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.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

First chapter of Brought to Light

Several people have been asking me about Brought to Light. I'll discuss it more in two weeks, but for now, here's the opening section of Chapter 1:

Church history is a delightful topic on its own, but it also gives us insights into our own roles in the Restoration. The early members of the Church were courageous, confident, and compassionate, but also complex. Like us, they were not perfect. They had strong testimonies of the truth, but struggled to live up to their aspirations. Despite their weaknesses, and in the face of strong opposition, they achieved miraculous success in building the foundation for today’s Church.
I wrote this book to share what I think are faith-affirming historical facts about one of the least-understood figures of Mormon history—Benjamin Winchester. Like me a year ago, I suspect you have never heard of Benjamin Winchester (unless you read my previous book, The Lost City of Zarahemla). He has become a footnote character in Church history, known—if at all—as a troublemaker. A month before he was murdered in Carthage, Joseph Smith said that Benjamin Winchester “had a rotten heart” and “would injure the Church as much as he could.” As you’ll see, Winchester was a far more influential figure than has been previously recognized, just as Joseph warned.

If you’ve read Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, studied the Church lesson manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, or viewed Book of Mormon artwork on the walls of Church buildings, you’ve seen the work of Benjamin Winchester. This book presents evidence that articles we have long attributed to Joseph Smith were actually written by Winchester. He was one of the “ghosts in the print shop,” meaning he was one of the authors of unattributed material in the Times and Seasons. Some of it was published anonymously, some under pseudonyms, and some signed simply “Ed.” for editor. 

As I showed in The Lost City of Zarahemla, Winchester started out as an enthusiastic young missionary and Church leader, a close friend of Wilford Woodruff, William Smith, Parley P. Pratt, Erastus Snow, and Joseph Smith himself. His enthusiasm grew into zealotry and self-righteousness that brought him into direct conflict with Church leaders and, eventually, apostasy. Hence Joseph’s description.

One way that Winchester injured the Church was providing what would become the basis for the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography. That was the topic of Lost City. The book you’re reading now expands beyond that specific point to look at other ways in which Benjamin Winchester left his mark on the Church.

Basically, I propose that Joseph Smith did not write the unattributed editorials in the 1842 Times and Seasons. (The Times and Seasons was the early Church newspaper equivalent of today’s Ensignand Liahona.) These editorials have long been incorrectly attributed to Joseph, conferring a quasi-scriptural importance on them that persists to the present day.

I hope the evidence brought to light in this book will affirm the faith of those who accept the latter-day restoration of the Gospel. But it may require some changes in thinking as well.

Brought to Light buyers

I was surprised at how many people bought the ARC of Brought to Light. Thanks to all of your. Some have already given me some valuable input. Please send your comments to lostzarahemla@gmail.com.

The ARC is no longer available on Amazon. Everyone who purchased a copy can send me an email with your address and I'll make sure you receive a copy of the final version when it's released.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Brought to Light ARC (Advanced Reader Copy)

I'm trying something new today.

Many people following this blog have asked when Brought to Light will be released. I wanted to release it in February, but there is so much material it was a lot of work to decide what to omit. We ended up removing about 150 pages to put in another book (Tentatively titled The Editors: Joseph, William, and Don Carlos that will come out later in April). Even with that material removed and some extreme editing, the book is 424 pages now. (For various reasons my publisher wants me to cut another 50 or so pages, so this ARC probably has more material than will appear in the final version.)

We have a formal release date for Brought to Light: April 6, 2016, when it will also be available on Kindle. However, the ARC that I send to my beta readers has been going out and I thought you might be interested in an early look.

Here's the description that will be on Amazon (slightly different from what's on there now):

This book is a follow-up to The Lost City of Zarahemla. Lost City uncovered a conspiracy from 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois, that used anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons to promote a Mesoamerican archaeology for the Book of Mormon by claiming Zarahemla was in Guatemala. Joseph knew nothing about that claim until after the paper was published. He put an end to it and resigned from the paper as a result, but the damage was done. Even today, 174 years later, many Mormon scholars cite the Zarahemla article because they are unaware of the conspiracy and continue to promote the false idea that Joseph Smith taught the Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon. This book offers abundant new evidence about Benjamin Winchester and his work at the Times and Seasons that has never been published before. The new disclosures have implications beyond the Book of Mormon geography question, including clarification on what Joseph taught about the role of women in the Church.

I'll have a lot more to say about this on April 6th, but for anyone interested, you can go to Amazon, which has the ARC for $12.99. Just search for "Brought to Light" and Jonathan and you'll go right to it. (Amazon is interested in what people search for.)

