Interpreter Peer Reviewed

Interpreter Peer Reviewed

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Interpreter as a "peer-reviewed journal"

At the end of their presentation at JWHA, Roper and Fields listed their "peer-reviewed journal" articles. The list consisted of their three reviews of the first edition of Lost City of Zarahemla.

To get an idea of the quality of the "peer review" process at the Interpreter, none of the supposed peer reviewers noticed that Roper/Fields got the name of the author of the book wrong.

That's like writing a review of a book by Dan Peterson and calling him Donald Peterson.

Maybe that's a relatively minor detail. However, I can't think of an article in an actual peer-reviewed journal that erred in identifying the name of the author of a book being reviewed. An authentic peer-review process catches factual errors such as this.

This error--and there were plenty more substantive errors that I pointed out in my reviews of those articles--is representative not only of the poor quality of the Roper/Fields articles, but of the peer review process at the Interpreter.

I started this blog to point out some of the errors in Interpreter articles that any legitimate peer-reviewed process would have caught. I had hoped to encourage--or provoke--the Interpreter so the editors would engage in a true peer-review process. Now I wonder what kind of errors it will take before the Interpreter engages in true peer review.

To be sure, I haven't seen the quality of the submissions. It is possible that the Roper/Fields papers and the other articles I've commented on were so bad upon submission that the Interpreter's peer review process improved them to the level at which they were published; i.e., as published, the articles are at least better than they were when submitted.  

Another possibility is that the Interpreter's concept of "peer review" focuses on message, not facts and rational argument. I think this is the most likely explanation for the errors one finds when reading material published by the Interpreter. You can be sure to get a particular, editor-approved point of view. You just can't be sure to get reliable facts and rational argument.

But that was true of FARMS as well, of course.

At FARMS, no amount of constructive criticism deterred the authors and editors from making unforced errors. Criticizing the old FARMS/Maxwell Institute publications is like shooting fish in a barrel. The Interpreter seems intent on perpetuating that heritage.

It's unfortunate, really .As I've written, I enjoy much of what the Interpreter publishes. I think it serves a useful role as an outlet for authors. The quality of the material varies considerably by author; some is excellent, some not so much. That's all fine and doesn't undermine the utility of the Interpreter.

But to call this a peer-reviewed journal is a disservice to actual peer-reviewed journals.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Review of JWHA presentation by Roper/Fields

I haven't had a chance to read the article by Roper/Fields, but I was part of a conference session with them, so here's my report, cross-posted from bookofmormonwars.

Yesterday at the John Whitmer Historical Association meeting in Independence, Missouri, Matt Roper, Paul Fields, and I presented in a combined session.

My topic was "Ghosts of the Times and Seasons: Authorship of an Article describing Central America as Zarahemla's Location."

Roper/Fields spoke on "Joseph Smith, Benjamin Winchester and Central American Archaeology: Assessing the Authorship of the 1842 Book of Mormon Articles in the Times and Seasons."

First, it was an honor for me to have been invited. The organizers of JWHA put together a fantastic program and my only regret was having to present at the same time as several other outstanding presentations were underway with speakers such as Alex Baugh and Kyle Walker.

Second, I'm fine with a conclusion that Joseph Smith wrote the letters, if that's what actually happened. All I care about is the truth. What I don't want is perpetuation of a false historical narrative that Joseph Smith wrote or approved of everything in the Times and Seasons. In my view, that's what has been presented heretofore by the "consensus" scholars in the citation cartel, so I was looking forward to the presentations.



Here is the background. Roper/Fields want us to believe that Joseph Smith wrote these three short comments, accompanied by extensive excerpts from the Stephens books.

This is in the same issue of the Times and Seasons (15 September 1842) in which we find this:

"The following letter was read to the Saints in Nauvoo, last Sunday week, and a copy forwarded to us for publication:-and cordially we give it a hearty welcome, and a happy spread among those who love the truth for the truth's sake."

The letter referred to was written by Joseph Smith on 1 Sept 1842 and became D&C 127. Roper/Fields would have us believe  that Joseph sent this letter to himself to publish. During his presentation, Matt referred to Joseph as the nominal editor, so maybe he's conceded that Joseph wasn't acting as editor at this point. Hopefully everyone can at least agree that Joseph did not send D&C 127 to himself for publication.

However, Roper/Fields still want us to believe that the editor who gave Joseph's letter a "hearty welcome" also received these three articles from Joseph Smith, but for some inexplicable reason he declined to identify them as coming from Joseph. Is that plausible? Why would he want to hide Joseph's authorship?

The next issue, 1 Oct. 1842, includes a letter from Joseph Smith dated Sept. 6 1842 that is titled "LETTER FROM JOSEPH SMITH." We're supposed to believe the editor used such a headline to tout this letter, but left Joseph's other supposed article, the one on Zarahemla, anonymous.

Roper/Fields insist that the same editor who emphasized Joseph's authorship of two important letters simultaneously suppressed Joseph's authorship of 3 articles the Prophet also sent in. Why would he do this? For that matter, why would Joseph write the two letters in first person singular, but then write the three articles in first person plural?

Then there is the problem that none of Joseph's papers mention him reading, discussing, or writing about the Stephens books or even Mesoamerica. His journal includes the creation of the Book of the Law of the Lord and other material, but says nothing about Stephens. We're supposed to believe that while Joseph Smith was evading extradition, setting forth temple doctrine, overseeing the construction of the Nauvoo temple, welcoming new members, developing Nauvoo real estate and so forth, he was lugging around the 900-page Stephens books, making selections to extract anonymously in the Times and Seasons. And we're supposed to believe the editor of the Times and Seasons promotes two letters because they were written by Joseph, but declines to recognize Joseph as the author of three articles and accompanying extract that take up thousands of words in the newspaper.

On top of that, the articles are a jumbled mess of assertions and hesitation. They are factually wrong; the Stephens' ruins don't date to Book of Mormon time frames. No one ever quotes from these articles or even repeats the assertions. Why would anyone want to associate these with Joseph Smith?

The answer, of course, is to defend the limited geography Mesoamerican theory.

So on one hand, we're supposed to believe Joseph wrote these ridiculous articles and neither he nor the editor attached his signature because... well, Roper/Fields don't even propose a rationale for that. On the other hand, we're supposed to reject what Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer said about Cumorah, even though Oliver declared it was a fact that the Book of Mormon Cumorah was in New York.

Roper/Fields offer zero historical evidence to support their theory. Instead, they rely on statistical manipulation of data they admit is problematic, at best.

No doubt there will be some people who believe what Roper/Fields are advocating. Apparently Roper and Fields do.

But I don't.

Back to the conference. I had 30 minutes to present. I went through the 7 historical assumptions in the Roper/Fields article (located here) and showed how every one of them was wrong or misleading. I will go through each of them in upcoming days (I have so much material for this blog I'll never post it all.)

When I finished, Matt stood and discussed the Bernhisel letter for a few minutes. Here's a link to it.

I thought Matt did a pretty good job, given what he has to work with. He put half of the letter on the screen and read it to the audience. I had shown in my presentation that no one knows who wrote the letter because we don't know whose handwriting it was in. This is according to a note in the Joseph Smith Papers, which I have independently confirmed with the Church History Department and by my own examination of the handwriting. (I'm not a handwriting expert but I have prosecuted forgery cases and I've had to explain to juries how we distinguish one person's writing from another's, so I know more than a little about the topic.)

By contrast, here's what Roper/Fields said in their paper:  "The letter to Bernhisel, written in the hand of John Taylor, belongs to a class of historical documents that are extant only in the hand of scribes but are included in the Joseph Smith corpus (see, for example, Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 527–28, 551–52). The letter could suggest that Joseph Smith either dictated the letter or directed the apostle to write to Bernhisel on his behalf. In either case, it would be unlikely for Taylor to knowingly attribute views to the Prophet that were not his own."

Because Taylor is one whose penmanship is not in the letter, anyone who reads Roper's paper is being misled. Roper knows this, but he has never retracted his paper or corrected it until, maybe, now.

The Second Edition of the Zarahemla book has an entire chapter on the Bernhisel letter. I won't get into the detail here except to point out that 1) the Bernhisel letter compares the Stephens books to "all of the histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of this country;" 2) apart from this anonymous letter, there are no accounts of Joseph Smith reading any such histories, let alone all of them; 3) There are no records in Joseph's or anyone else's journal in which Joseph mentions Stephens or even Central America; 4) Wilford Woodruff was known for having read history extensively even before he joined the Church; 5) Woodruff is the only person who actually read the Stevens books; 6) A few years later when he was crossing the ocean from England he was reading a history of Russia and compared the author to Stevens; 7) the letter itself reads like a simple thank-you note, and a generic one at that. IMO, the evidence suggests that Woodruff was the source of the letter. I have some ideas on who wrote it but haven't had time to make the comparison. I can see Joseph taking one look at 2 volumes of history adding up to 900 pages and telling Woodruff, "Send him a thank you note." It's unimaginable to me that no one would have mentioned Joseph taking the time to read these books; if he had, everyone would have wanted to read and discuss them. The only book that Joseph's journal mentions him reading is the Book of Mormon, and his scribes even mention what page he was reading. Regarding the Stephens books, there is complete silence.

Still, it is possible that Joseph spent the time to read 900 pages, plus all the other histories he compared the Stephens book to, and no one thought it was unusual enough to write about. Maybe Joseph spent all his time reading. I'll let anyone familiar with his life's history, his personality, and his heavy schedule and responsibility think about that one.

That said, Roper did a good job. He took only about ten minutes.

Then Paul Fields stood.

I anticipated that they were going to revisit their stylometry study. I had a few slides on stylometry but I skipped over them in the interest of time. I did mention that stylometry has just a few weaknesses and problems. I'll do a separate post on that. But it turns out I didn't need to mention the problems with stylometry.

To no one's surprise, Fields claimed his study (Matt, apparently, had little to do with it) verified that Joseph Smith wrote the articles. But I was surprised at what happened next.

Paul Fields impeached his own methodology.

He spent around 10 minutes discussing the Federalist Papers as an example of stylomtery. It reminded me of Jeane Dixon, who had predicted the assassination of JFK and forever after rode that single success, despite a long list of failed prophecies.

(FYI, the Federalist Papers are a collection of 85 essays about the Constitution written by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. They all wrote under a pseudonym of "Publius," but shortly after publication, contemporary experts recognized the writing style of the three men, who had been publicly discussing these issues. Hamilton later took credit for most of the essays, Madison took credit for some that Hamilton had claimed, and some remained unclear. Numerous authorship studies have been done, most of which attributed the disputed essays to Madison, but some claim the disputed essays were a collaborative effort, which is what I think. I've referred to the Federalist Papers in some of my books on Constitutional Law.)

Fields, of course, has had nothing to do with the examination of the Federalist Papers. Stylometrists like to cite this case because it is famous and has produced a fair overall consensus. But this is nothing like the case with the 1842 articles. First, we know there were three candidate authors. Second, the authors themselves took credit for the papers. Three, the authors had publicly discussed the issues and were well-known experts on the topic (which is why we care about their opinions). Four, the corpus (the essays themselves) discussed a clearly defined topic. Five, the essays were of approximately the same length (900-1500 words). Six, the essays were all published. Seven, they were contemporaneous. Eight, they were all addressed to the same audience.

Fields pointed out elements 4-8 as being key to an effective stylometry analysis. He didn't mention 1-3, but in my view, those were equally as important. The Federalist Papers were an easy case, actually; even people in the 1700s without computers could identify the authors.

The fallacy in Fields' presentation, which left me wondering what he was getting at, was NONE OF THESE ELEMENTS IS PRESENT IN THE 1842 ARTICLES.

Granted, the Federalist Papers is a good example of stylometry. But the reasons it is a good example do not apply to the 1842 articles. I'll go through each element and show why I question his conclusions.

1. The list of potential authors for the 1842 Times and Seasons (T&S) articles, particularly those on Sept. 15 and Oct. 1, is unlimited. A majority of the material published in the T&S came through the mail. Anyone could have sent them in. There is good evidence that the extracts in the articles was proofread against the actual books (although even then there are some strange copy mistakes), but that is not evidence of the origin of the commentary (the 900 words in dispute).

2. No one ever publicly took credit for the T&S articles.

3. Some of the potential authors of the T&S articles had publicly discussed the topic, or would in the future. I identified five of them in my presentation: Orson Pratt, Parley P. Pratt, W.W. Phelps, Benjamin Winchester, and William Smith. Arguably, Wilford Woodruff discussed the topic, although the only record is in his journal from a year previously. So far as I know, he never discussed it publicly. Besides, he and John Taylor were extremely sick in this time frame and didn't even come into the office. The one candidate for whom there is no record--zero--of ever having discussed Central America publicly (or even privately) is Joseph Smith. And, unlike the authors of the Federalist Papers, none of the T&S candidates were experts on Central America. At most, they had read the Stephens book.

4. The corpus in Fields' study is not comprised of other writings on the same topic. (Actually, no one knows what the corpus is. This was my complaint about the original Roper/Fields study. I haven't had time to read their paper; I'm only responding to their presentation here. Maybe in the paper they list every document they used in the comparison, along with their software and parameters. I hope so.) At any rate, if they confined their corpus to writings about Stephens, or even writings about Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, they have a corpus consisting of Orson Pratt, several anonymous articles, and a few writings by the men I mentioned above. But they'd have nothing from Joseph Smith. Actually, they'd have nothing on the specific question of Zarahemla in Guatemala because on that point, the T&S articles are unique.

Roper/Fields even included the Bernhisel letter in their corpus! And we know it is not holographic for Joseph Smith. We don't know who wrote it.

5. Since I don't know what corpus they used, it's possible Roper/Fields came up with a statistically meaningful collection of 300-word essays and comments. That's what we're looking at in the T&S: 3 short pieces totaling about 900 words. I'm eager to see this corpus. But in the first article, Roper/Fields cut up longer works to come up with comparable chunks. That begs the question, though; is a 300-word sample valid? Is it a valid assumption that all three articles in the T&S were written by the same person? Someone in the audience astutely asked about this. Fields said they were all the same (although in their published data, Roper/Fields only show them combined into one). I answered that I had looked at them separately with stylometry software and got different results for the three pieces. But I question the validity of those results anyway, given how short the pieces are and the evidence of editing input.

6. During the Q&A, the question of what prior works of Joseph Smith the authors used. All Matt would say was they used holographic writings of Joseph Smith. Holographic? So they are comparing hand-written material by Joseph Smith to a published article. That directly contradicted Fields' own criteria. Maybe the analysis of the Federalist papers used Madison's letters to his wife, but I doubt it and Fields himself said that would be produce poor data. Or maybe Roper/Fields used holographic samples from Phelps, Winchester and the others, but I'm aware of only a few letters written by Winchester that I doubt add up to 900 words each. We do have quite a few holographic letters that Phelps wrote to his wife; maybe that's what Fields used? Presumably, this is in the paper, but they didn't elaborate during the presentation.

7. Fields made a point that comparison samples should be contemporaneous, so I'm eager to see what writing samples they used from Joseph Smith during 1842, plus or minus a year, as well as what contemporaneous samples they used from the other candidates. Actually, I'm sure every historian at the conference would have attended had Roper/Fields produced such a corpus.

8. The 900 words were addressed to the readers of the Times and Seasons. I'm not aware of any holographic writings by Joseph Smith that were published as such in the Times and Seasons, but maybe there were some. Many of the other writings by the 5 candidates were addressed to unbelievers (as part of a larger argument).

Bottom line, all the criteria Fields identified that made the Federalist Papers example so compelling are absent here.

Fields claimed their results are replicable and have all been published in peer reviewed journals. So far as I know (relying on this site), the only two things Roper/Fields have published in this area are

1) their original study of the Times and Seasons, linked above, published by the Maxwell Institute, which I don't think was peer reviewed or even copy edited (although I noted Roper had fixed the typo from the conclusion in the original published article). Certainly this article does not contain enough data to allow anyone to replicate the work.

2) a study of Earl Wunderli's book that Wunderli himself effectively rebutted, IMO, here. The Roper/Fields article was published by BYU Studies, but the link is broken so I can't cite it now.

They also have published three articles in the Interpreter, which as I've shown is about as far from peer-reviewed as a publication can get. I'll go through Roper's third article as soon as I get a chance.

Maybe Fields has published more about stylometry. I'd very much like to see his other articles; they didn't come up in a google search, and they're not otherwise cited that I can find. Fields portrayed himself as an expert during the presentation, so I'm quite curious to see what his representation is based upon. When he finished his presentation, I was itching to conduct cross-examination.

Well, I'm out of time on this. Maybe I'll pick up more later.

At the end of the session, I suggested to Matt that we get together and discuss these things. I think we agree about more than we disagree about, and I'd like to narrow ad define the disagreements so we can evaluate them rationally. I barely had time to scratch the surface in my presentation. He claimed he was too busy here at the conference, and that we could meet back in his office in Utah, but only when Paul Fields is available.

We'll see if/when that materializes.


Roper/Fields want us to believe that Joseph Smith wrote these three short comments, accompanied by extensive excerpts from the Stephens books. Their only evidence consists of statistical manipulation of selected data; they have zero historical evidence to support their theory.

This is in the same issue of the Times and Seasons (15 September 1842) in which we find this:

"The following letter was read to the Saints in Nauvoo, last Sunday week, and a copy forwarded to us for publication:-and cordially we give it a hearty welcome, and a happy spread among those who love the truth for the truth's sake."

The letter referred to was written by Joseph Smith on 1 Sept 1842 and became D&C 127. Roper/Fields would have us believe  that Joseph sent this letter to himself to publish. During his presentation, Matt referred to Joseph as the nominal editor, so maybe he's conceded that Joseph wasn't acting as editor at this point. Hopefully everyone can agree that Joseph did not send D&C 127 to himself for publication.

However, Roper/Fields still want us to believe that the editor who gave Joseph's letter a "hearty welcome" also received these three articles from Joseph Smith that he didn't even identify as coming from Joseph. Is that plausible?

The next issue, 1 Oct. 1842, includes a letter from Joseph Smith dated Sept. 6 1842 that is titled "LETTER FROM JOSEPH SMITH." We're supposed to believe the editor used such a headline to tout this letter, but left Joseph's other supposed article, the one on Zarahemla, anonymous.

It defies credulity to propose that the same editor would emphasize Joseph's authorship of two letter but suppress his authorship of 3 supposed articles.

Then there is the problem that none of Joseph's papers mention him reading, discussing, or writing about the Stephens books. His journal includes the creation of the Book of the Law of the Lord and other material, but says nothing about Stephens. We're supposed to believe that while Joseph Smith was evading extradition, setting forth temple doctrine, overseeing the construction of the Nauvoo temple, welcoming new members, developing Nauvoo real estate and so forth, he was lugging around the 900-page Stephens books, making selections to extract anonymously in the Times and Seasons.

No doubt there will be some people who believe this. Apparently Roper and Fields do.

But I don't.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Illusory correspondences

In my last post, I included this:

"Third, for years the Mesoamericanists have propped up their theory with the hope that someday, somewhere, archaeologists would uncover something related to the Book of Mormon. That has never happened. Now they resort to finding generic and illusory "correspondences" and they adjust the text itself to find hidden Mayan symbolism and meaning."

Someone pointed out to me that the latest publication out of the Maxwell Institute includes yet another fine example. I don't want to start peer reviews of that publication; anyone can read these things and see the problems. But since some claim that this publication repudiates my point about the Meosamerican death spiral, I figured I probably should address it just this once.

First, let me explain what I mean. An illusory correspondence is a similarity between cultures that might appear to be a specific link that has evidentiary value, but in fact it is merely a feature common to most human cultures.

Here's how it works.

1. The Nephites did thing A.
2. The Mayans also did thing A.
3. Therefore, the Nephites were Mayans.

Here's an example.

1. The Nephites planted seeds and they grew.

[In 1 Nephi 18:24, Nephi says "And it came to pass that we did begin to till the earth, and we began to plant seeds; yea, we did put all our seeds into the earth... And it came to pass that they did grow exceedingly; wherefore, we were blessed in abundance."]

2. The Mayans planted seeds and they grew.

[For support, cite any number of observations by Spanish priests, depictions on murals and stellae, and the latest findings of archaeologists.]

3. Therefore, the Nephites were Mayans.

(Note: this one may have been used by Mesoamericanists before, but if so, I haven't seen it.)

In case the fallacy isn't obvious, I'll just point out that most human cultures (with some exceptions such as hunter/gatherer societies) also feature forms of agriculture. Claiming the Nephites were Mayans because both cultures planted seeds is a claim based on what I call an illusory correspondence.

