Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Wentworth Letter and the Americas

It is amazing how often theorists quote and use comments from Church leaders, isolating a specific quote or comment that agrees with their personal point of view and their Land of Promise model, but then ignores other quotes and comments made by the same person that disagrees or counters what they claim. Some call this “Cafeteria Style Reporting,” that is, one picks an chooses those scriptures, comments, quotes, circumstances or ideas that agree with their personal view, but ignore those that do not.
    Take for an example the following statement made by a Reader who disagrees with our South American location and tries to claim we do not accept the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith, when he wrote in and said, “Why don't you rely on the Prophet Joseph Smith? Smith mentioned where the descendants of the Book of Mormon people were in the Wentworth Letter.”
In 1842,  John “Long John” Wentworth (left), the New Hampshire giant who was the editor of a Chicago Democrat newspaper, wrote a letter to Joseph Smith asking about the basic beliefs and history of the LDS Church. Joseph answered the letter, which has come to be known in the Mormon church as the Wentworth letter.
    Now the Wentworth Letter is the Prophet Joseph Smith’s account of “the rise, progress, persecution, and faith of the Latter-day Saints,” including the statements known as the Articles of Faith, and covers a lot of information, but it does not state Joseph’s opinions or declarations regarding the location of Lehi’s landing, the placement of Nephi and where he settled or anything specific about location. What it does contain is a recount of the events of Joseph’s encounter with the Angel Moroni and what the Angel told him as it relates to the general, overall comments that include, country and continent. Interestingly, the words “descendants,” “Lehi,” “Nephi,” “Nephites,” “Lamanites,” “landing,” “United States,” or any other similar words do not appear anywhere in the Wentworth Letter.
    Joseph wrote: “tells us that our Savior made His appearance upon this continent after His resurrection; that He planted the Gospel here in all its fulness, and richness, and power, and blessing; that they had Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers, and Evangelists, the same order, the same priesthood, the same ordinances, gifts, powers, and blessings, as were enjoyed on the eastern continent” (emphasis added).
    We should not forget when reading “this continent” that in Joseph Smith’s time and up until about World War II, both North and South America were referred to as a single continent. This is pointed out that Joseph’s above statement shows that the other “continent” was the “eastern continent.” That is, at the time, there were the “western continent” (North and South America) and the “eastern continent” Europe and Asia, etc. In fact, even today, a significant part of the world think of both North and South America as a single continent, including Latin America here in the Western Hemisphere, i.e., most of Central and South America consider the Americas a single continent.
Moroni taught Joseph much about the original inhabitants of the Land of Promise as found in the Book of Mormon, describing many aspects of their lives, which Joseph then told his parents, recounting to them the details of Nephite living

Joseph also wrote: “I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people, was made known unto me” (emphasis added).
    There is no question regarding the location of Lamanites throughout the Western Hemisphere. Moroni is referring to the inhabitants of North America, for “this country” at the time if interpreted to mean the United States, would have limited the location of the “original inhabitants” to only a very small portion of the existing indigenous people or “Indians” then residing in all of North America, and would eliminate the “Indians” throughout Central and South America.
    Consequently, the continuation of the above sentence, Joseph also wrote in addition, “I was also told where were deposited some plate on which were engraven an abridgment of the records of the ancient Prophets that had existed on this continent” (emphasis added). Obviously, his meaning was expanded from “this country” to “this continent.” Once again, referring to the term “continent,” which at the time, meaning both North and South America as described above.
    Joseph also wrote: “that Zion will be built upon this [the American] continent” (emphasis added), again referring to “this continent” as ”the American Continent,” a term that has been used in history beginning with Martin Waldesmuller’s 1507 map of the so-called “New World,” called “Universalis cosmographia secundum Ptholomaei traditionem et Americi Vespucii aliorumque lustrationes” (The Universal Cosmography according to the Tradition of Ptolemy and the Discoveries of Amerigo Vespucci and others, named both North and South America as “The American Continent,” which name and location continued until about World War II, and was certainly so called at the time of Joseph Smith. In fact, the name America was originally placed on what is now called South America on the main map. As explained in the Cosmographiae Introducio, the name was bestowed in honor of the Italian Amerigo Vespucci.
The 1507 Waldseemüller Map showing the known world at the time,and using the name “America” to denote South America and the Western Hemisphere

This 1507 wall map consisted of twelve sections printed from woodcuts measuring 18 by 24.5 inches, and was drafted on a modification of Claudius Ptrolemy’s second projection, expanded to accommodate the Americas and the high latitudes (John P. Snyder, Flattening the Earth: 2000 Years of Map Projections, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1993, p33). In addition, it might also be noted that while some maps after 1500 show, with ambiguity, an eastern coastline for Asia distinct from the Americas, the Waldseemüller map indicates the existence of a new ocean between the trans-Atlantic regions of the Spanish discoveries and the Asia of Ptolemy and Marco Polo as exhibited on the 1492 Behaim globe.
    Thus, we can say that the Wentworth Letter does not tell us where Lehi landed, nor even refer to any area except the American continent, which from 1507 through the time of World War II (late 1930s), the American continent was both North and South America, as this Reader implied.
    As to relying on the Prophet Joseph Smith, how about relying on all that he said, not just the ones that verify a singular view of North America. As an example, an interesting event in the history of the Church took place during a thirteen-month period between September 1841 and October 1842. The Prophet Joseph Smith was given a two-volume set of books as a gift by Dr. John M. Berhisel, a bishop of the Church in New York City, and delivered to Joseph in Nauvoo by Wilford Woodruff, who was returning from a mission abroad and passed through New York on his way back to Nauvoo, arriving on October 6, 1841 (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1833-1898, Signature Books, Salt Lake, 1983, 2:14).
    The books were entitled Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, by John Lloyd Stephens, an Ambassador to Central America in 1839, diplomat and writer (and self-proclaimed adventurer, explorer, and amateur archaeologist) regarding his travels in Mesoamerica and the discovery of ancient ruins and vanished civilizations. These books were filled with extremely accurate and meticulously detailed drawings by Frederick Catherwood who accompanies Stephens of all the places they visited. The pictures revealed temples and cities that had been lost in the jungles of Central America for centuries (the two also published two other volumes: Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land, 1837, and Incidents of Travel in Greece, Turkey, Russia and Poland in 1838).
Several lengthy extracts from Stephens’s volumes of Central America were published in the Times and Seasons between February and October 1842 while Joseph Smith was editor of the paper. These extracts and the accompanying editorial articles about a lost and advanced civilization as evidence of the validity of the Book of Mormon. Through the years since their publication, these editorials often have been cited by some researchers as evidence that Joseph Smith believed Mesoamerica was the geographical setting for the events in the Book of Mormon.
    In addition, on June 25, 1842, Joseph recorded that Stephens and Catherwood had 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 had recently landed in New York (History of the Church 5: 44). Obviously, the relics were thought to be of the Nephites, but that, of course, was unknown; however, it illustrates Joseph’s frame of reference at that early date. The important thing is that Joseph viewed the antiquities as a witness for the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
    So we repeat your question and direct it to you: “Why don't you rely on the Prophet Joseph Smith?”—that is, all the words of Joseph Smith.

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