Thursday, February 15, 2018

Orson Pratt’s Message of Lehi’s Travels to the Land of Promise – Part I

Long Before BYU organized an Archaeological Department, before the first Latter-day Saint ever to earn the doctorate in the field of archae­ology (combined with ancient history) graduated, Orson Pratt discussed where Lehi sailed and where he landed, as well as where Nephi moved to and settled—all in western South America, between about the 30º south latitude to the area of Peru/Ecuador.
However, when M. Wells Jakeman, graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1938, his dissertation was entitled, “The Maya States of Yucatan, 1441-1545,” and the Maya, of course, were in Mesoamerica. When Jakeman joined BYU and founded the first Archaeology Department, he brought with him a different, but adamant and singular viewpoint, borne out of his classroom studies of the ancient Maya, which he took from the early Indian and Spanish accounts of ancient Mexico in the light of modern archaeological findings.
    According to Ross T.Christensen in "The True History of Archaeology at Brigham Young University, "the Department of History at California had supervised his advanced program, in cooperation with the Department of Anthropology for training in New World archaeology. He had previously studied ancient history and biblical and other Old World archaeology, it may be added, at the University of Utah and the Univer­sity of Southern California.
    Before this event, the history of the Saints, particularly in the Rocky Mountains, with the Brigham Young Academy as the seat of higher learning, produced numerous individuals who had been brought up in the understanding of men like Orson Pratt, one of the great leaders of the Church, who was born 19 years before the Church was organized, and 14 years after the birth of the prophet Joseph Smith. With studies as a mathematician, Orson was called to the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1835 and was considered a leading Mormon theologian and writer until his death in 1881, serving as an Apostle for 46½ years.
    Pratt was called to his first mission at the age of 19 upon his baptism, and served on several missions in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts, as well as abroad in England, Scotland and Austria. He also served as editor of the Millennial Star, President of the British Mission, and was a member of Brigham Young’s initial pioneer company, the Vanguard Company, that crossed the plains from Missouri to Utah, to select a western site for Mormon colonization, within which he served as scientific observer, taking notes on geological formations and mineral resources.
With Erastus Snow (far left), 36-year-old Orson Pratt (left) entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 21, 1847, three days ahead of the main body of the Vanguard company. Several days later, he preached the first sermon in the Salt Lake Valley and formally dedicated the valley to the Lord.
    At the age of 53, Elder Pratt delivered a discourse in the Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, Sunday Afternoon, February 11, 1872 (Journal of Discourses, Vol 14, Discourse 44, p 323) in which he stated, in part: “It is quite unexpected to me to be called upon this afternoon to address this congregation; but inasmuch as I have been solicited so to do I cheerfully comply with the request. It has also been suggested that there would be several strangers present this afternoon who would desire to hear some of the evidences in relation to the Book of Mormon, and although it is a subject on which we have spoken during the week just passed, and have set forth many evidences in support of the divine authenticity of this book, still it may not be amiss to repeat some of these evidences and give some reasons to those who are present why this people receive this book as a part and portion of the revelations of the Most High.”
    Elder Pratt went on to say, “Our traditions, which we received from our fathers, have naturally inclined us to reject all revelations, or all pretended Scripture except that which happened to be compiled in the Old and New Testament. I had this tradition in common with the rest of mankind who profess to believe the Bible; but when I came to examine this tradition which I, as well as millions, had imbibed, I found it to be only tradition and without any substantial foundation.
    “I cannot possibly imagine how to reconcile the supreme goodness, wisdom and mercy of the Almighty with the idea that a few of the inhabitants of our globe, dwelling in one small region called Palestine, should be the favored few to whom revelation should be vouchsafed. I cannot reconcile this idea with the view that we talk of the character of the great Being whom we worship and serve.
    “When I contemplate the vast number of millions that must have swarmed over this great western hemisphere in times of old, building large cities, towns and villages, and spreading themselves forth from shore to shore from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the frozen regions of the north to the uttermost extremity of South America—when I contemplate all these people as human beings, beings that have immortal souls and form part of the brotherhood of all nations, descending from the same parents, created by the same Creator, I cannot believe that all these nations have been left in darkness, deprived of the light of revelation from Heaven, and having no knowledge concerning God; but I must believe that God, who is an impartial Being and presiding over all the inhabitants of the earth, would have respect to the people of ancient America as well as of ancient Asia.”
Elder Pratt wrote a series of eighteen pamphlets in 1851 on the tenets of Mormonism, that was published in England; it was compiled into a book and became an influential work for the early Church in Britain. He was an orator with special appeal, and stated: “Consequently, in accordance with the views that we would naturally entertain concerning the attributes of the Great Jehovah, we believe that he has in these latter times, in the generation in which we are permitted to live, condescended to bring to the knowledge of the people another book, another divine revelation containing the history of his dealings with the generations that are past and gone on this western hemisphere. The book which I hold in my hand [the Book of Mormon] contains nearly as much information as the Old Testament. It is a book of five or six hundred closely printed pages.
    “This book, the Latter-day Saints believe to be the Bible of the western hemisphere; a compilation of sacred books, books delivered by divine inspiration in ancient times to prophets, revelators and inspired men who dwelt upon this continent, both in North and South America. We believe that it was written, mostly by a branch of the house of Israel, a part and portion of the chosen seed, the descendants of Abraham who were led forth to this continent some six hundred years before Christ from the city of Jerusalem, brought by the special providence, miracles and goodness of the Almighty.
    “A colony with whom there were several prophets; a colony of Israelites who believed in the law of Moses, and to whom the Lord manifested himself in a peculiar manner. They were brought forth from the land of Jerusalem in the first year of Zedekiah, King of Judah, six hundred years before the birth of our Lord and Savior.”
Shifting slightly, Elder Pratt begins an explanation of Lehi’s travels, where he went and how he arrived in the Land of Promise: “On board this vessel they embarked, and were guided by the Almighty across the great Indian Ocean. Passing among the islands, how far south of Japan I do not know, they came round our globe, crossing not only the Indian Ocean, but what we term the great Pacific Ocean, landing on the western coast of what is now called South America. As near as we can judge from the description of the country contained in this record the first landing place was in Chile, not far from where the city of Valparaiso now stands.”
Valparaiso is located about 200 miles south of La Serena and Coquimbo Bay, the latter where Lehi landed

After landing on the western coast of South America, they divided into two colonies, one colony called Lamanites, the other called Nephites. These names originated from two brothers, the name of one being Laman, the name of the other, Nephi. The Lamanites became a very wicked and corrupt people. The Nephites believed in the law of Moses, in God, in the spirit of revelation and prophecy; they believed in visions, in the ministration of angels, and they sought to serve the Lord with all their hearts, and they were exceedingly persecuted by the Lamanites. The Nephites, by the command of the Almighty, made sacred records on gold plates, and on these plates they were commanded to engrave their history, their prophecies, the dealings of the Lord with them from generation to generation.
(See the next post, “Orson Pratt’s Message of Lehi’s Travels to the Land of Promise – Part II,” for a better understanding of the beliefs and attitudes of Church leaders in the 19th century and prior to the introduction of archaeology into BYU)


  1. So from La Serina.. (landing site) to Cusco (City of Nephi) That is about 1,200 miles.

  2. With Google Earth, it is 1125 miles in a straight line. And the straight line goes over the Ocean a lot. So the actual distance they traveled would have been at least 1200 miles. But I would think even longer.