In , Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum set forth their case for situating Book of Mormon events in the central and eastern United States. This so-called heartland theory is not the traditional hemispheric model in which those events were thought (passive voice leads us to wonder who thought this, but Roper implies here that the hemispheric model was universal, a proposition that needs substantiation.) to have occurred throughout North and South America. Rather, this theory confines the events and the prophecies concerning the land of promise and the remnant of Lehi (the Lamanites) to the United States. Porter and Meldrum claim their view is supported by prophetic statements of Joseph Smith. These "historically documented" (why the quotation marks? Does Roper intend to imply the material is not documented? Not historical?) teachings and revelations, they aver, show that "the Prophet Joseph Smith did, in fact, know about the geographical setting for the Book of Mormon and that he did, in fact, claim inspiration for the statements he made about its geography" (p. 91). Other interpretations that suggest a Mesoamerican location for the Book of Mormon or some other location in Central or South America are, they declare, "beyond comprehension" (p. 101); and those who advance such interpretations are trying to discredit or cast doubt upon the inspired words of Joseph Smith and his prophetic calling (p. 105).
This misreading of the Prophet's words is striking. Clearly (Delete “clearly” here. If it was clear, no further explanation would be necessary.) we are to understand the phrase " continent," where the New Jerusalem is to be established, in the same way that we understand the corollary, juxtaposed term " continent," where the old Jerusalem was built. Taking the Prophet's own words as a guide, one logically equates " continent" with "western continent," which is consistent with the early hemispheric interpretation of these promises. (This doesn’t follow logically. Roper hasn’t provided any examples from the Prophet’s own words making this equation. Roper insists that it was impossible for anyone living between 1830 and 1845 to refer to North America as a continent, when Webster’s own dictionary used the term “continental” to refer to the United States specifically. At best, Roper’s examples provide a generalized usage of the term that could include North and South, or North and Central, America, but they do not exclude referring to North America as a continent.) The Prophet employs similar usage in the 1842 Wentworth Letter:
In a letter written on 16 November 1841, thanking John Bernhisel for sending him a copy of Stephens and Catherwood's , the Prophet said that "of all histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of it is the most correct luminous & comprihensive." Here again, the use of "this country" to include Central America in connection with the Book of Mormon is unmistakable. (The use of “this country” here is preceded by a specific reference to Central America, just as the Biblical references did.) This was just months before the Prophet wrote his letter to John Wentworth. So when he speaks of "the aboriginal inhabitants of " and the Indians "that now inhabit," there can be little doubt that he and others were thinking in terms of all the Americas and not only the United States.
Joseph stated that the angel gave him "a brief sketch" of these matters, not a long and detailed one that would give him an intimate knowledge of the intricacies of the Book of Mormon or its geography. In fact, all the things he describes are discussed in more detail in the record itself. The Book of Mormon speaks of the Israelite heritage of pre-Columbian peoples; tells where Lehi and his family came from; describes their journey from Jerusalem to America; details aspects of their growth, progress, civilization, laws, and governments under their kings and judges; records their fall from righteousness; and foretells the destiny of their descendant peoples. Significantly, of all the things that the Prophet said that Moroni revealed to him, the geography of the Book of Mormon narrative was not one of them.
Mother Smith recalled Joseph discussing the ancient inhabitants of the Americas (“this continent”—it’s poor form to make an argument by merely replacing terms), how some of them dressed and traveled, their animals, their cities, their buildings, their mode of warfare, and their religious worship. Yet, as with the Wentworth Letter, there is no mention of geography in Lucy's description. This would lead one to conclude that of those things revealed to the Prophet, geography was not one of them. (While the passage does not use the term “geography” here, does Roper suggest that Mother Smith was thinking of Central America when she wrote about “this continent” in this paragraph? The world of Mesoamerica was as foreign and strange to people in upstate New York in the 1820s as anyplace could be. She and her entire family were familiar with the mounds, bones, and artifacts uncovered throughout New York in this time frame. If Joseph was describing people and places far away and so completely different, it seems likely she would have noted that. At any rate, if Joseph described how the ancients traveled and knew their buildings, animals, mode of warfare, etc., then one would think he would not have confused the mounds and artifacts in Ohio and Illinois with the massive stone temples of Mesoamerica. In my view, this passage doesn’t support Roper’s argument and should be rethought.)
