Some of my thoughts upon hearing what the Prophet teaches

Monday, February 4, 2019

Revisions to the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography

I've been asked to formally propose changes to the essay, which was published here:

https://www.lds.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/book-of-mormon-geography?lang=eng

These are my proposals.


Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography – Revisions

Here are the revisions I propose for the essay for clarification and accuracy. Changes are indicated in bold typeface.

Original
Revised
Book of Mormon Geography
Overview

The Church takes no position on the specific geographic location of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas. Church members are asked not to teach theories about Book of Mormon geography in Church settings but to focus instead on the Book of Mormon’s teachings and testimony of Jesus Christ and His gospel.


Book of Mormon Geography
Overview

Apart from the Hill Cumorah in western New York, the Church takes no position on the specific geographic location of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas. Church members are asked not to teach theories about Book of Mormon geography in Church settings but to focus instead on the Book of Mormon’s teachings and testimony of Jesus Christ and His gospel.

Explanation: Church leaders, including members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, have consistently and persistently taught that the Hill Cumorah referred to in Mormon 6 is the same hill in western New York from which Joseph Smith, Jr., obtained the ancient Nephite records that he translated into the Book of Mormon. To date, no member of either of these quorums has ever officially questioned or repudiated the teachings of his predecessors.
The Book of Mormon includes a history of an ancient people who migrated from the Near East to the Americas. This history contains information about the places they lived, including descriptions of landforms, natural features, and the distances and cardinal directions between important points. The internal consistency of these descriptions is one of the striking features of the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon includes a history of an ancient people who migrated from the Near East to the Americas. This history contains information about the places they lived, including descriptions of landforms, natural features, and the distances and cardinal directions between important points. The internal consistency of these descriptions is one of the striking features of the Book of Mormon.

Explanation: No change suggested. Although the term “Americas” was never used during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, and instead was invented to obscure early Church history sources, neither Joseph Smith nor Oliver Cowdery left a clear statement about where Lehi landed.
Since the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, members and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have expressed numerous opinions about the specific locations of the events discussed in the book. 
Since before the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have consistently taught that the Hill Cumorah referred to in Mormon 6 is in western New York.

The New York Cumorah was declared to be a fact in an important essay about Church history written by Oliver Cowdery with the assistance of Joseph Smith. Published in 1835 as “Letter VII” in the Messenger and Advocate and republished in many other Church newspapers, at least twice at the direction of Joseph Smith, Letter VII was also copied into Joseph’s personal history, where it can be read today in the Joseph Smith Papers. https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/90

Regarding the specific locations of other events discussed in the book, however, members and leaders have expressed numerous opinions.

Explanation: There is a clear distinction between formal, published teachings about the New York Cumorah, which have never varied, and expressions about other locations, which have been private and/or speculative.
Some believe that the history depicted in the Book of Mormon occurred in North America, while others believe that it occurred in Central America or South America. Although Church members continue to discuss such theories today, the Church takes no position on the geography of the Book of Mormon except that the events it describes took place in the Americas.

Some believe that the history depicted in the Book of Mormon occurred in North America, while others believe that it occurred in Central America or South America. Although Church members continue to discuss such theories today, the Church takes no position on the geography of the Book of Mormon except that the events it describes took place in the Americas and that the Hill Cumorah is in western New York.

Explanation: It is critical to keep the two separate elements distinct.
The Prophet Joseph Smith himself accepted what he felt was evidence of Book of Mormon civilizations in both North America and Central America. While traveling with Zion’s Camp in 1834, Joseph wrote to his wife Emma that they were “wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls and their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity.”1 In 1842, the Church newspaper Times and Seasons published articles under Joseph Smith’s editorship that identified the ruins of ancient native civilizations in Mexico and Central America as further evidence of the Book of Mormon’s historicity.2

Note 2: “Traits of the Mosaic History, Found among the Azteca Nation,” Times and Seasons, June 15, 1842, 818–20; see also “American Antiquities,” Times and Seasons, July 15, 1842, 858–60. Although it is not clear how involved Joseph Smith was in writing these editorials, he never refuted them.
The Prophet Joseph Smith himself personally linked locations in North America with the Book of Mormon. While traveling with Zion’s Camp in 1834, Joseph wrote to his wife Emma that they were “wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls and their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity.”1 

Others, contemporary with Joseph Smith, suggested other locations. In 1842, the Church newspaper Times and Seasons published anonymous articles that identified the ruins of ancient native civilizations in Mexico and Central America as further evidence of the Book of Mormon’s historicity.2

Unlike the anonymous editorials, Joseph Smith signed an article titled "Church History," published in the March 1842 Times and Seasons, commonly referred to as the Wentworth letter. In this article, Joseph adapted the contents of a pamphlet written by Elder Orson Pratt, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. Pratt had speculated at length about evidence for the Book of Mormon in Central America. Joseph replaced Pratt's speculation with the simple statement that “The remnant are the Indians that live in this country.”3

In October 1842, the Times and Seasons published a letter written and signed by Joseph Smith and sent to the editor for publication. Now canonized as D&C 128:20, the letter included this statement: “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed.”

Note 2: “Traits of the Mosaic History, Found among the Azteca Nation,” Times and Seasons, June 15, 1842, 818–20; see also “American Antiquities,” Times and Seasons, July 15, 1842, 858–60. Although Joseph Smith was listed as the nominal editor of the Times and Seasons at the time, he never explicitly approved of or rejected these editorials.

Note 3: “Church History,” Times and Seasons, March 1, 1842, republished in the Joseph Smith Papers with Historical Background notes here: https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/church-history-1-march-1842/1

Explanation: The proposed changes are necessary to clarify the historical facts and distinguish between fact and inference.
Anthony W. Ivins, a Counselor in the First Presidency, stated: “There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question [of Book of Mormon geography]. So the Church says we are just waiting until we discover the truth.”3

President Anthony W. Ivins, a Counselor in the First Presidency, made clear the distinction between the known location of Cumorah in New York and the uncertain locations of other Book of Mormon geography in two General Conference addresses. In April 1928, shortly after the Church purchased the hill Cumorah in New York, President Ivins described that hill and stated: “We know that all of these records, all the sacred records of the Nephite people, were deposited by Mormon in that hill.” 4

The following year, President Ivins stated: “There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question [of the location of Zarahemla and other sites]. So the Church says we are just waiting until we discover the truth.”5

Note 4. Anthony W. Ivins, in Conference Report, Apr. 1928, 16.

Note 5. (same as original note 3)



Explanation: The original version of the essay omitted the context of President Ivins’ statements. The revisions provide the full context for clarity and accuracy.
The Church urges local leaders and members not to advocate theories of Book of Mormon geography in official Church settings. 

The Church urges local leaders and members not to advocate theories of Book of Mormon geography in official Church settings. Such advocacy includes illustrations, artwork, media, and exhibits on web pages including lds.org and in Church buildings, publications, visitors centers, etc.

Explanation: The original version of the essay implied that visual depictions were authorized, while advocacy was not.
Speaking of the book’s history and geography, President Russell M. Nelson taught: “Interesting as these matters may be, study of the Book of Mormon is most rewarding when one focuses on its primary purposeto testify of Jesus Christ. By comparison, all other issues are incidental.4

Speaking of the book’s history and geography, President Russell M. Nelson taught: “Interesting as these matters may be, study of the Book of Mormon is most rewarding when one focuses on its primary purposeto testify of Jesus Christ. By comparison, all other issues are incidental.”6

Explanation: No change suggested.


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