Monday, June 18, 2018

Lehi’s Seed in the Americas – Part I

Could the Book of Mormon events have occurred in both South and North America, as well as Middle America (Mesoamerica)? If a church leader, or even Joseph Smith, have said or implied that this area or that area in the Americas was home of the Nephites or Lamanites, does that make apparent conflicting statements inaccurate?
    Critics, of course, use such diversity of opinion as a sure sign that the Book of Mormon is false, and the Church’s beliefs and origins are highly questionable. Theorists themselves, with their ideas of where Lehi landed and the location of both the entire Land of Promise and specifically cities, rivers, and lands are so set, as to raise antagonistic rebukes to anyone who disagrees with them. And also ridicules any Nephites shown to be in another area than what they think is the Land of Promise.
BYU has sent archaeological department students and leaders on digs to Mexico, Mesoamerica, Central America, and even Egypt. They have conducted digs nearer to home in Utah, but none had been sent to South America, where so much Nephite period ruins and evidences exist that one can only wonder why

As an example, the Mesoamericanists at BYU have never to anyone’s knowledge ever made an effort to conduct any research, or exploratory digs in South America; Heartland theorists claim that the United States and North America is the only place Lehi and Nephi were, using misinterpreted statements by Joseph Smith and early Church leaders.
    As James F. Stoddard III, founder of the Joseph Smith Foundation, and writing in “Does the Heartland Model contradict statements made by the Leadership of the Church?” (Joseph Smith Foundation, February 16, 2015/May 12, 2016). He then adds, “It appears on initial investigation that the early Brethren contradict what some of the later Brethren, particularly during temple dedications, have taught.  Can both be accurate or must we choose?”
    So what of this disagreement or apparent conflict? Is it a sign of irreversible dispute among members, or at least among scholars, historians and followers of the Jaredite/Nephite/Lamanite geography? Since the Church and the Brethren have never made a stand on any of this, are we who feel the geography, though a minor area of importance in the overall doctrines and knowledge the scriptural record provides, left to forever wonder without knowing? Or can we come to know the facts of the matter from which we can draw intelligent, fact-based, even personally inspired understanding?
    There are those who theorize that Lehi and his posterity never stepped foot in Canada; others claim they spent their time in Mexico and Guatemala; still others claim they landed and spent all their time in Central America, and still others championing North America, with some centering on the Great Lakes area, and others the entire Heartland region from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada, from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. Still others limit their involvement to Baja California, and yet others lay claim to the area of Malay in Indonesia.
    However, when it comes to those who cite the America as Lehi’s landing site, and the area where the events in the Book of Mormon Land of Promise occurred, there are strong feelings about their pet theories and land models to the ignoring of anything not within their theorized area. If there were Nephite/Lamanite events found in North America, does that make those who believe in Middle, Central and South America wrong? If Nephites built the pyramidal structures in Mexico and Guatemala, does that mean they did not build the ones in Andean South America, or that Joseph Smith was wrong about the skeleton of Zelph, the white Lamanite, or the prophet Onandagus, known from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean?
    If Nephites built the structures found in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, does that mean everyone’s belief centered elsewhere is without merit? And what of the vast ruins of pre-Columbian, pre-Inca sites scattered all over Peru, western Bolivia, Ecuador, and northern Chile, signifying an advanced civilization that existed there during Jaredite and Nephite times?
    So who is right and who is wrong?
    First of all we need to ask the rhetorical question, “could it be that the Lehite remnant was scattered throughout the Americas and the South Pacific in the same way and for the same reasons that other remnants of Israel were dispersed? Are the answers found in the Book of Mormon itself and through the statements of latter-day prophets, past and present? Accepting the fact that Presidents and Church Leaders have been accurate in their dedicatory prayers and conference talks since the time of Joseph Smith, how can we validate their statements of very different geographical settings for the Book of Mormon peoples?
Peru, South America: Gordon B. Hinckley, Dedicatory Prayer for the Lima Peru Temple, 10-12 January 1986:
