long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Friday, May 1, 2015

How Much Weight Can a Single Source Bear?

Here's my peer review of Matthew Roper's article in the Maxwell Institute's Journal 22/1 (2013). This is a useful paper because it evaluates the historical background of the idea that Joseph Smith identified Huntsville, Missouri, as the setting for the Book of Mormon city of Manti. Obviously this would be a problem for the Mesoamerican theory, so there's no question what the conclusion of the piece will be. I'm interested to see not whether Roper debunks the idea--a foregone conclusion--but how he does it.

I'm going to post the entire piece with my comments in red, as usual.

How Much Weight Can a Single Source Bear?
The Case of Samuel D. Tyler's Journal Entry

by Matthew Roper



One of the fundamental constituents of responsible scholarship is the ability to determine how much weight a single piece of evidence should receive. The Hebrew Bible teaches, "At the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established" (Deuteronomy 19:15). This article discusses how much weight can be put on a single witness, especially when that witness is contradicted by an equally plausible second witness. [At first glance, I liked this introduction because it suggests we're going to read an objective piece. But after reading Roper's article, I came back and found this introduction to be completely misleading. In the first place, there is not just a single piece of evidence; there are several pieces, such as other comments in Tyler's journal that support his credibility and reliability, as well as the context of who was going around appointing places as future stakes of Zion. In the second place, the first witness was not contradicted by the second witness. The second witness corroborated the first witness! That's exactly the point of Deut. 19:15. I hope no one read this comment from the Editor and passed by the article thinking they got the message. Then again, anyone reading the article without thinking critically would likely reach the same conclusion as the editor here. Argghhh!
When I first took on this article, I thought maybe Roper would have some grounds for rejecting the Manti designation. I expected his approach to be outcome oriented, but he is so determined to reject any evidence of the North American setting that he not only overlooks obvious conclusions, but casts unfounded aspersions on Samuel D. Tyler. 
Here is the body of the paper:]

In 1838, the Kirtland Camp traveled from Kirtland, Ohio, to Far West, Missouri.1 Two historical references associated with that group's activities as they passed through eastern Missouri have led some to conclude that the ancient city of Manti, spoken of in the Book of Mormon (Alma 56:14; 57:22; 58:1, 13, 25—28, 39), was located in that region or that the Prophet Joseph Smith had learned of this by revelation. A closer look at these sources sheds light on the question.2 [This footnote refers to Roper's review of Prophecies and Promises. I peer reviewed this previously in this blog. Here's the link to the original article: 
That article consists mostly of Roper creating a straw man to attack, although he also makes some decent points that I acknowledge.]
The first reference is an entry from the journal of Samuel D. Tyler, an early member of the church who traveled with the Kirtland Camp. The Tyler journal entry for 25 September 1838 reads as follows:
We passed thro Huntsville, Co. seat Randolph Co. 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 is the ancient site of the City of Manti, which is spoken of in the Book of Mormon & this is appointed one of the Stakes of Zion and it is in Randolph Co. Mo. 3 miles west of the Co. seat.3
[Tyler's journal is available online here: https://dcms.lds.org/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE1959187]

