Saturday, October 20, 2018

Claims, Opinions and Beliefs vs Prophetic and Official Statements

Lately, numerous theorists have been pushing the idea that various prophets and General Authorities have made statements that support their particular opinions regarding the location of the Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites, and their model of the Land of Promise. Quite often these theorists make claims that have led to others’ conviction that certain very questionable “facts” are, instead, official Church stands and prophetic utterings. However, this is not always the fact, and since most members and almost all critics have no understanding of the difference between an opinion and an official declaration, much disinformation and “urban legends” have ensued over time. So much so, that often truth and the scriptural record are overshadowed by these inaccurate assertions.
Sorenson’s map of his Land of Promise model in Mesoamerica

While a precise knowledge of where the Book of Mormon took place is not necessary for it to bring spiritual conversion, the Church has never offered a revealed or official geography, and is unlikely to do so. While this does not preclude having and developing a personal interest in such location, it is interesting how many theorists claim an absolute location, such as John L. Sorenson who said in his book, “there is only a single plausible match with the geography in Mesoamerica centered around the Isthmus of Tehuantepec,” which is basically the area known today as Guatemala and the southern Mexico States of Tabasco, Chiapas, Oaxaca, Veracruz and the surrounding area (John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 1985, pp35-36).
    The result of such false ideas that grow out of these inaccurate portrayals by theorists is that people have, over the years, obtained a totally incorrect understanding of the geographical setting of the Book of Mormon, which at times have led to a misunderstanding of the actual scriptural record itself. Take for example the well-known theory of Lehi landing in Mesoamerican, fostered first by M. Wells Jakeman, original BYU Department of Aarchaeology Chair, appointed in late 1946, and popularly reinforced by Sorenson Sorenson, who was appointed department chair in 1979, in his book in 1985.
    In this Mesoamerican setting, it became necessary to change the directional system used by Nephi and Mormon from the normal understanding of the cardinal directions, and his north-south descriptions of the Land of Promise (Alma 22:27-34), to an east-west orientation so that it matched the layout of Mesoamerica.
After several maps in his book show a north-south Land of  Mormon, Sorenson then switches to the east-west map of his Mesoamerican model, ignoring Mormon’s north-south orientation in Alma 22:27-34 

In fact, Sorenson spent the first several chapters in his book, progressing through five maps, to try and convince his readers that Mormon and the Nephites used a completely different directional system than that of the vast majority of the rest of mankind as accepted throughout recorded history. Consequently, since this idea seemed to be sponsored by BYU, and therefore the Church in general, it became the standard belief among those who felt the physical and geographical setting of the scriptural record was of importance to their better understanding of the record itself—resulting in much error that has crept into the writings about the Nephites and their events.
    This problem has been compounded of late with the growing interest and promotion of the Heartland and Great Lakes theories, which require the arrival of Lehi in the area now known as the Great Plains of the United States (along the Mississippi River), or the lands around Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, in western New York and that region.
Both the Mississippi River and the St. Lawrence River were fraught with rapids. Those on the Mississippi were corrected by locks and dams created by the Corps of Engineers; the one on the St. Lawrence at Montreal, blocked all movement past the city that had to have a channel dug around it to bypass the rapids

