Friday, August 28, 2015

A Gift to a Prophet and the Saints

Here is the second article, "John Bernhisel's Gift to a Prophet: Incidents of Travel in Central America and the Book of Mormon," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 16 (2015): 207-53.

This is an article discussing to Joseph Smith's interest in Central American discoveries and the Book of Mormon and is a continuation of the first part published last Friday here

This is part two of a three part series (the third will be out in a few weeks)




Thursday, August 27, 2015

“Indians” in Early Latter-day Saint Usage



Webster’s 1828 English Dictionary notes that the term Indian is “is particularly applied to any native of the American continent.” That is, it need not apply exclusively to the native peoples of the United States, but to all those found throughout the Americas. 

Evidence of this usage is abundant. He is a random passage from John L. Stephens 1841 work, Incidents of Travel in Central America

The prefeto was well versed in the history of Palenque. it is in the province of Tzendales, and for a century after the conquest of Chiapas it remained in possession of the Indians. Two centuries ago, Lorenzo Mugil, an emissary from Rome, set up among them the cross. The Indians still preserve his dress as a sacred relic, but they are jealous of showing it to strangers, and I could not obtain a sight of it. The bell of the church, too, was sent from the holy city. The Indians submitted to the dominion of the Spaniards until the year 1700, when the whole province  revolted, and in Chillon, Tumbala, and Palenque they apostatized from Christianity, murdered the priests, profaned the churches, paid impious adoration to an Indian female, massacred the white men, and took the women for their wives. But, as soon as the intelligence reached Guatemala, a strong force was sent against them, the revolted towns were reduced and recovered to the Catholic faith, and tranquility was restored. The right of the Indians, however, to their ownership of the soil was still recognised, and down to the time of the Mexican Independence they received rent for land in the villages and the milpas in the neighborhood.

Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, 1841, 2:386, emphasis added.

In 1845 the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, issued an official proclamation which stated

We also bear testimony that the Indians (so called) of North and South America are a remnant of the tribes of Israel; as is now made manifest by the discovery and revelation of their ancient oracles and records. And that they are about to be gathered, civilized, and made one nation in this glorious land They will also come to the knowledge of their forefathers, and of the fullness of the gospel; and they will embrace it, and become a righteous branch of the house of Israel.

Proclamation of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To All the Kings of the World; To the President of the United States of America; To the Governors of the Several States; And to the Rulers and People of All Nations (New York: 6 April 1845), emphasis added.


The term “Country” in Early Latter-day Saints Usage in the Context of the Book of Mormon


Joseph Smith, in his 1842 letter to John Wentworth, said that Moroni informed him of “the aboriginal inhabitants of this country” and their connection with the Book of Mormon and was told that the Indians are the remnant of Book of Mormon people (“Church History” Times and Seasons 1 March 1842: 707-8). Some have recently argued that this must mean that Joseph Smith referred exclusively to the country of the United States. While the term country in early nineteenth American century usage could be used to refer to the the United States, it was also used to refer more broadly to refer to Americas generally as can be seen in the usage of early Latter-day Saint contemporaries of Joseph Smith.

1839

Parley Pratt introduces evidence from American antiquities which includes reports of antiquities from Ohio and Central American ruins
We might fill a volume with accounts of American Antiquities, all going to show that this country has been peopled with a people, who possessed a knowledge of the arts and sciences; who built cities, cultivated the earth, and who were in possession of a written language. Parley P. Pratt, A Voice of Warning, Second edition revised (New York: J. W. Harrison, 1839, 134.
 
“This country” where antiquities are found in America, which in this context includes Ohio and Central America.

1840

We consider the “Book of Mormon” as a historical and religious record, written in ancient times by a branch of the house of Israel, who peopled America, and from whom the Indians are descended.—The Book of Mormon corroborates and confirms the truth of the Scriptures, by showing that the same principles were revealed and enjoyed in a country and among a people far remote from the scenes where the Jewish bible was written. Parley P. Pratt and Elias Higbee, “An Address,” Times and Seasons 1/5 March 1840: 69).
 
The “country” Pratt and Higbee refer to is distinguished from that where the Jewish Bible was written. In other words, “America.”

