First, before commenting on Roper's article, I point out the viewpoint bias of the Interpreter and its authors. The editors rejected a paper of mine because they disagreed with my conclusions; they had already decided that Winchester didn't write the 1842 Times and Seasons articles and didn't want to publish anything based on a contrary point of view. This is reminiscent of the old FARMS publications, which should surprise no one. Presumably, their citation cartel peer reviewed Roper's article. They seemed to have missed a few things, as I'll point out. Despite all of this, nothing in Roper's article challenges my proposal that Winchester wrote those articles.
Second, I want to emphasize that my comments focus on the content of the article and not on its author. When I review material, I focus on the text, not the author, always with the objective of improving the piece, correcting mistakes, etc. I appreciate Roper addressing these issues and I thank the Interpreter for publishing it. Hopefully the discussion will grow from here; I certainly have a lot more to say.
It has become apparent to me that Mesoamericanist discussions about North American settings focus on fighting, not understanding, what the proponents have to say. "What we've got here is failure to communicate." Hopefully my response will clarify why this keeps happening.
|"What we've got here is failure to communicate."|
For me, this project is purely about getting the history right. Roper knows this. Back in February 2015, before I published anything, I went to Roper's office at the Maxwell Institute because I thought he would be interested in my findings. I think it's clear from his review that he is uninterested in who wrote the articles; instead, he thinks this is all about Book of Mormon geography. It's true that the Zarahemla book includes a section on geography; the topic is inherent in the title. But that was a product of the historical research. Early on, when I presented my findings to other Mesoamerican proponents, they responded that the authorship of the 1842 articles didn't affect geography questions. Several have told me that in the last few weeks. I expect that reaction to become the standard response, and I will address its merits elsewhere.
Here are my stream-of-consciousness notes as I read Roper's article, in red.
[BTW, these two paintings are on display in the Grandin printing shop visitor's center in Palmyra. Imagine the confusion faced by visitors who are told the plates were buried a few miles away, and two of the Three Witnesses whose testimonies are also in display said the Book of Mormon Cumorah is the same one you can visit down the road, but modern LDS scholars have determined that the record on the plates actually relates the history of people living in Mesoamerica.]
Anyone can look at the media section on lds.org and search in vain for a non-Mesoamerican depiction. This is not a free market site, either; materials posted there are officially approved (and they appear in temples, chapels and visitors centers, which are very carefully controlled.) Roper infers that the only reason there is no North American artwork there is because of "quality and the artist's ability to influence the viewer." Which is my point, exactly; this artwork has influenced LDS viewers from early childhood on. As for quality, there are artists who have produced Church media and artwork depicting Mesoamerica who regret that depiction and have produced variations set in North America. The video "Scriptures Legacy" is a step in this direction as well, with a combination of North American and Mesoamerican depictions. It will be interesting to see if this discussion leads to more inclusive artwork on lds.org. I hope so.]
[This is a red herring. So far as I know, no one has made this argument.]
Joseph was surprised when he learned that Jerusalem had walls. This suggests that he could be as surprised by the text as we might be.
[Roper is doubling down on the argument that devastates the Mesoamerican theory! Joseph was never surprised by the text, once he got into the New World--precisely because he'd seen it before, as he claimed in the Wentworth letter and as his mother described.]
If the Lord saw fit to reveal the details of geography to Joseph Smith, He could of course do so, yet one could also conceivably see a rock, a tree, a building, a city, or a man in vision and yet not know or fully understand the surrounding geographical details.
[It's not clear why Roper diverges from his own source. Joseph's mother didn't say he saw a rock or a tree; he saw "the ancient inhabitants of this continent their dress their maner of traveling the animals which they rode The cities that were built by them the structure of their buildings with every particular of their mode of warfare their religious worship." These are all things mentioned in the text, so it makes sense that Moroni prepared him for the translation by showing him all of this. I'm not sure what Roper means by "understanding the surrounding geographical details," but is it possible to picture a manner of traveling, a city, a mode of warfare, or even religious worship without some geographical context? One might reasonably ask if there are plains in Mesoamerica that so resemble those in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois that Joseph could have confused the two, but to argue he could not have recognized what Moroni had shown him in vision is not an argument that comes from study.]
[I'm glad to see credence given to David Whitmer's recollections. Everything he recalled here is consistent with both a North American and a Mesoamerican setting, which is exactly how Winchester (and others) wrote about the topic.]
[I'm returning here after having finished Roper's article because I think readers should know something about David Whitmer. The interview Roper cites here took place in 1883. As Roper implies, Whitmer was an effective witness with a solid memory.
What Roper doesn't get into was an interview Whitmer gave in 1878 to Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith. I discuss this on my blog, here. The two Apostles sent a formal report of their interview to President John Taylor and the Council of the Twelve. It was published in theMillennial Star (Vol. 40, No. 49, Dec. 9, 1878, p. 769, online here, scroll down to Dec. 9 and open the first file) titled “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith.”
During the interview, Whitmer said he, Oliver and Joseph were riding in a wagon on the way to Fayette when a man appeared next to the wagon. "I invited him to ride if he was going our way. But he said very pleasantly, “No, I am going to Cumorah.’ This name was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant. We all gazed at him and at each other, and as I looked round enquiringly of Joseph the old man instantly disappeared, so that I did not see him again....It was the messenger who had the plates, who had taken them from Joseph just prior to our starting from Harmony."
The Mesoamericanists don't like this interview because Whitmer recalls a divine messenger himself using the term Cumorah to describe the site in New York. Whitmer had never heard the word Cumorah and didn't know what it meant, which makes sense because this occurred in 1829 and while he had just witnessed the plates (and much more) a few days previously, the Book of Mormon was yet to be published. Whitmer was with Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith when the messenger mentioned Cumorah. If Whitmer was right, then everything the Mesoamericanists say about New York Cumorah collapses; i.e., the early Saints knew Cumorah was in New York because a divine messenger told them.
[We will see if Roper can provide any evidence that Joseph ever took interest in Incidents, but Winchester and the anonymous author(s) in the Times and Seasons cited both Stephens (Mesoamerica) and Josiah Priest (North America) as evidence to fulfill what Whitmer recalled.]
[Continued in part 2, here.]