In reference to this account, Porter and Meldrum contend that "it cannot be claimed that Joseph had no knowledge about geography or that he never claimed any inspiration on the matter as has been done by many who support a setting contrary to the words of Joseph Smith" (p. 104). However, the Prophet said nothing in his letter about the ancient geographical setting of the Book of Mormon narrative. He spoke, rather, of the "land of America" (not the United States alone). (This is a valid point, but it contradicts Roper’s previous sentence because the Book of Mormon narrative directly relates the “promised land” to the land where the Nephites lived. This needs to be clarified; i.e., Roper should agree Joseph is identifying the “land of America” as the promised land described in the Book of Mormon. Then make the argument that the “land of America” does not mean, or does not only mean, North America.) He also referred to the American "Indians" a term that we have already seen was used in Joseph Smith's day to refer to any Americans of Pre-Columbian descent. (This is a poor argument. Joseph didn’t refer to the “Indians” as Roper asserts, but to “our western tribes of Indians.” It’s difficult to see how Joseph could have been more specific, other than by listing the names of the tribes. The phrase “our western tribes of Indians” is far more limited than Roper’s assertion that it means “any Americans of Pre-Columbian descent.” I recommend this sentence be deleted.) He spoke generally of the western tribes of Indians (most Indians at the time lived west of Rochester, New York). He did not say that some Indians are descendants of Book of Mormon peoples and others are not. (A reference to a specific group implies exclusion of others. Roper seems to argue here that when Joseph wrote “our western tribes of Indians” he actually meant “any Americans of Pre-Columbian descent.” That is a long, long stretch, especially after Roper has spent so much time seeking precision in the meaning of terms.)
Porter and Meldrum argue that this account shows that the Prophet knew by revelation that these Indians were Lamanites and by implication that other groups were not (pp. 114–15). However, acknowledging the prophetic ancestry of these visitors, Joseph Smith did not exclude others. He spoke of what the Lord had revealed to him concerning the promises made to the fathers concerning them in the Book of Mormon. He also gave them counsel that is found in the Book of Mormon—that they should live peacefully (Mormon 7:4). Nothing in this passage quoted above suggests that the Prophet spoke of anything other than what the Lord had revealed through the Book of Mormon itself. And, again, the account says nothing of Book of Mormon geography or a revelation on that subject.
The last three words of this entry, "and called Zarahemla," were not written by Joseph Smith but were written into the "Manuscript History of Joseph Smith" by Elder Willard Richards when he recorded the history for that date sometime after the Prophet's death in 1844. (This seems to contradict Roper’s point—it sets a precedent for retroactive addition of the term Zarahemla, probably for clarification purposes.) However, referring to the settlement as "Zarahemla" before the March 1841 revelation is consistent with other historical evidence showing that the Saints already referred to the site by that name. Brigham Young, who began keeping a regular journal in early 1839, recorded that on 2 July 1839 "Brothers Joseph, Hyrum and others came over the river to Montrose, and went out on the prairie and looked out the sight for a city for the Saints, " (This is inaccurate. Brigham Young’s contemporaneous journal does not include the phrase “which was called Zarahemla.” That phrase was added to the Manuscript History later, probably in the 1850s, just like what happened with the Manuscript History of Joseph Smith.) Elias Smith, a cousin of Joseph Smith, recorded in his journal for 24 June 1839 the following: "Moved from Commerce to Lee County, Iowa Territory, and went on the farm bought of F. P. Blevins." In his journal for 16 August 1840, he recorded the death of the Prophet's brother Don Carlos and noted that there was a "Conference at " on that day. (This is wrong. Don Carlos died in 1841. Elias’ journal skipped a year, so his reference to Zarahemla was after the March 1841 revelation.)These early references to the name of the Iowa settlement previous to March 1841 indicate that the Saints referred to it as Zarahemla long before the revelation in question. (These basic factual errors not only undermine the credibility of this article, but they refute Roper’s point here.) There is no indication in these early sources that this designation was based upon revelation or even that it was Joseph Smith's idea. This evidence suggests, rather, that the name did not originate with the March 1841 revelation and that the Lord was referencing a location already known among the Saints by that name. The purpose of the revelation was most likely to counsel the Saints to gather at the appointed place and not, as the authors suggest, to reveal the ancient location of a Book of Mormon city. The Saints did what they would often do—name places they lived after places mentioned in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. There is no compelling reason to associate the Iowa settlement with ancient Zarahemla.
