Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Preface to the Book of Mormon, ca. 1829

Today we're going to see another example of the Mesomania bias in the Joseph Smith Papers and the ongoing rejection of Letter VII (in this case, even when it is cited).

The first edition of the Book of Mormon contained a preface, written by Joseph Smith, that explains the situation with the lost 116 pages.

You can see the original here: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/preface-to-book-of-mormon-circa-august-1829/1

Also on pages 93-4 in Joseph Smith Papers Documents, Volume 1, July 1828-1831

Most of the Preface is written in first person, active voice. The exception is the final clause in the last sentence:

"I would also inform you that the plates of which hath been spoken, were found in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New-York."5

Note 5 reads: In September 1827, JS removed the plates from a hill in Manchester Township. (See JS History, vol. A-1, 8; and Oliver Cowdery, “Letter VII,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, July 1835, 1:158.)  

The citation to Letter VII is awesome, but think about this a moment. Why does Joseph Smith use the passive voice only for this clause? And to what plates is he referring? And why is the hill not named, when it is named in Letter VII itself?

The only plates Joseph refers to in this preface are the plates of Lehi and the plates of Nephi. He mentions "the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon."

Why is this?

The Preface follows two reproductions of the Title Page (the Title Page itself, followed by the copyright application that quotes the entire Title Page). The Title Page describes the plates as the two sets of abridgments, plus the sealing by Moroni. But it never mentions the plates of Nephi.

Of course, this is the reason the Lord had to tell Joseph about the plates of Nephi in D&C 10; i.e., he didn't have the plates of Nephi when he was in Harmony. Don't forget, he said the Title Page was translated from the last leaf of the plates, and he translated it in Harmony.

I think this explains why Joseph used the passive voice in the Preface. He not only didn't have the plates of Nephi when he was in Harmony (because they were not in Moroni's stone box), but he didn't get them himself from the Hill Cumorah. Someone else did, and then brought them to Fayette for Joseph to translate.

Consequently, Joseph wrote that "the plates of which hath been spoken," i.e., the plates of Nephi he translated to replace the lost 116 pages, "were found." He didn't find them; someone else did.

Hence, he wrote in the passive voice here.

With this understanding, note 5 in the JSP is incorrect. JS did not remove the plates of Nephi from the Hill Cumorah.

And note 5 is misleading because it refers merely to "a hill" even though Letter VII clearly identifies the hill as the Book of Mormon Cumorah--right there in New York.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Mormon History Association - Mounds and Mormons

I spoke at the Mormon History Association's annual conference last week on the topic of the Mormons and the Mounds. In my presentation, I focused on mounds around St. Louis (aka, Mound City), famous mounds in LDS history, including Enon and Zelph's mound, and the mounds in and around Nauvoo.

I'm going to use the PowerPoint presentation at upcoming events, and the presentation was quite different from this paper, but people have asked about my paper so here is the first draft of the paper that I'm posting here for comments/input. I've been asked to submit it for publication, but it needs more work and I'm waiting for some additional developments anyway.

The Mormons and the Mounds

Jonathan Neville

MHA Presentation
June 2017
St. Louis, Missouri


“Mormonism sprang from the mounds,” wrote Roger Kennedy, former director of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Even before the Book of Mormon was published, Mormonism was linked to the Moundbuilder civilizations of North America. One man who claimed to have heard a reading of the lost 116 pages said “It was a description of the mounds about the country and similar to the ‘Book of Mormon.’” In 1843, Joseph Smith apparently alluded to the 116 pages when he said the Book of Mormon spoke about sacred burial places. Several authors have placed the Book of Mormon among other 19th century books about the origins of the Moundbuilders.  At one time, there were over a million ancient earth mounds in North America; approximately 100,000 remain today. Many of these mounds are located in the territory from western New York through western Missouri where early Mormon history took place. Three specific mounds figure prominently in LDS history: Zelph’s mound in Illinois, the Kinderhook mound, also in Illinois, from which the six brass plates were taken, and Enon mound in Ohio. Until the early Saints leveled them to build homes and farms, Indian mounds dominated Nauvoo. Joseph Smith purchased one and resorted to it from time to time. Less well known are the mounds located just north of Nauvoo that have recently been discovered and preserved. The connections between Mormonism and the mounds of North America have yet to be fully explored.

