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, July 20, 2016

More detail about what Joseph said

Recently I made this statement in a post:

"Everything directly attributable to Joseph Smith is consistent with Letter VII and the North American geography. Everything that contradicts Letter VII and the North American geography is not directly attributable to Joseph Smith."

It has been suggested that I substantiate that statement, so here goes. I'll use the list found on FairMormon here so no one thinks I've overlooked or avoided any statements. If anyone has another statement attributed to Joseph Smith, I'll be glad to add it to this post. My comments in red.

From FairMormon:
The page lists statements related to Book of Mormon geography that are attributed to Joseph Smith.

2 Feb 1833: American Revivalist

The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western tribes of Indians… By it, we learn that our western tribes of Indians, are descendants from that Joseph that was sold into Egypt, and that the land of America is a promised land unto them.[1]

The phrase "western tribes of Indians" had several meanings. In 1814, Lewis & Clark produced a map of "the Country Inhabited by the Western Tribes of Indians" that included all the tribes west of the Mississippi River. An 1804 treaty with the "Sauk [Sac] and Foxes" was made by the  governor of the Indiana territory, which included modern-day Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and most of Michigan. The governor had authority to enter treaties "with any of the north western tribes of Indians." Earlier, the term had referred to the tribes of western New York. The designation as "western" was always from the perspective of the United States at any given time. The phrase places the text in North America.  

3 June 1834: (Zion's Camp) The story of Zelph

Main article: Zelph

Wilford Woodruff's account of Joseph's vision of Zelph include a reference that he was known from the hill Cumorah or East Sea (both Book of Mormon names) to the Rocky Mountains. This is an entirely North American setting.   

4 June 1834: (Zion's Camp) Joseph Smith believes that Illinois is the "plains of the Nephites"

The following is taken from a letter written by Joseph Smith to his wife Emma during the trek known as "Zion's Camp".
The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendour and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed.[2]

Zion's camp crossed Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois before reaching the Mississippi River. Joseph wrote this letter while waiting on the bank of the river. Although the only extant copy is from Letterbook 2 (i.e., copied into the letter book from the original), the fact that it is addressed to Emma is a direct link to Joseph. Letterbook 2 contains other letters from Joseph Smith, as well as four letters written by Emma to Joseph, further linking Joseph to this particular letter. The letter specifies an entirely North American setting.

November 1835: Journal account regarding Moroni's first visits

He told me of a sacred record which was written on plates of gold, I saw in the vision the place where they were deposited, he said the indians were the literal descendants of Abraham he explained many things of the prophesies to me[3]

This reference is from Journal, 1835-1836, which was kept by Joseph, Oliver Cowdery, Frederick G. Williams, and Warren Parrish. Parrish wrote the 9-11 November entry that contains this quotation. The passage relates the visit of Robert Matthews, a troubled minister who had started his career in Albany, NY, in 1830. When Joseph used the term "Indians" in this context, the only reasonable way to interpret it is from the perspective of the listener; i.e., Matthews in 1835 Ohio. He surely would have understood it to mean the Indians living in the area. Consequently, this account refers to the North American setting. This journal entry also appears in History, 1834-1836, here. That history also contains Letter VII, here.  

July 19, 1840: Joseph teaches that the Land of Zion consists of North and South America

...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." (emphasis added)[4]

