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.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Kirk Magleby and I discuss "continent" and "country"

[Note: this is a revised version of a previous post on this topic from this date.]

On January 21, 2024, my friend Kirk Magleby, a wonderful guy and a careful scholar, also an executive at Scripture Central under the title "Chief Evangelist," posted a blog about "this continent and this country." 

In addition to being a great person and faithful Latter-day Saint, Kirk is one of the more rational M2Cers (promoters of the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory of Book of Mormon geography). He started his post by writing

"Some people in the Church cite Joseph Smith in an attempt to locate Book of Mormon lands in what is today the United States of America."

The link: https://bookofmormonresources.blogspot.com/2024/01/this-continent-and-this-country.html?m=1

People asked for my comments. Kirk raised an important issue so I agreed to discuss his points in the interest of clarity, charity and understanding (nomorecontention.com).

 As I  understand it, the gist of Kirk's argument is that when Joseph Smith's "1838" history says "an account of the former inhabitants of this continent," Joseph intended to refer to the entire western hemisphere, not to North America or to what was then the United States as is claimed by unnamed "people" in the Church. 

Kirk's argument is difficult to follow, partly because he doesn't quote/cite the "people" whose argument he addresses so we don't have anything but Kirk's characterization of their supposed claim to assess, making his argument a straw man, and partly because the way he frames his argument inverts both the historical record and the rationale for citing Joseph in the first place.

The best way to assess Kirk's perspective is by quoting his post with my response along the way.

Kirk's original post in blue, my comments in red, external quotations in green.


Sunday, January 21, 2024

This Continent and This Country

Some people in the Church cite Joseph Smith in an attempt to locate Book of Mormon lands in what is today the United States of America. 

Although Kirk neither identified which "people" he refers to nor quotes what they've allegedly said or written, we'll assume he is accurately representing the position taken by the unnamed people. 

On its face, though, it seems rational to me for Latter-day Saints to inquire what Joseph Smith had to say about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon.

In his 1838 history, Joseph describes his initial visit with the Angel Moroni and recites what Moroni told him: "He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang." "This continent," the people claim, means North America.

The first obvious point is that the term "continent" encompasses any countries or smaller political subdivisions found within it. Thus, even if the term "continent" includes the entire western hemisphere as Kirk claims, by definition it also includes North America, the USA, the state of New York, the township of Manchester, and Joseph Smith's boyhood home. 

IOW, the "former inhabitants" of western New York are also former inhabitants of this continent, whether by "continent" one means North America, the western hemisphere, or merely a piece of land.

Kirk forgot to give a link or even a citation to his quotation from the "1838 history," but we assume he means History, circa June 1839-circa 1841, which was not written by Joseph Smith but compiled by his scribes. The very passage Kirk quotes includes the famous scribal error: "He called me by name and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me and that his name was Nephi."


With the scribes making such an obvious error (which, btw, Joseph didn't notice when he was supposedly editing the Times and Seasons in 1842 when this history was first published), it hardly seems reasonable to parse this history for detailed word choice and attribute that word choice to Joseph Smith.

Secondly, Kirk also got a little ahead of himself here because he also forgot to tell his readers that the "1838" history was not the first official published history of the Restoration. That distinction belongs to a series of eight essays, written by President Oliver Cowdery (Assistant President of the Church) with the explicit assistance of Joseph Smith and published in 1834-5. The fourth essay, titled "Letter IV" because the essays were published as letters in the Messenger and Advocate, was more detailed about Moroni's visit. Note the bolded parts.

He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigenes of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham. He represented them as once being an enlightned and intelligent people, possessing a correct knowledge of the gospel, and the plan of restoration and redemption. He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record.


In this history, we can all see that Moroni told Joseph the Book of Mormon gave "a history of the aborigines of this country" and that the "history was written and deposited not far from" Joseph's home near Palmyra, New York, USA. 

