:
|We have lately perused with great interest, Stephen’s works on Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan.
Mr. Stephens published about two years ago, a very interesting work entitled “Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan,” in which he details very many interesting circumstances; discovered the ruins of magnificent cities, and from hieroglyphical representations, sculpture and rich specimens of architecture, proved one important fact, which had been disputed by many of our sages; that America had once been peopled by a highly polished, civilized and scientific race, with whom the present aborigines could not compare.
Since the publication of this work, Mr. Stephens has again visited Central America, in company with Mr. Catherwood, and other scientific gentlemen, for the purpose of making further explorations among those already interesting ruins. They took with them the Daguerreotype, and other apparatus, for the purpose of giving views and drawings of those mysterious relics of antiquity. His late travels and discoveries, have also been published in two volumes of the same size, entitled “Incidents of travel in Central America.” . . .
This is a work that ought to be in the hands of every Latter Day Saint; corroborating, as it does the history of the Book of Mormon. There is no stronger circumstantial evidence of the authenticity of the latter book, can be given, than that contained in Mr. Stephens’ works.
Mr. Stephens gives an account of ancient cities he has visited, where once dwelt the powerful, the wise, the scientific, and to use his own words; “architecture, sculpture and painting, all the arts which embellished life had flourished in this overgrown city; orators, warriors, and statesmen, beauty, ambition, and glory, had lived and passed away, and none knew that such things had been, or could tell of their past existence.” In the last clause, Mr. Catherwood is mistaken. It has fallen to his lot to explore the ruins of this once mighty people, but the “Book of Mormon” unfolds their history; and published as it was, years before these discoveries were made, and giving as it does, accounts of a people, and of cities that bear a striking resemblance to those mentioned by Mr. Stephens, both in regard to magnificence and location, it affords the most indubitable testimony of the historical truth of that book, which has been treated so lightly by the literati and would be philosophers of the present age.
For the information of our friends who do not possess this work, we may at a convenient time collect and compare many of the important items in this work, and in the Book of Mormon, and publish them.49
That publication never came to fruition—possibly because the enemies of Joseph Smith so vocally and militantly berated and hounded him, leaving him and other Church leaders little time for anything other than sheer survival. A few months after the above article was written, Joseph Smith suffered a martyr’s death. Following that event, the leaders of the Church were totally immersed in administrative responsibilities associated with the aftermath of the martyrdom. Although a few additional, minor references to Stephens’s explorations are mentioned in the Times and Seasons, it essentially moved on to other matters following Joseph’s death in June of 1844. The final issue of the Times and Seasons is dated February 15, 1846, after which the exodus of the Saints from Nauvoo began.
Joseph Smith’s Knowledge of Mesoamerica
Preceding the time when John Lloyd Stephens became a factor in Joseph Smith’s thinking, what did Joseph know about Mesoamerica?
Today, some anti–Book of Mormon critics like to point out that Joseph Smith obviously wrote about large cities and major civilizations in the Americas because Mesoamerica of the 1820s clearly contained evidence of their existence. Therefore, Joseph’s authoring—as opposed to translating—of the Book of Mormon was relatively simple.
Frankly, all nineteenth-century theories about the origins of the Book of Mormon have been proven false, so today’s critics are left with their only “answer” to the Book of Mormon’s origin—their claim that Joseph wrote it himself as a result of his very creative imagination.
However, the ruined cities and civilizations of ancient Mesoamerica were in a different universe from the Amerindian natives of the United States whom Joseph might have known about while living in upstate New York. The reality is that when the Book of Mormon was published, the idea that ancient advanced civilizations had lived on this continent was so far-fetched to the residents of upstate New York that the witnesses of the Book of Mormon expected the book to be rejected by its readers. In an 1883 interview with James H. Hart, David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses, said, “When we [the Three Witnesses] were first told to publish our statement, we felt sure that the people would not believe it, for the Book told of a people who were refined and dwelt in large cities; but the Lord told us that He would make it known to the people, and people should discover evidence of the truth of what is written in the Book.”50
Further, following the publication of the Book of Mormon and for the next several years, Joseph Smith and others related the book’s events and prophecies about the Lamanites to the native Amerindians of the continental United States. Little if any thought was given to associating the Book of Mormon Lamanites with the peoples of Mesoamerica. At one point, in fact, “the first mission among the Lamanites” was initiated (see Doctrine and Covenants 32). “Great interest and desires were felt by the elders respecting the Lamanites, of whom predicted blessings the Church had learned from the Book of Mormon. In consequence, supplication was made that the Lord would indicate his will as to whether elders should be sent at that time to the Indian tribes in the West” (D&C 32 preface). At this point in time (1830), Joseph Smith’s entire frame of reference about the “latter-day Lamanites” of the Book of Mormon was associated with Lamanites in the United States of America. However, because of the lack of missionary success among these natives, relatively few additional missionary activities were undertaken in their behalf—and virtually none was planned for the Lamanites of Mesoamerica.
