Saturday, June 2, 2018

Answering a Heartland Theorist’s Erroneous Claims – Part IV

Continuing with more of this reader’s comments and our responses regarding his disagreement with our article on the events surrounding what Joseph Smith did and did not testify about. The reader’s comments are in italics following (•), and our response is in regular type:
•“walking over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls and bones in evidence on the Book of Mormon.”
Response: With a nostalgic note, Joseph is writing to his wife about the validity of the Book of Mormon and in his way, testifying or reminding or acknowledging to her that this land over which Zion’s Camp walked was the same ground over which those descendants of Lehi walked. To those of Joseph’s day, being ridiculed since the publication of the Book of Mormon about there being an advanced ancient civilization in the Americas, to see evidence of an ancient people was always a delight, a strengthening of testimony, and a “proof-positive” to them that what they had come ot believe was, indeed, true. Joseph had this same response to the view of Frederick Catherwood’s illustrations in John Lloyd Stephens 1841 book (2 volume set), Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan that was gifted to him by John Bernhisel via Wilford Woodruff in 1841. It should be kept in mind that “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.”
Catherwood’s drawing of (Left) Maya ruins in southern Mexico; (Right) Palace interior at Palenque

Thus, accurate information about Mesoamerican archaeology was essentially unknown by the general population in 1830 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.” The same is true of South American archaeology, which remained unknown for many years after Joseph Smith’s time. As for Stephens book, “No reliable information has been discovered about the extent to which Joseph discussed Stephens’s volumes with Church-member colleagues. However, in a letter to Bernhisel dated November 16. 1841, the prophet thanked him for the gift, saying: “I received your kind present by the hand of Elder Woodruff and feel myself under many obligations for this mark of your esteem and friendship which to me is the more interesting as it unfolds and develops many things that are of great importance to this generation and corresponds with and supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon; I have read the volumes with the greatest interest and pleasure and must say that of all histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of this country it is the most correct luminous and comprehensive” (Joseph Smith to John Bernhisel, 16 November 1841, in Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, p533, spelling corrected). 
    So obviously he read them.
    Then, under the date of June 25, 1842, either Joseph Smith or the compilers of History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints noted the following: “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.” In the 1842 Times and Seasons under the title of “American Antiquities—More Proofs of the Book of Mormon,” the following statement is made: “We feel great pleasure in laying before our readers the following interesting account of the Antiquities of Central America, ....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.”
It is said that Joseph Smith wrote in Times and Seasons: “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 Guatemala, 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. Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormen unfolds their history.”
    Thus, if Joseph Smith testified, as you claim, to the location of the United States as being the Land of Promise covenanted to Lehi, then why would Joseph Smith feel that the “the Book of Momron unfolds the history” of the ruins in Central America? Let us not make attempts at claiming Joseph Smith testified of that which he did not. 
•“At the same time taking 8 other men to the top of a Hopewell mound in Illinois and digging up a skeleton, testifying it was a righteous Lamanite man named Zelph who died in the last great struggle with the Nephites.”
Response: There were seven others, and only six wrote about it: Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith, Levi Hancock, Moses Martin and Reuben McBride. Yet all varied, sometimes considerably, in their accounts, including the one you mentioned of it being the “last battle” of the Nephites. As an example, while one wrote: “He was killed in battle by the arrow found among his ribs, during the last great struggle with the Lamanites and Nephites,” Reuben McBride’s journal account on this states: “which had fallen no doubt in some great battles,” but Elder Burr Riggs merely wrote: “and between his ribs the stone point of a Lamanitish arrow which evidently produced his death,” as did Heber C. Kimball who wrote: “and between two of his ribs we found an Indian arrow, which had evidently been the cause of his death.”
    You should read the readily available and easily accessed journal entries of these six witnesses that wrote about the 1834 event, in which several different viewpoint were recorded and later Church historians changed some of the comments that were in disagreement, including the words “hill Cumorah” “Sea East” “last battle” “final battle” etc. While one writes “at the time of the prophet Onandagus,” another wrote: “Zelf he was a white Lamanite who fought with the people of Onendagus for freedom,” and another “under the great prophet Onandagus.”
The Zelph Mound in Pike County, Illinois. Since burial mounds have bodies buried toward or at the bottom, this skeleton was about one foot deep from the top and may not have been a burial mound at all, but a small hill on which the body was buried

