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, June 26, 2015

John E. Clark and the Times and Seasons

I'm still hearing, occasionally, that the Times and Seasons articles don't matter to Book of Mormon archaeology because the archaeology in Mesoamerica supports the Book of Mormon.

First, there can be no doubt that Mesoamerican proponents looked to Mesoamerica because of those articles. For example, here is what John E. Clark wrote in an article titled "Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief" that is still on the web page of the Maxwell Institute:

An argument against the hemispheric model was provided by Joseph Smith. The year 1842 in Nauvoo had been hectic as the Prophet moved the work along on the Book of Abraham and the temple, all the while dodging false arrest. He even assumed editorial responsibility for the Times and Seasons, the Nauvoo newspaper.[10] (For a minute, I thought he was going to cite the Wentworth letter, which expressly repudiated the hemispheric model--including Mesoamerica! No such luck. Sigh.) Months earlier he received a copy of the recent best-seller by John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, the first popular English book to describe and illustrate Maya ruins.[11]
This book amazed the English-speaking world with evidence of an advanced civilization that no one imagined existed—no one, that is, except Latter-day Saints. The Prophet was thrilled, (zero evidence of this) and excerpts from the book were reprinted in the Times and Seasons with unsigned commentary, presumably his. (Except now we know it was not his commentary.) What Joseph recorded is significant for the issues at hand:
Since our "Extract" [from Stephens's book] was published . . . we have found another important fact relating to the truth of the Book of Mormon. Central America . . . is situated north of the Isthmus of Darien and once embraced several hundred miles of territory from north to south. The city of Zarahemla . . . stood upon this land. . . . It will not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens' ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon.[12]
As is evident in his comments, Joseph Smith believed Maya archaeology vindicated the Book of Mormon. (Here Clark goes from "presumably" to "definitely," which is bad enough, but he deceives his readers by omitting the placement of Zarahemla at Quirigua, a site that doesn't match the text. Not even Mesoamerican proponents accept that site. Plus, what "important fact" was "found" between September 15 and October 1, 1842? This article is so ridiculous it's difficult to understand why anyone would want to attribute it to Joseph in the first place, but afer Matt Roper's data proved Joseph didn't write it, no one should be perpetuating this claim.) His placement of Zarahemla in eastern Guatemala implied that the Land Southward described in the Book of Mormon was north of Darien, as Panama was then called; thus his commentary presupposed a smallish geography that excluded South America. The Prophet regarded the location of Book of Mormon lands as an open question, and one subject to archaeological confirmation. In the past 50 years, friends and foes have adopted Joseph's "plan" of comparing "ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon." Both sides believe archaeology is on their side.

Although this article is a decade old, I saw it cited on a blog just today, so there is still a lot of work to do.

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