I put the ellipses in the scripture for a reason. The omitted words are "which we had brought from the land of Jerusalem." This tends to contradict the Mesoamerican link because there are not a lot of crops that grow in both Mesoamerica and Jerusalem. (One I've seen mentioned is almonds; there are probably more that I'm not taking the time to recheck, but I'm sure someone will find them to claim I'm wrong about this.) The point here is that these illusory correspondences usually skip right over the point that the text contradicts a Mesoamerican setting.


Now, back to the Maxwell Institute. The paper is in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 24 (2015) and is titled "War Banners: A Mesoamerican Context for the Title of Liberty," by Kerry Hull. It is available at this link.

[To be clear, I'm not being critical of Hull. I wish the article was as anonymous as the ones in the Times and Seasons so I could assess it without people thinking I was being critical of the author. I find this article enjoyable and informative; I just think it's assertion of a correspondence to the Nephites isn't supported by the evidence, as I'll show.]

Hull introduces his article with this: "In this study I place the title of liberty within a Mesoamerican context to show numerous correspondences to what we know of battle standards in Mesoamerica. Through an analysis of battle standards in the iconography and epigraphy of ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, I argue that the title of liberty fits comfortably in both form and function in this well-established warfare tradition. Moreover, I present specific linguistic, literary, and cultural correlations between ancient and colonial Maya texts to the language and style of Alma 46 in describing the title of liberty, strongly suggestive of a common cultural origin."

This is what the Mesoamerican theory has become; placing the text into a Mesoamerican culture to find "correspondences." One could drop the text into just about any culture and make it fit. I'm wondering what ancient culture never thought of a flag or banner. Apparently there is a photo of a metal flag from Iran dating to around 3,000 B.C., for example.

As Hull acknowledges, "Old World patterns in the title of liberty ritual certainly are present." Here, he refers to Moroni's allusion to the Biblical Jacob and Joseph. "Moroni explicitly links the rending of the coat of Joseph who was sold into Egypt to Moroni’s rending of his garment." This, as Hull notes, is definitely an Old World pattern.

Instead of accepting the text on its face--i.e., Moroni appealing to Hebrew people familiar with the Biblical stories--Hull infers a Mesoamerican text.

These are two successive sentences: "Connecting his experience to that of Jacob’s likely legitimized the act in the eyes of the people—precisely what Moroni needed to help convince many who were not at all eager to enter into a covenant to fight and defend. Linking the Jacob narrative to their current situation by means of a banner was an especially erudite choice by Moroni, for banners in ancient Mesoamerica were “highly charged objects that were seen as emblematic of the polity or political division of the group”3 and were therefore ideal for marshaling support."

Think about this. Hull claims Moroni was acting in a Mayan context using Mayan customs, motivating Mayan people by appealing to their affinity to Jacob and Joseph. Moroni is telling a Mayan army that they "are a remnant of the seed of Jacob; yea, we are a remnant of the seed of Joseph, whose coat was rent by his brethren into many pieces."

In my view, the text says Moroni was invoking Hebrew precedent, not Mayan precedent. To fit the text, the Mayans to whom Moroni was appealing would have had to be fully conversant with the coat of Joseph and associated Hebrew stories; otherwise Moroni's recitation would be perplexing at best.

I read the article but I didn't see any evidence of Mayan iconography that describes Joseph's coat.

Bottom line: If Moroni was operating in a Mayan culture, he would have invoked a Mayan precedent instead of the Hebrew one. Instead of Joseph's coat, the text would have Moroni invoking a Mayan legend.

This illusory correspondence is typical of what the Mesoamericanists have been producing lately. Like John Sorenson's book Mormon's Codex, these arguments demonstrate not only that the Book of Mormon doesn't fit Mesoamerica, but that it can't fit. What Mayans would be motivated by--let alone understand--Moroni's invocation of Jacob and Joseph? And why would he be telling these Mayans they were descended from Jacob and Joseph?

This leads to another line of argument I won't discuss beyond mentioning it. There is irony in a Mesoamericanist citing Alma 46:24-26, when Mesoamericanists usually insist that the "remnant of the seed of Jacob" were fully absorbed into Mayan culture and DNA.

But maybe it's not irony. Based on this article, maybe the Mesoamericanists have gone from claiming that Lehi's tiny group disappeared, to now claiming that the Mayans to whom Moroni was speaking were Hebrew descendants of Jacob and Joseph. IOW, Lehi's descendants dominated the Mayan culture and DNA instead of the other way around, at least when Moroni was running things. That's an interesting new twist.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Mesoamerica in a death spiral

Someone said the Church moves at two speeds: slowly, and not at all. When it does change, though, it changes completely. I think the transition away from Mesoamerica is well underway. The only question is how much longer will it endure?

Every week now we have more evidence that the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography is in a death spiral. Here's a rough overview of the trajectory.

First, there was the faulty premise (the 1842 Times and Seasons articles) that even proponents admit were factually false; i.e., the ruins Stephens described post-dated Book of Mormon time frames.

Second, although the Mesoamerian proponents cited (and still cite) articles from the Times and Seasons and other statements by Orson Pratt, John Taylor, etc., they disagree with every source they cite! Every one of their authorities advocated a hemispheric model, which modern Mesoamericanists reject.

Third, for years the Mesoamericanists have propped up their theory with the hope that someday, somewhere, archaeologists would uncover something related to the Book of Mormon. That has never happened. Now they resort to finding generic and illusory "correspondences" and they adjust the text itself to find hidden Mayan symbolism and meaning.

Fourth, for years the Mesoamericanists have propped up their theory by insisting that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery didn't know much about the Book of Mormon and was purely guessing or speculating about its geography. Most LDS don't realize that the Mesoamerican theory insists Cumorah was not in New York. The more LDS learn about these two prongs of the Mesoamerican theory, the less they accept that theory.

Fifth, abundant evidence in North America is coming forth that corroborates the Book of Mormon.

Sixth, many Mesoamericanists are acknowledging that Joseph neither wrote nor approved of the 1842 articles. Even the die-hards, such as Matt Roper, have no persuasive argument to the contrary. He wrote two long essays on the topic, but he unwittingly reinforced the conclusion that Winchester and others wrote and edited those articles.

Seventh, many Mesoamericanists have stopped repudiating Joseph Smith's statements about the North American setting. Instead, they have adopted the "Mesoamerican core, North American hinterland" theory. But that theory works both ways; i.e., a "Mesoamerican hinterlands" explains whatever correspondences proponents can come up with, as well as the early LDS notions of a hemispheric model.

Eighth, the Mesoamerican theory has been gradually eased out of FARMS, the Maxwell Institute, and even BYU. Church curriculum has gradually de-emphasized the Mesoamerican setting.

Ninth, the Mesoamerican theory survives mainly in LDS artwork--but even that is starting to change, as exemplified by the Scriptures Legacy video. There is a growing body of excellent LDS artwork centered in North America that, hopefully, will replace what is currently carried on

Tenth, acceptance of the North American geography is spreading among LDS members and leadership.


Sadly, the Mesoamericanists don't seem to realize what's going on. The latest example is from William Hamblin. Hamblin is a frequent contributor to the Interpreter and a member of the Interpreter's Executive Board, so his recent blog post relates to what is going at the Interpreter.

I'm cross-posting this from

Besides his role at the Interpreter, Hamblin, a well-known BYU Professor, is also a Mesoamerican proponent. He published an article on his blog titled:

How BYU Destroyed Ancient Book of Mormon Studies

Hamblin's article about BYU's approach is well-written and well-reasoned, but I think he's missing the point.

IMO, BYU didn't destroy Ancient Book of Mormon studies; the Mesoamerican theory did.

Here's what a correct title to his article would be:

How BYU Destroyed Mesoamerican Book of Mormon Studies

I think BYU is right to discourage this line of research and writing. Articles promoting the Mesoamerican theory, published by FARMS and now the Interpreter, are not scholarly because they are not peer reviewed (outside the bias-confirming citation cartel).

John Sorenson's book, Mormon's Codex, sets forth criteria or filters for any proposed Book of Mormon setting that, ironically, exclude Mesoamerica.

Brant Gardner's book, Traditions of the Fathers, sets up a series of illusory correspondences that also show the Book of Mormon could not have taken place in Mesoamerica.

As Earl Wunderli demonstrated in An Imperfect Book, the Mesoamerican theory doesn't line up with the text. Re-interpreting the text to discern hidden "Mayan" features doesn't help, either.

Out of concern it might disappear, I'm going to reproduce Hamblin's piece here with my interlinear comments.

How BYU Destroyed Ancient Book of Mormon Studies

I maintain that numerous policies adopted by a wide range of BYU administrators over the past thirty years have had the effect—intended or unintended—of destroying ancient Book of Mormon studies as a fledgling discipline.  
[I agree with Hamblin about BYU's discouragement of what he calls "ancient Book of Mormon studies (ABMS for short), but I think that's a misnomer. Hamblin has long conflated ancient Book of Mormon studies withMesoamerican Book of Mormon studies. When Hamblin uses the term ancienthere, he means ancient Middle-Eastern and ancient Mesoamerican studies.  I don't see BYU discouraging work in the Middle-East. What I see is discouragement of the link to Mesoamerica. Hamblin has claimed he teaches his students the Mesoamerican theory. Maybe that's the source of the problems he outlines in this article.]  
Here’s how.
College and Department Politics.  Although many people might find it incredible, every single BYU administrator on every level of the administration has explicitly discouraged me from doing ancient Book of Mormon studies in my annual performance (“stewardship”) reviews. 
[I think Hamblin means Mesoamerican studies here. I'll indicate this throughout the article.] 
They have all explicitly told me to focus my research and publications on non-Book of Mormon topics, such as the crusades.  In part this was good advice on their part; they were telling me if you want to be successful at BYU, don’t publish on the Book of Mormon or publish with FARMS or later Interpreter.
[Again, this is smart on the part of BYU. Neither FARMS nor the Interpreter are peer reviewed (outside the citation cartel that seeks to defend the Mesoamerican theory against actual facts and rational argument). I'd be interested whether BYU has discouraged work on Middle-Eastern topics related to the Book of Mormon, though.]
 More broadly, you must publish outside the “BYU Bubble”—that is, BYU or LDS sponsored publications.  Only people hired to teach Mormon history should publish on Mormonism.  Only publications in non-LDS-related venues are viewed as legitimate scholarship.  Since non-LDS publications generally do not accept ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies as a legitimate discipline, this essentially means that no publication on ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies can be acceptable as authentic scholarship at BYU.
[Again, Hamblin is referring to Mesoamerican Book of Mormon studies. If such studies were legitimate, FARMS and now the Interpreter would welcome robust peer review and would publish alternative perspectives. FARMS never did, and the Interpreter doesn't now.]
This policy is also reflected in two other phenomena moving beyond mere verbal discouragement.  Over the past twenty-five years I submitted several research proposals to my college on Book of Mormon related topics; none was ever accepted.  
[A list of these would be helpful. I'd love to see what was proposed and rejected.]
This is in clear contrast to many of my non-Book of Mormon research proposals, many of which were accepted.  
[A list of these would be helpful, too.]
Merit pay raises, based largely on academic performance did not include ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon publications as authentic scholarship.  The policy was crystal clear.  When I published non-Book of Mormon related books or articles, I received merit pay raises.  When I published [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon-related books or articles, I received no merit pay raise.  
[Presumably these were in FARMS and/or the Interpreter, which explains everything.]
My promotion to full-professor a few years ago was rejected by my college dean precisely because my [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon publications were not viewed by him as legitimate scholarship.  I was informed explicitly by the dean that I needed more non-LDS-related publications to be promoted—despite the fact that I had two books and numerous non-LDS articles in my vita.  (The dean’s decision was overturned by the university.)  
So, my experience throughout my 25 years at BYU was that ancient[Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies were not considered an authentic discipline.  Publications in that [Mesoamerican] field were not legitimate scholarly work.  Such  [Mesoamerican] research was not supported by the college.   Publications in ancient  [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies did not contribute to either merit pay raises, nor promotion. Such policies not only obviously discourage young scholars from publishing in ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies, and even  overtly punish those who do so against BYU policy and the universal advice of administrators.  
Religious Education.  One would expect that the College of Religious education would be the natural home for intensive ancient Book of Mormon studies.  It is not.  
[Not for Mesoamerican studies, thankfully.]
First, as I’ll note below, the curriculum on the Book of Mormon at BYU is both superficial and extremely limited.  Second, many people teaching the Book of Mormon have no professional interest or training in ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies—or ancient scriptural studies of any sort.  Finally, Religious Education focuses on teaching what I call the “Three Ds”—doctrine, devotion, and daily application.  Those three approaches to the Book of Mormon are certainly important and legitimate.  But they do not provide the students much opportunity for intensive text-based academic [Mesoamerican] study of the Book of Mormon.  The whole academic culture of Religious Education is directed towards teaching the basic principles of the Gospel, which is fine, and indeed most important.  The problem is that they also actively prevent any classes being taught at an advanced level, and essentially discourage the serious academic study of the Book of Mormon as an ancient  [Mesoamerican]  text.  As far as I can tell, this restriction represents an intentional policy by the BYU Religious Education administration.  They don’t want the Book of Mormon studied contextually as an ancient [Mesoamerican] historical document.  They want it studied only as a theological and ethical document.  
BYU Curriculum and the Book of Mormon.  Currently, there are only two courses that BYU students can take on the Book of Mormon: REL A 121: The Book of Mormon (first half), and REL A 122 : The Book of Mormon (second half).  Both are introductory courses, and are only two hours long, making a total of only four hours. Even if a student wants to do more in depth study of the Book of Mormon, it is impossible to do so anywhere at BYU or in the church.  BYU classes on the Book of Mormon are perpetually stuck at the introductory level.  Furthermore, the new Book of Mormon class offered by BYU—Rel A 275 “Teachings and Doctrine of the Book of Mormon”—is now a single two hour class approaching the Book of Mormon thematically.  In other words, it’s a glorified Sunday School class.  It’s getting more superficial.     
[This is a legitimate concern, but the answer is not incorporating Mesoamerican studies. Plus, many if not most of these BYU students have been raised with theTennis Shoes series that has already indoctrinated them in a Mesoamerican mindset--which is just as fictional as the Mesoamerican theory itself. Maybe the administration realizes the students need to focus on the text for once.]
What BYU actually needs is a robust curriculum in the Book of Mormon.  Most simply, BYU could offer in depth courses on each of the major books of the Book of Mormon, combining some of the smaller books into one.  
[I like this idea.]
Note that Religious Education offers a class on Isaiah, but no class on the book of Alma or Helaman or Nephi?  Why?  Beyond in depth classes on major books of the Book of Mormon, BYU should offer classes on Book of Mormon [Mesoamerican] geography, history, archaeology, linguistics, literature, theology, culture, language (ancient Near East and Maya), textual criticism, religion, law, warfare, apocalyptic, reception history, the Bible in the Book of Mormon, etc.  
[Every one of these disciplines could be a disaster if approached through the Mesoamerican lens, as Hamblin advocates. On the other hand, teaching students about what Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Joseph Smith said would be a tremendous benefit.]
BYU could, if the administration wanted, have a program in Book of Mormon studies, and offer two dozen different advanced courses on the Book of Mormon, certainly enough for a major.  But it doesn’t.  This cannot be an oversight or random chance.  This is obviously a conscious policy that implements curriculum decision which minimizes the opportunities of students to study the Book of Mormon as a serious academic discipline at BYU.  Which, for all practical purposes, means students can’t do ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies at all, anywhere.    
[Hamblin makes a good point. Maybe BYU will reconsider once he and other Mesoamericanists reject the Mesoamerican theory and apply serious academic discipline to their study.]
Graduate Studies and the Book of Mormon.  The only way that young LDS scholars can study the Book of Mormon in graduate school is to study it as a nineteenth century text in a secular religious studies program, or US history program.  There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with this.  But what this means is that one cannot do graduate work anywhere in the world in ancient Book of Mormon Studies.  Unremarkably, young scholars are not doing ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies.  Furthermore, no one teaching has at BYU has a PhD in ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon Studies.  BYU has completely failed in its mission to prepare young LDS scholars for ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies.  
BYU and the Destruction of FARMS.  I’ve written extensively on the debacle of BYU’s destruction of FARMS.  FARMS originated outside of BYU precisely because of the policies of BYU that I’ve outlined above, which prevented ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon scholarship from thriving at BYU.  Then, not satisfied with undermining ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies on their own campus, BYU administrators decided they should undermine it outside of campus as well.  Their goal in forcing FARMS to join was not because they wanted to support ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies.  Quite the contrary.  BYU wanted to gain control of land that FARMS owned, and be able to manipulate potential donations to FARMS.  BYU administrators made a number of promises to the FARMS board at the time of the hostile takeover—almost none of them have been fulfilled.  Furthermore, in the past three years, BYU administrators have completely transformed the direction of the Maxwell Institute from ancient [Mesoamerican] scriptural studies to modern Mormon Studies in its broadest sense.  As I’ve detailed in blogs over the past few years, BYU has taken what was once the most productive center of research and publications on ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies—which came into existence precisely because of the failure of BYU in this regard—and transformed it into Sunstone South.  
[The quasi-academic approach taken by FARMS and now the Interpreter in this area justifies everything BYU did, IMO.]
Conclusion.  I don’t know what the goals or motives of the BYU administrators have been over the past thirty years in relationship to the Book of Mormon.   
[That's a good point. Transparency would be welcome here, too.]
I suspect they haven’t actually considered the implications of their policy decisions at all.  
[In my experience, it is the Mesoamericanists who have not considered the implications of their theories; i.e., claiming two of the Three Witnesses were unreliable (and wrong), that Joseph Smith didn't know much about the Book of Mormon and was speculating about where it took place, etc.]
Their focus is on other important aspects of running a university.  However, the law of unintended (and perhaps even some intended) consequences has resulted in a series of administrative policy decisions over the past thirty years all of which have combined to result in undermining serious ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormon studies at BYU.  
Indeed, if their actual goal was to intentionally minimize the discipline of ancient [Mesoamerican] Book of Mormons studies, they could have achieved that goal no better than by making precisely the decisions they have made.  
[To which I say, they should have been more explicit and come right out to repudiate the Mesoamerican theory. Maybe at some point they will. And not a moment too soon.]

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Interpreter, Mesoamerica, and the future

As I've noted, the Editors of the Interpreter strongly defend the Mesoamerican setting. So here's my take on that theory.

From what I've seen, the limited geography Mesoamerican theory originated in response to the realization that the completely hemispheric model advocated by Orson Pratt and others was not feasible. This left scholars with a more limited scope for the narrative. Then the question was, where to put it?

Pratt, Frederick G. Williams, and other pointed to a South American landing. The 1842 Times and Seasons articles pointed to Mesoamerica. Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Joseph Smith pointed to the New York Hill Cumorah. Each of these is incompatible with the others.

The Mesoamerican proponents elected to go with the 1842 Times and Seasons articles, partly because they thought Joseph wrote the articles, partly because they were the "latest" word on the topic, and partly because of the appeal of a massive ancient civilization in that area. That's completely understandable. For decades, I agreed with them.

But the Mesoamerican theory never adequately answered the questions about Cumorah or other statements Joseph made about a North American setting.* Proponents have reconciled the statements partly by claiming Joseph never received divine instruction or revelation about the topic and partly by creating a "hinterlands" approach that has Nephites migrating to North America from the Mesoamerican Core. Not a bad approach--it worked for me for a while--but it still assumes Joseph wrote or approved of the articles in the Times and Seasons.

In my view, the historical evidence uncovered since last December thanks largely to the Joseph Smith Papers project shows that Joseph never wrote or approved of those articles; instead, he opposed them to the extent that they placed named Book of Mormon sites in Mesoamerica. Joseph never made a single statement about the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica; every statement he made placed the narrative in North America.

Articles and statements by his contemporaries who considered Mesoamerican ruins as evidence of the Book of Mormon are not inconsistent with Joseph's own statements in the hinterlands sense; i.e., Book of Mormon people (mainly Jaredites and Lamanites, but possibly Nephites and Mulekites) migrated throughout North and South America, including in Mesoamerica. However, the physical evidence (DNA and archaeology) show a primarily Asian influence in Mesoamerica.

Even with the Times and Seasons gone as evidence of what Joseph thought, Mesoamericanists still think Mesoamerica is the place because of the "correspondences" between Mesoamerica and the text.

I think such correspondences are illusory.

As I've shown in an article previously posted to this blog, Mesoamerica doesn't even satisfy Sorenson's own filters or tests, as set forth in Mormon's Codex. Mesoamericanists cannot make their geography match the text; instead, they resort to adjusting the text to fit their geography. They deem physical features in the text as "metaphorical," they alter the plain meaning of terms (directions and animals) to suit their notions of a Mesoamerican influence, and they propose that upon arrival, Lehi's group encountered a massive, sophisticated civilization that completely absorbed the Nephites, leaving not a trace of their culture or even their DNA.

