Thursday, November 26, 2020

Prophetic Timeline

ca. 3300 BC The Lord prophesied to Enoch that "righteousness will I send down out of heaven." Moses 7:62. This prophecy was repeated ca. 530 BC "righteousness shall look down from heaven." Psalms 85:11. ca. 96 AD John the Revelator saw this as "another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people." Revelation 14:6. The Book of Mormon prophet Moroni realized he was that angel Moroni 10:34. Prophecy #1 An angel of righteousness, Moroni, will bring the gospel from heaven to earth.

ca. 3300 BC The Lord prophesied to Enoch that righteousness from heaven would be associated with "truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten, his resurrection from the dead..." Moses 7:62. This prophecy was repeated ca. 530 BC "Truth shall spring out of the earth." Psalms 85:11. ca. 720 BC Isaiah prophesied that the Nephites would "be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and their speech shall whisper out of the ground." Isaiah 29:4. The Book of Mormon prophets Lehi (2 Nephi 3:19-20), Nephi (2 Nephi 27:933:13) and Moroni (Mormon 8:16, 23, 26; Moroni 10:27) realized their words would fulfill this ancient prophecy. Prophecy #2 Truth, prophetic speech, will come forth out of the ground to bear witness of Jesus Christ. There is no stronger testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ than the Book of Mormon account of his visit to the Americas as a glorified being.

 ca. 720 BC Isaiah prophesied that "The Lord shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act. Isaiah 28:21. Prophecy #3 The Lord will perform a strange act.

ca. 720 BC Isaiah prophesied that the Lord "will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid." Isaiah 29:14. The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi understood that the Book of Mormon itself would be part of this marvelous work and wonder 2 Nephi 25:17-18, 27:6, 26. Prophecy #4 The Lord will do a marvelous work and a wonder involving the words of a book.

ca. 530 BC Daniel prophesied that in the latter days a stone would be cut out without hands, that it would roll forth until it "became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth." Daniel 2:34-35. Daniel went on to explain that this stone was the kingdom of God upon the earth. Daniel 2:44. Prophecy #5 God's kingdom in the latter days will start small, then grow to fill the whole earth.

ca. 550 BC Nephi prophesied that the Book of Mormon plates delivered to Joseph Smith "shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered; and they shall testify to the truth of the the book and the things therein." 2 Nephi 27:12. ca. AD 420 Moroni gave instructions to Joseph Smith, "And behold, ye may be privileged that ye may show the plates unto those who shall assist to bring forth this work; And unto three shall they be shown by the power of God; wherefore they shall know of a surety that these things are true. And in the mouth of three witnesses shall these things be established...as a testimony against the world at the last day." Ether 5:2-4. Prophecy #6 Three witnesses, in addition to Joseph Smith, will be shown the plates by divine power and commanded to testify of them and their contents to the world.

ca. 550 BC Nephi recorded a vison in which he saw the Bible go forth from the Gentiles to Lehi's seed, followed by other books, including the Book of Mormon. These other books would have convincing power. 1 Nephi 13:39. Prophecy #7 The Gentiles will take the Bible to the Lamanites, followed by the Book of Mormon and other books. 

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Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, Church membership, and the writings of early Church leaders documented the explicit fulfillment of these seven prophecies.

5 times between February, 1829 and June, 1829 in Harmony, PA and Fayette, NY the Lord said his marvelous work was about to come forth in fulfillment of Prophecy #4. D&C 4:1, 6:1, 11:1, 12:1, 14:1. Oliver Cowdery in his Letter IV to W.W. Phelps said Moroni told Joseph Smith in 1823 that the Book of Mormon would bring to pass the marvelous work and a wonder. Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 1, No. 5, February, 1835 p. 79.

March, 1829 The Lord said 3 witnesses would testify of the Book of Mormon and their testimony would be included in the book itself. D&C 5:11. Their testimony would consist of two parts: 1) the truth of the words in the book authenticated by divine pronouncement D&C 5:12 and their visual experience seeing the plates and other ancient artifacts D&C 5:13. Then the Lord said that his word would be verified by historical events just as the prophesied destruction of Jerusalem was verified D&C 5:20.

Late June, 1829 The Lord commanded the 3 Witnesses to bear testimony of the Book of Mormon to the world in fulfillment of Prophecy #6. D&C 1:18 dated November 1, 1831.

Late June, 1829 The 3 Witnesses said an angel came down from heaven in fulfillment of Prophecy #1 and showed them the plates. The voice of the Lord told them Joseph's translation was true and commanded them to bear witness of it. They obeyed the Lord's command. The Testimony of Three Witnesses was first published in 1830.

April 6, 1830 D&C 1:30 dated November 1, 1831. The brethren who previously received commandments from the Lord were the ones who laid the foundation of the Church. Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer all heard the voice of the Lord in late June, 1829 command them to testify of the Book of Mormon to the world. Smith, Cowdery, and Whitmer were 3 of the 6 original incorporators of the Church when it was organized in Fayette, NY on April 6, 1830. The other 3 original incorporators (Hyrum Smith, Samuel H. Smith, Peter Whitmer, Jr.) were among the 8 Witnesses. D&C 20:16, given on April 6, 1830, describes the voice of the Lord to Book of Mormon witnesses who testify of divine words in their roles as elders of the Church.  

October, 1831 D&C 65:2 The gospel will roll forth as the stone in fulfillment of Prophecy #5. At the end of 1830, Church membership stood at 280. The net increase in 1831 was 400 for a total at year end of 680 which was a growth rate of 142%. Then in 1832, immediately after D&C Section 65 was revealed, the floodgates opened. The net increase in 1832 was 1,961 for total membership at year end of 2,661. That 291% year over year growth surge, a rate not equaled since, laid a strong foundation for the modern Church.

November 3, 1831 D&C 133:36 The Lord in a revelation verified that Moroni was the angel who flew through the midst of heaven in fulfillment of Prophecy #1.

June 1, 1833 D&C 95:4 The Lord's strange act, Prophecy #3, was still in the future. 

December 16, 1833 D&C 101:93-95 Something the Lord said previously will happen, and leave all men without excuse. Wise men and rulers will hear and learn things of which they were previously unaware. The Lord's strange act, Prophecy #3, was still in the future.

September 6, 1842 D&C 128:19-20 Joseph Smith said the Book of Mormon was truth out of the earth in fulfillment of Prophecy #2. He said the Angel Moroni at Hill Cumorah (1823-27) declared that the Book of Mormon fulfilled ancient prophecy and the voice of the Lord in Fayette, NY (late June, 1829) commanded the 3 Witnesses to bear record of it.

September 15, 1842 Vol. 3 No. 22 of The Times and Seasons published at Nauvoo, IL by Joseph Smith, said information in John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1841) was part of the Lord's "strange act, and proving the Book of Mormon true in the eyes of all the people." This was fulfillment of Prophecy #3. George J. Adams gave a lecture in Charlestown, MA on February 4th and 7th, 1844 entitled "A Lecture on the Authenticity and Scriptural Character of the Book of Mormon." (Boston: J.E. Farwell, 1844). In his lecture, Elder Adams said Stephens and Catherwood proved the Book of Mormon true and that proof was "a wonder and a strange act."

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Early Book of Mormon Geography

First and second generation Latter-day Saints didn't spend much time working out the details of Book of Mormon geography from the text, but they had some definite ideas that can help guide us today in our search for Nephite and Lamanite lands. They believed that the Lord Himself in 1829 promised to bring forth strong evidence of advanced civilizations and large cities in ancient America. They thought discoveries of the spectacular Maya culture in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan fulfilled that promise.

