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.

Monday, July 11, 2016

BMAF Question #3 - Zion was all of North and South America

The BMAF argument that Joseph said Zion was all of North and South America came up the other day, as it often does. In the recent iteration, "Joseph considered all the Americas (North, Central, South) as the promised land."

That's a quotation I have not seen before and I can't find, so I'd very much like the citation. I haven't seen one by Joseph that refers to Central America, or that refers to "all of the Americas" or to them being the promised land. If anyone knows of a quotation about these three items, please advise.

The preliminary question is how this pertains to Book of Mormon geography. Quotations about Zion appear in a variety of contexts, both in the scriptures and in the words of Joseph Smith and other Church leaders. Zion can be everywhere (Zion is the pure in heart) or in one specific place (Jackson County, as in Zion's Camp, D&C 100, etc.). Even if we equate Zion with the Book of Mormon promised land, that doesn't tell us where Lehi landed and where his descendants lived up until Cumorah. The Book of Mormon promises extend from Lehi's day down to ours. His descendants have intermingled with other people throughout the hemisphere.

I have a detailed paper about this that is a chapter in an upcoming book. It's over 6,000 words, so there's no point posting it here. No one reads long blog posts. Instead, I'll summarize it.

One of the most-quoted references to North and South America comes from a sermon purportedly given by Joseph Smith on July 19, 1840. Here is the version of that quotation included in an article titled “Joseph Smith’s July 19, 1840 Discourse,” published in BYU Studies:

“Afterwards read the parable of the 12 olive trees and said speaking of the Land of Zion, It consists of all N[orth] & S[outh] America but that any place where the Saints gather is Zion, which every righteous man will build up for a place of safety for his children… The redemption of Zion is the redemption of all N[orth] & S[outh] America.”[1]

I propose this passage, to the extent it is reliable, refers to the pre-Civil-War era United States—the northern and southern states—not the continentsof North America and South America. I further propose that this passage has been misinterpreted and expanded upon partly because of an interpretation of Isaiah 18 that is usually attributed to Hyrum Smith but which actually originated with Benjamin Winchester.


Without getting into detail, it wasn't until around 1853 that Martha Coray wrote her account of this July 1840 discourse. Hers is the only version; no one else recorded the sermon. She provided only "a few items" from the sermon, not a verbatim account. As Dean Jessee points out in the BYU Studies article, July 1840 followed Joseph's frustrating trip to Washington D.C. to see President Van Buren. Much of the rest of the sermon refers to Nauvoo and Missouri; e.g., "And I prophecy in the  name of the Lord that the state  of Illinois shall become a  great mountain and mighty  mountain as [a] city set upon a  hill that cannot be hid and  a great [candle?] that giveth light to  the world" and "I prophecy that the time  shall be when these saints  shall ride proudly over  the mountains of Missouri  and no Gentile dog nor  Missouri dog Shall dare  lift a tongue against them  but will lick up the dust  from beneath their feet."

The entire context is the United States, focusing on Nauvoo. "Eeven this  Nation will be on the very verge  of crumbling to peices and tum bling to the ground and when  the constitution is upon the brink  of ruin this people will be the  Staff up[on] which the Nation shall lean and they shall bear away  the constitution away from the  <very> verge of destruction." 

That prophecy is of a piece with the prophecies about Nauvoo. They may refer to what is still the future, or they may relate to a past prediction related to the Civil War that didn't materialize because Joseph's run for President ended with his death. The latter seems far more likely than the former. After all, D&C 87:3, given on December 25, 1832, says "the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States," an issue that continued to rage in 1840. 

In February 1836, Oliver Cowdery wrote on this topic in his sketch book: "There is a hostile spirit exhibited between the North and South, and ere long must make disturbances of a serious nature. If the North says that Slavery is unjust the South says, you are endangering our lives, and we will not endure it."

If anyone wants the detail on this, it's in my chapter. If you want to research Martha's notebook, don't look in the Joseph Smith papers, because they don't show Martha's entire notebook. You have to get that from the Church History Library archives.


Another frequent quotation is attributed to Joseph Smith on April 25, 1833. "

"I want to say to you before the Lord, that you know no more concerning the destinies of this Church and Kingdom than a babe upon its mother's lap. You don't comprehend it.” I was rather surprised. He said, “It is only a little handful of priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America—it will fill the world.” 