I find all of this dubious, at best.

As a former Mesoamericanist myself, dating from the time I was in seminary in High School and reinforced as a freshman at BYU where I took an honors class from John Sorenson, I have long known of the problems with the Mesoamerican theory. Earl Wunderli and others have done a good job pointing those out.

Many Mesoamericanists have told me to be patient; there are still many sites in Mesoamerica to be explored, and maybe in one of those we will finally find evidence that relates to the Book of Mormon. Well, maybe. But highly unlikely.

Instead, I have looked at the North American setting. I have evaluated numerous proposed geographies, but all have weaknesses comparable to those in Mesoamerica.

So I tried an experiment.

I put a pin in the map at the New York Cumorah. I put another pin in the map across from Nauvoo, thinking it is possible that D&C 125 refers to the Book of Mormon Zarahemla. Then I evaluated the text to see how the geography lines up.

Frankly, I was stunned at how perfectly it lines up. No more unexplained geographical features. No more re-translating the text with Mesoamerican concepts. No more metaphorical features. No more conflict with Joseph, Oliver, and David.

It's pretty cool.

Many former Mesoamericanists have done what I have done; i.e., they have evaluated the evidence and arguments, rejected the Mesoamerican setting, and refocused on North America. I think as more believers in the Book of Mormon go through the process I have, they will reach the same or similar conclusions to mine.

The question is whether the Mesoamericanists scholars will do the same.

I think many of them will if the Interpreter will give them a fair chance to read about an alternative to the Mesoamerican theory.

From what I know of the LDS scholars, most will embrace new evidence, especially when it reaffirms the truths Joseph taught and builds faith.

Up to this point, the main impediment to the North American setting has been ignorance.

I remain optimistic that the Interpreter will eventually open its pages to an alternative perspective that will educate its readers and enable them to make informed decisions about these issues.

*Dan Peterson lately has resorted to saying he believes in a North American setting because Mesoamerica is in North America, apparently oblivious that his own magazine has published articles distinguishing between North America and Mesoamerica. Hence the clarification here.

The Interpreter is wonderful

Lately some people have asked what I think of the Interpreter magazine (

I think it's wonderful. Sincerely. It is one of the few outlets for LDS scholarship. I have enjoyed reading it from its inception.

I have met and/or corresponded with several of the members of the Executive Board, Board of Editors, and Contributing Editors. Every single one has been sincere, pleasant, friendly, thoughtful, and committed to the Gospel and the pursuit of truth.

There is only one area in which I think the Interpreter is misguided, and that is where it takes a definite point of view in the area of Book of Mormon historicity, including geography and Church history. The Editors take an activist position in this area, rejecting papers they disagree with and accepting papers they approve of, regardless of academic merit.

This is why I've undertaken the peer reviews that should have been done before publication of the Mesoamericanist papers here.

Some of the Editors have told me they don't know much about the topic, so they defer to experts. In my opinion, the experts they rely on have a definite agenda. In some cases, they have decades of publications to defend. Maybe they think their reputations are at stake. I think their reputations would be enhanced, not diminished, by taking a fresh look at the topic and being willing to change their mind, even if it means repudiating what they have written in the past.

I come from a business and legal background, not an academic background, so I'm used to making decisions based on evidence and reasoning, not academic tradition or a sense that I have to defend what I wrote in the past when I had less evidence. Changing course in response to new information is an everyday occurrence in business and law, but apparently it's not in the academic world.

But I have hope for the Interpreter, as I'll explain in my next entry.

Monday, September 7, 2015

More censorship at the Interpreter

Just so you know, if you post a response to the Interpreter, the censor there may decide to 1) not post it and 2) forward it to whomever he wants.

Yesterday I posted a comment on Matt Roper's response to another comment on the Interpreter's web page. Among other things, Roper wrote "Jonathan claims a lot of things." Instead of allowing my comment to go through, the Interpreter censor took the liberty of forwarding my response directly to Matt.

I have previously offered to collaborate with Matt several times. He didn't even reply to my last email. But the Interpreter's censor takes it upon himself to send my comment to Matt without telling me ahead of time or asking for my permission.

I think it's important for the Interpreter's readers to know the background behind the 30,000 + words of Roper's they have already published about my book.

Here is the comment the Interpreter censored:

Hi Matt. I appreciate the interest you've taken in my book. 

I'm glad to see you're finally interested in correcting your original paper on this topic. That's all I asked when I first approached you 7 months ago.

As I told you the first time we met, I would much rather cite your work with approval than have to continue to point out the defects in it. Although the process you've chosen to work on these issues is cumbersome and inefficient, I still hope we can work together to accumulate and analyze all the available historical data.

That said, I'm hoping you've abandoned your Black Box style of scholarship. Your stylometry work so far is not replicable because you don't disclose 1) your database or 2) your software. Black Box scholarship doesn't fly outside of the citation cartel and the shrinking number of Mesoamerican advocates (whose primary interest seems to be bias confirmation).

As you know, I had never looked into this historical issue until your article (Joseph Smith, the Times and Seasons, and Central American Ruins) made me curious about 1) why you reached a conclusion that contradicted your own data, 2) why you didn't disclose your database and software parameters, and 3) why you misled your readers with false assumptions about history (e.g., "Between February and November 1842, the only men said to be working in the printing office were Joseph Smith, John Taylor, and Wilford
Woodruff.") I was even more curious when I approached you and you refused to collaborate with me to pursue the truth.

As you also know, I had never heard of Winchester until I did the research. Because I have no history of publications or a particular theory to defend, I am agnostic regarding the authorship of these articles. I just want to know the truth, whatever it is.
In all my work, including the book, I disclose all my sources and encourage readers to see for themselves. I propose alternative inferences and hypotheses, based on the evidence, and explain all my reasoning. I look forward to your third article in which I presume you will do the same. 

I hope this time you will itemize your database and disclose your software and the parameters used so anyone an replicate your results. 

As you have admitted, stylometry is only as good as the database, the software, the the candidates tested. Originally you limited your analysis to Joseph Smith, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff. If you're limiting your current analysis to William Smith and Benjamin Winchester, you're still missing the point--which I would be happy to discuss with you any time.

All the best,

Jonathan Neville

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Matt Roper on Bernhisel, Stephens, and Incidents of Travel

Matt Roper offers his second essay, which relies on the Stephens books and a note to Dr. Bernhisel, here. I'll offer my stream of consciousness comments in this post.

NOTE: now that I've read through his essay, I've come back here to post my conclusion, which is also found at the end of this post:

Bottom line, Roper removes the Cumorah pin from New York, rejecting everything the early LDS wrote about the subject, and keeps the Zarahemla pin in Mesoamerica because of a single unsigned article in the Times and Seasons. I keep the Cumorah pin in New York and remove the Zarahemla pin from Mesoamerica, ascribing all the citations to Stephens to missionary zeal in the context of a hemispheric model that accommodates a hinterlands approach--with North America as the core. Such a hinterlands approach is also consistent with other articles in the Times and Seasons that do not cite the Stephens book. Ironically, Roper rejects the hemispheric model implicit in every reference he cites; he doesn't agree with the very authors he cites for authority to support his position. Roper and I agree that the New York Cumorah pin and the Mesoamerican Zarahemla pin are incompatible. Readers must choose which pin they leave in their own maps.

John Bernhisel’s Gift to a Prophet:Incidents of Travel in Central America and the Book of Mormon

Abstract: [I previously commented on this abstract so I won't do it again here.] The claim that God revealed the details of Book of Mormon geography is not new, but the recent argument that there was a conspiracy while the Prophet was still alive to oppose a revealed geography is a novel innovation. A recent theory argues that the “Mesoamerican theory” or “limited Mesoamerican geography” originated in 1841 with Benjamin Winchester, an early Mormon missionary, writer, and dissident, who rejected the leadership of Brigham Young and the Twelve after 1844. This theory also claims that three unsigned editorials on Central America and the Book of Mormon published in the Times and Seasons on September 15 and October 1, 1842, were written by Benjamin Winchester, who successfully conspired with other dissidents to publish them against the will of the Prophet. Three articles address these claims. The first article addressed two questions: Did Joseph Smith, as some have claimed, know the details of and put forth a revealed Book of Mormon geography? Second, what is a Mesoamerican geography and does it constitute a believable motive for a proposed Winchester conspiracy? This second article provides additional historical background on the question of Joseph Smith’s thinking on the Book of Mormon by examining the influence of John L. Stephen’s 1841 work, Incidents of Travel in Central America, upon early Latter-day Saints, including Joseph Smith.
The claim that Joseph Smith opposed cultural, historical, and geographical connections between Central America (Mesoamerica) and the Book of Mormon is based on the assumption that the details of an external Book of Mormon geography had been revealed to him.1 [Page 208]
[This is partly true, but the claim is also based on the paucity (if not complete lack) of evidence that Joseph Smith ever made, or even agreed with, any connection between Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon. My comment on footnote 1 follows the note.]
Proponents of the so-called “Heartland” interpretation claim that Joseph Smith’s usage of such terms as this landthis continent, or this country indicate a specialized usage that must and can refer only to territory within the United States.2 
[As he did in his first article, Roper is conflating my work with the Porter/Meldrum book he reviewed. I reviewed Roper's review, and I'll repost that in this blog eventually, but Roper's analysis boils down to this: some of the early Saints believed in a hemispheric geography model, so they must have used these terms to refer to a hemispheric "promise" model as well: this land, this continent, and this country. There are two major problems with Roper's analysis that he ignores. First, since he rejects the hemispheric geography model, how can he justify adhering to the pendant promise model? Second, Roper analyzes the terms from his perspective, not from the perspective of the recipient of the writing. For example, Joseph wrote the Wentworth letter from Nauvoo to the editor in Chicago, a distance of about 270 miles, depending on the road taken. Both Nauvoo and Chicago were in Illinois. When Joseph referred to this country, Roper would have us believe Mr. Wentworth would interpret that as not meaning the local area around Nauvoo, not as the State in which they both resided, and not even as the country in which they both lived. No, Mr. Wentworth was to understand Joseph was referring to Mesoameria (or, worse, all of the Americas).]
Contrary to that view, the historical evidence suggests that Joseph Smith never considered that the question of Book of Mormon geography was settled by revelation, and that those terms, as applied to the Book of Mormon, do not reflect a specialized usage, but refer to the land, continent, and country of America, meaning North and South America, not only the United States.3 
[Roper is his own citation cartel; if I haven't reviewed all of his articles he cites here, I will soon enough. But on the merits, the historical evidence not only suggests but demonstrates that Joseph received revelation about Book of Mormon geography. As for the terms, Roper characterizes the ordinary meaning, as would be understood by the recipient, as a "specialized usage." As I mentioned already, Roper claims Mr. Wentworth was supposed to think this country referred to all of North and South America. That raises an interesting question: why didn't Joseph write North and South America? How else was he supposed to refer to the country both he and Wentworth lived in and with which they were familiar?]   
The interest of Joseph Smith 
[Roper here assumes facts not yet in evidence.]
and other early Latter-day Saints in the remains of pre-Columbian culture accessible to them does not justify the claim that he believed or taught an exclusive United States geography.4 
[A straw man argument, at least with respect to what I've written. Nothing in the text of the Book of Mormon precludes southern expansion into the hinterlands of Central America. The question is where the events specifically described in the text--the less than 1%--occur.]
Early usage [Page 209]of the term Indian and American Indian as applied to the Lamanites likewise reflected this broad usage, not a restrictive one.
The American hemispheric interpretation of the Book of Mormon was widely held from 1830 on and is additional strong evidence against the claim of a revealed external geography. It is highly unlikely that the Prophet would have allowed that view to receive such wide circulation for so long a time had he felt that it contradicted anything of significant doctrinal or revelatory significance to the Saints. Neville tries to set Joseph Smith against efforts to connect the Book of Mormon narrative with Mesoamerica, but Latter-day Saints had been making connections with that region since 1830.
[I think I pointed out in the first edition, and I certainly do in the second, that the problem was placing Zarahemla in Mesoamerica. In the hinterlands sense, the Mesoamerican references don't conflict with anything Joseph said.]

In 1841, John Stephens and Frederick Catherwood published an account of their travels in Central America, along with a description and drawings of notable ruins they found in the region. Some Mormons, like Benjamin Winchester, heard of these discoveries, yet their ideas about Book of Mormon geography continued to reflect the traditional interpretation. Stephens’s work did influence the writings of other Latter-day Saints whose interpretations show a growing recognition of the importance of Mesoamerica as a key center for the events in the Book of Mormon. These are best described as antecedents or modifications within the traditional hemispheric framework, rather than limited Mesoamerican geographies of the kind we know today.5 

[I don't disagree with this, actually. The problem for Roper and other Mesoamericanists is that the hemispheric model was pinned to the New York Cumorah being the Book of Mormon Cumorah. On that, everyone agreed. It was not until the 1 Oct 1842 Zarahemla article that someone sought to pin a named Book of Mormon city to a specific site in Mesoamerica. That's more than a modification of the theory; that's a qualitative difference from the generalized hemispheric model. And that's where the problem lies. I'm proposing it was that specific identification of a Book of Mormon city in Mesoamerica that Joseph opposed. The identification was never repeated or cited--except by modern-day Mesoamericanists. Because I agree with Mesoamericanists that a geography more limited than the hemispheric model is the only thing that makes sense, the debate really boils down to which pin do you keep and which do you remove. To justify a limited-geography in Mesoamerica, Roper has removed the Cumorah pin from the New York Cumorah (rejecting 2 of the 3 witnesses and Joseph himself, in my opinion) and left the Zarahemla pin in Mesoamerica. My position is to keep the Cumorah pin in New York and remove the Zarahemla pin from Mesoamerica. As I put it in one of my posts, it's Oliver Cowdery vs. Anonymous. In my view, the weight of the historical evidence is so far on Cowdery's side that it's really no contest, as I expect I will be able to show later in this article.]
In light of the recent efforts of some to distance Joseph Smith from ideas about Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, 
[Of course, I think the historical evidence demonstrates this distance; there is no need for an effort beyond evaluating the evidence without preconception or agenda.]
his personal interest and evaluation of Incidents of Travel in Central Americaclearly provide historical evidence on the question of who wrote three unsigned editorials in the Times and Seasons in 1842. This article will show how Joseph Smith’s 1841 letter to John Bernhisel reflects the Prophet’s[Page 210]personal interest in, enthusiasm for, and assessment of the value of Stephens’s book, including correspondences between Central America and the Book of Mormon. 
[I'll defer comment until Roper presents his evidence.]

Out of the Best Books”

Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan was published in 1841.6 The two-volume work by John Lloyd Stephens, with illustrations by Frederick Catherwood, describes the two explorers’ experiences and discoveries in 1839 and 1840 as they traveled through the region. It was widely praised in the American press for their interesting description of pre-Columbian ruins and their excellent illustrations, which pointed to a level of civilization in the region previously unanticipated by most Americans. The two men returned to northern Yucatan in 1841 for a second expedition, described in another publication, Incidents of Travels in Yucatan, published in 1843.7 In 1844, Catherwood published his own work, Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, which included twenty-five hand-colored lithographs interspersed with his commentary.8
The books were enthusiastically received by American readers, including Latter-day Saints. Even before they were able to read the book, missionaries were citing reports of the travelers’ lectures in New York City as evidence for and to refute criticism of the Book of Mormon. 
[This is one of the key reasons for Winchester and the others to promote Central America; i.e., they were facing constant criticism that Joseph copied the book from Spaulding or Ethan Smith. Moving the focus to Central America was an easy way to defeat those claims.]
Parley P. Pratt reprinted one report from the New York Express in the September 1840 Millennial Star. The article reported Stephens and Catherwood’s descriptions of numerous statues, monuments and obelisks “wholly covered with hieroglyphics and inscriptions” at the sites of Quirigua and Palenque.9 In November, 1840 Erastus Snow chided an anonymous critic who had insisted that there was no evidence of pre ‌Columbian writing: “Here is a specimen of your consummate ignorance of American Antiquities. … Nearly all the principal papers of this country have of late published the results of the researches of Messrs. Stephens and Catherwood, in Central America. On the river [Page 211]Montagua, Monuments and Statues in abundance were found, many of which are covered with writings, and yet you say these are no proofs that the science of writing was ever known here. The system of Logic by which you arrive at your conclusion must be peculiar to yourself.”10 The June 15, 1841, issue of the Times and Seasons reprinted another article from the New York Weekly Herald reporting the substance of the travelers’ lectures. The Nauvoo editor who introduced the article thought the report “proved beyond controversy that, on this vast continent, once flourished a mighty people, skilled in the arts and sciences.”11
[Yes, all consistent with the Mesoamerica as hinterlands concept, and all useful to defeat the Spaulding argument.]
In a letter to Joseph Smith in September 1841, John E. Page explained a “new course of argument” that he had adopted and found useful:
I have great access to the people in a new course of argument which I have adopted and that is this — I have lately availed myself of the purchase of Stevens [Stephens] and Catherwoods travels in Guatemala or central America in which those gentlemen have exhibited by seventy plates the antiquities of that count[r]y which when compared with The Book of Mormon so completely proves the truth and divinity of the Book of Mormon there is not a gentile dog left to stir a tongue in an attempt to put down the collateral testimony which those records afford me in proof of the Book of Mormon — Next or second argument is the fulfilment of the Prophetical sayings which are in the Book of Mormon itself.12
Neville repeatedly attributes this “new course of argument” to Winchester, and mis-characterizes it as one that used evidence from[Page 212]Mesoamerica to support the Book of Mormon (1, 3, 39, 42, 139, 151, 182, 189, 266), but there was nothing “new” about the appeal to Central American discoveries. Page’s approach (and it was his, not Winchester’s) consisted of actually using Stephens’s book in his defense of the Book of Mormon. Winchester never mentioned Stephens until 1842. And while this approach may have been new to Page, other missionaries, such as Parley P. Pratt and Erastus Snow, were referencing Stephens in 1840.
[Well, Page says he adopted the approach, not that he developed it. He and Winchester had been working together and Winchester had written his argument in March 1841. The Stephens book didn't come out until I think June. As Roper himself pointed out, others had cited Stephens before Page did, so how was this a "new" argument unless it was to tie Mesoamerican to specific Book of Mormon sites (i.e., the Sept/Oct 1842 articles)?]

A Book Review from a Prophet

In September 1841, Wilford Woodruff, returning from an apostolic mission in Great Britain, passed through New York City. On September 8, John Bernhisel, a recent convert, wrote to Joseph Smith informing him that he was sending him a copy of Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan “as a token of my regard for you as a Prophet of the Lord.”13The next day he asked Woodruff to carry it with him to Nauvoo, along with the accompanying letter. On the long journey home, the apostle had time to read. On September 13, after completing the first volume, he wrote, “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 are truly interesting.”14 
[All consistent with the Mesoamerica as hinterlands approach.]
On September 16 he wrote, “I 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 ever read.”15 
[No connection to the Book of Mormon noted here, possibly because he read Stephens' point that the ruins were not that old (i.e., could not date to Book of Mormon times) but still consistent with the Mesoamerica as hinterlands approach.]
He arrived home on October 6, where the Prophet received Bernhisel’s gift.
On November 16, 1841, Joseph Smith responded to Bernhisel, 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 [Page 213]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.16
The letter to Bernhisel belongs to a class of historical documents that are only extant in the hand of scribes but are part of the Joseph Smith corpus.17 Dean Jesse identified the handwriting as that of John Taylor.18 The Joseph Smith Papers website indicates that the handwriting is at present unidentified.19 Based upon current information it appears that Smith either dictated the letter to a scribe, or that he directed him to write to Bernhisel on his behalf using the words he deemed proper. 
[This is an example of a place in the first edition in which I erred in relying on existing scholarship that attributed this letter to Taylor. I have since compared the handwriting myself and excluded a number of Joseph's scribes. No one knows who wrote this letter. There is no evidence that Joseph even saw it. The letter itself is vague; it amounts to nothing more than a thank-you note, prefacing a comment about the real estate deal in which Joseph was soliciting funds from Bernhisel. It is notable that Woodruff's detailed journal makes no mention of actually giving the book to Joseph, or Joseph's reaction, or of any discussions about the book. We have no idea of when Woodruff gave the books to Joseph; they are around 900 pages long, and reading them would require a significant commitment of time and energy. Yet never in any of Joseph's journals does he once mention this book. Nor do any of his contemporaries mention Joseph's reaction, comments, thoughts, or discussions about it. The only thing we have is a generic thank- you note written by an unknown person.]
In either case, it would be unlikely for Taylor or any other of his scribes to knowingly attribute to Smith views and opinions that were not his own or that were inconsistent with revelatory teachings of the Prophet. 
[Even assuming Joseph dictated the letter, nothing in it is inconsistent with a Mesoamerica as hinterlands approach to the Book of Mormon. IOW, nothing in this letter contradicts everything else Joseph said about the setting of the Book of Mormon ranging from Cumorah to Missouri.] 
As with several other letters of this kind, 
[There are no other letters of this kind; this one is unique. We know who wrote the other letters to Berhnisel. No other letter (or any other writing by, or attributable, to Joseph) links the Book of Mormon to Mesoamerica, and even this one is vague.]
it is reasonable to see the content of the letter to Bernhisel as an accurate representation of Joseph Smith’s intent, if not his own words. Joseph Smith’s comments are notable in that they constitute a very brief but informative book review expressing the Prophet’s personal evaluation of what he had read. 
[This is fascinating in light of Roper's dismissal of what Joseph wrote in the Wentworth letter, which I'll address if it comes up later in this article.]