Heber C. Kimball later wrote that Joseph Smith told him afterward that Zelph had been an officer who fell in battle, in the last destruction among the Lamanites”—the last destruction among the Lamanites would not have involved the Nephites, but something that happened much later when the Lamanites as a people were defeated in some way, perhaps a civil war of the type Moroni mentioned (Mormon 8:8).
    The Book of Mormon teaches us that the term “Lamanite” carries several meanings, including Lemuelites, Ishmaelites, Nephite defectors, Gaddianton Robbers, etc., so while we accept that Joseph had a vision concerning the person whose bones were discovered, we learn more about early Mormon speculations concerning Book of Mormon geography than we do about revelations on Book of Mormon geography. As Apostle John A Widtsoe remarked, “This is not of much value in Book of Mormon geographical studies, since Zelph probably dated from a later time when Nephites and Lamanites had been somewhat dispersed and had wandered over the country” (Improvement Era, July 1950, p547).
•“Much later, professional non-LDS archaeologists dug at the same spot, finding the skeleton and other artifacts with it, dating the skeleton at: ~380 C.E.”
This Carbon-14 dating process is also the same that validates a very old Earth, and thousands of settlements of people dating back far before the Flood, which would not be possible if the C-14 dating process were accurate.
•“and confirmed everything Joseph said, back in 1834.”
Response: No non-LDS profession archaeologists have ever, under any circumstance, confirmed everything Joseph said on any subject. These archaeologists merely substantiated that the bones were dated and the findings of the Carbon-14 dating process. As a side note, it is interesting that these archaeologists much later dug at the exact same spot and uncovered Zelph’s bones and skeleton—one can only wonder how that might have happened. How is it known they dug at the exact same spot—there were numerous other burial mounds in the area according to the journals of Zion’s Camp members. In these journals there is no mention that the skeleton was placed back in the ground and reburied, nor whether or not others might have taken some parts of it, like the “thigh and leg bone that they took and carried along with them to Clay county” (Heber C. Kimball journal).
•“Over and over and over, Joseph Smith testified and made it abundantly clear that the lower Great Lakes area was the land of the Nephites and Lamanites and Jaredites, where both civilizations had a final war at Cumorah.”
Response: There is absolutely no truth in this whatsoever. If Joseph made such remarks over and over and over again, it should be a simple matter to provide their content and source. Otherwise, your statement has no meaning other than to mislead.
•“Joseph Fielding Smith discounted and chastised those theorizing a Central or South American setting for the Book of Mormon
Joseph Fielding Smith after he became President of the Church said, when one of the brethren asked if it would be improper if he disagreed with Pres. Smith’s viewpoint on this issue, and Joseph Field Smith replied that every man has a right to his opinion, suggesting his earlier view was nothing more than his opinion.”
(See the next post, “Answering a Heartland Theorist’s Erroneous Claims – Part V,” on more of this reader’s comments and our responses)


  1. Sometimes I almost feel bad for people who disagree with you and make unfounded claims. You do a masterful job of replying factually, logically, and often with supporting documentation.


  2. The point that Joseph also spoke about the Mesoamerican ruins as being from Book of Mormon people is so strong it should immediately undermine all the claims to a United States only geography. Anyone that reads the Book of Mormon knows that the Nephites over time continued to relocate to the North over and over. They claim others are explaining away their "proofs" that it all took place in lands near New York, but clearly they are explaining away many things themselves when they take such a position.

  3. Btw, if Zelph indeed perished during the final Nephi/Lamanite engagements, Onandagus can be none other than Mormon himself. Just a fun little factoid.

  4. Wonder Boy: An interesting thought; however, of the five principal early sources of the event, only one mentioned it being a "last battle" and that was Heber C. Kimball, who recorded it 9 years after the event. In fact, none recorded the term "Nephite," and only one, Wilford Woodruff recorded the "Hill Cumorah." Four of the five recorded that Zelph was a "warrior," and that he was a "Lamanite." Three said a "righteous Lamanite." None, however,agreed on every point. It is hard to get people acting individually to agree on anything observed by them collectively and this is a perfect example.

  5. Wonder Boy. Still an intriguing idea. Kind of reminds me of when I was quite young, there was a song out called "I'm my own grandpa" a novelty song written by Dwight Latham and Moe Jaffe, performed by Lonzo and Oscar in 1947, about a man who, through an unlikely (but legal) combination of marriages, becomes stepfather to his own stepmother—that is, tacitly dropping the "step-" modifiers, he becomes his own grandfather. Loved that song -- I was only 11, but I sang it all the time :)