The Mormons and the Mounds

Twenty-five miles east southeast of the site of the 2017 Mormon History Association’s 52nd Annual Conference in St. Charles, Missouri, sits one of only 22 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States: Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.
According to UNESCO, Cahokia is the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico.[1] It includes Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthwork in the Western Hemisphere. Cahokia was a prominent feature in the 1830s and 1840s when Mormons passed through the St. Louis region on Mississippi River steamboats. The site originally included 120 mounds and covered about 4,000 acres. Native Americans lived there between 800-1400 A.D. (the Mississippian period), so it is post-Book of Mormon era, but many other significant mound sites along the Mississippi River did flourish during Book of Mormon times.
Elm Point Mound was located just three miles north of the St. Charles Convention Center until it was leveled for residential development. The mound contained burials covered with limestone slabs and featuring red ochre staining. Projectile points, a grooved axe, and other artifacts were found at this site before its destruction.[2] A mile to the east is a district still called Les Mamelles, named after two 150-foot mounds that looked out over the plains to the north situated between the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.
St. Louis itself was once nicknamed Mound City because of the many large mounds once located within current city limits. The largest of these, Big Mound, located on what is now Mound Street and North Broadway, would have been visible to Mormons traveling to Nauvoo from the Gulf of Mexico or from the Ohio River. Big Mound served as a landmark for Mississippi River steamboat pilots until it was leveled in 1868.
The sole remaining mound in St. Louis is Sugarloaf Mound. It has been purchased by the Osage Nation for preservation.
While Big Mound may have been one of the first ancient Indian mounds experienced by European Mormons immigrating to Nauvoo, the mounds were commonplace for American Mormons in the 19th Century. Joseph Smith’s birth state of Vermont features hundreds of ancient stone structures. Ethan Smith, the Vermont preacher, wrote A View of the Hebrews in part to explain the origins of the “walled towns,” “Forts,” and “watchtowers” he was familiar with.
New York State was rich with ancient mounds. New York governor DeWitt Clinton wrote about numerous such sites. In 1817, he wrote that a mound near Ridgway, Genesee County, about 65 miles northwest of Palmyra, contained piles of skeletons that “were deposited there by their conquerors.”[3]
When the early Saints moved from New York to Ohio, they encountered Indian mounds everywhere they went. Some remain, such as Indian Point, located just 14 miles northeast of the Kirtland Temple. This ancient Indian enclosure features two earthen walls bordered by ditches and protected on two sides of a triangle by steep cliffs. The walls were built around 140 B.C. The Zion’s Camp march passed several mounds, including two that were specifically noted in the historical record: Enon mound outside of Dayton, Ohio, and Zelph’s mound near the Illinois River.
Ancient Indian mounds are common in Missouri as well. According to the State Historic Preservation Office, “There are 37,000 known sites in the state, but that’s probably a small fraction of the total.”[4]
The connections between Mormonism and the mounds have been addressed in several books and articles. This paper provides a brief overview of the literature and introduces some new information that deserves additional focus and discussion.

Archaeological and Anthropological Background

Indian mounds have long been part of American history. George Washington used ancient mounds for military positions. Thomas Jefferson excavated a mound (one of many “barrows” in the area) found on his property at Monticello.[5] In 1894, the Smithsonian’s Bureau of Ethnology published a book by Cyrus Thomas that depicted a map of around 100,000 mound sites, located mainly along the rivers of the Midwestern and Southeastern United States. Many of these sites have multiple mound structures, some as many as 100.
One researcher wrote, “After visiting several thousand mounds and reviewing the literature, I am fairly certain that over 1,000,000 mounds once existed and that perhaps 100,000 still exist. Oddly, some new mound sites are discovered each year by archaeological surveys in remote areas.”[6]
This paper will discuss an example of new mound sites found within the last year a few miles north of Nauvoo.
Ancient Native American civilizations that built mounds have been classified into three major cultures based on era and the types of mounds they built.
1. The Archaic period (4500-1000 BCE). There are only a few major examples of earth structures built during the Archaic period, including Watson Brake and Poverty Point in Louisiana.
2. The Woodland period, consisting of Early Woodland (1000 BCE to 200 BCE) (Adena), Middle Woodland (200 BCE-500 CE) (Hopewell) and Late Woodland (500-1000 CE).
            a. Adena. Adena sites are found in the Midwestern and Eastern United States including Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York. Only a few of the hundreds of Adena mounds have survived to the present. Mounds were used for burials, ceremonies, and gathering places. Enon Mound, the second largest conical burial mound in Ohio, is probably Adena. The largest Adena mound in the United States is in Moundsville, West Virginia, along the Ohio River. People tunneled into it in 1838, destroying archaeological evidence.
            b. Hopewell. The Hopewell culture ranged from Florida to southeastern Canada (the Great Lakes area) and east to Kansas. The people lived along the rivers, particularly the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and their tributaries. They built the giant geometric earthworks found in Ohio, including the Newark Earthworks that are the largest in the world and are aligned to specific sunrise and moonrise events. Hopewell cultures had distinctive regional attributes. Zelph’s mound fits within the Hopewell culture. The Kinderhook mound probably dates to the Adena era, and it reportedly had a conical shape typical of Adena mounds, but there doesn’t appear to be any discussion in the literature about this mound ever being dated or studied.
3. The Mississippian period (900-1450 CE). There is growing evidence of a link between Mesoamerican cultures and the Mississippian cultures, possibly a result of the collapse of the Mayan empire.
People who believe the Book of Mormon took place in North America generally relate the Adena to the Jaredites and the Hopewell to the Nephites.