  • These early saints were acquainted with the burial, defensive, and ceremonial mounds in the Mississippi drainage basin known today as Adena (ca. 800 BC-AD 100) and Hopewell (ca. AD 100-AD 500) earthen structures. 1
  • Ambiguity surrounded the earthen mounds. Were they built by ancestors of the modern American Indians, or were they the work of an extinct race of Old World immigrants? 2
  • In terms of cultural attainment, the early saints, and Americans generally, ranked ancient New World civilizations like this: 3
    • The native Americans found by European colonists were at a low level of civilization.
    • The mound builders had been somewhat more advanced than contemporary Indians, but still primitive. Tribal societies worldwide built earthen mounds. 
    • The Mexican (Aztec) and Peruvian (Inca) civilizations conquered by the Spanish built large cities and were advanced in some ways, but they lacked writing.
    • The Maya (sometimes conflated in those early days with the Toltec) of Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan built large cities, were highly advanced, and had writing. This civilization had the features described in the Book of Mormon and was often used as "proof" of the Nephite text's historical authenticity.
These milestones helped inform early Latter-day Saint opinions about Book of Mormon geography:
  • February, 1828 to June, 1829: The 3 witnesses (Martin Harris (1783-1875), Oliver Cowdery (1806-1850), & David Whitmer (1805-1888) all participated in various ways with Joseph Smith's translation of the plates.
  • Late June, 1829: The 3 witnesses along with Joseph Smith (1805-1844) in woods adjacent to the Peter (1773-1854) and Mary Whitmer (1778-1856) farm in Fayette, New York, were shown the plates by the Angel Moroni and spoke with the Lord. When the 3 witnesses were commanded to bear witness of the plates and their contents, they objected. They feared their testimony would be rejected because the plates described advanced civilizations that built large cities. Most Americans in 1829 were only familiar with uneducated Indians and primitive mounds.  The Lord assured them that undeniable evidence of sophisticated civilizations and massive cities would soon be discovered to support the historical accuracy of the Book of Mormon. 4
  • March 26, 1830: The Book of Mormon went on sale to the public in Palmyra, New York.
  • October 15, 1831: A widely-circulated London newspaper published a report from Anglo-Irish Juan Galindo (1802-1840) of his 1831 visit to Palenque. Galindo said the ruins, with phonetic writing, "rescue ancient America from a charge of barbarism." The Maya civilization, Galindo believed, "far surpassed that of the Mexicans and Peruvians." 5
  • February, 1833: W. W. Phelps (1792-1872) in Independence Missouri published an article entitled "Discovery of Ancient Ruins in Central America" that cited the 1831 Galindo report. Phelps considered this the first "proof" that large cities and high civilization existed in ancient America as described in the Book of Mormon. Phelps' assistant editor was Oliver Cowdery. 6
  • 1834-35 Even though he had been part of the 1830-31 "Mission to the Lamanites," (D&C Section 32) Oliver Cowdery published a series of letters to W.W. Phelps describing native Americans in prejudicial, derogatory terms because of their low level of cultural attainment. 7 
  • 1839: Parley P. Pratt (1807-1857), in the second edition of his important missionary tract, "A Voice of Warning", mentioned Palenque (aka Otolum) as evidence of the immense cities and high civilizations described in the Book of Mormon. 8
  • May 31, 1841: The first copies of John L. Stephens (1805-1852) and Frederick Catherwood's (1799-1854) blockbuster 2- volume Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan began coming off the press in New York City. It described and lavishly illustrated the ruins of Copan, Palenque, and Uxmal. The initial press run sold out within days. 20,000 copies sold within the first 3 months. By December, 1841, the book was in its eleventh printing. It was an instant classic on both sides of the Atlantic and is still in print today. This book single handedly established the grandeur of Maya civilization in the minds of the English-reading public. 9
  • June 15, 1841: The Times and Seasons in Nauvoo under the editorship of Don Carlos Smith (1816-1841) and Robert B. Thompson (1811-1841) published reports of Stephens and Catherwood's explorations as "more proofs of the Book of Mormon." 10
  • 1841: Dr. John M. Bernhisel (1799-1881) purchased a copy of Stephens and Catherwood in New York City and had Wilford Woodruff (1807-1898) deliver it to Joseph Smith in Nauvoo.
  • November 16, 1841: The prophet read both Stephens and Catherwood volumes, commented on them favorably, and said they supported the testimony of the Book of Mormon. 11
  • March, 1842: The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star in Manchester, UK under the editorship of Parley P. Pratt ran an article entitled "Ruins in Central America," a 5-page review of Stephens and Catherwood's book. Pratt said the Maya ruins depicted in the book were ancient Nephite cities. 12
  • July 15, 1842: The Times and Seasons in Nauvoo under the editorship of Joseph Smith spoke glowingly about Maya civilization, Stephens and Catherwood's book, and Book of Mormon relationships. 13
  • July 20, 1842: The Morning Chronicle published in Pittsburgh ran a letter written by John E. Page (1799-1867) in which he said Alma was "not far from Guatemala or Central America" when he spoke the Messianic prophecy recorded in Alma 7:10. 14
  • September 15, 1842: The Times and Seasons in Nauvoo under the editorship of Joseph Smith quoted extensively from Stephens and Catherwood as "proof, that even the most incredulous cannot doubt" of the Book of Mormon. According to the article, the "wonderful ruins of Palenque are among the mighty works of the Nephites." The article asked "who could have dreamed that twelve years could have developed such incontrovertible testimony of the Book of Mormon?" 15
  • September 15, 1842: The Times and Seasons in Nauvoo again quoted Stephens and Catherwood as "proof of the Nephites and Lamanites dwelling on this continent." The article continued "the Lord has a hand in bringing to pass his strange act, and proving the Book of Mormon true in the eyes of all the people." 16
  • October 1, 1842: The Times and Seasons in Nauvoo, still under the editorship of Joseph Smith, yet again quoted Stephens and Catherwood as evidence of "the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon." The article went on to speculate that Quirigua may have been Zarahemla. 17
  • November 17, 1842: A letter written by Orson Spencer (1802-1855), published in The Times and Seasons in Nauvoo under the editorship of John Taylor (1808-1887) and Wilford Woodruff, said Stephens and Catherwood's Incidents of Travel helped convince him the Book of Mormon was true. 18
  • May 1, 1843: The Times and Seasons in Nauvoo, under the editorship of John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, said that when the Book of Mormon first appeared, many considered it "wild speculation." Discovery of "ancient ruins in Central America" showed the Book of Mormon description of literate high civilization was accurate. 19 
  • October 1, 1843: The Times and Seasons in Nauvoo under the editorship of John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff said Stephens and Catherwood proved that "America had once been peopled by a highly polished, civilized and scientific race, with whom the present aborigines could not compare." It reported that tens of thousands of copies of Incidents had been sold in Europe. 20
  • January 1, 1844: The Times and Seasons in Nauvoo under the editorship of John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff said that in 1829 ruined cities and buildings were virtually unknown, people did not believe high civilizations had ever existed in the New World, and the Book of Mormon descriptions of large cities and advanced societies were "generally disbelieved and pronounced a humbug." The article went on to cite Stephens as providing a "flood of testimony" supporting the Book of Mormon. 21
  • September 30, 1848: Orson Pratt (1811-1881) in a missionary pamphlet cited Stephens and Catherwood as having "demonstrated years after by actual discovery" that the large and splendid Book of Mormon cities actually existed in Central America. 22
  • January 10, 1857: George Q. Cannon (1827-1901) wrote an article that appeared in The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star published in Liverpool, UK. Cannon said the cities and enlightened civilizations described in the Book of Mormon were discovered in Central America years after the Nephite history was published. 23  
  • August 15, 1863: Part of the May 1, 1843 Times and Seasons article entitled "Ancient Records" was re-published in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints publication The True Latter Day Saints' Herald as a demonstration of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith III (1832-1914) and his followers in the RLDS Church (organized April 6, 1860) were enamored with Central America as the setting for the Book of Mormon from the earliest days of their movement. 24
  • August 7, 1875: the Chicago Times ran an article describing an interview with David Whitmer in Richmond, Missouri. Whitmer is reported to have mentioned "innumerable evidences, in the shape of ruins of great cities existing on this continent, of its former occupation by a highly civilized race" supporting the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. 25
  • August 23, 1877: Brigham Young (1801-1877) wrote a letter to his son, Feramorz Little Young (1858-1881), who was then a student at the Rennssaeler Polytechnic Institute in New York City. Pres. Young advised his son not to waste time with novels, but to read Stephens' and Catherwood's Travels in Central America. 26
  • March 1, 1879: George Martin Ottinger (1833-1917) speculated in the Juvenile Instructor edited by George Q. Cannon (1827-1901) that Palenque may have been Zarahemla. 27
  • March 10, 1884: James H. Hart interviewed David Whitmer a second time at Whitmer's home in Richmond, Missouri. Hart was shown the printer's manuscript, and the "caractors document" sometimes called the "Anthon transcript" that illustrates what Martin Harris showed to professors Charles Anthon (1797-1867) and Samuel L. Mitchill (1764-1831) in February, 1828. Hart thought the characters on the Missouri transcript reminded him of Egyptian characters he had seen in the British Museum. Citing current (1884) scholarship published in the New York Tribune linking Mayan glyphs with Egyptian writing, Hart quoted Mormon 9:32 about Nephite use of reformed Egyptian and thought it marvelous that Joseph Smith anticipated the scholarly world on this point. He then mentioned Palenque, Copan, and the ruins of Yucatan as evidence of enlightened people and cities in ancient Central America in support of the Book of Mormon. 28 
  • Mid July, 1884: a reporter from the Missouri Republican visited David Whitmer at his home in Richmond, Missouri while a delegation from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was working in the home, preparing a new edition of the Book of Mormon by comparing printed editions with the printer's manuscript. The delegation consisted of Joseph Smith III (1832-1914), oldest living son of Joseph and Emma; William H. Kelley (1841-1915); Alexander Hale Smith (1838-1909), second living son of Joseph and Emma; and Thomas Wood Smith (1838-1894), a cousin to the Palmyra Smiths. The reporter said Thomas W. Smith cited Stephens and Catherwood and other antiquarian writers to show how evidence had surfaced to support the Book of Mormon after the Nephite record was published. 29 
  • Edward Stevenson (1820-1897) had many experiences with the Prophet and each of the Three Witnesses. He gave hundreds of illustrated lectures throughout Utah and finally compiled them into a booklet of reminiscences published in 1893. An image of Palenque was one of his illustrations. Stevenson cited Stephens and Catherwood as evidence of the Book of Mormon and believed that Palenque was an ancient Nephite city. 30 
  • LeGrand Richards (1886-1983), then Presiding Bishop of the Church, said in October, 1946 General Conference: "I heard Brother Callis [Elder Charles A. Callis (1865-1947)] once say that when Joseph received the plates he got down on his knees before the Lord, and said, 'O, God, what will the world say?' And the voice of God came to him, 'Fear not, I will cause the earth to testify of the truth of these things.'" 31
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1 This map from the Smithsonian shows major ancient mounds in red. The small blue circle represents Seneca County, New York where David Whitmer grew up. Earthen mounds were ubiquitous in all the early gathering places of the saints in New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois.  
 2 Robert Silverberg discusses the debate that went on for more than 100 years in The Mound Builders (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1986)

