There are 23 thoughts on “The Treason of the Geographers: Mythical “Mesoamerican” Conspiracy and the Book of Mormon”.

  1. Pingback: Thankful for the Heartland Model – BofM.Blog

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  3. I enjoyed reading this, I had a quick question though, you gave some arguments for the weaponry things but I am curious why you don’t mention steel. I at least would expect a brief mention of the steel question. I understand if you don’t have a reason for it but your total omission of it seems strange.
    There are several other points that it feels like you omitted, possibly because it would weaken your argument.
    I don’t have time to go into it all right now but I will quickly mention a concern regarding Zelph.
    You say the following:
    “The entry on Zelph in the published History of the Church was not written by Joseph Smith and is not a contemporary account but is a hodgepodge of seven documents written by other men in Zion’s Camp who wrote about the event”
    The letter to Bernhisel belongs to a class of historical documents that are only extant in the hand of scribes but are part of the Joseph Smith corpus. Dean Jesse identified the handwriting as that of John Taylor. (Jesse, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 533). The Joseph Smith Papers website indicates that the handwriting is at present unidentified.
    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.
    The point is that you can make the same argument you use there against the Zelph story against the letter written to Bernhisel.
    The fact that there are Seven separate documents all giving roughly the same story and the fact that a letter written by Joseph Smith to Emma seems to clearly refer to the event makes the argument for the reality and credibility of the Zelph story pretty strong in my opinion.
    I am curious what your thoughts are on this. I haven’t had time to go over your whole essay in detail so if I have missed a section that clarifies a position or addresses these issues then I am sorry. I am at work and will go over it all more thoroughly when I have the time.

  4. All this is very interesting but it totally ignores the only author that matters — Mormon. He stopped his description of events in Alma to describe the Land Southward where the people of Lehi landed at the “land of first inheritance.” You can read it in Alma 22:32. It is clear that it is a peninsula and never had a land bridge to the south. That is why the Lamanites were “hemmed in” in the south as mentioned in verse 33.
    When Nephi finished his ship they sailed away to the promised land but there is no evidence in the record that they sailed eastward across the Indian Ocean to wind their way through Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines to reach the Pacific Ocean. Then to cross that vast ocean to land on the west coast of the Americas. This myth has been promoted for a very long time, helped along by Elder Orson Pratt who believed the Mesoamerica theory only because ruins were found there.
    In my book, “Finding Zarahemla”, available on Amazon, I make it clear that Nephi would have sailed south along the east coast of Africa, around the cape when he encountered the terrible storms there. It is usually very calm but it is also known by many modern navigators to sometimes have the worst storms in the world. This what the Lord did to frighten Laman and Lemuel enough to release Nephi.
    After that they sailed northwest across the Atlantic Ocean landing on the EAST side of America. Also, it is more than 3,000 miles closer that way. Where did they land? The only place that exactly matches Mormon’s description. But it is hidden from us by the way we learn and teach geography. Most of the people of the nation, especially in the west just don’t know their east coast geography.
    On the east side of America is large peninsula, about the size of Palestine, with a sea east and a sea west with a narrow neck of land at the north end connecting it to the mainland. It is like Mormon said, “nearly surrounded by water” except for the narrow neck. This peninsula doesn’t show in any of our maps because it is in three states: Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. It is the Delmarva Peninsula.
    When the great emigration of the Nephites to the land northward occurred, described in Alma 63:4-5, it was a very large group that traveled overland through the narrow neck to move on to a better place. Hagoth built his ships and “they took their course northward.”
    (Alma 63:6) How could they sail directly into the land northward? They certainly couldn’t if we follow the Mesoamerica theory that they sailed WEST along the coast of Mexico until they finally could go north.
    If we look at the Delmarva Peninsula we see “launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward.”
    (Alma 63:5) That is the Chesapeake Bay and at it’s north end is the opening of a very large river, the Susquehanna, which is as large as the Mississippi at it’s widest. It goes directly into the land northward and then bends east to enter central Pennsylvania.
    Why do are we continue to research things that are given in the record of Mormon? These people are “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7)

  5. I read Jonathan Neville’s book, “The Lost City of Zarahemla,” and fail to see where Roper makes a sound case against it. This is spite of the fact that a friend of mine (well I hope he’s still a friend after today. At least I consider him one, though we’ve never met in person) told me that Neville was “soon to be very soundly debunked.”
    Well, I’m still waiting. In fact I agree with many of the same conclusions Jonathan made in his reviews of Roper’s article. I think Roper who was the one who was very soundly debunked. [Links removed. Those interested can find them, but it will be difficult to have any reasonable conversation that crosses multiple locations.]

  6. So even if the word play analytics show that Winchester is the author of the Times and Seasons articles (which they may not) in question Joseph Smith still had roughly three years to correct the claims in those articles and he never did. This shows me that he had no issue with those claims or that he supported those claims. So is the premise that Winchester was able to get the Mesoamerican (Limited Geography Model) widely accepted by the many of the churches elite (including Joseph Smith) by his fraud and twisted lies? If this is the case than doesn’t this undermine Joseph’s prophetic ability to discern the truth?…something many Heartlander’s claim those who follow the LGT do by not accepting that Joseph would have known the geography. It seems to me a bit hypocritical to me. But I have no issue with Neville presenting his updated research either because it may add clarification if I am misunderstanding the circumstances involved.