Today, Mesoamerica clearly is becoming the central focus of discussions associated with peoples and lands of the Book of Mormon—precipitated in large part by two twentieth-century books that agree in most respects in proposing a workable geographical, historical, and cultural setting for the Book of Mormon.51 Jeff Lindsay articulates masterfully the situation about Mesoamerica in the life of Joseph Smith:
|While the Book of Mormon makes sense in light of modern knowledge of ancient Mesoamerican patterns of society, warfare, trade, literacy, temple building, and numerous other elements, and while the only plausible geographical setting for the Book of Mormon is a tiny section of the New World centered in Mesoamerica, around the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, it is important to understand that Joseph Smith did not have access to this knowledge. He translated the book, but apparently did not know the scope of its geography.
Many early leaders of the Church simply assumed that the Book of Mormon dealt with all of the Americas and all of the ancestors of the Indians. When information about Mesoamerica became available in the 1840s, there was keen interest in Mesoamerica as the possible location of the Book of Mormon, . . . but this interest faded as the Church faced more serious issues: the martyrdom of Joseph, crossing the plains, struggling for survival against pressures from the US government, etc. It was not until well into [the twentieth century] that the issue of Book of Mormon geography became a topic for serious study, and then many scholars and thinkers realized that old assumptions needed to be revisited. The result has been an increasing consensus for a limited geography in Mesoamerica.
As increasing evidence points to Mesoamerica as the only serious candidate for the location of the Book of Mormon, and as information about ancient culture and life in Mesoamerica provides further parallels consistent with the Book of Mormon, it is time for critics to consider how much of this Joseph could have fabricated based on his knowledge of Mesoamerica. The reality is that Mesoamerica was not the focus of Joseph Smith’s thoughts, at least not until he learned of newly available information about that part of the world that came out AFTER publication of the Book of Mormon.52
Or, as noted previously, “By the time of Stephens and Catherwood’s first trip to Central America in 1829, . . . the subject of Mesoamerican archaeology effectively remained . . . ‘a sealed book’ to the United States’ reading public.”53
Joseph’s learning of “newly available information” about Mesoamerica as it might relate to the Book of Mormon came from his reading of John Lloyd Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan. According to John Sorenson, Stephens’s book “constituted the first body of information of any substance from which [the Church leaders], together with most people in the English-speaking world, could learn about some of the most spectacular ruins in Mesoamerica.”54 Jeff Lindsay reinforces that perspective:
|The leaders of the Church did not know the geographical details of the Book of Mormon when it was published, but were glad to learn of new discoveries of ancient civilizations that seemed consistent with the civilizations described in the Book of Mormon—a consistency that has been greatly strengthened since. It appeared that new information was leading them to revise their previous deductions—not revelations—about the scope of the Book of Mormon. But that flash of insight would fade and for decades the general membership of the Church would think of the Book of Mormon as dealing with the entire New World. But careful reading of the text clearly demands a limited geography, and Mesoamerica is the prime candidate. . . .
While the published works of Stephens would begin to educate the world about the grandeur of ancient civilization on this continent, Joseph Smith and the witnesses did not yet know that. How can critics explain the many parallels between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica—the cities, temples, priests, kings, markets, highways, classes of society, literacy, patterns of warfare (including guerilla warfare), the existence of secret societies, the evil of human sacrifice, and so forth—that are so untypical of the Native Americans that Joseph could have known? If Joseph extracted the Book of Mormon from his own environment and knowledge, why is Mesoamerica such a good fit? And how could it be a fit at all, when there was so little information about it at the time the Book of Mormon [was] published? If Joseph were just fabricating a book based on what he knew, how foolish it would have been to write about anything other than the kind of tribes that lived in New York!