In both cases, arrival and landing required Lehi to sail up the Mississippi River to the area of Iowa-Illinois, or up the St. Lawrence River to the area of Lake Ontario—neither of which routes were possible prior to the changes made to both rivers by modern engineers to dredge and deepen, widen and build channels around rapids, or locks to lift boats to higher elevations—a process that is constantly needed to keep these rivers open for transportation in anything bigger than a canoe, raft, or very small boat. But still the theories are promoted with alarming insistence by those who created them and those who now support them because of their unfounded belief in the ideas.
    Quite often, comments from past and present Prophets and General Authorities have been quoted as saying certain areas were the location of Lehi’s landing and location of where the Nephites lived. These ideas and opinions are promoted by theorists as absolute fact, claiming anyone who doesn’t agree with such leaders is in conflict with the Church.
    In all of this, it should be noted that “the Church has not taken an official position with regard to location of geographical places [of the Book of Mormon]” (John E. Clark, “Book of Mormon Geography,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.1., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, Macmillan Publishing, New York, 1992, p178). In addition, in 1918, Joseph F. Smith, President of the Church declined to officially approve of a suggested map for where Lehi landed, saying that “the Lord had not yet revealed it, and that if it were officially approved and afterwards found to be in error, it would affect the faith of the people” (George D. Pyper, "The Book of Mormon Geography," The Instructor, No.73, April 1938, p.160
In 1929, Anthony W. Ivins, the First Counselor in the First Presidency, said regarding the location of the Land of Promise: “There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question. So the Church says we are just waiting until we discover the truth. All kinds of theories have been advanced. I have talked with at least half a dozen men that have found the very place where the City of Zarahemla stood, and notwithstanding the fact that they profess to be Book of Mormon students, they vary a thousand miles apart in the places they have located. We do not offer any definite solution. As you study the Book of Mormon keep these things in mind and do not make definite statements concerning things that have not been proven in advance to be true” (Anthony W. Ivins, Conference Report, April 1929, p16).
In 1982, Mark E. Peterson said: “We all have our free agency. God doesn’t rob anyone of that. And sometimes even a General Authority has used his agency in a wrong direction, Now, a General Authority might speculate, I suppose. We have had speculation, for instance, on the part of some with respect to Book of Mormon geography, and it is plain, unadulterated speculation and not doctrine. And if a General Authority has speculated on Book of Mormon geography he did not represent the view of the Church while doing so” (Mark E. Petersen, “Revelation,” address to religious educators, 24 August 1954; cited in Charge to Religious Educators, 2nd ed., (Salt Lake City: Church Educational System and the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints, 1982, pp.136–137; cited in Dennis B. Horne (ed.), Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluation Doctrinal Truth, Eborn Books, Roy, Utah: 2005, p.315).
In another instance, in 1966, Harold B. Lee said regarding the location of the Land of Promise: "Some say the Hill Cumorah was in southern Mexico (and someone pushed it down still farther) and not in western New York. Well, if the Lord wanted us to know where it was, or where Zarahemla was, he’d have given us latitude and longitude, don’t you think? And why bother our heads trying to discover with archaeological certainty the geographical locations of the cities of the Book of Mormon like Zarahemla? (Harold B. Lee, “Loyalty,” address to religious educators, 8 July 1966; in Charge to Religious Educators, 2nd ed. p65, see above info). 
    Thus, we see that Prophets are allowed not only to have personal opinions, or even misunderstandings, but also to express them. It is up to those who hear the words spoken by a prophet to listen carefully, use their intelligence, and discern with the spirit whether a prophet is acting as a prophet or expressing his own views. Critics of the Church and even some members, especially those who have bought into an unprovable and unsupportable opinion held by someone else, such as a theorist regarding the location of the Book of Mormon, demonstrate time and again that they do not comprehend this simple principle.
    It would do well for all of us, especially the many theorists who want to make absurd claims about their beliefs and models, that we do not know for certain where Lehi landed, we do not know for certain where the Land of Promise was located; land we do not know for certain where any city, river, mountain or hill mentioned in the scriptural record was located. We can certainly have opinions, but to make outlandish claims that are not supported by anything more than opinion and conjecture, or wishful thinking is of very little value and can certainly not claimed as fact and usually, not even being plausible.
    Our best bet is to stick with the scriptural record, using what it states, what it means, and what it describes—nothing more and nothing less. Since the record contains sufficient information to make certain determinations, based on those ancient prophets who lived upon the land, what modern man, no matter who or what they are, claims contrary to that is of little value in the matter until such brethren officially state more knowledge has been given. For any of us in this work to say or write anything about the matter, if it disagrees with the scriptural record, changes, alters, or explains away what those ancient prophets wrote about the land in which they lived, is simply neither scholarly, nor of any value.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Now wait a minute. Harold B. Lee said what?

    "if the Lord wanted us to know where it was, or where Zarahemla was, he’d have given us latitude and longitude"

    The Lord did give us the latitude and longitude in a revelation to FG Williams. 30 degrees south latitude in Chile.

    All it takes is the ability to accept revelation when it is given.

    BTW the pictures are switched in your essay. The pictures belonging to Mark E. Peterson and Harold B. Lee should be switched. Not a big deal though, we all know who they are.

  3. The problem here, though, was it a revelation to Williams or was Williams recording a statement by Joseph Smith.

  4. Del answered this a while back. It was a personal revelation to FG Williams. The event took place at the dedication of the Kirtland temple. An angel gave the revelation to him.

    I'm sure if you search for the essay you can find it in this blog.

    So I guess you could argue that it was not a revelation to the Church because it did not come through Joseph Smith. I accept it as a revelation and the evidence now for the South American model is solid and overwhelming.

  5. I found the FARMS article that Del mentioned once about the 30 South Latitude writing.

    The William family claim that their ancestor, and Joseph's counselor, Frederick G Williams obtained it by revelation in the Kirtland temple starts on page 7:

    This is a PDF called: "Did Lehi Land in Chile?"
    Did Lehi Land in Chile?

  6. Still, the most "official" geographical tool for the Book of Mormon released by the Church is in the seminary teacher's manual.

    It does say in the print at the bottom that no attempt should be made (i assume, by the teacher) to place the map in any existing geographical setting.