“Again, on page 4th, you say `Mr. Bennett affirms that any one who has the slightest acquaintance with American antiquities or Indian traditions, will find abundant evidences to establish the fact, i.e. of the genuineness of the Golden Plates, or Mormon Bible, and says for confirmation of what he affirms, see Priest’s American Antiquities, and A. Davis, on the discovery of America, by the Northmen.’ You try to evade the force of the argument, and puff and blow much about establishing revelation by the opinions of antiquarians; but it is only one of your rectangulartwists, and if it does not amount to a falsehood, it is horribly screwing the king’s english, (in which you profess to be so proficient,) to make Mr. B., say that which was foreign to his heart. Mr. B’s., reference to Antiquarians, was not as you represent; but to establish the fact which youdenied, viz., the knowledge of arts and sciences among the Aborigines of the country. The works above referred to, unquestionably prove beyond the power of successful contradiction, the existence of the arts, and sciences, in this country, prior to its discovery by Europeans. But you still in your second pamphlet on page 5th, affirm that `no remains of Antiquity which can be proved to be the work of the inhabitants of this country previous to its discovery, will constitute even so much as the shadow of proof, that the sciences of reading and writing were ever knownhere.’ Here is a specimen of your consummate ignorance of American Antiquities. Mr. Priest relates accounts of writings being found in various parts, remote from European settlements, upon stones, and other substances, inscriptions upon walls, and dilapidated stone buildings; also, inscriptions upon gold plate found in ancient Indian graves. He mentions the finding of writings on parchments, deeply imbedded in the earth. Nearly all the principal papers of this country have of late published the result of the researchers Of Messrs. Stephens and Catherwood, in Central America. On the river Montigua, Monuments and Statues in abundance were found, many of which are covered with writings, and yet you say these are no proofs that the science of writing was ever known here. The system of Logic by which you arrive at your conclusion must be peculiar to yourself.”  E. Snow’s Reply to the Self-Styled Philanthropist of Chester County (1840), 2-3.

The country referred to is clearly America, whose antiquities are discussed in the works of Josiah Priest and A Davis and Stephens and Catherwood. Davis wrote about north American antiquities relating to the Vikings and the Central American ruins of Palenque. Stephens and Catherwood also wrote about Central American ruins. Clearly, country refers to America, and includes North and Central America. 

1841

Now that such nation has once existed upon the land of America and been utterly destroyed, is evident from the history of the antiquities of the country. An extract from which I will now subjoin. Ruins of the city of Otolom, discovered in central America . . . Charles B. Thompson, Evidences in Proof of the Book of Mormon (Batavia, New York: D. D. Waite, 1841), 49-50.
To show that a nation once existed upon the “land of America” Thompson cites evidence from “the antiquities of the country” which include ruins of Otolom, a Central American city. The “country” refers to the “land of America” which in this context includes Central America.

1842

 “If men, in their researches into the history of this country, in noticing the mounds, fortifications, statues, architecture, implements of war, of husbandry, and ornaments of silver, brass, &c.—were to examine the Book of Mormon, their conjectures would be removed, and their opinions altered; uncertainty and doubt would be changed into certainty and facts; and they would find that those things that they are anxiously  prying into were matters of history, unfolded in that book. They would find their conjectures were more than realized—that a great and a mighty people had inherited 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. Babylon, Ninevah, nor any of the ruins of the Levant could boast of more perfect sculpture, better architectural designs, and more imperishable ruins, than what are found on this continent.  Stephens and Catherwood's researches in Central America abundantly testify of this thing.  The stupendous ruins, the elegant sculpture, and the magnificence of the ruins of Guatamala, and other cities, corroborate this statement, and show that a great and mighty people--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.” Ed., “American Antiquities,” Times and Seasons 3/18 (15 July, 1842): 860. 

The writer speaks of those who are investigating “the history of this country” and suggests that the Book of Mormon might shed light on their queries. His speaks of this continent as distinguished from the “continent of Asia.” “This continent” clearly refers here to the American continent. His reference to the discoveries of Stephens and Catherwood shows that in his view the country in question not only includes Tennessee, Canada, the Mississippi, and Florida, but also Central America, the region of Stephens travels and discoveries.

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. The northern portions of South America, and also Central America, were the most densely populated. Splendid edifices, palaces, towers, forts, and cities were reared in all directions. A careful reader of that interesting book, can trace the relative bearings and distances of many of these cities from each other; and, if acquainted with the present geographical features of the country, he can, by the descriptions given in that book, determine, very nearly, the precise spot of ground they once occupied. 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 discover 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?” Orson Pratt, “Was Joseph Smith Sent of God?” Millennial Star 10/19 (1 October, 1848): 289.
 