John Lloyd Stephens published his Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan in 1841, about twelve years after the Book of Mormon was first published. When Joseph Smith and other leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints read Stephens’s two-volume book, they immediately reveled in its content and stated quite unequivocally that the content proved the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. They made their feelings known through a primary voice of the Church at the time, the Times and Seasons, many issues of which were “edited, published and printed” by Joseph Smith. Therefore, we can today read those issues of the Times and Seasons with reasonable confidence in their “voice of authority” in speaking about the lands and peoples of the Book of Mormon. Interested readers can easily find the full text of all issues of the Times and Seasons on the Internet.
As a result of the events following the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, leaders of the nineteenth-century Church seemed to forget about Joseph’s statements that established Mesoamerica as a geographical setting for the Book of Mormon. Instead, they were forced to wrestle with the temporal and survival needs of the Church. As a result, once the Saints were settled in Utah, Orson Pratt and others were apparently never challenged about their geographical viewpoints as they put into place for the next one hundred plus years the traditional model for the geographical setting of the Book of Mormon (the narrow neck of land = the Isthmus of Panama; the land southward = South America; the land northward = North America, beginning at the Isthmus of Panama; Mormon Hill in upstate New York = the Book of Mormon hill Cumorah).
Evidence that Joseph Smith either changed or was in the process of changing his opinion about the geographical setting for the Book of Mormon from the traditional model to the Mesoamerican model is clearly evident in issues of the Times and Seasons. Knowing this, we might today ask such questions as the following:
1. After the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, why didn’t the Church advocate and teach the Mesoamerican model for the Book of Mormon? Joseph clearly espoused that model through his comments or his approval of comments contained in the official voice of the Church, the Times and Seasons.
2. Following the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, were leaders of the Church aware of Joseph’s support for the Mesoamerican model as the geographical setting for the Book of Mormon? That is, had they had adequate opportunities to read about Joseph Smith’s Mesoamerican leanings as reflected in the Times and Seasons?
3. Had Joseph Smith not been martyred, would he have made the Mesoamerican model the accepted and even “official” setting for the Book of Mormon?
4. Once in Utah, why did Church leaders permit the entrenchment of the traditional, full-hemisphere geographical model in the minds and thinking of the lay members of the Church?
5. Based on Times and Seasons articles either written by, dictated by, or approved by Joseph Smith, why have no Church leaders of the nineteenth, twentieth, or twenty-first centuries taken an authoritarian stance about Mesoamerica as the geographical setting for the Book of Mormon and justified that stance by reference to the Times and Seasons comments that were either written by, dictated by, or approved by Joseph Smith?
6. Why have Church scholars never undertaken a comprehensive search of all issues of the Times and Seasons to determine the full impact of Joseph Smith’s inclinations to adopt a Mesoamerican model for Book of Mormon geography as a reflection of the writings of John Lloyd Stephens?
7. Will the Church ever prepare an authoritarian comparison of John Lloyd Stephens’s writings about Mesoamerica with the content of the Book of Mormon—a comparison that was apparently approved by Joseph Smith by virtue of his role with the Times and Seasons: “We may at a convenient time collect and compare many of the important items in this work, and in the Book of Mormon, and publish them”?
8. Can the 2007 statement by the Church in the Melchizedek Priesthood/Relief Society lesson manual, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (“Though others helped to write many of [the Times and Seasons] articles, the Prophet approved them and published them in his name”), be viewed as recognition that Joseph Smith indeed wrote, dictated, or at least approved the content of the Times and Seasons articles to the effect that Mesoamerica is the New World setting for the Book of Mormon?
9. Will forthcoming statements by Joseph Smith Papers Project personnel to the effect that the Times and Seasons articles about John Lloyd Stephens and Mesoamerica are “Joseph Smith documents” have a positive impact in convincing Book of Mormon readers that the New World setting for the Book of Mormon is indeed in Mesoamerica?
A careful reading of the Times and Seasons articles about John Lloyd Stephens’s writings enables us to draw at least the following conclusions:
1. John Lloyd Stephens gave unintentional, unique, and dramatic support for the content, story, and truthfulness of the Book of Mormon through his writings about the ruined cities he explored in Mesoamerica.