The first issue is the source of Tyler's information. If that source was Joseph Smith, then this could be significant, [Why the conditional "could be" here? Roper's usual answer to that question: if Joseph Smith said anything inconsistent with the Mesoamerican theory, and it cannot be spun to somehow support or at least "leave room for" the Mesoamerican theory, then Joseph was speaking for himself and didn't know much about Book of Mormon geography anyway. Roper's approach is so deeply held that is crops up even in a throwaway line such as this.]  but if Tyler himself came to this conclusion or if he was merely reporting local hearsay, this would be less so. [Roper should know better than to suggest such conduct on Tyler's part. Roper himself will quote Elias Smith, who corroborates Tyler's account. As I ask in that section, is Roper proposing that these men independently made this up? Collaborated to make it up? They were writing in their daily journals, not for the National Enquirer. Were they trying to fool themselves? Their posterity? Any time an author seeks to undermine a source by offering an unfounded and indefensible suggestion such as this, you can be sure he has a weak argument. This should be a tip-off that Roper's argument will ultimately collapse, as it does below.] In this case, the source could not be Joseph Smith directly because the Prophet was not with the Kirtland Camp. [This is an irrational conclusion. Joseph could have directly told Tyler this at any point prior to Tyler's visit to the site. Maybe Roper meant to write "contemporaneously" instead of "directly," but for someone who spends so much time parsing terms, one would think Roper would be more precise.]  At the time Tyler recorded this information in his journal Joseph Smith was already in Far West several counties away, having previously fled Kirtland months before with other church leaders.4 What then was the source of this idea? Was it based upon something Joseph Smith had said at another time, or did it reflect speculation among the local brethren in Randolph County or the Kirtland Camp? How accurately was it reported? The Tyler journal does not provide an answer to these questions. [Was Tyler's journal otherwise accurate? I've looked at his journal; it was meticulous, especially considering the circumstances under which he wrote. He listed each day's distance traveled, described what they ate, the quality of the grass for their beasts, etc. At one point (September 26, 1838), he wrote "Four of the seven counsellors [sic] were in this & two absent, and one [Elder Young] has stopped back on the way. Now I say there was four, if I was rightly informed." That's direct evidence that Tyler was sensitive to being "rightly informed" about the things he wrote. He wrote this on the back of the very page on which he mentioned Manti. Would he have written his comment about Manti if he questioned whether he had been "rightly informed" about that? A more reasonable inference, based on Tyler's own meticulousness and caution, is that the Manti identification was so commonly known that he saw no need to specifically attribute it.] 
The Manuscript History of the Church might seem to lend support to the information in the Tyler journal entry. The relevant entry for 25 September 1838 can be found on page 829 of that document and reads as follows:
The camp passed through Huntsville in Randolph County which has been appointed as one of the stakes of Zion, and is the ancient site of the City of Manti and pitched tents at Dark Creek, Salt Licks, seventeen miles. It was reported to the camp that one hundred and ten men had volunteered from Randolph and gone to Far West to settle difficulties.5
This entry, however, was actually written down after the events in question by Willard Richards, who used the available sources. Comparative evidence strongly suggests that the 25 September 1838 entry of the Manuscript History was based on the account in Tyler's journal. Evidence of this is italicized in the two documents below.



We passed thro Huntsville, Co. seat Randolph
 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 is the ancient site of the
City of Manti
, which is spoken of in the Book of
Mormon & this is appointed one of the Stakes of
 & it is in Randolph Co. Mo. 3 miles west of
the Co. seat. We progressed on 3 miles further
to Dark Creek, Salt Licks, & pitched . . . 17 miles.
733 + 17 = 750 Miles. . . . We hear that 110 men
have volunteered
 to save being drafted & have
gone from this Co. to Far West to settle some dis-
 between the Missourians & Mormons
& that they are collecting forces from many
other Co's to settle perhaps they know not what
The camp passed through Huntsville in Ran-
dolph County
 which has been appointed as one
of the stakes of Zion
, and is the ancient site of
the City of Manti
 and pitched tents at Dark Creek,
Salt Licks, seventeen miles
. It was reported to
the camp that one hundred and ten men had vol-
 from Randolph and gone to Far West to
settle difficulties