3 e.g. John Van Ness Yates (1779-1839) and Joseph White Moulton (1789-1875) in their History of the State of New York Including its Aboriginal and Colonial Annals (New York City: A. T. Goodrich, 1824) distinguished the rude contemporary Indians from the primitive mound builders in the Great Lakes region and the somewhat less primitive mound builders along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The mound builders they then distinguished from the more advanced Mexicans who in turn were less developed than the Maya who built Palenque. The first report in English of Palenque was published in London in 1822. Antonio del Rio, translated by Dr. Paul Felix Cabrera, Description of the Ruins of an Ancient City, Discovered near Palenque, in the Kingdom of Guatemala, in Spanish America (London: Henry Berthoud, 1822). Many were highly skeptical of this 128 page booklet with dozens of drawings. The London Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, etc. No. 303 (November 9, 1822) called it "about as fanciful an antiquarian hypothesis as we have ever met with." This material was so new Yates and Moulton (and others) thought Palenque was in South America. After corroborating reports were published in London and elsewhere (see the blog article "1829"), the London Literary Gazette No. 574 (January 19, 1828) said the earthen mounds found throughout the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys were made by people more advanced than the Indians at European contact. The North American earthworks, though, were "trifling compared with the civilization of the ancient inhabitants of Palenque."   

4 Edward L. Hart, Mormon in Motion, The Life and Journals of James H. Hart (1825-1906) (Provo: Windsor Books, 1978), p. 216. Hart took shorthand dictation of an interview with David Whitmer in Richmond, Missouri on August 21, 1883. Whitmer said, "When we were first told to publish our statement, we felt sure the people would not believe it, for the Book told of a people who were refined and dwelt in large cities; but the Lord told us that He would make it known to the people, and people should discover the ruins of the lost cities and abundant evidence of the truth of what is written in the Book."

In the Deseret Evening News version published on September 4, 1883, Hart reported that Whitmer said, "When they were first commanded to testify of these things they demurred and told the Lord the people would not believe them for the book concerning which they were to bear record told of a people who were educated and refined, dwelling in large cities; whereas all that was then known of the early inhabitants of this country was the filthy, lazy, degraded and ignorant savages that were roaming over the land. 'The Lord told us, in reply that he would make it known to the people that the early inhabitants of this land had been just such a people as they were described in the book, and he would lead them to discover the ruins of the great cities,' and they should have abundant evidence of the truth of that which is written in the book." Whitmer went on to say "All of which, has been fulfilled to the very letter."

Hart also authored a poetic version of his interview with David Whitmer that was printed in The Contributor, No. 5 (October, 1883). This is the front piece to that issue:
David Whitmer read this issue of The Contributor and commented that it was a "correct expression of his sentiments." James H. Hart Interview with David Whitmer in Richmond, Missouri on March 10, 1884, Deseret News, March 25, 1884.

5 Letter from Juan Galindo in The London Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, etc. No. 769 (October 15, 1831). "Sir, I am desirous of communicating to the literary world, through your universally circulated Gazette, some idea of these antiquities, which rescue ancient America from a charge of barbarism. These ruins extend for more than twenty miles...and must anciently have embraced a city and its suburbs. The principal buildings...are wholly of stone and plaster...square tablets, containing characters very neatly executed..I have seen sufficient to ascertain the high civilisation of their former inhabitants, and that they possessed the art of representing sounds by signs, with which I hitherto believed no Americans previous to the conquest were acquainted...the metropolis of a civilised, commercial, and extended nation...Everything bears testimony that these surprising people were not physically dissimilar from the present Indians; but their civilisation far surpassed that of the Mexicans and Peruvians." The editor describes Palenque as "a place utterly unknown to European geography and antiquities."

6 The Evening and the Morning Star, published at Independence, Missouri by W. W. Phelps. Vol. 1, No. 9 (February, 1833). "We are glad to see the proof begin to come, of the original or ancient inhabitants of this continent. It is good testimony in favor of the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Mormon is good testimony that such things as cities and civilization, 'prior to the fourteenth century', existed in America."

7 Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate, published at Kirtland, Ohio by F.G. Williams & Co. Oliver Cowdery describing Michigan Territory: "A few years might drain many of its swamps, and convert its wilderness into fruitful fields, and these haunts of wild beasts and 'red men' into the abodes of civilization and peace." Vol. 1, No. 1 (October, 1834). Cowdery published a poem written by W.W. Phelps entitled "The Red Man" that includes these lines: "Why you roam? And how you get your living? Have you no God; - no home?...Our fathers fell in darkness, and wandered to and fro. And long the've lived by hunting, instead of work and arts, and so our race has dwindled to idle Indian hearts...And all your captive brothers, from every clime shall come, and quit their savage customs." The poem was a plea for native Americans to accept the Gospel and become enlightened. Vol. 1, No. 3 (December, 1834). Cowdery, in Letter IV, reported that Moroni described native Americans "As once being an enlightened and intelligent people." Vol. 1, No. 5 (February, 1835). Cowdery, in Letter VII, called the Lamanites "barbarous and uncivilized" and said that after the Nephite demise, "the land was left to the possession of the red men, who were without intelligence, only in the affairs of their wars; and having no records, only preserving their history by tradition from father to son, lost the account of their true origin and wandered from river to river, from hill to hill, from mountain to mountain, from sea to sea, till the land was again peopled in a measure, by a rude, wild, revengeful, warlike, and barbarous race. Such are our Indians." Vol. 1, No. 10 (July, 1835).

8 Parley P. Pratt, "A Voice of Warning, and Instruction to All People, or An Introduction to the Faith and Doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter Day Saints, Second Edition, Revised," (New York: J. W. Harrison, 1839). Pratt compared Palenque to "Thebes of Ancient Egypt."

