Friday, June 24, 2016

Joseph Smith and Member Reactions to the Stephens-Catherwood Books

In the last post we discussed Wilford Woodruff’s journal notation entered after the experience with Zion’s Camp and Joseph Smith’s revelation or vision regarding the white Lamanite Zelph. 
    The interesting thing is that six brethren from Zion’s Camp notated in their journals the information regarding Zelp and the prophet Onandagus, and no two are identical, and some are considerably different, merely proving that different people seeing and hearing the same thing often view and hear differences and record them as such. All this proves is that people have opinions and not all opinions are the same, even of shared experiences.
    Thus, the location of the Land of Promise in the Book of Mormon was still open to speculation, and many of the brethren offered different opinions during the ensuing years. And while Wilford Woodruff uses the term regarding Onandagus “that was known from the hill Camorah, or east sea to the Rocky mountains,” Joseph Smith later wrote “from the eastern sea to the Rocky Mountains.” Again, suggesting the revelation or vision did not include any such Book of Mormon description of territory.
Therefore, when Wilford Woodruff (left) recorded in his journal seven and a half years later his excitement over the Stephens and Catherwood discoveries and said that these discoveries “brought to light a flood of testimony in proof of the Book of Mormon,” he was not being untrue or unfaithful to the Prophet Joseph, to his own conscience, to the Lord, or to the 1834 revelation given to the Prophet Joseph about Zelph. After all, Wilford Woodruff was a man of integrity and was true to the Prophet and true to every revelation from the Lord. When all the facts are understood, no conflict of interest or breach of integrity is evident in the actions or words of Wilford related to Zion’s Camp, the revelation received by Joseph, or Joseph’s stated feelings about the Book of Mormon being validated by the findings in Central America.
    Thus, when it is shown that men, no matter who, state their opinions about matters, we have nothing more or less than their stated opinion. Such understanding led the prophet Joseph Smith to record in his journal, “This morning I visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that "a prophet is always a prophet;" but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such. (History of the Church, 5:265; see also Teachings, p. 278).
    Jesse W. Crosby wrote regarding the prophet: Brother Crosby said that he with some other brethren once went to the Prophet and asked him to give them his opinion on a certain public question. Their request was refused. [Joseph] told them he did not enjoy the right vouchsafed to every American citizen; that of free speech. He said to them that when he ventured to give his private opinion on any subject of importance his words were often garbled and their meaning twisted and then given out as the word of the Lord because they came from him. ("LaFayette C. Lee, Notebook," LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah; also in Remembering Joseph).
Bruce R. McConkie (left), of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, wrote: “Are all prophetic utterances true? Of course they are! This is what the Lord’s system of teaching is all about. Anything which his servants saying when moved upon by the Holy Ghost is scripture....But every word that a man who is a prophet speaks is not a prophetic utterance. Joseph Smith taught that a prophet is not always a prophet, only when he is acting as such. Men who wear the prophetic mantle are still men; they have their own views; and their understanding of gospel truths is dependent upon the study and inspiration that is theirs. Some prophets—I say it respectfully—know more and have greater inspiration than others. Thus, if Brigham Young, who was one of the greatest of the prophets, said something about Adam, which is out of harmony with what is in the Book of Moses and in section 78, it is the scripture that prevails. This is one of the reasons we call our scriptures The Standard Works. They are the standard of judgment and the measuring rod against which all doctrines and views are weighed, and it does not make one particle of difference whose views are involved. The scriptures always take precedence. (“Finding Answers to Gospel Questions,” Letter dated 1 July 1980. Published in Teaching Seminary Preservice Readings, Religion 370, 471, and 475, 2004, emphasis added).
    Thus, when men of integrity speak, they may merely be uttering their own opinion on matters, and quite often do, especially when their words do not accompany a support reference or have a purpose to which we are not privy. As an example, a man of leadership may quote the First Article of Faith, “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost,” then launch into a discussion about the Adam-God Theory in which he speaks inconsistently with the scriptural record. It cannot be mentioned too strongly that the scriptural record is the basis by the rest of what the man says, not his position, nor his strength of opinion, or his argument, only what the scriptural record states.
