Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Where the Indians in New York came from

Although there is plenty of extrinsic evidence that corroborates the New York Cumorah as explained in Letter VII, there are also incidents in Church history that corroborate Letter VII.

One is a spiritual account provided by Benjamin Benson in 1839. The Joseph Smith Papers provide a useful historical background. However, their footnotes 


Historical Background from the Joseph Smith Papers provides useful context:

During his fall 1837 visit to , Missouri, JS spoke with Missouri member Benjamin Benson on the evening of 11 November. At JS’s request, Benson wrote a letter the next day recounting a “dream or vision” he had shared with JS the previous night. The original letter is not extant, but  copied Benson’s letter into JS’s second letterbook in 1839.
The account of his dream reveals that, like many of his era, Benson was concerned about the origins of American Indians and the validity of the Bible’s account of human origins. Benson had prayed to learn whether Indians had been placed on the American continent at the creation of the world or had descended from Adam, as he understood the Bible taught. The dream he related to JS occurred forty-two years earlier, in 1795, when he was twenty-two years old. In Benson’s account of the dream, an  took him to a specific place where a record was deposited. There the angel showed him a book, which was to come forth at a later time, that contained a record of a people from Jerusalem, who were the forefathers of the American Indians. Benson also saw in his dream a man who would bring forth that book. In the letter, Benson mentions the “Book [of] Ether” from the Book of Mormon, which along with other details indicates he likely felt that the book in the dream was the Book of Mormon and that the man bringing forth the book in his vision was JS.

This link goes to the copy of the letter in the Letterbook 2. I show the notes below, with some brief commentary. My emphasis in bold.


Dear Brother in the Lord, Having reflected on the short interview we had last evening respecting the dream (or vision as you may think proper to term it) and as you stated several times that you should like to have it wrote so that you could take it home with you to , I therefore consent to give a statement in as short <​a​> manner as I can, without going into every minute circumstance. To wit.—
In the year 1795, I then being in the Town of Pompey, County of Onondagua and State of New York; I then being 22 years old; seeing and viewing the ancient Indian Forts and trates thereof through that part of the Country; my mind was anxiously led to contemplate and reflect on where these those Indians came from, or from what race of People they sprang from, and oftentimes heard it stated that these Indians were natives of this Continent, and that they were created and placed here at the creation of the world. Then said I the Bible cannot be true, part of for it (The Bible) says that all the human family sprang from Adam &c, and that all at the time of the flood, the whole earth was covered with water, and that all flesh died, except what were in the ark with Noah, then with things taking place, and I firmly believing that the Bible was true, my heart’s desire was to God in solemn prayer to know where and what race of people these Indians sprang from, It was made known (whether by dream or vision I will leave that for you, to judge) An  as I thought came to me and said, Come along with me and I was immediately on a beast like a horse, and the angel at my left hand with his feet about the same height that my feet were as I sat on the horse, and in this position was conveyed to near the place where the record was deposited and he said stop here, and the angel went about 4 or 5 Rods and took in his hand a book, and on his return to where I stood, as I thought there were many stood with me; One said, what book is that? and the answer was, it is a bible a bible, the word of God, a record of a people that came from Jerusalem, the fore fathers of these Indians, And it also contains a record of a people that came from the Tower of Babel at the time the Lord confounded the language and scattered the people into all the world, and it the Book Ether; and then with great anxiety of heart I asked if I might have the book, and answer was that it was not the Lords time then, but it should come, “and you shall see it,” and then said look, and as I looked, I beheld a man standing as I thought at a distance of two hundred yards, and the angel said “there is the Man that the Lord hath appointed &c, and he is not yet born.[”] I have related it in short, as I have not time now to give a full detail of all that I had a view of. Yours with respect.
Benjamin Benson
November 12th 1837
Joseph Smith Jr. .
N. B At some further time if the Lord will I will be more full if you should wish it. I shall direct this to you as a letter and you cannot act your Judgement in either keeping it to yourself or publishing it by making use of my name.