This one comes from a sermon given by Wilford Woodruff at general conference in April 1898, referring back to 1833 when he first met Joseph Smith. His contemporaneous journal from April 1833 makes no mention of this statement by Joseph. Woodruff wrote only this: "Joseph Smith Closing/ during the meeting. It appeared to me there was more light made manifest at that meeting respecting the gospel and Kingdom of God than I had ever receieved from the whole Sectarian world."

His 1898 version may have been his recollection or based on unknown notes. At any rate, it doesn't equate Zion or the promised land with North and South America. Notice that the April 1833 sermon was just 4 months after D&C 87 was given.


Another account is from April 8, 1844. On this day, Joseph gave a sermon, Brigham Young reiterated it, and Hyrum gave another analysis.

Here are the accounts of what Joseph said:

Clayton Report

1st prin--has ben great discourse in rel to Zion--prophets-- make a proc that will cover a broad gd. the whole America is the Zion itself-- from North to South-- that is the Zion where the Mountain of the Ld shd be-- 2 when Ers take up br will see it--dec. this morning.

Bullock Report

this is what I am going to declare--you kno there has been great discusn. where Zion is & when the gathg. of the D is & which I am to--the whole America is the Land itself N. & S itself & is descd. by the Prophets that it shod. be in the centre of the land. the declan. is that

Woodruff Journal

I have now a great proclamation for the Elders to teach the Church hereafter which is in relation to Zion, The whole of North and South America is Zion, the mountain of the Lords House is in the Centre of North & South America,

Joseph Smith Journal

great discussion where Zion is.--The whole America is Zion that is the Zion where the Mountain of the Lords house shall be. about the central part of N. & South America.--

[The main focus of this sermon was building the temple in Nauvoo and getting the Elders their endowments. Recall that in Coray's 1840 sermon account, Joseph said Illinois would be "a  great mountain and mighty mountain." The temple in Nauvoo was effectively in the center of the country from east to west and, between the Northern and Southern states with Missouri on the west and Kentucky on the east. The "whole of America" never involved countries south of the United States (except maybe Mexico); the question was how to reconcile the slave vs free states, the South vs. the North, and the question about government was the whole of America meaning the United States.Joseph Smith was running for President of the United States at the time, and the division between the states was a major issue.]

President B. Young said:—

Let us obey the proclamation of Joseph Smith concerning the Elders going forth into the vineyard— to build up  the Temple— get their endowments, and be prepared to go forth and preach the Gospel. You may build up Zion and learn to  be men, and not children. It was a perfect sweepstakes when the  prophet called North and South America Zion. Let us go to and build the Temple with all our mights that we may build up  the kingdom when established and her cords lengthened. It is a  perfect knock down to the devils kingdom. There is not a faithful  Elder who cannot if he is humble and diligent build up a church;  there are many men will give you large sums to build a stake of Zion where they live, it proves the words of the Prophet of  the last days... 
The sweepstakes is a perfect knock down to the Devil. We will build  up the churches, and establish Zion, and her stakes; this is a fire which cannot be put out; it has spread far faster than  ever it did before; if you kick us and cuff us, we will turn the world upside down, and make the cart draw the horse.
We are acquainted with the views of Gen. Smith; the Democrats and Whigs and all factions. It is now time to  have a President of the United States. Elders will be sent to  preach the gospel and electioneer; the Government belongs to God;  no man can draw the dividing line between the Government of  God, 

[Brigham Young reiterates the political nature of the sermon here. The Elders were promoting Joseph's candidacy in both the North and the South. They were building up churches and establishing stakes throughout the United States, north and south.]

Patriarch Hyrum Smith said:—
I never knew one <a>  proclamation to be understood at once. President B. Young wished to  draw the attention of the brethren, first to build the Temple, and get your washings, anointings and endowments; after that to build  up branches throughout the nations. We must do all we can to build  the Temple, and after that to build up Churches; the gathering will  continue here until the Temple is so far finished that the Elders can get their endowments and after that the gathering will be from  the nations to North and South America, which is the land of  Zion. North and South America are the symbols of the wings; the gathering from the old countries will always be to head quarters, and  I have no doubt this conference will do a great deal of good.

[Hyrum's statement alludes to Isaiah 18, as I've discussed before here. He got the idea of the wings representing the continents of North and South America from Benjamin Winchester. So to the extent that the concept shifted from North and South America in the sense of the northern and southern states in the political context of the various sermons, to the concept of the separate continents of North and South America as Hyrum Smith put it, we can look once again to Benjamin Winchester as the originator of the wing interpretation.

[1] Dean Jessee, “Joseph Smith’s July 19, 1840 Discourse,” Brigham Young University Studies 19:3 (Spring 1979), p392.

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