For Orson Pratt, the “country” referred to is America, which in this context includes Central and South America, and likely North America as well.

“This land” and “this continent”


Those who have read my recent article last Friday Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture may be interested in two earlier articles I published several years ago dealing with the same general subject. These are 
 

Matthew Roper, “Joseph Smith,Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” FARMS Review 22/2 (2010): 15-85.

In the later article, some of the information has been updated (for example journal entries about the dating of the Iowa Zarahemla settlement), but still provides a useful resource of information addressing the so-called “Heartland Movement.” This includes my discussion of the usage of the term “this continent” and “this land” in Latter-day Saint usage showing that these terms were broadly used of the Americas and do not represent a specialized usage confined to the land and native peoples of the United States (see pages 32-48 of the PDF version). 

One very animated recent critic has publicly petitioned my employer to suppress or “purge” the later article and others, including the one by Gregory Smith below.

Advocates of the Heartland approach have also seriously misunderstood the science of the DNA issues and how it does and does not relate to the Book of Mormon. For a very detailed overview of the background, and problems with that approach, I highly recommend Gregory Smith’s very detailed and lengthy discussion. Readers who may be puzzled by these things may find it informative

Gregory L. Smith, “Often In Error,Seldom in Doubt: Rod Meldrum and Book of Mormon DNA,” FARMS Review 22/1 (2010): 17-161.

And geneticist Ugo A. Perego articles


Ugo A. Perego and Jayne E. Ekins, “IsDescrypting the Genetic Legacy of America’s Indigenous Populations Key to theHistoricity of the Book of Mormon?” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 12 (2014): 237-79.



Friday, August 21, 2015

Mythical Mesoamerican Conspiracy and Book of Mormon Geography

For those who are interested in discussions about Early Interpretations of Book of Mormon Geography, Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture has just published the first of a series of three articles which readers can access here

Here is an abstract:

The claim that God revealed the details of Book of Mormon geography is not new, but the recent argument that there was a conspiracy while the Prophet was still alive to oppose a revealed geography is a novel innovation. A recent theory argues that the “Mesoamerican theory” or “limited Mesoamerican geography” originated in 1841 with Benjamin Winchester, an early Mormon missionary, writer, and dissident, who rejected the leadership of Brigham Young and the Twelve after 1844. This theory also claims that three unsigned editorials on Central America and the Book of Mormon published in the Times and Seasons on September 15 and October 1, 1842 were written by Benjamin Winchester, who successfully conspired with other dissidents to publish them against the will of the Prophet. Three articles address these claims. This first article addresses two questions: Did Joseph Smith, as some have claimed, know the details of and put forth a revealed Book of Mormon geography? Second, what is a Mesoamerican geography and does it constitute a believable motive for a proposed Winchester conspiracy?

 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Loose Writings and False Prophets


In the 1972 October General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Harold B. Lee gave an address which still has relevance today. The following is an extract from that address, but the entire address is worth reading and listening to.


As the apostle Paul said, it is likewise a marvel to us today, as it was in that day, that some members are so soon removed from those who taught them the gospel and are removed from the true teachings of the gospel of Christ to be led astray into something that corrupts the true doctrines of the gospel of Christ into vicious and wicked practices and performances. . . .

I should like now to make reference to some of these. The first is the spread of rumor and gossip (we have mentioned this before) which, when once started, gains momentum as each telling becomes more fanciful, until unwittingly those who wish to dwell on the sensational repeat them in firesides, in classes, in Relief Society gatherings and priesthood quorum classes without first verifying the source before becoming a party to causing speculation and discussions that steal time away from the things that would be profitable and beneficial and enlightening to their souls.


Just an example: I understand that there is a widely circulated story that I was alleged to have had a patriarchal blessing (I don’t know whether any of you have heard about that) that had to do with the coming of the Savior and the ten tribes of Israel. In the first place, a patriarchal blessing is a sacred document to the person who has received it and is never given for publication and, as all patriarchal blessings, should be kept as a private possession to the one who has received it. And second, with reference to that which I was alleged to have had, suffice it to say that such a quotation is incorrect and without foundation in fact.


There is one thing that shocks me: I have learned, in some instances, that those who have heard of these rumors are disappointed when I tell them they are not so. They seem to have enjoyed believing a rumor without substance of fact. I would earnestly urge that no such idle gossip be spread abroad without making certain as to whether or not it is true.