BTW, note that Moroni said "this history was written and deposited" near Palmyra, NY. Any suggestion that the history was written in Mesoamerica and then hauled thousands of miles to New York directly contradicts what Moroni told Joseph Smith. 

Regarding the credibility of President Cowdery's history, he wrote from his own personal knowledge and from the personal knowledge of Joseph Smith, as he explains in the text. The history was originally published in the 1835 Messenger and Advocate. Shortly thereafter, Joseph's scribes copied into his journal as part of his life story, where we can all read it today in the Joseph Smith Papers at the link above. 

Joseph personally approved the republication of this history in the Gospel Reflector and Times and Seasons. Parley P. Pratt republished it in the Millennial Star. Joseph's brother William republished it in The Prophet. Joseph F. Smith republished it in the Improvement Era.

Let's return to Kirk's focus on the language in the "1838 history."

Noah Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language says otherwise. 

Kirk forgot to give the citation, so here it is.


Anyone can read this and see there are multiple connotations of the term "continent." Webster says Britain is a continent instead of an island. Webster also points out that "In Spenser, continent is use for ground in general," making the term equivalent to "place" or "area of land."

In Joseph Smith's day, all of the Americas were considered a single continent, the "Western continent."

Ironically, Kirk's favored authority, Parley P. Pratt whom he cites below, distinguished between North and South America in the very text Kirk quotes and cites, but Kirk forgot to quote that part of Pratt's book, as we'll see below.

This was a perpetuation of the idea expressed by Ephraim Chambers in his 1727 Cyclopaedia that there were two grand continents, "the Old and the New." Emanuel Bowen in his 1752 atlas repeated this idea that Europe, Asia, and Africa were a single continent "as America is another." So, to Joseph Smith in 1838, "this continent" likely meant the Americas, the Western hemisphere.

First, as we've seen, Joseph didn't write "this continent." That was his scribes' doing. 

Second, the usage was not so definitive as Kirk claims, based on his two citations from the 1700s. When questions about terminology arise, I like to consult the Palmyra newspapers. 

Everyone interested in early Church history should be familiar with these newspapers.

Among many examples, the Wayne Sentinel, published in Palmyra, included an article on April 14, 1826, that referred to South America as its own continent. "South America is not yet free from the effusion of human blood... There is but one instance on the whole southern continent of America of regal dominion, and that is but half legitimate." 

Another article from Dec. 17, 1823, refers to "the American continents," plural: "a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers." 

On Dec. 7, 1827, and article says, "It is probable that many on the continent of Greece, who had submitted to the Turks, may be again encouraged to take up arms." This usage fits the Webster's definition of "ground in general." 

Again, March 17, 1824, "this continent" means the United States: "when our interior seas shall have a population on their shores equal to that of the borders of the Mediterranean--when our whole territory between the Atlantic and the Pacific shall be filled with enterprising, generous, free and happy inhabitants, there will be found no spot in the interior of this continent, presenting more motives to industry, more business or more wealth, than the shores of the Niagara."  

An article dated Dec 29, 1824, reported a speech by the Speaker of the House of Representatives to Gen. La Fayette, who was visiting. Again, "this continent" refers to the United States. "General, your present visit to the United States is a realization of the consoling object of that wish. You are in the midst of posterity... In one respect you behold us unaltered, and that is in the sentiment of continued devotion to liberty, and of ardent affection and profound gratitude to your departed friend, the father of his country, and to you, and to your illustrious associates... This sentiment, now fondly cherished by more than ten millions of people, will be transmitted, with unabated vigor, down the tide of time, through the countless millions who are destined to inhabit this continent, to the latest posterity."

[Note: the 1820 US census reported 9,638,453 people, showing that the Speaker referred to the United States as "this continent."]

Wayne Sentinel, published in Palmyra, New York 
on Wednesday, December 29th, 1824

Let's look again at Kirk's claim:

So, to Joseph Smith in 1838, "this continent" likely meant the Americas, the Western hemisphere.

