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, July 7, 2017

Fun with Zelph

Our friends at Book of Mormon Central (America) BOMC(A) put out an awesome no-wise today. Check it out:


Whenever you read a no-wise at this site, you have to remember the goal of their corporate owner BMAF:

Our goals are (1) to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex,

BMAF and BOMC(A) are harmless clubs for Mesomaniacs; i.e., these are organizations dedicated to the two-Cumorahs and Mesoamerican theories of Book of Mormon geography. They claim Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York. They're not interested in anything that contradicts their theories.

Once you understand that, there's no reason to be upset, annoyed, disappointed, etc., by anything they publish.

And, we won't be surprised to see a display of full citation cartel methodology. Look at footnotes 21 and 24 for example. The "Heartland as Hinterland" article doesn't even mention Letter VII, for example. The Roper article on John Bernhisel is full of holes but BOMC(A) won't publish a criticism of it. For that, you have to go to my blog, here. http://interpreterpeerreviews.blogspot.com/2015/10/ropers-bernhisel-argument-trifecta-of.html

For more, just search for Bernhisel on my blogs.

The Zelph story is a problem for BMAF and BOMC(A) because if Zelph was a warrior under a Nephite prophet, died in Illinois, and was known from the hill Cumorah or east sea to the Rocky mountains, that's a major problem for the two-Cumorahs and limited geography Mesoamerican theory.

Of course, the Mesomania strategy is to sow as much confusion about this account as possible, exactly as they do in this no-wise. Their thinking goes, we can't tell what Joseph actually said because too many people wrote about it.

There are two major articles on Zelph in the literature, one by Cannon and one by Godfrey. Cannon generally supports the credibility of the Zelph incident, while Godfrey seeks to undermine it. So guess which article BOMC(A) chose to put in their database? No surprise, they put the Gofrey article there and omitted the Cannon article.

Now, look at an example of how Godfrey seeks to sow confusion:

"Woodruff writes that the prophet "Onandagus" was known "from the hill Cumorah on [sic] East sea to the Rocky mountains." This is the earliest source for this geographical data. (In Reuben McBride's account it is Zelph who was widely known.)"

You can see from the quotation from Woodruff's journal below that the syntax could be understood to refer to either Zelph or Onandagus, but Godfrey is trying to persuade readers that we shouldn't trust Woodruff, so he tells readers, falsely, that the only interpretation is one that contradicts McBride's.

You find this kind of rhetoric throughout the no-wise. Look at this claim:

"However, when this account [the account in History of the Church] is compared against the manuscript history of the Church and the earlier sources on Zelph, the explicit connections to Book of Mormon places and events become tenuous."

It turns out that Wilford Woodruff directly connected Zelph (or Onandagus) to two Book of Mormon locations: Cumorah and the East Sea. This is as opposite to "tenuous" as it is possible in the English language.

Normally, we accept Woodruff's journal as accurate and reliable. His journal is the sole source for the famous (but inaccurate) quotation, found in the Introduction to the Book of Mormon and attributed to Joseph Smith, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”

Actually, Woodruff wrote that as a summary of an entire day's worth of teaching and did not put it in quotation marks. But Woodruff has such credibility that scholars have retained this mistaken attribution anyway.

Woodruff's journal is the source of many of the Mesomania arguments, such as the "North and South America" meme that I've addressed recently.

So long as the Mesomaniacs think Woodruff supports their theories, they quote him approvingly. But if he contradicts them, they'll go all out to say he didn't know what he was talking about, the same way they do with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

I don't have time to write more, but I want people to see what Woodruff wrote in his journal in May 1834. The / represents later additions or corrections.

Wilford Woodruff's Journal, Vol. 1, 1833–1840, p.10

Brother Joseph often addressed us  in the name of the Lord while on our journey and often while addressing [p.10] the camp he was clothed upon with much of the spirit of God. His precepts were very instructive and interesting.