Actually, there are 2 versions there; the $19.99 will be the final version on April 6, The ARC will drop from Amazon on March 25.

BTW, my beta readers send me feedback, so if you get an ARC, you're expected to do so as well.

BTW 2. Some of the critics following this blog have a history of using ARCs to find fault with errors and omissions that are fixed in the final version or subsequent editions, contrary to their agreements to give me feedback on the ARC directly. Maybe this time you'll reconsider that practice?

Thursday, March 17, 2016


This is a cross post adapted from the 2016 gospel doctrine page.

2 Nephi 31-33 don't directly contain any information relating to historicity; instead, they tell us how to find answers to our questions and how to discern truth. Nephi write, "For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding."

Here are four plain statements that I think are relevant to issues of Book of Mormon historicity:

1. Joseph Smith, the Wentworth letter: "The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country."

Comments: You can find this clear, plain statement on lds.org here. You won't find it in the chapter on the Wentworth Letter in the lesson manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (here) because Mesoamerican scholars managed to get it deleted from the manual.

Joseph began the letter with this request: "As Mr. Bastow has taken the proper steps to obtain correct information, all that I shall ask at his hands is that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation." It turns out, Joseph didn't need to worry about Mr. Bastow. He needed to worry about the Curriculum Committee who deleted key passages from the lesson manual.

There has been an amazing effort to twist the plain meaning of Joseph's statement by using sophistry to claim he was referring to Central America. Just read materials published by FARMS, FairMormon, BMAF, etc. 

2. The Lord called Oliver Cowdery to go on a mission in D&C 28:8 And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and inasmuch as they receive thy teachings thou shalt cause my church to be established among them; and thou shalt have revelations, but write them not by way of commandment. 9 And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites.

3. The Lord called Peter Whitmer, Jr., to accompany Oliver in D&C 30:5 Behold, I say unto you, Peter, that you shall take your journey with your brother Oliver; for the time has come that it is expedient in me that you shall open your mouth to declare my gospel; therefore, fear not, but give heed unto the words and advice of your brother, which he shall give you. 6 And be you afflicted in all his afflictions, ever lifting up your heart unto me in prayer and faith, for his and your deliverance; for I have given unto him power to build up my church among the Lamanites;

4. The Lord then called Parley P. Pratt and Ziba Peterson to accompany Oliver and Peter in D&C 32:2 And that which I have appointed unto him is that he shall go with my servants, Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, Jun., into the wilderness among the Lamanites. 3 And Ziba Peterson also shall go with them; and I myself will go with them and be in their midst; and I am their advocate with the Father, and nothing shall prevail against them.

Comments: The revelations appear fairly "plain" to me, but Church scholars are hedging even on this. For example, the Joseph Smith Papers provide a Historical Introduction that casts these verses as a sort of quaint folk belief: 

"In September and October 1830, a series of revelations directed Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer Jr., Parley P. Pratt, and Ziba Peterson to serve a mission “among the Lamanites”—understood by them to be the American Indians."

I absolutely love the Joseph Smith papers, but I can't make sense of that explanation. It was not the missionaries who designated the American Indians as Lamanites--it was the Lord, through revelation.

Where did these missionaries go? They went to Native American Indian tribes in New York, Ohio, and Missouri (tribes that had been forced from their homelands around the Great Lakes). How could the Lord have made it any more plain that Lehi's descendants lived in the northeastern and midwestern United States?

Oliver, Peter, Parley and Ziba signed a mutual covenant regarding their mission. The editors of the Joseph Smith papers were referring to this when they made the comment about what these missionaries "understood," but it is plain that their understanding came directly from the Lord, not from some sort of common tradition of unknown origin that Joseph Smith simply adopted. Yet that is what the Mesoamerican advocates want people to believe. In fact, this idea that Oliver Cowdery naively thought the American Indians were Lamanites is also evident in the display placard at the new Church History museum.

Here's the covenant the missionaries entered. Notice that Joseph Smith and David Whitmer acted as witnesses (this is made clear in the notes in the Joseph Smith papers):

