The revealed text

The revealed text
The light of revelation at the Whitmer farm where Joseph and Oliver worked upstairs to finish translating the Book of Mormon

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Lesson 46: Ether 12-15

[cross posted from my other blog]

"Thirst was made for water; inquiry for truth."

That quotation comes from “C.S. Lewis: An examined life” (2007).* It's a wonderful metaphor. So long as we continue to inquire, we can find the truth.

As we finish up the Book of Mormon in our Gospel Doctrine classes for 2017, I wanted to comment a bit on Lesson 46: By Faith All Things Are Fulfilled.

Years ago I memorized all of Ether 12. It's still one of my favorite chapters. I'd put it up there with Mormon 7 (the single most important chapter in the scriptures, IMO), Alma 12 and 32, John 21, and D&C 88.

Here is the purpose of Lesson 46: 


To help class members understand the importance of 1) exercising faith, 2) being humble, and 3) heeding the counsel of the prophets.
I have three general comments.

First, I hope everyone who accepts the Book of Mormon and the counsel of the prophets understands the reason why Joseph and Oliver specifically identified the location of the Hill Cumorah. Certainly they didn't have to. Joseph and his successors also didn't have to republish Letter VII (Seven) so many times. But I think they had prophetic insight and they knew the historicity of the Book of Mormon would be questioned in the future. Maybe it requires a little faith and humility to accept what Joseph and Oliver wrote, but they were clear and unambiguous. There is nothing more damaging to faith than to have LDS scholars and educators undermine the reliability and credibility of Joseph and Oliver, and I hope they stop it soon.

Second, one of the reasons why it's important to be unified about Cumorah is the portion of the lesson manual that focuses on Ether 13:1-12. "Moroni records Ether's prophecies concerning the promised land." The manual summarizes the teachings here: "Before the Second Coming, “a new Jerusalem should be built up upon this land [the Americas]” (Ether 13:6). The New Jerusalem will be a holy city built by a remnant of the house of Joseph (Ether 13:8)." It's essential to know where the promised land is because of the covenants associated with it, as Ether spelled them out.

In the early days of the Church, members who read the Book of Mormon wanted to know where the New Jerusalem was going to be. They knew Cumorah was in New York, but they had to flee New York for Ohio. In Kirtland in February 1831, the Lord promised he would reveal the site for the New Jerusalem "in mine own due time." (D&C 42:62). In March, the Lord told them the New Jerusalem would be in "the western countries" (D&C 45:64-66). Then, on September 22, 1832, on the anniversary of the date when Joseph received the plates both times, the Lord revealed that the New Jerusalem would be in western Missouri.

Ether, observing the final battles in New York, "saw the days of Christ, and he spake concerning a New Jerusalem upon this land." He knew that "a New Jerusalem should be built up upon this land, unto the remnant of the seed of Joseph." And now Joseph Smith learned that the place would be western Missouri.

Third, I like to think of Ether and Coriantumr. They knew each other well. After teaching Coriantumr's people about the promised land and the New Jerusalem, he told Ether that he would live to see "another people receiving the land for their inheritance." Coriantumr would be buried by them. Of course, this was fulfilled when Coriantumr "was discovered by the people of Zarahemla," as recorded in Omni

I envision this happening when Coriantumr, as the last survivor, decided to travel to the New Jerusalem. Naturally he would have traveled down the rivers toward the west on his way to what we now call Missouri, but on the way, the people in the Land of Zarahema found him. I've described all of this in Mormoni's America

As we study these passages in the text and think about them, I hope we appreciate what Ether was trying to tell us, and why Moroni selected these passages to include in the record.

*There's a list of Lewis quotations at

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Lesson 44 - Mormon 7-9

This lesson includes Mormon's final chapter, number 7. It is the most succinct and comprehensive summary of the Gospel I know of.

Because chapter 7 is addressed to the Lamanites, many people ask who are the Lamanites in today's world.

The Lord specifically identified them in D&C 28, 30 and 32. These are the Native American Indian tribes living in New York, Ohio, and Missouri (tribes who had been forced west from their native lands around the Great Lakes).

Strangely, but not surprisingly given Mesomania, the manual does not reference D&C 28, 30, and 32. Instead, it says this:

Read and discuss Mormon 7, which contains Mormon’s words to the latter-day descendants of Lehi. You may want to explain that latter-day descendants of Lehi are found among the people of North, Central, and South America and the Pacific Islands.

As the lesson manual points out, other prophets have commented on the presence of Lamanites in Latin America. I discuss that here:

The important point to remember is that the presence of Lamanite ancestry among people living in Latin America today has nothing to do with the location of Cumorah 1600 years ago. Cumorah is in New York. Lamanites have interacted with other indigenous people throughout Latin America and the Pacific. While DNA shows that the Native Americans in the northeastern U.S. have non-Asian origins (unlike most native peoples in Latin America and the Pacific), there's no reason to think Lamanite ancestry is more widely dispersed, albeit in relatively low concentrations outside the northeastern U.S.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Lesson 43 - Cumorah

Lesson 43 covers Mormon 1-6. Mormon 6:6 explains how Mormon buried the Nephite records in Cumorah.

The Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion, and Cumorah is the keystone to Book of Mormon geography. It is the touchstone between ancient and modern times. It is the pin in the map that the Lord gave us so we would not be left in confusion about where the Book of Mormon events took place.

And yet, there is a strong movement among LDS scholars and educators to put Cumorah anywhere but New York.

