There are 13 thoughts on “John Bernhisel’s Gift to a Prophet: Incidents of Travel in Central America and the Book of Mormon”.

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  4. What upsets me is that I just found out that it was my second great-grand uncle, Benjamin Winchester, that put Zarahemla in Guatemala, and I have had to spend the last seven years trying to correct the error. ☺

  5. A friend loaned me a copy of Newville’s The Lost City of Zarahemla just a week ago and I read it with interest. I found Neville’s work exhaustive and even a bit redundant at times, but never the less an interesting and well written perspective. His impressive research into Winchester’s history and his interactions with early Church leaders is perhaps unmatched by any other scholar of which I am aware.
    Stephen’s Incidents of Travel in Central America opened a new world to view for any person interested in antiquities in the area of his discoveries. It was stunning, and everyone reading it could have considered ideas and questions about who these ancients were, why they were there and where they went. The interest among Latter-day Saints went ballistic for obvious reasons. It was fertile ground indeed. Now, of course, we have ancient ruins and insights into civilizations nearly everywhere in North, Central and South America. The meaning of all these discoveries has not been determined. In most cases, indeed in every case, we are simply left to wonder at the possibilities.
    What I find a bit disturbing about Roper’s article is a seemingly smug academic attitude concerning Neville and his conclusions. The fact is that we don’t have many facts in the arena of ancient American civilizations. We are all left with speculations and inconclusive evidence. Roper’s argument against Neville’s arguments seems to be that Neville’s speculations and inconclusive evidence is not quite as good as his speculations and inconclusive evidence. I find that a very week position.

  6. Russell,
    Jonathan claims a lot of things.
    I have always been interested in looking and William Smith and Winchester as a potential candidate authors for the 1842 articles since he first suggested it to me.
    I outlined the trajectory of this series in the introduction.
    There are three articles.
    Do you know what is in the third one?
    I do.

    • Matt says I claim a lot of things. Let’s look at our respective claims, as taken from the 30,000 words he has published in the last two articles.
      One amazing aspect of Matt’s review is that he keeps citing John Taylor as the author of the anonymous articles referring to Stephens, but he expressly disagrees with John Taylor over the hemispheric model and Cumorah.
      Matt and I both reject a North and South America hemispheric model for the setting of the narrative. We both propose a more limited geography than that. Really, regarding Taylor and Stephens, the difference between Matt and I about Book of Mormon geography is not whether Taylor was right or wrong, but where Taylor erred.
      Matt claims Taylor was wrong about everything except Central America. Although Matt may support a vague hinterlands explanation for the many North American articles that appear in the T&S even when Taylor was editor, he rejects a New York Cumorah.
      I claim Taylor (accepting, arguendo, Matt’s assumption that Taylor was the author of the anonymous articles) was wrong about placing named Book of Mormon cities in Mesoamerica, but everything else Taylor wrote I accept as part of the hinterlands argument for Central and South America.
      The real crux of the difference is Cumorah.
      Matt claims the New York Cumorah cannot be the Book of Mormon Cumorah (i.e., the scene of the final battles). I claim the New York Cumorah is the Book of Mormon Cumorah.
      Every early LDS author Matt cites for Mesoamerica also claimed the New York Cumorah was the Book of Mormon Cumorah; i.e., they agree with my claims, not Matt’s, on this point.
      For example, Orson Pratt’s footnote a to Mormon 6:2 says “The hill Cumorah is in Manchester, Ontario Co., N.York.” Pratt’s footnotes were published in the Book of Mormon starting in 1879 when John Taylor was leading the Church. They were published for decades. (They also identify the United States and the Indians as the Gentiles and seed of my brethren, respectively, in 1 Ne. 13, but that’s another topic.)
      The evidence regarding the Book of Mormon Cumorah boils down to this. Two of the Three Witnesses identified Cumorah as being in New York. Joseph Smith included Oliver Cowdery’s detailed description of the New York Cumorah in his personal journal. Cowdery’s description was published three times in Church newspapers while Joseph was alive. Every Church author and leader Matt cites placed Cumorah in New York.
      Matt rejects every one of those writers purely because of modern-day notions about the Mesoamerican setting. Neither Joseph nor any of his associates or successors has ever placed Cumorah in Central America.
      So here is a summary of our respective claims.
      I agree with and support every statement by Joseph Smith and his associates and successors. The only statements I think are wrong are a few anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons that placed specific Book of Mormon sites in Central America. I also disagree with a few statements about Lehi landing in South America or Panama, but even the people making those statements called these inferences or “believed to be” ideas. E.g., Orson Pratt’s note k to 1 Ne. 18:23 identifies the landing site this way: “believed to be on the coast of Chili [sic], S. America.”
      Matt disagrees with every single early Church leader and author he cites because of the Cumorah and hemispheric issues. He agrees with the anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons that cite Stephens and place specific Book of Mormon sites in Central America (although even then, he disagrees with the specific placement of sites in Quirigua and Palenque). Matt rejects other anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons that associate the Book of Mormon with North America.
      If I’m wrong about any of this, I welcome correction.
      (Just to be clear, as I explain in the book, I think the historical evidence demonstrates that Taylor had nothing to do with the Sept/Oct 1842 anonymous articles. I only accepted Matt’s inference here for the sake of argument.)