Note 1: Benson may have been referring to the fortified villages or traditional longhouses built by the Oneida and Onondaga tribes of the Iroquois Six Nations in central New York. He also may have seen forts built during the French and Indian War, some of which were constructed on the ruins of American Indian villages. The forts described by Benson also may have had connections to other indigenous people. Contemporary accounts identified several mounds in western New York and associated these mounds and their fortifications with an ancient moundbuilding people. (Hauptman, Conspiracy of Interests, 27–33, 78, 107; Hamilton, French and Indian Wars, 161–184, 239–249; Vogel, Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon, 24–30.)  

Hauptman, Laurence M. Conspiracy of Interests: Iroquois Dispossession and the Rise of New York State. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1999.

Hamilton, Edward Pierce. The French and Indian Wars: The Story of Battles and Forts in the Wilderness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1962.

Vogel, Dan. Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon: Religious Solutions from Columbus to Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986.

This note doesn't mention the presence of dozens of Ohio Hopewell sites in Western New York dating to Book of Mormon timeframes. Instead, it cites Dan Vogel's book which claims Joseph Smith relied on the "Moundbuilder myth." I refer to this line of reasoning as the "myth of the moundbuilder myth." 


Note 2: The theory of polygenism, or different origins for different races, emerged in European scholarly thought in the sixteenth century. As Europeans encountered new cultures and races, polygenism attempted to explain their origins. Discussions of this theory were particularly widespread in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as Enlightenment thought led to the development of racial science and the categorization and ranking of different races. Some scholars tried to make the Bible compatible with polygenism, creating theories of multiple or simultaneous creations besides the creation of Adam. Polygenism and its underlying racial concerns are found throughout nineteenth-century popular and religious literature. For many nineteenth-century Christians, the theory was a direct challenge to Christianity’s single biblical creation and the religious requirement of redemption after the fall of Adam and Eve. JS, like other Christians of his day, emphasized the single creation found in the Bible and humanity’s common descent from Adam and Eve. (Kidd, Forging of Races, 121–167; Livingstone, Adam’s Ancestors, 169–201; Reeve, Religion of a Different Color, 131.)  

Kidd, Colin. The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600–2000. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Livingstone, David N. Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

Reeve, W. Paul. Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.


Note 3. See Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 539 [Ether 1:33–35]; and Title Page of the Book of Mormon, ca. Early June 1829.  


Note 4. The letter was not published in either the Elders’ Journal or the church’s later publication, Times and Seasons.  


Glenn Rawson did a short video on this letter:


Thursday, June 16, 2022

The Nephite who took the abridged plates to Cumorah

My list of references to David Whitmer's account of the messenger who took the abridged plates to Cumorah includes the article by Edward Stevenson published in the 1877 Juvenile Instructor, but it's interesting to see the article itself.

Click to enlarge

The relevant text:

While on the return journey from Palmyra [Harmony], David noticed a somewhat aged-looking man who approached them on the road. He had a very pleasant face, about which, however, there seemed something peculiar, and he carried a knapsack on his back fastened with straps which crossed his breast. David asked him to take a ride, but he declined, saying: “I am going over to Cumorah,” and then disappeared very suddenly, though there was no chance for him to secrete himself in the open country through which the party was then passing. All felt very strange concerning this personage and the Prophet was besought to inquire of the Lord concerning him. Shortly afterwards, David relates, the Prophet looked very white but with a heavenly appearance and said their visitor was one of the three Nephites to whom the Savior gave the promise of life on earth until He should come in power. After arriving home, David again saw this personage, and mother Whitmer, who was very kind to Joseph Smith, is said to have seen not only this Nephite, but to have also been shown by him the sealed and unsealed portions of the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.


Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Narrow and small necks

One of the noticeable geographical features of the Book of Mormon is the "neck of land." 

People often ask me, "Where is the narrow neck of land?" 

My answer: Ether 10:20. That's the only place in the scriptures where that phrase is used.

There is a "narrow neck" in Alma 63:5 and a "small neck of land" in Alma 22:32, but normally we treat different terms as meaning different things, and there's no reason not to follow that rule here.

IOW, the three terms might refer to the same geographical feature, but nothing in the text requires that. And if they refer to three different features, most models of Book of Mormon geography don't follow the text.

Relative terms. It's true that the passages also refer to the "land northward" and the "land southward," but these vague terms are relational, not proper nouns. If you live in Salt Lake, Provo is the land southward while Ogden is the land northward. If you live in Ogden, Salt Lake is the land southward and Brigham City is the land northward. 

