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Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon should be the final arbiters of Book of Mormon history, events, culture, and geographical locations.
Among these are the recollections of men who were present on the Zion’s Camp march when, on June 3, 1834, a burial mound was discovered in Illinois containing the skeleton of a man who Joseph identified as Zelph, a white Lamanite. There were at least six versions of this account (none in Joseph Smith’s own account) that were eventually catalogued by Willard Richards, Church Historian at the time. The original wording of this compilation is as follows: “Zelph was a white Lamanite, a man of God who was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus, who was known from the eastern Sea, to the Rocky Mountains. . . . He was killed in battle, by the arrow found among his ribs, during a last great struggle with the Lamanites.”
Subsequent changes were made to this account, apparently by a later Church Historian, which have now been included in the History of the Church, and which substantially alter the meaning of the original. The current version reads: “Zelph was a white Lamanite, a man of God who was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus, who was known from the hill Cumorah, or eastern sea, to the Rocky Mountains. . . . He was killed in battle, by the arrow found among his ribs, during the last great struggle with the Lamanites and Nephites.”(1)
The original wording of Willard Richards was used in the first edition of the seven-volume History of the Church, published in 1904. The wording in the 1948 printing of the History of the Church, and all subsequent editions, uses the wording that was changed in the paragraph immediately above.(2)
The upshot of this matter is that in the 1834 period, Joseph felt that there were Lamanites and possibly Nephites who had lived in the central United States at some point. He never stated that these peoples were actually living there during Book of Mormon times or that the events that took place in the Book of Mormon occurred in Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, or in any other midwestern or eastern state. This is in keeping with the concept that we can gather from the Book of Mormon, itself, when it refers to several migrations of both Nephites and Lamanites into the Land Northward from the lands around Zarahemla (Alma 63:4; Helaman 3:3-12). By continuing on farther northward, some of these people or their descendants could have eventually arrived in the central part of the United States.
Joseph Smith’s Mesoamerican Concepts--
Whatever he may have earlier thought about the locations of Book of Mormon events, by 1842, less than two years before his death and which he never recanted, he felt strongly that these events took place in Guatemala and Mexico (Mesoamerica, as it is called now). Having read John Lloyd Stephens’ books, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan,3 Volumes 1 and 2, published in 1841 by Harper and Brothers, New York City, he proclaimed in the Times and Seasons (Church newspaper) for September 15 and October 1, 1842, when he was Editor-in-Chief, that Quiriguá, Guatemala, was very likely the city of Zarahemla, and that Palenque, Mexico, and other ruined cities in Mesoamerica, were some of the Nephite cities. The following are extracts from those issues of the Times and Seasons:
Times and Seasons, September 15, 1842, p. 914 - “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. We are sorry that we could not afford the expense to give the necessary cuts (photographs) referred to in the original.
“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:--and the mystery is solved.” (Emphasis in the original.)
Times and Seasons, September 15, 1842, pp. 921-922 - “Facts are Stubborn Things. From an extract from ‘Stephens’ Incidents of Travel in Central America,’ it will be seen that the proof of the Nephites and Lamanites dwelling on this continent, according to the account in the Book of Mormon, is developing itself in a more satisfactory way than the most sanguine believer in that revelation, could have anticipated. It certainly affords us a gratification that the world of mankind does not enjoy, to give publicity to such important developments of the remains and ruins of those mighty people.”
Times and Seasons, October 1, 1842, p. 927 - “Zarahemla. Since our ‘Extract’ was published from Mr. Stephens’ ‘Incidents of Travel,’ etc., we have found another important fact relating to the truth of the Book of Mormon. Central America, or Guatemala, 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. . . . We are not a-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 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. . . .”
It would appear that Joseph Smith never had a revelation stating that North America was where the Book of Mormon events occurred. He certainly never said so, himself. Judging by his comments, at a later date than 1834, relative to the Book of Mormon events taking place in Mesoamerica, he and other Church leaders and members really hadn’t known where the Book of Mormon events played out, but were amazed and joyfully satisfied that Mesoamerica appeared to them in 1842 to be the center of action for the Book of Mormon.
Some people are of the opinion that Joseph Smith was not residing in Nauvoo at the time the two Times and Seasons issues quoted above were printed in Nauvoo, and therefore did not write the comments, but was hiding from the Missouri and Illinois authorities away from Nauvoo. However, Dr. John L. Lund has done extensive research and discovered that Joseph was in Nauvoo the whole time, but stayed in different families’ homes during the period he was being sought.(4)
Two other semantic indications that it was Joseph Smith who wrote the above editorial comments and not John Taylor, who was managing editor:
(1-) In the second paragraph of October 1, he uses ‘a-going,’ which was typical of his language. John Taylor never utilized that kind of colloquial language.