9 John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1841). This is the famous Copan Altar Q as illustrated in Vol. 1 that depicts 16 rulers from the Copan dynasty:
2 Sides of 4-Sided Copan Altar Q, Frederick Catherwood

10 The Times and Seasons, published at Nauvoo, Illinois by Don Carlos Smith and Robert B. Thompson. Vol. 2 No. 16 (June 15, 1841). "More Proofs of the Book of Mormon" described "the remains of ancient buildings, architecture, etc. which prove beyond controversy that, on this vast continent, once flourished a mighty people, skilled in the arts and sciences, and whose splendor would not be eclipsed by any of the nations of antiquity."

11 Joseph Smith Papers Project, Letter to John M. Bernhisel 16 November, 1841. The prophet said that of all the modern histories that had been written about ancient America, Stephens and Catherwood was the "most correct, luminous, and comprehensive." 

12 Parley P. Pratt, "Ruins in Central America," after publishing a lengthy extract from Stephens and Catherwood, said "'We publish the foregoing for the purpose of giving our readers some ideas of the antiquities of the Nephites - of their ancient cities, temples, monuments, towers, fortifications, and inscriptions now in ruin...I say it is remarkable that Mr. Smith, in translating the Book of Mormon from 1827 to 1830, should mention the names and circumstances of those towns and fortifications in this very section of country, where a Mr. Stephens, ten years afterwards, penetrated a dense forest, till then unexplored by modern travelers, and actually fines (sic)  the ruins of those very cities mentioned by Mormon. The nameless nation of which he (Stephens) speaks were the Nephites. The lost record for which he mourns is the Book of Mormon. The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star, published at Manchester, UK, under the editorship of Parley P. Pratt, Vol. 2, No. 11 (March, 1842), pp. 161-165.

13 The Times and Seasons, published at Nauvoo, Illinois by Joseph Smith. Vol. 3 No. 18 (July 15, 1842). The article explained "that a great and a mighty people had inhabited this continent, that the arts sciences and religion, had prevailed to a very great extent, and that there was as great and mighty cities on this continent as on the continent of Asia...Stephens and Catherwood's researches in Central America abundantly testify of this thing...Men of great minds, clear intellect, bright genius, and comprehensive designs inhabited this continent. Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormon unfolds their history."

14 "Mormonism - Concluded" by John E. Page, "Let it be distinctly understood that the Prophet Alma uttered this prophecy, not far from Guatamalla or Central America, some 82 years before the birth of Christ." Letter from John E. Page to The Morning Chronicle, published at Pittsburgh, PA, Vol. 1, No. 290 (July 20, 1842).

15 16 The Times and Seasons, published at Nauvoo, Illinois by Joseph Smith. Vol. 3 No. 22 (September 15, 1842). "The foregoing extract has been made to assist the Latter-Day Saints, in establishing the Book of Mormon as a revelation from God. It affords great joy to have the world assist us to so much proof, that even the most credulous cannot doubt...these wonderful ruins of Palenque are among the mighty works of the Nephites...Mr. Stephens' great developments of antiquities are made bare to the eyes of all the people by reading the history of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. They lived about the narrow neck of land, which now embraces Central America, with all the cities that can be found...Who could have dreamed that twelve years would have developed such incontrovertible testimony to the Book of Mormon? Surely the Lord worketh and none can hinder."

"From an extract from 'Stephens' Incidents of Travel in Central America,' it will be seen that the proof of the Nephites and Lamanites dwelling on this continent, according to the account in the Book of Mormon, is developing itself in a more satisfactory way than the most sanguine believer in that revelation, could have anticipated. It certainly affords us a gratification that the world of mankind does not enjoy, to give publicity to such important developments of the remains and ruins of those mighty people. When we read in the Book of Mormon that Jared and his brother came on to this continent from the confusion and scattering at the Tower, and lived here more than a thousand years, and covered the whole continent from sea to sea, with towns and cities; and that Lehi went down by the Rea Sea to the great Southern Ocean, and crossed over to this land and landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien, and improved the country according to the word of the Lord, as a branch of the house of Israel, and then read such a goodly traditionary account, as the one below, we can not but think the Lord has a hand in bringing to pass his strange act, and proving the Book of Mormon true in the eyes of all the people. The extract below, comes as near the real fact, as the four Evangelists do to the crucifixion of Jesus. Surely 'facts are stubborn things.' It will be as it ever has been the world will prove Joseph Smith a true prophet by circumstantial evidence, in experiments, as they did Moses and Elijah. Now read Stephens' story:" 

17 The Times and Seasons, published at Nauvoo, Illinois by Joseph Smith. Vol. 3 No. 23 (October 1, 1842). "Since our 'Extract' was published from Mr. Stephens' 'Incidents of Travel,' &c., we have found another important fact relating to the truth of the Book of Mormon. Central America, or Guatemala, is situated north of the Isthmus of Darien and once embraced several hundred miles of territory from north to south. The city of Zarahemla, burnt at the crucifixion of the Savior, and rebuilt afterwards, stood upon this land...It is certainly a good thing for the excellency and veracity, of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, that the ruins of Zarahemla have been found where the Nephites left them: and that a large stone with engravings upon it as Mosiah said; and a 'large round stone, with the sides sculptured in hieroglyphics,' as Mr. Stephens has published, is also among the left remembrances of the, (to him,) lost and unknown. We are not going to declare positively that the ruins of Quirigua are those of Zarahemla, but when the land and the stones, and the books tell the story so plain, we are of opinion, that it would require more proof than the Jews could bring to prove the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb, to prove that the ruins of the city in question, are not one of those referred to in the Book of Mormon.

It may seem hard for unbelievers in the mighty works of God, to give credit to such a miraculous preservation of the remains, ruins, records and reminiscences of a branch of the house of Israel...It will not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens' ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon: light cleaves to light, and facts are supported by facts. The truth injures no one, and so we make another extract from Stephens' 'Incidents of Travel in Central America.'"

18 Letter written by Orson Spencer, November 17, 1842 from Nauvoo to a Baptist minister and former colleague in Boston. In May, 1841, Spencer was baptized in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. "As you enquire after the reasons that operated to change my mind to the present faith, I only remark that Stevens' Travels had some influence as an external evidence of the truth of the Book of Mormon." The Times and Seasons, published at Nauvoo, Illinois by John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, Vol. 4 No. 4 (January 2, 1843)

19 "Circumstances are daily transpiring which give additional testimony to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. A few years ago, although supported by indubitable, unimpeachable testimony, it was looked upon in the same light by the world in general, and by the religious world in particular, as the expedition of Columbus to this continent was by the different courts that he visited, and laid his project before. The literati looked upon his expedition as wild and visionary, they suspected very much the integrity of his pretentions, and looked upon him - to say the least - as a fool, for entertaining such wild and visionary views. The Royal courts, aided by geographers, thought it was impossible that another continent should, or could exist; and they were assisted in their views by the learned clergy, who to put the matter beyond all doubt, stated that it was contrary to Scripture; that the apostles preached to all the world, and that as they did not come to America, it was impossible that there would be any such place. Thus at variance with the opinions of the great, in opposition to science and religion, het set sail, and actually came to America; it was no dream, no fiction; but a solid reality; and however unphilosophical, and infidel the notion might be, men had to believe it; and it was soon found out, that it would agree both with religion and philosophy.

So when the Book of Mormon first made its appearance among men, it was looked upon by many as a wild speculation, and that it was dangerous to the interest and happiness of the religious world; but when it was found to teach virtue, honesty, integrity, and pure religion, this objection was laid aside, as being untenable. We were then told that the inhabitants of this continent were, and always had been, a rude barbarous race, uncouth, unlettered, and without civilization. But when they were told of the various relics that have been found indicative of civilization, intelligence, and learning; when they were told of the wealth, architecture, and splendor of ancient Mexico; when recent developments proved beyond a doubt, that there was ancient ruins in Central America, which, in point of magnificence, beauty, strength, and architectural design, would vie with any of the most splendid ruins on the Asiatic continent; when they could trace the fine delineations of the sculptor's chisel, on the beautiful statue, the mysterious hieroglyphic, and the unknown character, they begun to believe that a wise, powerful, intelligent and scientific race had inhabited this continent."   