    • Hi Jody. Thanks for your interest. There are good reasons why Joseph didn’t correct the three articles at the time, which I explain in the book. You’ll notice that the Zarahemla claim was never repeated again after the 1 Oct 1842 article, nor did anyone ever again link any specific Book of Mormon city to a specific site in Mesoamerica. My analysis of the history tells me that Joseph identified North America–and only North America–as the setting for the Book of Mormon. However, he would have no objection to generalized references to Mesoamerica because they fit a “Mesoamerica as hinterlands” approach; i.e., that the Book of Mormon people, Jaredite and Lehite, spread throughout the continents, but the core was all in North America (above the Rio Grande).

      • Jonathan, your clarification that Joseph didn’t object to including Mesoamerica in Book of Mormon territory helps a lot in discussions. It means that we can move away from discussions that try to interpret what Joseph meant and begin discussing the more important aspects of any hypothesis about where the Book of Mormon took place.
        The identification of Zarahemla in the Times & Seasons is simply an indication of the willingness to see the Book of Mormon in any available evidence that would support the Book of Mormon. It wasn’t correct, regardless of who believed it because no one dealt with issues of time depth (or relative geography). Similarly, the use of Zarahemla to designate a settlement across from Nauvoo cannot be used to declare that the ancient site was where the modern city name was placed. Only good work that fits into what the text requires of the geography, correlated with appropriate times, can begin to provide a usable picture of where the Book of Mormon took place.
        I look forward to your more detailed geographical correlations so we can move beyond arguing about who said what and what they might have meant. The Book of Mormon writers knew better where they were than we do, so we must rely on their descriptions to help us find the landmarks they described.

  7. Hasn’t anyone read my “A Brief History of the Limited Geographic View of the Book of Mormon,” posted on the Meridian Magazine web site, 2005?

  8. I’m fascinated by what appears to be among Heartlanders a tendency to lean on conspiracy theories. Mr. Neville’s poorly-argued claim that Benjamin Winchester threw Joseph Smith under the bus is just one example; add to it Rod Meldrum’s claims that mainstream anthropologists are covering up evidence of Hebrew artifacts among ancient Native American cultures, and that mainstream LDS scholars are knowingly undermining Joseph Smith. Meldrum’s expos feature speakers who claim to expose international banking conspiracies, and alternative medicine and “energy healing” scams that reject mainstream medical science. Meldrum also is into young earth creationism, which is founded on the belief that mainstream evolutionary science is a vast conspiracy to undermine the Bible and revelation. (Meldrum has even questioned the testimonies of Latter-day Saints who believe in evolution, comparing them to athiests.)
    I’m not attributing all of Meldrum’s views to Mr. Neville, but it’s interesting to me how both of them have to gin up tales of conspiracy to advance their views.

  9. I’m delighted to finally get some feedback from Matt Roper. I’ll have a detailed response, if the Interpreter will publish it, but readers should be aware of some background.
    My research began in December 2014, prompted by Matt’s article about stylometry, Joseph Smith, and the Times and Seasons. The data published in that article–anyone can see the 3-dimensional results–showed that Joseph, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff could not have written these articles (although Matt spun his data to support what he was trying to prove; i.e., that Joseph wrote, or approved of, the articles). Once I figured out who did write them (and it was not only Winchester), I went to Matt’s office at the Maxwell Institute to share my findings. This was in February. I sought to collaborate with him. He had the database and the stylometry software, and I asked him to run Winchester through it so we could see what the results were. He admitted that his process was only as good as the people he tested, and he seemed open to the idea. I was encouraged; as I explained to Matt at the time, I would rather cite his work favorably than critically. I wasn’t going to publish my book until he could do the analysis. He asked for a copy of my early draft, which was an advance reader’s copy. I reluctantly gave it to him, on the conditions that 1) he wouldn’t share it with anyone else, 2) if he had any questions he should ask me, and 3) he would give me feedback. I heard nothing from him for over a month. When I contacted him again, he agreed to meet. He hadn’t run the Winchester material on his system yet, but we agreed that his data guy and my data guy would get together and share data and analysis. All I wanted to do was get to the bottom of the situation and know the facts. (Unlike Matt and others, I don’t have decades of publications on this issue to defend.) On this occasion, I gave him an updated, but still preliminary, manuscript.
    A month later, still no word. I asked my data guy. He hadn’t heard from Matt. I contacted Matt. He replied that he changed his mind about working with me because he didn’t like my conclusions about Winchester. That was the sum total of the feedback he has given me since February. He refused any further exchange or dialog.
    Now this “review.”
    Readers should also know that the Interpreter is aware I have a second edition of the book coming out soon that contains much additional material and many corrections to the first edition. The editors decided to release Matt’s review of the first edition (or, more likely the advance review copy I loaned him even before the first edition was published).
    I expect many Interpreter readers will embrace Matt’s article and reject whatever I have to say because there is a long history of confirmation bias here. But I know there are also fair, open-minded people at the Interpreter, including both staff and readers, and I look forward to a open airing of these issues.