I've addressed this comment previously in some detail on this blog, and in even more detail in a paper. This excerpt is from Martha Coray's notebook. [You can see the entire notebook here. The JSP web site only shows specific pages, so you can't see the whole document in context. The FairMormon citation is to an early BYU Studies article that does not explain the context of the notebook.] Because of its placement in the notebook, Martha apparently wrote these notes of Joseph's sermon some time after 1853. There are no other known accounts of this 1840 sermon. Because she wrote the notes 13 years after the event, it's unknowable whether these notes reflected her memory or were taken from a more contemporaneous account. At any rate, in 1840, Joseph had returned to Nauvoo after a frustratingly futile visit to Washington D.C. Coray's notes discuss issues involving the government in the United States. On the page following the North and South America statements, Martha's notes include this statement: "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 the Constitution away from the very verge of destruction." Other passages focus on the State of Illinois and the city of Nauvoo. There were Mormon missionaries serving in both the North and the South, establishing congregations. Consequently, even assuming Martha recorded (or remembered) the address accurately (and was not influenced by later interpretations as I showed in my analysis), it is far more likely Joseph referred to the ongoing debate between the Northern and Southern States than that he made any reference to the continent of South America. Such a reference would be out of context and inconsistent with the rest of his sermon. IOW, the link to Joseph is presumably valid, but the accuracy of the wording is unknowable. Furthermore, the context of the sermon points to the divide between the North and South in America--meaning the United States, which the rest of the sermon is about--and not the continents of North and South America. On top of that, this comment has nothing to do with Book of Mormon geography anyway,so it is not inconsistent with Letter VII. Coray's notes define Zion as any place where the Saints gather; i.e., the entire world. It is also significant that Orson Pratt's 1840 pamphlet placed the Nephites in South America and the Jaredites in North America, a concept Joseph edited out and replaced with a purely North American setting when he wrote the Wentworth letter, below.

16 November 1841: Joseph dictates the Bernhisel letter

John Bernhisel joined the LDS Church in 1837 while practicing medicine in New York City. In 1841 he was ordained bishop of the congregation in New York City. Bernhisel was a well-educated man, and in 1841 read Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan by John L. Stephens.
Impressed by the book, Bernhisel gave the two-volume work to Wilford Woodruff in September 1841 with instructions to make sure it was given to Joseph Smith. Woodruff, who was on his way back from England to Nauvoo, delivered the book, as requested.
It would appear that Joseph appreciated receiving the book, as he wrote a letter to Bernhisel acknowledging the gift. Dated November 16, 1841, the first paragraph of the letter is as follows:
I received your kind present by the hand of Er Woodruff & feel myself under many obligations for this mark of your esteem & friendship which to me is the more interesting as it unfolds & developes many things that are of great importance to this generation & corresponds with & supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon; I have read the volumes with the greatest interest & pleasure & must say that of all histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of this country it is the most correct luminous & comprihensive.[5]

I've addressed this one at length as well. No one knows who wrote this letter because the handwriting has not been identified. Wilford Woodruff, who brought these books from Bernhisel to Nauvoo, recorded in his journal that he wrote a letter to Berhnisel on November 5. That letter is not extant. There are several distinctive aspects of the letter that point to Woodruff as the author of the original draft. If and when the handwriting is identified, we may have more information to determine whether this letter can be linked to Joseph. As of now, the only link is that someone wrote on behalf of Joseph (as were other items that Joseph may or may not have ever seen). Apart from this letter, there is no evidence that Joseph ever saw the Stephens books, let alone read them. Consequently, in my view this letter cannot be directly linked to Joseph.

As long as I'm discussing this, I'll point out that the Joseph Smith papers include an error that I hope can be corrected at some point. The Historical Introduction to Orson Pratt's pamphlet includes these statements: "In his description of the Book of Mormon, Orson Pratt superimposed his understanding of Book of Mormon geography onto the Western Hemisphere by placing the Nephites in South America and the Jaredites in North America. Pratt’s association of Book of Mormon peoples with the history of all of North and South America matched common understanding of early Latter-day Saints. Shortly thereafter, when John Lloyd Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan became available in Nauvoo in about 1842, JS greeted it enthusiastically and church members used it to map Book of Mormon sites in a Central American setting." The footnotes refers to the Bernhisel letter, the Times and Seasons articles listed by FairMormon, and Terryl Givens' book, By the Hand of Mormon. Of course, none of those sources offer additional evidence about any enthusiasm on Joseph's behalf. The JSP also note that the Wentworth letter quotes extensively from Pratt's pamphlet, but don't note that Joseph Smith replaced Pratt's comments about geography with the simple declarative statement that the remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country. That specific rejection of Pratt's hemispheric model contradicts the inference that Joseph Smith enthusiastically greeted the Central American setting. 