What Constitutes a Mound

When archaeologists identify a “mound” site, it is usually more significant than merely a pile of dirt created by humans. Mounds varied greatly in size. Some might be a foot high with a circumference of two or three feet. Others may be tens of feet high, covering acres. Monks Mound is ten stories high and covers nearly 14 acres.
Geometric shapes, including squares and circles, are precisely measured and can encompass 20 acres or more. Some mound structures were topped with wooden pickets as defensive walls. Others were covered with cement. Some are shaped as animal effigies. Some follow natural ridges.
Dr. Roger Kennedy, the former director of the Smithsonian's American History Museum, addressed a misperception about earth mounds, noting that earth mounds are actually buildings.

Build and building are also very old words, often used in this text [his book] as they were when the English language was being invented, to denote earthen structures.

About 1150, when the word build was first employed in English, it referred to the construction of an earthen grave. Three hundred and fifty years later, an early use of the term to build up was the description of the process by which King Priam of Troy constructed a “big town of bare earth.” So when we refer to the earthworks of the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys as buildings no one should be surprised.[7]

Literature Review

Painting with a broad brush, literature about the connections between Mormons and mounds can be divided into two categories: those who seek to link Mormonism to the mounds, and those who seek to distance Mormonism from the mounds.
From a purely historical perspective, those linking Mormonism with the mounds seem to have a stronger argument. They rely on original documents and contemporary accounts. This group includes critics of Mormonism as well as supporters.
Those distancing Mormonism from the mounds tend to rely on semantic arguments against original sources or seek to avoid the question altogether.
These different approaches manifest themselves most often in discussion and analysis of the three specific mounds that appear most often in the literature: Zelph’s mound and the Kinderhook mound, both in Illinois, and Enon mound in Ohio. I’ll cite examples after offering an overview of some of the best-known works on Mormon history that address the mound connection.
The most comprehensive analysis of the connections between Mormonism and the mounds is probably Dan Vogel’s 1986 book, Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon: Religious Solutions from Columbus to Joseph Smith (Signature Books). Vogel seeks to understand how the Book of Mormon “fit into the ongoing discussion about the origin and nature of ancient American cultures” (Introduction). His Chapter 4 focuses on the mound-builder myths. He views the Book of Mormon as a product of 19th Century thought and experience.
Fawn Brodie focused on the ancient American mounds, claiming that “The mystery of the Moundbuilders attracted no one more than Joseph Smith.”[8] Earl Wunderli also invoked the moundbuilders to explain the Book of Mormon. “Joseph Smith’s physical surroundings included the Indian burial mounds that people said were piles of slain warriors from antiquity.”[9]
Many supporters of Mormonism tend to downplay the links to the moundbuilders.
For example, in Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Bushman observes that “Indian relics turned up in newly plowed furrows, and remnants of old forts and burial mounds were accessible to the curious, but none was known in Palmyra or Manchester…Burial mounds, supposedly a stimulus for investigation of the Indians, receive only the slightest mention [in the Book of Mormon, Alma 16:11].”[10] He does briefly mention Zelph’s mound and the Kinderhook incident, but he deliberately avoids the debate about mounds and the Book of Mormon. For example, he quotes excerpts from the letter Joseph Smith wrote to Emma on June 4, 1834, from the banks of the Mississippi River during Zion’s Camp, but he omits a key phrase. Joseph wrote of “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,”[11] but Bushman quotes only “wandering over the plains,” omitting the rest of Joseph’s sentence.[12]
Terryl Givens writes that “A major appeal of the text itself, to both the historically curious and the flippantly cynical, was its claim to tell the public something about the people whose burial mounds lie scattered across the prairies of the Old Northwest, whose bones and artifacts emerged from the dust with provocative regularity…. Once the Book of Mormon is cast in these terms, by angels, prophets, editors, and satirists, the historical approach becomes double-edged, an irresistible tool of apologists and detractors alike.”[13]
Most articles focus on the two best-known mound-related topics: Kinderhook and Zelph.
J. Michael Hunter introduced his article about Mormon archaeological zeal by writing “In 1843, Robert Wiley unearthed a set of six brass plates in a burial mound near Kinderhook, Illinois.”[14] Several authors have written and presented on the topic of the Kinderhook plates, including Mark Ashurst-McGee, Don Bradley, Brian M. Hauglid, and Jason Frederick Peters. In 1981, the Ensign published an article that took the positions that (i) the Kinderhook plates were a hoax and (ii) Joseph Smith never attempted to translate them.[15]
Zelph’s mound in Illinois was first reported in the journals of participants in Zion’s Camp. Their accounts were amalgamated for an entry in History of the Church, but they have been reassessed individually. Kenneth Godfrey argued that the accounts “are inconsistent” and the skeleton “cannot, therefore, provide conclusive evidence for anything.”[16] Donald Q. Cannon provided greater context for the incident by referring to additional corroborating statements by Joseph Smith’s contemporaries as well as evidence from the archaeological and anthropological studies of the area, noting that “Some of the fabric recovered from the archaeological digs conducted at the bluff dates between 100 BC and AD 400… Remarkably, items discovered in the Zelph Mound area fit precisely within the parameters of the Book of Mormon historical chronology.”[17]
John H. Wittorf addressed Kinderhook and Zelph, but also treated Enon mound. Wittorf concluded that “in only one of three cases where Joseph Smith encountered the remains of the “Mound Builders”—the “Zelph incident”— did he even suggest a relationship between these peoples and those described in the Book of Mormon, the exact nature of which however, is still uncertain.” [18]
The Enon mound incident may not be well known. On May 16, 1834, Zion’s camp was in Ohio, traveling between Springfield and Dayton. Joseph’s journal records

