This week I'm going to discuss several aspects of the book and offer some additional thoughts on specific topics. In important ways that are not apparent at first, Don's book addresses the geography and historicity issues that we discuss on this blog.
A few years ago Don gave me some material to use in my presentation at the Mormon History Association titled "Mormons and the Mounds." He mentions this material on page 218:
While memorializing Elder Lorenzo Barnes on April 16, 1843, Joseph made reference to a detail from the Book of Mormon text:
"[T]he place where a man is buried has been sacred to me.--this subject is made mention of In Book of Mormon & Scriptures. to the aborigines regard the burying places of their fathers is more sacred than any thing else."
Joseph appears to refer to a description from the Book of Mormon that its peoples regarded the burial places of their fathers as sacred... if Joseph Smith cited an unknown Book of Mormon text, he was not speaking from inferior knowledge to ours but from superior knowledge [i.e., the lost 116 pages].
Don took the excerpt of Joseph's sermon from the Ehat/Cook book, Words of Joseph Smith, but as printed in Don's book, the quotation lacks the line-outs from the original as recorded by Willard Richards in Joseph's journal.
There is something good. & sacred to me— <in this thing.> the place where a man is buried has been sacred to me.— <this subjct is made mention of—> In Book of Mormon & Scripturs. <to> the aborigines <> the burying places of the<ir> fathers <is> more sacred than any thing else.
You can see the original document in the Joseph Smith Papers here:
Another version appears in History, 1838-1856. This one appears to include editorial insertions, or else it relies on an unknown alternative record of the sermon.
There is something good and sacred to me in this thing; the place where a man is buried is sacred to me; this subject is made mention of in the Book of Mormon, and the Scriptures; even to the aborigines of this land, the burying places of their fathers, are more sacred than any thing else.
Here are three things to notice about this sermon.
First, as Don mentioned, because our current Book of Mormon does not mention burial places being sacred, the passage appears to allude to information from the lost 116 pages, aka the Book of Lehi. More accurately, this was the first part of Mormon's abridgment, from the time Lehi left Jerusalem to the time when King Benjamin ruled over the combined people of Zarahemla and the Nephites. Joseph dictated the translation, Martin Harris (and maybe others) wrote it down, but Martin Harris lost the pages when someone stole them.
We can infer that the lost pages described sacred burial sites, perhaps of Lehi, Nephi, or another leader. Perhaps they described burial mounds generally.
Such burial mounds dating to Book of Mormon time frames are found in the southeastern U.S. as well as along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and in the plains of the Midwest.
Joseph had a specific interest in the burial mounds in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. During Zion's Camp, he identified a skeleton from a large mound in Illinois as Zelph. He wrote to Emma that the camp had been "wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionaly 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."
Look carefully at the excerpts from Joseph's sermon above. In 1842, 1843, and 1844, Joseph referred to the people of the Book of Mormon as the aborigines of this country.
I was informed also concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, and shown who they were, and from whence they came;
the Book of Mormon as the history of the aborigines of this continent,
In context, we can reasonably infer that Joseph had the Nephites in mind when he spoke of the burial teachings in the lost pages of the original Book of Mormon.
Second, Joseph Smith delivered the sermon in Nauvoo, where Joseph and his audience likely had a view of the large mound due west of the temple site.
Joseph himself is buried along with members of his family in Nauvoo. Elsewhere in the sermon, Joseph said,
I would esteem it one of the greatest blessings, if I am to be afflicted in this world, to have my lot cast where I can find brethen & friends all arou[n]d me, <but> this is not. <thing. I referred to <it> is> to have the privilige of having our dead buri[e]d on the land where god has appointd to gather his saints together,— & where there will be nothing but saints, where they may have the privelige of laying their bodies where <the> Son will make his appearance.
This is fascinating because Joseph Smith and his family are buried in a Hopewell cemetery.
|1842 map of Nauvoo|
Joseph Smith's store was built on a mound, using some of the recovered artifacts.
In Nauvoo, Joseph sometimes left the city to visit a large mound in the country for personal reflection. On April 9, 1844, he rode to the mound with Emma.
|Large mound in front of temple site|
When Gustavus Hills drew the plat of the city in 1842, there was just one large mound, or tumulus, remaining. It was a large mound, due west of the temple site.
This has special meaning to those of us who think the Nephites lived among the Hopewell civilization.
Joseph wanted to be buried "on the land where God has appointed to gather his saints together." That would apply to faithful Nephites of old just as much as to modern Latter-day Saints.
Reading this sermon, it become apparent how important a burial spot was to Joseph Smith.
What better place for him to be buried than among the Nephites whose record he translated and published to the world?
The third item relates to more information about the lost manuscript.
Don devoted a lot of space to explain the significance of Joseph in Egypt in the Book of Mormon narrative. It's an impressive discussion that we'll consider later this week, but I didn't notice Don commenting on the reference to Joseph in Egypt in this funeral sermon. Here's the passage.
The Bible doesn't articulate the situation quite this way. Nor does our present Book of Mormon. That leads us to the inference that when Joseph wrote "ancient prophets" here, he was including the ancient prophets whose teachings were in the lost pages.
For the Biblical references to this curse, see
Wilford Woodruff also recorded parts of this sermon:
he said it was upon this principle that the ancients were so particular to have an honorable burial with their fathers as in the case of Joseph, before his death he made his kindred promise to carry his bones to the land of Canann & they did so they embalmed his body took it to the land of Canaan & buryed it with his fathers their is a glory in this that many do not comprehend,
The Book of Mormon we have today doesn't discuss the sacred nature of burial sites, but this sermon by Joseph Smith indicates that this topic was discussed in the original Book of Mormon. Using Joseph of Egypt as an example correlates with the importance of Joseph of Egypt in the text we do have.
The Hopewell and Adena civilizations left few artifacts outside of their burial sites and other earthworks. It's a reasonable inference that to these people, burial sites were "more sacred than anything else."
Joseph himself identified Hopewell and Adena burial sites as Nephite and Jaredite, respectively.
All of this suggests that Joseph correlated the Book of Mormon people with the aborigines whose burial sites he was closely familiar with and among whose descendants he both lived and was buried.