    • Jonathan, an author should certainly have the opportunity to respond to any criticism of their work. However what you have given us so far is background that doesn’t address any qualitative issues. How you and Matt met, what conversations you might had, and what your understanding of his intentions might have been are completely distinct from dealing with the substance of the article.
      I would point our that your concluding paragraph suggest that we at Interpreter suffer from confirmation bias. I would assume that your evidence is that many have not agreed with your interpretations. I certainly understand that all authors and reviewers understandably have opinions that might color what they write or review. The insinuation that Interpreter might discourage otherwise excellent work because it contradicts something some of us have worked on for a long time is frankly offensive. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I have been required to change my mind many times in the light of better evidence.
      Assuming that you have a detailed response as an article, you are invited to submit it, where it will be submitted to peer review as we do with all submitted papers. I can attest that some papers that I have reviewed and disagreed with have still been published. Agreement isn’t the criteria, but well-argued positions supported by well-marshalled evidence have the best change of passing review. “If thou doest well, shall thou not be accepted?” Gen. 4:7

      • Brant:
        Couldn’t a spiritual geography model better account for the total lack of evidence for the Mesoamerican and Heartland models? Isn’t this “debate” really a “debate” on which myth is better? At a certain point, one must admit what the outside scholars and logic have found. Given the utter lack of evidence supporting either model, it seems that this endeavor is a waste of valuable intellectual resources. If I am wrong please step in and respond to Mr. Jenkins, directly, for the lack of a response is telling.

        • SG, a “spiritual geography” would only suggest that there was never any real people behind the Book of Mormon. For those who choose to believe that, spiritual geography is as good as a spiritual history.
          However, if one believes that there was a real Mormon, spiritual geography won’t work. As for a lack of evidence, I hear that frequently and continue to be amazed at what it takes to believe that there is no evidence. There is a good deal of evidence that ties the Book of Mormon to a specific place at specific times, and correlated to what was known to be happening at those times and in those places. That is the way most texts are compared to archaeology. The nature of a text rarely coincides directly with what archaeology is able to extract from the earth.

        • SG: Your confident assertion that there is no evidence at all for the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon can only be maintained by refusing to engage a large literature, and also by not understanding what would constitute evidence. And your “spiritual geography” is neither a “geography” nor “spiritual.” Instead, it seems to be a slogan in a polemic.

  10. Matt,
    Thanks for your time and effort. I am loath to imagine the tedium involved in refuting such obvious crap. But we saints are a gullible lot — and someone’s got to do the dirty work of pulling us out of the mire.

  11. I appreciate your careful, thorough, and meticulous research and citations on these issues — in short, for being an actual scholar.
    I have no problem with people or groups proposing different geographical models and settings for Book of Mormon events, but — as that “awful” John Sorenson and others have pointed out — you have to account for every bit of geographic information in the text itself, instead of picking and choosing what you want and ignoring the rest, or invoking special pleading that has no basis in reality (e.g., one model a few decades back that required that most of South America be underwater until the events surrounding the Savior’s crucifixion).
    The third biggest problem I have with the ‘Heartland’ model (and those actively promoting it) is that it assumes the conclusion — that Book of Mormon events all took place within the current boundaries of the United States — and argues backward from there, instead of starting with the text, building a model from it, and deciding what actually makes sense. It’s also pretty bad when those promoting this model impugn those who disagree as being at best misled and at worst downright sinister or even “evil”.
    The second biggest problem I have is the whiff of promoting-this-for-profit that surrounds the enterprise. I have no problem with people making money; I do have a problem when it appears to be tied into problem #3, that is, “this is the only true interpretation”.
    The biggest problem I have, though, is a new one, called out by Matt’s review of Neville’s book: a very strong suggestion that top Church leadership under Joseph Smith was misled (or hijacked) by Winchester, that it is far worse in the present day (again, that word “evils”), and that it is up to Neville, Meldrum, et alis to set the Church back on the right path. I have no problem with the very-real human frailties of Church leaders — I’ve been reading Church history for 45 years or so and have a bookcase devoted to the subject — but because of that same study, warning bells and flashing lights go off when someone says, “If the Church (or the Prophet) would just listen to us, we could correct these errors!”

    • Thanks for your comments, but I think if you read the book instead of just Matt’s review, you’d reach a different conclusion. In fact, I agree with your point; I’m certainly not trying to fix the Church. I’m only trying to get the history right.
      At any rate, I posted my responses to Matt’s review here if you’re interested. [Link removed to avoid cross-site conversations]

  12. Matt Roper loaned me one of Neville’s books and insisted that I read it. This is a remarkably good essay on one element in Neville’s basket of mischief that needs to be exposed and opposed.

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