When viewed through the lens of the newspapers Joseph grew up with, Kirk's assertion about the definition of "continent" is mere bias confirmation based on his carefully selected excerpts from a couple of references from the early and mid 1700s. Readers can decide which is more relevant: the Palmyra newspapers Joseph grew up with, or a couple of texts from the early and mid 1700s that Joseph unlikely ever saw.

Third, regardless of how selected authors in the 1700s used the term "continent," we can easily see how the terms were used not only during Joseph's lifetime and in his own community, but by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery specifically. Returning to History,1834-6, we see a clear distinction between "country" and "continent." These can be seen by searching the full transcript here:


This first section below includes all the uses of the two terms in Oliver's history of the Church. Readers can see for themselves how the terms "continent" and "country" were used in History 1834-6

Although Oliver referred to "this continent" three times when referring to events of the Book of Mormon generally, he showed that Moroni specifically referred to the aborigines of "this country" and that the term "country" meant both the "free country" where the Priesthood was restored and the local "country" of western New York and Pennsylvania, depending on context. 

As we saw above, saying something happened on "this continent" is not inconsistent with saying it happened in "this country" because the country is located within the continent. But saying something happened in "this country" confines it to a setting smaller than the entire continent, whether one deems that continent to be the hemisphere or North or South America.

- After writing the account given of the savior’s ministry to the remnant of the seed of Jacob, upon this continent, it was easily to be seen, as the prophet said would be, that darkness covered the earth and gross darkness the minds of the people. 

- I believe that the twelve upon this continent, whom the Lord chose to preach his gospel, when he came down to manifest to this branch of the house of Israel, [p. 78] that he had other sheep, who should hear his voice, were also permitted to behold the same mighty things transpire in vision before their eyes;

- A history of the inhabitants who peopled this continent, previous to its being discovered to Europeans by Columbus, must be interesting to every man

- ... till God took the holy priesthood unto himself where it has been held in reserve to the present century, as a matter of right [p. 51] in this free country, I may take the privilege.

- He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigenes of this country

- He says, Your country is desolate, your cities are burnt with fire:

- I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth

- You are acquainted with the mail road from Palmyra, Wayne Co. to Canandaigua, Ontario Co. N.Y. and also, as you pass from the former to the latter place, before arriving at the little village of Manchester, say from three to four, or about four miles from Palmyra, you pass a large hill on the east side of the road. Why I say large, is because it is as large perhaps, as any in that country. To a person acquainted with this road, a description would be unnecessary, as it is the largest and rises the highest of any on that route.

- At about one mile west rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former, leaving a beautiful vale between. The soil is of the first quality for the country, and under a state of cultivation, which gives a prospect at once imposing, when one reflects on the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.

- The hill of which I have been speaking, at the time mentioned, presented a varied appearance: the north end rose suddenly from the plain, forming a promontory without timber, but covered with grass. As you passed to the south you soon came to scattering timber, the surface having been cleared by art or by wind; and a short distance further left, you are surrounded with the common forest of the country.

- I have now given sufficent on the subject of the hill Cumorah—it has a singular and imposing appearance for that country, and must ex[c]ite the curiosity curious enquiry of every lover of the book of Mormon: 

- the ten tribes of Israel will be revealed in the north country, whither they have been for a long season

- Soon after this visit to Cumorah, a gentleman from the south part of the State, (Chenango County,) employed our brother as a common laborer, and accordingly he visited that section of <​the​> country; and had he not been accused of digging down all, or nearly so the mountains of Susquehanna, or causing others to do it by some art of nicromancy, I should leave this, for the present, unnoticed.

- where a company of Spaniards, a long time since, when the country was uninhabited by white settlers, excavated from the bowels of the earth ore, and coined a large quantity of money

- A long time elapsed and this account came from one of the individuals who was first engaged in this <​mining​> buisness. The country was pointed out and the spot minutely described. 

- On the private character of our brother I need add nothing further, at present, previous to his obtaining the records of the Nephites, only that while in that country, some verry officious persons complained of him as a disorderly person, and brought him before the authorities of the country county; but there being no cause of action he was honorably acquited.