The Manuscript History entry is clearly dependent on Tyler's journal entry; however, as a later, derivative source, it has no primary evidentiary value in supporting Tyler's 1838 statement. [This is a good point--one Roper should apply to his research about the use of the name Zarahemla across from Nauvoo. He would have avoided the mistakes he made in that analysis had he done so. Regarding this entry, Roper's ellipses omit as much of Tyler's original material as Roper includes here. The Richards history is much more concise than Roper's table portrays. This is significant because it means Richards extracted only what he deemed important. Would Richards have retained the Manti reference if this was his only source? It's an important claim, to be sure. We have no evidence that Richards verified that ancient Manti was here, but it seems plausible, even likely, he would have. Particularly when everyone in 1843 supposedly believed Zarahemla was in Guatemala... ] When this portion of the Manuscript History was first published in the Millennial Star in 1854, the entry read essentially the same as it did in Richards's earlier handwritten manuscript.6 When church historian Andrew Jenson later published it in his Historical Record in 1888, he added, without explanation, the words which the Prophet said immediately before the part of the sentence about Manti, making it read "which the Prophet said was the ancient site of the city of Manti" although this was not in the original manuscript.7 This has puzzled some subsequent students of the Book of Mormon. In 1892 George Reynolds's A Dictionary of the Book of Mormon: Comprising Its Biographical, Geographical and Other Proper Names was published with appendices written by Janne Sjodahl. Sjodahl cited the Manuscript History passage from Jenson's Historical Record and then noted, "Whether 'the ancient site of Manti' refers to the Manti in the Book of Mormon is a question that has been debated. Some prefer to regard it as reference to a later city of Manti, built by descendants of Nephi in Missouri" rather than the original city mentioned in the Lehite record.8 In 1938, Joseph Fielding Smith published an article in the Deseret News in which he cited the passages from the Tyler journal and the Manuscript History in support of a Missouri location for the Book of Mormon city of Manti, which was subsequently reprinted in a compilation of his earlier writings.9
[This is good research on Roper's part. This sequence reminds me of how Winchester's Times and Seasons articles acquired the aura of prophetic authority because "some people" purport to have shown Joseph Smith wrote them. At any rate, I agree with Roper that subsequent commentaries and additions are irrelevant in assessing Tyler's journal entries.] 
In contrast to the Tyler journal, another independent contemporary source provides a different view. Elias Smith, a cousin to Joseph Smith, also kept a journal of the travels and activities of the 1838 Kirtland Camp. On this same day, he recorded:
We came through Huntsville the county seat of Randolph where we were told before we arrived there we should be stopped but saw nothing of the kind when we came through the town and heard no threats whatever, but all appeared friendly. 1½ miles west of Huntsville we crossed the east branch of Chariton and 1½ miles west of the river we found Ira Ames and some other brethren near the place where the city of Manti is to built and encamped for the night on Dark creek 6 miles from Huntsville.10
Elias Smith, significantly, did not equate the land near Huntsville, Missouri, with the ancient location of Manti but indicated that this was the place where a future settlement named after the ancient one was "to be built." [Hmm. This is not inconsistent with Tyler's statement. Both could easily be accurate; i.e., Huntsville was both the location of the ancient Nephite city of Manti, and the location of a future city of Manti. Plus, Tyler's account also looked to the future. He wrote "this is appointed one of the Stakes of Zion." How could it become a stake if there was no city? Elias Smith's statement actually confirms the second part of Tyler's statement (thereby corroborating it), but says nothing about the first part. Instead of the contradiction Roper implies, the Smith statement supports the Tyler statement.]  
When B. H. Roberts prepared the History of the Church for publication, he reviewed original sources upon which the Manuscript History was based and revised parts of the narrative accordingly. Roberts was able to utilize the Elias Smith account instead of the portion of the Manuscript History that had been based upon the Tyler journal. The entry for 25 September 1838 as first published in 1905 and all subsequent editions of the History of the Church says that the village of Huntsville, Missouri, was "near the place where the city of Manti is to be built" and omits any suggestion that the location of the Book of Mormon city was known.11 [So B.H. Roberts did the same thing Jenson, et al, did with the Tyler statement. B.H. Roberts also "has no primary evidentiary value."] 