1 March 1842: Wentworth letter

I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people was made known unto me: I was also told where there was deposited some plates on which were engraven an abridgement [abridgment] of the records of the ancient prophets that had existed on this continent....
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. This book also tells us that our Saviour [Savior] made his appearance upon this continent after his resurrection, that he planted the gospel here in all its fulness [fullness], and richness, and power, and blessing; that they had apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists; the same order, the same priesthood, the same ordinances, gifts, powers, and blessing, as was enjoyed on the eastern continent, that the people were cut off in consequence of their transgressions…[6]

This is an interesting example because no handwritten copy of the Wentworth letter is extant. We have only the version published over the signature of Joseph Smith in the Times and Seasons. That's a fairly direct link, but historians have noted that the letter was adapted from Orson Pratt's pamphlet and may have been written, in whole or in part, by WW. Phelps. Still, because it was published over his signature, I consider this a direct link. It is also important that it was published when he was directly involved with the Times and Seasons because of the publication of the Book of Abraham. And because it was edited from the Pratt pamphlet, the emphasis on North America is all the more significant. Pratt went on for pages describing the natives in Latin America. Joseph edited all of that out and replaced it with the clear statement, "The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country." Some have claimed that "this country" actually means "all of North and South America." However, the editing of Pratt's pamphlet shows this was an intentional correction. Plus, Mr. Wentworth lived in Chicago. Joseph was in Nauvoo. They were both citizens of Illinois, USA. Certainly Wentworth would have understood Joseph to be referring to either the nation or the region they shared. So I conclude this is a strong link to Joseph, and that it refers exclusively to North America. In fact, the Wentworth letter is the only comment about the Central American and hemispheric setting that can be directly attributed to Joseph Smith--and he completely rejects that setting.  

15 July 1842: Joseph Smith discusses high civilization in the Americas, uses mound-builders and Guatemalan ruins as an example

NOTE: Page 862 of this issue of the Times and Seasons states: "The Times and Seasons, Is edited, printed and published about the first and fifteenth of every month, on the corner of Water and Bain Streets, Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, by JOSEPH SMITH"
If men, in their researches into the history of this country, in noticing the mounds, fortifications, statues, architecture, implements of war, of husbandry, and ornaments of silver, brass, &c.-were to examine the Book of Mormon, their conjectures would be removed, and their opinions altered; uncertainty and doubt would be changed into certainty and facts; and they would find that those things that they are anxiously prying into were matters of history, unfolded in that book. They would find their conjectures were more than realized-that a great and a mighty people had inhabited this continent-that the arts sciences and religion, had prevailed to a very great extent, and that there was as great and mighty cities on this continent as on the continent of Asia. Babylon, Ninevah, nor any of the ruins of the Levant could boast of more perfect sculpture, better architectural designs, and more imperishable ruins, than what are found on this continent. Stephens and Catherwood's researches in Central America abundantly testify of this thing. The stupendous ruins, the elegant sculpture, and the magnificence of the ruins of Guatamala [Guatemala], and other cities, corroborate this statement, and show that a great and mighty people-men of great minds, clear intellect, bright genius, and comprehensive designs inhabited this continent. Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormen [Mormon] unfolds their history.-ED.[7]
This statement was signed "ED," which attributes it directly to Joseph Smith.