Also in History 1834-6, some entries from Joseph's journal.

- 30 November 1835 • Monday

Monday morning 30th. The snow continues falling and is already sufficiently deep to make good sleighing This is uncommon for this country, at this season of the year.

- And we were led to marvle at the longsuffering, and great condesention of our Heavenly Father, in permitting these ungodly wretches to possess this goodly land, which is indeed as beautifully situated, & and its soil as fertile, as any in this region of country, and its inhabitants wealthy,

Beginning about 1850 some atlases published in the US began separating North America and South America into two different continents, joined by the Isthmus of Darien known today as Panama. 

None of this matters because, as we've seen, the 1820s Palmyra newspapers themselves distinguished between North and South America, as did Parley Pratt in the very book Kirk quotes and cites below.

The 1850 Webster's Dictionary, published after the great lexicographer's death, continued to reference the "Western continent" and the "Eastern continent." Almost all European atlases published in the 19th century identified the Americas as a single continent, although some of them began separating Europe, Asia, and Africa into three different continents. Some American atlases published as late as the 1920's continued to show a single American continent. By the 1950's, geographers worldwide decided that North America and South America were two different continents and that modern notion continues today. See the blog article entitled "North America."

As we saw, even in 1828 Webster defined Great Britain as a "continent" instead of an island. And, of course, everyone agrees that a "country" is a subset of a "continent."

But again we ask, what relevance are these published reference books when we can see exactly how Joseph and Oliver, specifically, and their local environment generally, used the terms?

The people's line of reasoning continues that Joseph Smith's "this continent" in 1838 was refined to "this country" in his Wentworth Letter first published on March 1, 1842. This famous letter, that contains the original Articles of Faith, says "I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country and shown who they were and from whence they came..." 

Again, because Kirk forgot to cite any such "line of reasoning" we can't tell if he invented this straw man argument, but it doesn't matter because inverted his chronology.

Kirk forgot about the 1834-6 history that included President Cowdery's history. The Wentworth letter did not "refine" the "1838" history. Instead, it borrowed from Orson Pratt's 1840 pamphlet, which in turn borrowed from President Cowdery's history.

This is obvious when we compare the two.

President Cowdery, 1835: 

[Moroni] gave a history of the aborigenes of this country

Wentworth letter, 1842: 

I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country

Chronologically, the "1838" history is an anomaly composed by Joseph's scribes, but because the "aborigines of this country" also live "on this continent" there is no conflict at all.

Because we're discussing Joseph's use of the term "country" in the Wentworth letter, it might appear odd that Kirk didn't quote Webster's 1828 definition of "country," but if you look at it, you'll see why. None of the definitions include "continent." To the contrary, all of the definitions fit within the alleged argument by the "people" Kirk complains about because they rely on what Joseph wrote.

After all, Joseph, writing from Nauvoo, Illinois, was writing to Mr. Wentworth who was living in Chicago, Illinois. Both were in the same state, region, and nation, all of which fit the definition of "country."

And notice that Webster used scriptural references to support his definitions.


COUNTRY, noun [Latin , land adjacent to a city. Hence the citizen says, let us go into the country The Latin has conterraneus, a countryman.] 

1. Properly, the land lying about or near a city; the territory situated in the vicinity of a city. Our friend has a seat in the country a few miles from town. See Mark 5:1. Luke 8:26. Hence,

2. The whole territory of a kingdom or state, as opposed to city. We say, the gentleman has a seat in the country at any distance from town indefinitely. Hence,

3. Any tract of land, or inhabited land; any region, as distinguished from other regions; a kingdom, state or lesser district. We speak of all the countries of Europe or Asia.

And they came into the country of Moab. Ruth 1:1.

4. The kingdom , state or territory in which one is born; the land of nativity; or the particular district indefinitely in which one is born. America is my country or Connecticut is my country

Laban said, it must not be so done in our country Genesis 29:26.

5. The region in which one resides.

He sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country Hebrews 11:9.