Based on the Smith account, in light of the above, it would appear that the Missouri Saints in 1838 anticipated, at least initially, the establishment of a future stake and a settlement in the region that they would call Manti. The original sources upon which this idea is based, however, do not attribute these plans to Joseph Smith, nor do they sustain the view that the name of the proposed future settlement was based upon any revelation on the question of Book of Mormon geography. [Who besides Joseph Smith was going around "appointing" places as Stakes of Zion or as sites for future cities? Unless Roper can point to someone else doing such appointing, his assertion here is completely unpersuasive and contrary to the facts. Both Tyler and Elias Smith claim knowledge of future plans involving Manti. Who could be the source of those plans if not Joseph Smith? Roper's argument essentially requires that Elias Smith and Samuel Tyler independently (or the "Missouri Saints" collectively) somehow came up with the Manti connection all on their own. Apparently that's what one must believe to adhere to the Mesoamerican theory... Back to Smith and Tyler. When could they have learned of such future plans except prior to their arrival at Huntsville? Elias Smith wrote "we were told before we arrived there we should be stopped." These men were briefed ahead of their journey. They both recognized Huntsville as a landmark worth mentioning in their journal. They knew it was significant in connection with Manti as a future stake/city, but only Tyler (whose journal was more precise and detailed) recorded that it was also the site of the ancient Nephite city of Manti. The totality of this evidence leads directly to Joseph Smith as the source. No one else could have, or would have, designated the spot as a future stake/city, and if he did that, then Tyler's statement about the ancient city could have come from no one else.] 
Readers of the Book of Mormon, in the absence of prophetic revelation on the location of this Book of Mormon city, [This is Roper's normal code for "Joseph Smith guessed, used his own judgment, and/or didn't know what he was talking about whenever he tied Book of Mormon geography to North America] must, as always, ground their interpretations in the Book of Mormon text itself, "drawing all the information possible from the record which has been translated for our benefit."12[No argument here. This is axiomatic, but completely unrelated to the rest of the article. And it leads me to wonder, why did Roper concoct a flawed study to "prove" Joseph Smith wrote the Times and Seasons articles if he really believes what he wrote in this sentence?]

[One concluding note. Several others have tried to debunk the Tyler journal entry. Roper's piece here is the most scholarly accumulation of evidence, although he should have looked at Tyler's journal beyond the oft-quoted section. Simply reading the next page would have revealed how obsessed Tyler was with accuracy. At any rate, unfortunately a google search of Tyler's name brings up this article and several others, all attacking the credibility of this man's journal. I find that shameful. Here are a couple of the others who are piling on:
Let's hope we get the record straight on this, as on so many other details regarding the Book of Mormon.]
Matthew Roper holds a BA degree in history and an MA degree in sociology from Brigham Young University. He is a research scholar at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. His current research focuses on questions of Book of Mormon authorship and the intellectual history of Latter-day Saint scripture.
1. The Kirtland Camp refers to a company of Kirtland Saints who traveled to Missouri in 1838 and should not be confused with the 1834 Zion's Camp.
2. See Matthew Roper, "Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography," FARMS Review 22/2 (2010): 58—62.
3. Journal of Samuel D. Tyler, 25 September 1838, MS 1761, Church Historians Department, Salt Lake City, emphasis added.
4. Joseph Smith Journal, 25 September 1838, in Joseph Smith Papers: Journals Volume 1: 1832—1839, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Richard Jensen (Salt Lake City: Church Historian's Press, 2008), 329.
5. Manuscript History, 25 September 1838, 829, emphasis added.
6. "History of Joseph Smith," Millennial Star 16/19 (13 May 1854): 296.
7. "Kirtland Camp," Historical Record 7/7 (July 1888): 601, emphasis added.
8. George Reynolds, A Dictionary of the Book of Mormon: Comprising Its Biographical, Geographical, and Other Proper Names, Together with Appendices by Elder Janne M. Sjodahl (Salt Lake City: Parry, 1892), 304.
9. Joseph Fielding Smith, "Where Is the Hill Cumorah?" Deseret News, Church Section, 10 September 1938, 6; Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1956), 3:239.
10. Elias Smith, "Journal of the camp of the Seventies during their journey from Kirtland to Far West," 25 September 1838, MS 4952, folder 2, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, emphasis added.
11. History of the Church, 3:144.
12. George Q. Cannon, Editorial, Juvenile Instructor (1 January 1890); reprinted in the Instructor 73/4 (April 1938): 160.

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