About nine o’clock . . . we came into a piece of thick woods of recent growth, where I told them that I felt much depressed in spirit and lonesome, and that there had been a great deal of bloodshed in that place, remarking that whenever a man of God is in a place where many have been killed, he will feel lonesome and unpleasant, and his spirits will sink.

In about forty rods from where I made this observation we came through the woods, and saw a large farm, and there near the road on our left, was a mound sixty feet high, containing human bones. The mound was covered with apple trees, and surrounded with oat fields, the ground being level for some distance around.[19]

The large mound Joseph referred to was the Enon mound, located about seven miles west of Springfield. The mound still stands today in the town of Enon. It has been identified as an Adena mound, based on its size and shape, as well as artifacts retrieved from it.
Wittorf notes a hearsay account of an old gentleman who dug into the mound and deposited a collection of artifacts. He also suggests the dead men Joseph referred to could have been Shawnees killed in the battle of Piqua in August 1870. Piqua was about five miles west of Springfield.
Levi Hancock, who accompanied Joseph on the Zion’s Camp march, provided the most detailed account of the Zelph incident in his journal. Joseph’s statement about Zelph prompted him to also record what had happened at Enon.  “I then remembered what he [Joseph Smith] had said a few days before while passing many mounds on our way that was left of us; said he, ‘there are the bodies of wicked men who have died and are angry at us: if they can take advantage of us they will, for if we live they will have no hope.’ I could not comprehend it but supposed it was all right.”[20]
Because Hancock connected Zelph with the Enon mound statement, he apparently inferred that Joseph Smith was relating both mounds to Book of Mormon peoples. Or Joseph may have made this connection explicit. It was just a few days later that Joseph wrote his letter telling Emma that he and his men had been “wandering over the plains of the Nephites… roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones.” 

Mormon Connections with Native American Indian Mounds

This paper does not assess the historical and cultural context of the Mound-builder tradition and whatever relationship it may have to Mormonism. Instead, it looks at specific examples that have not been covered in depth in the literature to suggest possibilities for additional research.
The 116 pages. In the summer of 1828, Martin Harris lost the first 116 pages of the manuscript Joseph Smith dictated. Little is known about the manuscript, except that it constituted Mormon’s abridgment of the Book of Lehi and it covered essentially the same history as the current books of 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon. The 116 pages were reportedly burned or stolen; at any rate, they have not been recovered so far.
One account suggests the 116 pages described the mounds in North America. W. R. Hine was a resident of Colesville, New York. He provided a statement in 1884 in which he claims he knew Joseph Smith and his father. He relates a version of the lost 116 pages that has Lucy Harris taking the 116 pages and giving them to a Dr. Seymour, who lived not far from Mr. Hine. Hine stated, “Dr. Seymour lived one and a half miles from me. He read most of it to me when my daughter Irene was born; he read them to his patients about the country. It was a description of the mounds about the country and similar to the ‘Book of Mormon.’”[21]
The current text of the Book of Mormon does not mention mounds. It refers to bodies being “heap up upon the face of the earth” in several places. Alma 50:1 says Moroni caused his people “that they should commence in digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities.” If Hines was correct that the 116 pages included “a description of the mounds about the country,” the lost manuscript would link the text more closely to the North American setting than does the current text. This would further support the claims of both critics and defenders who link the Book of Mormon to the Moundbuilders.
Joseph Smith’s 1843 sermon. On April 16, 1843, Joseph Smith’s journal relates that he gave a sermon at the temple at 10 a.m. He read a letter about the death of Lorenzo Barns and discussed the topic of burial.

it is to have the privilige [sic] of having our dead buried on the land where god has appointed to gather his saints together.--- & where there will be nothing but saints, where they may have the privilege of laying their bodies where the Son will make his appearance. & where they may hear the. sound of the trump that shall call them forth to behold him, that in the morn of the resurrection they may come forth in a body. & come right up out of their graves, & strike hands immediately in eternal glory & felicity rather than to be scattered thousands of miles apart. There is something good & sacred to me in this thing. the 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.[22] (emphasis added)

The portion in bold is of interest for two reasons. First, there is no place in the current Book of Mormon that mentions that the place where a man is buried is sacred. Joseph seems to be recalling a passage from the lost 116 pages, which, in his mind, were part of the Book of Mormon he translated.
Second, the sacred nature of a burial place is the basic premise for Native American Indian reverence for the burial mounds. Joseph alludes to this in the next passage when he refers to the “aborigines,” whom he considered Lamanites. This sermon may be a direct link between the 116 pages and the Native American Indian mounds.
The journal is in the handwriting of Willard Richards. He apparently inserted the phrase “this subject is made mention of” after he wrote the main phrase, probably when he found a moment to catch up with what Joseph was saying.