We , Co. seat Pop. 450 & three miles further we bought 32 bu. of corn of one of the brethren who resides in this place (66) There are several of the brethren round about here & this, which is spoken of in the Book of Mormon & this is & it is in Randolph Co. Mo. 3 miles west of the Co. seat. We progressed on 3 miles further to. . . . . 733 + 17 = 750 Miles. . . . between the Missourians & Mormons & that they are collecting forces from many other Co's to settle perhaps they know not what themselves.
The camp which has been , and and tents at , seventeen miles. It was reported to the camp that from Randolph and .
How did the additional wording get into the published ? In order to answer this question, it helps to know something about the primary sources upon which the Manuscript History was based, something that is strikingly missing from Porter and Meldrum's book and public presentation. (This is another unnecessary comment that reveals Roper’s bias, especially since Roper himself relied on errors in the Manuscript History regarding Zarahemla. I recommend deleting this phrase.)
Godfrey showed that the Prophet Joseph himself did not record the incident, and so we are dependent upon the accounts of six other members of Zion's Camp who were present during or near the time of the event. When these accounts are analyzed, it becomes clear that the Prophet received revelation about an individual named Zelph, but it is unclear what, if any, relationship Zelph and his activities may have had to the events and the geography of the Book of Mormon narrative.
Woodruff's account, when examined against the other five accounts, raises questions in relation to what may have been revealed at the time about Book of Mormon geography. William Hamblin observes:
This view that the geographical references may not reflect what the Prophet said finds further support in the fact that the wording about the hill Cumorah mentioned only by Woodruff was first written and then very clearly crossed out in the Manuscript History account of the incident. Godfrey explains:
In an article published in 1995, Latter-day Saint historian Donald Cannon reviewed each of the primary sources relating to the Zelph story. Oddly, Cannon did not address the emendations in the Woodruff journal passage, its influence on the text of the Manuscript History entry, and the subsequent changes in the published , all of which have direct bearing on the question of what Joseph Smith may or may not have known about Book of Mormon geography. Cannon emphasized the reliability of each of the primary witnesses who recorded the event and the general consistency of their testimony, factors that were never disputed by Godfrey. Cannon's evaluation of the sources, though brief and less complete, essentially mirrored Godfrey's and did not dispute the basic historical facts. He concluded, "The journal accounts of Joseph Smith's activities and his letter indicate that he believed that Book of Mormon history, or at least a part of it, transpired in North America." He also cautioned that "we not reject the story of Zelph and its relationship to Book of Mormon geography." The question, however, was not what Joseph Smith and others believed, but of these geographical views were based upon revelation. Cannon did not find that the historical sources regarding Zelph supported a limited North American setting, nor did he argue against a Mesoamerican setting for some Book of Mormon events, but he expressed hope that LDS scholars would "further investigate the connections between Central America and North America." In a 1999 follow-up article to his earlier study, and responding in part to Cannon's unfounded claim that he had discredited what Joseph Smith said or "sought to discredit the Zelph Story," Godfrey summarized his earlier findings, concluding, "I agree with historian Don Cannon that 'we not reject the story of Zelph and its relationship to Book of Mormon geography;' rather, we should be aware of how the story came to us as well as how it became a part of the history of the church." That background suggests that the Zelph story neither refutes nor supports the idea of a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon. (Roper ignores two aspects of Zelph, perhaps because they are not addressed by Porter and Meldrum. First, the accounts all agree that Joseph himself identified the mound in Illinois with Book of Mormon people; he never identified any site in Mesoamerica with Book of Mormon people. Second, Woodruff wrote “hill Cumorah or east sea,” which is an odd alternative. Hamblin characterizes this as an ambiguity, but it should be seen as a clarification—the normal reasons people make insertions into their writing. Note that “Eastern sea” is found in none of the original accounts; it is only in the compiled accounts. The hill Cumorah is over 300 miles west of the Atlantic (240 miles northwest of the New Jersey coast). But it is only 15 miles from Lake Ontario. Godfrey’s article incorrectly conflates McBride’s account—McBride was the only one who mentioned the Atlantic—with Woodruff’s. Woodruff did not use the term “Atlantic” as Godfrey wrote in his summary. McBride’s account was written in two different pages in his journal at two different times. The words “was known from the Atlantic” were a later insertion. Could this have been McBride’s interpretation of Woodruff’s “east sea” comment? A later recollection? A clarification from someone else? We can only speculate, but the reference to the Atlantic was not part of his original record. It is interesting that both “Cumorah” and “east sea” are Book of Mormon geographical terms. Would Woodruff have invented these? Neither Roper nor his sources address this point, but Woodruff’s account does place the Zelph story within Book of Mormon geography.)
