Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Comparing Mesoamerican, Heartland, and Andean South American Lands of Promise-Part V

Continued from the previous post regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the Mesoamerican and Heartland models of the Land of Promise listed by Michael De Groote, as appeared in the Deseret News. We continue here with the Weaknesses of the Mesoamerican model #3, with #1 and #2 in previous posts:
3. Statements of Joseph Smith
Although there are some apparent statements from Joseph Smith that some Book of Mormon places were in Central America, there is also some dispute that he made those statements. 

Response: Joseph Smith never said the Land of Promise was in any specific land, other than the Americas. It should be understood that when the Book of Mormon was first published, the idea of any type of ancient advanced civilization in the Americas from Canada to Chile, capable of building great cities, temples, civic plazas, etc., was as foreign an idea as going to the moon. In fact, it was one of the more laughable ideas in the entire Book of Mormon as far as non-members, critics, and scientists were concerned.
Mayan ruins of Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico, structure called the Cross Temple 

In 1773, the Maya ruins of Palenque was discovered beneath a tangled tropical forest in Chiapas, Mexico. Charles III of Spain ordered his officials to explore the ruins carefully, and make drawings and obtain artifacts. In 1777, the rins of Xochicalco were first described by the Catholic priest and scientist, Antonio Alzate, who was born in Ozumba (then New Spain, now Mexico) in 1737. In 1790, the Aztec calendar stone was unearthed in Mexico City while excavating around the foundations of a cathedral. IN 1803, Alexander von Humboldt arrived in Mexico City bearing the Spanish king’s rubric and given free reign in Mexico. 
    His large folio was published in France in 1810 entitled Vues des Cordill√®res et Monuments des Peuples Indigenes de L’Americque (Views of the Cordilleras and Monuments of the Native Peoples of the Americana), which included a color image of the Aztec calendar stone, along with drawings of the Dresden codex, and while ultimately viewing both the prehispanic realms of Mexico and Peru as despotic and barbaric, he also drew attention to indigenous monuments and artifacts as cultural productions that had "both historical and artistic significance” (Vera M. Kutzinski and Ottmar Ette, "Introduction," Views of the Cordilleras and Monuments of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, A Critical Edition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2012, pxxxiii).
    However, despite this awareness, the pejorative assertions of contempt and deprecatory disapproval about the new world by Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, a highly-respected French naturalist, cosmologist and encyclop√©diste; Cornelius de Pauw, a member of the Court of Frederick the Great, a exiled Jesuit and controversial scholar; and the Abbe Guillaume Raynal, a French writer and man of letters during the Age of Enlightenment, held sway to the public view, and little excitement was drawn from the assertions of an ancient advanced people in the “backward” Americas (Victor Wolfgang von Hagen, The Ancient Sun Kingdolms of the Americas, vol.1, Pickle Partners Publishing, 2017).
Ferederick Catherwood’s Drawing of the Tulum temple in the Yucatan, Mexico 

Thus during the 1830s and 1840s, during Joseph’s time and long afterward, the idea of an ancient Jaredite kingdom and advanced Nephite nation in the Americas, drew much derision and contempt toward Joseph Smith and the “Mormons.” Naturally, when Joseph received a copy of the explorations of John L. Stephens in his Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, with descriptions and also Daguerreotype photographic views and 24-hand-colored lithograph drawings of ancient ruins by Frederick Catherwood, he was excited to see evidence of an advanced ancient people in the Americas. However, it was not Joseph who connected the location of the Book of Mormon to Mexico, Guatemala and Central America, but John E. Page, who wrote in a letter to Joseph Smith from Philadephia on September 1, 1841:
Joseph Smith writing to John Lloyd Stephens about having read his two-volume book on Incidents in Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan 

“I have lately availed myself of the purchase of Stephens and Catherwoods' travels in Guatemala or central America in which those gentlemen have exhibited by seventy plates the antiquities of that country which when compared with the book of Mormon so completely proves the truth and divinity of the Book of Mormon there is not a gentile dog left to stir a tongue in an attempt to put down the collateral testimony which those records afford” (Joseph Smith Collection, Church Historian’s Library, Salt Lake City).
    All of this was prior to Joseph Smith receiving and then reading Stephens’ book, which came to him from Wilford Woodruff, who returned from an apostolic mission to Great Britain in September 1841. In fact, prior to receiving the books, Joseph received a letter from a recent convert, John Bernhisel on September 8, 1841, in which he informed the Prophet that he was sending him a copy of Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, “as a token of my regard for you as a Prophet of the Lord.” The next day, he gave the two volumes to Wilford Woodruff, who was traveling to Nauvoo (Dean C. Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 2002, p533).
    On November 16,1841, Joseph responded to Bernhisel, thanking him for the gift, saying in part: “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 & comprehensive” (Dean C. Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith).
    It might also be of interest to know that Stephens and Catherwood, in their travels outlined in the two-volume work, visited parts of Honduras, Guatemala El Savador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica as well as part of southern Mexico (Incidents of Travel in Central Americas, Chiapas, and Yucatan, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1841). In addition, much of what Stephens wrote and reported on was “new to American readers.” In fact, Stephens’ writing was so clear and luminous, that “his language would almost impel a Latter-day saint reader in 1841 to think of the Book of Mormon” (Interpreter, a Journal of Mormon Scripture, vol.16, Interpreter Foundation, Orem Utah, 2015, p216).
    Even before Joseph received the two-volume book set as a gift, missionaries were citing reports of the travelers’ lectures in New York City as evidence for, and to refute criticism of, the Book of Mormon. Parley P. Pratt reprinted one report from the New York Express in the September 1840 Millennial Star (“Antiquities of America,” Millennial Star, 1/5 September 1840, p118).
In November 1840, Erastus Snow (left) chided an anonymous critic who had insisted that there was no evidence of pre-Columbian writing, saying “Here is a specimen of your consummate ignorance of American Antiquities…Nearly all the principal papers of this country have of late published the result of the researches of Messrs. Stephens and Catherwood, in Central America. On the river Montagua, Monuments and Statues in abundance were found many of which are covered with writings, and yet you say there are no proofs that the science of writing was ever known here. The system of Logic by which you arrive at your conclusion must be peculiar to yourself” (“E. Snow’s Reply to the Self-Styles Philanthropist, of Chester County, Philadelphia,” Pamphlet of Letters, 1840, pp2-3).
    In June 15, 1841, at the time Don Carlos Smith and Robert B. Thompson were editors, an issue of the Times and Seasons reprinted another article from the New York Weekly Herald reporting the substance of Stephens and Catherwood’s lectures. The Nauvoo editor who introduced the article thought the report ”proved beyond controversy that, on this vast continent, once flourished a mighty people, skilled in the arts and sciences” (“American Antiquities—More Proofs of the Book of Mormon,” Times and Seasons, 2/16, 15 June 1841, p440).
    The point is, Stephens writing and Catherwood’s drawings raised quite a stir church leaders and members of the church, all of which thrilled to see evidence of an ancient civilization in the Americas dating back into Nephite times. It would only be naturally to put two and two together and come up with the idea these were the Book of Mormon sites written about by the ancient prophets. However, it should be noted that Joseph Smith never look that leap—his interest was in the fact that an ancient American civilization verified the idea that of an ancient civilization in the Americas was no longer a laughable and unverified idea
(See the next post, “Comparing Mesoamerican, Heartland, and Andean South American Lands of Promise-Part VI,” for more regarding the Deseret News article about the pros and cons of Mesoamerican as opposed to the Heartland models and South America)

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