While on our travels we visited many of the mounds which were flung up by the ancient inhabitants of this continent probably by the Nephites & Lamanites. We visited one of those Mounds and several of the brethren dug into it and took from it the bones of a man.

[Interlinearly after "We visited one of those Mounds":] considerd to be 300 feet above the level of the Illinois river. Three persons dug into the mound & found a body. Elder Milton Holmes took the arrow out of the back bones that killed Zelph & brought it with some of the bones in to the camp. I visited the same mound with Jesse J Smith. Who the other persons were that dug in to the mound & found the body I am undecided.

Brother Joseph had a vission respecting the person. He said he was a white Lamanite. The curs was taken from him or at least in part. He was killed in battle with an arrow. The arrow was found among his ribs. One of his thigh bones was broken. This was done by a stone flung from a sling in battle years before his death. His name was Zelph. Some of his bones were brought into the Camp and the thigh bone which was broken was put into my waggon and I carried it to Missouri. Zelph was a large thick set man and a man of God. He was a warrior under the great prophet /Onandagus/ that was known from the hill Camorah /or east sea/ to the Rocky mountains. The above knowledge Joseph receieved in a vision.

You can see that Woodruff could have been referring to either Zelph or Onandagus as the one who was known from Cumorah to the Rocky mountains.

Woodruff specified "or east sea" but this has been changed to read "Eastern sea" in edited versions. "East sea" is a Book of Mormon term, of course.

Note also that Woodruff spelled it Camorah. In Letter VII, Oliver and Joseph taught that Mormon and his people "were encamped round this hill Cumorah. (It is printed Camorah, which is an error.)"

You can see that misspelling here: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/book-of-mormon-1830/535

Like the rest of Joseph's contemporaries, Woodruff accepted what Joseph and Oliver taught about the Hill Cumorah being in New York. They all read Letter VII because it had been reprinted so many times. None of the men present when Joseph received the revelation about Zelph were confused about the location of the Hill Cumorah.

Plus, modern archaeological digs at the Zelph mound confirm both the dating Joseph gave and the extent of trade (from the Rocky mountains to New York.)

It's also interesting to consider Matthias Cowley's edited version:

"During our travels we visited many mounds thrown up by the ancient inhabitants, the Nephites and Lamanites. This morning, June 3rd, we went on to a high mound near the river. From the summit we could overlook the tops of the trees as far as we could see. The scenery was truly beautiful. On the summit of the mound were stones which presented the appearance of three altars, they having been erected, one above the other, according to the ancient order of things. Human bones were seen upon the ground. Brother Joseph requested us to dig into the mound ; we did so ; and in about one foot we came to the skeleton of a man, almost entire, with an arrow sticking in his backbone. Elder Milton Holmes picked it out, and brought it into the Camp, with one of the leg bones, which had been broken. I brought the thigh bone to Missouri. I desired to bury it in the Temple Block in Jackson County; but not having this privilege, I buried it in Clay County, Missouri, near the house owned by Col. Arthur and occupied by Lyman Wight." The arrowhead referred to is now in the possession of President Joseph F. Smith, Salt Lake City, Utah. "Brother Joseph," continues Wilford, "feeling anxious to learn something of this man, asked the Lord, and received an open vision. The man's name was Zelph. He was a white Lamanite, the curse having been removed because of his righteousness. He was a great warrior, and fought for the Nephites under the direction of the Prophet Onandagus. The latter had charge of the Nephite armies from the Eastern sea to the Rocky Mountains. Although the Book of Mormon does not mention Onandagus, he was a great warrior, leader, general, and prophet. Zelph had his thigh bone broken by a stone thrown from a sling, but was killed by the arrow found sticking in his backbone. There was a great slaughter at that time. The bodies were heaped upon the earth, and buried in the mound, which is nearly three hundred feet in height." 