2. John Lloyd Stephens changed the thinking of Joseph Smith about the geographical setting for the lands and peoples of the Book of Mormon. As a result, we can perhaps build a case for assuming that some of Joseph’s early statements between 1830 and 1841 about Book of Mormon lands and peoples were opinions rather than revelatory statements.
3. Because of John Lloyd Stephens’s writings, Joseph Smith evolved in his thinking to the point that he apparently believed the New World events recorded in the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica rather than in the continental United States.
4. Joseph Smith strongly counseled members of the Church to view Mesoamerica as the geographical setting of the Book of Mormon through his forthright declaration in the Times and Seasons just a few months before he was martyred: “It will not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens’ ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon: light cleaves to light, and facts are supported by facts.”
5. An analysis of Joseph Smith’s writings in the Times and Seasons—or at the very least of his approval of the articles in the Times and Seasons—shows that the Isthmus of Panama could not be the narrow neck of land of the Book of Mormon. An extension of that analysis results in the conclusion that the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is the most logical candidate for the Book of Mormon’s narrow neck of land.
6. Through Joseph Smith-approved writings in the Times and Seasons, Joseph set the stage for his approval of a Mesoamerican geographical setting for the Book of Mormon. However, because of his martyrdom and subsequent events, a traditional geographical model was made popular by some post–martyrdom readers of the Book of Mormon.
7. If Joseph Smith had not been martyred, he probably would have promoted, even more than he did in the Times and Seasons, a limited geographical model centered in Mesoamerica as the New World setting for the Book of Mormon. Had that happened, members of the Church would not today be involved in the turmoil associated with (a) the limited geographical model (the “Mesoamerica Model”—all New World events occurred in Mesoamerica; the Book of Mormon hill Cumorah is in Mesoamerica) versus (b) the traditional, full-hemisphere geographical model for the Book of Mormon (the Isthmus of Panama is the narrow neck of land; South America is the land southward; North America, beginning at the Isthmus of Panama, is the land northward; Mormon Hill in upstate New York is the Book of Mormon hill Cumorah) and versus (c) the “Heartland Model” and similar models that identify the continental United States as the New World setting for the Book of Mormon.
8. Early on, Joseph Smith viewed the Amerindian natives of the continental United States as the Lamanite remnant that would fulfill the Book of Mormon prophecies of the latter days, even though those natives were commonly viewed by many people as little more than savages. The viewpoint that continental United States Lamanites were the remnant’s descendants who were promised the blessings of the latter days resulted in early attempts to proselytize these natives through missionary efforts. Such efforts were subsequently discontinued by Joseph Smith. We do not know whether that shift in policy was influenced by Joseph’s reading of John Lloyd Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, but we easily can suspect that is the case after we analyze issues of the Times and Seasons that deal with Joseph’s change in perspective about peoples and lands of the Book of Mormon.
9. Americans in general in the 1820s were not aware of the ancient ruins buried in the jungles or other wilderness areas of Mesoamerica. John Lloyd Stephens’s writings clearly updated the Americans’ historical perspectives about the ancient inhabitants of the Americas. For the first time, a noninvolved, non-Mormon source gave unimpeachable, significant support for the history and geography of the Book of Mormon.
10. Anti–Book of Mormon critics of the 1830s scoffed at the Book of Mormon’s content dealing with large cities and massive civilizations and attributed Joseph Smith’s related Book of Mormon content to other sources that they maintain Joseph copied. John Lloyd Stephens’s writings of the 1840s did much to silence these critics. Extensions of Stephens’s explorations in Mesoamerica by archaeologists and historians of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries continue to give significant, unparalleled support for Mesoamerica as the New World setting for the Book of Mormon.
11. John Lloyd Stephens’s writings gave tremendous support to the contentions of the Book of Mormon that ancient, large cities and major civilizations existed in the New World. To Joseph Smith and other leaders of the Church in the early 1840s, Stephens’s writings proved the legitimacy of Book of Mormon claims about cities and civilizations. From a modern perspective, however, the Church of Jesus Christ in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has failed to capitalize on discoveries that support Mesoamerica as the New World setting for the Book of Mormon.
For example, until 1941, all principals in the scholarly world believed that the mother race of Mexico was the Maya. In 1941, however, the scholarly world was introduced to the archaeological discovery that a massive civilization, known as the Olmecs, predated the Maya by hundreds of years. And with the advent of radiocarbon dating, the dates of the Olmec civilization have been found to match very closely the dates of the Jaredites of the Book of Mormon. In other words, the Olmecs are probably the Jaredites, and that discovery provides significant evidence that the New World setting for the Book of Mormon is Mesoamerica. However, because Church members are not taught about the Olmecs in Primary, Sunday School, priesthood, Relief Society, seminary, institute, or university religion classes, very few of them have even heard of the Olmec civilization in Mesoamerica. In the case of the Olmec/Jaredite connection, the following statement is legitimate: “Show me where the Jaredites lived and I can easily locate the territory of the Nephites from my reading of the Book of Mormon.”
The tragedy behind that statement is that Church members, in general, have not been taught about the connections between the Olmecs and the Jaredites. That outcome and many other comparable outcomes from studies of Mesoamerican archaeology, history, geography, and cultures seem to be a reflection of intentional decisions by the Church related to its curricular programs.
12. John Lloyd Stephens’s writings proved that ancient inhabitants of Mesoamerica were highly civilized people rather than mere savages who lived in teepees.
13. Joseph Smith did not merely make “lucky guesses” in including content about ancient cities and civilizations in the Book of Mormon. As a result, readers of the Book of Mormon today can legitimately reflect the attitude that “something is going on here” when they read about the advanced civilizations with which the Book of Mormon is concerned—an attitude that could help in fostering increased studying, pondering, and analyzing of the contents of the Book of Mormon.
14. Proponents of the Heartland Model for Book of Mormon geography (all New World events of the Book of Mormon took place in the continental United States between the Great Lakes on the north and the Gulf of Mexico on the south) are on extremely shaky ground in trying to prove the invalidity of the Times and Seasons articles associated with the explorations of John Lloyd Stephens in Mesoamerica. The validity of the content of these articles, as explained above, cannot be ignored by Book of Mormon readers without committing a fatal error in trying to determine the legitimate New World setting for the Book of Mormon.
1. R. Tripp Evans, Romancing the Maya: Mexican Antiquity in the American Imagination 1820–1915 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004), 45.
2. Evans, Romancing the Maya, 46.
3. See, for example, George D. Potter, Nephi in the Promised Land (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2009).
4. See Arthur J. Kocherhans, Lehi’s Isle of Promise: A Scriptural Account with Word Definitions and a Commentary (Fullerton, CA: Et Cetera, 1989).
5. See, for example, Joseph Lovell Allen and Blake Joseph Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 2nd ed. (Orem, UT: Book of Mormon Tours and Research Institute, 2008); John L. Lund, Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon: Is This the Place? (n.p.: The Communications Company, 2007); and John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1985).
6. Lynn Rosenvall and David Rosenvall, “An Approach to the Book of Mormon Geography: A Land Choice above All Other Lands,” http://www.achoiceland.com/geography/Approach.pdf (accessed October 27, 2009).
7. See, for example, Wayne N. May, Rod Meldrum, and Bruce Porter, Book of Mormon Evidences in North America (n.p.: The Firm Foundation, 2009) and Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America (Mendon, NY: Digital Legend, 2009).
8. Ralph A. Olsen, The Malay Peninsula as the Setting for the Book of Mormon (n.p.: R. A. Olsen, 1997).
9. Michael D. Coe, Breaking the Maya Code (London: Thames and Hudson, 1992), 93.
10. John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, 2 vols. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1841; republished New York: Dover Publications, 1969).
11. Stephens, Incidents of Travel, 1:119–20.
12. Stephens’s 1841 use of “Continent of America” is intriguing in connection with the “Heartland Model” for Book of Mormon geography. In his personal history, Joseph Smith says, “[Moroni] said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang” (Joseph Smith—History 1:34; emphasis added). Speaking about this statement by Joseph Smith, Bruce Porter and Rod Meldrum, two of the originators of the Heartland Model, say: “The interpretation of the phrase ‘former inhabitants of this continent’ must, for clarity of understanding, have one of two meanings or conclusions. Either this refers to ‘this continent’ or it does not. If it does not refer to the United States, a person would have to ignore the demonstrative ‘this” and then redefine ‘this continent’ into a generality of hemisphere, or continent(s). To assume the latter would mean that either Joseph or Moroni made a mistake in the description and the use of the demonstrative in pointing to the ‘which’ continent. The inspired text should be able to be understood as correctly in 1830 as well as 2030 by reading the words chosen by the Lord” (Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America, 93; emphasis in original).
At issue here is what the word 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” (Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language [New York: S. Converse, 1828], s.v. “America”; emphasis added). 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” (Webster American Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “continent”). 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.
13. Stephens, Incidents of Travel, 1:102; emphasis added.
14. Stephens, Incidents of Travel, 1:104; emphasis added.
15. Stephens, Incidents of Travel, 1:105; emphasis added.
16. Stephens, Incidents of Travel, 1:96–97; emphasis added.
17. This phrasing, “interior of America,” attributed unquestionably to Joseph Smith, shows that he believed in the definition of America as contained in Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary. That is, “interior” in this instance clearly refers to the territory of Mesoamerica rather than to any territory in the continental United States. Joseph’s rather casual diary entry as reported also shows his support for the John Lloyd Stephens Times and Seasons articles that scholars have traditionally been wary of attributing directly to Joseph. The Joseph Smith Papers Project personnel will probably use this journal entry as positive evidence in support of labeling the Times and Seasons articles as “Joseph Smith documents.”
18. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1980), 5:44.
19. “American Antiquities—More Proofs of the Book of Mormon,” Times and Seasons 2 no. 16, June 15, 1841, 440.
20. Ebenezer Robinson, “Valedictory,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 8, February 15, 1842, 695.
21. Joseph Smith, “To Subscribers,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 9, March 1, 1842, 710; emphasis added.
22. As noted earlier, “this continent” reflects Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary definitions of America and continent in reference to the “Western continent” that involved all of “America”—North America, Central America, and South America. The terminology here has direct implications for proponents of the “Heartland Model,” who believe that all New World events of the Book of Mormon took place between the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. In this respect, Bruce Porter and Rod Meldrum use the “demonstrative this” in an attempt to prove the efficacy of the Heartland Model. They say: “There exists in the Hebrew language words that are called demonstratives. In viewing statements in the Book of Mormon, these demonstratives become very important to the study of Book of Mormon geography as these words give direction, proximity, and answer the question ‘which’ by directly pointing to a noun or pronoun. This same grammatical concept also exists in the English language and should be understood within the same context. . . .
“The important concept to understand is that: the meaning of the demonstrative ‘this’ is singular (among the plural)—definite (within the group)—specific (among many) and always in the proximity of the speaker; it also must be intimate in the knowledge and understanding of the speaker and listener for the word ‘this’ to answer the question of which. The word ‘that’ is singular, definite and specific, but it is remote in difference or distance in respect to the speaker. When equals are discussed and the singular and the plural are used together, the singular is always more definite, more specific and closer in proximity to the speaker. The use of the demonstrative ‘this’ demands that the speaker and the listener both have an intimate knowledge of the specific object of discussion or ‘this’ could not be understood by the listener” (Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America, 26–27; emphasis in original).
The point here is that “this continent” is a clear reflection of the “demonstrative this” that is a critical component of the Heartland Model’s assertion that “this land” refers exclusively to the continental United States. However, “this continent” in these instances is a repudiation of the Heartland Model’s geographical stance because continent in these instances refers to all of North America, Central America, and South America. That is, to the personnel in the Times and Seasons office in Nauvoo, the “demonstrative this continent” does not refer exclusively to the Great Lakes region but to the territory of Mesoamerica.
23. “American Antiquities,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 18, July 15, 1842, 860; emphasis added.
24. “American Antiquities,” Times and Seasons, 857; emphasis added.