The Times and Seasons, published at Nauvoo, Illinois by John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, Vol. 4 No 12 (May 1, 1843), p. 185

20 The Times and Seasons, published at Nauvoo, Illinois by John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff. Vol. 4 No. 22 (October 1, 1843). "We have lately perused with great interest, Stephen's works on Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. Mr. Stephens published about two years ago, a very interesting work entitled 'Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan,' in which he details very many interesting circumstances; discovered the ruins of magnificent cities, and from hieroglyphical representations, sculpture and rich specimens of architecture, proved one important fact, which had been disputed by many of our sages; that America had once been peopled by a highly polished, civilized and scientific race, with whom the present aborigines could not compare.

This work has been read with great interest throughout this continent, and tens of thousands of copies have been sent to, and sold in Europe, where it has been investigated with the greatest scrutiny and interest. It has already passed through twelve editions; it is published in two volumes, 8 vo.

Since the publication of this work, Mr. Stephens has again visited Central America, in company with Mr. Catherwood, and other scientific gentlemen, for the purpose of making further explorations among those already interesting ruins. They took with them the Daguerreotype, and other apparatus, for the purpose of giving views and drawings of those mysterious relics of antiquity. His late travels and discoveries, have also been published in two volumes of the same size, entitled 'Incidents of travel in Central America.' [The actual title of Stephens' second 2-volume Middle American work is Incidents of Travel in Yucatan (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1843)]

It is a work of great interest, written with precision and accuracy. The plates are elegantly executed, and its history unfolds the ruins of grandeur, civilization and intelligence. It is published by Harper & Brothers, N. Y.

This is a work that ought to be in the hands of every Latter Day Saint; corroborating, as it does the history of the Book of Mormon. There is no stronger circumstantial evidence of the authenticity of the latter book, can be given, than that contained in Mr. Stephens' works.

Mr. Stephens gives an account of ancient cities he has visited, where once dwelt the powerful, the wise, the scientific, and to use his own words; 'architecture, sculpture and painting, all the arts which embellished life had flourished in this overgrown city; orators, warriors, and statesmen, beauty, ambition, and glory, had lived and passed away, and none knew that such things had been, or could tell of their past existence.' In the last clause, Mr. Catherwood is mistaken. It has fallen to his lot to explore the ruins of this once mighty people, but the 'Book of Mormon' unfolds their history; and published as it was, years before these discoveries were made, and giving as it does, accounts of a people, and of cities that bear a striking resemblance to those mentioned by Mr. Stephens, both in regard to magnificence and location, it affords the most indubitable testimony of the historical truth of that book, which has been treated so lightly by the literati and would be philosophers of the present age."

21 The Times and Seasons, published at Nauvoo, Illinois by John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff. Vol. 5 No. 1 (January 1, 1844). "Every day adds fresh testimony to the already accumulated evidence on the authenticity of the 'Book of Mormon.' At the time that book was translated there was very little known about ruined cities and dilapidated buildings. The general presumption was, that no people possessing more intelligence than our present race of Indians had ever inhabited this continent, and the accounts given in the Book of Mormon concerning large cities and civilized people having inhabited this land, was generally disbelieved and pronounced a humbug. Priest (Josiah Priest 1788-1851), since then has thrown some light on this interesting subject. Stephens in his 'Incidents of Travels in Central America,' has thrown in a flood of testimony, and from the following statements it is evident that the Book of Mormon does not give a more extensive account of large and populous cities than those discoveries now demonstrate to be even in existence."

22 Orson Pratt, "Divine Authority; or the Question, Was Joseph Smith Sent of God?" (Liverpool: R. James, Printer, September 30, 1848). "In the Book of Mormon are given the names and locations of numerous cities of great magnitude, which once flourished among the ancient nations of America...Splendid edifices, palaces, towers, forts, and cities, were reared in all directions...Now since that invaluable book made its appearance in print, it is a remarkable fact, that the mouldering ruins of many splendid edifices and towers, and magnificent cities of great extent, have been discovered by Catherwood and Stephens in the interior wilds of Central America, in the very region where the ancient cities described in the Book of Mormon were said to exist. Here then, is a certain and indisputable evidence that this illiterate youth - the translator of the Book of Mormon - was inspired of God. Mr. Smith's translation describes the region of country where great and populous cities anciently existed, together with their relative bearings and approximate distances from each other. Years after, Messrs. Catherwood and Stephens discovered the ruins of forty-four of these very cities and in the very place described. What, but the power of God, could have revealed beforehand this unknown fact, demonstrated years after by actual discovery?" 

1890 Alfred Maudslay Photograph of the Palace, Palenque

23 George Q. Cannon, article entitled "Buried Cities of the West." "There existed in Central America a vast empire of great civilization and great antiquity...The history containing this highly important and invaluable information...informs us how the ancient inhabitants of Central America obtained their knowledge...It informs us that the builders of those ruined cities were the possessors of the correct traditions of the creation as they were known to Moses and his progenitors, and were sufficiently advanced in enlightenment to perpetuate them in writing...This history is known as the Book of Mormon...The Book of Mormon pointed out with remarkable definiteness, years before the discovery of ruins in Central America, the situation of cities built and occupied by the ancient dwellers of this continent. Explorations made subsequent to the printing and extensive circulation of this Book, revealed the fact that ruins occupying the precise situation of these ancient cities, did really exist. Prior to their discovery the non-existence of ruins of cities such as the Book of Mormon described, had been plausibly urged as an argument against its authenticity. If, said the objector, such an enlightened and highly advanced people every occupied this continent - if they built cities and temples of such magnitude as stated by the Book of Mormon, where are the ruins? The discoveries of Stephens and Catherwood in the country declared by the Book of Mormon to be the principal residence of one of the colonies that were led to this land, overthrew this argument...This Book has been presented to the world, supported by an overwhelming amount of irrefragable testimony. No book ever was supported by a greater amount." The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star, published in Liverpool, UK under the editorship of Orson Pratt, Vol. XIX, No. 2 (January 10, 1857), pp. 17-19.

24 From 1860 to 1863, the Saints' Herald ran several articles about ancient civilizations in the Americas, several under the heading "Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon."

"The Book of Mormon contains some of the writings of the prophets of the tribe of Joseph who lived on this continent when civilization and gospel light was enjoyed by the Indians." Vol. 1, No. 4 (April, 1860), p. 82.

"The utmost bound of the everlasting hills Genesis 49:26, from the land of Egypt, where Jacob dwelt, is in the central part of America." Vol. 1, No. 4 (April, 1860), p. 84.

"This was a part of the religion of the Lamanites in Mexico and Central America when those countries were discovered by Europeans." Vol. 1, No. 11 (November, 1860), p. 245.

"The utmost bound of the everlasting hills, measured from the land of Egypt, are in the central part of America. The prophet Hosea describes the location of Ephraim in "the west." Hosea 11:10. Vol. 2, No. 5 (July, 1861), p. 103.

The August 15, 1863 issue quoted extensively from the May 1, 1843 Times and Seasons: "So when the Book of Mormon first made its appearance among men, it was looked upon by many as a wild speculation...the inhabitants of this continent were, and always had been, a rude barbarous race, uncouth, unlettered, and without civilization...recent developments proved beyond a doubt, that there was ancient ruins in Central America, which, in point of magnificence, beauty, strength, and architectural design, would vie with any of the most splendid ruins on the Asiatic continent..." The True Latter Day Saints' Herald, Vol. 4, No. 4 (August 15, 1863), p. 61.

25 The Chicago Times, August 7, 1875. The reporter said David Whitmer, "referring to the innumerable evidences, in the shape of ruins of great cities existing on this continent, of its former occupation by a highly civilized race, reverently declared his solemn conviction of the authenticity of the records in his possession."

26 Brigham Young to Feramorz Little Young, August 23, 1877, "We should read the true and wise. The perusal of the rest is worse than time wasted, it is time abused. Sell your Dickens' works and get Stephens' & Catherwood's Travels in Central America, or Josephus's or Mosheim's History." Dean C. Jesse, Editor, Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book: 1974), p. 314. Feramorz went on to serve a mission in Mexico. Brigham Young died August 29, 1877, just 6 days after this letter was written. This was the last letter Pres. Young wrote to any of his children.  