True, these vague terms might possibly be proper nouns--that's one of multiple working hypotheses--but nothing in the text requires them to be proper nouns, and if they are merely relative to where the speaker is, most models of Book of Mormon geography don't follow the text.


What constitutes "small" or "narrow."

Lots of people have speculated about what these terms mean. Some authors who conflate the terms say the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is the small/narrow neck. Others think it's the Isthmus of Darien (Panama). Such features are only "narrow" or "small" when viewed on a map or from space. 

I've looked at how the term was used in Joseph Smith's day. It turns out that these were common terms during the Revolutionary War. I have about 20 examples, all showing a diverse application including land bridges, peninsulas and islands, but all consistently featuring no more than about 15 miles in width, down to a few paces wide.

The point is, the references in the Book of Mormon are subject to lots of alternative interpretations; i.e., multiple working hypotheses.


Map of Virginia - Revolutionary War sites
Here's what George Washington wrote:

I observe you are directed by the Governor to pay particular attention to the fortifications in the State and that in consequence of that you propose to garrison Portsmouth with 1200 men and to divide the remainder of what troops you may have among the posts at York, Hampton & Williamsburgh. The reasons you assign for having a garrison at Portsmouth are good; but I can by no means think it would be prudent to have any considerable stationary force at Hampton and York. These by being upon a narrow neck of land, would be in danger of being cut off. The enemy might very easily throw up a few ships into York and James’ river, as far as Queens Creek; and land a body of men there, who throw up a few Redoubts, would intercept their retreat and oblige them to surrender at discretion.

In this case, the "narrow neck of land" was about 12 miles wide at its widest point. And it's not an isthmus, either. 


In this example, Washington wrote of a "narrow neck of land" that is about 7.5 miles across, from Sandwich, MA, to Buzzards Bay, MA.

Your Letter of the twelfth Instant I received Saturday Evening;1 I gave immediate attention to your Orders, and as it was judged extremely difficult, if not impracticable, to convey the Mortars by land, I gave Orders to the proper persons to prepare every thing necessary for conveying them by water, and to work day and night until they were compleated. This day they will go on board of Lighters to Sandwich from which place they are to be conveyed over the narrow neck of land to a place called Buzzards Bay,2 where they will be put on board two Lighters and conveyed to Rhode Island, from thence, keeping near the land, to New York. 


Washington referred to Manhattan as a narrow neck of land.

We discovered at the same time by their movements, and our Intelligence, that with the assistance of their Ships they intended to draw a Line round us, and cut of all communication, between the City and Country; thereby reducing us to the necessity of fighting our way out under every disadvantage—surrendering at discretion—or Starving—That they might have accomplished one or the other of these, if we had stayed at New York, is certain; because the City, as I presume you know, stands upon the point of a narrow Neck of Land laying between the East & North Rivers; & not more than a Mile Wide for Six or Seven Miles back; both Rivers having sufficient depth of Water for Ships of any burthen; and because they were not only Superior in Numbers, but could bring their whole force to any one point, whereas we, to keep open the communication were obliged to have an extended Line, or rather a chain of Posts, for near 18 Miles.


The papers of Thomas Jefferson include a reference to Bunker's Hill on a "peninsula joined to the mainland by a neck of land" that was only "a few paces wide."

[13–18 Sep. 1786]

I am unable to say what was the number of Americans engaged in the affair of Bunker’s hill. I am able however to set right a gross falsehood of Andrews. He says that the Americans who were engaged were constantly relieved by fresh hands. This is entirely untrue. Bunker’s hill (or rather Brede’s hill whereon the action was) is a peninsula, joined to the main land by a neck of land almost level with the water, a few paces wide, and between one and two hundred toises long. On one side of this neck lay a vessel of war, and on the other several gun-boats. The body of our army was on the main land; and only a detachment had been sent into the peninsula. When the enemy determined to make the attack, they sent the vessel of war and gun-boats to take the position before mentioned to cut off all reinforcements, which they effectually did. 

the "small neck" at Bunker Hill

Monday, May 16, 2022

Cumorah circa 2022

Last year, plans to change the infrastructure at the Hill Cumorah near Palmyra, New York, were announced. By now they've done much of the restoration work at the Hill Cumorah, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

One significant development is the new historical marker, which clearly establishes that in D&C 128:20 ("Glad tidings from Cumorah!"), Joseph Smith was referring to the Hill Cumorah in New York.