6. Land, as opposed to water; or inhabited territory.

The shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country Acts 27:27.

7. The inhabitants of a region.

All the country wept with a loud voice. 2 Samuel 15:23.

8. A place of residence; a region of permanent habitation.

They declare plainly that they seek a country Hebrews 11:9.

They desire a better country a heavenly. Hebrews 11:9.

There's another aspect of the Wentworth letter Kirk forgot to quote and discuss. In a section of the Wentworth letter that many Latter-day Saints don't know about because it was censored in the lesson manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church--Joseph Smith, Joseph explained that 

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.


[To see how this passage was censored from the lesson manual, go to this site and look for the ellipses. 


This passage from the Wentworth letter helps explain why Kirk is so adamant that Joseph did not mean any of Webster's definitions when he used the term "country." If the remnant of the Nephites/Lamanites are actually the Indians that no inhabit this country, meaning Illinois, the area around Illinois, or the area from Missouri to New York as stated in D&C 28, 30 and 32, then we have to reassess the M2C theory. This is particularly meaningful when we compare the Wentworth letter to Orson Pratt's 1840 pamphlet, as I've done here:


Back to Kirk's post:

1838 this continent = North America, 1842 this country = United States of America. Voila, the Book of Mormon happened in the good ol US of A, or so they claim.

Surely if Kirk hadn't inverted the history because he forgot about the 1835 history, or if he had looked up Webster's definition of "country," he wouldn't have made this straw man argument.

Except that one of Joseph Smith's close associates published a book in 1839 and used the phrase "this country" to refer to Mexico and Guatemala in addition to the US. This is what Parley P. Pratt said in the 1839 second edition of his widely-circulated A Voice of Warning: "We might fill a volume with accounts of American Antiquities, all going to show that this country has been peopled with a people, who possessed a knowledge of the arts and sciences; who built cities, cultivated the earth, and who were in possession of a written language." 

Kirk's misreading of Pratt is easily shown by simply quoting from Pratt. Kirk forgot to provide a link, but this one works:


Before looking at Kirk's quotation, let's look at the opening line of the book, which was Pratt's "Preface to the first American edition."



During the last nine years, the public mind has been constantly agitated, more or less, through all parts of our country, with the cry of "Mormonism, Mormonism, Delusion, Imposture, Fanaticism," etc., chiefly through the instrumentality of the press. 

Is there any serious basis for arguing that in Pratt's preface to the first American edition he meant to claim that, in 1837 when Pratt wrote this edition, the anti-Mormon literature was agitating the public mind "through all parts of the Western Hemisphere" as Kirk wants us to believe?

Neither the Book of Mormon nor any literature had been translated into Spanish or Portuguese at that point. It was an American edition of Pratt's book, after all. It wasn't until 1846 that Pratt published a second European edition. So far as I know, although Pratt served a mission in Chile in 1851-2, he never published a Spanish edition of his book for Latin America. The first translation of the Book of Mormon into Spanish was in 1874 and consisted only of selections.

Pratt continues by referring to the "history of our country."

Having said so much to impress upon the human mind the necessity of hearing, and then judging, I would only add, that the object of this publication is to give the public correct information concerning a religious system, which has penetrated every State from Maine to Missouri, as well as the Canadas, in the short space of nine years; organizing Churches and Conferences in every region, and gathering in its progress from fifty to a hundred thousand disciples; having, at the same time, to sustain the shock of an overwhelming, religious influence, opposed to it by the combined powers of every sect in America. What but the arm of Omnipotence could have moved it forward amid the rage of mobs? having to contend with the prejudice of the ignorant and the pen of the learned; at war with every creed and craft in Christendom; while the combined powers of earth and hell were hurling a storm of persecution, unparalleled in the history of our country.

Pratt wrote about specific countries in antiquity. He also wrote about the United States specifically as a country.