27 The Juvenile Instructor, published at Salt Lake City by George Q. Cannon. Vol. 14 No. 5 (March 1, 1879). "Is it not possible that the great Rio Usumacinta, flowing north into the sea, may be the ancient river Sidon? Those remarkable and world-famous ruins known under the name of Palenque may yet be proven to be the remains of that great city and religious center of the aboriginals called Zarahemla...All the old traditions and records relating to the early colonizers are unanimous in describing them as white men with beards...The whole country is dotted with ruins, and there are unmistakable evidences of its having at one time been inhabited by a dense and industrious population." George Martin Ottinger (G.M.O.) discussed Palenque and other ruins in The Juvenile Instructor in 1875 and 1876 as well.

28 James H. Hart letter published in the Deseret News, March 25, 1884. "The writer of the Tribune article might learn from this correspondence that the hieroglyphics - of the ancient and interesting people who built the cities of Central America - that are the most acceptable, are not those in Dresden [referring to the Dresden Codex], but those that were shown by your correspondent the other day in Richmond, Ray County, Missouri. He might learn moreover that over 600 pages have been fully translated from such hieroglyphics he has mentioned, which constituted the record called the Book of Mormon, which throws a flood of light upon the religion, science and history of the ancient, interesting, and enlightened people who have dwelt upon this continent during the ages of antiquity...When we take into consideration the fact that this was written in 1829, and published in 1830, which was many years before the ruined cities of Palenque, Copan and Yucatan were discovered, or anything was known concerning the hieroglyphics that were subsequently discovered by Stephens and Catherwood and other travelers, it is simply marvelous that an unlettered boy should be the first to publish these things to the world, and can be accounted for on no other principle than that he and his friends have claimed from the first, namely, that they were translated by the gift and power of God." This same letter was published in the Bear Lake Democrat, March 28, 1884.

29 Missouri Republican, July 16, 1884. "This colony came to this continent before Christ, landing as is supposed in Peru, South America. The description of the country in the Book of Mormon answers to the accounts given by modern explorers, and shows conclusively that they passed over the Isthmus of Panama. They afterwards scattered all over the country, leaving mounds, temples, tablets, statuary, inscriptions, and other memorials of their occupation. It is a curious and noted fact that all of the explorations made by Squires (Ephraim George Squier 1821-1888), Priest, Stephens and Catherwood and others of these remains of an ancient people were made subsequent to the publication of the Book of Mormon, which is the only book that gives the key to these prehistoric migrations."
[A convenient source for the dozens of published David Whitmer interviews is Lyndon Cook, editor, David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem: Grandin Book Company, 1991).]

30 Edward Stevenson, Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet and the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Privately Published, 1893). "The author having been personally acquainted with the Prophet Joseph Smith, and having been with him in many of his trying experiences...Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris were also heard by the writer to testify that they, in open day, stood in the presence of the God who ministered unto the Prophet...Remnants of the latter of these nations of the Nephites were the wild Indians of America, who were first discovered by Columbus in the year 1492...the colony [Lehites], who were directed by revelation, crossed the sea, landing in South America, building up cities, migrating northward, and leaving their tracks northward in many cities, temples, massive walls, and fortifications, some of which have been discovered by Catherwood and Stevens (sic), as well as many other historians; and new discoveries are still being brought to light. Among the most remarkable ruined aboriginal cities of the continent of America, Palenque is one of the most noted...In this old city of ruins is a temple - no doubt one of the Nephite temples...flanked with gigantic statues nine feet high, carved in stone. There are numerous hieroglyphics engraven but considerably defaced. The Book of Mormon speaks of many temples and cities which were built by the people of this time, and no doubt this is one of them in ruins...a previous nation, which left the Tower of Babel 2,000 years B.C., landing near the Gulf of California...They were 344 days in crossing the ocean...Coriantumr [last Jaredite king], weak, wounded and alone, had to wend his way about 3,000 miles to Zarahemla, where he remained until his death and was buried by this strange people...I can testify to the truth of these statements, for I visited him [David Whitmer] in 1870, also in 1879, and again in 1886. I was acquainted with him in 1833 and also in 1838...In 1517, Mexico, then unknown to the world, though teeming with millions of Lamanites, was discovered by Cortez; and the gold plates that Joseph Smith received contain their history, which I advise all men to read...thus comes to us knowledge [through the Book of Mormon] unveiling the mystery surrounding the American Indians which has puzzled the most profound historians of our age to explain...I was personally favored with many conversations with the three witnesses whom God raised up, one of whom was Martin Harris, a near neighbor of Joseph Smith. In 1871 (sic), while I was emigrating Martin Harris from Kirkland (sic), Ohio, during our journey of over 2,000 miles, he related many little incidents which occurred in those early times...I was with the Prophet Joseph Smith sixty miles northeast of Liberty jail in 1838, less than one year before he was imprisoned."   

31 Bishop LeGrand Richards in Conference Report, October, 1946. Elder Charles A. Callis of the Quorum of the Twelve was in attendance and spoke at the conference.

Elder LeGrand Richards, then an Apostle, gave a longer version of this reminiscence in the April, 1955 General Conference. "I was thrilled by Brother Hunter's [Milton R. Hunter (1902-1975)] testimony of these records that parallel the records of the Book of Mormon. I have never seen this in print, but I heard President Callis make this statement: that after the Book of Mormon came forth the Prophet Joseph was terribly worried about what the world would say, and he said, 'O Lord, what will the world say?' And the answer came back, 'Fear not, I will cause the earth to testify of the truth of these things,' and from that day until now, and only the Lord knows what is yet ahead, external evidences have been brought forth of the divinity of that book." I am indebted to Brant Gardner for pointing out this LeGrand Richards reference.
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The narrative thread running through all of these sources:
  • The Book of Mormon describes high civilizations with writing and large cities.
  • European settlers perceived the native Americans as illiterate and barbaric.
  • It was not clear who built the North American earthen mounds, but the structures themselves were relatively primitive.
  • Joseph Smith and the Three Witnesses were commanded by the Lord to bear witness of both the Book of Mormon and the things it contains.
  • In late June, 1829, the Three witnesses received a divine manifestation. They saw the plates and other Nephite objects by the power of God, as Joseph had previously seen them.
  • Joseph Smith and the Three Witnesses were initially reluctant to bear testimony of the things in the Book of Mormon, fearing general disbelief. The English-speaking public in 1829 did not think advanced civilizations and large cities had ever existed in ancient America.
  • The voice of the Lord assured Joseph Smith and the Three Witnesses that powerful evidence for refined societies and great cities in ancient America was forthcoming.
  • The Saints welcomed early reports of the ancient Maya civilization with its impressive architecture, hieroglyphic writing, and mighty cities. They believed the Maya ruins recently discovered in Central America were the "proof" the Lord had promised, demonstrating not just the authenticity but the "divine authenticity" of the Nephite text.
People who helped publicize this narrative included:
  • Joseph Smith Jr., the Prophet
  • Oliver Cowdery, one of the Three Witnesses
  • Don Carlos Smith, the Prophet's younger brother
  • Joseph Smith III, the Prophet's son
  • Alexander Hale Smith, another of the Prophet's sons
  • Brigham Young, 2nd President of the Church
  • John Taylor, 3rd President of the Church
  • Wilford Woodruff, 4th President of the Church
  • David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses
  • William Wine (W.W.) Phelps, scribe & clerk to the Prophet
  • Robert B. Thompson, scribe to the Prophet
  • Parley P. Pratt, original 1835 Quorum of the Twelve
  • Orson Pratt, original 1835 Quorum of the Twelve
  • John E. Page, 1838 Quorum of the Twelve
  • John M. Bernhisel, 1844 Council of Fifty, Prophet's inner circle
  • Orson Spencer, 1844 Council of Fifty, Prophet's inner circle
  • George Q. Cannon, Councilor in the First Presidency to Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow (1814-1901)
  • Edward Stevenson, the missionary who brought Martin Harris to Utah in 1870
Literary venues where the narrative was publicized included:
  • London: The Literary Gazette, and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences (1817-1863). At its peak from the 1820's through the 1840's, it was one of the most powerful communication media in the English-speaking world.
  • Independence: The Evening and the Morning Star (1832-1833) edited by W.W. Phelps, was the first Latter-day Saint newspaper. Missouri mobs vandalized the press and set fire to the printing office. It was briefly re-established (1833-1834) in Kirtland.
  • Kirtland: Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate (1834-1837) edited by Oliver Cowdery, then John Whitmer, then Oliver Cowdery again. The publisher was F.G. Williams & Co., then Oliver Cowdery. It succeeded The Evening and the Morning Star.
  • New York: A Voice of Warning and Instruction to All People (1837-ca. 1900) by Parley P. Pratt was the most important Latter-day Saint missionary tract of the 19th century. It went through more than 30 editions in English and was translated into Danish, Dutch, French, German, Spanish, and Swedish.
  • New York: Harper (1817-present) is one of the top 5 trade publishers in the world.
  • Nauvoo: Times and Seasons (1839-1846) was the Church's official newspaper in the United States at the time. Editors included Joseph Smith, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff.
  • Manchester, then Liverpool: The Latter-day Saints Millennial Star (1840-1970) founded by Parley P. Pratt was the Church's official periodical in the UK and the longest-running magazine in the modern Church.
  • Pittsburgh: The Morning Chronicle (1841-1851) was a local daily newspaper that went through many name changes and mergers, eventually becoming part of the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph (1927-1960).
  • Cincinnati: The True Latter Day Saints' Herald (1860-present), known today as the Herald published in Independence, is the official periodical of the Re-organized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, today called the Community of Christ.
  • Chicago: The Chicago Times (1854-1895) was a local daily newspaper that went through many name changes and mergers, eventually becoming part of the Chicago American (1953-1974).
  • Salt Lake City: Deseret News (1850-present) is a local daily newspaper founded and owned by the Church.
  • Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor (1866-1929) became the official periodical of the Church's Sunday School organization. It was re-named The Instructor (1930-1970).
  • St. Louis: Missouri Republican (1820-1888) was preceded by the Missouri Gazette (1808-1820) and succeeded by the St. Louis Republic (1888-1919).
  • Salt Lake City: Private 1893 publication of Edward Stevenson, generally recognized as the most widely-traveled missionary in the 19th century Church. 
  • Salt Lake City: Conference Reports (1897-2017) for 120 years were the official proceedings of the Annual and Semi-Annual General Conferences of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Nomenclature used in the sources:
  • The word "proof" appears 5 times, "prove" or a variant 9 times.
  • The word "Lord" appears 8 times.
  • The phrase "divine authenticity" appears 2 times and is used in many other sources not cited.
  • The word "cities" appears 30 times.
  • The word "civilization" or a variant appears 12 times.
  • The phrase "Central America" or a variant appears 24 times.
  • The word "Palenque" or a variant appears 9 times.
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The blog article "David Whitmer's Testimony" was my first attempt to understand the implications of the 1883 James H. Hart interview. The blog article "Mounds" helps contextualize North American earthen mounds in their global setting. The timeline explained in this blog post is part of a larger picture developed in the article "1829."
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I'm Kirk Magleby, volunteering as Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central (BMC) which builds enduring faith in Jesus Christ by making the Book of Mormon accessible, comprehensible, and defensible to people everywhere. BMC currently publishes in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. See the blog article "Outstanding Come Follow Me Resources." All BMC content is donor-supported, shared with the world free of charge in the spirit of 2 Nephi 9:50 and Isaiah 55:1. BMC currently reaches 600,000 people each week with the good news of Jesus Christ and the Restoration.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