Of “greatest interest” and a “pleasure” to read

Joseph Smith told Bernhisel that he had not only read the volumes, but found them “of greatest interest” and a “pleasure to read.” Stephens wrote in a personable and self-effacing style that welcomes the reader to his story. When I first read Incidents I could not help but like the [Page 214]man and immediately relate to some of his experiences. His description of standing in the ruined palace of Palenque one night reading a New York newspaper by the enchanting light of fireflies recalled a treasured experience I had shared with my children years ago.20 The other insects of Mexico and Central America caused Stephens and his companions no end of difficulty:
Besides moschetoes and garrapatas, or ticks, we suffered from another worse insect, called by the native niguas, which, we are told, pestered the Spaniards on their first entry into the country, and which says the historian, “ate their Way into the Flesh, under the Nails of the Toes, then laid their Nits there within, and multiplied in such a manner that there was no ridding them but by Cauteries, so that some lost their Toes, and some their Feet, whereas they should at first have been picked out; but being as yet unacquainted with the Evil, they knew not how to apply the Remedy.” This description is true even to the last clause.21
Stephens, also a careful observer, asked good questions. His carefully reasoned conclusions and recommendations to future scholars provided “a rich fund for thought.”22 The work, wrote another reviewer, “unites both literary and scientific merit of a higher order. … We do not doubt that this book, both on account of its doubly national character and its undoubted superior merit, will find its way into the libraries of all persons who ever read anything else than a novel.”23

[Roper's comments here provide the kind of specificity one would expect from someone who actually read the books. That's a stark contrast to the Bernhisel thank-you note. One wonders how long it took Roper to read these books. Joseph had at most 6 weeks during a very heavy schedule.]

It unfolds and develops many things that are of great importance to this generation”

The violent and depressing Spanish conquest and subjugation of native populations of Mesoamerica laid the foundation for destructive currents, some of which continue even today. In southern Mexico, under the rule of Spain, frustration over social inequality and injustice had bubbled over into violence. Stephens relates:
[Page 215]The Indians submitted to the dominion of the Spaniards until the year 1700, when the whole province revolted, and in Chillon, Tumbala, and Palenque they apostatized from Christianity, murdered the priests, profaned the churches, paid impious adoration to an Indian female, massacred the white men, and took women for their wives. But, as soon as the intelligence reached Guatemala, a strong force was sent against them, the revolted towns were reduced and recovered to the Catholic faith, and tranquility was restored. The right of the Indians, however, to the ownership of the soil was still recognized, and down to the time of the Mexican Independence they received rent for land in the villages and the milpas in the neighborhood.24
Central American Independence from Spain in 1823 did not put an end to these difficulties. The Liberal faction worked to unite Central America under one government and impose progressive policies that went against entrenched native traditions and practices and tended to reduce the power of the Catholic church in the region. Opposition to these policies by the Conservative faction led to a new round of violence, some of which Stephens witnessed and described for his American readers. In the early sixteenth century, Stephens reflected, the highland and piedmont regions through which he traveled were “the most populous, the most civilized, and best cultivated in Guatemala. The people who occupied it were descendants of those found there by Alvarado, and perhaps four fifths were Indians of untainted blood.” By 1839, however, long suppressed tensions again exploded into violence. “For three centuries they had submitted quietly to the dominion of the whites, but the rising of Carrera had awakened a recollection of their fathers, and it was rumored that their eyes rolled strangely upon the white men as enemies of their race.25 Joseph Smith and his fellow Latter-day Saints would have taken interest in “the wars and complexities” of Mesoamerica’s bloody history (D&C 88:79).
[Possibly, but this history was not what was excerpted in the Times and Seasons, IIRC.]
United States President Martin Van Buren, the same who had told Joseph Smith, “Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you,” tasked Stephens with the confidential and difficult assignment to learn who was actually in power in Central America and establish relations with them on behalf of the United States. This he found impossible, given that the [Page 216]region was in the midst of a chaotic civil war, yet Stephens was able to visit parts of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, as well as parts of southern Mexico, and provide detailed descriptions of current events. “Although he minimized the threat,” notes one authority, “he and Catherwood were in very dangerous territory, at considerable risk to life and limb.”26 “Stephens was wandering through Central America at a time when the political infrastructure of the modern state was forming — or perhaps it would be more accurate to say ‘misforming.’ He witnessed a key clash between forces of the Central union (the Liberals) and disunion (the Conservatives) in something approaching a definitive battle.”27 Stephens met both Carerra and Morazan, leaders of the rival factions, and Incidents contains a description of these interviews and his impressions.
[Roper again demonstrates the kind of specificity one would expect from someone who actually read the books--but that's exactly what is lacking in the thank-you note.]

Luminous” and “Comprehensive”

Joseph Smith’s term luminous also aptly applies to Stephens’s work. Much of what he reported was new to American readers, and his writing style was clear and captivating. Stephens’s description of Copan, for example, is notable: “Rarely has the discovery of an archaeological site received such polished literary treatment.”28 Stephens’s language would almost impel a Latter-day Saint reader in 1841 to think of the Book of Mormon. 
[Is this because an 1841 reader would not know the ruins Stephens describes do not date to Book of Mormon times?]
He praised the sculptor of monuments at Copan: “Little did he imagine that the time would come when his works would perish, his race be extinct, his city a desolation and abode for reptiles, for strangers to gaze at and wonder by what race it had been inhabited.”29 He described Copan as a “desolate city.” Nobody knows “the time and means by which it was depopulated, and became a desolation and ruin; whether it fell by the sword, or famine, or pestilence. The trees which shroud it may have sprung from the blood of its slaughtered inhabitants; they may have perished howling with hunger; or pestilence, like the cholera, may have piled its streets with dead, and driven forever the feeble remnants from their homes.”30 “In the moment of greatness and power, the builders [of [Page 217]Uxmal] never contemplated that the time would come when their city would be a desolation.”31 Stephens seemed most impressed by the ruins of Palenque.
Amid all the wreck of empires, nothing ever spoke so forcibly the world’s mutations as this immense forest shrouding what was once a great city. Once it had been a great highway, thronged with people who were stimulated by the same passions that give impulse to human action now; and they are all gone, their habitations buried, and no traces of them left.
Here were the remains of a cultivated, polished, and peculiar people, who had passed through all the stages incident to the rise and fall of nations; reached their golden age, and perished, entirely unknown. The links which connected them with the human family were severed and lost, and these were the only memorials of their footsteps upon earth. We lived in the ruined palace of their kings; we went up to their desolate temples and fallen altars; and wherever we moved we saw the evidences of their taste, their skill in arts, their wealth and power. In the midst of desolation and ruin we looked back to the past, cleared away the gloomy forest, and fancied every building perfect, with its terraces and pyramids, its sculptured and painted ornaments, grand, lofty, and imposing, and overlooking an immense inhabited plain; we called back into life the strange people who gazed at us in sadness from the walls; pictured them in fanciful costumes and adorned with plumes and feathers, ascending the terraces of the palace and the steps leading to the temples, and often we imagined a scene of unique and gorgeous beauty and magnificence, realizing the creation of oriental poets. … In the romance of the world’s history nothing ever impressed me more forcibly than the spectacle of this once great and lovely city, overturned, desolate, and lost; discovered by accident, overgrown with trees for miles around, and without even a name to distinguish it.32
The Prophet’s term luminous is equally apt for Catherwood’s drawings.
[Now, despite Roper's earlier (and accurate) admission that we don't know if this thank-you note was dictated, Roper is claiming these are Joseph's actual words. This is what happens to an argument when it loses its moorings. Furthermore, I don't think there's an example in all of literature of a single adjective bearing such weight as Roper places on luminous here.]
 In our day of modern photography, digital cameras, computers, [Page 218]and image manipulation, it is easy to forget just how difficult it was for Catherwood to represent accurately what his group discovered. In their travels, Stephens took the lead in bird-dogging ruins and monuments, which his companion could then draw. After spending the good part of one day at Copan scouting the surroundings, Stephens returned to find his companion struggling through a much harder work.
I found him not so well pleased as I expected with my report. He was standing with his feet in the mud, and was drawing with his gloves on to protect his hands from the moschetoes. As we feared, the designs were so intricate and complicated, the subjects so entirely new and unintelligible, that he had great difficulty in drawing. He had made several attempts, both with the camera lucida and without, but failed to satisfy himself or even me, who was less severe in criticism. The “idol” seemed to defy his art; two monkeys on a tree on one side appeared to be laughing at him, and I felt discouraged and despondent.33
Fortunately, Catherwood persisted and succeeded in producing representations that were both accurate and beautiful.
One cannot fail to be impressed by Catherwood’s extraordinary achievements under these terrible conditions. His drawings are vivid and accurate, dramatic and sensitive, bringing the ruins of Palenque to life in their dense setting of sprawling vegetation. Stephens’s lengthy descriptions of the structures are an equally memorable tribute to the two explorers’ tenacity and single-minded dedication to archaeology.34
According to archaeologist Michael Coe,
The quality of the illustrations in the 1841 and 1843 publications was a quantum jump away from anything that had been heretofore published on the antiquities of the New World. One has only to compare Catherwood’s rendering of the great tablet of the Temple of the Cross at Palenque with the garbled version in the del Rio 1822 report to see the difference. The same holds true with Catherwood’s more purely architectural drawings: many years ago (when I was [Page 219]still an undergraduate at Harvard), I was at Uxmal, armed with a copy of Stephens and Catherwood. Catherwood’s superb plate of the facade of the Governor’s Palace at Uxmal is folded into the volume. Standing in front of the same palace, I directly compared the original with the copy: setting aside the reconstructions that had been carried out by the Mexican government in this century, they were virtually identical. Stephens and Catherwood could have lied and exaggerated like Waldeck about the Uxmal ruins — who among their readers in 1843 would have known the difference? — but they did not.35
Art can have a powerful effect on readers of a text. Early editions of the Book of Mormon had no illustrations to supplement the volume. Catherwood’s drawings from Central America, published in 1841, 1843, and 1844, helped Latter-day Saints conceptualize the Book of Mormon setting. 
[This is a good thing? That early LDS conceptualized the Book of Mormon setting as ruins that postdated the Book of Mormon time frame by hundreds of years? That don't match the descriptions in the text anyway?]
For the first time since its publication, readers of the Book of Mormon could develop some idea of what places in the Book of Mormon may have looked like. 
[Wait. I thought Mesoamericanists have all acknowledged that the ruins in the Stephens book post-date Book of Mormon time frames. Maybe I'm wrong about that. Roper seems to be claiming that these ruins are actually what Book of Mormon cities looked like. Even Stephens would have disagreed with that.]
The writers for the Times and Seasons editorial on September 15, 1842, regretted that they were unable to reproduce Catherwood’s drawings of Palenque,36 but in 1845, the Latter-day Saint editors of The Prophet reprinted Catherwood’s drawings of the ruins of Zayl,37 Sennacte, Sanachtsche38 and Labna39 from Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, apparently the first reproductions of those drawings published by Mormons.
[Exactly my point! Wow. William Smith was the editor of The Prophet. He was all in on the Mesoamerica stuff, as I showed in the book. I don't have time to check if he was still editing it in 1845--probably not--but he did publish Mesoamerican stuff when he was editing it, so this is consistent with his approach. And it suggests the fulfillment of the wishes of the 1842 Times and Seasons editor--which I'm saying was William Smith.]
Catherwood’s influence can be seen in some of the earliest Latter-day Saint art on the Book of Mormon, particularly that of George Ottinger, whose art was used in George Reynolds’s popular book The Story of the Book of Mormon.40 Today, readers of the Book of Mormon have likely [Page 220]seen Arnold Friberg’s depiction of Samuel the Lamanite preaching on the wall of Zarahemla. He “contextualizes the narrative within an architectural setting based upon the well-known models of Puuc style Maya and Teotihuacano architecture.” Samuel “stands by a tower that shows “the characteristic stone latticework and centralized Chac mask of Uxmal’s Nunnery complex,” the same buildings described by Stephens and illustrated by Catherwood. In another well-known painting, Friberg depicts Jesus appearing at the temple in Bountiful, which resembles the “stepped masonry platforms of Teotihucan’s Avenue of the Dead.”41 
[This all makes my point that the influence of Winchester, Wm. Smith, et al continues to this day to mislead LDS people about the Book of Mormon. None of this art is consistent with the text of the book, for starters.]
Joseph Smith’s term comprehensive 
[So now this is also his term.]
was also well chosen. Stephens and Catherwood covered a lot of ground in their travels through Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Chiapas, Mexico and Yucatan. The 1841 narrative provided an abundance of useful information for future travelers to the region. Missionary-minded Latter-day Saints like Wilford Woodruff, who also traveled widely, would have appreciated the narrative, which paints a broad portrait of Central America at this time, both its natural and human environments. Information from histories of the region provided valuable context for their discoveries.

Most Correct”

The discovery of Central American ruins was of great interest to Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints, but Incidents also provided useful historical information. Stephens drew upon the work of Don Domingo Juarros, whose history was published in a London English translation in 1823.42 The Juarros history itself depended on the valuable Historia de Guatemala orRecordacion Florida by Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzman.43 The wide publication of Incidents of Travel made the historical information in these sources widely known to American readers.
What did Joseph Smith mean when he said Incidents was the “most correct” of all the books on American antiquities with which he was familiar?
[Actually, the thank-you note said it is the "most correct" "of all histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of this country." All of those terms could be parsed for meaning. For example, the note didn't say "of all the books on American antiquities with which I am familiar." Every time Roper adds his own spin to the facts, he gets into trouble, as he does here.]
 Earlier reports of the ruins of Palenque, some reprinted in [Page 221]Mormon publications, had circulated years before 1840. They included exaggerated claims about the size and extent of the site. Stephens with good humor noted that some reports claimed the site was “ten times larger than New York” or “three times as large as London.” The author gently corrected these erroneous claims and provided more accurate information, based on his own observations.44 As already noted, Catherwood’s drawings also greatly helped to correct previous confusion.
It seems reasonable to assume that Joseph Smith was acquainted with some of the more popular works by Latter-day Saints on the Book of Mormon, such as Parley Pratt’s Voice of Warning, which evidence indicates he read and suggested that corrections be incorporated into the 1839 edition.45 In that edition Pratt cited reports on the Palenque ruins printed in the Family Magazine and Josiah Priest’s 1833 American Antiquities, a work well known to early missionaries. Other Latter-day Saint pamphlets referenced the works of Boudinot, Davis, and Humboldt. While he may not have read these very books, Joseph Smith could easily have become acquainted with the passages used and cited by missionaries. Significantly, he assigned higher confidence to Stephens’s work than he did to these other sources, which in his view were less “correct,” “luminous,” and “comprehensive.”
[Well. The thank-you note refers to "all histories that have been written." Roper wants to rewrite this to mean "some of the more popular works by LDS." Roper has to rewrite the note because, on its face, the note is pure puffery. It makes Joseph out as a scholar, able to evaluate and compare "all histories that have been written." That's just another reason to suspect that the unknown writer of the note was doing what clerks everywhere try to do: make the boss look good. This is only one aspect of the thank-you note that leads me to conclude Joseph never even saw it, and certainly didn't dictate it.]


Seeking to distance Joseph Smith from any Mesoamerican correlation with Book of Mormon events, Neville has difficulty providing an adequate explanation for Joseph Smith’s 1841 letter to John Bernhisel. 
[To the extent I had difficulty it was trying to make sense of John Taylor writing it. Now that we all know Taylor didn't write it, the odd terminology in the note makes a lot more sense.]
He downplays the letter to Bernhisel as “more of a polite but brief thank-you note to a friend and business associate with whom Joseph had been corresponding” (60). He suggests that the letter reflects a more general interest in Central America, rather than one which might place Book of Mormon events in a Mesoamerican setting (58). “Joseph’s letter does not tie any Book of Mormon events to the locations in Central America” (57). How then would Stephens’s work, as Joseph indicated, “correspond with” or “support” the Book of Mormon? In a rather dodgy argument, Neville insists that these correspondences did not have reference to anything Stephens wrote about Central America, but rather to a brief aside which mentions discoveries farther north. Just before discussing [Page 222]the ruins of Copan, Stephens mentioned countless theories about native American origins, some of them farfetched.
[Roper seems to think sticking with texts lead to dodgy arguments, which is why he rephrases the note in his analysis and doesn't address the specific terminology I noted.]
Some suggested they might have been of a race “separate” from the family of Adam. Or perhaps “some remnant of the antediluvian inhabitants of the earth”? Might the ark even have planted itself in the State of New York? Were they descendants of ancient Near Eastern peoples, or of the Chinese, or even of “modern” Europeans? Perhaps a single continent had been “rent asunder” by an earthquake; or the “fabled island of Atlantis … been lifted out of the ocean. … The monuments and architectural remains of the aborigines have heretofore formed but a small part of the groundwork for these speculations.”46
Stephens also noted that historians like Robinson claimed that native American peoples were incapable of significant cultural achievements and that this attitude had influenced popular perceptions of pre-Columbian history.
Since Dr. Robinson wrote, a new flood of light has poured upon the world, and the field of American antiquities has been opened. The ignorance, carelessness, and indifference of the inhabitants of Spanish America on this subject are matter of wonder. In our own country, the opening of forests and the discovery of tumuli or mound and fortifications, extending in ranges from the lakes through the valleys of Ohio and Mississippi, mummies in a cave in Kentucky, the inscription on the rock at Dighton, supposed to be in Phoenician characters, and the ruins of walls and a great city in Arkansas and Wisconsin Territory, had suggested wild and wandering ideas in regard to the first peopling of this country, and the strong belief that powerful and populous nations had occupied it and had passed away, whose histories are entirely unknown. The same evidences continue in Texas, and in Mexico they assume a still more definite form.47
Neville’s claim that Joseph was interested in Stephens because of what it said about Midwestern mound builders, rather than what it said about Central American correspondences, makes little sense. After all, the title of the book was Incidents of Travel in Central America. Stephens’s remarks on mound builders is but a brief aside in a two-volume work of nearly nine-hundred pages! The passage is short, very general, and [Page 223]contributes nothing new. 
[But it's the only passage containing terms used in the letter; i.e., it's the closest thing to specificity anywhere in the letter.]
A reader could find more detail in other books of the time, such as Josiah Priest’s American Antiquities, which were already known to Latter-day Saints through the publications of Parley Pratt and other Mormon writers. Stephens’s passing comment provides no new information. If, as Joseph said, Stephens work was more correct, luminous, and comprehensive than other earlier works, he obviously was referring to what Stephens said about Central America. 
[Again, Roper assumes Joseph used those terms after admitting we don't know if he dictated or even saw the note after it was written. He didn't sign it, we know that. Roper's argument is that Joseph had time to read the 900 pages and compare them to all other histories written on the subject, but he didn't have time to write--or even sign--a brief generic thank-you note. That's strange time management by any standard.]