History of the Life and Labors of Wilford Woodruff. AS RECORDED IN HIS DAILY JOURNALS PREPARED FOR PUBLICATION BY MATTHIAS COWLEY THE DESERET NEWS Salt Lake City, Utah 1909 page 41


  1. While we are taking Wilford Woodruff accounts into context, lets add this one, "I felt truly interested in this work for it brought to light a flood of testimony in proof of the book of mormon in the discovery & survey of the city Copan in Central America." So supposedly this Zelph incident did little to convince him of the Heartland theory.

    The context from all statements makes it pretty clear that all the early leaders had a hemispheric model in mind. I don't think it is so literal, fundamental, or doctrinal, as Heartlanders think it is, because of the fact that Joseph Smith himself let all this happen, and even dabbled in it. I know you have your excuses for things Joseph Smith did, but to me, it's just Heartlanders already having a false conclusion, and making the evidences fit it.

    I see the Mesoamerican theory being the most open to all evidences and context combined. And letting the evidences lead it.

    1. "Mesoamerican theory being the most open to all evidences and context combined" except Letter VII, the testimony of the three witnesses, the Hopewell and Adena archeology record, the Bone pits of western New York, the context of the ancient word for seas, the parallels off the New Madrid earthquake and the destruction prior to Christ's visiting the Nephites, the voyage of replica 600 bc sailing ship from the Arabian peninsula into the Atlantic, Micmac characters and the striking similarity to the Anthon transcript, metallurgy in pre Columbian North America, abundance of cultured pearls found in Hopewell archeology sites, the animals needed for the law of Moses only found in North America, and the chamber discovered in the Hill Cumorah, NY, in 2006. The Mesoamerican theorists are open up to a lot of things that the Heartlanders are not. Such as Cumorah (pronoun) being two places, narrow (adjective) being only in one place, Lehi's group sailing against every known current in two oceans to arrive in mesoamerica, Joseph Smith and the three witnesses expressing opinions and being mistaken, substitute animals for the Law of Moses, and mission to the Lamanites being wrong people. I can see where "most open" comes from.

    2. Wait, what? There was a chamber found in the Hill Cumorah in 2006? Where can I find that account please?

  2. I appreciate Zander's comment. I hope readers here don't criticize Zander, who is a great guy. We just have to remember that Mesomania is a difficult challenge to overcome.

    The quotation Zander provided from Woodruff is from September 13th, 1841, when he was reading the Stephens books on his way to Nauvoo from New York. I include this quotation in my book titled The Editors: Joseph, William and Don Carlos Smith (available on Amazon) because it is important evidence that it was Wilford Woodruff who wrote the Bernhisel letter, a letter often quoted by Mesoamerican proponents as proof that Joseph Smith read the Stephens letters. That letter is a critical part of their misinformation campaign as they try to persuade people that Joseph Smith "dabbled in" the Mesoamerican theory, which is a euphemism for their claim that was an ignorant speculator who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York.

    What they don't tell you is none of Joseph's contemporaries, including Woodruff, questioned the New York Cumorah.

    As Zander's comment illustrates, the Mesoamerican advocates have such a high level of cognitive dissonance that they actually believe they are "the most open to all evidences and context combined," yet they outright (and adamantly) reject the only explicit and detailed statement about Book of Mormon geography that we have from Joseph and Oliver; i.e., Letter VII.

    Zander's employer, Book of Mormon Central, is committed to the goal of increasing "understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex." They are only open to evidence that furthers this goal, which is why the exclude any contradictory evidence from their archive and include in that database attacks on alternative models without even giving those models a chance to respond.

    In my view, Book of Mormon Central started out with respectable aspirations, but it has degenerated into just another iteration of the worst of FARMS, all because of Mesomania.

  3. Hi Johnathan - I tried posting on BOM Central FB page today... I had fun for 5 minutes until they deleted my posts. The most intriguing thing about my 3 posts... was one of them was a link to the Joseph Smith papers pointing out that the handwriting of the Bernhisel letter has not been identified. I pointed out that as scholars they should not be attributing something to Joseph Smith. So now they don't like links from "joseph Smith papers" even when they want to quote them themselves.

  4. There is a curious concluding "So" at the end of the article... :D