(2-) Also, in the second paragraph of October 1, he states “. . . the books tell the story so plain, . . . .” The word ‘plain’ that was used modifies the word ‘tell,’ which is a verb, therefore ‘plain’ is an adverb that should be ‘plainly.’ John Taylor, who was more learned than Joseph Smith, would have used ‘plainly’ and not ‘plain.’
Map of Moroni’s Travels after the Battle at the Hill Cumorah--
A further indication that Joseph Smith thought that the Book of Mormon events occurred in Central America comes from two maps that Patriarch William McBride and Andrew M. Hamilton, both loyal members of the Church and friends and contemporaries of Joseph Smith have reproduced. For the complete record of these two men, quoted by H. Don Peterson, Church Division of the Historical Department, see references (5) in the endnotes. In summary, they stated that Joseph Smith drew a map in the sand one day showing that the city of Bountiful, mentioned in the Book of Mormon, was in Central America, and that Moroni walked from there through the Utah area, dedicating temple sites along the way, and finally arrived at the location of present-day Palmyra, New York, then buried the plates in the hill nearby, which eventually became known as Cumorah.
Effects of the Mesoamerican Tradition--
“A glimpse at its hemispheric setting (of civilization during the Book of Mormon time period) helps us appreciate the complexity of Mesoamerica. The only rival in scale and social elaboration was in Peru and the surrounding Andean area, ruled by the Incas. . . . Technology and cultivation were at about the same level of development as in Mexico. . . . No records were kept--no writing was known--but oral transmission of information was highly systematic.
“The cultural level dropped lower everywhere outward from these two high spots. . . but it is doubtful that any of these intervening areas contained what could be called a real city. Both Mexico and Peru, on the contrary, held a sizable number of cities.
“Indians of the Mississippi River valley and part of the southeastern United States partook of important aspects of Mesoamerican life, watered down somewhat in the transmission northward. The peoples of these areas showed sophistication in some activities, but no scholar would call them civilized in any period, as we must the Mesoamericans. . . . In both those North American secondary zones (the Pueblo peoples of Arizona and New Mexico and the Mississippi River valley Indians), part of the culture and part of the population were an extension from Mesoamerica and thus probably of Book of Mormon peoples. In fact, all the agricultural peoples of North America, as far north as central Utah, Wisconsin, and Ohio, were more or less influenced by the Mesoamerican tradition.”(6)
There are many fine books and other references regarding the parallels between the Book of Mormon accounts and those found in Mesoamerica. Various researchers and authors look at parts of Mesoamerica with different emphasis due to their training and experience, but all focus on Mesoamerica as the lands of the Book of Mormon. Among these are the following:
Sorenson, John L., An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), Provo, Utah, 1985, 1996.
Lund, John L., Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon: Is This the Place?, The Communications Company, 2007.
Allen, Joseph L, and Allen, Blake J., Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, Second Edition, Book of Mormon Tours and Research Institute, LLC, Orem, Utah, 2008.
Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF), Salt Lake City, Utah, website - www.bmaf.org. contains many articles comparing the Mesoamerican and US Heartland models of Book of Mormon lands.
Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), Part of the Maxwell Institute of Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, website - http://mi.byu.edu/
|Book of Mormon Statements||
|Archaeology and the Hill Cumorah||Extensive fortifications, and millions of pottery shards and projectile points have been discovered on and around the hill Vigía in the Tuxtla Range of Veracruz, Mexico. Two thousand foot high hill
providing numerous vantage points.
|“...the archaeology of New York is persuasive evidence that Book of Mormon peoples did not live in that region.”(7) The hill is only 180 feet high, not high enough to shield 24 Nephite survivors without being seen.|
|Cave in the Hill Cumorah where Mormon would have deposited the numerous plates from which he made his abridgment. Mormon 6:6.||Cerro (Hill) Vigía, in Veracruz, Mexico, is made of volcanic and limestone formations, which typically contain many caves due to water drainage and erosion. This hill has many such caves and caverns, which the local inhabitants use for several different purposes.||The hill in New York is a drumlin, which is a terminal moraine from the great Laurentian ice field of 12,000 -20,000 years ago. It is composed of loose aggregates, sand, and gravel, in which a cave could not form, as any cavity that might start to develop would collapse in on itself due to the weight of the gravels above it.(8)|
|Cement Usage - Helaman 3:5-10||Hundreds of major archaeological sites showing use of cement and mortar. Reservoir and canal systems of stone and mortar.(9)||No structures using cement around the Great Lakes or east of the Mississippi River.(9)|
|Climate Considerations - Enos 1:25; Mos. 10:8; Alma 3:4-5; 43:20, 37; 46:40; 3 Nephi 4:7. Lamanite soldiers, as well as Nephite prisoners, were in bare skins during all parts of the year.||Mesoamerica is in tropical and semi-tropical areas that are conducive to near-nakedness at all parts of any year.(10)||Winters around the Great Lakes are some of the most brutal conditions in North America. People can go in near-nakedness barely a few weeks during summers of any year.(10)|
|Demographics and Highly Structured Society - Alma 50:13-15; 61: 2-6; Mormon 6:12-15; Ether 15:2, and many others.||Structured cities, governments, and a population in the millions (12)||From 600 BC to AD 401, population figures would barely approach 50,000 in very unstructured bands or communities.(13)
|Destruction at time of Crucifixion - A great storm, earth shook, sharp lightnings, terrible thunder, great destruction, thick darkness, vapor of darkness - 3 Nephi 8:1-25.||Volcanic eruptions accompanied by massive, destructive earthquakes (14) Mesoamerica is subject to terrible wind from the east, as well as tsunamis.||Earthquakes can occur but there is no record of volcanism anytime in the past.
|Elevations mentioned - Up always means to go up in elevation (never to a direction on a map); Down always means to go down in elevation. Omni 1:13; Mosiah 9:3; 28:5; Alma 27:5, and many others.
||The Guatemala highlands are south of and higher in elevation than the Guatemala lowlands and the Mexican state of Chiapas.(15)||Elevations and directions are not clearly defined except as to references regarding the River Sidon, which are backwards compared to what the Book of Mormon says.|
|Highway and Road Systems - Helaman 7:10; 3 Nephi 6:8; 8:13, etc.||Ancient hard-surfaced roads, called sacbés, are found in numerous places.(16)||No highway system is known to exist from Book of Mormon times; only faint Indian trails from the 17th century.|
|Metal usage - Nephites and Lamanites have all manner of precious metals - Hel. 6:9; Jaredites make all manner of metals - Ether 10:23. See also 1 Nephi 18:25; 2 Nephi 5:15; Jacob 2:12; Jarom 1;8; Mosiah 2:12; 8:10; 19:15; Alma 1:29; Ether 10:5-7.||Southern Mexico is known for its gold- and silversmithing. Over a dozen actual specimens of metalwork significantly precede AD 900.(17)||Copper in Michigan’s upper peninsula and small amount of copper in southern Illinois. No gold or silver. Certain metal records were found in Alabama, in the late 1770’s, but unknown as to how far back in prehistory any knowledge of metals may go.(17A)|
|Power rôle of priestly religious figures among the Nephites and Lamanites - Alma 1:1, 3, 12, 16; 14:16; 16:11; 24:28; 25:4-5; 31:23-32:5; Mos. 11:3-6; 23:25, 29-39; 24:1, 4-9; 27:8.||Priests’ rôles in Mesoamerica elucidated. Religious systems were highly regimented by several orders of priests.(18)||Tribal shamans and medicine men known in the 18th and 19th centuries may have had origins from Book of Mormon times, but pre-historical substantiation is absent.|
|River Sidon - Flows from the land of Manti, which is south of and higher in elevation than the city of Zarahemla, northward past Zarahemla to the sea - Alma 22:27; 43:22.||Both the Grijalva and Usumacinta rivers (one of which is the River Sidon of the Book of Mormon) flow northerly and empty into the Caribbean Sea.(19)||The Mississippi River, which is considered to be the River Sidon, flows southward (wrong direction) and empties into the Gulf of Mexico.|
|Secret Societies - Dozens of references to secret combinations - 2 Nephi 9:9; 26:22; Hel. 2:8; 6:22,26-30; 3 Nephi 6:28-29; Ether 8:15, 25; 10:33.||“...people like assassins [a famous Near Eastern secret society], daring and accustomed to kill, they carried on their persons pieces of jaguar skin...to make them powerful, brave and fearsome.”(20)||None known from the Book of Mormon time period.|
|Warfare - Much of the book of Alma concerns various aspects of organized warfare among the Nephites, and between the Nephites and Lamanites - Enos 1:24; Omni 1:3, 10, 24; Alma 24:20; 27:1; 51:9; Alma 50:21; 60:15; Hel. 11:1; 11:24; Last half of Ether, including nonstop war and civil war.||Defensive earthworks at Becan, Campeche. References #34, 35, p. 387.21 Olmec warfare history parallels the Book of Ether’s Jaredite history.||None known from the Book of Mormon time period.|
|Written Language - Many references to writing - 1 Nephi 14:28, 30; 2 Nephi 4:14-15; Omni 1;1; 3 Nephi 16:4; Mormon 5:9; Ether 3:22.||Numerous examples of glyphs as well as the Popol Vuh and other books (which actually do date much later).(22)||Unknown written language system.|
|Cutting off of Arms - Alma 17:36-37.
||Custom during warfare and other battles.(11)||Custom unknown among prehistorical or even historical Indian tribes.|
2. Zelph Incident - History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Deseret News Press, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1948, Volume 2, pp. 79-80. 3. John Lloyd Stephens’ Mesoamerican Travels - Stephens, John Lloyd, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, Volumes 1 and 2, Harper and Brothers, New York City, 1841, reprinted by Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1969. 4. “Where Was Joseph Smith between March 1, 1842 and Nov 15, 1842?” Lund, John L., BMAF website under “New Articles.” 5. Map of Moroni’s Travels after leaving Central America - Lund, John L., Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon - Is This the Place?, The Communications Company, 2007, pp. 33-36.
Godfrey, Kenneth A., “The Zelph Story,” Paper No. GOD-89, Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), Provo, Utah, 1989.
FAIRwiki portal, Book of Mormon Geography, Zelph, http://en.fairmormon.org/Zelph.
Allen and Allen, Exploring, pp. 715-716.
Walker, Charles Lowell, Diary of Charles Lowell Walker, 2:524-526.
2. Zelph Incident - History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Deseret News Press, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1948, Volume 2, pp. 79-80.
3. John Lloyd Stephens’ Mesoamerican Travels - Stephens, John Lloyd, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, Volumes 1 and 2, Harper and Brothers, New York City, 1841, reprinted by Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1969.
4. “Where Was Joseph Smith between March 1, 1842 and Nov 15, 1842?” Lund, John L., BMAF website under “New Articles.”
5. Map of Moroni’s Travels after leaving Central America - Lund, John L., Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon - Is This the Place?, The Communications Company, 2007, pp. 33-36.
6. A Glimpse of the Western Hemisphere during Book of Mormon Times - Sorenson, John L., Ancient American, pp. 105-106.
“A Whole Bunch of Reasons Why Book of Mormon Geography Could not have Included North America,” Sorenson, John L., BMAF website under “New Articles.”
7. Archaeology of Proposed Hill Cumorah - Clark, John E., “Archaeology and Cumorah Questions,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Volume 13, Number 1, pp. 144-151, 2004.
Ritchie, William A., The Archaeology of New York State, rev. ed., Purple Mountain Press, Fleishmanns, NY, 1994.
Allen and Allen, Exploring, p. 717.
8. Cave in the Hill Cumorah - Tvedtnes, John, Book of Mormon/Hill Cumorah/Archaeology #endnote _ tvedtnes2.258-259, fairmormon.org.
Dorais, Michel J., “The Geologic History of Hill Cumorah,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp. 136-143, Maxwell Institute, Provo, Utah, 2004.
Allen and Allen, Exploring, pp.713-714.
9. Cement Usage - Lund, John L., Mesoamerica, ppp. 119-120.
Coe, Michael D., Mexico From Olmecs to the Aztecs, 4th ed., Thames and Hudson, New York, 1994, p. 80.
Allen and Allen, Exploring, pp.355-356.
10. Climate of Book of Mormon Events - Lund, John L., Mesoamerica, pp. 204-213.
Allen and Allen, Exploring, p.356.
Stephens and Catherwood, Incidents of Travel, 1:369-370; vi.
11. Cutting off of Arms - Lund, John L., Mesoamerica, pp.175-178.
Yerman, Bruce, “Cutting off of arms,” presentation to the BMAF conference, 2004, Salt Lake City.
12. Demographics of Mesoamerica - Lund, John L., Mesoamerica, pp.103-111.
Coe, Michael D., The Maya, 6th edition, Thames & Hudson, New York, 1999, p. 152.
Mann, Charles, C., 1491, Vintage Books, New York, 2006, p. 104.