Now, in order to come at this subject in plainness, let us examine the constitution of earthly governments in regard to the authority and laws of adoption. We will say, for instance, the President of the United States writes a commission to A. B., duly authorizing him to act in some office in the government, and, during his administration, two gentlemen from Europe come to reside in this country, and, being strangers and foreigners wishing to become citizens, they go before A. B., and he administers the oath of allegiance in due form, and certifies the same, and this constitutes them legal citizens, entitled to all the privileges of those who are citizens or subjects by birth. 

To be sure, Pratt used the term loosely as well. This is an example of why context matters.

When the Lord confounded the languages at Babel, he led forth a colony from thence to the Western Continent, which is now called America. This colony, after crossing the ocean in eight vessels, and landing in that country, became, in process of time, a great nation—they inhabited America for some fifteen hundred years. They were at length destroyed for their wickedness, about six hundred years before Christ. A prophet by the name of Ether wrote their history, and an account of their destruction.

Ether lived to witness their entire destruction, and deposited his record where it was afterwards found by a colony of Israelites, who came from Jerusalem six hundred years before Christ, and re-peopled America. This last colony were the descendants of the tribe of Joseph; they grew and multiplied, and finally gave rise to two mighty nations. One of these nations was called Nephites—one Nephi being their founder; the other was called Lamanites, after a leader of the name Laman.

The Lamanites became a dark and benighted people, of whom the American Indians are still a remnant. 

As I mentioned above, this is an interesting observation that Joseph modified in the Wentworth letter, where he replaced Orson Pratt's extensive speculation about the Indians in Central America with the observation that the "remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country."


Pratt also wrote about Cumorah before quoting his brother Orson, who in turn was quoting Cowdery. Note that Pratt points out the hill was called Cumorah in AD 420, consistent with what Lucy Mack Smith said, as corroborated by Joseph Smith in D&C 128:20.

Previous to his death, the abridged records fell into the hands of his son Moroni, who continued them down to A. D. 420; at which time he deposited them carefully in the earth, on a hill which was then called Cumorah, but is situated in Ontario County, township of Manchester, and State of New York, North America. This he did in order to preserve them from the Lamanites, who overran the country, and sought to destroy them and all the records pertaining to the Nephites. This record lay concealed, or sealed up, from A. D. 420 to September 22, 1827, at which time it was found by Mr. Joseph Smith, jun., he being directed thither by an angel of the Lord.

Not even Kirk makes the argument that the Lamanites overran the entire Western Hemisphere. Obviously Pratt claims the Lamanites overran the "country" in and around Cumorah in western New York.

Because Kirk promotes M2C, he naturally thinks Pratt was wrong about this. Maybe next time he cites this book he will acknowledge that he rejects what Pratt said about Cumorah.

Pratt writing about one country:

Let it be understood, this city of Otolum, the ruins of which are so immense, is in North, not South America, in the same latitude with the island of Jamaica, which is about eighteen degrees north of the equator, being on the highest ground between the northern end of the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, where the continent narrows towards the Isthmus of Darien, and is about eight hundred miles south of New Orleans.

The discovery of these ruins, and also of many others, equally wonderful, in the same country, is just commencing to arouse the attention of the schools of Europe, which hitherto have denied that America could boast of her antiquities.

First, note how Pratt distinguished between North and South America. 

Second, Kirk's quotation appears in the next section of Pratt's text, when Pratt is writing about another country: the United States.

The part Kirk quoted is in blue below. Readers can decide whether Kirk accurately represented, in context, what Pratt wrote.

A gentleman who was living near the town of Cincinnati, in 1826, on the upper level, had occasion to sink a well for his accommodation; he persevered in digging to the depth of eighty feet, without finding water; but still persisting in the attempt, his workmen found themselves obstructed by a substance, which resisted their labor, though evidently not stone. They cleared the surface and sides from the earth bedded around it, when there appeared the stump of a tree, three feet in diameter, and two feet high, which had been cut down with an ax. The blows of the ax were yet visible. It was nearly of the color and apparent character of coal, but had not the friable and fusible quality of that substance. Ten feet below, the water sprang up, and the well is now in constant supply and high repute.