Mounds in Nauvoo. There are several references to mounds in Nauvoo. The lithograph by John Childs, 1844, made from a plat by Gustavus Hills in 1842 depicts several mounds in the city. A prominent one is between plats 82 and 83, just west of the temple.

Joseph’s journal records a few interactions with mounds in and around Nauvoo, including these.

14 June 1842 • Tuesday
Tuesday 14 To the mound with Emma & purchasd 3/4 Sections of Land  of
Hiram Kimball [note 245][23]

Note 245: JS purchased the southwest quarter of Section 25, the southeast quarter of Section 26, and the northeast quarter of Section 35, within Township 7 North, Range 8 West, for $1,500 from Ethan Kimball of Orange County, Vermont. Hiram Kimball served as Ethan Kimball’s attorney in the transaction. The “mound” was located in the southwest quarter of Section 25. JS paid Kimball two weeks later. (Hancock Co., IL, Deed Records, 27 June 1842, vol. K, pp. 329–330, microfilm 954,599, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL; JS, Journal, 27 June 1842.)

27 June 1842 • Monday
Monday 27 Transacting business in general through the day. borrowed money of Bros.  Wooley Spencer &c. & made payment To Hiram Kimball for the mound.

Mounds in Nauvoo. In recent years, more Hopewell mound complexes have been discovered just north of Nauvoo. Some were looted in the 1970s, but others have been found untouched.
Wilson and Jenny Curlee moved to Nauvoo and purchased the property on which the mounds were located.[24] They organized an Eagle Scout project to restore some of the looted mounds, and archaeologists from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency have certified these as authentic ancient sites. In the fall of 2016, a new complex was discovered in the area.
The increasing awareness of the numerous Hopewell mounds in the Nauvoo area may give renewed attention to the connection between Mormons and the mounds. When workers dug a utility trench between the Red Brick Store and the Joseph Smith Homestead, the equipment churned up Hopewell bones and artifacts. This area is adjacent to the Smith Family Cemetery, leading to the possibility that Joseph Smith, his wife Emma, his brother Hyrum and his parents are buried in a Hopewell burial site.
If “Mormonism sprang from the mounds” as Roger Kennedy suggested, it seems only fitting that Joseph Smith would be buried among the Moundbuilders.


The connections between Mormonism and the Moundbuilders have received considerable attention, but mainly from outsiders and critics. It is time for historians to re-assess these connections, especially in light of recent discoveries about Hopewell mounds in the Nauvoo area.

[1] Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, World Heritage List, UNESCO, http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/198.
[2] Elm Point Mound, 23SC58, St. Louis Community College, http://users.stlcc.edu/mfuller/elmpoint.html.
[3] DeWitt Clinton, “A Memoir on the Antiquities of the Western parts of the State of New-York,” Transactions of the Literary and Philosophical Society of New York 2 (1815-25): 82
[4] Matthew Graham, “Ancient History,” Missourian, Jul 22, 2008, online at http://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/local/ancient-history/article_aef4d888-1602-5b7c-b118-b84b17bf6e9c.html.
[5] Jefferson’s Excavation of an Indian Burial Mound, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc., online at https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/jeffersons-excavation-indian-burial-mound.
[6] Little, Gregory L., Ed.D., The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Native American Mounds & Earthworks (Eagle Wing Books, 2009), p. 2.
[7] Kennedy, Roger G., Hidden Cities: The Discovery and Loss of Ancient North American Civilization (The Free Press, New York, 1994), p. vii. (hereafter Hidden Cities)
[8] Brodie, Fawn M., No Man Knows My History, 2d Ed. (Vintage Books, New York: 1995), p. 35.
[9] Wunderli, Earl, An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon tell us about itself (Signature Books, Salt Lake City: 2013), p. 320.
[10] Bushman, Richard, Rough Stone Rolling (Alfred A Knopf, New York: 2005), pp. 95, 97.
[11] Smith, Joseph, “Letter to Emma Smith,” 4 June 1834, Letterbook 2, p. 57, online at http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letterbook-2/62.
[12] Bushman, p. 241.
[13] Givens, Terryl, By the Hand of Mormon (Oxford University Press, Oxford: 2002), pp. 93, 95-6.
[14] Hunter, J. Michael, “The Kinderhook Plates, the Tucson Artifacts, and Mormon Archaeological Zeal,” Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Spring 2005), p. 31.
[15] Kimball, Stanley B., “Kinderhook Plates Brought to Joseph Smith Appear to be a Nineteenth-Century Hoax,” Ensign, August 1981, online at https://www.lds.org/ensign/1981/08/kinderhook-plates-brought-to-joseph-smith-appear-to-be-a-nineteenth-century-hoax?lang=eng&_r=1.
[16] Godfrey, Kenneth W., “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, 88. Online at http://publications.mi.byu.edu/publications/jbms/8/2/S00011-What_Is_the_Significance_of_Zelph_in_the_Study_of_Book_of_Mo.html.
[17] Cannon, Donald Q., “Zelph Revisited,” Church History Regional Studies, BYU Department of Church History and Doctrine, Regional Studies, Illinois, 97-109. Online at http://emp.byui.edu/marrottr/341folder/Zelph%20Revisited%20Cannon.pdf.
[18] Wittorf, John H., “Joseph Smith and the Prehistoric Mound-Builders of Eastern North America,” delivered at the Nineteenth Annual Symposium on the Archaeology of the Scriptures at BYU on October 18, 1969, online at http://www.ancientamerica.org/library/media/HTML/4qimqkix/JOSEPH%20SMITH%20AND%20THE%20PREHISTORIC%20MOUND.htm?n=0.
[19] History, 1838-1856, volume A – 1 [23 December 1805 – 30 August 1834], p. 7, online at http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-a-1-23-december-1805-30-august-1834/566.
[20] Quoted in Cannon, Zelph Revisited.
[21] W. R. Hine’s Statement, in Naked Truths about Mormonism (Deming & Co., Oakland, 1888), online at http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/dbroadhu/CA/natruths.htm#010088-2a.
[22] Journal, December 1842-June 1844; Book 2, 10 March 1843-14 July 1843, p. 141. Online at http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/journal-december-1842-june-1844-book-2-10-march-1843-14-july-1843/149.
[24] Palmer, Rosemary G., “Why Do Nauvoo’s Historic Burial Mounds Matter?” Meridian Magazine, June 9, 2013, online at http://ldsmag.com/article-1-12816/.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Letter VII and the New York Cumorah