The First Presidency in August 1913 issued a warning to the members of the Church which could bear repeating today. Let me read you a few things that were said then:


“To the officers and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:


“From the days of Hiram Page (Doc. and Cov., Sec. 28) [D&C 28], at different periods there have been manifestations from delusive spirits to members of the Church. Sometimes these have come to men and women who because of transgression became easy prey to the Arch-Deceiver. At other times people who pride themselves on their strict observance of the rules and ordinances and ceremonies of the Church are led astray by false spirits, who exercise an influence so imitative of that which proceeds from at Divine source that even these persons, who think they are ‘the very elect,’ find it difficult to discern the essential difference. Satan himself has transformed himself to be apparently ‘an angel of light.’

“When visions, dreams, tongues, prophecy, impressions or an extraordinary gift or inspiration convey something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear. Also, they should understand that directions for the guidance of the Church will come, by revelation, through the head. All faithful members are entitled to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for themselves, their families, and for those over whom they are appointed and ordained to preside. But anything at discord with that which comes from God through the head of the Church is not to be received as authoritative or reliable. In secular as well as spiritual affairs, Saints may receive Divine guidance and revelation affecting themselves, but this does not convey authority to direct others, and is not to be accepted when contrary to Church covenants, doctrine or discipline, or to known facts, demonstrated truths, or good common sense. No person has the right to induce his fellow members of the Church to engage in speculations or take stock in ventures of any kind on the specious claim of Divine revelation or vision or dream, especially when it is in opposition to the voice of recognized authority, local or general. The Lord’s Church ‘is a house of order.’ It is not governed by individual gifts or manifestations, but by the order and power of the Holy Priesthood as sustained by the voice and vote of the Church in its appointed conferences.


“The history of the Church records many pretended revelations claimed by impostors or zealots who believed in the manifestations they sought to lead other persons to accept, and in every instance, disappointment, sorrow and disaster have resulted therefrom. Financial loss and sometimes utter ruin have followed.”


This is something that is recurring time and time again, and we call upon you holders of the priesthood to stamp out any such and to set to flight all such things as are creeping in, people rising up here and there who have had some “marvelous” kind of a manifestation, as they claim, and who try to lead the people in a course that has not been dictated from the heads of the Church.


As I say, it never ceases to amaze me how gullible some of our Church members are in broadcasting these sensational stories, or dreams, or visions, some alleged to have been given to Church leaders, past or present, supposedly from some person’s private diary, without first verifying the report with proper Church authorities.


If our people want to be safely guided during these troublous times of deceit and false rumors, they must follow their leaders and seek for the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord in order to avoid falling prey to clever manipulators who, with cunning sophistry, seek to draw attention and gain a following to serve their own notions and sometimes sinister motives.


The Lord has very plainly set forth a test by which anyone may challenge any and all who may come claiming, clandestinely, to have received some kind of priesthood authority. Now this is what the Lord said in the 42nd section of the Doctrine and Covenants, verse 11:


“Again, I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by someone who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.” [D&C 42:11]


Now, if one comes claiming that he has authority, ask him, “Where do you get your authority? Have you been ordained by someone who has authority, who is known to the Church, that you have authority and have been regularly ordained by the heads of the Church?” If the answer is no, you may know that he is an imposter. This is the test that our people should always apply when some imposter comes trying to lead them astray. . . .


One more matter: There are among us many loose writings predicting the calamities which are about to overtake us. Some of these have been publicized as though they were necessary to wake up the world to the horrors about to overtake us. Many of these are from sources upon which there cannot be unquestioned reliance.


Are you priesthood bearers aware of the fact that we need no such publications to be forewarned, if we were only conversant with what the scriptures have already spoken to us in plainness?


Let me give you the sure word of prophecy on which you should rely for your guide instead of these strange sources which may have great political implications.


Read the 24th chapter of Matthew—particularly that inspired version as contained in the Pearl of Great Price. (JS—M 1.)


Then read the 45th section of the Doctrine and Covenants where the Lord, not man, has documented the signs of the times. [D&C 45]


Now turn to section 101 and section 133 of the Doctrine and Covenants and hear the step-by-step recounting of events leading up to the coming of the Savior. [D&C 101; D&C 133]


Finally, turn to the promises the Lord makes to those who keep the commandments when these judgments descend upon the wicked, as set forth in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 38. [D&C 38]


Brethren, these are some of the writings with which you should concern yourselves, rather than commentaries that may come from those whose information may not be the most reliable and whose motives may be subject to question. And may I say, parenthetically, most of such writers are not handicapped by having any authentic information on their writings.