David Whitmer's Testimony

David Whitmer (1805-1888) was one of the three witnesses shown the golden plates by the Angel Moroni in Fayette, NY in June, 1829.

David Whitmer, Portrait by Lewis Ramsey

On Tuesday, August 21, 1883, James H. Hart (1825-1906) interviewed Whitmer, then 78, at the elderly gentleman's home in Richmond, Missouri. According to Hart, Whitmer told him, "When we (the three witnesses) were first told to publish our statement, we felt sure the people would not believe it, for the Book told of a people who were refined and dwelt in large cities; but the Lord told us that He would make it known to the people, and the people should discover the ruins of the lost cities and abundant evidence of the truth of what is written in the Book." Edward L. Hart, Mormon in Motion: The Life and Journals of James H. Hart, 1825 - 1906, in England, France, and America (Provo: Windsor Books, 1978).

If this is an accurate report of what the three witnesses came to know from a divine source, it helps locate Book of Mormon lands in ancient America.
  1. In 1829, the three witnesses believed the antiquities discovered so far in the Americas were from ancient civilizations less advanced than the sophisticated cultures the Book of Mormon described. See the blog article "State Level Society" for context.
  2. In 1829, the three witnesses were unaware of any American ruins of ancient cities as large as those described in the Book of Mormon. See the blog article "Mounds" for context.
  3. In 1829, the three witnesses believed archaeological remains directly supporting the Book of Mormon record had not yet been discovered in the Americas, but would be forthcoming.
  4. By June, 1829, the three witnesses had been mentored by Joseph Smith, the angel Moroni, and the Lord, so theirs were informed opinions.
This rules out the North American mound builders as candidates for the principal Book of Mormon peoples. Mounds were well-known in the young United States of America by 1829. 

Tens of thousands of mounds were discovered by early settlers homesteading land in what are now the states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York, and Kentucky. In the 1820 US Census, those 5 states had a combined population of 2,881,121. Ten years later, in the 1830 US Census, those 5 states had grown by 71% and had a combined population of 4,044,914. Many thousands of mounds were explored, surveyed, partially excavated, looted, plowed under, or obliterated by urban sprawl in the decades leading up to 1829. Publications describing, romanticizing, and trying to explain the mounds included:
  • Cadwallader Colden, History of the Five Nations, 1747
  • David Zeisberger, History of the North American Indians, 1770
  • Royal American Magazine, Boston, 1775
  • James Adair, History of the American Indians, 1775
  • Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1785
  • Benjamin Smith Barton, Observations on Some Parts of Natural History, 1787
  • William Bartram, Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, 1791
  • Winthrop Sargent, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 1799
  • James Madison, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 1803
  • Thaddeus M. Harris, Journal of a Tour into the Territory Northwest of the Allegheny Mountains, 1805
  • Robert Southey, "Madoc," 1805
  • De Witt Clinton, "Memoir on the Antiquities of the western parts of New York," (New York: Literary and Philosophical Society, 1817)
  • JH McCulloh, Jr. Researches on America: Being an Attempt to Settle some Points Relative to the Aborigines of America (Baltimore: James Robinson, 1817)
  • William Cullen Bryant, "Thanatopsis," 1817
  • H.H. Brackenridge, "On the population and tumuli of the aborigines of North America" in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 1818
  • Caleb Atwater, Archoeologia Americana: Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society, 1820
  • Sarah J. Hale, "The Genius of Oblivion," 1823
  • John Van Ness Yates and Joseph White Moulton, History of the State of New York Including its Aboriginal and Colonial Annals, 1824
A debate of sorts worked its way through US popular consciousness in the 17 & 1800's. Were the mounds built by ancestors of the primitive American Indians, or were they built by some lost race of Vikings, Welsh, Egyptians, Canaanites, Phoenicians, tribes of Israel, or whomever? See Robert Silverberg, The Mound Builders (Athens: Ohio University Press: 1986). By the time Major John Wesley Powell established the US Bureau of Ethnology in 1879, the debate was over as far as the scientific community was concerned. Scientists believed the mounds were built by ancestors of the American Indians who crossed the Bering Strait during the last glacial maximum. Powell recognized the enduring popularity and emotional allure of the more exotic mound builder origin myths. In the 1890 - 91 Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology he said, "It is difficult to exaggerate the force with which the hypothetic 'lost races' had taken hold of the imaginations of men. For more than a century the ghosts of a vanished nation have ambuscaded in the vast solitudes of the continent, and the forest-covered mounds have been usually regarded as the mysterious sepulchers of its kings and nobles."  
 
The three witnesses in 1829 had some knowledge of the North American mound builders. They knew that neither the level of cultural attainment nor the size of the urbanizations created by the mound builders satisfied the advanced civilizations or large cities the Book of Mormon requires. That makes David Whitmer a witness for a primary Book of Mormon location further south than the United States of America.
Whitmer's statement strongly supports a Mesoamerican setting for Book of Mormon lands. This explains why W.W. Phelps in February, 1833 singled out the Maya as "proof" of the Book of Mormon's "cities and civilization." It explains why Parley P. Pratt in the 2nd (1839) edition of A Voice of Warning (the most important missionary tract in the 19th century church) pointed to Palenque as an example of the cities described in the Nephite text. Two years later the abundant splendor of ancient Maya culture burst upon the US scene when John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood published their blockbuster Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (New York: Harper & Brothers, June, 1841). By November, 1841, Joseph Smith in Nauvoo had received a copy, read it with interest, and commented on it favorably in a letter. See the blog article "1829" for context.