I just returned from another trip to Nauvoo and once again, I was struck with the seriousness of the question of Letter VII.

Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII, which Joseph Smith helped write and specifically endorsed at least three times, declares it is a fact that the Hill Cumorah in New York is the Hill Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon (Mormon 6:6). 

During Joseph's lifetime, most literate members of the Church knew about Letter VII. Not only was it published in the Kirtland Messenger and Advocate, but at Joseph's direction it was reprinted in the 1841 Gospel Reflector in Philadelphia, the 1841 Times and Seasons in Nauvoo, and in a special pamphlet published in England in 1844. It was in this context that Joseph referred to Cumorah in D&C 128. 

When Joseph was alive, everyone knew Cumorah was in New York. It was never a question, and Oliver, as Assistant President of the Church, had declared it was a fact.

After Joseph's death, Letter VII was published in the Millennial Star and the Improvement Era.

But it has never been published in the Ensign.

The New York setting for Cumorah has been consistently taught even in General Conference at least through the 1970s.

No alternative setting for Cumorah has ever been taught in General Conference.

Despite Letter VII, there remain many LDS scholars and educators who insist the "real" Cumorah is somewhere in southern Mexico. These people promote the "Mesoamerican" model of Book of Mormon geography, along with the so-called "Two Cumorahs" theory. They claim Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York, but now they, the scholars and educators, have figured out where Cumorah must be and for the last few decades, they have been working hard to persuade members of the Church that they are right and Joseph and Oliver were wrong.

In fact, one of the leading BYU scholars has disparaged those Church members who believe what Joseph and Oliver taught. He wrote, "There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd." [John L. Sorenson, Mormon's Codex, p. 688, emphasis added.]

Mormon's Codex was published by Deseret Book and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at BYU. The Foreword was written by Terryl Givens, who wrote "John Sorenson has again upped the ante with what will immediately serve as the high-water mark of scholarship on the Book of Mormon." [p. xvi.]

Give Brother Sorenson credit for expressing what these LDS scholars and educators actually think of those members of the Church who accept what Oliver and Joseph taught about Cumorah being in New York.

The scholars' disdainful approach extends beyond Letter VII and members of the Church who accept it. They scholars are also disdainful of Church leaders who agree with what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah, including Joseph Fielding Smith, Marion G. Romney and Mark E. Peterson. 

Every time you see or hear someone promoting the Mesoamerican theory, you know they think that what Oliver wrote about Cumorah being in New York is "manifestly absurd." They think that when Joseph endorsed Oliver's writing, he was endorsing a false narrative that misled the Church.

I'm not saying anyone has to accept Letter VII. If you want to think it is "manifestly absurd" because LDS scholars and educators are telling you that, it's fine with me. 

What I am saying is that every member of the Church today should be as familiar with Letter VII as were the members who lived during Joseph Smith's lifetime.

If people choose to reject Letter VII in favor of the two-Cumorahs theory, fine. But I think it's a big mistake to suppress the existence of Letter VII just because the dominant LDS scholars and educators disagree with hit.

Monday, May 8, 2017

"From a hill in Manchester Township"

Even when the Joseph Smith Papers editors quote Letter VII, they won't identify the hill in New York as Cumorah. The reason, apparently, is that they favor the Mesoamerican setting which requires that Cumorah be located in Mexico.