25. I am very much aware that some scholars do not support my thinking here for two reasons: (a) they do not think that Joseph Smith wrote or supported unequivocally the editorials ascribed to him in issues of the Times and Seasons and (b) they believe that Joseph always espoused a full-hemispheric model for Book of Mormon geography (North America, beginning at the Isthmus of Panama, is the “land northward,” South America is the “land southward,” the Isthmus of Panama is the “narrow neck of land,” and the Book of Mormon “hill Cumorah” is located in upstate New York. In connection with the second point, Andrew Hedges says the following: “Stephens’ impressive discoveries may have expanded Joseph’s and his associates’ view of Book of Mormon geography, but they clearly did not cause them to abandon earlier ideas they appear to have entertained about at least some Book of Mormon events taking place in the Eastern United States” and “Joseph’s and his associates’ growing interest in Central America over time represented an expansion of their view of Book of Mormon geography rather than a fundamental shift in their focus” (Andrew H. Hedges, “Book of Mormon Geography in the World of Joseph Smith, Mormon Historical Studies 8, nos. 1 and 2 (Spring/Fall 2007): 85, 86.
26. “From Stephen’s ‘Incidents of Travel in Central America,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 22, September 15, 1842, 914; emphasis added.
27. “From Stephen’s ‘Incidents of Travel in Central America,” 914–15; emphasis added.
28. Again, when we apply the Heartland Model’s “demonstrative this” to this quotation, the referent of “this” in “this continent” is singular, definite, specific, in the proximity of the speaker, and intimate in the knowledge and understanding of the speaker and listener. That is, as noted earlier, “this continent” refers to “America” as defined and understood in 1842 by Joseph Smith—all of North America, Central America, and South America.
29. “Facts Are Stubborn Things,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 22, September 15, 1842, 921–22; emphasis added.
30. Times and Seasons 3, no. 22, September 15, 1842, 926; capitals in original.
31. “Zarahemla,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 23, October 1, 1842, 927; emphasis added.
32. Times and Seasons, October 1, 1842, 942.
33. Robinson, “Valedictory,” 694–95; emphasis added.
34. Smith, “To Subscribers,” 710.
35. Times and Seasons 3, no. 8, February 15, 1842, 702.
36. “The Scamp,” The Warsaw Signal 2, no. 42, February 23, 1842, 1.
37. Ebenezer Robinson, “To the Public,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 10, March 15, 1842, 729; emphasis added.
38. Lyman O. Littlefield, “For the Times and Seasons, Nauvoo, March 14, 1842, President Joseph Smith,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 10, March 15, 1842, 729; emphasis added.
39. Joseph Smith, “Valedictory,” Times and Seasons 4, no. 1, November 15, 1842, 9.
40. Statement by John Taylor, Times and Seasons 4, no. 1, November 15, 1842, 9; emphasis added.
41. Smith, History of the Church, 5:44.
42. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007), vii, xiii; emphasis added.
43. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 559; emphasis added.
44. http://josephsmithpapers.org/AboutTheProject.htm (accessed October 25, 2009); emphasis added.
45. Email from Ronald Kent Esplin to Ted Dee Stoddard via Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, October 11, 2009.
46. See History of the Church, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 2:79–80; Joseph Smith was traveling with Zion’s Camp when the Zelph incident occurred during the first week of June 1834.
47. See letter from Joseph Smith to his wife Emma Smith on June 4, 1834, from the banks of the Mississippi River in western Illinois; Joseph was traveling with Zion’s Camp when he wrote this letter.
48. “Zarahemla,” Times and Seasons, 927.
49. “Stephen’s Works on Central America,” Times and Seasons 4, no. 22, October 1, 1843, 346–47; emphasis added.
50. Interview with James H. Hart, Richmond, Missouri, August 21, 1883; see Lyndon W. Cook, David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem, UT: Grandin Book Company, 1991), 76; see also Daniel C. Peterson, FARMS Review of Books, vol. 9, no. 1 (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997), xxvi.
51. These two books are Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon (Orem, UT: S. A. Publishers, 1989) and Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon; see also Allen and Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon.
52. Jeff Lindsay, “What Could Joseph Smith Have Known about Mesoamerica?” www.jefflindsay.com/bme11.shtml (accessed May 26, 2007); emphasis other than solid capitals added.
53. Evans, Romancing the Maya, 46.
54. John L. Sorenson, “The Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Record,” in By Study and Also by Faith, ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen R. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990), 1:395.
55. Lindsay, “What Could Joseph Smith Have Known about Mesoamerica?” emphasis other than solid capitals added.