David Whitmer's statement also explains a point Orson Pratt made in his pamphlet, "Divine Authority, or the Question, Was Joseph Smith Sent of God?" written September 30, 1848 in Liverpool, England. "In the Book of Mormon are given the names and locations of numerous cities of great magnitude...Splendid edifices, palaces, towers, forts, and cities were reared in all directions...Now since that invaluable book made its appearance in print, it is a remarkable fact that the mouldering ruins of many splendid edifices and towers, and magnificent cities of great extent, have been discovered by Catherwood and Stephens in the interior wilds of Central America, in the very region where the ancient cities described in the Book of Mormon were said to exist...What, but the power of God, could have revealed beforehand this unknown fact, demonstrated years after by actual discovery?"

For a fuller treatment of this theme, see the blog article "Early Book of Mormon Geography."

I thank Warren Aston for bringing this Whitmer reference to my attention.
Kirk Magleby, volunteering as Executive Director, Book of Mormon Central.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Mounds

Ancient earthen mounds exist worldwide. Known as "barrows" in England, "kurgans" in Turkey and Russia, and "tumuli" in many parts of the world, earthen mounds are known from:

  • Sweden (Gamla Upsalla, 2,000 tumuli)
  • Austria (Sulm Valley Necropolis, 2,000 tumuli)
  • Hungary (Great Hungarian Plain, 40,000 tumuli)
  • Mali (Gorbi Valley, hundreds of tumuli)
  • Japan (Kofun Keyhole Mounds, 161,000 tumuli
  • Uruguay (Cerritos de Indios, 3,000 tumuli)
Some are very large. The tomb of King Alyattes (ca. 619 - 560 BC) at Bin Tepe in modern Turkey has a diameter of 360 meters and is 61 meters high. This makes it over twice as large as the biggest mound in the Mississippi drainage basin (Monks Mound, Cahokia). About 1,000 tumuli are known from the Bin Tepe necropolis and tens of thousands more are found throughout modern Greece, North Macedonia, and Turkey. The Russian steppes contain thousands of burial mounds.
Tomb of King Alyattes, Bin Tepe, Turkey

Earthen mounds are such basic structures they were built by people with relatively low levels of cultural attainment. Case in point: the Aborigines built clusters of tumuli at 10 sites in northern Australia. See Sally Brockwell, "Earth Mounds in Northern Australia: A Review" in Australian Archaeology 63:1 (December, 2006).

Limited numbers of people were capable of moving large amounts of dirt. For example, the population of Cahokia in modern Illinois at apogee (ca. AD 1100) is generally estimated at between 15,000 and 50,000 (ancient population estimates are notoriously difficult to determine precisely). This was the largest urbanization north of Mexico in pre-Columbian times. Over a 300 year period (ca. AD 1050 - 1350), this group built the 120 - 190 mounds (reports vary) that made up ancient Cahokia, including 700,000 cubic meter Monks Mound as the centerpiece.

Drone View of Monks Mound, Cahokia Overlooking the Mississippi

Recent research indicates Monks Mound was built in about 20 years. See this article by the Archaeological Conservancy. Most experts believe the mounds were built by people carrying baskets of dirt. As a quick reality check, I created a spreadsheet with 3 variables:

  1. Number of people (1,000 - 5,000) carrying baskets of dirt.
  2. Size of the baskets (1 gallon = 12 pounds, 3 gallons = 36 pounds of dirt).
  3. Number of trips per day (1 or 2) from the borrow pits to the mound.
This is the spreadsheet. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.

Analysis of Time Required to Build Monks Mound, Cahokia

If 1,000 people made 1 trip per day carrying a 1 gallon (12 pound) basket of dirt, it would have taken 451 years to build Monks Mound. If 5,000 people made 2 trips per day carrying a 3 gallon (36 pound) basket of dirt, they could have built Monks Mound in 15 years. 

A modern earthen mound exists in American Fork, Utah, in my backyard. At 16 feet long X 12 feet wide X 8 feet tall, it is large enough to show up on Google Earth. I built it in one day with picks and shovels, assisted by two strong helpers. A landscaper with a Bobcat moved it a few years ago to its present location. My children, grandchildren, and two generations of neighborhood kids have all played on our backyard "hill."

Red Arrow Indicates Mound in American Fork, UT per Google Earth

An irrational faction within the Church tries unsuccessfully to identify the Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites as the North American Adena and Hopewell mound builders. This notion is utter nonsense. I have visited dozens of mounds in the US including Grave Creek (Adena), Marietta (Hopewell), Newark (Hopewell), Mound City (Hopewell), and Miamisburg (Adena). I have visited my personal favorite, Serpent Mound (Adena, Fort Ancient), several times as I have been in the greater Cincinnati area on business. I have spent time in the Ohio History Connection Museum in Columbus learning about Adena and Hopewell lifeways. There is nothing I have seen in American mound builder culture that rises to the level of the sophisticated civilizations described in the Book of Mormon. (See the blog article "State Level Society"). I have seen no evidence in the Mississippi River drainage basin of the population sizes or densities described in the Nephite text. (See the blog articles "Prophecy Fulfilled 010" and "LiDAR."

Ancient peoples heaped up dirt. With modest populations, they heaped up lots of dirt. Low-skilled cultures heaped up dirt. Artificial mortuary hillocks are found worldwide. Earthen mounds do not an advanced civilization make. The Book of Mormon more than 20 times describes elegant and spacious "buildings" Mosiah 11:8, Ether 10:5. Mounds, barrows, kurgans, or tumuli are not what the Nephite scribes were talking about.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Outstanding Come Follow Me Resources

I volunteer as Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central. Our vision is to build enduring faith in Jesus Christ by making the Book of Mormon accessible, comprehensible, and defensible to people everywhere. With a dedicated team of volunteer directors and advisors, donors, paid staff, and volunteers including service missionaries, we are engaging about 250,000 people every 24 hours with the good news of Jesus Christ and the Restoration in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Book of Mormon Central (BMC) engages our audience with several strategic imperatives:

In addition, Book of Mormon Central (BMC) offers 14 superb resources to help Latter-day Saints get the most out of their Come Follow Me (CFM) study.

  1. English CFM Teach Learn Share Facebook Group
  2. Spanish Ven sígueme CLDM Facebook Group
  3. John W. Welch Notes on the Book of Mormon in English. They are in both English and Spanish in the ScripturePlus Mobile App. 
  4. Brant Gardner Book of Mormon Minute in both English and Spanish in the ScripturePlus Mobile App
  5. Come Follow Me Reading Plan in the ScripturePlus Mobile App
  6. English KnoWhys correlated with the CFM schedule
  7. Spanish KnoWhys correlated with the CFM schedule
  8. Taylor Halverson and Tyler Griffin Come Follow Me Insights on the BMC YouTube Channel and in Portuguese on the BMC Portuguese YouTube Channel
  9. Come Follow Me with John Hilton III on the BMC YouTube Channel and in Portuguese on the BMC Portuguese YouTube Channel
  10. Weekly English CFM Resource Guides
  11. Por Fe y Estudio with Noe Correa on the BMC Spanish YouTube Channel
  12. Ven Sigueme Kids on the BMC Spanish YouTube Channel
  13. Te Lo Cuento en 10 with Cecy Gastelum on the BMC Spanish YouTube Channel
  14. Abundant enrichment material such as quotes, images, videos, etc. curated at the verse level in both English and Spanish on the ScripturePlus Mobile App
This rich offering is shared with the world free of charge in the spirit of Isaiah 55:1 and Alma 1:20. BMC measures success by the number of user engagements (aka touches). Every read, view, listen, like, share, comment, etc. is a user engagement. Dividing our cumulative dollar spend by user engagements gives us our cost per user engagement, a measure of how productively we are utilizing our donor's money. The trend is sharply downward from 36 cents per user engagement in 2016, our first year of operation, to 4 cents so far in 2020. 
Cost per User Engagement Decreasing over Time