In Morse's Universal Geography, first volume, p. 142, the discovery of the stump is corroborated: "In digging a well in Cincinnati, the stump of a tree was found in a sound state, ninety feet below the surface; and in digging another well, at the same place, another stump was found, at ninety four feet below the surface, which had evident marks of the ax; and on its top there appeared as if some iron tool had been consumed by rust."

We might fill a volume with accounts of American antiquities, all going to show that this country has been inhabited by a people who possessed a knowledge of the arts and sciences, who built cities, cultivated the earth, and who were in possession of a written language. But the things which we have here introduced are abundantly sufficient for our purpose. If a few characters in Hebrew have been found in the earth in America, written on parchment, then it is just as easy to admit that a whole volume has been found in the earth in America, written on plates, in Egyptian characters. The astonishing facts of the stumps found eighty or ninety feet under ground at Cincinnati, and similar discoveries in many other parts of North and South America, such as buried cities, and other antiquities, all go to prove that there has been a mighty convulsion and revolution, not only of nations, but of nature; and such a convulsion as is nowhere else so reasonably accounted for, as in the following extraordinary and wonderful account of events, which transpired in this country, during the crucifixion of Messiah, which we extract from the Book of Mormon, Nephi, v, 2-11:

Pratt himself distinguished between continent and country in this passage:

When I read the Book of Mormon, it informs me, that while Christ was crucified among the Jews, this whole American continent was shaken to its foundation, that many cities were sunk, and waters came up in their places; that the rocks were all rent in twain; that mountains were thrown up to an exceeding height; and that other mountains became valleys; the level roads spoiled, and the whole face of the land changed. I then exclaim, These things are no longer a mystery; I have now learned to account for the many wonders, which I everywhere behold, throughout our whole country

Pratt obviously had not traveled throughout the continent (whether one infers North America or the Western Hemisphere). But he recognized that "our whole country" is part of the "this whole American continent."

Pratt's star "antiquity" was the ancient Maya site known today as Palenque which is located in Chiapas, Mexico. For Pratt, Palenque was in "this country." This makes it likely that Joseph's use of "this country" in 1842 was intended to convey the same meaning as his use of "this continent" in 1838 and Pratt's use of "this country" in 1839.

For all the reasons we've discussed above, Kirk's claim about the likelihood of Joseph's use of "this country" in the Wentworth letter contradicts (i) Webster's dictionary, (ii) common usage in Joseph's time, and (iii) usage by Joseph and Oliver in their writings. It is mere wishful thinking on his part. Plus, we've shown that Joseph's language in the Wentworth letter incorporated Moroni's language as reported by Oliver Cowdery in 1835.

Next, Kirk inserted a photo of the cover of Pratt's book.

Parley Parker Pratt
A Voice of Warning
2nd Edition 1839

People who insist that 19th century phrases such as "this continent" and "this country" must be interpreted with modern meanings are guilty of the logical fallacy of presentism.

Kirk's "presentism" argument is another straw man. It's the opposite of "presentism" to refer to newspapers in 1820s Palmyra, to refer to Joseph's own journal, to refer to Webster's 1828 dictionary, etc. We've seen examples from the very source Kirk quoted, Parley P. Pratt, that the terms had varying usage depending on context. 

All in all, this is not just a tempest in a teapot. It's an important issue that has circulated for years and now, finally, I hope we've reached clarity on the facts, as well as our respective assumptions, inferences, theories, and hypotheses (the FAITH model).

I offer these comments in the pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding. I like Kirk personally and admire his convictions and tenacity. We all give Kirk and other M2Cers the benefit of the doubt as we seek to understand their positions, and we're fine with them believing whatever they want.

But we hope that the clarity provided in this post helps everyone make informed decisions about what Joseph wrote and what he meant.

You decide.

Captain Kirk at 11:59 PM 


  1. IYKYK.

    1. awe shucks. no preview. It's a complication of captain kirk.