Age of Pre-Columbian Civilization in Mesoamerica

It is important to remember that when Latter-day Saints speak and write about the external geography of Book of Mormon events and also secondary and secular evidence of its truth, these are opinions and personal interpretations, not revelation. Arguments, suppositions, deductions, and interpretations may or may not be well-informed and carefully reasoned. This was as true for Joseph Smith and his contemporaries when they expressed their own views, as it is of us today. Of course it is no longer 1842. Our knowledge about the Book of Mormon, American geography, and the ancient world has increased substantially since Joseph Smith’s day. We know that some things once argued or thought to be strong evidence for the Book of Mormon were based on faulty information or mistaken assumptions. We are not bound to evidence and arguments that have since been shown to be wrong. On the other hand we also know things today that earlier writers did not.
[This is all fine, with one exception: Joseph saw the Nephite civilization. No one today has, at least not that's been published. I realize Roper has written elsewhere that Joseph never had revelations about this topic; he claims that when Joseph wrote, in the Wentworth letter, that he was "shown" the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, he didn't see any clues about where they actually lived. When his mother Lucy said Joseph described the Nephite "cities, their buildings, with every particular," Roper thinks this has nothing to do with revelation or geographical setting. I disagree, of course; in my view, both Joseph's own writing and his mother's recollection establish that Joseph actually saw what archaeologists are trying to reconstruct. This is why it is significant that Joseph never once linked the Book of Mormon to Mesoamerica and explains why, even if he did dictate the Bernhisel letter, he left it vague in a hinterlands fashion. By contrast, Joseph recognized the plains of the Nephites when he crossed Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, etc.]
At the conclusion of his 1841 work, Stephens expressed his own well-reasoned conclusion about the age of the ruins his group had visited.
We are not warranted in going back to any ancient nation of the Old World for the builders of these cities; that they are not the work of people who have passed away and whose history is lost, but that there are strong reasons to believe them the creations of the same races who inhabited the country at the time of the Spanish conquest, or some not very distant progenitors. … Some are beyond doubt older than others; some are known to have been inhabited at the time of the Spanish conquest, and others, perhaps, were really ruins before.48
Today we know that Stephens’s opinion of the age of these ruins was essentially correct. Copan, Quirigua, Palenque, and Uxmal were all [Page 224]pre-Columbian, dating to the later Maya Classic Period after the Book of Mormon era. Small groups of ancestral predecessors of those who built these cities likely lived there before that time, but the notable ruins Stephens and his companions described and illustrated represent a later cultural development.49 
[Okay, I wasn't wrong about Mesoamericanists knowing these ruins don't date to Book of Mormon times. Whew.]

What Stephens Didn’t Know

Neville thinks no reasonable person could have considered these ruins evidence. “Stephens himself refutes the basic premise of the Mesoamerican connection, i.e., that the ruins in Copan were Nephite cities as described in the Book of Mormon narrative” (58). Those who thought that Copan, Quirigua, Palenque, and Uxmal were the very cities named in the Book of Mormon text were mistaken. We know that now, but nobody in 1842, or for a long time afterward, could date accurately the age of those ruins. Stephens’s opinion, thoughtful and well informed, was still just one among many at the time. So it was not unreasonable for Joseph Smith or Latter-day Saints in 1842 to draw their own conclusions. 
[Wait a minute. Roper wants us to believe Joseph carefully read these entire volumes but either didn't read Stephens' opinion or didn't agree with it? And yet Joseph supposedly wrote that of all histories, this was the most correct luminous & comprihensive? After going on and on about how Joseph was correct about these three adjectives, now Roper is saying the opposite. This is a stunning argument. Roper is actually arguing that this "book review" was glowing and comprehensive, but false because Joseph actually disagreed with Stephens "opinion" after all that praise. And, according to Roper, Joseph disagreed even though it turns out Stephens was correct! So Roper has Joseph Smith not only speculating, but reaching factually false conclusions about these ruins being from Book of Mormon times.]
Incidents provided a glimpse of a civilization whose level and complexity few had witnessed, and Stephens was keenly aware of many other cities yet to be discovered.50 Latter-day Saints never held that Stephens’s ruins were the full story. They fully expected that future explorations and research would yield additional evidence and discoveries consistent with Mormon’s record. “Should ruins of many cities be discovered [in Central America],” wrote W. W. Phelps, “it would be no more than a confirmation of what was once on this land of the Lord.”51 In 1855 the editor of The Mormon wrote, “The Book of Mormon becomes still more interesting to the archaeological student in its corroborative testimony, since its publicity was anterior to the researches of Stevens and Catherwood and most other explorers of Yucatan, Central America and California. It relates not only to the numerous ruins already exhumed but to hundreds of cities and temples, whose ruins yet remain buried amid the boundless forests.”52
Neville’s discussion could leave his readers with the mistaken impression that no Mesoamerican ruins date to Book of Mormon times [Page 225](58). 
[That's not the impression I intended, as I made clear elsewhere.]
Stephens was unaware that many other Mesoamerican ruins, of greater antiquity, would later be discovered throughout Mesoamerica. When he rode across the valley to Guatemala City, he had no idea that beneath his very feet were the remains of Kaminaljuyu, “one of the greatest of all archaeological sites in the New World,” whose ruins date to Book of Mormon times, but lie mostly destroyed under the streets and buildings of that sprawling modern city.53 He noted the beauty of Lake Atitlan, “the most magnificent spectacle we ever saw,” and described the lake basin from his perspective on the surrounding hills. “All the requisites of the grand and beautiful were there; gigantic mountains, a valley of poetic softness, lake, and volcanoes, and from the height on which we stood a waterfall marked a silver line down its sides.”54 Nobody knew until recently that those waters concealed Preclassic ruins covered by water two thousand years ago55 or that his road through Chiapas, Mexico likely took him within a stone’s throw of ruins of comparable age and complexity.56 Given Joseph Smith’s interest in Stephens’s work, there is every reason to believe that the Prophet would have greeted those discoveries with similar interest and enthusiasm.
[This keeps getting worse. First, there is no "given" here: the only evidence Roper has cited is a thank-you note written by an anonymous person. No mention in any journal that Joseph ever read the books, talked about them, etc. Second, the thank-you note's "enthusiasm" was misleading because, according to Roper, Joseph disagreed with Stephens' accurate views about the antiquity of the ruins.]

Geographical Correspondences

The issue at hand, however, is not whether we think there exists evidence from Mesoamerica that supports the Book of Mormon, although I believe that is abundant, but what Joseph Smith and the early Latter-day Saints thought about it. 
[This is a bit of a red herring. What other early LDS thought is, in my view, irrelevant, apart from Joseph Smith, the 3 Witnesses and anyone else who had personal experience with Moroni or other angelic ministers.]
Joseph Smith suggested that Incidents of Travel in Central America corresponded with and supported the testimony of the Book of Mormon. Was he right?
[Presumably Roper is still referring to the thank-you note, which is the only evidence he's offered so far. I don't think that qualifies as evidence of anything other than what it is; a thank-you note written by an unknown person. But for the sake of argument, I'll go along with Roper's position for now.]
In fact, it is not difficult for a reader to find such correspondences. An obvious one was the location of the cities Stephens and Catherwood described and visited. Early readers of the Book of Mormon commonly assumed Central America to be the “narrow neck of land” mentioned in the text.
[Most referred to Panama, which is much more "narrow" than Central America, but that application of the adjective "narrow" only works when viewed from a map. No person on the ground would consider 120 miles to be "narrow."] 
John Taylor and others thought the geographical location of the discoveries was consistent with descriptions in the Book of Mormon. “It has fallen to his [Stephens’s] lot,” wrote John Taylor, “to explore the [Page 226]ruins of this once mighty people, but the ‘Book of Mormon’ unfolds their history; and published as it was, years before these discoveries were made, and giving as it does, accounts of a people, and of cities that bear a striking resemblance to those mentioned by Mr. Stephens, both in regard to magnificence and location.”57 
[If I'm not mistaken, Roper is citing another anonymous editorial here. And even with that, the quotation is fully consistent with a Mesoamerican hinterlands.]
A related correlation had to do with the level of civilization that Central American discoveries revealed. The number of ruins described by Catherwood and Stephens in their books surprised and astounded many readers. In their subsequent expedition to Yucatan, the explorers visited forty-four sites, and they had obviously only scratched the surface. When Amos Wickerhsham observed that reports of the ruins of Palenque had been known before 1840, William Appleby could respond, “The ruins of the city of Ottolum [Palenque] was known; but Stevens visited altogether 43.”58
[Appleby plays an interesting role in my second edition.]

Orson Pratt observed:
Now no one will dispute the fact that the existence of antique remains in different parts of America was known long before Smith was born. But every well informed person knows that the most of the discoveries made by Catherwood and Stephens were original — that the most of the forty-four cities described by him had not been described by previous travelers. Now the Book of Mormon gives us the names and location of great numbers of cities in the very region where Catherwood and Stephens afterwards discovered them. This, therefore, taking into consideration all the circumstances, is an additional evidence, of a very positive nature, in favour of the divine inspiration of this unlearned and inexperienced young man.59
[No disagreement from me about Orson Pratt. He was all over the place on many issues, including his staunch advocacy of a hemispheric model that Roper rejects. Of course, Orson also insisted the Decalogue stone from Ohio was proof that pre-Columbian Hebrews lived there. I'm curious if Roper has ever cited Pratt on that point?]
In addition to correspondences of location and cultural complexity, a few writers suggested that additional correlations among specific cities might be possible. The writers of the unsigned editorial on October 1, 1842, noted correspondences between Catherwood’s description of Quirigua and the city of Zarahemla,60 based on several obvious [Page 227]correlations between Stephens and Catherwood’s report of the site and the Book of Mormon description of Zarahemla.61
  1. Quirigua was located at a narrow point of land between the Bay of Honduras and the Pacific Ocean and nearly surrounded by water.
  2. A river flowed by the ruined city, like the river Sidon, which flowed by Zarahemla.
  3. The Nephite city was on the west side of the river Sidon. Quirigua lay on the left bank of the river, reportedly flowing into the Atlantic Ocean (Alma 2:3; 6:7).
  4. Several miles upstream, the river was fordable: “Upstream, the river was here about two hundred feet wide, and fordable in every part except a few deep holes. Generally it did not exceed three feet in depth, and in many places not so deep.” Nephite armies were able to cross over to the west bank of the Sidon as they attempted to head off Lamanite armies attacking the city (Alma 2:34).
  5. The river Sidon eventually flowed into the sea (Alma 3:3; 44:22). After it passed by Quirigua, the river “was said to be navigable to the sea for boats not drawing more than three feet of water.”
  6. Some Latter-day Saints compared the description of “a large round stone, with its sides sculptured in hieroglyphics” which could not be read, with the stone interpreted by King Mosiah at Zarahemla, which gave an account of the destruction of the Jaredites whose “bones lay scattered in the land northward” (Omni 1:20–22).
  7. Like Zarahemla, Quirigua seemed to resemble a culturally significant place. Catherwood described pyramidal structure, altars, and large monuments covered with hieroglyphic writing: “Of one thing there is no doubt: a large city once stood there; its name is lost, its history unknown” and “no account of its existence has ever before been published.”62
[Page 228]
[Unless I'm mistaken, no Mesoamericanist today thinks Quirigua (or anywhere close to Quirigua) is Zarahemla. IOW, the article was wrong, on its face. I realize the anonymous author immediately qualified the claim, but he still imposed a heavy burden of proof on those who would disagree.]
On the basis of Stephens’s report, it is understandable that some readers of the Book of Mormon would see a correlation. In October 1842, an editorial in the Times and Seasons suggested a possible link with the Nephite capital city: “It is certainly a good thing for the excellency and veracity, of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, that the ruins of Zarahemla have been found where the Nephites left them: and that a large stone with engravings upon it, as Mosiah said; and a ‘large round stone, with the sides sculptured in hieroglyphics,’ as Mr. Stephens has published, is also among the left remembrances of the (to him) lost and unknown.” The writer then qualified this statement as a matter of opinion.
We are not going to declare positively that the ruins of Quirigua are those of Zarahemla, but when the land and the stones, and the books tell the story so plain, we are of opinion, that it would require more proof than the Jews could bring to prove the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb, to prove that the ruins of the city in question, are not one of those referred to in the Book of Mormon. … It will not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens’ ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon: light cleaves to light, and facts are supported by facts. The truth injures no one, and so we make another.63

Buildings of Cement and Other Materials

The Book of Mormon mentions that the people of Lehi built many cities, some of them are described as “large” (Mosiah 27:6). 
[Nowhere does the text claim cities were made of cement, despite Roper's attempt to conflate separate verses here. The Stephens cities don't match up to Book of Mormon descriptions--and they shouldn't, given the time disparity. The rest of this discussion apparently seeks to establish why the anonymous author of the 1 Oct 1842 article wrote what he did. I have no problem with that, except that the quotations from the text don't match the actual archaeology in any but superficial, generic ways.]
Some of the people of Nephi who migrated northward became “exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement in the which they did dwell” (Helaman 3:7). Stephens and Catherwood found numerous large cities with buildings of well-cut stone, although they also [Page 229]recognized that the cities they described likely had also contained many other buildings made of “frail and perishable materials” that had “not survived.”64 They described one palace at Utatlan as “covered with hard cement” and one farther north at Palenque, where Stephens observed, “The floors are of cement, as hard as the best seen in the remains of Roman baths and cisterns.”65


Temples are mentioned in the Book of Mormon, although little information is given about their structure. There were temples in the land of Nephi (2 Nephi 5:16; Mosiah 11:10; Alma 26:29) and Zarahemla (Mosiah 2:1; Alma 16:13) and the land northward, to which groups of the people of Nephi migrated (Helaman 3:14). Other kinds of religious structures are mentioned, including “synagogues” and “sanctuaries” (Alma 16:13; 21:5; 22:7; 26:29; Moroni 7:1). The Savior appeared at the Nephite temple in Bountiful (3 Nephi 11:1). Stephens visited many buildings that he described as temples and other religious structures.66 Of the monuments and buildings found at Copan, including what he described as a “temple,” Stephens wrote, “The genii who attended on King Solomon seem to have been the artists.” This language reminded some early readers of Nephi’s description of the temple of Nephi (2 Nephi 5:16).67


King Noah built a “spacious palace” (Mosiah 11:9), which may have been used later by the king of the Lamanites (Alma 22:2). The Quiche palace, according to historical sources, was said to contain gardens, baths, a treasury, armory, aviaries, menageries, as well as a section of the place for the queen and royal concubines”68 The Palace at Palenque had several courtyards, which Stephens thought must have been used “for public and state occasions.”69

The Judgment Seat

During the reign of the judges there was a “judgment seat” (Alma 1:2), or “the place of the judgement seat” (Helaman 9:7, 14). It indicates that people went “in unto the judgment seat,” suggesting that it was perhaps [Page 230]inside a building (Helaman 8:27; 9:3). Stephens cited historical sources which described the palace of the Quiche kings: “In one of the saloons stood a throne, under four canopies of feathers” and also “tribunals of the judges.”70At Palenque,
The long, unbroken corridors in front of the palace were probably intended for lords and gentlemen in waiting; or perhaps, in that beautiful position, which, before the forest grew up, must have commanded an extended view of a cultivated and inhabited plain, the king himself sat in it to receive the reports of his officers and to administer justice.71
At one building Stephens found a set of two large tablets of hieroglyphics, eight feet high and thirteen feet long, on either side of a door that was the entrance to a corridor divided into three apartments. “The Indians call this building as escuela or school, but our friends the padres called it a tribunal of justice, and these stones, they said, contained the tables of the law.”72

Walls and Towers

Walls of earth, wood, and stone are mentioned in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah; 9:8; Alma 48:8; 52:4; Helaman 1:21; 12:4). Stephens describes many walls of stone.73 Towers are mentioned in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 11:12–13). Stephens describes an enigmatic stone “tower” at Palenque on the south side of the palace and found the remains of what may have been others nearby. “On top was a high mound of stones, with a foundation wall still remaining. Probably a tower or temple had stood there.”74

Structures for Astronomical Purposes

The Book of Mormon indicates that the Nephites to some degree were interested in astronomical phenomena. They kept a careful calendar over hundreds of years and looked for and reported significant heavenly phenomena (Alma 30:44; Helaman 12:15; 14:3‒6; 16:13; 3 Nephi 1:4‒21). Stephens speculated that one of the buildings at Palenque “perhaps was intended as an observatory.”75

Ornamented Buildings

[Page 231]Nephi taught his people to build buildings and work in “all manner of wood” and other materials (2 Nephi 5:15); and according to Jarom, subsequent early Nephites did the same (Jarom 1:8). King Noah “built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and all manner of precious things” (Mosiah 11:8). The explorers described and depicted many examples of finely sculpted buildings. Stephens was particularly fascinated with the discovery at Uxmal of a large wooden beam, elegantly carved with hieroglyphics.76 It had once been placed as a lintel in the doorway of one of the larger buildings. Ten feet long and very heavy, it required ten men to carry it. The explorers brought it back with them to New York City, where it was proudly displayed as part of an exhibit, but was destroyed in a tragic fire, along with many of Catherwood’s drawings and other valuable artifacts.77

Altars and Idols

At the ruins of Copan, Stephens encountered many large carved statues which some characterized as “idols.” At Copan, these often stood before what he called an altar.78 He discussed the pre-Columbian practice of human sacrifice79 and interpreted one of the tablets at Palenque as representing one “in the act of making an offering, perhaps of a child.”80 Like ancient Israel, Lehi’s people worshiped at “altars” (Alma 15:17; 17:4). In times of wickedness the people worshiped idols (2 Nephi 9:37; Enos 1:20; Alma 31:1) and were sometimes known to sacrifice women and children to “idol gods” (Mormon 4:14, 21).81

Ruined Buildings from Earthquake

Alma and Amulek were miraculously delivered during a powerful earthquake that destroyed the prison building in which they were held and killed their captors (Alma 14:27). An earthquake is described in the City of Nephi (Helaman 5:30‒32). During the great destruction at the time of Christ’s death, “many great and notable cities were … shaken [Page 232]till the buildings thereof had fallen to the earth, and the inhabitants thereof were slain, and the places were left desolate” (3 Nephi 8:14). “And there were some cities which remained, but the damage thereof was exceedingly great” (3 Nephi 8:15). Some of the inhabitants “were fallen upon and crushed to death” (3 Nephi 10:13). At Palenque: “Near this, on the top of another pyramidal structure, was another building entirely in ruins, which apparently had been shattered and hurled down by an earthquake. The stones were strewed on the side of the pyramid, and it was impossible to make out the ground-plan.”82


According to Stephens, many of the Indians he encountered “were naked, except a small piece of cotton cloth around the loins, and crossing in front between the legs” (1:40). He cited historical sources that indicate that when Mayan warriors fought, “their bodies were naked, except around the loins, and stained all over with earth of different colors.”83 Similar descriptions are found in the Book of Mormon (Enos 1:20).

Pre-Columbian Writing

Critics of the Book of Mormon could not credit the idea that pre-Columbian peoples ever had a knowledge of writing, as the Book of Mormon suggests. “According to Mormon, these native Americans could read, and write, … but when that country first became known to Europeans, the inhabitants knew no more about letters than a four-legged animal knows the rules of logic; and not a scrap of writing was to be found.”84 There was not “even so much as a shadow or proof, that the sciences of reading and writing [and other evidences of advanced culture mentioned in the Book of Mormon] were ever known here.”85 Latter-day Saints found the new discoveries helpful in responding to such criticisms.86 
[This appears to be Roper's take on Sorenson's writing filter, which in my view is exactly backward. Mormon and Moroni buried the records specifically because the Lamanites sought to destroy them. The Mulekites had no writing, even though the lived in the land of Zarahemla for 400 years before Mosiah found them. Therefore, evidence of ancient writing or hieroglyphics dating to Book of Mormon time frames contradicts the text. This is one of the strongest arguments against Mesoamerica, but Roper, like Sorenson, seeks to transform it into evidence in favor of Mesoamerica.]
Stephens and Catherwood found numerous examples of hieroglyphics in their travels and were convinced that these contained historical information about the former rulers and people who once inhabited the ruins they explored. While the cause of Copan’s [Page 233]destruction seemed a mystery, “One thing I believe, that its history is graven on its monuments. No Champolion has yet brought to them the energies of his inquiring mind. Who shall read them?”87 Although Stephens’s contemporaries and many later scholars once doubted that these monuments contained writing of a historical nature, this has since proven true. “After four decades,” David Stuart writes,” Mayanists are now accustomed to the idea that ancient Maya artisans and scribes, when composing and carving monumental inscriptions, were principally concerned with the commemoration of historical events surrounding kings, their families, and their courts.”88 The tradition of pre-Columbian writing in Mesoamerica (nothing comparable has been found anywhere else in the New World) compares favorably to that described in the Book of Mormon and is known to date from Preclassic times.89 The ruins of Kaminaljuyu in the valley of Guatemala are older than the ruins of Copan, yet centuries before the time of Christ, “the elite of this Valley were fully literate at a time when other Maya were perhaps just learning that writing existed.”90

Similar Stories

Fuentes described a bloody war waged to avenge the abduction of the Ixconsocil and Ecselixpua, the daughter and niece of Balam Acan, the Quiche king. As Stephens told the story,
The rape of Helen did not produce more wars and bloodshed than the carrying off of these two young ladies with unpronounceable names. Balam Acan was a naturally mild man, but the abduction of his daughter was an affront not to be pardoned. With eighty thousand veterans, himself in the center squadron, … he marched against Zutugilebpop, who met him with sixty thousand men, commanded by Iloacab, his chief general and accomplice. The most bloody battle [Page 234]ever fought in the country took place; the field was so deeply inundated with blood that not a blade of grass could be seen.91
This story reminded some Latter-day Saints readers of the priests of King Noah who kidnapped the daughters of the Lamanites and thereby incited a deadly war (Mosiah 20:1‒15).92
The Book of Mormon prophet Samuel the Lamanite prophesied of signs that would accompany the birth of Christ, which would be witnessed by those in the American land of promise. The most notable of these signs was that there “shall be one day and a night and a day, as if it were one day and there were no night” (Helaman 14:4). Five years after this prophecy was made, the sign was fulfilled (3 Nephi 1:15). “Is it probable,” wrote Origen Bacheler, “that when Christ was born, the inhabitants of America were notified of it by a supernatural light, insomuch that it was as light as noon-day during the whole night”93 “We Yankees,” wrote another critic in 1841, “have been taught to believe, that the light was called day, and the darkness called night; but the Mormons, to outdo all others, they have night in the day time.”94 Incidents of Travel told of a tradition of the division of the pre-Columbian kingdom of Guatemala among three sons. “This division was made on a day when three suns were visible at the same time, which extraordinary circumstance, says the manuscript, has induced some persons to believe that it was made on the day of our Saviour’s birth.”95 Some readers associated this tradition with the Book of Mormon account of the sign of Christ’s birth.96 
[These arguments strike me as irrelevant to the question of the setting of the 1% of the history we have. At best, they are consistent with Mesoamerica as hinterlands. At worst, they are akin to the anti-Mormon arguments that Joseph invented the text from various legends. Every society has similar stories.]