Clark, John E., “Archaeology, Relics, and the Book of Mormon Beliefs,” Maxwell Institute BYU, <http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=jgms&id=376&mp=T>
13. Demographics of Great Lakes Area - Lund, John L., Mesoamerica, pp. 105-106.
Johansen, Bruce E., “Dating the Iroquois Confederacy,: pp. 1-2, <http://www.ratical.org/many_worlds/6Nations/DatingIC.html>
“Original Inhabitants and the Iroquois,” <http://www.co.seneca.ny.us/history/Chapter%20One%20--%20Geography-1.doc>
14. Destruction at Time of Crucifixion - Stoddard, Ted D., Thick Darkness, Vapor of Darkness, and Mists of Darkness: Indications of Weather and Climate in the Book of Mormon, see BMAF website BMAF.org.
Kowallis, Bart J., “In the Thirty and Fourth Year: A Geologist’s View of the Great Destruction in 3 Nephi,” BYU Studies 37, No. 3, 1997–98.
Sorenson, Ancient American, pp. 45-46, 318-323.
Lund, John L., Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon - Is This the Place?, pp. 61-62.
Maldonado-Koerdell, Geohistory and Paleogeography of Middle America, HMAI 1, 1964, pp. 22-26.
McBryde, Felix W., Cultural and Historical Geography of Southwest Guatemala, SISA 4, 1947, p. 6.
Sheets, Payson D., “An Ancient Natural Disaster,” Expedition 13, Fall 1971, p. 27.
15. Elevations mentioned in the Book of Mormon - Lund, John L., Mesoamerica, pp. 59-60.
16. Highway and Road Systems - Lund, John L., Mesoamerica, pp. 121-125.
17. Metals - Sorenson, John L, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, Deseret Book Company, SLC, 1985, 1996, pp. 278-288.
“A Reconsidertion of Early Metal in Mesoamerica,” Katunob 9 (March 1976):1-18.
Patterson, Clair C., “Native Copper, Silver, and Gold Accessible to Early Metallurgists,” American Antiquity, 1971, 36:292-294.
Gay, José Antonio, Historia de Oaxaca, Volume 1, Mexico, 1881, pp. 4, 62.
Lund, John L., Mesoamerica, pp. 127-136.
Allen and Allen, Exploring, p. 365.
17A. Hodge, F.W., ed., Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, part 2, Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 30, 1910, Washington, DC.
18. Rôle of Priestly Figures in Book of Mormon Society - Sorenson, Ancient American, pp. 207-208.
Vaillant, G.C., The Aztecs of Mexico, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1950, pp. 183, 186.
Thompson, J.E.S., Maya History and Religion, Oklahoma University Press, Norman, Oklahoma, 1970, p. 168.
Kidder, A.V., “Introduction,” in Uaxactun, Guatemala: Excavations of 1931-1937, A.L. Smith, CIWP 588, 1950, pp. 1-12.
19. River Sidon - Lund, John L., Mesoamerica, pp. 60-61.
Allen and Allen, Exploring, pp. 650-665.
20. Secret Societies - Sorenson, Ancient American, pp. 300-309.
Covarrubias, Meguel, Mexico South: The Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Knopf, New York, 1947, pp. 76-79.
Brinton, Daniel G., Nagualism: A Study in Native American Folk-lore and History,” American Philosophical Society, Preoceedings 33, 1894, pp. 37-41.
21. Warfare - Sorenson, Ancient American, pp. 239-264.
Webster, David L., Defensive Earthworks at Becan, Campeche, Mexico: Implications for Maya Warfare, MARI 41, 1976, pp. 3, 113.
Wauchope, “Protohistoric Pottery of th Guatemala Highlands,” in Monographs and Papers in Maya Archaeology, ed. W.R. Bullard, Jr., HUPM 61, part 2, 1970, p. 99.
Lund, John L., Mesoamerica, pp. 157-179.
Allen and Allen, Exploring, pp. 359-360, 368, 598-602.
22. Written Language - Sorenson, Ancient American, pp. 50-56; 74-81.
Lund, John L., Mesoamerica, chapters 5 and 6, pp. 65-102.
Allen and Allen, Exploring, pp. 28-32, 37-41, 245-259.
Carmack, Robert M., Quichean Civilization: The Ethnohistoric , Ethnographic, and Archaeological Sources, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1973, pp. 16-18.
Carmack, Robert M., Toltec Influence on the Postclassic Culture History of Highland Guatemala, MARI 26, 1968, p. 86.
Thompson, J.E.S., Maya Hieroglyphic Writing, HMAI 3, 1965, p. 646.