This is why Joseph Smith (left) was careful what he said, as he was often misquoted or misunderstood by those who thought every word he uttered was doctrine, when even he told people frequently it was not. As Bruce R. McConkie stated, that is why we call the Standard Works the Standard Works—they are the standard by which the word is determined.
    Thus, we can again state, that it is imperative that we should understand that what was important to these early Church leaders and members is that evidences such as Stephens book on the Central America ruins, or the bones and vision about Zelph, is that for the Church at the time, having spent eleven years being ridiculed since the publication of the Book of Mormon over some “so-called” and unknown civilization occupying some unknown area in the Americas, raising scientific eyebrows and jocular reactions, was for the first time being supported and validated by scientific and factual findings.
    This was especially true of Stephens and Catherwoods findings since neither of them had, or ever did have, a known connection to the Church or to Joseph Smith.
    So what was Joseph Smith’s initial reaction to the Stephens and Catherwood books and findings? Although we cannot clearly discern the date when Joseph first started reading Stephens’s two volumes, Joseph expressed his feelings about these books on November 16, 1841, in a thank-you letter to Dr. John Bernhisel who had sent him the books. In the letter, Joseph said, “I have read the volumes”; so we can probably assume that Wilford Woodruff delivered the two volumes soon after his return to Nauvoo in the first part of October 1841. The thank-you letter is in the handwriting of John Taylor, who was a scribe for the Prophet.
Here is the one long sentence from that letter that refers to Dr. Bernhisel’s gift of Stephens’s two-volume set:I received your kind present by the hand of Er Woodruff & feel myself under many obligations for this mark of your esteem & friendship which to me is the more interesting as it unfolds & developes many things that are of great importance to this generation & corresponds with & supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon; I have read the volumes with the greatest interest & pleasure & must say that of all histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of this country it is the most correct luminous & comprihensive."
    While people can ask: “Why would the Prophet say that Stephens’s two-volume book “supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon” if the findings in Central America had nothing to do with the Book of Mormon?” But in so doing, they miss the intent completely. To someone who is strongly desirous to know where the Book of Mormon Land of Promise was located, or has staked their reputation and career, as well as their fortune and earnings, on such knowledge, it is understandable this is their focus—but to Joseph Smith and the members of the Church at the time, they had not staked their beliefs on a specific spot within the Western Hemsiphere as to where the location of the Book of Mormon lands were located—they had staked their reputations, their testimonies, their very integrity on the fact that the Book of Mormon lands were, in fact, located within the Western Hemisphere. Joseph Smith and early Church leaders and members were delighted that the Stephens-Catherwood book and drawings bore testimony that the Nephites existed, that they were here in the Western Hemisphere as the Book of Mormon clearly states, and that they built magnificent buildings and left testimony of their existence. Nothing else mattered to them at the time of this discovery in Central America.
    “See, I told you so, they were here and there is the evidence of their existence!”
    That was their message. Not, “See, I told you so, they were in Central America, and there is the evidence of their existence!”
    They were here! In the Americas! That had been Joseph Smith's message, and the message of the Book of Mormon since its publication. Now, thanks to Stephens and Catherwood's work, they had proof of that! It was worth shouting about.


  1. This is far off the subject but I should mention to you that Brigham got the idea of Adam-God from Joseph Smith. He was correct however but it was not understood. Now we understand it and if you look at a rib taken from Adam to create Eve you have the solution. Adam was cloned. Very simple doctrine now understood. Interesting subject but off the subject. Ira

    1. Adam was a man like Abraham on a previous earth. Adam-God doctrine is simply a further understanding of the New Testament "joint heirs with Christ" doctrine.

    2. Like I said this was off the subject anyway. But no that isn't correct. That isn't LDS doctrine at all but more fundy stuff. He never lived anywhere else before his creation. Cloning completely answers the Adam-God doctrine very simply. Adam was simply a clone of the Father and in that way he was God the Father when he was created. But like I said - that is off subject of this blog and so I'll leave it at that. Ira

  2. I happened to find out that the only man recorded as sealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Nauvoo temple was John Milton Bernhisel. Emma did not participate.

    This indicates that the descendants of John are, in God's laws, descendants of Joseph.