While this should be obvious from the context of D&C 128, some M2C* scholars have been trying to persuade people that Joseph was referring to a hill in Mesoamerica, or that he had inexplicably adopted a false tradition about the hill in New York being the actual Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6.

Those familiar with Church history, however, know that Joseph learned the name of the hill Cumorah from Moroni the first time they met, as his mother Lucy Mack Smith related.

"the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place remove the Grass and moss and you will find a large flat stone pry that up and you will find the record under it laying on 4 pillars of cement— then the angel left him"

And, of course, we can all read right in Joseph's own history that it is a fact that the hill in New York is the scene of the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites, as Joseph's contemporaries and successors reaffirmed many times.


The changes to the site make it more natural. Most importantly, no longer will they construct a ridiculous Mayan temple in western New York! (They used to build one for the pageant.)

So far, the historical markers still omit the relevant information about Cumorah that anyone can read in the Joseph Smith Papers. We can hope that, eventually, visitors to the Hill Cumorah in New York will be fully informed about actual Church history.

Of course, people are free to reject Church history and the related teachings of the prophets about Cumorah, but how does it help people understand Church history to simply omit and censor this history?

Seems like another big lost opportunity to be open and honest about our history. 

Latter-day Saints can make informed decisions when they learn from the "best books" (such as Joseph's own history and related authentic documents from Church history, as well as the teachings of the prophets) instead of relying on the speculations of M2C scholars.

*M2C means the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory promoted by Book of Mormon Central, FAIRLDS, the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, etc. This is the theory that Joseph, Oliver, and all the other prophets who taught that Cumorah was in New York actually misled the Church because (according to the M2C scholars) the "real" Cumorah is in southern Mexico.

For those who wonder about the location of the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6, here's a logical chart to go through:


Mark Burris sent me a few photos, as well as links to some videos.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Mormon Book Reviews giveaway

The excellent Mormon Book Reviews channel on youtube is doing a book giveaway contest tonight. 

This is an awesome channel for many reasons, and a contest is yet another reason to watch!


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Book of Mormon online update

If you aren't familiar with it yet, there's an excellent website that features all known editions of the Book of Mormon, here:

I've referred to this site for many years. It is undergoing updates and it seems to work better than ever.

It includes a helpful index of people and places. For example, here is the entry for Cumorah:

One thing I really like about this site is the effort to present multiple working hypotheses about geography. At the Cumorah page, for example, you can see various interpretations including settings in Sri Lanka, Mesoamerica, New York, Heartland, etc.

(click to enlarge)

Users of this site need to be aware that Book of Mormon Central (BMC) funded some of the development. BMC aggressively teaches M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory) as the only acceptable geography setting. In its Spanish version, BMC promotes specific M2C geography to its audience, directly contradicting what it tells its English donors about neutrality.

While this site is far more useful and informative than BMC because it makes efforts to follow the Church's position of neutrality about Book of Mormon geography, it unfortunately includes the so-called "Internal" map developed by M2C promoters that is based on their M2C beliefs. This subliminal grooming leads unsuspecting viewers toward the Mesoamerican model. 

(click to enlarge)

An odd omission from the site: there is no discussion of Church history regarding the origins or translation of the Book of Mormon. Maybe that's a future development, but I hope they include references to the original documents in the Joseph Smith Papers instead of the theories of scholars such as the so-called "Internal map." 

There are other odd omissions that, presumably, are merely oversights that will be corrected during development. 

For example, for the Hill Shim, the map omits locations for the New York and Heartland scenarios.

(click to enlarge)

This omission could lead unsuspecting users to conclude that Heartland models do not account for the Hill Shim. 

Hopefully such omissions will be corrected in updates.


Monday, April 25, 2022

Real vs Rumor series

On my historical blog, I'm posting a series on Keith A. Erekson's book, Real vs. Rumor. It's an important book because Erekson, the Director of the Church History Library, effectively explains the challenges of historical research.

Unfortunately, in some instances he perpetuates rumors because of the prevailing traditions. 

We can use the book and Erekson's examples to help us all be more careful in our historical research and analysis.

The series will be posted here: