Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography

Review of Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum. Prophecies
and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America.
York: Digital Legend, 2009. xviii + 239 pp., with appendix. $24.95 (paperback).

Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography

Reviewed by Matthew Roper

As far as can be learned,
the Prophet Joseph Smith, translator of the book, did not say where, on the
America continent, Book of Mormon activities occurred. Perhaps he did not know.

A. Widtsoe 1

[Smith] either knew or he didn’t know. If he didn’t know,
what was he doing?

  Bruce H. Porter 2

Joseph knew what he knew—and what he knew was far more
important than geography.

  John L. Sorenson 3

In Prophecies and Promises, Bruce H. Porter and Rod L.
Meldrum set forth their case for situating Book of Mormon events in the central
and eastern United States.4 This so-called heartland theory is not the traditional hemispheric model in
which those events were thought to have occurred throughout North and South
America. Rather, this theory confines the events and the prophecies concerning
the land of promise and the remnant of Lehi (the Lamanites) to the United
States. Porter and Meldrum claim their view is supported by prophetic
statements of Joseph Smith. These “historically documented” teachings
and revelations, they aver, show that “the Prophet Joseph Smith did, in
fact, know about the geographical setting for the Book of Mormon and that he
did, in fact, claim inspiration for the statements he made about its geography”
(p. 91). Other interpretations that suggest a Mesoamerican location for the
Book of Mormon or some other location in Central or South America are, they declare,
“beyond comprehension” (p. 101); and those who advance such interpretations
are trying to discredit or cast doubt upon the inspired words of Joseph Smith
and his prophetic calling (p. 105).

Elsewhere I have addressed the portion of Porter and Meldrum’s
work that attempts to identify the land of promise and the nature of the
remnant described in the Book of Mormon.5 In this essay
I will first review what leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints have said about Book of Mormon geography. Second, I will address a
related question: Does accepting Joseph Smith as a prophet and the translator
of the Book of Mormon, a record brought forth through the “gift and power
of God,” require that we believe Joseph was an authority on the ancient
geography of that book? Third, I will examine terms such as “this land,”
“this continent,” and “this country” used by Joseph Smith
in his descriptions of the Book of Mormon. Does such language support a limited
North American setting for the Book of Mormon and rule out a Mesoamerican
setting? Fourth, I will examine the basis for the authors’ claim that the heartland
setting was revealed to Joseph Smith. Is that claim supported by the historical
evidence? Finally, I will explore early Latter-day Saint interest in Central
American discoveries as evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
What does such interest suggest about the question of a divinely revealed

The Church and Book of Mormon Geography

While it is true that the church does not endorse any single
geographical model for Book of Mormon events, church leaders have offered
valuable counsel on the subject. They have, for example, stressed that the
issue is not one that can be settled at present by an appeal to the authority
of church leaders. Writing in 1890, President George Q. Cannon explained that “the
First Presidency have often been asked to prepare some suggestive map illustrative
of Nephite geography, but have never consented to do so. Nor are we acquainted
with any of the Twelve Apostles who would undertake such a task. The reason is,
that without further information they are not prepared even to suggest. The
word of the Lord or the translation of other ancient records is required to
clear up many points now so obscure.” 6 That the
First Presidency declined to undertake any suggestive map is significant since
that group included not only the Prophet Joseph Smith’s nephew Joseph F. Smith
but also Wilford Woodruff, who had participated in Zion’s Camp and had known
the Prophet Joseph Smith since the early days of the church. President Joseph
F. Smith was once asked to approve a map purporting to show exactly where Lehi
and his family had landed in the Americas. He declined, saying that the Lord
had not yet revealed it.7 Speaking to the Saints in the April 1929 General Conference, President Anthony
W. Ivins stated:

There is a great deal of talk about the geography of the
Book of Mormon. Where was the land of Zarahemla? Where was the City of
Zarahemla? and other geographic matters. It does not make any difference to us. There has
never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question
So the Church says we are just waiting until we discover the truth. . . . We do not offer any definite solution. As you study the Book of Mormon keep these
things in mind and do not make definite statements concerning things that have
not been proven in advance to be true.8

President Ivins’s observation is significant.

In 1903 President Joseph F. Smith taught that regarding Book
of Mormon geography, the question, for instance, of the location of the city
Zarahemla “was one of interest certainly, but if it could not be located
the matter was not of vital importance, and if there were differences of
opinion on the question it would not affect the salvation of the people: and he
advised against students considering it of such vital importance as the
principles of the Gospel” and cautioned them against making questions of
Book of Mormon geography “of equal importance with the doctrines contained
in the Book.” 9

In 1938 Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote an article
published in the Deseret News arguing against what he then termed the “modernist”
theory that the final battlefield of the Nephites and Jaredites may have been
in Central America rather than in New York.10 In 1956 this
article was included in a selection of Elder Smith’s writings compiled by his
son-in-law Bruce R. McConkie.11 Although Elder Smith would later become president of the church in 1970, his
article arguing for a New York location as the scene of the final battlefield
was written many years before he assumed that position, and he apparently never
revisited the question as president of the church. There is evidence that Elder
Smith may have softened his opposition on the Cumorah question. In a letter
written to Fletcher B. Hammond, who argued emphatically for a Central American
location and had sent Elder Smith a copy of his findings, the apostle
explained, “I am sure this will be very interesting although I have never
paid any attention whatever to Book of Mormon geography because it appears to
me that it is inevitable that there must be a great deal of guesswork.” 12 Apparently, he did not consider his 1938 argument as settled and definitive or
as a measure of doctrinal orthodoxy.

Sidney B. Sperry, after whom an annual Brigham Young University
symposium is named, was also one who initially supported the New York Cumorah
view (that is, an area of New York as the final battlefield of the Nephites and
Jaredites).13 During the 1960s, as he began to explore the issue, he came to a different
conclusion. For several years Sperry circulated a handout for his Religion 622
class on the Book of Mormon that outlined key information in that scripture
suggesting that the final battlefield was within or near the land of
Desolation, which bordered the narrow neck of land. 14 Sperry encouraged his students to address the question and try to reconcile a
New York location for those events with the data in the Book of Mormon text. In
1968 he published these conclusions in his Book of Mormon Compendium.15 Reversing his earlier position, he wrote: “It is now my very carefully
studied and considered opinion that the Hill Cumorah to which Mormon and his
people gathered was somewhere in Middle America. The Book of Mormon evidence to
this effect is irresistible and conclusive to one who will approach it with an
open mind. This evidence has been reviewed by a few generations of bright
students in graduate classes who have been given the challenge to break it down
if they can. To date none has ever been able to do so.” 16 Sperry, who was very familiar with what Joseph Fielding Smith had previously
written, told him that he did not feel comfortable publishing something that
contradicted what the apostle had written, but that he and other sincere
students of the Book of Mormon had come to that conclusion only after serious
and careful study of the text. Sperry said that Elder Smith then lovingly put
his arm around his shoulder and said, “Sidney, you are as entitled to your
opinion as I am to mine. You go ahead and publish it.” 17

Other church leaders such as John A. Widtsoe considered the
Cumorah question an open matter worthy of further investigation. “As far
as can be learned,” wrote Elder Widtsoe, “the Prophet Joseph Smith,
translator of the book, did not say where, on the American continent, Book of
Mormon activities occurred. Perhaps he did not know.” 18 Elder Widtsoe further observed that

the hill from which the
Book of Mormon plates were obtained by Joseph Smith is definitely known. In the
days of the Prophet this hill was known among the people as Cumorah. This is a
fixed point in Book of Mormon later history. There is a controversy, however,
about the Hill Cumorah—not about the location where the Book of Mormon
plates were found, but whether it is the hill under that name near which Nephite
events took place. A name says one, may be applied to more than one hill; and
plates containing the records of a people, sacred things, could be moved from
place to place by divine help.19

After reviewing the evidence from church history, including
the Zelph story and the claim that Lehi landed in Chile, Elder Widtsoe found
little support for the view that Book of Mormon geography had been revealed to
the Prophet. He summarized:

They who work on the geography of the Book of Mormon have
little else than the preceding approaches with which to work, viz: that
Nephites found their way into what is now the state of Illinois; that the
plates of the Book of Mormon were found in a hill in northwestern New York
State; that a statement exists of doubtful authenticity that Lehi and his party
landed on the shore of the land now known as Chile; and that under the Prophet’s
editorship Central America was denominated the region of Book of Mormon
activities. Out of diligent, prayerful study, we may be led to a better understanding
of times and places in the history of the people who move across the pages of the
divinely given Book of Mormon.20

Church leaders, acknowledging the lack of authoritative
answers regarding Book of Mormon geography, have encouraged earnest, diligent,
and careful study of the matter while counseling the Saints not to allow such
interests to cloud their focus on gospel principles. Elder James E. Talmage
counseled, “The more thinkers, investigators, workers we have in the field
the better; but our brethren who devote themselves to that kind of research
should remember that they must speak with caution and not declare as
demonstrated truths points that are not really proved.” 21 Elder John A. Widtsoe made a similar point: “Usually, an ideal map is
drawn based upon geographical facts mentioned in the book. Then a search is
made for existing areas complying with the map. All such studies are
legitimate, but the conclusions drawn from them, though they may be correct,
must at the best be held as intelligent conjectures.” 22 In short, until additional revelation on the matter is forthcoming, the
question of where Book of Mormon events occurred is one that cannot be resolved
by an appeal to authority. It is a matter of study and scholarship, not a measure
of faithfulness.

How Not to Have a “Conversation” about
Book of Mormon Geography

Porter and Meldrum sometimes claim that they merely want to
introduce new ideas and encourage conversation about the Book of Mormon. “The
goal of this study is to cause ‘scholars’ and other students of the Book of
Mormon to think beyond traditional thought and realize there might be more to
consider” (p. 200). The authors say they do not mean to “diminish the
research of those who have done tremendous work in this area of study” (p.
206). Yet at other times they undermine this professed goal with accusatory
statements implying that Latter-day Saint scholars who disagree with them are
less honest, intelligent, or faithful than they are. One observer of the
authors’ activities notes that “Meldrum’s ideas do not create much
controversy. But some fear his rhetoric questions the faith of those who have
differing opinions and that he is, in effect, not just offering an interesting
theory but a call to repentance.” 23 Meldrum
denies this: “All I’m saying is that here is another theory, if you will,
but if you will take a look at how it matches what Joseph Smith said and what
the scriptures say, it’s a better match.” 24

It is difficult, however, to reconcile such denials with
other statements found in Prophecies and Promises, as well as in the authors’
public presentations and advertisements. They give initial lip service to the
Brethren’s neutrality on the question, then insist that the Saints should not
be neutral. “This book,” according to Porter and Meldrum, “is
dedicated to the historically documented fact that the Prophet Joseph Smith
did, in fact, know about the geographical setting for the Book of Mormon and
that he did, in fact, claim inspiration for the statements he made about its
geography” (p. 91). They claim that these statements have been suppressed
or ignored by previous scholars who, it is implied, consider “education,
knowledge, or beliefs more authoritative and correct than scripture or revealed
prophetic statements,” thereby “placing their trust in the arm of
flesh” (p. 92). Porter and Meldrum make clear that they are not speaking
of anti-Mormon writers or referring to writers of Sunstone or Dialogue. 25 They refer, rather, to believing Latter-day Saints who accept the divine
authenticity and historicity of the Book of Mormon but who conceptualize a
Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon. Porter and Meldrum class these “Mesoamericanists”
among other unbelievers whose views are inconsistent with the inspired teachings
of Joseph Smith. Although the Prophet Joseph Smith was “clear and concise
in his statements about Book of Mormon geography, . . . the allure and enticement
of Mesoamerica ruins and a desire for physical proof seems to determine the
interpretation and interpolation of the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It
is regrettable that so many cannot simply take Joseph Smith at his word”
(p. 102). 26 The authors believe that those who speak in terms of a Mesoamerican setting for
the Book of Mormon are harming the church. “What message,” they ask, “is
sent to those unfriendly to the Church and Mormonism when recognized scholars
within the Church openly disagree with (or reject) the words and claimed inspiration
of the founding prophet of this dispensation?” (p. 116). 27 “Those who choose to reject the prophet’s revelatory words cannot then
also claim to be ‘defending Mormonism’ in the pursuit of their own agendas,
which occasionally run contrary to his words. Such actions demonstrate a casual
disregard for Joseph’s prophetic calling and an espousal of the ‘theories of
men’ over his inspired and historically documented statements” (pp.
116–17).28 Given the counsel of the Brethren discussed above, one wonders if the authors
also include them among this group. Do they discount the revelations and
teachings of Joseph Smith?

The authors believe that their heartland theory has not
received a fair hearing. “Much of the information presented here has
hitherto been the subject of relatively unsympathetic review by an array of
scholars” (preface). “Ironically,” they claim,

the greatest threat to the information contained in this
book is not the anti-Mormon faction. The greatest objection to this information
comes from those whose theories, articles, papers, books, reputations, and
income are challenged by a move away from Mesoamerica. Sadly, many in the LDS
scholarly community refuse to look objectively at the statements of Joseph
Smith, the context of the Book of Mormon, and the scientific evidence, both
genetic and archaeological. (p. 167) 29

“Finally, scientific evidence,” Porter and
Meldrum assert, “may now support the statements of Joseph Smith pertaining
to the geography of the Book of Mormon but the LDS intellectual community is
one of the groups who ignore both for the sake of a theory” (p. 167). This
conspiracy of scholars is the greatest obstacle to the authors’ endeavor.

The greatest threat to a culture is the culture itself. As
the Lord declares to Alma: “This is my church, and I will establish it;
and nothing shall overthrow it; save it is the transgression of my people”
(Mosiah 27:13). The greatest disappointment is that the rejection of the
statements of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the sciences that now support his
statements, is coming from the LDS culture. (p. 168)

In other words, Latter-day Saint scholars who disagree
with the authors are transgressors like the wicked Alma who secretly went about
seeking to destroy the church. It is because of these scholars, including some
associated with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, “that
the anti-Mormons have launched the largest onslaught against the Church in
years” over the DNA issue. Porter and Meldrum allege that

objective consideration of the statements of Joseph Smith,
archaeological research, and the potential DNA evidence for a North American
setting for the Book of Mormon is not allowed in most Latter-day Saint
scholastic circles. In future years this will no doubt be a point of humorous
recollection, but the academic bias referred to here was never more evident
than when the authors of this work were denied access to BYU’s Education Week
(where Mesoamerican theories are routinely presented) as it was determined that
the information herein was too ‘controversial’ to be allowed. (p. 182)

Methodological Confusion

The first step in approaching the question of Book of Mormon
geography is to get clear on what the Book of Mormon itself has to say about
it. This must be done before one tries to measure the text against any
proposed American setting.30 “The Book of Mormon,” noted Latter-day Saint archaeologist John
Clark, “must be the final and most important arbiter in deciding the
correctness of a given geography; otherwise we will be forever hostage to the
shifting sands of expert opinion.” 31 Porter and
Meldrum wrongly attribute the abundance of Book of Mormon geographical models
to the practice of constructing an internal geography based upon the Book of Mormon
text (p. 11). Yet the truth is that much of the diversity of opinion on the
question is due to the failure of most proponents to do so.
Only after this first exercise is done in a thorough and comprehensive manner
can one then proceed to the secondary issue of how this internal picture may or
may not correlate with a particular real-world setting.32 This does
not mean that all who do so will necessarily agree on all points, but it does
keep such efforts tied to the text itself.33 Instead of
first trying to get clear on what the Book of Mormon itself says about its
geographical location, Porter and Meldrum rest their speculation on a shaky
interpretation of certain prophecies and promises found in the text.

To focus on geographic passages of the Book of Mormon in the
creation of a hypothetical map is to espouse a belief that these passages are
of more import and of greater consequence than that of inspired prophetic
utterances. For example, is it not more important to know that the New
Jerusalem will be built upon “this land” by prophecy than debating
what constitutes a wilderness, or how far a Nephite can walk in a day? (pp.

This matter of comparative importance, of course,
depends upon the question one wants to answer. To know where the New Jerusalem
will be built is one thing. But if one wants to know how far the land of Nephi
was from Zarahemla, one cannot ignore what the Book of Mormon says about travel
distances or directions. Porter and Meldrum claim that Book of Mormon
prophecies about the land are a more reliable source of
information on geography than geographical passages themselves. These “prophecies
and promises” are thought to be the key to establishing the location of
Book of Mormon lands. “The prophetic record is specific and inspired about
the Promised Land and must take precedence over all physical and geographic descriptions.
That said, when physical and geographical passages are clear, they will match
the more important descriptions set forth by the prophecies and promises in the
text” (p. 74). This approach is dubious since it allows the interpreter to
arbitrarily pick and choose which geographical passages are more important and
which are not, when what is really needed is a comprehensive examination of all
the relevant passages in the Book of Mormon.

Porter and Meldrum assert that the prophecies and promises
in the Book of Mormon “are spiritual in nature because of the fact that
they are revealed and understood by the workings of the spirit,” while “the
geographic passages are temporal in nature and in purpose, having no ‘fulfilment’
in a historical or future setting” (p. 75). So Book of Mormon passages on
prophecies and promises are spiritual while Book of Mormon geographical
passages are not! This again seems very arbitrary and self-serving. Why attempt
an internal geography when they can pick and choose and dismiss geographical
information in the text on a whim? Not willing, apparently, to expend the
needed effort and study required to determine what the Book of Mormon says about its geography, the authors attempt an end run around the process
with rhetorical tricks. Passages that support their view are the “spiritual”
ones, while the others are not.

Doesn’t a Prophet Know Everything?

Joseph Smith was the translator of the Book of Mormon. He always
claimed that this work was done through “the gift and power of God.”
He claimed to be, and Latter-day Saints believe him to have been, an eyewitness
and a participant in this event. Does his being a prophet who received
revelation mean that he knows and understands everything? Does his being a
witness to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon necessarily entail also being
an expert on its contents? Lehi had a dream or vision of the tree of life.
Later Nephi saw what his father had seen. When Nephi was asked by his brethren
about the meaning of the river that his father had seen, he explained that it
represented filthiness and that “so much was his [father’s] mind swallowed
up in other things that he beheld not the filthiness of the water” (1
Nephi 15:27). Nephi’s comment clarifies that even those who receive revelations
may not fully understand every aspect of them. “Now, I unfold unto you a
mystery,” said Alma; “nevertheless, there are many mysteries which
are kept, that no one knoweth them save God himself. But I show unto you one
thing which I have inquired diligently of God that I might know” (Alma
40:3). Alma knew certain things only because he has made them a matter of
diligent and persistent inquiry. Joseph Smith received revelations about the
establishment of Zion. When the Saints were mobbed and forcibly expelled from
their lands in Jackson County, Missouri, the Prophet was deeply troubled. In a
letter to the Saints, he wrote:

I know that Zion, in the own due time of the Lord will be redeemed,
but how many will be the days of her purification, tribulation and affliction,
the Lord has kept hid from my eyes; and when I enquire concerning this subject
the voice of the Lord is, Be still, and know that I am God! . . . Now there are
two things of which I am ignorant and the Lord will not show me—perhaps
for a wise purpose in himself. I mean in some respects, and they are these, Why
God hath suffered so great calamity to come upon Zion; or what the great moving
cause of this great affliction is. These two things and again by what
means he will return her back to her inheritance with songs of everlasting Joy
upon her head. These two things brethren, are in part kept back that they are
not plainly 34

Speaking of another revelation, the Prophet taught:

I was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the
coming of the Son of Man, when I heard a voice repeat the following: Joseph, my
son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the
face of the Son of Man; therefore let this suffice, and trouble me no more on
this matter. I was left thus, without being able to decide whether this coming
referred to the beginning of the millennium or to some previous appearing, or
whether I should die and thus see his face. I believe the coming of the Son of
Man will not be any sooner than that time. (D&C 130:14–17)

It is clear from
Joseph Smith’s own teachings that he received revelations, but it is equally
clear that he did not always fully understand them. George Q. Cannon taught
this principle: “We believe in revelation. It may come dim; it may come
indistinct, it may come sometimes with a degree of vagueness which we do not
like. Why? Because of our imperfection; because we are not prepared to receive
it as it comes in its purity; in its fulness from God. He is not to blame for
this. It is our duty though to contend for more faith, for greater power, for
clearer revelations, for better understanding concerning his great truths as he
communicates them to us. That is our duty; that is the object of our lives as
Latter-day Saints.35 Wilford Woodruff taught that “the Lord does communicate some things of
importance to the children of men by means of visions and dreams as well as by
the records of divine truth. And what is it all for? It is to teach us a
principle. We may never see anything take place exactly as we see it in a dream
or a vision, yet it is intended to teach a principle.” 36 One might conceivably have a vision of the
ancient Nephites without understanding the details of their geography.

Early critics of the Book of Mormon initially claimed that
Joseph Smith must have fabricated the book himself, but for those who actually
knew Joseph Smith, his limited education and abilities precluded such an
explanation. “It is agreed on all hands,” wrote one early critic
whose caustic comments are typical, “that Smith is too ignorant and stupid
to have originated such a book.” The critic then added with some amazement,
“This his followers readily admit and glory in it as an evidence that
he must have been divinely inspired.” 37 “It is
asserted by one of his principle followers, (who also pretends to divine
illuminations,) that Jo, even at this day is profoundly ignorant of the meaning
of many of the words contained in the Book of Mormon.” 38 How could such things be if Joseph Smith was a prophet?

In an address given at the Library of Congress in
Washington, DC, on the two hundredth anniversary of the Prophet’s birth,
Latter-day Saint archaeologist John Clark made an important observation that
accords with my own:

For Mormons, Joseph Smith is a prophet, seer, and
revelator, and the Book of Mormon is the word of God. Detractors ridicule both
as blasphemous frauds. There is no secure middle ground between positions, but
there is one spectacular point of agreement. Champions on both sides see the
Book of Mormon as the key to Joseph Smith’s claim to be a prophet. Divergent
views on the origin of the book lead to different supposed authors; in each
case the deduced person thought to be responsible for the book remains
incomplete. Surprisingly, both friends and foes have diminished Joseph and the
Book of Mormon in the same way—by exaggerating his abilities. . . .

Critics see Joseph Smith as author of a romantic fiction,
the Book of Mormon, and in so doing they distort both the man and the book
beyond belief. They see the book as a logical product of its 1820s intellectual
environment, combined with Joseph Smith’s native intelligence and deceitful

Most Mormons fall into a more subtle error that also inflates
Joseph’s talents; they confuse translation with authorship. They presume that
Joseph Smith knew the contents of the book as if he were its real author, and
they accord him perfect knowledge of the text. This presumption removes from
discussion the most compelling evidence of the book’s authenticity—Joseph’s
unfamiliarity with its contents. To put the matter clearly: Joseph Smith did
not fully understand the Book of Mormon. I propose that he transmitted to
readers an ancient book that he neither imagined nor wrote.

One thing all readers share with Joseph is a partial understanding
of the book’s complexities. Indeed, many things about the book were simply
unknowable in 1830. Over the last sixty years, Hugh Nibley, John Sorenson, and
other scholars have shown the Book of Mormon to be truer than Joseph Smith or
any of his contemporaries could know. Consequently, what Joseph Smith knew and
understood about the book ought to be research questions rather than presumptions
Thanks in large part to his critics, it is becoming clear that Joseph Smith did
not fully understand the geography, scope, historical scale, literary form, or
cultural content of the book.39

It is, of course, possible that the Lord revealed the
details of Book of Mormon geography to Joseph Smith, but this is, as Clark
reminds, a research question, not a given. In what follows, I will assess the
historical evidence bearing on what Joseph knew about the geography of Book of
Mormon events.

Land, Continent, Country, and Context

“This Land”

Porter and Meldrum argue that the words “this land”
(e.g., 2 Nephi 1:5) in reference to the promised land cannot refer to all of
the Americas, but rather exclusively to a smaller region that they identify
with the Central and Eastern United States. They claim that the demonstrative this in Hebrew shows that the land in question is limited to the region immediately
within the vicinity of the speaker; hence the words cannot refer to the entire
American hemisphere.

The phrase “this land” in the passages above [2
Nephi 1:5–9; 10:10–12], and all others must be intimate to the
speaker and the listener, or the prophet writing the text. “This land”
must then be definite, specific, and under the feet of the listener to answer
the question of “which land.” The demonstrative solidifies the
understanding of which land is “this land”—the land where they
are. Because of these demonstratives the land where they are must be the same
land where the specific prophecies and promises are to be fulfilled. (p. 31)

The authors insist that when Moroni speaks of the New
Jerusalem being built upon “this land” it can only mean that Moroni
was standing in or very near Jackson County, Missouri. When Book of Mormon
prophets say that “this land” is to be a land of liberty unto the
Gentiles, we must, according to Porter and Meldrum, understand this to refer to
the United States exclusively. When the Book of Mormon speaks of the remnant of
Lehi in “this land,” the words can only mean the United States or
some location within the United States. The words cannot, in their view, have
wider application to all of the Americas. They continue:

The only way that the words “this land” (the
singular among the plural) found in the Book of Mormon could be forced to mean
the entire western hemisphere is for the Nephite writers to be intimate and familiar
with the entire extent of the land from north to south and from east to west
before the statements were made. The use of the phrase “this land”
would indicate that there were other lands that were not part of “this
land”, indicating within the text a non-hemispherical setting. The phrase “this
land” can only be defined as singular within “lands” around the
speaker to even warrant the need of the demonstrative. If the discussion was
meant to include all the lands within the hemisphere that are connected at the
point or place of discussion, the text would not require the demonstrative “this”
but only the definite article. One would not say “this chair” in a
room full of chairs to mean all chairs. Nor would one say “this land”
in a hemisphere of many lands. (pp. 32–33)

For Porter and Meldrum, any other explanation is
inconceivable. “To try to stretch of the meaning of ‘this land’ in this
revelation to include Central or South America is beyond comprehension”
(p. 101). The phrase, however, does not mean what they think it does. The
demonstrative this in “this land” does not tell us the
extent or limits of the land referred to. In other words, the proximity
suggested by this does not define scope, for “this land”
may begin under the feet of the speaker and go on indefinitely. In Hebrew, this and that,
as well as these and those,
can refer to things both proximate and distant. Sometimes, for example, “this
land,” even in English, can mean “the land of which I am speaking”
rather than “the land where I am writing this.” Before the Israelites
entered the land of promise, Moses spoke of it as “this land”
although he had never set foot upon it (Deuteronomy 3:18; 29:24). Nephi was in
the Arabian land of Bountiful when he spoke of the land of Canaan: “Do ye
suppose that the children of this land, who were in the land
of promise, who were driven out by our fathers, do ye suppose that they were
righteous?” (1 Nephi 17:33). “This land” clearly referred to the
land of
he was speaking rather than the land where he was speaking. King Mosiah was in the land of Zarahemla in the land southward
when he spoke of the destruction of the Jaredites in “this land,”
even though they were destroyed in the land northward (Mosiah 29:27). Mormon
was in the land northward when he wrote about “this land” in which
Jesus had chosen his twelve disciples—which happened in Bountiful in the
land southward (Mormon 3:19; 8:23). Jesus speaks of the great destruction in “this
land,” meaning both the land northward and southward (3 Nephi 9:12).

When Jesus speaks to the Nephites concerning his other
sheep, he explains that their brethren in the land of Jerusalem did not know
about them. He speaks of the lost tribes: “And verily, verily, I say unto
you that I have other sheep, which are not of this land, neither of the land of
, neither in any parts of that land round about whither I
have been to minister” (3 Nephi 16:1). The lost tribes were not in “this
land” where the Lehites were or the “land of Jerusalem” or any parts
of “that land” where Jesus had previously ministered to the Jews.
Speaking from the Nephite temple at Bountiful, Jesus distinguishes “this
land” from the land where he had walked among the Jews in the Old World,
but aside from this, the nature of “this land” is left open and

It also appears that Joseph Smith and his contemporaries
interpreted “this land” more broadly than Porter and Meldrum do. In
June 1842, while the Prophet was serving as its editor, the Times and
included an article comparing Aztec traditions of the
confounding of languages with the account of the brother of Jared in the Book
of Mormon. The editor then observed:

The tradition and hyeroglyphics of the Zaltees, the Colhuacans,
and the Azteca nations, in regard to the confusion of languages and their
travels to this land, is so like that contained in the Book of Mormon, that the
striking analogy must be seen by every superficial observer. . . . These
accounts, then, precisely agree, one of which was found in Ontario county,
N.Y., and the other in Mexico
. 40

Clearly, the editor considered both New York and Mexico
to be part of “this land.”

“This Continent”

Porter and Meldrum claim that the phrase “this
continent” when used by Joseph Smith also indicates that he was not
speaking of all the Americas, but only the United States or part of it. In his
account of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, now included in the Pearl of
Great Price, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote that the angel Moroni explained
that the Book of Mormon gave an account of the “former inhabitants of this
continent” (Joseph Smith—History 1:34). According to Porter and

the interpretation of the phrase “former inhabitants of
this continent” must, for clarity of understanding, have one of two
meanings or conclusions. Either this refers to “this continent” or it
does not. If it does not refer to the United States, a person would have to
ignore the demonstrative “this” and then redefine “this
continent” into a generality of hemisphere or continent(s). To assume the
latter would mean that either Joseph or Moroni made a mistake in the
description and the use of the demonstrative in pointing to the “which”
continent. (pp. 92–93) 41

The authors’ interpretation
fails to take into account the historical context in which the Prophet’s
statement was made and also ignores how the words were used by Joseph Smith and
his contemporaries. The historical evidence suggests that the earliest
Latter-day Saints thought of events in the Book of Mormon as having occurred
throughout North and South America. The early Saints did not have their own
press until mid-1832, but other early newspapers reported the activities and
ideas of the earliest missionaries. Eight months after the publication of the
Book of Mormon, an Ohio reporter described the teachings of Oliver Cowdery and
his companions as they stopped in Ohio on their way to Missouri: “This new
Revelation, they say is especially designed for the benefit, or rather for the
christianizing of the Aborigines of America; who, as they affirm, are a part of
the tribe of Manasseh, and whose ancestors landed on the coast of Chili 600
years before the coming of Christ, and from them descended all the Indians of
America.” 42 Other early reports state that Orson Pratt and Lyman Johnson preached that Lehi
landed in South America and that the final battles of the Nephites commenced at
the Isthmus of Darien and ended in New York.43 By June
1832, the church had commenced its own newspaper in Independence, Missouri,
under the editorship of W. W. Phelps. In an early issue, Phelps spoke of
Missouri as “the centre of America; it being about an equal distance
from Maine, to Nootka sound; and from the gulf of St. Lawrence to the Gulf of
California; yes, and about the middle of the continent from cape Horn, south, to the
head land at Barra’s Bay, north.
“ 44 It is in
this context of a hemispheric view inclusive of all the Americas that early
Latter-day Saint usage of the word continent is best understood.
When we survey how Latter-day Saint writers in Joseph Smith’s day used the
term, it becomes clear that they had reference to Central and South America as
well as North America, as the following examples show:

•    We are glad to
see the proof [from Central American ruins] 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.
Helaman, in the book of Mormon, gives the following very interesting account of
the people who lived upon this continent, before the birth of the Savior.45

•    Now, the beauty
of this simile or figure can only be discovered by those who take the pains to
contrast it with the literal fact as it occurred; the relation of which may be
found in the book of Mormon, first book of Nephi, where a remnant of the
branches or seed of Joseph are represented as crossing the sea, and settling this
continent of North and South America

•    The Book of
Mormon describes the christian religion as being on the Western
. . . a religion in operation at the Isthmus of
600 years before Christ.47

•    Mr. M. I have
always thought that there had been a more enlightened people on this
, than the present Indians. The remains of ancient
buildings, monuments &c., are evident proofs on this point. Mr. R. There
can be no doubt on this subject. In the recent researches in Central
, the ruins of very large and splendid buildings have been
found, but it does not necessarily follow that the Book of Mormon is true.48

•    The Book of
Mormon gives an account of a number of descendants of Israel coming to this
; and it is well known that the art of embalming was known
among the Hebrews, as well as among the Egyptians. . . . This art was no doubt
transmitted from Jerusalem to this continent, by the before
mentioned emigrants, which accounts for their finding of the mummies [in
Kentucky], and at the same time is another strong evidence of the authenticity
of the Book of Mormon.49

•    The city
[Moronihah] was in some region on the South of what is called at this time,
North America, and at the time our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, near
Jerusalem, in Asia. At that time there was a terrible destruction on this
, because of the wickedness of the people, at which time
those cities were destroyed. . . . And how was you destroyed? was the inquiry
of those efficient antiquarians Messrs. Catherwood and Stephens, the charge d’affairs
of these United States, as they sit on the wondrous walls of “Copan”.
. . . Read book of Mormon, 3d edition, page 549. Let the reader observe, that
the book of Mormon was published A. D. 1830. The discovery of this city by
Messrs. Catherwood and Stephens was in 1840. Read Stephens’ travels in Central America,
vol. i. page 130, 131, &c. Mr. Stephens states, “There is no account
of these ruins until the visit of Col. Galindo in 1836, before referred to, who
examined them under a commission from the Central American government.”
Question.—If the book of Mormon is a fiction, no difference who wrote it,
how did it happen to locate this city so nicely before it was known to exist
till 1836 by any account that was extant in America, from which it could have
been extracted? 50

•    He introduced an
account of many American antiquities together with the discoveries lately made
by Mr. Stevens, that all go to prove that the American Indians were once an
enlightened people and understood the arts and sciences, as the ruined cities
and monuments lately discovered fully prove. . . . The Book of Mormon was not
only a history of the dealings of God with the descendants of Joseph on this
, previous to the crucifixion of our Lord, but also an
account of the gospel as established among them by the personal appearance of
Christ on this continent.51

•    When the Book of
Mormon first made its appearance among men, it was looked upon by many as a
wild speculation. . . . We were then told that the inhabitants of this
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
, which, in point of magnificence, beauty, strength and
architectural design, would vie with any of the most splendid ruins of the Asiatic
; when they could trace the fine delineations of the
sculptor’s chisel, on the beautiful statue, the mysterious hieroglyphic, and
the unknown character, they began to believe that a wise, powerful, intelligent
and scientific race had inhabited this continent.52

•    He says “there
were ruins known to exist in Central America, (the lands he says, I said
belonged to Ephraim, &c. but I contend that it is North and South America
both that includes the promised land
to the branches of Joseph) long
before 1830, true the ruins of the city of Ottolum was known; but Stevens
visited altogether 43. In a court yard in one, he found an enclosure made of
stone, and inside of this enclosure was a stone covered with Hieroglyphics. See
Vol. II p. 121 and 2. Read page 147, B. Mormon and see what it tells you
concerning a certain stone, and the Book of Mormon was published in 1830, and
this stone, and city after city, that it spoke of and described their
situation, and who built them, when it came forth,—has been discovered
since by Mr. Stephens for the first time, for he says “There they
lay like the rock built city of Edom, unvisited, unsought for, and utterly
.” I could refer the candid reader (if my limits would
permit) to numerous testimonies of the kind. In Vol. II. p. 184, he gives a
description of a place of sacrifice, with Idols standing near it. In B. M. p.
511, we have it recorded, that the Lamanites, took the Nephites prisoners, and
sacrificed both women and children to their Idol Gods. If all this be the
effect of chance, or guess work, it is guessing mighty straight, is it not Mr.
W.? y-e-s. But Mr. W. says “Mr. Stephens gives it as his opinion, that
there is nothing to indicate Egyptian or Hebrew origin, among these ruins.”
Read again Mr. W. Vol. II. page 296 and 347, deducing Egyptian origin and
concerning the embalming room. Then read Mr. Norman’s travels in Central
in 1840, and see what he says about it, before you expose
your ignorance any more.53

•    We come now to
inquire where has the seed of Joseph gone to? If they had taken up their
residence in any part of what is technically called the old world would not
history have informed us of the fact? There is no place except North and
South America
to which they could have gone, if the old world
furnishes no trace of them. The continent of America is the only
place where the prophecies concerning Joseph and his seed could be fulfilled.54

•    The Book of
Mormon informs us that Christ visited this continent after the resurrection,
and we believe it, because it is in perfect accordance with the glorious
attributes of Jehovah. He would never leave one half of the world in darkness
on the subject of revelation, and then punish his creatures eternally for not
believing what they never heard. Let orthodox preachers and believers in that
doctrine make the most they can from this statement.55

•    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
, 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, since then has thrown some light
on this interesting subject. Stephens in his “Incidents of Travels in Central
,” has thrown 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.56

•    As to the
original inhabitants of the continent of America, the Book of Mormon, backs up
the description of immense “ruins” in Central America,
dispels all doubt.57

•    For this reason we copy the foregoing
eulogy on General Joseph Smith, one of the greatest men that ever lived on the
earth; emphatically proved so, by being inspired by God to bring forth the Book
of Mormon, which gives the true history of the natives of this
; their ancient glory and cities:—which cities have
been discovered by Mr. Stevens in Central America, exactly where
the Book of Mormon left them.58

During the Prophet’s tenure
as editor, writers for the Times and Seasons used similar language to describe
the evidence for the Book of Mormon found throughout the Americas:

•    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
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
. Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormon
unfolds their history.59

Noah Webster’s
1828 dictionary defined a continent as “a great extent of land,
not disjoined or interrupted by a sea; a connected tract of land of great
extent; as the Eastern, and Western Continent. It differs from an isle only
in extent.” 60 Here, as defined in the language of Joseph Smith’s day, we have the idea of two
main continents—a new, western or American continent and an old or
eastern one. “Formerly two continents were reckoned, the Old and the New; the
former comprising Europe, Asia, and Africa, which form one continuous mass of
land; the latter, North and South America, forming another
.” 61 In their discussions of the Book of Mormon, early writers also spoke in terms
of two main continents. Variants of this conception were common, as can be seen
from the following examples:

•    The Holy Bible
professes to be a history of the peopling of the old continent—the
Golden Bible of the new continent.62

•    If Moses and the
prophets, Christ and his apostles, were the real authors of the bible, chiefly
revealed and written on the continent of Asia, was not the book of Mormon also
written by men who were divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, on the
continent of America
? And did not Jesus Christ as truly appear on the
continent of America
, after his resurrection, and choose twelve
apostles to preach his gospel; and did he not deliver his holy doctrine, and
teach the same to numerous multitudes on this American continent? 63

•    A history of the
inhabitants who peopled this continent, previous to its being discovered to Europians by
, must be interesting to every man.64

•    My last letter
was mainly confined to the book of Mormon, which rarely fails to bring to my
mind something about the Indians, whose history and doings, upon this
western continent
, it unfolds as plainly, as the bible does those of
the Israelites on the eastern continent.—Having such a view before
me, I have concluded to add a second part to my last letter, and give a few
ideas concerning the Indians and Israelites.65

•    The bible was
written by a people upon the Eastern continent, but the Book
of Mormon by a people upon this continent. 66

•    A nation whose “bones
are dried” and whose ruined temples and monuments have reposed for ages in
silent, solemn, and awful grandeur, has now spoken from the dust and revealed
to the world their history, and with it their prophecies and their testimony of
Jesus as the risen Messiah and the Saviour of the world, not of Asia only, but of America also.67

•    [Speaking of the
destruction mentioned in 3 Nephi] The Lord of heaven could not allow sin on this
in the character of the people, no more than he could on
the Eastern

•    The days are but few, thank the most high,
before the Book of Mormon will be ranked with the Bible, as one of the best of
heaven’s blessings: one the ecclesiastical history of the eastern and the other of the western continent. 69

Porter and Meldrum’s confused and highly strained
interpretations result from a failure to understand the meanings of the terms
discussed above. This is apparent in their discussion about the New Jerusalem.
In his abridgment of the book of Ether, the prophet Moroni says that Ether
prophesied of the latter days and the promises concerning the land:

And that it was the place of the New Jerusalem, which should
come down out of heaven, and the holy sanctuary of the Lord. Behold, Ether saw
the days of Christ, and he spake concerning a New Jerusalem upon this land.
And he spake also concerning the house of Israel, and the Jerusalem from whence
Lehi should come—after it should be destroyed it should be built up
again, a holy city unto the Lord; wherefore, it could not be a new Jerusalem
for it had been in a time of old; but it should be built up again, and become a
holy city of the Lord; and it should be built unto the house of Israel. And
that a New Jerusalem should be built upon this land, unto the remnant of
the seed of Joseph, for which things there has been a type. (Ether

Moroni used the phrase “this land” in referring to
the future city of the New Jerusalem. Porter and Meldrum insist that “this
surely must indicate that the land where both Ether and Moroni were writing
from must have been within the boundaries of the present day nation of the
United States of America, which is plainly understood to contain the New
Jerusalem by revelation” (p. 56). In support of their restrictive
heartland view, they quote the Prophet Joseph Smith:

Now many will feel disposed to say, that this New Jerusalem
spoken of, is the Jerusalem that was built by the Jews on the eastern
: But you will see, from Revelations 21:2, there was a New
Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven, adorned as a bride for her
husband; that after this, the Revelator was caught away in the Spirit to a
great and high mountain, and saw the great and holy city descending out of
heaven from God. Now there are two cities spoken of here. As everything cannot
be had in so narrow a compass as a letter, I shall say with brevity, that there
is a New Jerusalem to be established on this continent, and also the
Jerusalem shall be rebuilt on the eastern continent. (p. 55, emphasis added)

Porter and Meldrum then offer their interpretation:

The Prophet Joseph Smith here declares that “this land”
shall be the place of the New Jerusalem and adds that it is to be “established
on this continent.” Here the prophet links “this continent” with
the “very spot of land” for the New Jerusalem indicating
that it was not a hemispherical setting of which he was thinking
Joseph knew where the New Jerusalem was to be built, what “continent”
and what “spot of land” that was prophesied of in the Book of Mormon,
and they are all within the confines of North America and the Unites States. (p.

This misreading of the Prophet’s words is striking.
Clearly we are to understand the phrase “this continent,” where the
New Jerusalem is to be established, in the same way that we understand the
corollary, juxtaposed term “eastern continent,” where
the old Jerusalem was built. Taking the Prophet’s own words as a guide, one
logically equates “this continent” with “western continent,”
which is consistent with the early hemispheric interpretation of these
promises. The Prophet employs similar usage in the 1842 Wentworth Letter:

This book also tells us that our Saviour made his appearance
upon this continent after his resurrection, that he planted the gospel
here in all its fulness, and richness, and power, and blessing; that they had
apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists; the same order, the same
priesthood, the same ordinances, gifts, powers, and blessing, as was enjoyed on the
eastern continent
. 70

The most reasonable interpretation of the evidence is
that the Prophet referred to all the Americas when he spoke of “this continent.”

Porter and Meldrum further argue:

Even though in the early 1800s the American continent was
defined by Noah Webster’s dictionary to be all of North and South America,
later refinements divide North America from South America as two distinct and
separate continents. If a North American geographic setting is applied, then
Joseph’s statement remains true both then and now, but if a South American
setting is used, then Joseph’s statement was true only during his time, and is
no longer true because Joseph was never on the South American continent. (p.

The logic of this statement escapes me. How do later refinements have anything to do with how Joseph Smith used the word in his
day, and why would a later usage after the Prophet’s death make his earlier
usage wrong? The English dictionary of Joseph Smith’s day suggests a broader
usage. Joseph Smith’s own writings suggest a broader usage. Latter-day Saints
and non–Latter-day Saints read it broadly. Subsequent prophets and
apostles use the term similarly, but Porter and Meldrum insist that “this
land” and “this continent” can refer only to the land of the
United States and that to suggest that “this continent” might include
the entire hemisphere with Central and South America “would mean that
either Joseph or Moroni made a mistake in the description and the use of the
demonstrative in pointing to ‘which’ continent” (p. 93).

“This Country”

In his 1842 letter to John Wentworth, the Prophet Joseph
Smith gave an account of Moroni’s visit in which the angel informed him about
the existence and location of the plates of the Book of Mormon. In this
account, the Prophet wrote:

I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of
this country [America], and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a
brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of
their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally
withdrawn from them as a people was [also] made known unto me. . . . The
remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country. This book also
tells us that our Savior made his appearance upon this continent after
his resurrection, that he planted the gospel here in all its fulness, and
richness, and power, and blessing; that they had apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers
and evangelists; the same order, the same priesthood, the same ordinances,
gifts, powers, and blessing, as was enjoyed on the eastern continent.71

“It is important to note,” write Porter and
Meldrum, “that the statements of Joseph contained in this letter boldly
testify of his inspiration and the revelations on matters pertaining not only
to the record and the history of the people, but also the land where it took
place” (pp. 98–99). They continue:

The Prophet reveals in the above quote that the “remnant”
of the people in the Book of Mormon are the “Indians that now inhabit this country,”
[not all natives in the Western Hemisphere]. The Prophet Joseph then continues
with the statement that “This book also tells us that our
Savior made His
appearance upon this continent
after His resurrection; that He
planted the Gospel here.” . . . He states that the Savior appeared on “this
continent” as recorded in the Book of Mormon. This should clearly indicate
that the continent of South America is not included. Central or Mesoamerica is
considered to be a part of the North American continent, but not a part of
Joseph’s “this country” which unmistakably refers to the area and “country”
in which he lived. (pp. 100–101)

The authors’ conclusions are not grounded in historical
context and the usage of the time. They mistakenly assume that the words “this
continent” must by definition exclude South America, but those words, as
we have seen, do not exclude any portion of the Americas but
are consistent with the hemispheric view of the Book of Mormon espoused by
early Latter-day Saints. While the word country can sometimes refer to a
nation such as the United States, it could also refer to “any tract of
land, or inhabited land; any region, as distinguished from other regions.” 72 “This country” can be read in a broad and generic sense, contrasting
the land or region of the Americas from the eastern land or region of Europe or
the land or region of Asia.73 That this is Joseph Smith’s meaning can be shown from the Prophet’s writings
and those of his close associates. In an article published in 1841, Parley P.
Pratt, who was one of the earliest missionaries to the Lamanites, described the
American Indians of North, Central, and South America as “Lamanites”
inhabiting “a country of more than seven thousand miles long, and
two thousand broad, extending from the frozen and scarcely explored regions of
Hudson’s Bay on the north, to the extremity of Cape Horn, or the southern end
of South America, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific, east and west.” 74 In July 1842, while Joseph served as editor of the Times and Seasons,
the terms “this continent” and “this country” were used to
include Central America:

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 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. 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
. Stephens and Catherwood’s researches in Central
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.75

In a letter written on 16 November 1841, thanking John
Bernhisel for sending him a copy of Stephens and Catherwood’s Incidents of
Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan
, the Prophet said
that “of all histories that have been written pertaining to the
antiquities of this country it is the most correct luminous &
comprihensive.” 76 Here again, the use of “this country” to include Central America in
connection with the Book of Mormon is unmistakable. This was just months before
the Prophet wrote his letter to John Wentworth. So when he speaks of “the
aboriginal inhabitants of this country” and the Indians “that now
inhabit this country,” there can be little doubt that he and others
were thinking in terms of all the Americas and not only the United States.

Has Book of Mormon Geography Been Revealed?

We have seen that phrases such as “this land,” “this
continent,” and “this country” as used by Joseph Smith and his
contemporaries lend no support for the limited North American “heartland”
interpretation of Book of Mormon geography. Do other teachings of Joseph Smith
provide evidence for that view? Porter and Meldrum think so, but as we will
see, the examples they offer as support turn out to be nonexamples.

The Wentworth Letter

We have already cited the 1842 Wentworth letter, which,
according to Porter and Meldrum, shows that Joseph Smith’s knowledge of Book of
Mormon history was extensive. “Joseph Smith knew and was shown, as he
testifies, who exactly the Book of Mormon people were, where they came from,
their origins, how they and their civilization progressed. He also knew them so
intimately as to understand their very laws and governmental system, as he
recorded in the Wentworth Letter and as recorded by his mother” (p. 101).
There is no doubt that the Lord revealed many things to the Prophet Joseph
Smith, but at issue here is whether those things included the details of Book
of Mormon geography.

As quoted earlier, in the Wentworth Letter, Joseph wrote:

I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of
this country [America], and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a
brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of
their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally
withdrawn from them as a people was [also] made known unto me.77

Joseph stated that the angel gave him “a brief
sketch” of these matters, not a long and detailed one that would give him
an intimate knowledge of the intricacies of the Book of Mormon or its
geography. In fact, all the things he describes are discussed in more detail in
the record itself. The Book of Mormon speaks of the Israelite heritage of
pre-Columbian peoples; tells where Lehi and his family came from; describes
their journey from Jerusalem to America; details aspects of their growth,
progress, civilization, laws, and governments under their kings and judges;
records their fall from righteousness; and foretells the destiny of their descendant
peoples. Significantly, of all the things that the Prophet said that Moroni
revealed to him, the geography of the Book of Mormon narrative was not one of

In a recollection first recorded in 1845, the Prophet’s
mother described family activities between the time Moroni first appeared in
1823 and the time when Joseph obtained the plates:

During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally
give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would
describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of
traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings,
with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship.
This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole
life among them.78

Mother Smith recalled Joseph discussing the ancient
inhabitants of the Americas, how some of them dressed and traveled, their
animals, their cities, their buildings, their mode of warfare, and their
religious worship. Yet, as with the Wentworth Letter, there is no mention of
geography in Lucy’s description. This would lead one to conclude that of those
things revealed to the Prophet, geography was not one of them.

A Newspaper Account

On 2 February 1833, the American Revivalist and Rochester Observer published part of a letter written by Joseph Smith that spoke of the Book of

The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our
western tribes of Indians; having been found through the ministration of an
holy Angel, translated into our own language by the gift and power of God,
after having been hid up in the earth for the last fourteen hundred years,
containing the word of God which was delivered unto them. By it, we learn, that
our western tribes of Indians, are descendants from that Joseph that was sold
into Egypt, and that the land of America is a promised land unto them, and unto
it, all the tribes of Israel will come, with as many of the gentiles as shall
comply with the requisitions of the new covenant.79

In reference to this account, Porter and Meldrum
contend that “it cannot be claimed that Joseph had no knowledge about
geography or that he never claimed any inspiration on the matter as has been
done by many who support a setting contrary to the words of Joseph Smith”
(p. 104). However, the Prophet said nothing in his letter about the ancient
geographical setting of the Book of Mormon narrative. He spoke, rather, of the “land
of America” (not the United States alone). He also referred to the
American “Indians” a term that we have already seen was used in
Joseph Smith’s day to refer to any Americans of Pre-Columbian descent. He spoke
generally of the western tribes of Indians (most Indians at the time lived west
of Rochester, New York). He did not say that some Indians are descendants of
Book of Mormon peoples and other are not.

Joseph Smith’s 1835 Account of Moroni’s Visit

Next Porter and Meldrum cite a statement from the Prophet
Joseph Smith in which he gave an account of the visit of Moroni:

He told me of a sacred record which was written on plates of
gold, I saw in the vision the place where they were deposited, he said the
indians, were the literal descendants of Abraham he explained many things of the prophesies to me.80

According to Porter
and Meldrum, “Joseph Smith was given, by reve­lation from a messenger
of God (Moroni), the knowledge that the American Indians are the actual
descendants of the house of Israel through Abraham. There are a number of
documented occurrences of the prophet Joseph claiming to have had revelation on
this matter, and each time he clearly indicated that the Native Americans in
North America are the literal descendants, or ‘remnant’, of the Book of Mormon
history” (p. 104).

Latter-day Saints have always believed that Abraham and
Israel and Lehi were among the ancestors of Native American peoples. There is
no support, however, for the authors’ claim that the Lord revealed to Joseph
Smith that the Native Americans of North America are the prophesied remnant while
those of Central or South America are not. Latter-day Saint prophets and
apostles have consistently taught that all Native American peoples are heirs to
the promises spoken of in the Book of Mormon.81 Nor does the
Prophet’s letter reveal a detailed knowledge of Book of Mormon geography.

Early Interactions with Native Americans

On 12 August 1841, a group of Sac and Fox Indians visited
Nauvoo. As reported in the History of the Church, the Prophet Joseph Smith
treated them with respect and gave them counsel.

I conducted them to the meeting grounds in the grove, and
instructed them in many things which the Lord had revealed unto me concerning
their fathers, and the promises that were made concerning them in the Book of
Mormon. I advised them to cease killing each other and warring with other
tribes; also to keep peace with the whites; all of which was interpreted to

Porter and Meldrum argue that this account shows that
the Prophet knew by revelation that these Indians were Lamanites and by
implication that other groups were not (pp. 114–15). However,
acknowledging the prophetic ancestry of these visitors, Joseph Smith did not
exclude others. He spoke of what the Lord had revealed to him concerning the
promises made to the fathers concerning them in the Book of Mormon. He also
gave them counsel that is found in the Book of Mormon—that they should
live peacefully (Mormon 7:4). Nothing in this passage quoted above suggests
that the Prophet spoke of anything other than what the Lord had revealed
through the Book of Mormon itself. And, again, the account says nothing of Book
of Mormon geography or a revelation on that subject.

On 22 and 23 May 1844, Joseph Smith was visited by a group
of Sac and Fox Indians who were living in Iowa. He told them that the

Great spirit wants you to be united and live in peace. Found
a book (presenting the Book of Mormon) which told me about your fathers and
Great spirit told me. You must send to all the tribes you can and tell them to
live in peace and when any of our people come to see you treat them as we treat

Porter and Meldrum argue
that Joseph’s words to this group of Indians show that the Book of Mormon
promises and teachings could not also have reference to Native American peoples
of Central and South America since “just days before his martyrdom, the
Prophet repeated again his understanding in relation to who the remnant
Lamanites were” (p. 114). But Joseph’s language is not exclusive. He did
not claim that these visitors were Lehite and other groups were not. It is also
worth noting again that this reference says nothing about Book of Mormon
geography or any revelation not already made clear in the Book of Mormon.


In March 1841, in a revelation now known as section 125 of
the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord counseled the Saints in Iowa to gather at
several appointed locations:

What is the will of the Lord concerning the saints in the
Territory of Iowa? Verily, thus saith the Lord, I say unto you, if those who
call themselves by my name and are essaying to be my saints, if they will do my
will and keep my commandments concerning them, let them gather themselves
together unto the places which I shall appoint unto them by my servant Joseph,
and build up cities unto my name, that they may be prepared for that which is
in store for a time to come. Let them build up a city unto my name upon the
land opposite the city of Nauvoo, and let the name of Zarahemla be named upon
it. And let all those who come from the east, and the west, and the north, and
the south, that have desires to dwell therein, take up their inheritance in the
same, as well as in the city of Nashville, or in the city of Nauvoo, and in all
the stakes which I have appointed, saith the Lord. (D&C 125:1–4)

Porter and Meldrum use this revelation to support their
theory about the location of the ancient Zarahemla. Noting that the Book of
Mormon speaks of the New Jerusalem as geographically distinct from Jerusalem
(Ether 13:5), they argue that since the Lord called the Iowa settlement “Zarahemla”
in revelation, it must be the same location mentioned in the Book of Mormon;
otherwise, the Lord would have called the Iowa site “New Zarahemla”
rather than “Zarahemla” to clarify the difference in location. “There
is no indication that He named it for any other purpose than to establish an
understanding of where the ancient city may have stood” (p. 111). Really?
The name Zion,
besides referring to the Lord’s people (Moses 7:18), can refer to the Temple
Mount in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:1); the City of Enoch (Moses 7:19, 63); Jackson
County, Missouri (D&C 66:6); or the city to be built there (D&C 57:2).
Each is a different geographical location named “Zion” by the Lord;
none is called “New Zion.”

More important, Porter and Meldrum’s theory rests upon the
assumption that it was the Lord who first designated the Iowa gathering site as
Zarahemla. This, however, is not the case. On 2 July 1839, Joseph Smith and
other church leaders visited the site in question. The entry published in the History of
the Church
reads as follows:

Spent the forenoon of this day on the Iowa side of the river.
Went, in company with Elders Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, and Bishops Whitney
and Knight, and others, to visit a purchase lately made by Bishop Knight as a
location for a town, and advised that a town be built there, and called

The last three words of this entry, “and called
Zarahemla,” were not written by Joseph Smith but were written into the “Manuscript
History of Joseph Smith” by Elder Willard Richards when he recorded the
history for that date sometime after the Prophet’s death in 1844.85 However, referring to the settlement as “Zarahemla” before the March
1841 revelation is consistent with other historical evidence showing that the
Saints already referred to the site by that name. Brigham Young, who began
keeping a regular journal in early 1839, recorded that on 2 July 1839 “Brothers
Joseph, Hyrum and others came over the river to Montrose, and went out on the
prairie and looked out the sight for a city for the Saints, which was
called Zarahemla.
“ 86 Elias Smith,
a cousin of Joseph Smith, recorded in his journal for 24 June 1839 the
following: “Moved from Commerce to Lee County, Iowa Territory, and went on
the farm bought of F. P. Blevins.” 87 In his
journal for 16 August 1840, he recorded the death of the Prophet’s brother Don
Carlos and noted that there was a “Conference at Zarahemla
on that day. 88 These early references to the name of the Iowa settlement previous to March
1841 indicate that the Saints referred to it as Zarahemla long before the reve­lation
in question. There is no indication in these early sources that this
designation was based upon revelation or even that it was Joseph Smith’s idea.
This evidence suggests, rather, that the name did not originate with the March
1841 revelation and that the Lord was referencing a location already known
among the Saints by that name. The purpose of the revelation was most likely to
counsel the Saints to gather at the appointed place and not, as the authors
suggest, to reveal the ancient location of a Book of Mormon city. The Saints
did what they would often do—name places they lived after places
mentioned in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. There is no compelling reason to
associate the Iowa settlement with ancient Zarahemla.


Porter and Meldrum claim that Joseph Smith declared the
ancient Book of Mormon city of Manti to be located near Huntsville, Randolph
County, Missouri. They cite two documents as support. The first is an entry
from the journal of Samuel D. Tyler, a Latter-day Saint who traveled with the
Kirtland Camp to Missouri in 1838. 89 The second
is an excerpt from the Manuscript History of the Church.90 Based upon
these two references, the authors claim, “The Prophet Joseph, according to
these diary accounts, revealed where the Book of Mormon city of Manti was
located” (p. 110). Tyler’s journal for 25 September 1838 reads as follows:

We passed thro Huntsville, Co. seat Randolph Co. Pop. 450
& three miles further we bought 32 bu. of corn of one of the brethren who
resides in this place (66) There are several of the brethren round about here
& this
is the ancient site of the City of Manti, which is spoken of in the Book of
& this is appointed one of the Stakes of Zion and it is
in Randolph Co. Mo. 3 miles west of the Co. seat.91

Contrary to the authors’ belief, there is no evidence
that Tyler was reporting something he heard Joseph Smith say to the Kirtland
Camp. In fact, the Prophet was not even present at the time. He did not travel
with the Kirtland Camp from Ohio to Missouri but was already living in Far
West, several counties away. 92 Tyler never
explains where he heard this information, nor does he attribute the ideas about
the city Manti to Joseph Smith or a revelation on Book of Mormon geography.
What was the source of this local hearsay? Was it based upon something Joseph
Smith said, or does it reflect speculation among the local brethren? How
accurately was it reported? The Tyler journal does not provide answers for
these questions.

The second source the authors cite as evidence that ancient
Manti was in Missouri is the Manuscript History of the Church. The relevant
entry, for 25 September 1838, reads as follows:

The camp passed through Huntsville in Randolph County which
has been appointed as one of the stakes of Zion, and is the ancient site of the
City of Manti and pitched tents at Dark Creek, Salt Licks, seventeen miles. It
was reported to the camp that one hundred and ten men had volunteered from
Randolph and gone to Far West to settle

This second source,
however, is not a contemporary journal written by the Prophet or by anyone else
in the Kirtland Camp in 1838; it was actually written by Willard Richards after
the Prophet’s death. Comparative evidence suggests that Richards’s entry was
based upon the Tyler journal entry.

Tyler Journal,
25 September 1838



History, 1843?


We passed
thro Huntsville
, Co. seat Randolph Co. Pop. 450 &
three miles further we bought 32 bu. of corn of one of the brethren who
resides in this place (66) There are several of the brethren round about here
& this is the ancient site of the City of Manti, which is spoken of in
the Book of Mormon & this is appointed one of the Stakes of Zion & it is in Randolph Co. Mo. 3 miles west of the Co. seat. We progressed
on 3 miles further to Dark Creek, Salt Licks, & pitched. . . . 17 miles.
733 + 17 = 750 Miles. . . . We hear that 110 men have volunteered to
save being drafted & have gone from this Co. to Far West to settle some
between the Missourians & Mormons & that they
are collecting forces from many other Co’s to settle perhaps they know not
what themselves.


The camp passed
through Hunts­ville in Randolph County
which has been appointed
as one of the stakes of Zion
, and is the ancient site of the
City of Manti
and pitched tents at Dark
Creek, Salt Licks
, seventeen miles. It was reported to the camp
that one
hundred and ten men had volunteered
from Randolph and gone to
Far West to settle difficulties






When this portion of the history was first published in the Millennial
in 1854, the entry read essentially the same as it did in
Richards’s handwritten manuscript.94 However, when church historian Andrew Jenson prepared it for publication
in the Historical
in 1888, he incorrectly assumed that the Prophet Joseph Smith
was the source of this information. Consequently, Jenson inserted the words “which
the Prophet said” immediately before the part of the sentence about Manti,
making it read “which the Prophet said was the ancient site of the city of
Manti.” 95

Fortunately, there is another
source, not cited by the authors, that sheds light upon the question. Elias
Smith, a cousin to Joseph Smith, also kept a contemporary journal of the
travels and activities of the Kirtland Camp. On this same day, 25 September
1838, he recorded the following:

We came through Huntsville the county seat of Randolph where
we were told before we arrived there we should be stopped but saw nothing of
the kind when we came through the town and heard no threats whatever, but all
appeared friendly. 11/2 miles west of Huntsville we crossed the east branch of
Chariton and 11/2 miles west of the river we found Ira Ames and some other brethren near the
place where
the city of Manti is to be built
and encamped for the night on Dark
creek 6 miles from Huntsville.96

Elias Smith did not equate the land near Huntsville,
Missouri, with the ancient location of Manti, but he indicated that this
was the place where a future settlement named after the ancient one was “to be built.” In light of the above, it would appear that the Missouri Saints in
1838 initially anticipated the establishment of a future settlement and stake
of Zion in the region, much as they did later with the Zarahemla settlement in
Iowa. Neither the Samuel Tyler nor Elias Smith journals, however, attribute
these plans to any prophetic revelation on ancient Book of Mormon geography.

When church historian B.
H. Roberts was preparing the History of the Church for publication, he reviewed original sources upon
which the Manuscript History was based and revised parts of the narrative
accordingly. Although it was apparently unavailable to earlier historians who
wrote the Manuscript History, Roberts utilized the Elias Smith account instead
of the portion of the Manuscript History based upon the Tyler journal. The
entry for 25 September 1838, as first published in 1905 and all subsequent
editions of the History of the Church, says that the village of Huntsville, Missouri,
was “near the place where the city of Manti is to be built.” 97 Any attribution to the Prophet Joseph Smith or to
Huntsville being the location of the ancient site was removed. Church leaders
apparently felt that the words “the place where the city of Manti is to be
built”—rather than “the ancient site of the city of Manti”—more
accurately reflected what was said.98 In any case, there is no authoritative link between Huntsville, Missouri, and
the site of ancient Manti (or any other location mentioned in the Book of

Zelph and the Question of Book of Mormon Geography

In support of their argument for a revealed Book of Mormon
geography limited to North America, Porter and Meldrum cite the well-known
passage on Zelph in the current edition of the History of the Church:

The visions of the past being opened to my understanding by the
Spirit of the Almighty, I discovered that the person whose skeleton was before
us was a white Lamanite, a large, thick-set man, and a man of God. His name was
Zelph. He was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus, who
was known from the hill Cumorah or eastern sea to the Rocky
mountains. The curse was taken from Zelph, or, at least, in part—one of
his thigh bones was broken by a stone flung from a sling, while in battle,
years before his death. He was killed in battle by the arrow found among his
ribs, during the last great struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites.99

Porter and Meldrum contend that upon the discovery of Zelph’s
remains the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith “important facts
that pertain to the geographical setting of the Book of Mormon” (p. 105)
and that “Joseph received a revelation from God and a vision of the past”
not only about Zelph but also about “precisely where particular events of
the Book of Mormon took place” (p. 106). If Zelph or Onandagus was “known
from ‘the Hill Cumorah or eastern sea to the Rocky Mountains’ ”
(p. 106), then the hill where the Nephites and the Jaredites had their final
battles was in New York, not Mesoamerica. The reference to the last great
struggle with the Lamanites and Nephites “would exclude Mesoamerica”
(pp. 106–7). Based upon this information, the authors conclude that “the
Lord, through Joseph, could not have been any clearer that this very mound was
within the boundaries of the Book of Mormon lands” (p. 107).

The evidence cited, however, is highly problematic. First,
church leaders have advised caution about drawing unwarranted conclusions from
the Zelph account. Elder John A. Widtsoe was familiar with the Zelph story but
cautioned, “This is not of much value in Book of Mormon geographical
studies, since Zelph probably dated from a later time when Nephites and
Lamanites had been somewhat dispersed and had wandered over the country.” 100 Second, the wording in the current edition of the History of the Church,
which the authors cite, varies significantly from that of the first edition,
published in 1904:

The visions of the past being opened to my understanding by
the Spirit of the Almighty, I discovered that the person whose skeleton we had
seen was a white Lamanite, a large thick-set man, and a man of God. His name
was Zelph. He was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus,
who was known from the eastern sea to the rocky mountains. The curse was taken
from Zelph, or, at least, in part—one of his thigh bones was broken by a
stone flung from a sling, while in battle, years before his death. He was
killed in battle by the arrow found among his ribs, during a great struggle
with the Lamanites.101

In the 1950s Fletcher Hammond noted the variation between
the 1904 edition and the second edition, published in 1948. In an attempt to
determine the original reading, Hammond sought and obtained permission to
examine the original Manuscript History of the Church.

Preston Nibley, assistant Church historian, and I, on August
29, 1957, carefully examined a microfilm copy of the original pen-and-ink entry
of the Zelph incident in the Prophet’s journal, and Brother Nibley has
authorized me to say that the 1904 edition of the Documentary History of the
Church, Vol. II at pages 79 and 80 correctly reports the “Zelph”
incident; and that that part of the [1948] edition
of the same history which differs from it is erroneous. That is to say that the
Prophet Joseph did not say: “Onandagus who was known from the hill
Cumorah, or
, eastern sea to the Rocky Mountains;” but he did
say: “Onandagus, who was known from the eastern sea to the Rocky
Mountains”; he did not say Zelph was killed “during the last
great struggle
of the Lamanites and the Nephites“; but he
did say Zelph was killed [“]in a battle . . . during a great
struggle with the Lamanites
.” 102

How did the additional wording get into the published History of
the Church
? In order to answer this question, it helps to know
something about the primary sources upon which the Manuscript History was
based, something that is strikingly missing from Porter and Meldrum’s book and
public presentation.

The primary study of the Zelph episode was published in BYU Studies by
Latter-day Saint historian Kenneth Godfrey in 1989. 103 Godfrey collected and reprinted each of the six primary sources on Zelph as
well as Joseph Smith’s 1834 letter to his wife Emma mentioning the “plains
of the Nephites.” He then analyzed each account of the episode as well as
the background behind the entry in the published History of the Church.
Godfrey stated:

These records are generally consistent with one another, but
they leave a number of details in doubt. Who was Zelph? Was he a Nephite or a
Lamanite? When did he die? What army was he in? . . . . The answers to these
questions cannot be given with certainty from the complex historical sources
that resulted from this event. While this means that Book of Mormon scholars
must remain tentative in drawing implications from this notable incident, it does not
diminish the fact that Joseph was moved by the spirit of revelation to speak
about Zelph and his noble past in connection with Book of Mormon peoples or
their descendants.

Godfrey showed that the Prophet Joseph himself did not
record the incident, and so we are dependent upon the accounts of six other
members of Zion’s Camp who were present during or near the time of the event.
When these accounts are analyzed, it becomes clear that the Prophet received
revelation about an individual named Zelph, but it is unclear what, if any,
relationship Zelph and his activities may have had to the events and the
geography of the Book of Mormon narrative.

A main source for the Zelph story was Wilford Woodruff’s
journal. In 1834 Woodruff was a recent convert who traveled with Zion’s Camp.
He recorded information about Zelph, some of which was later used by Willard
Richards to write the Manuscript History. Woodruff apparently did not write
down his account of the event until several weeks later, perhaps after the camp’s
arrival in Missouri. He recorded:

While on our travels we visited many of the mounds which
were flung up by the ancient inhabitants of this continent probably by the
Nephites & Lamanites. We visited one of those Mounds and several of the
brethren dug into it and took from it the bones of a man. . . . Brother Joseph
had a vission respecting the person. He said he was a white Lamanite. The curs
was taken from him or at least in part. He was killed in battle with an arrow.
The arrow was found among his ribs. One of his thigh bones was broken. This was
done by a stone flung from a sling in battle years before his death. His name
was Zelph. Some of his bones were brought into the Camp and the thigh bone
which was broken was put into my waggon and I carried it to Missouri. Zelph was
a large thick set man and a man of God. He was a warrior under the great
prophet /Onandagus/ that was known from the hill Camorah /or east sea/ to the
Rocky mountains. The above knowledge Joseph receieved in a vision.105

Woodruff’s account, when examined against the other
five accounts, raises questions in relation to what may have been revealed at
the time about Book of Mormon geography. William Hamblin observes:

Woodruff’s statement about Joseph mentioning Cumorah in the
Zelph incident is unique among the six near-contemporary accounts, indicating
that Joseph himself probably did not use the term, which was, rather, an
interpolation of Woodruff. The question thus becomes, did Joseph himself
originally use the word Cumorah as recorded by Woodruff’s “known from the
hill Camorah [sic] to the Rocky Mountains,” or did he say “known
from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains,” as recorded by McBride? None of
the other accounts mentions either the Hill Cumorah or the Atlantic Ocean.
Woodruff himself shows ambiguity on this point by inserting the phrase “or
east sea” in his text. If Joseph had used the word Cumorah, we would
expect it to appear in more of the early accounts of the incident. That the
word Cumorah does not appear in other accounts demonstrates that the reference
to Cumorah is probably Woodruff’s interpretation of what Joseph was saying, but
not Joseph’s actual word.106

This view that the geographical references may not
reflect what the Prophet said finds further support in the fact that the
wording about the hill Cumorah mentioned only by Woodruff was first written and
then very clearly crossed out in the Manuscript History account of the
incident. Godfrey explains:

In 1842 Willard Richards, then church historian, was
assigned the task of compiling a large number of documents and producing a
history of the church from them. He worked on this material between 21 December
1842 and 27 March 1843. Richards, who had not joined the church until 1836,
relied on the writings or recollections of Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff,
and perhaps others for his information regarding the discovery of Zelph.
Blending the sources available to him, and perhaps using oral accounts from
some of the members of Zion’s Camp, but writing as if he were Joseph Smith,
historian Richards drafted the story of Zelph as it appears in the “Manuscript
History of the Church, Book A-1.” With respect to points relative to Book
of Mormon geography, Richards wrote that “Zelph was a white Lamanite, a
man of God who was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus
who was known from the [hill Cumorah is crossed out in the manuscript] eastern
Sea, to the Rocky Mountains. He was killed in battle, by the arrow found among
his ribs, during a [last crossed out] great struggle with the Lamanites”
crossed out].

Following the death of Joseph Smith, the Times and
published serially the “History of Joseph Smith.”
When the story of finding Zelph appeared in the 1 January 1846 issue, most of
the words crossed out in the Richards manuscript were, for some unknown reason,
included, along with the point that the prophet’s name was Omandagus. The
reference to the hill Cumorah from the unemended Wilford Woodruff journal was
still included in the narrative, as was the phrase “during the last great
struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites.”

The 1904 first edition of the seven-volume History of
the Church
, edited by B. H. Roberts, repeats the manuscript version
of Richards’s account. However, in 1948, after Joseph Fielding Smith had become
church historian, explicit references to the hill Cumorah and the Nephites were
reintroduced. That phrasing has continued to the present in all reprintings.107

In an article published
in 1995, Latter-day Saint historian Donald Cannon reviewed each of the primary
sources relating to the Zelph story. Oddly, Cannon did not address the
emendations in the Woodruff journal passage, its influence on the text of the
Manuscript History entry, and the subsequent changes in the published History of the Church, all
of which have direct bearing on the question of what Joseph Smith may or may
not have known about Book of Mormon geography.108 Cannon
emphasized the reliability of each of the primary witnesses who recorded the
event and the general consistency of their testimony, factors that were never
disputed by Godfrey. Cannon’s evaluation of the sources, though brief and less
complete, essentially mirrored Godfrey’s and did not dispute the basic
historical facts. He concluded, “The journal accounts of Joseph Smith’s
activities and his letter indicate that he believed that Book of Mormon
history, or at least a part of it, transpired in North America.” He also
cautioned that “we not reject the story of Zelph and its relationship to
Book of Mormon geography.” 109 The question, however, was not what Joseph Smith
and others believed, but which, if any, of these geographical views were based upon
revelation. Cannon did not find that the historical sources regarding Zelph supported
a limited North American setting, nor did he argue against a Mesoamerican
setting for some Book of Mormon events, but he expressed hope that LDS scholars
would “further investigate the connections between Central America and
North America.” 110 In a 1999 follow-up article to his earlier study,
and responding in part to Cannon’s unfounded claim that he had discredited what
Joseph Smith said or “sought to discredit the Zelph Story,” 111 Godfrey summarized his earlier findings,
concluding, “I agree with historian Don Cannon that ‘we not reject the
story of Zelph and its relationship to Book of Mormon geography;’ rather, we
should be aware of how the story came to us as well as how it became a part of
the history of the church.” 112 That background suggests that the Zelph story
neither refutes nor supports the idea of a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of

“Plains of the Nephites”

In June 1834, the Prophet dictated a letter to Emma that
mentioned experiences of his journey from Ohio to Missouri with Zion’s Camp. He
spoke of “wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionaly
the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved
people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as proof of its
divine authenticity.” 113 I think it
likely that Joseph Smith alluded to the Zelph episode in this letter, although
he did not mention the warrior by name, his vision, or the details of what he
may have learned through revelation. It is clear that he associated the mounds
and bones encountered during the journey with the remains of Nephites. It is
unclear, however, what geographical information this statement might convey
about Mormon’s narrative, since “plains of the Nephites” is not a
geographical designation in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon indicates
that many Nephites and Lamanites migrated from the land with which the Book of
Mormon is concerned to other regions (Alma 63:4–9; Helaman 3:3–16).
Even those who migrated northward were eventually “hunted, and driven
forth” and “scattered upon the face of the earth” (Helaman
3:16). We are left to wonder if Zelph died in battle defending Mormon’s people
in the late fourth century AD or
if he perished defending a group of people who had previously migrated to parts
of North America during or after Book of Mormon times. In any event, Joseph
Smith’s reference to the mounds, plains, and bones of the Nephites does not
specify where in the Americas the events described by Mormon took place.

Joseph Smith, Central America, and the Book of Mormon

Porter and Meldrum favor early statements of Joseph Smith
about the Book of Mormon above those expressed later during his years in
Nauvoo. In doing so they create a distorted picture of the Prophet’s views and
claims. This is reflected in a chart found in the appendix to Prophecies
and Promises
(pp. 213–15). The chart provides a list of six
criteria by which historical documents, including scriptural passages and
statements of Joseph Smith about the Book of Mormon, can be evaluated and
graded for reliability. The criteria include whether the statement was
canonized as scripture, received by revelation, written in Joseph’s hand,
signed by Joseph, written in other handwriting, and not signed by Joseph or the
author is unknown. The first three categories are grouped under “strongest,”
the last three as “weakest.” More than a third of the statements on
the chart come from scriptural passages in the Doctrine and Covenants. This is
superfluous since Latter-day Saints do not doubt the reliability of the
scriptures. What may be doubted is the appropriateness of applying such
passages in a restrictive way that would exclude other parts of the Americas
from the land of promise or exclude Native Americans living outside the United
States from being considered Lamanite.

Section 125 of the Doctrine and Covenants gets strong marks
in the chart, but, as noted already, there is no reason to suppose that the
name of the Iowa settlement was ever intended to identify the location of
ancient Zarahemla. The Wentworth Letter, Joseph Smith’s letter to the American
, and mention in the History of the Church of the
visit from Sac and Fox Indians are given high
marks, but as shown above, these sources say nothing about any revelation on
Book of Mormon geography. The Zelph account is oddly lumped into one category
rather than six separate accounts. It receives strong marks because Joseph
Smith received a revelation, but weak marks because the accounts were written
in the hand of others. It would have been more informative for the authors to
treat each account separately. To give the Zelph account high marks, however,
is somewhat problematic since the question is not whether Joseph Smith had a
revelation, but whether the revelation on Zelph included information on
geography. The evidence, as we have seen, does not appear to support that
conclusion. Other items listed are factually wrong, seemingly intended to show
that the evidence for Joseph’s interest in Central America is weaker. Joseph
Smith’s 1834 letter to Emma Smith mentioning the “plains of the Nephites”
receives a strong rating for being in Joseph Smith’s own hand and being signed
by him, while the Prophet’s 1841 letter to John Bernhisel is rated weak because
it was not written in the Prophet’s own hand. In fact, both letters were
dictated to scribes and signed by Joseph Smith and have equal evidentiary
value. 114 Unsurprisingly, documents and publications that appear during the Nauvoo period
are all given weak ratings, including articles that appeared under the
editorship of Joseph Smith. As such, the chart is not a particularly helpful or
accurate guide to Joseph Smith’s views.

The year 1841 saw the publication of Incidents of
Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan
, by John Lloyd
Stephens, with illustrations by Frederick Catherwood.115 This work
not only recounted Stephens and Catherwood’s travels to the region but also
described for the first time many of the ruins found in what is now known as
Mesoamerica. It was an instant success and was widely praised in the national
press. A survey of literature on the Book of Mormon during the Nauvoo period
demonstrates that Latter-day Saints were also interested in these discoveries
and were quick to compare them with the claims of the Book of Mormon.

Porter and Meldrum contend that these associations between
ancient Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon are inconsistent with the teachings
and revelations of Joseph Smith:

The Prophet was clear and concise in his statements about
Book of Mormon geography, yet doubtless, the allure and enticement of the
majestic Mesoamerican ruins, and a burning desire for tangible proof seems to
have infused the hearts and minds of at least a few of the early Church leaders
including members of the Twelve who were very close to the Prophet Joseph. (p.

This statement implies that early church leaders such
as John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff were led astray by the desire for proof and
thus ignored or discarded the teachings of Joseph Smith. Is this position
consistent with the historical evidence?

Church members in Nauvoo became aware of Stephens and
Catherwood’s discoveries through an article published in the 15 June 1841 issue
of the Times and Seasons. At this time the periodical was under the
editorship of the Prophet’s brother Don Carlos Smith and Robert B. Thompson,
who noted the significance of the explorers’ discoveries for Latter-day Saints
in an article entitled “American Antiquities—More Proofs of the Book
of Mormon.” 116 Several months later, John Bernhisel, a recent convert then serving as bishop
over the Saints in New York City, purchased a copy of the two-volume work, and
on 8 September he wrote to Joseph Smith to inform him that he was sending a
copy of the set “as a token of my regard for you as a Prophet of the Lord.” 117 Bernhisel asked Wilford Woodruff, who was returning home from his apostolic
mission in Great Britain, to carry the set back to the Prophet in Nauvoo, which
he did.118

On the way home, Woodruff spent part of his time reading the
work and was enthusiastic about its contents. On 13 September he recorded the
following in his journal:

I spent the day in reading the 1st vol of INCIDENTS OF
TRAVELS IN Central America Chiapas AND Yucatan BY JOHN L STEPHEN’S . . . . I
felt truly interested in this work for it brought to light a flood of testimony
in proof of the book of mormon in the discovery & survey of the city Copan in Central America A correct
drawing of the monuments, pyramids, portraits, & Hieroglyphics as executed
by Mr Catherwood is now presented
before the publick & is truly a wonder to the world. Their whole travels
were truly interesting.119

On 16 September he recorded that he had “perused the 2d
Vol of Stephens travels In Central America Chiapas of Yucatan & the ruins
of Palenque & Copan. It is truly one of the most interesting histories I
have read.” 120 Happy to be home, Woodruff arrived in Nauvoo on 6 October. 121

Joseph Smith dictated a letter to John Bernhisel on 16
November 1842 thanking him for the gift:

I received your kind present by the hand of Er [Elder]
Woodruff & feel myself under many obligations for this mark of your esteem
& friendship which to me is the more interesting as it unfolds &
developes many things that are of great importance to this generation &
corresponds with & supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon; I have
read the volumes with the greatest interest & pleasure & must say that
of all histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of this
country it is the most correct luminous & comprihensive.122

This letter shows unequivocally that Joseph Smith shared the
excitement about these discoveries generated among his associates. It also, in
effect, signaled his approval of such interests in connection with the Book of
Mormon, an interest that can be seen in subsequent Latter-day Saint literature.
Of particular interest are five articles that appeared in the Times and
in 1842 when Joseph Smith served as editor. These articles,
two signed “editor” and three left unsigned, promoted the work of
Stephens and Catherwood among Latter-day Saints. These articles highlight
Latter-day Saint interest in discoveries and also the feeling that they were
consistent with and supportive of the claims of the Book of Mormon. At the same
time, the evidence shows that varied interpretations of this data were
entertained by Latter-day Saint writers and their leaders. I will focus on the
question of Joseph Smith’s involvement and authorship of five Times and
articles that were published under his tenure as editor.
Then, after reviewing Joseph Smith’s role as editor of the Times and
, I will indicate what wordprint analysis may suggest about
the question.

Joseph’s Concern with the Times and Seasons and His

Between 1839 and 1841, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
fulfilled an important mission to Great Britain, resulting in the conversion of
several thousand British Saints.123 This mission proved to be a blessing to the church as well as the quorum
itself, but it was sometimes difficult for the Prophet to be separated from
some of his closest and most diligent associates. This is reflected in some of
the challenges associated with the Times and Seasons. In the spring
of 1839, Elias Smith, Hiram Clark, and others traveled to Far West, Missouri,
where they dug up and retrieved the printing press and the type that had been
used to print the short-lived Elder’s Journal in the summer of
1838.124 These were brought back to Nauvoo, and the first issue of the Times and
was printed in November 1839 under the editorship of
Ebenezer Robinson and the Prophet’s younger brother Don Carlos Smith.125 On 1 December 1840, this partnership was dissolved and Don Carlos became the
sole editor of the paper. Sometime afterward, the Prophet’s scribe and friend
Robert B. Thompson joined Don Carlos as editor. When the Prophet’s brother died
in August 1841, Ebenezer Robinson joined Thompson. When Thompson died just
twenty days later, Robinson again become the editor and was joined by Gustavus
Hill. Both would serve as editors until early 1842.

In the fall of 1841, the Prophet began expressing concerns
about Robinson and Hill’s ownership and operation of the paper. By this time,
most of the Twelve had returned from Great Britain, and Joseph was increasingly
anxious to place someone else in charge of the paper. On 20 November, Brigham
Young recorded: “I met with six others of the Twelve in council, at my
house, on the subject of the Times and Seasons, the Quorum not
being satisfied with the manner Gustavus Hill had conducted the editorial
department.” 126 On 30 November,

it was voted that Ebenezer Robinson be solicited to give up
the department of printing the Times and Seasons to Elder Willard Richards.

Voted, that if Brother Robinson does not comply with this
solicitation, Elder Richards be instructed to procure a press and type, and
publish a paper for the Church.

Moved by Elder Young, and seconded by Elder Woodruff, that
Lyman Wight and John Taylor present these resolutions to Brother Robinson.127

On 17 January 1842, Brigham Young recorded that he “met
in council with the Twelve at Joseph’s office. We consulted in relation to the
printing and publishing, the council being unanimously opposed to E. Robinson’s
publishing the Book of Mormon and other standard works of the Church, without
being counseled so to do by the First Presidency.” 128 On 28 January the Prophet received a revelation in which the Lord told him,

Go and say unto the Twelve, that it is my will to have them
take in hand the editorial department of the Times and Seasons, according to
that manifestation which shall be given unto them by the power of my Holy
Spirit in the midst of their counsel, saith the Lord. Amen.129

On this same day Brigham Young wrote the following: “The
Lord having revealed, through Joseph, that the Twelve should take in hand the
editorial department of the Times and Seasons, I bought the
printing establishment, for and in behalf of the Church, from Ebenezer
Robinson, at a very exorbitant price. The reason I paid such a price was,
because the Prophet directed the Twelve to pay him whatever he asked. One item
of his bill was $800, for the privilege of publishing the Times and
, or good will of the office.” 130 On 3 February Wilford Woodruff recorded that

after consulting upon the subject the quorum appointed
Elders J. Taylor & W Woodruff of the Twelve to Edit the Times & Seasons
& take charge of the whole esstablishment under the direction of Joseph the
Seer. Accordingly I left my station at the Nauvoo provision store &
commenced this day to labour for the church in the printing esstablishment.

Elder Taylor & myself spent the afternoon in taking an
invoice of the printing esstablishment & met in council in the evening at
Joseph[‘s] store.131

On 19 February 1842, Woodruff indicated that “Joseph
the Seer is now the Editor of that paper & Elder Taylor assists him in
writing while it has fallen to my lot to take charge of the Business part of
the esstablishment.” 132 Woodruff did not specify precisely what Taylor’s writing assistance entailed.
In the 1 March 1842 issue of Times and Seasons, the Prophet
announced that he was undertaking editorship of the paper. “This
paper commences my editorial career, I alone stand for it, and shall do for all
papers having my signature henceforward
. I am not responsible for
the publication, or arrangement of the former paper; the matter did not come
under my supervision. JOSEPH SMITH.” 133 It seems
clear that this statement disavows Joseph’s sanction for previous editions of
the Times
and Seasons
, the “former paper.” (As I have shown, Joseph
and the Twelve disapproved of how Hill and Robinson had been handling things.)
Joseph also declares his willingness to endorse “all papers having my
signature henceforward.” This seems more than an endorsement of individual
articles, but rather of newspapers for which he is listed as editor. The term papers does not mean documents in this context; it means newspapers published with
Joseph as editor. The 1 March 1842 issue of the paper bore the note “The
Times and Seasons is edited by Joseph Smith.”134 The Prophet transferred editorial responsibilities for the paper to John Taylor
and Wilford Woodruff no later than 12 November 1842. 135

What are we to make of Joseph’s role as editor? Evidence
suggests that this title was not an empty one. In addition to Joseph’s known
contributions, sources indicate that he read page proofs and sometimes
collected and supplied content material to be used for the paper, including
poetry from other newspapers. For most of his tenure, he was in or near Nauvoo
and frequently visited and worked at the printing office and counseled with
fellow apostles, including John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff. The Prophet was
still in hiding from his enemies during September 1842, but he stayed close
enough so he could continue to work quietly and address church business as
opportunity allowed. Sometimes he was able to stay at home, where he managed to
pose for a portrait for several days. Significantly, both Woodruff and Taylor
were seriously ill during this time. “I commenced work this day,”
Woodruff recorded on 19 September, “for the first time for 40 days.” 136 This means that Woodruff had been absent from the printing office for more than
five weeks previous to 19 September. On 21 September the Prophet recorded that
he had also met with John Taylor, “who is just recovering from a severe
attack of sickness” and that he counseled Taylor “concerning the
printing office.” 137 The two met again two days later. We do not know how long Taylor had been ill,
but the fact that the two had been seriously ill suggests that the Prophet may
have had to bear additional editorial burdens at that time. In any case, the
fact that he met with Taylor several times suggests that Joseph was concerned
and involved in editorial matters even when in hiding. Regardless of who wrote
the Times
and Seasons
articles linking the Book of Mormon to Central America,
Joseph Smith could not have been unaware of what was being written. Indeed,
even if those articles were written by John Taylor or Wilford Woodruff, clearly
Joseph knew what was being written.

During Joseph Smith’s tenure as editor, the Times and
published numerous articles of doctrinal and historical
significance to the church. This content included the Prophet’s translations of
the Book of Abraham, the Wentworth letter, early installments of the “History
of Joseph Smith,” and two important letters from him on instructions
relating to baptism for the dead. When we examine the content of the Times and
during this period, we find that he rarely if ever signs his
name “Joseph Smith” unless he is reproducing a letter or document
written for a venue besides his own paper. Excluding items attributed to other
contributors to the paper, there were two kinds of editorial articles and
commentary: those signed “Ed” or “Editor(s)” and those left
unsigned. Material attributed to the editor(s) included
articles on doctrinal subjects such as baptism, baptism for the dead, the Holy
Ghost, detecting false spirits and evil influences, revealed knowledge, and the
government of God. In addition, several articles dealt with the Book of Mormon.
Unsigned editorial material touched on persecution, the city of Nauvoo, the
temple, apostasy, local events, and Central American ruins (the last item was
treated three times).

The time came when Joseph Smith needed to turn his attention
elsewhere. Wilford Woodruff wrote that the Prophet “wished us to take the
responsibility of the printing Office upon ourselves & liberate him from
it.” 138 John Taylor formally took over as editor with the 15 November 1842 issue, in
which the Prophet wrote:

I beg leave
to inform the subscribers of the Times and Seasons that it is impossible for me
to fulfil the arduous duties of the editorial department any longer. The
multiplicity of other business that daily devolves upon me, renders it
impossible for me to do justice to a paper so widely circulated as the Times
and Seasons. I have appointed Elder John Taylor, who is less encumbered and
fully competent to assume the responsibilities of that office, and I doubt not
but that he will give satisfaction to the patrons of the paper. As this number
commences a new volume, it also commences his editorial career.


John Taylor wrote immediately thereafter:

The patrons of the Times and Seasons will unquestionably
be painfully disappointed on reading the above announcement. We know of no one
so competent as President Joseph Smith to fill the editorial chair, of which
the papers that have been issued since he has been editor are sufficient

We do not profess to be able to tread in the steps, nor to
meet the expectation of the subscribers of this paper so fully as our able,
learned and talented prophet, who is now retiring from the field; but as he has
promised to us the priviledge of referring to his writings, books, &c.,
together with his valuable counsel, when needed, and also to contribute to its
columns with his pen when at leisure, we are in hopes that with his assistance,
and other resources that we have at our command, that the Times and Seasons
will continue to be a valuable periodical, and interesting to its numerous


To summarize the historical data:

1.  Joseph Smith was well aware of the discoveries in Central
America by Stephens and Catherwood.

2.  He was, as were his close associates, very interested in the
Central American discoveries and felt that they were important and should be
known, and in his view they corresponded with and supported the claims of the
Book of Mormon.

3.  Joseph Smith was the editor of the Times and Seasons from about 1 March to 15 October 1842.

4.  Between March and October 1842, the only men said to be
working in the printing office were Joseph Smith, John Taylor, and Wilford

5.  Five articles endorsing the work of Stephens and Catherwood
were published while Joseph Smith was editor.

6.  While acting as editor, Joseph Smith received assistance in
writing from John Taylor.

Wordprint Analysis and the Question of Authorship

I have recently had the privilege of working with statistician
Paul Fields and several of his associates on several projects involving the
Book of Mormon. These projects deal with authorship attribution for a number of
texts of interest to Latter-day Saints. Authorship attribution attempts
to identify the author of a text based on writing style. Using quantitative
measures to describe an author’s writing style is technically called stylometry but is commonly referred to as wordprint analysis. The premise
behind these studies is that an author has a unique style of writing and that
his or her written work can be identified if a stylistic “fingerprint”
is discernible in a document. One area of interest is the authorship of the Times and
articles on the Book of Mormon that appeared in 1842.
Because of the many pressures that Joseph Smith was under during 1842, my
assumption has been that the unsigned articles of 15 September and 1 October
1842 were written by John Taylor.140 Professor Fields and I are preparing a detailed treatment of our research that
will be published by the Maxwell Institute.

One mathematical tool
used in a stylometric investigation is discriminant analysis. This technique finds a linear combination of
features that “discriminates” among items in known classes, just as
plants or animals are categorized into species based on distinguishing
features. The discriminant function provides a formula that quantifiably
characterizes items in known groups so that a new item of unknown group
membership can be classified into the proper groups based on its features. In
authorship attribution, noncontextual words are the features used to describe
writing style. Noncontextual words do not convey the author’s message, but they
are the function words an author uses to construct his or her message. Examples
of noncontextual words are and, but, however, on, the, upon. Interestingly, the frequency with which an author
uses such words distinctively characterizes his or her writing style and can
reveal the author’s identity in comparison to other authors.

To investigate the probable authorship of the three small,
unsigned editorials in the Times and Seasons that referred to “Zarahemla,”
we put them into one 1,000-word block so there would be sufficient data to
measure word frequencies. Next we took texts from Joseph Smith’s signed
editorials, the editorials signed “Ed” or “Editor(s),”
and the unsigned editorials appearing in the Times and Seasons from April
through October 1842. These were segmented into thirty-six 1,000-word blocks to
correspond in size with the “Zarahemla” text.

We also took writing samples from John Taylor and Wilford
Woodruff, who were the only two other possible contributors to the editorials.
We selected texts that were as close to the editorial genre as were available
and encompassed the 1842 time frame. (Thus we did not utilize texts from
Woodruff’s diaries, since his personal writing style differs from his more
public exposition.) We compiled thirty 1,000-word blocks for Taylor and
twenty-four 1,000-word blocks for Woodruff, giving a total of ninety texts that
we could use to build the discriminant function to test the probable authorship
of the “Zarahemla” text. Next we identified seventy noncontextual
words in the ninety writing sample blocks that best distinguished the writing
styles of Smith, Taylor, and Woodruff. Using these words as the distinctive
literary features for the candidate authors, we developed the discriminant
function that would classify each writing sample into a group corresponding
with the correct author 100 percent of the time. Although this is a
seventy-dimensional problem, we can project the relative relationships between
the five groups—Smith, Taylor, Woodruff, Editor, and Unsigned—onto
a two-dimensional plot.

The plot shows that the writing styles of Smith, Taylor, and
Woodruff are clearly distinguishable. However, Smith, Editor, and Unsigned are
not distinctively different. This is evidence that the editorials signed “Editor”
and the unsigned editorials were likely written by Joseph Smith. Also shown on
the plot is the composited “Zarahemla” editorial. It is clearly
closest to the Smith-Editor-Unsigned group, providing evidence that Joseph
Smith is the most likely author.

Cluster analysis is another tool for data exploration
that is useful in authorship attribution. A cluster analysis groups items into
pairs that are closest to each other based on literary features but without
using the information about known group membership. This provided additional
evidence that the “Zarahemla” editorial fits best with the “Editor”
and “Unsigned” groups. Moreover, we could see some evidence that the
work in the editorial office in 1842 could have been highly collaborative since
the writing samples of the three authors were spread throughout the clusters.
Further, we could see that John Taylor might have worked closely with Joseph in
writing some of the editorials since his style seemed to be partially
manifested in some of the “Editor” and “Unsigned” texts. In
addition, some of the pairings indicated some evidence that Wilford Woodruff
influenced some of Joseph’s writing as well.


In 1843 Joseph Smith acknowledged in an interview with a
reporter from the Pittsburgh Gazette that he was indeed a prophet and
that the Lord did reveal himself to him, but he also explained that he did not
always get revelation when he asked for it. “Speaking of revelations, he
stated that when he was in a ‘quandary,’ he asked the Lord for a revelation,
and when he could not get it, he ‘followed the dictates of his own judgment,
which were as good as a revelation to him; but he never gave anything to his
people as revelation, unless it was revelation.” 141 The preponderance of evidence does not support the claim that Joseph Smith’s
revelations included details about Book of Mormon geography, but rather suggest
that this, as with many other questions, was an issue in which Joseph Smith, as
time allowed him to give it attention, followed the dictates of his own
judgement and expressed his own opinion. It seems that when Joseph used terms
such as “this land,” “this continent,” or “this
country,” he was adopting the wording of his associates who viewed the
Book of Mormon in broad terms inclusive of all the Americas. The claim that
these terms were intended to exclude any portion of the Americas or its peoples
from the promises and prophecies in that book is unfounded. The evidence
demonstrates that Joseph shared the interest of his fellow Latter-day Saints in
any discoveries that might shed light on the authenticity and historicity of
the Book of Mormon, wherever they came from, including those from Central
America. He never seems to have given any indication that these opinions were
based upon more than a certain knowledge that the Book of Mormon was true and
that one day the Lord would make all things clear. There is likewise no
indication that he ever set forth a detailed geographical model for the Saints.
As editor of the Times and Seasons, he oversaw the publication of five
articles on these discoveries. Authorship attribution analysis through
wordprint analysis lends no support for the claim that these articles were
ghostwritten by others. This analysis, together with historical evidence,
suggests that Joseph Smith was not editor in name only. Instead, he was very
much involved in the oversight, writing, and preparation of these articles on
the Book of Mormon, with John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff possibly providing
some input as well.

I believe these findings underscore the wisdom of the
neutrality of the Brethren on the question of Book of Mormon geography. We
cannot avoid the hard work, faith, and earnest study that some questions
require by an easy appeal to something Joseph Smith or someone else has said.
The sincere and diligent study of Book of Mormon geography can be a worthy
endeavor if kept in perspective. Each reader of the Book of Mormon must judge
the scholarly merits and value of such work. Hopefully, we will each judge
wisely and hold fast to every good thing (1 Thessalonians 5:21). In the
meantime, differences of opinion about the details of Book of Mormon geography
and other questions of secondary importance need not be a cause of stumbling.
The counsel of Franklin D. Richards seems applicable:

Tell the Saints that if this stone does not seem to fit into
the great building of their faith just now, to roll it aside. You can help them
to roll it aside out of their way, so that they will not stumble against it
while at their daily duties, and it will be but a very short time till they
will find a place in their building where no other stone will fit, then it will
be on hand all right, and will come into its place in the building without the
sound of hammer or chisel.142


spelling, punctuation, and capitalization have been preserved in all quotations
from Prophecies
and Promises
and from historical sources.

1. John A. Widtsoe, “Is
Book of Mormon Geography Known?” Improvement Era, July 1950, 547.

2. Quoted in Kristen Moulton, “Book
of Mormon Geography Stirring Controversy,” Salt Lake Tribune,
27 March 2010.

3. Quoted in Michael De Groote, “The
Fight over Book of Mormon Geography,” Deseret News, 27 May 2010.

4. Two versions of Prophecies and Promises were published by Digital Legend in 2009. One (V5) was printed in October and
the other (V6) in December. Although not described by the publisher as new
editions or revisions, these printings contain minor variations in the text.
Unless otherwise indicated, this essay references the October 2009 version.

5. Matthew Roper, “Losing
the Remnant: The New Exclusivist ‘Movement’ and the Book of Mormon,” in
this issue of the Review.

6. George Q. Cannon, editorial, Juvenile
, 1 January 1890, 18.

7. “Route Traveled by Lehi
and his Company,” Instructor, April 1938, 160.

8. Anthony W. Ivins, in
Conference Report, 15–16 April 1929, emphasis added.

9. Quoted in “Book of
Mormon Students Meet,” Deseret Evening News, 25 May
1903; and “Where was Zarahemla?” Provo Daily Inquirer, 25 May

10. Joseph Fielding Smith, “Where
Is the Hill Cumorah?,” Deseret News, Church Section,
September 1938, 1, 6. This article was reprinted under a different title in
1954: “Book of Mormon Establishes Location of Historic Region,” Deseret News,
Church News, 27 February 1954, 2–3.

11. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of
(Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1956), 3:232–41. The
1999 reprint of this work states that “consistent with the principle of continuing
revelation, here and there is a statement that is dated” (Doctrines of
Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith
[Salt Lake
City: Bookcraft, 1999], publisher’s preface).

12. Joseph Fielding Smith to
Fletcher B. Hammond, 18 September 1959, in Fletcher B. Hammond, Geography of the Book of Mormon: “Where Is the Hill Cumorah?” (n.p., 1964), 34.

13. Sidney B. Sperry, The Book of
Mormon Testifies
(Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1952), 335–36.

14. “Were There Two
Cumorahs?,” handout for Religion 622, 31 March 1964. This study was
offered as a FARMS Reprint in 1984 and was reprinted in Journal of
Book of Mormon Studies
4/1 (Spring 1995): 260–68.

15. Sidney B. Sperry, Book of
Mormon Compendium
(Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968), 447–51.

16. Sperry, Book of
Mormon Compendium
, 447.

17. Recollection of John Fugal of
Orem, Utah, to Matthew Roper, 15 May 2010. Fugal was a student in a BYU Book of
Mormon class where Sperry recounted the experience.

18. Widtsoe, “Is Book of
Mormon Geography Known?,” 547.

19. John A. Widtsoe, “Is
Book of Mormon Geography Known?,” 547; reprinted in John A. Widtsoe, Evidences
and Reconciliations
(Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1951), 3:94.

20. Widtsoe, “Is Book of
Mormon Geography Known?,” 597.

21. James E. Talmage, in
Conference Report, April 1929, 44.

22. Widtsoe, “Is Book of
Mormon Geography Known?,” 547.

23. Michael De Groote, “Raiders
of the Lost Book of Mormon Geography,” Deseret News, 6 June 2008.

24. Quoted in De Groote, “Lost
Book of Mormon Geography.”

25. I am not suggesting that all
contributors to these venues reject the historicity of the Book of Mormon,
although many do.

26. “For scholars to cling
to a Mesoamerican model, Porter says, they must disregard what the church’s
founding prophet said. ‘Most of the people fighting it are people who have
something to lose financially or by reputation,’ Porter says. ‘I feel for them.
. . . How would it be when you’ve spent your life trying to prove The Book of
Mormon location . . . if someone came along and said you’d ignored the
statements of Joseph Smith’ ” (Moulton, “Book
of Mormon Geography Stirring Controversy”).

27. The authors currently
distribute a set of five DVDs entitled Book of Mormon Evidence Series,
which covers much of the same material found in their book. On disk 5, Heartland
, Bruce H. Porter is shown speaking while standing on the
grounds of a temple. He states: “Right now, as we are dealing with the
prophecies and promises within the Book of Mormon, in regard to the statements
of Joseph Smith and the statements in the Book of Mormon, the anti-Mormons have
recognized, they know what the statements are of Joseph Smith in regard to Book
of Mormon geography, and they know what scholars have said, and they are now
beginning to discuss that the best scholars that the Mormon Church has, or that the
Latter-day Saints have, are discounting the words of Joseph Smith in regards to
Book of Mormon geography. That’s aimed at BYU and will probably soon be aimed
even at Salt Lake
, but it right now is something that needs to be
addressed” (emphasis added).

28. “Many in the LDS
community have either consciously chosen, or ignorantly dismissed the
statements of Joseph Smith,” writes Bruce H. Porter in a recent lengthy ad
published in the Deseret News. “Some have manifested a blatant
disregard for the ‘documented’ words, statements and declared revelations
pertaining to a geographical setting for the Book of Mormon that have come from
the mouth of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The question that keeps coming to mind
is ‘WHY?’ Why did ‘we’ (many [not all] so called scholars) decide that ‘we’
knew better than the Prophet? Why have ‘we’ concluded that the Prophet was
wrong? For the last half century, books and articles have been written trying
to explain ‘why’ the prophet was wrong, while accepting questionable and undocumented
sources as the words of Joseph. Scholars have declared that Joseph Smith ‘just
didn’t know’ or ‘was unaware’ of where the Lands of the Book of Mormon were.
Some LDS authors also state in their writings that the Prophet Joseph ‘never
claimed inspiration on the matter’ or ‘changed his mind’ about this geography.
These published statements discounting, dismissing, and ignoring the statements
of Joseph, are just plain wrong (not wanting to beat around the bush). Many
scholars dismiss Joseph Smith, while rationalizing their conclusions in the
inapt abilities of an uneducated Prophet of God, while touting personal
training, education and degrees, trusting in their own arm of flesh. . . .
Implying that someone might be neglecting the statements of Joseph Smith no
doubt seems harsh and judgmental. Many who do not want Mesoamerica to exit the
center stage take the position that the Prophet’s ‘opinions’ changed later in
his life. Most often the standing rationalization is that the Prophet Joseph
was not speaking as a ‘prophet’ at the time he made the statements, but just
offering an opinion. However, Joseph Smith’s statements cannot and should not
be understood as ‘opinion’ or uneducated guess work. . . . It is time to
support the Prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, not just in the geography of the
Book of Mormon but in his statements on doctrine, scripture and history”
(Bruce H. Porter, “A Second Look,” Deseret News, 18 February 2010).

29. Porter and Meldrum provide no
evidence for this claim.

30. “The basic methodology
followed by historical traditionalists in reconstructing Book of Mormon
geography is as follows: 1. Carefully study the text of the Book of Mormon,
identifying all passages of any geographic significance. 2. Categorize these
toponyms according to type (cities, lands, hills, rivers, seas, etc.). 3.
Analyze the relationships between various passages for consistency or
inconsistency. 4. Identify any type of geographical links described between
toponyms (travel times, directions, spatial relationships, etc.). 5. If these
geographic statements are internally consistent, develop an internal ideal
model of Book of Mormon geography. 6. Apply this internally consistent hypothetical
model to various potential real world settings in an attempt to formulate
possible correlations. 7. Compare the various models of real world
correspondences in order to determine which, if any, forms the best
correlation.” William J. Hamblin, “An Apologist for the Critics,” Review
of Books on the Book of Mormon
6/1 (1994): 472–73.

31. John Clark, “A Key for
Evaluating Nephite Geographies,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 1 (1989): 21.

32. “When this full
methodology is followed we discover, first, that Book of Mormon internal
geography is remarkably consistent, and second, that it is consistently
limited—that all known geographical distances (travel times) point to a
macrogeographical zone of only a few hundred miles. To my knowledge, no critic
of the antiquity of the Book of Mormon has ever successfully disputed these two
conclusions based on evidence from the text itself. The remarkable result of
this process is that there is a significant disjuncture between early
Latter-day Saint interpretations of Book of Mormon geography, and the geography
of the text itself. This would lead one to conclude that, if Joseph Smith
believed in a hemispheric Book of Mormon geography, he was not the author of
the text.” Hamblin, “Apologist for the Critics,” 473.

33. On this see Clark, “Key
for Evaluating Nephite Geographies,” 20–70. Sorenson provides a
verse-by-verse analysis of each geographical passage in the Book of Mormon in The
Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book
(Provo, UT: FARMS,
1992), 215–326. He also includes a “Summary of the Criteria for an
Acceptable Model from the Text, by Feature” (pp. 329–53), followed
by a useful “ ’Report Card’ for Evaluating Models” (pp.
357–64) and a “Trial Map” (p. 367) based upon that data. This
provides a useful starting point for those interested in the subject. See also
John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Map (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000).

34. Joseph Smith to Edward
Partridge and others, 10 December 1833, in Personal
Writings of Joseph Smith
, ed.
Dean C. Jessee, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002), 329.

35. George Q. Cannon, in Journal of
, 21:76–77.

36. Wilford Woodruff, in Journal of
, 22:333.

37. “Author of the Book of
Mormon,” Zion’s Advocate (Portland, ME), 20 December 1837,
emphasis added, accessed 9 June 2010,,1407.

38. “Gold Bible, No. 3,” The
(Palmyra, NY), 1 February 1831, 92, accessed 9 June 2010,,576.

39. John E. Clark, “Archaeological
Trends and Book of Mormon Origins,” BYU Studies 44/4 (2005):
84–85, emphasis added. This was a presentation delivered for “The
Worlds of Joseph Smith” conference held on 5–6 May 2005 at the
Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

40. “Traits of Mosaic
History, Found among the Azteca Nations,” Times and Seasons (Nauvoo, IL), 15 June 1842, 820, accessed 6 June 2010,,3432.

41. In contemporary usage we
think of the North American continent as including Canada, the United States,
and Mexico, but it was defined more broadly in Joseph Smith’s day to include
what we now call Mesoamerica (southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and
El Salvador) and all of Central America as far south as Panama. As Webster’s
1828 American
Dictionary of the English Language
explains, “From Darien to
the North, the continent is called North America, and to the South,
it is called South America.” So the phrase “this continent,”
even if understood to refer exclusively to the North American continent, would
still not exclude Mesoamerica and Central America.

42. A. S., “The Golden
Bible, or, Campbellism Improved,” Observer and Telegraph (Hudson,
OH), 18 November 1830, accessed 9 June 2010,,243.

43. “Mormonism,” Fredonia
(Fredonia, NY), 7 March 1832, accessed 9 June 2010,,1355; and “The Orators of Mormon,” Catholic
(Cincinnati, OH), 14 April 1832, 204–5, accessed 9
June 2010,,599.

44. “The Far West,” Evening and
the Morning Star
(Independence, MO), October 1832, 37, accessed 9
June 2010,,758. Later writers such as
Parley P. Pratt thought of the Book of Mormon as a “record of half a
world.” Parley P. Pratt, “Book of Mormon,” Latter-day
Saints’ Millennial Star
, February 1841, 263–64, accessed 9
June 2010,,2688.

45. “Discovery of Ancient
Ruins in Central America,” Evening and the Morning Star (Independence, MO), February, 1833, [71], emphasis added, accessed 9 June 2010,,658.

46. William Smith, “Evidences
of the Book of Mormon,” Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate (Kirtland, OH), January 1837, 434, emphasis added, accessed 9 June 2010,,1653.

47. Walter Scott, “Mormon
Bible. No. IV,” Evangelist (Carthage, OH), 1 May 1841, 111, emphasis
added, accessed 9 June 2010,,4481.

48. “Dialogue on Mormonism
No II,” Times and Seasons, 15 July 1841, 473, emphasis added,
accessed 9 June 2010,,3011.

49. “A Catacomb of Mummies
Found in Kentucky,” Times and Seasons, 2 May 1842, 781–82, emphasis
added, accessed 9 June 2010,,3455.

50. John E. Page, “To a
Disciple,” Morning Chronicle (Pittsburgh, PA), 1 July 1842,
emphasis added, accessed 9 June 2010,,3234.

51. From the Weekly
, 9 July 1842; reprinted in Latter-day Saints’
Millennial Star
(Liverpool, England), September 1842, 87, emphasis
added, accessed 9 June 2010,,3311.

52. “Ancient Records,” Times and
, 1 May 1843, 185, emphasis added, accessed 9 June 2010,,3810.

53. W. I. Appleby, Mormonism
Consistent! Truth Vindicated, and Falsehood Exposed and Refuted: Being a Reply
to A. H. Wickersham
(Wilmington, DE: Porter & Nafe, 1843),
17–18, emphasis added, accessed 9 June 2010,,3595.

54. George J. Adams, A Lecture on
the Authenticity & Scriptural Character of the Book of Mormon
(Boston: J. E. Farwell, 1844), 17, emphasis added, accessed 9 June 2010,,3886.

55. Adams, Authenticity
& Scriptural Character of the Book of Mormon
, 22, emphasis

56. “Ancient Ruins,” Times and Seasons,
1 January 1844, 390, emphasis added, accessed 9 June 2010,,4146.

57. “Ancient Ruins,” Times and
, 15 December 1844, 746, emphasis added, accessed 9 June

58. Times and Seasons, 1
April 1845, 855, emphasis added, accessed 12 August 2010,,9449.

59. “American Antiquities,” Times
and Seasons
, 15 July 1842, 860, emphasis added, accessed 9 June 2010,,3419.

60. Noah Webster, An American
Dictionary of the English Language
(1828), s.v. “continent,”
emphasis added.

61. Oxford English Dictionary
, s.v. “continent,” 5.a., emphasis added, accessed
23 September 2010,

62. William Owen, “A
Comparison between the Book of Mormon and the Scriptures of the Old and New
Testaments, or The Golden Bible vs. The Holy Bible,” Free
(New York), 10 September 1831, emphasis added, accessed 9
June 2010,,399.

63. Eli Gilbert to Oliver
Cowdery, 24 September 1834, Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate (Kirtland, OH), October 1834, 10, emphasis added, accessed 9 June 2010,,914.

64. Oliver Cowdery to W. W.
Phelps, “Letter VII,” Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate (Kirtland, OH), July 1835, 157, emphasis added, accessed 9 June 2010,,1036.

65. W. W. Phelps to Oliver
Cowdery, “Letter No. 11,” Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate (Kirtland, OH), October 1835, 193, emphasis added, accessed 9 June 2010,,1041.

66. E. Snow and Benjamin
Winchester, “An Address to the Citizens of Salem (Mass.) and Vicinity,” Times
and Seasons
, 15 November 1841, 582, emphasis added, accessed 2 July

67. Parley P. Pratt, “A
Letter to the Queen of England,” Times and Seasons, 15 November
1841, 594, emphasis added, accessed 2 July 2010,,3041.

68. John E. Page, “To a
Disciple,” Morning Chronicle (Pittsburgh, PA), 1 July 1842,
emphasis added, accessed 2 July 2010,,3233.

69. Page, “To a Disciple.”

70. Joseph Smith, “Church
History,” Times and Seasons, 1 March 1842, 707–8, accessed
25 October 2010,,3453.

71. Smith, “Church History,”
707–8, emphasis added.

72. Webster, American
Dictionary of the English Language
, s.v. “country.”

73. The Prophet speaks of those
Native Americans who now inhabit this country. The word now suggests that they may have previously lived elsewhere, so the statement about “this
country” does not necessarily tell us where in the land they may have
lived before or during Book of Mormon times.

74. “Present Condition and
Prospects of the American Indians, or Lamanites,” Latter-day
Saints’ Millennial Star
(Manchester, England), 2 July 1841, 41,
emphasis added, accessed 8 July 2010,,2697.

75. “American Antiquities,” Times
and Seasons
, 15 July 1842, 860, emphasis added, accessed 8 July

76. Joseph Smith to John
Bernhisel, 16 November 1841, in Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith,

77. Smith, “Church History,”

78. Lucy Mack Smith, History of
Joseph Smith, by His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith
, ed. Preston Nibley
(Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958), 83.

79. Joseph Smith, “Mormonism,” American
Revivalist and Rochester Observer
(Rochester, NY), 2 February 1833,
accessed 8 July 2010,,690.

80. Joseph Smith Journal, 9
November 1835, in The Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, Volume 1, 1832–1839,
ed. Dean C. Jessee, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Richard L. Jensen (Salt Lake City:
Church Historian’s Press, 2008), 88–89.

81. See my discussion in “Losing
the Remnant,” in this issue of the Review.

82. History of the Church,

83. Joseph Smith Journal, 23 May
1844, in Scott H. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries
and Journals of Joseph Smith
(Salt Lake City: Signature Books,
1989), 482.

84. History of the Church,
3:382, emphasis added.

85. “Manuscript History of
Joseph Smith,” 2 July 1839, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City. See also History of
the Church
, 3:382, emphasis added; Dean C. Jessee, “The Writing
of Joseph Smith’s History,” BYU Studies 11/4 (Summer 1971):
439–73; and Howard C. Searle, “Willard Richards as Historian,” BYU Studies 31/2 (Spring 1991): 41–62.

86. Manuscript History of Brigham
Young: 1801–1844,
ed. Elden J. Watson (Salt Lake City: Smith
Secretarial Service, 1968), 2 July 1839, emphasis added.

87. Elias Smith Journal, 24 June
1839, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
Salt Lake City.

88. Elias Smith Journal, 16
August 1840, emphasis added.

89. The Kirtland Camp refers to a
group of Kirtland Saints who traveled to Missouri in 1838 and should not be
confused with the 1834 Zion’s Camp.

90. The authors’ discussion here
appears to be entirely dependent upon the 1938 article by Joseph Fielding Smith
in the Church
, 10 September 1938, which was later reprinted in Doctrines
and Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith
, ed.
Bruce R. McConkie (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1956), 3:239.

91. Journal of Samuel D. Tyler,
25 September 1838, MS 1761, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, emphasis added.

92. Joseph Smith Journal, 25
September 1838, in Jessee, Ashurst-McGee, and Jensen, Joseph Smith
, 1:329.

93. “Manuscript History of
Joseph Smith,” 25 September 1838, 829.

94. “History of Joseph
Smith,” Millennial Star, 13 May 1854, 296. This is the source
cited by Joseph Fielding Smith.

95. “Kirtland Camp,” The
Historical Record
, July 1888, 601.

96. Elias Smith, “Journal of
the camp of the Seventies during their journey from Kirtland to Far West,”
25 September 1838, MS 4952, folder 2, Church History Library, emphasis added.

97. History of the Church,

98. Lamar C. Berrett, ed., Sacred
Places: A Comprehensive Guide to Early LDS Historical Sites: Missouri
(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004), 521.

99. History of the Church,
2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 2:79–80.

100. John A. Widtsoe, “Is
Book of Mormon Geography Known?,” Improvement Era, July 1950, 547.

101. History of the Church (Salt
Lake City: Deseret News, 1904), 79–80.

102. Hammond, Geography of
the Book of Mormon
, 102–3. This was actually the Manuscript
History, not the Prophet’s journal.

103. Kenneth W. Godfrey, “The
Zelph Story,” BYU Studies 29/2 (1989): 31–56. See also Kenneth
W. Godfrey, “What Is the Significance of Zelph in the Study of Book of
Mormon Geography?” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 (1999):

104. Godfrey, “Zelph Story,”
33, emphasis added.

105. Wilford Woodruff’s Journal,
ed. Scott G. Kenney (Midvale, UT: Signature Books, 1983), 1:10.

106. Hamblin, “Apologist for
the Critics,” 477.

107. Godfrey, “What Is the
Significance of Zelph?,” 74–75.

108. Donald Q. Cannon, “Zelph
Revisited,” in Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History: Illinois,
ed. H. Dean Garrett (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 1995), 97–111.

109. Cannon, “Zelph
Revisited,” 108–9.

110. Cannon, “Zelph
Revisited,” 109.

111. Cannon, “Zelph
Revisited,” 108, 111 n. 20. He offers no evidence for this claim.

112. Godfrey, “Significance
of Zelph,” 77.

113. Joseph Smith to Emma Smith, 4
June 1834, in Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 345–46.

114. Jessee, Personal
Writings of Joseph Smith
, 344, 533. Joseph’s letter to Emma is
written in the hand of James Mulholland, while the Bernhisel letter is written
in the hand of John Taylor.

115. John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of
Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan
, 2 vols. (New York:
Harper and Brothers, 1841).

116. “American
Antiquities—More Proofs of the Book of Mormon,” Times and
, 15 June 1841, 440–42, accessed 27 October 2010,,8931.

117. John Bernhisel to Joseph
Smith, 8 September 1841, in Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith,

118. “I received $40 dollars
of Dr John M Bernhisel for President Joseph Smith also Stephens travels in
central America in 2 volums also one letter.” Wilford Woodruff Journal, 9
September 1841, in Kenney, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 2:124.

119. Wilford Woodruff Journal, 13
September 1841, in Kenney, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 2:126.

120. Wilford Woodruff Journal, 16
September 1841, in Kenney, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 2:126.

121. Wilford Woodruff Journal, 6 October
1841, in Kenney, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 2:131–32.

122. Joseph Smith to John
Bernhisel, 16 November 1841, in Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith,
533. The letter was in the hand of John Taylor.

123. For a superb treatment of the
subject, see James B. Allen, Ronald K. Esplin, and David Whittaker, Men with A
Mission: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the British Isles,
(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992).

124. History of the Church,
4:398; and Kyle R. Walker, “ ’As Fire Shut Up in My
Bones': Ebenezer Robinson, Don Carlos Smith, and the 1840 Edition of the Book
of Mormon,” Journal of Mormon History 36/1 (Winter 2010):

125. Times and Seasons,
November 1839, 1–2, 16, accessed 27 October 2010,,9203 and,9210.

126. Manuscript History of Brigham
, 20 November 1841; compare History of the Church, 4:454.

127. History of the Church,

128. Manuscript History of Brigham
, 17 January 1842.

129. History of the Church,

130. Manuscript History of Brigham
, 28 January 1842.

131. Wilford Woodruff Journal, 3
February 1842. The price was $6,600. Wilford Woodruff Journal, 4 February 1842,
emphasis added.

132. Wilford Woodruff Journal, 19
February 1842.

133. Times and Seasons, 1
March 1842, 710, emphasis added, accessed 27 October 2010,,9155.

134. Times and Seasons,
15 March 1842, 718, accessed 27 October 2010, http://­,9810.

135. Wilford Woodruff Journal,
7–12 November 1842.

136. Wilford Woodruff Journal, 19
September 1842.

137. The Papers of Joseph Smith,
Vol. 2: Journal, 1832–1842
, ed. Dean C. Jessee (Salt Lake
City: Deseret Book, 1992), 482.

138. Wilford Woodruff Journal,
7–12 November 1842.

139. Times and Seasons,
15 November 1842, 8, accessed 27 October 2010, http://­,8383.

140. Matthew Roper, “Limited
Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early
Interpretations,” FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 245–48.

141. “The Prairies, Nauvoo,
Joe Smith, the Temple, the Mormons, etc.,” Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette,
15 September 1843, in The Papers of Joseph Smith, Vol. 1: Autobiographical and
Historical Writings
, ed. Dean C. Jessee (Salt Lake City: Deseret
Book, 1989), 443.

142. Franklin D. Richards, Millennial
, 26 August 1854, 534–35.