Manchester, Oct. 17, 1830.
I, Oliver Cowdery, being commanded of the Lord God, to go forth unto the Lamanites, to proclaim glad tidings of great joy unto them, by presenting unto them the fulness of the Gospel, of the only begotten son of God; and also, to rear up a pillar as a witness where the Temple of God shall be built, in the glorious New-Jerusalem; and having certain brothers with me, who are called of God to assist me, whose names are Parley P. Pratt, Peter Whitmer Jr. and Ziba Peterson, do therefore most solemnly covenant before God, that I will walk humbly before him, and do this business, and this glorious work according as he shall direct me by the Holy Ghost; ever praying for mine and their prosperity, and deliverance from bonds, and from imprisonments, and whatsoever may befal us, with all patience and faith.— Amen.
We, the undersigned, being called and commanded of the Lord God, to accompany our Brother Oliver Cowdery, to go to the Lamanites, and to assist in the above mentioned glorious work and business. We do, therefore, most solemnly covenant before God, that we will assist him faithfully in this thing, by giving heed unto all his words and advice, which is, or shall be given him by the spirit of truth, ever praying with all prayer and supplication, for our and his prosperity, and our deliverance from bonds, and imprisonments, and whatsoever may come upon us, with all patience and faith.—Amen.
Signed in presence of


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Creating and changing historical narratives

Historical narratives are related by word (written and spoken), but even more, people retain images they see. A good example is this one:

See the problem?

There are no historical accounts that have Joseph Smith translating directly from the plates with Oliver Cowdery writing down what he spoke.

The photo is pure fiction. It's an artist's conception, but it's not historically accurate.

Nevertheless, this image has become reality in the minds of many people who saw it. In fact, a version like this made the cover of the Ensign as recently as 2001.

An outstanding article titled "Joseph the Seer" was published in the October 2015 Ensign, here. The subtitle explains what the article is about:
The historical record clarifies how Joseph Smith fulfilled his role as a seer and translated the Book of Mormon.

The article explains how artists' conceptions have not been historically accurate: "Over the years, artists have sought to portray the Book of Mormon translation, showing the participants in many settings and poses with different material objects. Each artistic interpretation is based upon its artist’s own views, research, and imagination, sometimes aided by input and direction from others."

One of the main points of the article is to explain that Joseph used a seer stone and placed it in a hat to block out the light so he could read what appeared on the stone. Here's the image of the stone:

And here is the display at recreated home where Joseph and Oliver worked on the translation in what was then Harmony, PA:
When I have spoken about this history at various events, some people object when I show the seer stone and the hat. They've been brought up with the images of Joseph reading from the plates and don't realize that Church historians have corrected the record.

It is very difficult for people to change their mental image of historical events when they've seen inaccurate artwork for so long.

A very similar thing is going on with the Book of Mormon right now. Most people have seen the Arnold Friberg paintings, including this one of Christ appearing to the Nephites.

Friberg specifically intended to depict a Mesoamerican setting, down to the detail of the species of birds he painted in the scene of Lehi arriving at the promised land.

What he forgot was that nowhere in the text does it say the Nephites built with stone, other than stone walls. No stone temples, no stone cities, not even stone houses. Yet here is an image of a massive stone temple at Bountiful, completely made up, that has influence millions of people who have read the Book of Mormon with these paintings inside.

Just this week I picked up a Book of Mormon at a Marriott Courtyard and it had Arnold Friberg paintings of Mesoamerica inside. This copy had been printed in December 2014.


Although these paintings are dramatic, this artwork is misleading in multiple ways. When the official Church policy is supposedly neutral on Book of Mormon geography, why do we keep seeing the Arnold Friberg Mesoamerican paintings in copies of the Book of Mormon?

Fortunately, there are alternatives, such as this depiction of Christ visiting the Nephites in North America. This is from the video titled Scriptures Legacy, one of the best productions I've seen yet.

The problem is, few people have seen it.

This is what should be in copies of the Book of Mormon, not the erroneous Arnold Friberg paintings.

Fortunately, more and more LDS artists are creating historically accurate depictions of Church history, as well as textually accurate depictions of Book of Mormon events. Until these replace the misleading artwork of the past in the minds of the people, though, erroneous ideas will continue.

I realize critics will say the depiction of North America is no more valid than the depiction of Mesoamerica, but how can they argue against at least showing both?

There are artists who focus on accuracy instead of drama when they depict historical events, whether that involves Church history or Book of Mormon narratives, but their artwork doesn't appear on lds.org or in copies of the Book of Mormon. Instead, hotel guests, investigators, and anyone who visits LDS visitors centers (or chapels) is exposed to misleading artwork that creates false mental images that are difficult to correct later on.

BTW, I hope it's clear I'm not criticizing the art itself. Medieval and Renaissance painting is filled with anachronism similar to Arnold Friberg's. Here's a well-known painting that put the last supper into Leonardo da Vinci's time frame:

This one, Luca van Leyden's 1520 painting titled "Lot and his Daughters," depicts the Sodom of the Old Testament as a typical Dutch city, circa 1520.

As long as people realize the Friberg paintings are not historically accurate and don't even reflect what the text says, fine. But why are they included in official copies of the Book of Mormon?