The Book of Mormon indicates that the Jaredites knew of elephants (Ether 9:19). Stephens described one of the elaborately carved stone monuments at Copan (now known as Stela B) as portraying [Page 235]elephantine-like representations. “The two ornaments at the top appear like the trunk of an elephant, an animal unknown in that country.”97 During their subsequent travels in western highlands Guatemala, near Gueguetenango, they learned of the discovery of the remains of a mastodon.
The next morning Don Joaquim told us of the skeleton of a colossal animal supposed to be a mastodon which had been found in the neighborhood. Some of the bones had been collected and were then in the town, and having seen them, we took a guide and walked to the place where they had been discovered on the borders of the Rio Chinaca, about half a mile distant. At the time the river was low, but the year before, welled by the immense flood of the rainy season, it had burst its bounds, carried away its left bank, and laid bare one side of the skeleton. The bank was perpendicular, about thirty feet high, and the animal had been buried in an upright position. Besides the bones in the town, some had been carried away by the flood, others remained imbedded in the earth; but the impression of the whole animal, from twenty-five to thirty feet long was distinctly visible. We were told that about eight leagues above, on the bank of the same river, the skeleton of a much larger animal had been discovered.98
Stephens also mentioned elephantine-like figures found on other buildings, including one at Uxmal, which “resembles somewhat an elephant’s trunk,” but thought it improbable that this was intended by the pre-Columbian artisan, “for the elephant was unknown on the Continent of America.”99 Early Mormon readers of the Book of Mormon would likely have disagreed.100 
[Of course, there is far more evidence in North America of elephants and elephant-type animals.]


Early critics of the Book of Mormon argued that no native American traditions supported the Book of Mormon. LaRoy Sunderland, who [Page 236]argued that Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Mormon, claimed, “Smith knew, very well, that those traditions would not countenance the book of Mormon, but which they would in all probability have done, had that book been true.”101 Latter-day Saints, however, found in Stephens’s Incidents a useful rebuttal to such criticisms. 
[This is exactly my point; Winchester and his friends wanted to distance the Book of Mormon from North America. But that was a huge mistake, in retrospect.]
At the time of the conquest, the Quiche King in Guatemala received word of the coming of the Spaniards and through divination received ill omens warning that his people were soon to be conquered. These omens reportedly included “the ominous circumstance of a certain stone, brought by their forefathers from Egypt, having suddenly split into two, predicted the inevitable ruins of the kingdom.”102 Stephens cited a tradition suggesting that some of the native inhabitants of that land were descended from Israel:
Fuentes, the chronicler of the kingdom of Guatemala, the kings of Quiche and Kachiquel were descended from the Toltecan Indians, who, when they came into this country, found it already inhabited by people of different nations. According to the manuscript of Don Juan Torres, the grandson of the last king of the Quiche’s, which was in the possession of the lieutenant-general appointed by Pedro de Alvarado, and when Fuentes says he obtained by means of Father Francis Vasques, the historian of the order of San Francis, the Toltecas themselves descended from the house of Israel, who were released by Moses from the tyranny of Pharaoh, and after crossing the Red Sea, fell into idolatry. To avoid the reproofs of Moses, or from fear of his inflicting upon them some chastisement, they separated from him and his brethren, and under the guidance of Tanub, their chief, passed from one continent to the other, to a place which they called the seven caverns, a part of the kingdom of Mexico, where they founded the celebrated city of Tula. From Tanub sprang the families of the kings of Tula and Quiche, and the first monarch of the Toltecs.103
Early Latter-day Saints enthusiastically received reports of ancient Israelite connections with Central America,104 but were less inclined to [Page 237]probe the implication of these reports. The tale recounted by Stephens said that the Toltecs were descendants of the House of Israel, and when they arrived in Guatemala they “found it already inhabited by people of different nations.” The unquestioned assumption of most Latter day Saint readers throughout the nineteenth century was that Book of Mormon migrants were the sole ancestors of all native Americans, even though that idea is not grounded in the text itself.
[Nor is the idea that Lehi's group encountered a substantial population when they landed grounded in the text itself. Actually, that notion defies the text. More importantly, it is Roper's attribution to Joseph Smith of words and concepts he never expressed that have led him and other Mesoamericanists to the conclusion that the hemispheric model originated with Joseph. The only Native Americans Joseph actually identified as remnants of Lehi's group were those Indians living "in this country;" i.e., the area roughly defined by the U.S. in 1842. The Mesoamerican hinterlands may contain some mixture of Lehi's descendants, or descendants of Jaredites, but they can also be primarily Asians who migrated along the coast and/or over the Bering strait and still be perfectly consistent with Joseph's statements.]
Much of the criticism of Book of Mormon and Latter-day Saint literature discussing the book has been based on this non-textual assumption of both critics and believers.105 
[Yes, good point.]
It is then of some interest to note that the Quiche tradition cited above indicates that the pre-Columbian inhabitants of Guatemala and Mexico included more than Israelite descendants, but as far as can be determined, no Latter-day Saint reader of Stephens and Catherwood seems to have taken note of that point. 
[Because Joseph never identified people in Mesoamerica as Lehi's descendants, I argue he made that distinction. For that matter, one of the changes Joseph made to Orson Pratt's work when he wrote the Wentworth letter explains that Lehi's group was not entirely Israelite.]
Had they done so, one wonders if past defenders of the Book of Mormon may have been able to more effectively address thorny historical questions that have vexed some readers. The Latter-day Saint discovery of Mesoamerican traditions marked the beginning of a long interest in the subject that continues even today.


The Book of Mormon indicates that the early Nephites had “machinery” (Jarom 1:8). Machines need not be complicated, but early critics were amused.106 “What kind of machinery the Nephites had is not stated,” wrote an opponent of the Book of Mormon. “It cannot be too little to suppose, that they had cotton mills, and worsted mills, and steam engines to run on rail ways. But then, what has become of them all?”107 One historical description of a battle, cited by Stephens, indicates that the native forces who opposed the Spaniards in Guatemala had in their camp “several military machines, formed of beams and rollers, to be [Page 238]moved from place to place” to resupply weapons to their forces, a datum that subsequent defenders of the Book of Mormon could point out.108


Nephite weaponry included “swords” (Mosiah 9:16; 10:10; Alma 43:18, 20), “darts” (Jarom 1:8), the “bow” (Enos 1:20) and “arrow” (Jarom 1:8; Mosiah 9:16; 10:8; Alma 3:5); 43:20; 49:20), “slings” (Mosiah 9:16; 10:8; Alma 2:12; 3:5; 43:20; 49:20), “stones” (Mosiah 10:8; Alma 2:12; 3:5,) and the “javelin” (Jarom 1:8; Alma 51:34; 62:36). Defensive weaponry included protective armor of “thick clothing” (Alma 43:19) and “very thick garments to cover their nakedness” (Alma 49:6). Some warriors at times wore “breastplates” (Alma 49:6) and various kinds of shields, which included “arm shields” (Alma 43:19, 38). E. D. Howe, author of the first anti-Mormon book, thought that Book of Mormon weaponry was excessive and unrealistic. “Their implements of war consisted of swords, spears, scimitars, javelins, bows and arrows, slings, &c. We can see no propriety in the omission by the author of the use of guns and ammunition. We think it would have been as credible as most of the events of the narrative, and would have been matter for Mormon credulity and admiration.”109 Incidents quoted historical sources that affirmed that pre-Columbian warriors in Central America fought with weapons corresponding in many ways to those described in the Book of Mormon. These included “swords,” specifically “wooden swords having stone edges.”110 Sources also mention “arrows and slings, … stones and darts, … javelins and pikes.” On some of the monuments at Copan, “the figures have all breastplates.”111 Mayan warriors “wore loose coats stuffed with cotton” and had “shields,” including arm shields. Warriors “had each a shield covered with the skin of the danta on his arm.”112
Incidents cited additional reports from early Spanish descriptions of Mayan warriors:
Large bodies of warriors came upon them from the town, armed with bows and arrows, lances, shields, double-handed[Page 239] swords,slings, and stones, their faces painted white, black, and red, and their head adorned with plumed feathers.113
The Indians were armed with quivers of arrows, sticks burned at the ends, lances pointed with sharp flints, and two-handed swords of very hard wood. They had flutes, and large sea-shells for trumpets, and turtle-shells which they struck with deer horns.Their bodies were naked, except around their loins, and stained all over with earth of different colours, and they wore stone rings in their ears and noses.114
Swords made of Wood, having a Gutter in the fore Part, in which were sharp-edged Flints strongly fixed with a sort of Bitumen and Thread.115
At the ruins of Kabah, Stephens found a stone doorjamb with a carved figure of a warrior carrying such a sword.116  
[All of these weapons were common to most ancient societies, which is why we have these terms. This is another example of Mesoamericanists finding illusory parallels; i.e., when something in the text is common to most human societies, it is hardly probative to observe that the common element is also found in Mesoamerica--especially when it is found in North America as well. Of course, Nephi wrote of steel swords, while Mesoamerica featured wooden swords, but Roper hasn't addressed metallurgy yet.] 

Battle Numbers

In 1833 Parley P. Pratt and William McLellin preached to congregations in Illinois, where they encountered opposition from local ministers, including the Reverend J. M. Peck.117 Pratt says that Peck claimed “there were no antiquities in America, no ruined cities, buildings, monuments, inscriptions, mounds or fortifications, to show the existence of such a people as the Book of Mormon described.” Pratt pointed to Mound Builder remains in the American Midwest, but Peck remained unimpressed.118 
[All of this explains why early LDS wanted to move the Book of Mormon setting to Mesoamerica; i.e., to defeat the anti-Mormon claims. But Peck's criticism was "based on this non-textual assumption" that Roper mentioned previously.]
In his Gazeteer of Illinois, published the following year, Peck made light of the Book of Mormon account.
Those who are particularly desirous of information concerning the millions of warriors, and the bloody battles in which more were slain than ever fell in all the wars of Alexander, Caesar, or Napoleon, with a particular description of their military [Page 240]works, would do well to read the “Book of Mormon,” made out of the “golden plates” of that distinguished antiquarian Joe Smith!119
In 1841, Tyler Parsons, another critic, expressed a similar view: “This Mormon bulletin or sword fight with the Lamanites sets Napoleon Bonaparte all in the shade. The battle of Waterloo or Trafalgar is not a circumstance to this. Here is 230,000 of God’s people killed, but the 24 that General Mormon saved in his 10,000.”120 That same year, Stephens cited historical accounts of pre-Columbian warfare in Guatemala that placed accounts of warfare in the Book of Mormon in a more favorable light. “Their history, like that of man in other parts of the world, is one of war and bloodshed.” One pre-Columbian battle reportedly involved over one hundred and forty thousand warriors, “the most bloody battle ever fought in the country”; “the field was so deeply inundated with blood that not a blade of grass could be seen.”121 Pre-Columbian armies and those during the later Spanish Conquest of Guatemala are reported as numbering “sixty thousand,” “seventy thousand,” “seventy-two thousand,” “eighty thousand,” “ninety thousand.”122 Direct correspondences with the Book of Mormon include armies numbering in the thousands and tens of thousands (Alma 3:26; 28:2, 10‒11),123 thirty thousand (Mormon 1:11; 2:25),124 numbers in the forty thousands (Mormon 2:9),125 and even forces on one rare occasion said to have numbered over 230,000, the size of the Nephite force mustered at the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:11‒15).126 
[I don't agree that the text says a force of 230,000 was mustered at the Hill Cumorah; that's the size of the force that was destroyed leading up to the final battle at Cumorah.]

Great Destructions

When early Latter-day Saints heard reports of ruined cities, they were led to ask, What may have caused their destruction? Some suggested that the Book of Mormon account of destruction at the time of the Savior’s death might provide a reasonable explanation. Critics in Joseph Smith’s day and throughout the nineteenth century made mock of the narrative [Page 241]in 3 Nephi, but Stephens’s work contained numerous correspondences that set the account in a more plausible light. Stephens described Central America aptly as “a land of volcanoes and earthquakes,”127 and he witnessed firsthand some of the violent geological changes common to the region, including several earthquakes. 
[The Mesoamericanists keep referring to volcanoes, which are never mentioned in the text. I find this perplexing both because volcanoes are so much a part of life in Central America that is is difficult to believe no one would mention them and because the text describes exactly what has actually happened in North America. Stephens own description, which Roper describes as apt, contradicts the text, which describes anything but "a land of volcanoes and earthquakes." In the Book of Mormon, volcanoes are unknown. Nephi didn't mention them in his prophetic vision (1 Ne 12:4) and Mormon didn't mention them in his account in 3 Nephi. Among the Nephites, earthquakes are so rare that when one strikes, people panic, not knowing what happened (e.g., Alma 14:29). Going by the text, the last place one would look for a Book of Mormon setting is "a land of volcanoes and earthquakes."]
As he descended from Guatemala City to the Pacific Coast he passed by Agua and Fuego rising on either side of the road.
In one place the horse-path lies through an immense chasm, rent asunder by a natural convulsion, over which huge stones, hurled in every direction, lay in the wildest confusion; in another it crosses a deep bed of ashes, and cinders, and scorified lava; and a little further on strata of decomposed vegetable matter cover the volcanic substances, and high shrubs and bushes have grown up, forming a thick shady arbour, fragrant as the fields of Araby the Blessed. At every step there was a strange contrast of the horrible and beautiful.128
The oft-repeated comparison of the torment wicked to “a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever” (Mosiah 3:27, emphasis added), conveys volcanic imagery. It appears more frequently in the Book of Mormon, than in the Bible, suggesting that actual examples were available to New World prophets and their audiences for comparison (2 Nephi 9:16,19, 26; 28:23; Jacob 3:11; 6:10; Alma 12:17; 14:14‒15).129 
[Actually, the terms appear in 11 Bible verses and 9 Book of Mormon verses. The term lake appears only in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. This is another example of how the text can be understood from the perspective of Hebrew writers and readers; i.e., the phrase is an allusion to well-known concepts from the Old Testament. It says nothing about volcanoes, any more than it does in the Old Testament. To what volcanoes were the Psalmist, Ezekiel and Isaiah referring? Does Roper suggest Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by volcanic activity? I'm not aware of any volcanoes near those cities. Josephus says the cities were burned by lightning, which is consistent with the description of destruction in 3 Nephi.]
One evening near Zonzonate, Stephens climbed near the crater of one volcano. “The sight was fearfully grand,” he said. “Night and day it forces up stones from the bowels of the earth, spouts them into the air, and receives them upon its sides. … Every burst of the volcano sent forth a pillar of fire; in four places were steady fires, and in one a stream of fire was rolling down its side.”130 In addition to describing what he witnessed himself, Stephens also quoted liberally from historical sources on Guatemala and elsewhere that reported significant geological disturbances and the destruction they caused. These descriptions of destruction, all within [Page 242]Central America, are one long tale of woe. They include references to earthquakes, thunder, lightning, subterranean noises, changes on the face of the land, long periods of darkness, terrorized inhabitants, and the destruction and burial of cities — all of which recall events described in the Book of Mormon account of destruction at the time of Christ’s death (3 Nephi 8‒10).
At that time the old capital, twenty-five miles distant, shattered and destroyed by earthquakes, was abandoned by its inhabitants, and the present was built in the rich valley of Las Vaccas, in a style commensurate with the dignity of a captain-generalship of Spain.131
On the 27th of December, 1581, the population was again alarmed by the volcano, which began to emit fire; and so great was the quantity of ashes thrown out and spread in the air, that the sun was entirely obscured, and artificial light was necessary in the city at midday. …
The years 1585 and 6 were dreadful in the extreme. On January 16th of the former, earthquakes were felt, and they continued through that and the following year so frequently, that not an interval of eight days elapsed during the whole period without a shock more or less violent. Fire issued incessantly, for months together, from the mountain, and greatly increased the general consternation. The greatest damage of this series took place on the 23d of December, 1586, when the major part of the city again became a heap of ruins, burying under them many of the unfortunate inhabitants; the earth shook with such violence that the tops of the high ridges were torn off, and deep chasms formed in various parts of the level ground. …
On the 18th of February, 1651, about one o’clock, afternoon, a most extraordinary subterranean noise was heard, and immediately followed by three violent shocks, at very short intervals from each other, which threw down many buildings and damaged others; the tiles from the roofs of the houses were dispersed in all directions, like light straws by a gust of wind; the bells of the churches were rung by the vibrations;[Page 243] masses of rock were detached from the mountains; and even the wild beasts were so terrified, that, losing their natural instinct, they quitted their retreats, and sought shelter from the habitations of men . …
The year 1717 was memorable; on the night of August 27th the mountain began to emit flames, attended by a continued subterranean rumbling noise. On the night of the 28th the eruption increased to great violence, and very much alarmed the inhabitants. The images of saints were carried in procession, public prayers were put up, day after day, but the terrifying eruption still continued, and was followed by frequent shocks, at intervals, for more than four months. At last on the night of September 29th, the fate of Guatemala appeared to be decided, and inevitable destruction seemed to be at hand. Great was the ruin among the public edifices; many of the houses were thrown down, and nearly all that remained were dreadfully injured; but the greatest devastation was seen in the churches. …
The year 1773 was the most melancholy epoch in the annals of this metropolis; it was then destroyed, and, as the capital, rose no more from its ruins.” … “About four o’clock, on the afternoon of July 29th, a tremendous vibration was felt, and shortly after began the dreadful convulsion that decided the fate of the unfortunate city.” … “On the 7th September there was another, which threw down most of the buildings that were damaged on the 29th of July; and on the 13th December, one still more violent terminated the work of destruction.132
The most dreadful calamity that had as yet afflicted this unfortunate place occurred on the morning of September 11th, 1541. It had rained incessantly, and with great violence, on the three preceding days, particularly on the night of the 10th, when the water descended more like the torrent of a cataract than rain; the fury of the wind, the incessant appalling lightning, and dreadful thunder, were indescribable.” “At 2 o’clock on the morning of the 11th, the vibrations of the earth were so violent, that the people were unable to stand; the shocks were accompanied by a terrible subterranean noise [Page 244]which spread universal dismay: shortly afterward, an immense torrent of water rushed down from the summit of the mountain, forcing away with it enormous fragments of rocks and large trees; which descending upon the ill-fated town, overwhelmed and destroyed almost all the houses, and buried a great number of the inhabitants under the ruins.133
On his way back to Guatemala from Costa Rica, Stephens sailed by the volcano Cosaguina.
Before me was the volcano Cosaguina, with its field of lava and its desolate shore, and not a living being was in sight except my sleeping boatmen. Five years before, on the shores of the Mediterranean, and at the foot of Mount Etna, I read in a newspaper an account of the eruption of this volcano. Little did I then ever expect to see it; the most awful in the history of volcanic eruptions, the noise of which startled the people of Guatemala four hundred miles off; and at Kingston Jamaica, eight hundred miles distant, was supposed to be signal guns of distress from some vessel at sea. The face of nature was changed; the cone of the volcano was gone; a mountain and field of lava ran down to the sea; a forest old as creation had entirely disappeared, and two islands were formed in the sea; shoals were discovered, in one of which a large tree was fixed upside down; one river was completely choked up, and another formed, running in an opposite direction; seven men in the employ of my bungo-proprietor ran down to the water, pushed off in a bungo, and were never heard of more; wild beasts, howling, left their caves in the mountains, and ounces, leopards, and snakes fled for shelter to the abodes of men.
This eruption took place on the 20th of January 1835. Mr Savage was on that day on the side of the Volcano of San Miguel, distant one hundred and twenty miles, looking for cattle. At eight o’clock he saw a dense cloud rising in the south in a pyramidal form, and heard a noise which sounded like the roaring of the sea. Very soon the thick clouds were lighted up by vivid flashes, rose-coloured and forked, shooting and disappearing, which he supposed to be some electrical phenomenon. These appearances increased so fast [Page 245]that his men became frightened and said it was a ruina, and that the end of the world was nigh. Very soon he himself was satisfied that it was the eruption of a volcano; and as Cosaguina was at that time a quiet mountain, not suspected to contain subterranean fires, he supposed it to proceed from the Volcano of Tigris. He returned to the town of San Miguel, and in riding three blocks felt three severe shocks of earthquake. The inhabitants were distracted with terror. Birds flew wildly through the streets, and, blinded by the dust, fell dead on the ground. At four o’clock it was so dark that, as Mr. S. Says, he held his hand before his eyes and could not see it. Nobody moved without a candle, which gave a dim and misty light, extending only a few feet. At this time the church was full, and could not contain half who wished to enter. The figure of the Virgin was brought out into the plaza and borne through the streets, followed by the inhabitants, with candles and torches, in penitential procession, crying upon the Lord to pardon their sins. Bells tolled, and during the procession there was another earthquake, so violent and long that it threw to the ground many people walking in the procession. The darkness continued till eleven o’clock the next day when the sun was partially visible, but dim and hazy, and without any brightness. The dust on the ground was four inches thick; the branches of trees broke with its weight, and people were so disfigured by it that they could not be recognized.
At this time Mr. S. set out for his hacienda at Zonzonate. He slept at the village, and at two or three o’clock in the morning was roused by a report like the breaking of most terrific thunder or the firing of thousands of cannon. This was the report which startled the people of Guatemala, when the commandant sallied out, supposing that the quartel was attacked, and which was heard at Kingston in Jamaica. It was accompanied by an earthquake so violent that it almost threw Mr S. Out of his hammock.134
These descriptions of geological activities in Central America corresponded to similar descriptions of the disasters in 3 Nephi.135[Page 246]
[The fallacy of this correspondence is Stephens' emphasis on volcanoes, which are entirely absent from the Book of Mormon text. This description of disasters is common to any place that suffers a major volcanic eruption, from Pompeii to Indonesia. But it is also common to places that suffer major earthquakes without volcanic activity, such as the Book of Mormon describes. Therefore, going by the text, we should be looking for such an area--such as the Mississippi River valley.]
Obviously, the value of the above correspondence varies. Some of the above seem insignificant. Others noted by early writers, such as traditions of Israelite origins, and signs at the birth of Christ, were of obvious interest to nineteenth century readers, but would likely be dismissed today by most scholars as reflecting post-Columbian Christian influences. Personally, I find the correspondences in writing, Mesoamerican warfare, and descriptions of geological phenomena to be of particular interest and significance. To others they may seem less so. The issue, however, is not whether we find them convincing, but to show that Joseph was right. The correspondences are there. They are easy for the reader to find and, contrary to Neville, they deal with Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon.
[I agree that Roper's correspondences with Mesoamerica exist, but they exist with most human societies--including those in North America. It is the distinctions that eliminate Mesoamerica as a plausible candidate.]