There are no extrinsic facts linking Joseph Smith to the signature "ED." In fact, in Brought to Light, I've shown in detail that the signature "ED" was used for articles originally written, in whole or in part, by Benjamin Winchester. The only evidence cited, as here, for the proposition that Joseph literally edited the paper is the boilerplate at the end of each issue. "The Times and Seasons is edited, printed, and published... by Joseph Smith." There are no mentions in his journal of him editing, printing, or publishing the Times and Seasons. Nor did any of his contemporaries record observations of him editing, printing, or publishing the paper. In The Lost City of Zarahemla, I've shown several examples of incidents when Joseph could not have been editing, or even reading the paper before it was printed. For example, in September, he wrote D&C 127 and 128 and sent the two letter to the editor to be published. The theory that he was editing the paper would have him sending the letters to himself. Furthermore, to take the boilerplate literally, Joseph would have been not only actually editing but also actually printing the paper, spending his time at the printing shop inking plates and pressing paper. There is also precedent for his name being listed as the nominal editor while his brother, in that case Don Carlos, was the acting editor at the Elders' Journal. Consequently, neither the boilerplate nor the ED signature constitute direct links to Joseph. This is an example of the second part of my statement; i.e., that this article (which doesn't contradict Letter VII anyway, except in the context of a two-Cumorah theory) cannot be directly attributed to Joseph.

15 Sept. 1842: Speculation that Palenque is a Nephite city

NOTE: Page 926 of this issue of the Times and Seasons states: "The Times and Seasons, Is edited, printed and published about the first fifteenth of every month, on the corner of Water and Bain Streets, Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, by JOSEPH SMITH."
Although Joseph Smith is listed as the editor at this time, opinions vary on whether it may have actually been either John Taylor or Wilford Woodruff who wrote this unsigned article.[8] [9] John Taylor later became the editor of Times and Seasons. Regardless of whether it was Joseph Smith, Wilford Woodruff, or John Taylor who wrote this article, its publication occurred prior to the death of Joseph Smith. The subject being discussed is a very popular book by John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, which Joseph Smith read and enjoyed:
Mr. Stephens' great developments of antiquities are made bare to the eyes of all the people by reading the history of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. They lived about the narrow neck of land, which now embraces Central America, with all the cities that can be found. Read the destruction of cities at the crucifixion of Christ...Let us turn our subject, however, to the Book of Mormon, where these wonderful ruins of Palenque are among the mighty works of the Nephites:—and the mystery is solved...Mr. Stephens' great developments of antiquities are made bare to the eyes of all the people by reading the history of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. They lived about the narrow neck of land, which now embraces Central America, with all the cities that can be found. Read the destruction of cities at the crucifixion of Christ, pages 459-60. Who could have dreamed that twelve years would have developed such incontrovertible testimony to the Book of Mormon? (emphasis added)<ref?John Taylor (editor), "Extract from Stephens' 'Incidents of Travel in Central America'," Times and Seasons 3 no. 22 (15 September 1842), 915. off-siteGospeLink (requires subscrip.)

Same point as above. Joseph was merely the nominal editor. All the available extrinsic evidence supports that proposition. Unless evidence surfaces that Joseph was actually acting as printer, editor and publisher, the inference from the boilerplate that he was doing so is not reasonable.

1 Oct. 1842: Zarahemla "stood upon this land" of Central America

NOTE: Page 942 of this issue of the Times and Seasons states: "The Times and Seasons, Is edited, printed and published about the first fifteenth of every month, on the corner of Water and Bain Streets, Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, by JOSEPH SMITH."
[W]e have found another important fact relating to the truth of the Book of Mormon. Central America, or Guatimala [Guatemala], is situated north of the Isthmus of Darien and once embraced several hundred miles of territory from north to south.-The city of Zarahemla, burnt at the crucifixion of the Savior, and rebuilt afterwards, stood upon this land as will be seen from the following words in the book of Alma...It is certainly a good thing for the excellency and veracity, of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, that the ruins of Zarahemla have been found where the Nephites left them: and that a large stone with engravings upon it as Mosiah said; and a 'large round stone, with the sides sculptured in hieroglyphics,' as Mr. Stephens has published, is also among the left remembrances of the, (to him,) lost and unknown. We are not going to declare positively that the ruins of Quirigua are those of Zarahemla, but when the land and the stones, and the books tell the story so plain, we are of opinion, that it would require more proof than the Jews could bring to prove the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb, to prove that the ruins of the city in question, are not one of those referred to in the Book of Mormon...It will not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens' ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon: light cleaves to light, and facts are supported by facts.(emphasis added)

Same point as above. Joseph was merely the nominal editor. All the available extrinsic evidence supports that proposition. Unless evidence surfaces that Joseph was actually acting as printer, editor and publisher, the inference from the boilerplate that he was doing so is not reasonable. In this case, Joseph left town shortly after the 1 October issue was published and then resigned as the nominal editor, which I think was a response to the problem of having his name associated with speculation about Book of Mormon geography. The Zarahemla article was not cited or even referred to again for decades. 