Here's the latest example: footnote 5 to the Preface to Book of Mormon, circa August 1829. It reads:

"In September 1827, JS removed the plates from a hill in Manchester Township. (See JS History, vol. A-1, 8; and Oliver Cowdery, “Letter VII,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, July 1835, 1:158.)"

Here's the link: 


In Letter VII, Oliver Cowdery not only identified the Hill Cumorah as the hill where Joseph found the plates, but he also stated it was a fact that the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place in the mile-wide valley to the west.

This makes it all the more striking that the note refers to "a hill" as though the generic hill had no name and was not a critical location in Church history and Book of Mormon geography.

I came across this bizarre omission in footnote 5 because I was noticing something fascinating in this Preface. Joseph was explaining the lost 116 pages and the commandment he received from the Lord to "translate from the plates of Nephi" to replace what was lost. The Preface paraphrases parts of D&C 10 and quotes other parts but without quotation marks.

For example, D&C 10:41 says, "you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi," but the Preface says, "thou shalt translate from the plates of Nephi."

In my view, both passages refute the popular narrative that Joseph kept the plates under a cloth the entire time, as depicted in the latest movies you can see on request on Temple Square. The Lord told Joseph to "translate the engravings" and "translate from the plates." You can't do either if the plates are under a cloth or somewhere else.

More to the point of this post, in the Preface Joseph mentions two sets of plates. First, he mentions the "plates of Lehi" from which Mormon abridged the "Book of Lehi" that was on the 116 pages. Second, he mentions the "plates of Nephi" which he, Joseph, translated. He doesn't mention the plates containing the abridgment (the "Harmony" plates he originally obtained from Moroni's stone box).

At the end of the Preface, Joseph writes, "I would also inform you that the plates of which hath been spoken, were found in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New York." This is where footnote 5 kicks in, with the "a hill" comment.

What I find significant here is that Joseph is explaining he used different plates--the plates of Nephi--to replace the Book of Lehi. He found it necessary to explain to readers of the Preface that these plates of Nephi "were found" in Manchester township.

Think about this a moment.

It was widely known at the time and in the area that Joseph got the original plates from the stone box in the Hill Cumorah. People tried to steal them from him. He had to move to Harmony to translate the original plates to get away from the would-be thieves. There was no need for Joseph to explain where the original plates came from--and he did not.

The Preface is an explanation for why Joseph translated a second set of plates--the plates of Nephi. He explains these plates were found in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New York.

Notice he doesn't say he found them.

Instead, he writes they "were found," using the passive voice.

That's important because it's another indication that Joseph did not find the plates of Nephi. Instead, the divine messenger delivered these plates to Joseph after Joseph arrived in Fayette.

IOW, Joseph found the original plates--the ones containing the abridgments written by Mormon and Moroni--in the stone box on the Hill Cumorah, as directed by Moroni. These plates contained "the original Book of Mormon" as Joseph called it. He took these plates to Harmony and translated all of them, from the Book of Lehi through the Book of Moroni, including the "last leaf" which was the Title Page. Then he gave the plates to a divine messenger and left for Fayette with David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery.

After Joseph arrived in Fayette, the messenger delivered the plates of Nephi. Joseph translated these as 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon. In this Preface, Joseph is telling readers that these separate plates were also found--albeit, not by him--in Manchester township. (The Hill Cumorah is in the Manchester township.)

It's pretty cool to see how the Preface itself explains the two sets of plates. Now, if only we could get the Joseph Smith Papers to acknowledge that the Hill Cumorah--the only Hill Cumorah--is in New York, we could make some good progress.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Moroni and America

Oliver Cowdery spent some time in his letters discussing Moroni and his mission. I've previously explained the reasons why I titled my book on geography Moroni's America. Here's another reminder of what Orson Hyde said about Moroni on July 4, 1854. This is in the Journal of Discourses, here.

After discussing the American Revolution, Elder Hyde related Moroni's involvement with the country. Notice the part I emphasized in bold below.

In those early and perilous times, our men were few, and our resources limited. Poverty was among the most potent enemies we had to encounter; yet our arms were successful; and it may not be amiss to ask here, by whose power victory so often perched on our banner? It was by the agency of that same angel of God that appeared unto Joseph Smith, and revealed to him the history of the early inhabitants of this country, whose mounds, bones, and remains of towns, cities, and fortifications speak from the dust in the ears of the living with the voice of undeniable truth. This same angel presides over the destinies of America, and feels a lively interest in all our doings. He was in the camp of Washington; and, by an invisible hand, led on our fathers to conquest and victory; and all this to open and prepare the way for the Church and kingdom of God to be established on the western hemisphere, for the redemption of Israel and the salvation of the world.

This same angel was with Columbus, and gave him deep impressions, by dreams and by visions, respecting this New World. Trammeled by poverty and by an unpopular cause, yet his persevering and unyielding heart would not allow an obstacle in his way too great for him to overcome; and the angel of God helped him—was with him on the stormy deep, calmed the troubled elements, and guided his frail vessel to the desired haven. Under the guardianship of this same angel, or Prince of America, have the United States grown, increased, and flourished, like the sturdy oak by the rivers of water.

