Saturday, December 26, 2015

America is the Land of Promise—But Where is America? – Part X

Continuing with the previous posts regarding one of our readers sending us information of a blog and asking our opinion and comments, and here continuing with the information on Zion’s Camp and the discovery of Zelph and the mentioning of Cumorah.  
Left: Image of the hill within which they found the bones of Zelph, a white Lamanite Joseph Smith said was killed in battle; Right: the map of the Illinois River where the hill was located 
    “The longest and most detailed near-contemporaneous account of Zelph’s discovery was written by Levi Hancock, later one of the Presidents of the Seventy. Hancock reports that the land was named Desolation and Onendagus was a king and a good man but says nothing about his being a prophet. However, he does inform us that Zelph lost all his teeth but one and implies that Zelph was relatively aged at death. He makes no mention of the Hill Cumorah or of Onendagus’s wide fame other suggest, but does write that Zelph was a white Lamanite.” (Kenneth W. Godfrey, What is the Significance of Zelph In the Study of Book of Mormon Geography? Neal A. Maxwell Institute Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 (1999) pp70-79, 88).
    As has been reported in these pages in the past, there were several accounts of what Joseph reported and no two agree with one another and only Oliver Cowdery makes a connection between the hill Cumorah in New York as the hill Cumorah in the scriptural record. In fact, some recorders claim Joseph Smith was present at the time of finding the bones and others claim he was not there, and after comparing the various accounts William J. Hamblin argued that "there are many difficulties that make it nearly impossible for us to know exactly what Joseph Smith said in 1834 as he reflected on the ruins his group encountered in Illinois" (William J. Hamblin, "Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 161–197) 
In addition, in 1842 Willard Richards (left), then church historian, was assigned the task of compiling a large number of documents and producing a history of the church from them. He worked on this material between 21 December 1842 and 27 March 1843, which was during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. Richards, who had not joined the church until 1836, relied on the writings or recollections of Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, and perhaps others for his information regarding the discovery of Zelph. Blending the sources available to him, and perhaps using oral accounts from some of the members of Zion’s Camp, but writing as if he were Joseph Smith, historian Richards drafted the story of Zelph as it appears in the “Manuscript History of the Church, Book A-1.”
    With respect to points relative to Book of Mormon geography, Richards wrote that “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 is crossed out in the manuscript] eastern Sea, to the Rocky Mountains. He was killed in battle, by the arrow found among his ribs, during a [last crossed out] great struggle with the Lamanites” [and Nephites crossed out] since it was “unclear as to whether it was the final destruction of the Nephites or the last battle of Zelph’s people, whoever they were, and may refer to a battle between the Nephites and Lamanites, or a battle between Lamanites and other Lamanites” (Kenneth W. Godfrey, “An Apologist for the Critics: Brent Lee Metalfe’s Assumptions and Methodologies,” FARMS Review of Books, Provo, Utah, Maxwell Institute, 1994, 6(1).
It should be noted that according to Kimball, it was later in the day while continuing on the journey westward that the Prophet Joseph Smith made the identification of the person whose bones they had found, which is consistent with Hancock’s statement, and Kimball’s account makes no explicit reference to the Nephties. George A. Smith recorded in his journal that Joseph Smith was not even with them when they dug up the bones.
    Thus, with such varied reports, it is difficult to say that one word, whether Cumorah or another, can be relied upon when several Church leaders all recorded different things in describing this singular event.
    Blog comment: [Regarding the story of David Whitmer and Moroni saying "No I’m going to Cumorah”] “When you see Mesoamericanists trying to undermine the credibility of one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, doesn't it make you wonder what they're up to?” 
    Response: One might ask the same question of the Blog author when he keeps referring to Joseph Smith as having claimed both hills are one of the same when there is nothing written by him that says this or even implies this; nor does Moroni’s claimed statement from David Whitmer that he (Moroni) was going to Cumorah ring true when, in fact, he was going to Fayette according to Joseph Smith to deliver the plates to Joseph so he could continue with the translation (the Hill Cumorah is 30 miles beyond Fayette in New York). So we might ask, who is up to what?
It should also be pointed out that in 1938 Elder Joseph Fielding Smith (left) wrote an article published in the Deseret News arguing against what he then termed the "modernist" theory that the final battlefield of the Nephites and Jaredites may have been in Central America rather than in New York. In 1956 this article was included in a selection of Elder Smith's writings compiled by his son-in-law Bruce R. McConkie. Although Elder Smith would later become president of the church in 1970, his article arguing for a New York location as the scene of the final battlefield was written many years before he was called to that position, and he apparently never revisited the question as president of the church. There is evidence that Elder Smith may have softened his opposition on the Cumorah question.
Fletcher B. Hammond and his maps of (left) the Land Southward, and (right) the Land Northward he presented to Joseph Fielding Smith 
    In a letter written to Fletcher B. Hammond (left), who argued emphatically for a Central American location and had sent Elder Smith a copy of his findings, the apostle explained, "I am sure this will be very interesting although I have never paid any attention whatever to Book of Mormon geography because it appears to me that it is inevitable that there must be a great deal of guesswork."  Apparently, he did not consider his 1938 argument as settled and definitive or as a measure of doctrinal orthodoxy.   
Sidney B. Sperry (left), after whom an annual Brigham Young University symposium is named, was also one who initially supported the New York Cumorah view (that is, an area of New York as the final battlefield of the Nephites and Jaredites). During the 1960s, as he began to explore the issue, he came to a different conclusion. Reversing his earlier position, he wrote: "It is now my very carefully studied and considered opinion that the Hill Cumorah to which Mormon and his people gathered was somewhere in Middle America. The Book of Mormon evidence to this effect is irresistible and conclusive to one who will approach it with an open mind. This evidence has been reviewed by a few generations of bright students in graduate classes who have been given the challenge to break it down if they can. To date none has ever been able to do so."  
    Sperry, who was very familiar with what Joseph Fielding Smith had previously written, told Elder Smith that he did not feel comfortable publishing something that contradicted what the apostle had written, but that he and other sincere students of the Book of Mormon had come to that conclusion only after serious and careful study of the text. Sperry said that Elder Smith then lovingly put his arm around his shoulder and said, "Sidney, you are as entitled to your opinion as I am to mine. You go ahead and publish it" (Matthew Roper, "Losing the Remnant: The New Exclusivist "Movement" and the Book of Mormon A review of "Prophecies and Promises; The Book of Mormon and the United States of America" by: Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum; FARMS Review 22/2 (2010): 87–124). 
(See the next post, “America is the Land of Promise—But Where is America? – Part XI,” for answers as to where the overall Land of Promise is located and to what land the Prophets have spoken and the Lord indicated)