Additional references that link directly to Joseph:

2 July 1843. Wilford Woodruff recorded a meeting between Joseph and several Pottwatami chiefs. Woodruff noted that "The Spirit of God rested up upon the Lamanites." Woodruff provided direct quotations of what Joseph said, including this: "Your Fathers were once a great people they worshipped the great Spirit, the great Spirit did them good, he was their friend, but they left the great Spirit and would not hear his words or keep them, the great Spirit left them, and they began to kill one another and they have been poor and afflicted until now. The great Spirit has given me a book and told me that you will soon be blessed again, the great Spirit will soon begin to talk with you and your children, this is the book which your fathers made I wrote upon in (shewing them the book of Mormon) this tells you what you will have to do." 

Woodruff usually summarized what Joseph said, but here he offered a direct quotation. The Pottawatomi originally inhabited the Great Lakes region and their language was part of the Algonquian family. Joseph told them their fathers wrote the Book of Mormon. [Joseph's involvement with the Lamanites is summarized here.] This is a direct link to Joseph that further supports Letter VII and the North American geography. I'm not aware of any evidence that the fathers of the Pottwatani--who, according to Joseph, wrote the Book of Mormon--were from Mesoamerica.

Letter VII. Implicit in my original comment was Letter VII. I consider that letter directly attributable to Joseph because 1) Oliver said Joseph helped write the letters, 2) Joseph had his scribe copy it into his journal as part of his story, and 3) Joseph gave explicit permission to Benjamin Winchester to republish it. In addition, Joseph's brother Don Carlos republished it in the Times and Seasons, but I don't directly attribute that to Joseph. Letter VII unequivocally places the Hill Cumorah in New York.

It's also interesting that FairMormon included the November 1835 entry that Joseph didn't write, but they omitted Letter VII, which Joseph also didn't write but at least we know he contributed to it and approved it. 

All in all, when I assess the actual evidence instead of relying on long-held assumptions, I think my original observation is accurate. People can disagree, of course, but that doesn't mean I should equivocate about what the actual evidence shows. For example, I don't think there is any factual justification for equating the authority of the anonymous editorials in the Times and Seasons with the Wentworth letter and the letter to Emma.
  1.  Joseph Smith, “Mormonism,” The American Revivalist and Rochester Observer 7/6 (February 2, 1833). Only the last two paragraphs of Joseph’s letter to the newspaper were printed. The entire letter appeared eleven years later in the November 15, 1844 issue of the Times and Seasons.
  2. Jump up Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, [original edition] (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1984). ISBN 0877479747GL direct link
  3. Jump up JS Journal, Nov 1835 [citation needed] [http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/journal-1835-1836?p=25&highlight=%22plates%20of%20gold%22]
  4. Jump up Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, [edited by Dean C. Jessee], "Joseph Smith's July 19, 1840 Discourse," Brigham Young University Studies 19 no. 3 (Spring 1979), 392.
  5. Jump up Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 533.
  6. Jump up Joseph Smith, "Church History," Times and Seasons 3 no. 9 (1 March 1842), 707. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.). See also History of the Church, 4:535–541. Volume 4 link
  7. Jump up Joseph Smith (editor), "American Antiquities," Times and Seasons 3 no. 18 (15 July 1842), 860. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  8. Jump up Kenneth W. Godfrey, "What is the Significance of Zelph In The Study Of Book of Mormon Geography?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 (1999): 70–79. off-site wiki Godfrey believes that the author was either John Taylor or Wilford Woodruff.
  9. Jump up John E. Clark, "Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/2 (2005): 38–49. off-site wiki Clark believes that the author was Joseph Smith.

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