  7. We should keep in mind that “personal revelation” is available to all members of the Church (as well as others on occasion). 
As it states in D&C 43:25, “The Lord reveals His will through dreams and visions, visitations, through angels, through His own voice, and through the voice of His servants.” We can add to that D&C 1:38: “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”
    Add to this that “The Lord’s house is a house of order, and the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or anyone [else], to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p21). As Boyd K. Packer said, “You may receive revelation individually, as a parent for your family, or for those for whom you are responsible as a leader or teacher, having been properly called and set apart.” Each of us is endowed with the Spirit of Truth. As the Apostle John stated: “Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:16-17).
    In addition, we may receive answers to prayer, to contemplation, to direct or indirect inquiries—but these are “personal,” that is, they are not for anyone else. Few people who have received personal revelation discuss them with anyone else, other than perhaps a spouse or family member, or very close confidant. As the Lord said, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matthew 7:6). That is, “personal revelation” is just that—it is personal.
    One of the problems of this is that we tend to ignore “personal revelation” people receive when we become privy to the fact since it is something not broadcast from the highest pinnacle and given us “from on high.”

  8. (continuing)
    Frederick G. Williams said he received a personal revelation, while sitting in the temple during the dedication of the temple. He said an angel entered the room and sat down beside him. He wrote down on a piece of paper in his pocket what was told him. He did not broadcast that, tell anyone else in a speech or make a big issue over it. He kept that note stashed away in his personal papers and it was not found until long after his death. He did tell his immediate family, who reiterated it after his death. His son, Ezra G. Williams stated on April 11, 1864, regarding the note Frederick G. Williams made of this event, “This paper is in the hand writing of my father, Fred G. Williams. The characters thereon I believe to be a representation of those shown to him at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple.”
    For me, and my personal understanding (to whatever extent that is), I can see how this came about. Elder Williams was a member of the First Presidency and counselor to the prophet Joseph Smith, and one would assume, in good standing with the Lord. He had been a navigator and pilot on ships on Lake Erie for some time earlier than this event. He was even hired by Captain Oliver Hazard Perry during the War of 1812 to navigate and pilot his command ship on the lake during engagements with the British, since his expertise on the lake was well known.
    Thus, it would be most likely, as the thought occurred to Elder Williams about Lehi’s landing, where that might have been. As a former navigator, he was likely curious as to where and how that was achieved. He would not have been particularly knowledgeable as few Americans were at this time, of South America, its coastline, or any likely landing sites since such information was simply unknown in the U.S. at the time—especially to a backwoods country doctor.
    The fact that the Lord had compassion on Elder Williams and saw that he was provided an answer to his question seems self-evident based on the man’s own testimony of it which he shared with his family. That a later descendant, Frederick G. Williams III, working with John W. Welch and John L. Sorenson, claims his ancestor’s note was not a revelation and was not even representative os his thinking at the time. What this descendant night have actually known and not just assumed because of his belief in Mesoamerica, is not stated, but Mesoamericanists have repeatedly made reference to this rebuttal. However, no other member of the Williams family to-date has made such a comment or even a reference.
    “Personal revelation” is, after all, personal, and not provided to anyone else.
    In light of all this, for me, at least, Elder Williams actions and testimony is accurately portrayed under the circumstances and quite believable.

    1. In a long 1880 revelation to Elder Wilford Woodruff, and while Elder Taylor was the head of the church, the Lord made it clear that revelation can be given to others besides the head of the church, but they are to keep it to themselves and present it to the head, who will determine what should be given out. Elder Taylor did accept this revelation. Part of it says:

      "And while My servant John Taylor is your President, I wish to ask the rest of My servants of the apostles the question:
      Although you have one to preside over your Quorum, and over the church, which is the order of God in all generations, do you not, all of you, hold the Apostleship, which is the highest authority ever given to man on the earth? You do.
      Therefore, you hold in common the keys of the kingdom of God in all the world.
      You, each of you, have power to unlock the veil of eternity, and hold converse with God the Father, and His Son Jesus Christ, and to have the ministration of angels.
      It is your right, privilege, and duty to inquire of the LORD as to His mind and will concerning yourselves, and the inhabitants of Zion and their interests.
      And whenever any one of you receives the Word of the LORD, let it be written, and presented in your councils.
      And whatever by a united consent you deem wisdom to be presented unto the people, let it be presented by the President, My servant John Taylor, as the word of the LORD.
      In this way you will uphold him, and strengthen his hands, as all the burden should not rest upon one man.
      For thus saith the LORD, all of Mine apostles should be full of the Holy Ghost, of inspiration and revelation, and know the mind and will of God, and be prepared for that which is to come.

      Revelation Received Monday, January 26, 1880 By Apostle Wilford Woodruff at Sunset, Arizona Territory

      Wilford Woodruff Journal, recorded twice: Dec. 28, 1880 and April 17, 1897