Apostate Geography?

Neville observes that some of those who wrote about the Book of Mormon, such as William Smith and John E. Page, later rejected the leadership of Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve after the death of Joseph Smith.136 He attempts to use their previous associations with Winchester and their later apostasy to tar their ideas about the Book of Mormon with the brush of heresy so that he can more easily dismiss them. “Joseph Smith liberated William Smith and John Page. Now they could explicitly advocate the Mesoamerican argument he had never approved. Like Winchester, they took the position that Joseph was a fallen prophet; he lacked the vision to see how powerful the Mesoamerican links were to prove the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon to a disbelieving world” (189). Where is the evidence that William or John Page ever felt that they could not freely express their ideas about Book of Mormon geography or that anyone in the Church ever considered it an issue of controversy? William wrote very little about the subject before and after his excommunication, suggesting that it was not a matter of great importance. 
[I think I cited the multi-installment discussion on Book of Mormon geography that William wrote as President of the Quorum of the Twelve of the Strangites. He wrote a letter to Phelps and included references when he was editing the Prophet.]
Neville characterizes William’s views as “Mesoamerican” when they were not, just as he misrepresented [Page 247]those of Winchester. 
[This is a stark reversal. Roper has just spent pages and pages discussing how Stephens focused on Mesoamerica and how the early LDS were obsessed with the discoveries there. William shared these views and expounded on them multiple times. Now Roper suddenly claims these views were not Mesoamerican?]
William’s overview of the Book of Mormon, which, remarkably, Neville cites but has not read carefully, is one more example of traditional hemispheric thinking, with Central America in the middle. William, like Winchester, knows about Stephens and Catherwood,137 but never seems to have allowed their work to influence his thinking about Book of Mormon geography.
[Well. When William embarked on his mission back East in early 1841, he believed most of the Nephite history took place in New York. After spending time with Winchester and Page in Philadelphia and New Jersey, he began writing about Central America and Stephens. He hand-carried Page's letter about the new course of argument.]
In contrast to those of Winchester and William Smith, the writings of John E. Page show enthusiasm for and familiarity with Incidents, which he frequently cites by page number, a clear indication of having read them. Neville attempts to portray Page’s ideas about Book of Mormon geography as deviant or reflecting false doctrine. 
[No, it was only the placement of specific Book of Mormon cities in Mesoamerica that was inconsistent with what Joseph taught. The vague hinterlands approach is fine.]
This ignores several important points. First, while some of these ideas were published in 1848 when Page was a follower of Strang, they likely reflect his earlier thinking about the Book of Mormon. His interest in Stephens’s work goes back to 1841, and he was using it in Pittsburgh to defend the Book of Mormon in 1842. He also lectured on the Book of Mormon in Boston and Washington in 1843 and 1844.138 Second, while Page later associated with some dissident groups, these all claimed to accept the Book of Mormon. His belief and interest in this seem to have been a constant, even when his views of other doctrines, such as prophetic authority, were not.139 Third, Page’s ideas about Central America and the Book of Mormon do not differ significantly from those of others who followed the Twelve.
[I'm still waiting for a citation to Page naming a specific Book of Mormon city in Mesoamerica.]

The Ancient Centers of the Nephites”

Neville holds that Joseph Smith and his associates did not really view Central America as an important region of Book of Mormon events, but considered it merely a peripheral region to which the people of Lehi may have migrated during Book of Mormon times or afterward, but not the location of events described in the book (58). 
[Exactly. So far, every point Roper has made reinforces my assertion.]
Neville is welcome to think that Mesoamerica was a “hinterland” to the Book of Mormon story. The problem is that he attributes that view to Joseph Smith and his contemporaries. Early publications on the Book of Mormon from 1830 on show that Central America was always a region of interest to readers of the Book of Mormon.
[This is clever rhetoric but misleading. So far, Roper has provided only one piece of evidence that Joseph Smith ever cared about Mesoamerica--the thank-you note to Bernhisel. As he demonstrated in his analysis, the note itself is bizarre; it refers to "all histories" as if Joseph had read every history; it makes no reference to any specifics (unlike Roper, who has actually read the books); and it was written by an unknown person. He has no proof that Joseph ever read that note, let alone the Stephens books. What other people wrote about Central America has little if any bearing on what Joseph thought.]
[Page 248]In a reference to John Page’s 1848 writings, Neville asks, “Had Joseph Smith taught, sanctioned, or even permitted the Mesoamerican course of argument, wouldn’t it have been his rightful successor, Brigham Young, who would have given these speeches” instead of Page (189). His reference to Brigham Young is significant, but not for the reasons he may think. Early efforts to take the Gospel to the Lamanites were a key motivation for colonization activities in the later nineteenth century. A rare apostolic proclamation from the Quorum of the Twelve was issued under Young’s leadership in 1845. The document is significant in reflecting the united voice of the Twelve to the world. They testified that “the ‘Indians’ (so-called) of North and South America” were the promised remnant spoken of in the Book of Mormon.140 As the work expanded southward into Arizona, Young explained that these efforts were only a small beginning to the work that needed to be done by the Saints.
Nor do I expect we shall stop at Arizona, but I look forward to the time when settlements of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will extend right through to the city of Old Mexico, and from thence on through Central America to the land where the Nephites flourished in the Golden era of their history, and the great backbone of the American continent be filled, north and south, with the cities and temples of the people of God. In this great work, I anticipate the children of Nephi, of Laman and lemuel [native Indians] will take no small part.141
[Roper doesn't provide any speeches from Brigham Young like those given by Page, which was my specific point. Now he cites the 1845 proclamation and a letter by Young, both of which invoke the very hemispheric model Roper and other Mesoamericanists soundly reject.]
Given that Young was a participant in Zion’s Camp in 1834 during the Zelph encounter, and was also one of Joseph Smith’s closest associates during the Nauvoo years when Incidents became known to Latter day Saints, his view of Southern Mexico or Central America as “the land where the Nephites flourished in the Golden era of their history” 
[Roper originally cited Young's letter that identifies South America as the site of the Golden era. Now Roper misquotes the passage to match his preferred meaning. The letter says settlements of the Church will extend "right through" Old Mexico and "from thence on through Central America to the land where the Nephites flourished." The letter does not stop in Central America the way Roper rewords it. So this gets back to my original point. I think Roper agrees that the hemispheric model described by many early LDS is incompatible with the text; we are dealing with a more limited geography. We have two pins: Cumorah in New York and Zarahemla in Central America. The question is which pin should we leave in the map and which should we remove? Roper wants to remove the New York Cumorah pin. Since he has cited Brigham Young here, what does Brigham Young have to say about Cumorah? Surely Roper knows about Brigham Young's description in General Conference of what Oliver Cowdery said about the hill in New York containing many more records. I realize some Mesoamericans spin that to mean Cowdery was describing a vision, but it would be a vision that involved at least two separate visits to the same place. There's no doubt that Brigham Young thought Cowdery was referring to the hill in New York--and he heard about it straight from Cowdery. As for Brigham Young's understanding of geography, unlike Oliver and Joseph, he was not present for the translation of the Book of Mormon. He was not visited by the angelic messenger who told David Whitmer about Cumorah (in the presence of Joseph and Oliver). Brigham was not present when the Lord appeared to Joseph and Oliver in the Kirtland temple (which was just a few months after Joseph directed his scribes to copy Oliver's letter about Cumorah into his journal as part of his story.) I'm not aware of any discussions between Joseph and Brigham about Book of Mormon geography. The rarity of Brigham's mentions of Book of Mormon geography suggest that he either didn't care much about it or didn't know much about it. Really, all Roper has is a private letter that points to South America. By comparison, we have a General Conference address that puts the Book of Mormon Cumorah squarely in New York. I would ask readers, based solely on Brigham Young, which pin would you keep in the map?]
shows how influential the work of Stephens and Catherwood was in his conception of the ancient geographical setting of Mormon’s [Page 249]record. Shortly before his death in 1877 he counseled his son Fera to “read all good books you can obtain.” Never a fan a novels, he advised him to read more history. “We should read the true and wise. The perusal of the rest is worse than time wasted, it is time abused. Sell your Dickens’ works and get Stephens’ & Catherwood’s Travels in Central America.”142 Young, one of Joseph Smith’s most intimate and trusted associates, can hardly have been unaware of his friend’s endorsement of their work.
[Uh, then why didn't he ever say Joseph had endorsed the book?]
John Taylor, who may have scribed Joseph Smith’s letter to Bernhisel, 
[How could Taylor have scribed the letter if those who have compared the handwriting say he didn't? At this point, no one knows. I invite anyone who is interested in this issue to compare Taylor's handwriting to that of the Bernhisel note.]
described the 1876 Lamanite mission to Arizona in language consistent with Brigham Young’s:
That mission [the Arizona mission] is a precursor of others that will be started still further south, until we enter Mexico, and go even to the ancient centres of the Nephites, where God dwelt among his ancient people, where Jesus manifested himself in their midst, and the ancient Gospel began to be proclaimed in purity and power among the people.143
Consistent with Brigham Young’s reference to “the land where the Nephites flourished in the Golden era of their history,” 
[This is only consistent with Brigham's reference if we go on through Central America to the land where the Nephites flourished. If the question is what John Taylor thought about Book of Mormon geography, then I don't disagree with Roper's conclusion about what Taylor thought. However, I don't follow the logic of citing Taylor as authority when Roper disagrees with the hemispheric model Taylor approved. On this point, I have a chapter in the second edition about why Taylor promoted Stephens and the hemispheric model. But I question the relevance of Taylor's position because I think the question is what Joseph taught, and what fits the text.]
Taylor associated Mexico and Central America with the “ancient centres of the Nephites.” This idea — the increased importance of Central America as the location of Book of Mormon events — apparently did not include an abandonment of the old view that the Nephites were destroyed in New York State, which seems to have remained a part of their thinking. Taylor saw this expansion southward as reflecting an interesting symmetry with the Book of Mormon. “The nations of this continent started there and ended at Cumorah. The Gospel of our day started at Cumorah — it has been pushing east and south, and will continue to extend until all the land of Zion shall be visited.”144 The idea that the nations of this continent (the Jaredite, Mulekite, and Lehite peoples) “started” in that region implies that these colonies landed in Mexico or Central America following their migrations from the Old World by sea, rather than the eastern territories of the United States or South America. This line of thinking is even [Page 250]apparent in the writings of those, like Orson Pratt, who still continued to view South America as a locale for some of those events.145
[Yes, although there is another parallelism that makes more sense and is consistent with the text, as I explain in the second edition. However, the quotation by Taylor contradicts everything the Mesoamericanists teach. Notice how Roper supplies a definition for Taylor's phrase that Taylor didn't use. That's because Taylor believed the Book of Mormon people were the "nations of this continent." Unlike today's Mesoamericanists, Taylor did not claim that Lehi's group immediately encountered a huge civilization of non-Book of Mormon people who had been there for thousands of years. As for John Taylor's idea that these "nations" ended at Cumorah, here's what the best-known Mesoamericanist has to say: "There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd. Hundreds of thousands of Nephites traipsing across the Mississippi Valley to New York, pursued (why?) by hundreds of thousands of Lamanites, is a scenario worthy only of a witless sci-fi movie, not of history." Sorenson, Mormon's Codex, p. 688. This demeaning dismissal of Taylor's view was published by Roper's own Maxwell Institute (as well as Deseret Book). So whenever a Mesoamericanist cites a hemispheric view, one can be assured he or she is not citing it because they agree with that view. Roper is no exception.]
George Q. Cannon, beginning at age sixteen, worked in the office of the Times and Seasons under the tutelage of John Taylor from April 1843 until early 1846. He would have become intimately familiar with the business of the printing office and the content of what was published and discussed there.146 In 1853, as a missionary in Hawaii, on reading from Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, he reflected in his journal, “What mighty works the ancients have left in those countries, exciting the wonder and admiration of all travelers and <all> who read the account of their travels. These things are unanswerable arguments in favor of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.”147 Writing for the Western Standard in 1857, Cannon explained the significance of Central America in his understanding of Book of Mormon events.
The Book of Mormon pointed out with remarkable definiteness, years before the discovery of ruins in Central America, the situation of cities built and occupied by the ancient dwellers of this continent. Explorations made subsequent to the printing and extensive circulation of this Book, revealed the fact that ruins occupying the precise situation of these ancient cities, did really exist. Prior to their discovery the nonexistence of ruins of cities such as the Book of Mormon described, had been plausibly urged as an argument against its authenticity. If, said the objector, such an enlightened and highly advanced people ever occupied this continent–if they built cities and temples of such magnitude as stated by the Book of Mormon, where are the ruins? The discoveries of Stephens and Catherwood in the country declared by the Book of Mormon to be the principal residence of one of the colonies that were [Page 251]led to this land, overthrow the objections of those who were determined to view the Book as a forgery.148
Cannon’s comments again underscore the influence of Stephens’s work on how Latter-day Saints understood and defended the Book of Mormon. 
[There's no need for Roper to belabor this point. I think I made it clear in the book that many early LDS adhered to a hemispheric model. Cannon's comments are a good reflection of this. He claims the "Book of Mormon" declares Central America to be the principle residence of one of the colonies, presumably Lehi's. This is precisely what Winchester wrote when he inferred the text said this. What began as an inference eventually became a belief that the text declared a Central American geography--which it most certainly does not. There is more than a little irony here. Mesoamericanists claim the notion of the New York Cumorah being the Book of Mormon Cumorah is merely a tradition that started among early saints. They reach this conclusion by dismissing what two of the three witnesses said. But when it comes to Mesoamerica, they ignore the historical fact that the theory originated as an inference! There are zero statements by Joseph (or the witnesses who actually interacted with Moroni) regarding Cumorah being in Mesoamerica. They uniformly said it was in New York. But Mesoamericanists reject their claims in favor of an idea that even they admit started from an inference from the text. Which is exactly my point.]
His judgment that “the non-existence of ruins of cities” previous to the discoveries in Central America “had been plausibly urged as an argument against its authenticity” suggests that those discoveries were considered far more impressive in his view than reports of Midwestern mound builders. 
[Yes, exactly. This was the motivation for promoting a hemispheric model.]
His description of southern Mexico and Central America, like those of Brigham Young, John Taylor and others, shows that it was not a peripheral region in their thinking, rather a “principal residence” of Book of Mormon people.
With what may reflect frustration at the absence of actual documentation for the Prophet’s disapproval of things Mesoamerican, Neville wrote, “Joseph doesn’t seem to appreciate the long-term damage Winchester’s articles will create” (158). But does Neville?
[If I didn't make it clear in the book, I've made it clear in my blog posts and in the second edition.]
If Joseph was angry or upset, or ever felt threatened by the publication of the unsigned articles, it seems strange that he would allow close and trusted associates like John Taylor to continue to publish those views after Smith retired as editor in 1842. 
[I wrote that Joseph responded to the placement of Zarahemla in Mesoamerica. The rest is consistent with a hinterlands approach, and I explain why Taylor pursued that. I think Joseph disagreed, and that was the mistake he referred to when discussing the Times and Seasons with Taylor, but a hinterlands/hemispheric model was not inconsistent with what Joseph had learned from Moroni about the Nephites.]
Taylor continued to praise the work of Stephens and Catherwood in connection with the Book of Mormon and even recommended it to Latter day Saints. Exactly one year after the “Zarahemla” article was published, Taylor reviewed Stephens’s more recent book Incidents:
This is a work that ought to be in the hands of every Latter-day Saint; corroborating, as it does the history of the Book of Mormon. There is no stronger circumstantial evidence of the authenticity of the latter book, can be given, than that contained in Stephens’ works.149
In another article published in December 1844 he wrote,
As to the original inhabitants of the continent of America, the Book of Mormon backs up the description of immense “ruins” in Central America, [and] dispels all doubt. … To turn the attention of such as may read the works of Stevens [Page 252]upon the “ruins” of Central America, we ask a perusal of the following from the writings of Nephi in the Book of Mormon: “Behold, that great city Zarahemla have I burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof.”150
[I think these were more anonymous articles, the last one being after Joseph's death. And the final word on Book of Mormon geography in the Times and Seasons involved Michigan, not Mesoamerica.]
Taylor’s reference to Zarahemla in connection with Stephens’s ruins is notable and suggests he found nothing problematic in the idea. 
[This is a far cry from the 1 Oct. article. But let's look at what Roper omitted with his ellipses. "And while that book opens the sleeping history of two or three thousand years past, we can see the two families that came out from the tower, spreading from sea to sea, waxing more and more, greater and greater, until they had occupied the entire country fifteen hundred years. In honor of one of the two first families, they were called 'Jaredites.' After they had almost covered the land with cities, and probably made the present prairies by extensive cultivation." So the anonymous author of this article, writing after Joseph's death, claims all the inhabitants of the Americas were descendants of the Jaredites--a view Roper and other Mesoamericanists reject. Then the anonymous author attributes the prairies with which he was familiar--i.e., the prairies in the Midwest--to cultivation by the Jaredites. This is another view Roper and other Mesoamericanists reject. The passage referring to Zarahemla is part of a long quotation from 3 Nephi 9 that refers to the destruction of all the cities--again, with no mention of volcanoes.] 
It would be strange if Joseph had ever opposed it. In March 1845 Taylor wrote, “Such relics are capital stock for the Latter-day Saints, as well as is the cities, and ruins in Central America, discovered by Mr. Stevens in the very places where the Book of Mormon left them.”151 One month later, Taylor, who by then had been seriously wounded in Carthage jail, eulogized his friend and martyred Prophet as “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 a true history of the natives of this continent; their ancient glory and cities: — which cities have been discovered by Mr. Stevens in Central America, exactly where the Book of Mormon left them.”152
Neville’s theory would have us accept the idea that Joseph Smith was able to persuade smart and faithful men like John Taylor to accept and practice the principle of plural marriage with all the difficulties that entailed, and yet could not get him to be quiet about the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica. 
[It's quite odd that the Mesoamericanists keep citing John Taylor when they reject and ridicule his beliefs. And no, my theory does not require silence about Mesoamerica; it accommodates Mesoamerica as a hinterlands to the 1% of the history described by the text. My theory keeps the Cumorah pin in New York, which is what Joseph did. My theory has Joseph rejecting Zarahemla in Mesoamerica but allowing people to speculate about the rest. My theory accommodates everything Joseph and the witnesses said about Book of Mormon geography. By contrast, the Mesoamericanists expressly reject what Joseph and the witnesses said about Book of Mormon geography in favor of a limited geography based on unsigned articles.]
It assumes that Brigham Young, perhaps the Prophet’s most trusted friend and faithful associate, and a careful and close student of Joseph’s teachings, just didn’t really understand what Neville considers a meaty doctrine about a North American “Heartland” geography, which excluded Central America. It is a novel idea — fiction, not history.
[Actually, my theory supports what Brigham Young said in General Conference--while the Mesoamericanists reject what Brigham Young said (or dismiss it vaguely as a vision). It's difficult to imagine a more dramatic disparity between two approaches to this question. 
Bottom line, Roper removes the Cumorah pin from New York, rejecting everything the early LDS wrote about the subject, and keeps the Zarahemla pin in Mesoamerica because of a single unsigned article in the Times and Seasons. I keep the Cumorah pin in New York and remove the Zarahemla pin from Mesoamerica, ascribing all the citations to Stephens to missionary zeal in the context of a hemispheric model that accommodates a hinterlands approach--with North America as the core. Such a hinterlands approach is also consistent with other articles in the Times and Seasons that do not cite the Stephens book. Ironically, Roper rejects the hemispheric model implicit in every reference he cites; he doesn't agree with the very authors he cites for authority to support his position. Roper and I agree that the New York Cumorah pin and the Mesoamerican Zarahemla pin are incompatible. Readers must choose which pin they leave in their own maps.]