  1. So what is your conclusion about Zelph? My conclusion is that the early brethren jumped to a bunch of conclusions creating a mass of confusion on the matter. Since we don't know what Joseph said on the subject I think the entire episode needs to be dismissed. Doesn't ring true since we know where the Lamanite and Nephites really lived. What is your conclusion?

  2. My personal opinion, for whatever it is worth, is that, like any event in history as well as today, when you have several witnesses writing or speaking about an event all saw, you have vastly different responses or reports. Ask any policeman about the various ways a single event is described by several witnesses. As for the event itself, I believe it took place more or less as it was reported; however, each surrounded their writing of it based on their own views and opinions of the location and how they described it, i.e., from Cumorah to the Rocky Mountains; from the Sea East to the Rocky Mountains; from the sea to the Rocky Mountains; a White Lamanite; a Nephite; the last battle between the Nephites and Lamanites; the last battle; Joseph Smith was present when the bones were found; Joseph was not present; Joseph joined them later and discussed it; etc.
    As for knowing where the Nephites and Lamanites were, yes, the account recorded in the Book of Mormon on the plates took place in what we call the Land of Promise, which I reference to the western portion of South America; on the other hand Hagoth’s ships took some 20,000 people to “a land which was northward,” which would have been into Central and Meso-America where similar ruins and cultures have been found--the only ones found anywhere in the Western Hemisphere. From there remnants would have traveled into Mexico, what is now the U.S. and possibly southern Canada. We are talking about a Nephite history of a thousand years, Hagoth’s immigrants for about 1500 years, and much or all of the Western Hemisphere could have been covered in that time since we see how in the scriptural record the Nephites in the small area of the recorded Land of promise kept spreading across the land from sea to sea.
    The value of the Zelph story is to know that 1) the Nephites and Lamanites covered most or all of Central and North America as well as the area in which the Jaredites, Mulekites, and Lehites landed and where the Nephite Nation and Lamanite kingdom occupied; 2) it also verifies that the Land of Promise was a much larger area than just that written about in the scriptural record—the entire American continent, now called South America and North America. If we did not have the Zelph story, we could not verify that the Nephites, or at least the Lamanites, were in North America. I believe the Lord has given us all the information we need to make correct judgments as to where Lehi landed, where Nephi settled, and where the Land of Promise as written about was located. Modern day prophets have filled in the understanding that the entire Western Hemisphere is the Land of Promise and though Lehi settled in one small area of it, at a time an island, the Lord held the entire Western Hemisphere as the land to be promised to those who live the gospel and came through either the remnant that he led to the Americas in the beginning (Jaredites, Lehites, Mulekites, etc.) as well as the later Gentiles.
    The Lord does not hide what he does, but it is not always clear to man with his limited view of God’s Plan. The more we study things out in our own mind, the more we can know and understand what some call the mysteries of God.