    “We are particularly mindful this day of the sons and daughters of Lehi. They have known so much of suffering and sorrow in their many generations. They have walked in darkness and in servitude. Now Thou hast touched them by the light of the everlasting gospel. The shackles of darkness are falling from their eyes as they embrace the truths of Thy great work. Surely father Lehi has wept with sorrow over his posterity. Surely he weeps today with gladness, for in this holy house there will be exercised the fullness of the priesthood to the blessing, not only of those of this and future generations, but also to the blessing of those of previous generations. Bless Thy work that it shall blossom and grow in this nation and in its neighbor nations of South America. Remember, Father, Thine ancient covenant with the children of Lehi that in the latter days Thou wouldst favor them and bring to them a knowledge of their Redeemer. Make them strong in faith and magnify them in leadership in Thy kingdom.”
Bolivia, South America: Gordon B. Hinckley, Dedicatory Prayer for the Cochabamba Temple, April 30,2000:
    “May this temple, together with its auxiliary structures, all be combined into a sacred complex built to assist the on-rolling of Thy work in this great nation of Bolivia. This nation is named for Simon Bolivar, the great liberator of much of South America, who died the year Thy Restored Church was organized. May the incomparable principle of democracy be preserved forever in this republic. Bless the land and its people. May Thy work grow and prosper in this area of Thy vineyard. We remember before Thee the sons and daughters of Father Lehi. Wilt Thou keep Thine ancient promises in their behalf. Lift from their shoulders the burdens of poverty and cause the shackles of darkness to fall from their eyes. May they rise to the glories of the past. May they recognize their Redeemer and be faithful and true Saints of the Most High. May they seek learning out of the best books (see D&C 88:118). May the enlightenment of education bring new and wonderful opportunities into their lives.”
Peru, South America: Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Dedicatory Prayer for the Trujillo, Ecuador, Temple, 21 June 2015:
    We pray for all in this land who have an opportunity to hear and ponder the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Please touch their hearts and lives with Thy goodness. Hasten the miracle of conversion among these great and good people. We thank Thee for the sacred record of Lehi, Nephi and Jacob, Alma and Mosiah, Benjamin and Mormon, and of Moroni. We thank Thee for this voice that has come from the dust to bear witness of the divinity of Thy Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thou hast sent Thy prophet Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers. This holy temple opens the gates to eternity that these purposes may be fulfilled.
Guatemala, Mesoamerica: Gordon B. Hinckley, Dedicatory Prayer for the Guatemala City Guatemala Temple, 14–16 January 1984:
    “Thou kind and gracious Father, our hearts swell with gratitude for Thy remembrance of the sons and daughters of Lehi, the many generations of our fathers and mothers who suffered so greatly and who walked for so long in darkness. Thou hast heard their cries and seen their tears. Now there will be opened to them the gates of salvation and eternal life…We thank Thee for the restored record of our ancestors, the record of Lehi, Nephi and Jacob, of Alma and Mosiah, of Benjamin and Mormon and Moroni” (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978).
Mexico City, Mexico (Mesoamerica): Spencer W. Kimball, Official Reports of the Mexico City Area Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in the Sports Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, February 13,1977:
    “When I was in Mexico in 1946, I was dreaming for the people of Mexico. I had a dream of your progress and development. Now this is precisely what I dreamed; this was my vision for the people of the Lamanites. I got up from my bed and wrote my dream. Maybe it was a vision rather than a dream. This is what I wrote: As I looked into the future, I saw the Lamanites from the isles of the sea and the Americas rise to a great destiny. I saw great numbers of Lamanites and Nephites in beautiful homes that have all the comforts that science can afford. I could see you children of Lehi with your herds and flocks on a thousand hills. . . . I saw the church growing with rapid strides, and I saw them organized in wards and stakes. (I think there was not a single stake or ward in all of Mexico when I dreamed this dream.) I saw a temple of God and expect to see it filled with men and women and young people.”
    Obviously, those six dedicatory prayers by Presidents of the Church or members of the First Presidency that took place over the peoples of South America, Central America, and Mesoamerica, cannot be ignored. But there are more in North America…
(See the next post, “Lehi’s Seed in the Americas – Part II,” for more information where to find Lehi’s seed in the Americas both during and following the Nephite Nation as well as today)

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