This statement implies that early church leaders such as John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff were led astray by the desire for proof and thus ignored or discarded the teachings of Joseph Smith. Is this position consistent with the historical evidence?
On 16 September he recorded that he had "perused the 2d Vol of Stephens travels In Central America Chiapas of Yucatan & the ruins of Palenque & Copan. It is truly one of the most interesting histories I have read." Happy to be home, Woodruff arrived in Nauvoo on 6 October.
This letter shows unequivocally that Joseph Smith shared the excitement about these discoveries generated among his associates. It also, in effect, signaled his approval of such interests in connection with the Book of Mormon, an interest that can be seen in subsequent Latter-day Saint literature. Of particular interest are five articles that appeared in the in 1842 when Joseph Smith served as editor. These articles, two signed "editor" and three left unsigned, promoted the work of Stephens and Catherwood among Latter-day Saints. These articles highlight Latter-day Saint interest in discoveries and also the feeling that they were consistent with and supportive of the claims of the Book of Mormon. At the same time, the evidence shows that varied interpretations of this data were entertained by Latter-day Saint writers and their leaders. I will focus on the question of Joseph Smith's involvement and authorship of five articles that were published under his tenure as editor. Then, after reviewing Joseph Smith's role as editor of the , I will indicate what wordprint analysis may suggest about the question.
Voted, that if Brother Robinson does not comply with this solicitation, Elder Richards be instructed to procure a press and type, and publish a paper for the Church.
Moved by Elder Young, and seconded by Elder Woodruff, that Lyman Wight and John Taylor present these resolutions to Brother Robinson.
On 17 January 1842, Brigham Young recorded that he "met in council with the Twelve at Joseph's office. We consulted in relation to the printing and publishing, the council being unanimously opposed to E. Robinson's publishing the Book of Mormon and other standard works of the Church, without being counseled so to do by the First Presidency." On 28 January the Prophet received a revelation in which the Lord told him,
On this same day Brigham Young wrote the following: "The Lord having revealed, through Joseph, that the Twelve should take in hand the editorial department of the , I bought the printing establishment, for and in behalf of the Church, from Ebenezer Robinson, at a very exorbitant price. The reason I paid such a price was, because the Prophet directed the Twelve to pay him whatever he asked. One item of his bill was $800, for the privilege of publishing the, or good will of the office." On 3 February Wilford Woodruff recorded that
On 19 February 1842, Woodruff indicated that "Joseph the Seer is now the Editor of that paper & Elder Taylor assists him in writing while it has fallen to my lot to take charge of the Business part of the esstablishment." Woodruff did not specify precisely what Taylor's writing assistance entailed. In the 1 March 1842 issue of , the Prophet announcedthat he was undertaking editorship of the paper. "This paper commences my editorial career,. I am not responsible for the publication, or arrangement of the former paper; the matter did not come under my supervision. JOSEPH SMITH." It seems clear that this statement disavows Joseph's sanction for previous editions of the , the "former paper." (As I have shown, Joseph and the Twelve disapproved of how Hill and Robinson had been handling things.) Joseph also declares his willingness to endorse "all papers having my signature henceforward." This seems more than an endorsement of individual articles, but rather of newspapers for which he is listed as editor. The term does not mean documents in this context; it means newspapers published with Joseph as editor. The 1 March 1842 issue of the paper bore the note "The Times and Seasons is edited by Joseph Smith." The Prophet transferred editorial responsibilities for the paper to John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff no later than 12 November 1842.