[Page 253]
1. Jonathan Neville, The Lost City of Zarahemla: From Iowa to Guatemala and Back Again (New York:, 2015). Neville engages in a great deal of unanchored speculation about what Joseph Smith and others thought and felt about the articles on Central America. “The Prophet doesn’t agree” with Winchester (3). “The Book of Mormon is a cause of conflict between [Winchester] and Joseph. It is a direct challenge to Joseph’s role as prophet and accuracy — or sufficiency — of the translation of the Book of Mormon itself” (151). Where is the evidence that the Prophet didn’t agree with the articles or that he felt in the least threatened by them? Joseph “thought they [the articles] would be recognized for what they were” (8, emphasis added). William Smith “doesn’t care what Joseph thinks” about Book of Mormon geography “because he knows his brother won’t do anything about it, whether out of fear or loyalty” (141). When Joseph meets with John Taylor in the fall of 1842 they are really strategizing about William Smith and Winchester, although the record is silent (149). It is “easy to imagine that when the ‘Zarahemla’ article is published, Joseph is furious” (160, emphasis added). “Joseph did not want Winchester’s ideas to take hold” (190). How does Neville know what Joseph wanted? He claims that Joseph labeled the articles on Central America “mistakes” (8). Not true. [I'm still waiting for Roper or anyone else to explain what mistakes Taylor made that Joseph was referring to.] He grants that Joseph “never expressly repudiates them” (145). That wording is misleading, because it suggests that he did repudiate them, just not expressly. In fact, there is absolutely no historical documentation that he repudiated them at all or was opposed to their content outside of the author’s imagination. [I cited evidence of his rejection in the first edition, but I have more evidence in the second edition.]
2. Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and The United States of America (New York: Digital Legend, 2009); Rod Meldrum, Exploring the Book of Mormon in America’s Heartland (New York: Digital Legend, 2011).
3. Matthew Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” FARMS Review 22/2 (2010): 15‒85; Roper, “Losing the Remnant: The New Exclusivist ‘Movement’ and the Book of Mormon,” FARMS Review 22/2 (2010): 87‒124; Roper, “The Treason of the Geographers: Mythical Mesoamerican Conspiracy and the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 16 (2015). Descendants of Book of Mormon people may have become dispersed throughout the Americas even though the geographical setting for events described in the book was likely limited in scope.
4. Brigham Young refers to restrictions placed on Joseph Smith which kept him from visiting Lamanites in other places. Oliver Cowdery shared reports of the Navajo in the Rocky Mountains whom he described as “Lamanites.” See Roper, “Losing the Remnant,” 103‒05.
5. Roper, “Limited Geography,” 225‒75. Orson Pratt thought that “a careful reader” of the Book of Mormon might be able to “trace the relative bearings and distances of many of these cities from each other; and, if acquainted with the present geographical features of the country” and “by the descriptions given in that book, determine, very nearly, the precise spot of ground they once occupied” (Orson Pratt, “Was Joseph Smith Sent of God?” Millennial Star 10/19 [1 October, 1848]: 289), but he never attempted it himself. We have no evidence, for example, that any Latter-day Saint addressed the implications of distances described in the text until the early twentieth century. Neville anachronistically sattributes to Joseph Smith an antipathy toward a “limited Mesoamerican geography” (191), a theory that, as far as we can tell, did not exist in Joseph Smith’s day.
6. John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, 2 vols. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1841).
7. John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, 2 vols. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1843). Both this and the 1841 work was reprinted by Dover Publications in 1969.
8. F. Catherwood, Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan(New York: Bartlett and Welford, 1844).
9. “Antiquities of America,” Millennial Star 1/5 (September 1840): 118.
10. E. Snow, E. Snow’s Reply to the Self-Styled Philanthropist, of Chester County (Philadelphia: 1840), 2‒3. The bulk of the pamphlet consists of a letter from Snow to the anonymous critic dated November 1840.
11. “American Antiquities — More Proofs of the Book of Mormon,” Times and Seasons 2/16 (15 June, 1841): 440. At the time, Don Carlos Smith and Robert B. Thompson were editors.
12. John E. Page to Joseph Smith, 1 September, 1841, Philadelphia, PA, Joseph Smith Collection, Church Historian’s Library. Page had previously used the fulfillment of prophetic promises in the Book of Mormon. On July, 1839, he spoke on the subject “and went on to show that no impostor would ever attempt to make such promises as are contained [in] pages 541 and 34th — which he did in a very satisfactory manner. <& then bore testimony>” Joseph Smith Journal, 7 July, 1839, in Dean C. Jesse, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Richard Jensen, eds., The Joseph Smith Papers. Journals Volume 1: 1832‒1839 (Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2008), 345, 347. The promises to which page referred are those found in Ether 2:4‒13 and Mormon 8:26‒36 in the current edition of the Book of Mormon.
13. John Bernhisel to Joseph Smith, 8 September 1841, in Dean C. Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002), 533.
14. Wilford Woodruff Journal, 13 September, 1841, in Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s Journal (Midvale, UT: Signature Books, 1983), 2:126. Spelling in the original.
15. Wilford Woodruff Journal, 16 September, 1841, in Kenney, 2:126. Spelling in the original.
16. Joseph Smith to John Bernhisel, 16 November 1841, in Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 533.
17. See, for example, Joseph Smith letters to Oliver Granger, May 4, 1841, and Jennetta Richards, June 23, 1842, which were written in the hands of Robert B. Thompson and William Clayton respectively, in Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 527‒28, 551‒52. Joseph Smith’s oft-cited letter to Emma Smith on June 4, 1834, from Zion’s Camp was also dictated; a copy exists only in the handwriting of James Mulholland. See Jesse, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 344.
18. Jesse, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 533.
20. Stephens, Incidents, 2:301‒02.
21. Ibid., 2:322.
22. Review of Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, in North American Review 53/2 (1841): 503.
23New York Review, (July 1841): 225. Incidents was simultaneously published in New York and London.
24. Stephens, Incidents, 2:286.
25. Ibid., 2:143.
26. Michael Coe, Breaking the Maya Code (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1993), 93.
27. Steve Glassman, On the Trail of the Maya Explorer: Tracing the Epic Journey of John Lloyd Stephens (Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 2003), 6.
28. Brian Fagan, Elusive Treasure: The Story of the First Archaeologists in the Americas (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1977), 157
29. Stephens, Incidents, 1:146.
30. Ibid., 1:159.
31. Ibid., 2:431.
32. Ibid., 2:291, 356‒57.
33. Stephens, Incidents, 1:120.
34. Fagan, Elusive Treasure, 176.
35. Coe, Breaking the Maya Code, 93‒94.
36. “Extract From Stephens’ ‘Incidents of Travel in Central America’” Times and Seasons 3/22 (15 September, 1842), 914.
37. “A Portion of the Fa├žade of the Ruins of Zayl in Yucatan,” The Prophet, 25 January 1845.
38The Prophet, 1 February 1845.
39The Prophet, 8 February 1845; The Prophet, 22 February 1845.
40. Noel A. Carmack, “‘A Picturesque and Dramatic History’: George Reynolds’s Story of the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 47/2 (2008)115‒41. For interesting comparisons between Ottinger’s paintings and Catherwood’s work see figures 9‒12. For insight into Friberg’s Book of Mormon art see Vern Swanson, “The Book of Mormon Art of Arnold Friberg: Painter of Scripture,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/1 (2001): 26‒35.
41. R. Tripp Evans, Romancing the Maya: Mexican Antiquity in the American Imagination 1820‒1915 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004), 94.
42. Don Domingo Juarros, A Statistical and Commercial History of the Kingdom of Guatemala in Spanish America, … Translated by J. Baily (London: J. F. Dove, 1823).
43. Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzman, Historia de Guatemala, o, Recordacion Florida(Madrid: 1882).
44. Stephens, Incidents, 2:304; also 2:305‒7, 355‒57.
45. Peter Crawley, A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church. Volume One 1830‒1847(Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1997), 97‒98.
46. Stephens, Incidents, 1:96–97.
47. Ibid.,1:98.
48. Ibid.2:455.
49. Coe, The Maya, 95‒99, 108‒115, 131.
50. Stephens, Incidents, 2:193‒97, 305, 364; ibid., 2:128‒29, 280.
51. “Discovery of Ancient Ruins in Central America,” Evening and Morning Star, 1/9 (February, 1833), [71].
52. “Ancient Ruins in America,” The Mormon, 28 April 1855, emphasis added. At this time John Taylor was the editor.
53. Coe, The Maya, 40. For correlations with the Book of Mormon see Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, 82‒86, 240‒41, 547‒78, 638‒49.
54. Stephens, Incidents, 2:158.
55. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, 64647.
56. Ibid., 581‒604. The site of Chinkultic near Comitan and most other sites within the central depression of Chiapas were abandoned in the Early Classic period. See Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, 674‒78.
57. “Stephens’s Works on Central America,” Times and Seasons 4/22 (1 October 1843): 346‒47.
58. W. I. Appleby, Mormonism Consistent … (Washington, DE.: Porter and Nave, 1843), 17-18.
59. Orson Pratt, “Reply to a pamphlet, printed in Glasgow, entitled, `Remarks on Mormonism,’” Millennnial Star 11/8 (15 April, 1849): 115‒16.
60. As previously noted, Quirigua is now known to date after Book of Mormon times.
61. Stephens, Incidents, 2:118‒23.
62. Ibid., 2:123.
63. “Zarahemla,” Times and Seasons 3/23 (1 October, 1842), 927. Neville expresses contempt and scorn for the writer of the unsigned editorial, whom he imagines to be Winchester. The view that “the ruins of Zarahemla have been found where the Nephites left them” is, according to Neville, “a bald-faced lie if taken literally — and if it refers to Central America” (128). With a surprising lack of charity, he further characterizes him as irrational and even applies Korihor’s derisive epithet “the effect of a frenzied mind” (Alma 30:16) to the writer of the editorial (123, 128). This is simply bizarre. The editorial is clearly set forth as an “opinion” based on Stephens’s report and the common assumption that the narrow neck of land was within Central America. No one may care if Neville disparages a sourpuss like Winchester, but what if Joseph Smith was the writer?
64. Stephens, Incidents, 2:355.
65. Ibid.2:183; 2:313.
66. Ibid., 2:353‒54.
67. “Ancient Ruins in America,” The Mormon, 28 April, 1855.
68. Stephens, Incidents, 2:179.
69. Ibid., 2:319.
70. Stephens, Incidents, 2:179.
71. Ibid., 2:314.
72. Ibid., 2:343.
73. Ibid., 1:101‒4, 134; 2:153, 171.
74. Ibid.2:317, 320‒21.
75. Ibid., 2:348.
76. Ibid.,2:432‒33.
77. Ibid., 1:102‒3.
78. At Copan, ibid., 1:102; 137‒40, 150‒59. At Quirigua, see ibid., 2:121‒22.
79. Ibid., 1:159; 2:184‒85.
80. Ibid., 2.346‒47.
81. W. I. Appleby, Mormonism Consistent … (Washington, DE: Porter and Nave, 1843), 17‒18.
82. Stephens, Incidents, 2:354.
83. Ibid., 1:30.
84. H. Stevenson, Lecture on Mormonism … (1839), 12.
85. A Philanthropist, Mormonism Unmasked (Philadelphia, PA.: T. K. & P. G. Collins, 1840), 5‒6.
86. E. Snow, 1841, 2‒3.
87. Stephens, Incidents, 1841, 1:159‒60.
88. David Stuart, “A Foreign Past: The Writing and Representation of History on a Royal Ancestral Shrine at Copan.” In E. Wylls Andrews and William L. Fash, eds., Copan: The History of An Ancient Maya Kingdom (Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 2004), 373.
89. Sorenson, “Records and Writing Systems” in Mormon’s Codex, 184‒232 for a detailed discussion.
90. Coe, The Maya, 60. Compare Mosiah 23:6-7.
91. Stephens, Incidents, 2:173‒74.
92. John E. Page, “Collateral testimony of the truth and divinity of the Book of Mormon. — No. 4,” Gospel Herald 3/27 (September 21, 1848): 125‒26.
93. Origen Bacheler, Mormonism Exposed (New York: 1838), 19.
94. Parsons, 22.
95. Stephens, Incidents, 2:173.
96. John E. Page, “Collateral testimony of the truth and divinity of the Book of Mormon — No. 3,” Gospel Herald 3/26 (September 14, 1848): 123. Understandably, some early readers would connect the two events, but it seems unlikely that the event reported in Stephens’s source had any direct relationship with that described in the Book of Mormon. For a recent perspective see Gardner, Second Witness, 5:193‒95, 238.
97. Stephens, Incidents, 1841, 1:156.
98. Ibid., 1841, 2:228‒29.
99. Ibid., 1:97.
100. Many scholars today reject the correlation suggesting that the figures portrayed at Copan likely show the beaks of macaws rather than elephants. See Brant Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Kofford, 2007), 6:260.
101. LaRoy Sunderland, “Mormonism,” Zion’s Watchman, 24 February, 1838.
102. Stephens, Incidents, 2:175.
103. Ibid., 2:171‒72.
104. “Facts are stubborn things,” Times and Seasons 3/22 (September 15, 1842): 922; John E. Page, “Collateral testimony of the truth and divinity of the Book of Mormon.–No. 1,” Gospel Herald 3/24 (August 31, 1848): 108.
105. See, for example, B. H. Roberts, “Book of Mormon Difficulties” in Brigham D. Madsen, ed.,B. H. Roberts Studies of the Book of Mormon (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 64‒148.
106Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of the English Language defines machine as “An artificial work, simple or complicated, that serves to apply or regulate moving power, or to produce motion, so as to save time or force.”
107. Stevenson (1839), 12‒13.
108. Stephens, Incidents, 2:177, emphasis added; E. L. Kelly, in Braden Kelly Debate, 58.
109. E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (1834), 71.
110. Stephens, Incidents, 1843, 1:255, 258, Plate XXIII.
111. Ibid., 1841, 142.
112. Ibid., 1841, 1:100; 2:175; 178.
113. Ibid., 1843, 1:25.
114. Ibid., 1843, 1:30.
115. Ibid., 1:258.
116. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, 1843, 1:255, 258, Plate XXIII.
117. William McLellin Journal, 14‒21 April, 1833, in Jan Shipps and John W. Welch, eds., TheJournals of William E. McLellin 1831‒1836 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 114‒17.
118. Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 69‒70.
119. J. M. Peck, A Gazetteer of Illinois … (1834), 53.
120. Tyler Parsons, Mormonism Fanaticism Exposed (1842), 27.
121. Stephens, Incidents, 2:173‒74.
122. Ibid.,2:173‒78.
123. Ibid., 2:173‒174, 176‒77.
124. Ibid., 1:100; 2:174.
125. Mormon fought a Lamanite army of 44,000 with an army of 42,000. Stephens mentions Guatemalan armies of 40,000 and 46,000 (ibid., 2:174, 176).
126. Ibid., 2:176.
127. Ibid., 1:33
128. Ibid., 1:284.
129. Jacob, who lived in the land of Nephi, uses the analogy seven times, Benjamin’s angel once, Alma and the wicked judge once each. The closest wording in biblical passages is found in Revelation 14:10‒11 and 19:20, but see also Genesis 19:24; Psalms 11:6.
130. Ibid., 1:328‒29.
131. Stephens, Incidents, 1:193, emphasis added.
132. Ibid., 1:267‒69.
133. Stephens, Incidents, 1:280, emphasis added.
134. Ibid., 2:36‒38, emphasis added.
135. Bart J. Kowallis, “In the Thirty and Fourth Year: A Geologist’s View of the Great Destruction in 3 Nephi,” BYU Studies 37/3 (1997‒98), 136‒90; Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, 641-53; Jerry D. Grover, Geology of the Book of Mormon (2014); Neal Rappleye, “‘The Great and Terrible Judgements of the Lord’: Destruction and Disaster in 3 Nephi and the Geology of Mesoamerica,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 15 (2015): 143‒57.
136. On William Smith see Kyle R. Walker, William B. Smith: In the Shadow of a Prophet (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2015). On John E. Page see John Quist, “John E. Page: An Apostle of Uncertainty,” Journal of Mormon History 12 (1985): 53‒68.
137. “American antiquities,” The Wasp, 1 October, 1842.
138. Page, “The Book of Mormon,” Gospel Herald, 6 July, 1848.
139. Joseph Smith Journal, 7 July, 1839, in Dean C. Jesse, Mark Ashurst McGee, Richard L. Jensen, eds., The Joseph Smith Papers: Journals Volume 1: 1832‒1839 (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2008), 345‒46; Quist, “John E. Page,” 64, 67‒68.
140Proclamation of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To All the Kings of the World: To the President of the United States of America; To the Governors of the Several States; And to the Rulers and People of All Nations (New York: 6 April, 1845), 2‒3. On the background of this proclamation see Roper, “Losing the Remnant,” 105‒06.
141. Brigham Young to William Staines. 11 January 1876, Letterbook 14:124‒26, in Leonard J. Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses, 382, emphasis added.
142. Brigham Young to F. L. Young, 23 August, 1877, in Dean C. Jesse, ed., Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1974), 314.
143. John Taylor to William W. Taylor, 6 June 1876, in Millennial Star 38/28 (10 July 1876), 437, emphasis added.
144. John Taylor to William W. Taylor, 6 June 1876, in Millennial Star 38/28 (10 July 1876), 437, emphasis added.
145. Orson Pratt, “Was Joseph Smith Sent of God?” Millennial Star 10/19 (1 October, 1848): 289, thought the narrative implied that “the northern portions of South America, and also Central America, were the most densely populated.”
146. Davis Bitton, George Q. Cannon: A Biography (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1999), 42‒48.
147. George Q. Cannon Journal, 24 November, 1853, in Chad Orton, ed., The Journals of George Q. Cannon: Hawaiian Mission 1850‒1854 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2014), 383.
148. George Q. Cannon, “Buried Cities of the West,” Millennial Star 19/2 (10 January, 1857), emphasis added.
149. “Stephens’ Works on Central Americas,” Times and Seasons 4/22 (1 October, 1843), 346‒47.
150. “Ancient Ruins,” Times and Seasons 5/23 (15 December, 1844), 746‒47.
151. “Another Mormon Witness,” Times and Seasons 6/4 (1 March 1845), 831.
152. “Remarks,” Times and Seasons 6/6 (1 April. 1845), 855, emphasis added.