As the Lord has admonished priesthood bearers from the beginning: “Wherefore, gird up your loins and be prepared. Behold, the kingdom is yours, and the enemy shall not overcome.


“Verily I say unto you, ye are clean, but not all; and there is none else with whom I am well pleased;

“For all flesh is corrupted before me; and the powers of darkness prevail upon the earth, among the children of men, in the presence of all the hosts of heaven—

“Which causeth silence to reign, and all eternity is pained. …” (D&C 38:9–12.)


Now brethren, I have spoken plainly to you in this priesthood session. Let what has been said by all the brethren tonight, and in this conference, not fall on deaf ears. Let these admonitions be received as the Lord directed they should be received, in an early revelation, to which President Tanner has already made reference, “as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.” (D&C 21:5.)


Only by so doing can we be truly one as a body of priesthood, by following the leadership that the Lord has established in our day in order that we may be one. And he warns us if we are not one, we are not his, as he has declared in the Doctrine and Covenants.

Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, October 1972, 124-28. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Beware the "Horse Shoe Prophecy"

To friends, family, and fellow Latter-day Saints,

From time to time old canards, false rumors, and purported prophecies and revelations are dug up, recycled and recirculated, warmed up and presented to others as good food when they are nothing of the kind. One of these has re-surfaced again and is being cited or paraphrased in Facebook, blogs and other social media. Long known as the "horse shoe prophecy" it purports to have been a revelation given by John Taylor which gives dire predictions about Salt Lake City, large groups of Church members leaving the Church, the Church removing their records "beyond the Colorado river" and so-forth. In 1970 the First Presidency issued a letter warning the Saints about this false tale. That letter, still relevant in light of some recent rumors, was published in the Church News on April 4, 1970, and  reads as follows


PRESIDENTS OF STAKES, BISHOPS OF WARDS AND PRESIDENTS OF MISSIONS IN THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA

March 30, 1970

Dear Brethren:

We have had called to our attention by several people, a purported revelation, or dream, or vision, which President John Taylor, the third president of the Church, allegedly had received and communicated to a housewife in her kitchen while at the home where he had been resting between conference sessions while attending meetings in Cedar City, Utah.

This purported statement, if ever given under such unheard of circumstances, was never presented to any of his associates or in any council of the Church and no record whatsoever is to be found in the historian’s office.

We have the following memorandum from the Church Historian’s Office in Salt Lake City under the date of February 11, 1970 which reads as follows:

“TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN        :

The so-called `Horse Shoe Prophecy’ of President John Taylor has a questionable background and history.

1. The `prophecy’ was first written down in 1951 by Edward Lunt which is between 64 and 74 years after it was supposed to have been given.

2. His mother ran the hotel from 1877 to 1888 during which time the `prophecy’ was supposed to have been given. President Taylor died July 25, 1887.

3. George A. Smith was supposed to have been there with President Taylor but he died in 1875, which was two years prior to the time Brother Lunt’s mother was in the hotel.

4. He states that his mother did not tell him until 1903 or 1904, which was about 25 years after it was supposed to have been given.

5. We have five different copies and no two of them are identical in wording.

6. One contains a statement about the Negro that purportedly is not in any of the others and particularly the one `version’ which was signed by Edward Lunt.

7. In checking the Deseret News we can find no record of President Taylor being in Cedar City after 1883. Nor is anything in the Parowan Stake Conference minutes.

8. There is no record by any of the General Authorities about it nor is there anything in the diaries of which we have copies.”

This is just another evidence of the cleverly designed motives of individuals who seize upon the emotionalism of our present day to get publicity, and to further agitate the feelings of Church members on matters which must be left to the wisdom of the Lord and his guidance, which are under his divine control.

We would urge you to caution our people against accepting these purported statements of the presiding brethren, past or present, without verification. You may be sure if there is anything that has substance in regard to the safety and welfare of our people, we will see that the leaders of the Church are immediately advised so that we might act wisely and unitedly in order to not over react to present situations.

The real danger lies in our people becoming confused and frustrated and looking elsewhere than to their Church leaders or to civil authorities in matters pertaining to their welfare.

Sincerely yours,

JOSEPH FIELDING SMITH
HAROLD B. LEE
N. ELDON TANNER,
The First Presidency.

[Church News, April 4, 1970]