      • Jonathan,
        Please support your claim that in either of the two Interpreter articles I cite “John Taylor as the author of the anonymous articles referring to Stephens” and also the claims that “Matt’s assumption that Taylor was the author of the anonymous articles.” You may want to wait until the third article comes out and see what our conclusions actually are before making further things up.
        I have never concealed the fact that early Latter-day Saints believed the Hill Cumorah was in New York. You now seem preoccupied with this issue, but you did not make it an issue of consequence in your book Lost City of Zarahemla and did not present any arguments about it there. I had written about it previously and therefore saw no need to address it in my review of your book. Now, instead of addressing what I have written in the two articles you seem to want to make this an issue here and you seem to fault me for not addressing it, as if I have left it out. This seems strange. If you wanted to discuss the Hill Cumorah issue, perhaps you should have written a book on the subject in which people could evaluate your ideas if they felt inclined to do so. But don’t fault me for not addressing something in the reviews that I had done previously and that you left out of your book.
        I am trying to get the history right about what people thought about Book of Mormon geography. You have got that history seriously wrong, and I have tried to correct the record. You seem driven by a different objective–To discredit the Mesoamerican interpretation. You even fantasize that Joseph Smith was opposed to and angry about that idea. The evidence does not support you claims. I am not interested in citing the early Saints as authority for a “true” Book of Mormon geography or faulting the early Saints for being mistaken in some of their opinions. I am talking about the history of ideas which you have seriously misunderstood.
        You seem to me to be somebody who is “driven” on some kind of religious vendetta, rather than someone interested in getting the history right on what earlier readers of the Book of Mormon thought.You have created a fictional enemy (Mesoamerican geography and those who may share that interpretation) as the object of your ridicule on your blog. You are welcome to continue to do so if you choose, but your efforts are seriously misplaced if your object is to increase understanding or build and strengthen those who may have struggles with or lost their faith.
        Again, I would encourage you to wait until the third article is published before falsely attributing to me things I didn’t say.
        And that’s all I will say about this for now.

  7. “The writers for the Times and Seasons editorial on September 15, 1842, regretted that they were unable to reproduce Catherwood’s drawings of Palenque, but in 1845, the Latter-day Saint editors of The Prophet reprinted Catherwood’s drawings of the ruins of Zayl, Sennacte, Sanachtsche and Labna from Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, apparently the first reproductions of those drawings published by Mormons.”
    Now wait.
    Jonathan Neville (1) argues that William Smith was the one pushing the Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon, publishing unsigned editorials celebrating Stephens and Catherwood’s landmark work and drawing direct comparisons to the scripture, and (2) claims that Matt Roper either refuses to investigate or acknowledge William Smith’s role. Matt Roper responds, in part, by citing “Latter-day Saint editors of The Prophet” printing Catherwood’s drawings in early 1845, without mentioning William Smith’s intimate history with The Prophet periodical, where he served as its principal editor and then continued to contribute regularly after surrendering the editor’s chair to Samuel Brannan.
    I’m not the only one who sees the irony, right?

  8. Another great piece. As I said before, I have no problem with anyone who wants to propose and argue for their particular geographic model for the Book of Mormon. But I am truly, truly baffled at the lengths that some Heartland supporters will go to distort or ignore Church history and to impugn — either directly or by implication — many good and honorable people, including apostles and prophets of the Church, all to justify their model and denigrate others.

    • Thanks for your interest. Actually, I agree with you that Church history should not be distorted, which is why I cite original sources. I have also made it clear that I think Matt and other Mesoamerican advocates are honorable and seek to do the right thing; they just rely on a faulty premise.
      I have written a detailed analysis of Matt’s piece but the Interpreter won’t let me post a link to it and it’s much too long to post as a response here. Consequently, you can only google it.
      But here’s my conclusion:
      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.

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