Thursday, July 15, 2021

Responding to Another Heartland Theorist – Part II

Answering more of the critics’ comments:

• Comment: “ The driving distance between the Zelph Mound (about 3 miles east of Griggsville, IL) and Palmyra is about 865 miles. As the crow flies, it is about 733 miles. I have no idea what you mean by "100 miles."

Response: It was a point that people at war would not carry a dead soldier a hundred miles to bury, let alone the distance from Palmyra to the mound where Zelph was found—more than 800 miles between the mound and your Hill Cumorah, where the last battle of which we know took place in the scriptural record.

• Comment: “During the time of Onandagus, the people were scattered farther to the west to the Rocky Mountains.”

Map of the Heartland Theory. Note all out of alignment the map is to Mormon’s descriptions


Response: There is no suggestion that the Book of Mormon storyline included the Rocky Mountains—in fact, there is nothing in the Book of Mormon that even remotely suggests that Zarahemla was west of the Sea West, or that the Land of Bountiful was east of the Land of Zarahemla, or that there were any “Plains of the Nephites” in the Land Bountiful, or that the four seas were all in the north of the Land of Promise, or that the lower Mississippi was much widfer than the upper Mississippi, etc., etc., etc. There are so many inaccuracies in this model and theory, that we have written about them many times, including lists and scriptural references. Nine of those writings are specifically about Zelph.

• Comment: “About 56 BC, Hagoth builds ships which sail forth into the west sea.”

Response: While this is true, we also need to keep in mind that “And the first ship did also return, and many more people did enter into it; and they also took much provisions, and set out again to the land northward. And it came to pass that they were never heard of more. And we suppose that they were drowned in the depths of the sea. And it came to pass that one other ship also did sail forth; and whither she did go we know not” (Alma 63:7-8).

• Comment: “The Great Lakes were bigger and deeper 2000 years ago. Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie could have been one large lake known as the west sea because they are close in elevation.”

Response: 9,500 Years Ago, the glaciers towered above the ground, and the massive weight of the ice pushed the earth's crust down. The north side of the Great Lakes was pushed down further than in the area south of the lakes (Erie and Ontario) where the ice was thinner. The sinking of the crust to the north of Lake Superior caused the lower great lakes to drain away to the north, as if a plug being pulled in the bath. The water flowed out of the lake at this time through North Bay, Ontario and continued on down the Ottawa Valley to the St Lawrence Sea.

Once the glaciers retreated, the Earth's crust started to rebound (rise), resulting in the north side of Lake Superior to rise about one foot per century compared to lands along the southern edge of the Great Lakes (Lower Michigan, Erie and Ontario). This process is called "isostatic rebound" by geoscientists. The result is that the Great Lakes are tilting to the south, with more land exposed on the north shore of Lake Superior each century—meaning the lakes are getting larger today than they were in the past

The early Great Lakes before man, claimed to be 9,500 years ago. Note the dotted line around each lake showing the original size of the lakes that were initially much smaller


SeawayLake Michigan was a mere “sliver’ of what it is today, with Lake Erie a littler smaller then and Ontario close to its present outline. In the north, ancient beaches and shorelines have been submerged, as an example Duluth Harbor (at the furthest point west of Lake Superior has undergone 20 feet of submergence over the past 2000 years, which caused the lakes to rise (enlarge), not get smaller—divers in the harbor have discovered submerged ancient tree stumps which help in determining the location and elevations of these ancient shorelines (Matthew C. Larsen Chief Scientist for Hydrology, United States Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior, “Report to Congress,” Washington, March 2, 2006).

The many raised beaches on both the north and south side of the lake give further evidence both of glacial rebound and of the different water levels which existed in the Great Lakes basin as the glaciers retreated, consistently filling the lakes until today they are the largest they have ever been.

• Comment: “Today, Lake Ontario is about 20 miles from Palmyra. It makes sense to say "His name was Zelph, a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus, who was known from the Hill Cumorah, or eastern sea to the Rocky Mountains.”