To what point have the American arms been directed since the Declaration of our National Independence, and proven unsuccessful? Not one!

The peculiar respect that high Heaven has for this country, on account of the promises made to the fathers, and on account of its being the land where the mustard seed of truth was planted and destined to grow in the last days, accounts for all this good fortune to our beloved America.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Joseph Smith endorsed Oliver Cowdery's letters

From time to time I still hear objections to Letter VII based on the idea that Oliver wrote them by himself and Joseph didn't endorse them. These objections are from Mesoamerican advocates, of course.
Here's how the conversation typically goes.
Me - "Oliver said Joseph helped him write the letters."
Meso - "Oliver did say that, but we don't know how much Joseph assisted."
Me - "Joseph had his scribes copy the letters into his own history."
Meso - "Yes, but he wrote another history later, in 1838. If he approved of Oliver's letters, he could have just used those."
Me - "First, Joseph did rely on those letters. Second, he didn't need to repeat the detail Oliver had written, such as when Joseph said Moroni quoted other scriptures he couldn't relate at that time. Third, Joseph's history covered topics in addition to what Oliver covered."
Meso - "But still, Joseph never expressly endorsed Oliver's letters."
Me - "He expressly gave Benjamin Winchester permission to reprint them in the Gospel Reflector."

Today I'm posting an additional detail from my book, The Editors: Joseph, William, and Don Carlos Smith, which will be released (finally) this week. I've never seen anyone write about this before and I think it's significant.

In the last issue of the first volume of the Times and Seasons (October 1840), Don Carlos announced he was going to expand the paper by publishing it twice a month. (You can see this issue at this link: http://www.centerplace.org/history/ts/v1n12.htm.)

Here is his reason:

"We should be pleased to publish our paper weekly, as we have an abundance of matter for the instruction of the saints, as President Joseph Smith jr. is furnishing us with essays on the glorious subject of the priesthood, also giving us extracts of the new translation to lay before our readers, of the second volume,-but our circumstances will not permit us to publish oftener than twice a month."

In the next issue, Don Carlos began the Times and Seasons with "Extract from the Prophecy of Enoch." That fulfills the promise of "extracts of the new translation."

But what about "essays on the glorious subject of the priesthood" that were promised?

Don Carlos does publish an essay "on the restoration of the Priesthood," presumably also "furnished" by President Joseph Smith, Jr. But what is this essay?

It is Letter I of Oliver's series of letters.

You can see it here: http://www.centerplace.org/history/ts/v2n01.htm

When you go to that page, search for "Priesthood" and you'll see the term appears only in Oliver's letter.

Don Carlos proceeded to publish all of Oliver's letters in the following months, including Letter VII. In fact, the next issue of the Times and Seasons, November 15, 1840, starts off with Letter II. And again, this letter contains the only mention of the Priesthood in an article in that issue.

So here again, we have direct evidence that Joseph Smith formally and fully endorsed Oliver's letters.

Friday, March 31, 2017

General Conference preparation

One way to prepare for General Conference is to re-read favorite conference addresses from the past. I've posted a few on the bookofmormonwars blog lately.

Another way is to study the scriptures about how the Lord works with the prophets to teach the people. Each of the standard works explains different aspects of this process.

An interesting example is D&C 77, online here. This is a series of questions and answers. I think of it as a model for how we can ask the Lord for understanding of the scriptures when we read them. It's also an example of how prophetic leaders can help answer questions we may have as we listen to General Conference.

One verse in particular stands out.

6 Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?
A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.

I looked up this verse in the scriptural index to General Conference and found the passage I highlighted in bold has never been quoted, but it was paraphrased three times.

Orson Pratt said, "We know that it was not six thousand years from the creation to the birth of Christ. How do we know this? God has told us in new revelation that this earth is destined to continue its temporal existence for seven thousand yearsand that at the commencement of the seventh thousand, he will cause seven angels to sound their trumpets."

Orson F. Whitney said, "But not only was John shown what should occur after the time in which he was living, but he was shown what had already taken place; not as the imperfect records of profane history have given it to us, but he saw it typified in its fullness. The events of the seven thousand years of the world's temporal existence passed before him, like the scenes of a mighty panorama. If you will read the book which he left, you will there find portrayed symbolically each of the seven thousand years."

Sterling W. Will said, "Then in programming the world's mortal or temporal existence, God gave it a time allotment of 7,000 years (see D&C 77:6-7), 1,000 years to represent each of the seven days of creation. The first 4,000 years began at the fall of Adam and ended at the birth of Christ. To this have been added the 1967 years that have passed since that time, so that on the divine calendar we are now living in the year of the world 1967, which is the late Saturday evening of the world's history. This divine time table as well as God's signs of the times indicate that the earth's Sabbath, which is the seventh 1,000-year period, is about to be ushered in."


I'll discuss this more in upcoming blog posts.