The St. Lawrence Seaway which, since 1959, has allowed shipping to reach not only Lake Ontario but Erie as well and thus all the lakes. The first locks were built in 1850, replaced in 1899, and again in 1959


Response: Lake Ontario is 325 feet below Lake Erie, and 243 feet above the St. Lawrence River—requiring seven locks completed in 1959 to raise a ship from the St. Lawrence River to Lake Ontario, with the combination of these locks, five of which are administered by Canada (Côtr St.Catherine and St.Lambert; 2 locks of the Beauharnois Canal; and Iroquois) and two administered by the U.S. (Eisenhower and Snell) forming the St. Lawrence Seaway, which permits ships to transit between “sea level in Montreal 243 feet upward to Lake Ontario (and another 326 feet higher through eight locks to Lake Erie)—interesting how an unaided ship made that rise in 600 BC.

• Comment: “His name was Zelph. He was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus, who was known from the Hill Cumorah, or eastern sea to the Rocky Mountains." Why can't people live west of the western sea?”

Response: In the entire Book of Mormon there is not one sentence, one word, or a single intimation that anyone lived, traveled or knew about any land west of the Sea West. The same can also be said about the Sea East.

However, those traveling northward in Hagoth’s ships that were “never heard from again” may well have landed far to the north, in Central America and over the centuries, some moved ever northward, coming into the area of what is today the United States, and becoming the people at the time of Onandagus, and living in the location of the Rocky Mountains to the eastern sea (Atlantic Ocean). There is nothing in the scriptural record, other than Hagoth’s northward-bound ships, to suggest this—but it is an interesting scenario.

• Comment: “The day after Zelph’s bones were found, Joseph wrote to Emma as he sat on the east bank of the Mississippi (4 June 1834) waiting for transportation to cross the River (I believe was the river Sidon) during the Zion's Camp March between Kirtland and Missouri.”

Response: First of all, the River Sidon in the Scriptural Record runs south to north. The Mississippi River runs north to south—a person can no more change the course of the Mississippi than they can change the meaning of scripture. Second, at this time, Joseph was likely thinking that the Lord had verified to him that there was physical evidence that Nephites and Lamanites once existed in the land—a land without borders and political divisions, but a vast area of his creation of which Lehi’s descendants had spread far and wide. Joseph would have been elated that this once again was verified to him and, more importantly, to many of the men who would replace him in the leadership of the church.

Joseph’s Letter to Emma written on 4 June 1834 while on Zion’s Camp after being gone from her several weeks


As he wrote to Emma, he would have likely been lonely for her to tell her all about it. Thus, he poured out his feelings in the letter he wrote to his wife—not intending it to become a pronouncement from on high! From the revelation he received about Zelph, he would not have known where Lehi landed, where Lehi’s Land of Promise was located—but did know that there had been Nephites and Lamanites in the land where Zion’s Camp trod.

Had he been told these things, he certainly would have announced them at the time—especially to his future replacements of the Church. But, alas, he did not, because he didn’t know. He only surmised that this land over which they traveled had been occupied by Nephites and Lamanites. But according to the Book of Mormon, not by Lehi’s immediate descendants that fill the story line of the scriptural record.

1 comment:

  1. Since the South American (proto Andean) model accepts catastrophism as a catalyst for landscape alterations in much more recent times than the modern, uniformitarian consensus, I've conceaded that other theoretical models could use catastrophism as a carte blanche to claim that their geography works. They could claim, "well, it looked different 2000 years ago."

    Uniformitarian theory can't be used by a believer in catastrophism to shoot down a claim made by somebody else's appeal to catastrophism. Saying that "glaciers towered in this area 9500 years ago..." ignores the fact that 9500 years ago predates the great flood, and nothing was left unscathed by the flood. So again, uniformitarian theories about the timescale of glacial movement doesn't account for catastrophic changes brought by the great flood.

    But even if we were to let it slide that "the great lakes were bigger 2000 years ago," does it fix the countless other inconsistencies in the model? Absolutely not. Nor does it change the reality that Zelph is not scriptural cannon. While the stories of Zelph may be rooted in conversations with Joseph Smith, those stories are not generally accepted or approved as scriptural cannon or even in church education curriculum. As somebody who grew up in the church, I can say that I never heard of Zelph until a few years ago when the story was embraced as doctrinal support for Book of Mormon geography models based in north America. And that wasn't in church or from the church, but in blogs online.

    I would say that, all catastrophism and hearsay stories aside, no account of Zelph trumps Mormon's description of the geography in Alma 22. And there is no world in which any part of the modern USA fits that scripturally cannonized description.