If you're teaching or studying the Book of Mormon and you discuss Cumorah, you need to know that many LDS scholars believe the New York Cumorah is the product of a false traditions started in the early days of the Church by unknown people. These scholars teach that Joseph Smith adopted this false tradition and perpetuated it, along with Oliver Cowdery and many others. 

Every gospel doctrine teacher in the Church should be aware of what is going on. I hope every one of you rejects the people on the right side of the table and follows and teaches the same things as the people on the left side of that table.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Prepare for questions about Letter VII

Most of you who read this blog already know about Letter VII, but you might want to share Letter VII with your friends who teach at any capacity in the Church because I'm encouraging people to ask their teachers what they think about Letter VII.

I'm constantly amazed at how few people have even heard about Letter VII. This includes well-seasoned Church leaders (Mission Presidents, Temple Presidents, Relief Society Presidents at all levels, etc.). Even fewer have read it.

This is all the more surprising because Joseph Smith made every effort to make sure the Saints knew about it. It was published in three Church newspapers (Kirtland, Nauvoo, and Philadelphia), as well as in a special pamphlet published in Liverpool. He had his scribes copy it into his journal so it would not be lost.

Here is the post where I encouraged people to ask their teachers about Letter VII.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Cumorah: Prophets vs. Scholars

I haven't posted each lesson because I set out the basic geography in the early part of the year. There's plenty of more detailed information in my books and at

But now we're approaching the Cumorah issue, so I wanted to frame the question for every Sunday School teacher who reads this blog.

The question of Book of Mormon geography boils down to Cumorah, and the Cumorah question boils down to the difference between prophets and scholars.

Which do you follow?

One of the key premises of the "two-Cumorahs" theory* is that Joseph Smith adopted a false tradition started by someone, presumably Oliver Cowdery, that the hill in New York was the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6.

This is the way the scholars rationalize away Letter VII, David Whitmer's discussion of Cumorah, D&C 128, etc. Then Joseph F. Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, George Albert Smith, and others (not to mention all of Joseph Smith's contemporaries) also relied on this false tradition.

How do we know the New York Cumorah is a false tradition?

Because current LDS scholars say so.


Important note: I don't intend to offend anyone with this blog entry; if I'm wrong in any respect, I hope someone will correct me. I'd be happy to edit this post if I've misstated anything. Plus, I would very much like to know about any current LDS scholars (including BYU/CES educators) who accept the New York Cumorah and reject the two-Cumorahs theory.

This two-Cumorahs theory is the argument that underlies the limited-geography Mesoamerican theory that is the "consensus" among LDS scholars and educators. (Ask around if you don't already know this. Some people who believe the Mesoamerican setting don't realize it depends on the two-Cumorahs theory, but it does.)

The scholars say it's more important to listen to the scholars who currently advise the Brethren than to listen to the prophets themselves.

I'm not kidding. This approach is implicit in everything they write about Mesoamerica. If you read FairMormon, FARMS/Maxwell Institute, the Interpreter, Book of Mormon Central, BMAF, and the rest, their theories of geography all rely on the two-Cumorahs theory.

Here's a graphic I use in some of my presentations.

A few days ago, the Mormon Leaks channel on Youtube released videos of several presentations given to the Quorum of the Twelve. The Deseret News summarized the leaked videos here. You can see the videos here.

What Mesoamerican advocates say is, you should listen to the advisers, not the prophets, seers, and revelators.

Really, the question of Book of Mormon geography is quite simple. 

And it all starts with Cumorah, the pin in the map that connects Book of Mormon geography with modern geography.

In my view, it is the two-Cumorahs theory that is false.

It's a binary decision. Either Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) is in New York, or it's not. (And if it's not, does it even matter where it is?)

The only question is, what do you think?

NOTE: *The "two-Cumorahs" theory holds that the hill in New York currently named Cumorah (the Church-owned hill where the Pageant is held every year) is not the Cumorah mentioned in Mormon 6:6. That Cumorah is somewhere in southern Mexico, or Baja, or somewhere in South America, or Africa, or Asia. The only consistent claim of the "two-Cumorahs" theory is that it cannot be in New York. This theory originated with RLDS scholars in the 1920s and was adopted by LDS scholars over the specific objection of Joseph Fielding Smith.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Lesson 31: Firm in the Faith of Christ (blessing and cursing on the covenant land)

This lesson covers Alma 43-52.

To help class members see how the Nephites’ attitudes and actions in times of war can serve as a pattern for dealing with our earthly conflicts and the battle against Satan.

The lesson manual doesn't mention one of the most important of Alma's teachings. It could be the most important. After all, it's the last thing he taught before "he departed out of the land of Zarahemla, as if to go into the land of Melek. And it came to pass that he was never heard of more; as to his death or burial we know not of." (Alma 45:18).

Do you know what Alma's final message was?

Inexplicably, the lesson manual skips right over it.

This critically important teaching of Alma was the inspiration for Captain Moroni and his banner of liberty. Even more important, it applies to us today.

The three verses leading up to verse 18 (when Alma departs) ought to be the keys to everything that follows in the Book of Mormon, or at least everything that follows in the Book of Alma.

15 And now it came to pass that after Alma had said these things to Helaman, he blessed him, and also his other sons; and he also blessed the earth for the righteous’ sake.

Alma blesses his sons, but he also blesses the earth. Why would he do that?

Because he is invoking the covenant blessings given to Lehi and before him to the Jaredites. Here is the language:

16 And he said: Thus saith the Lord God—Cursed shall be the land, yea, this land, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, unto destruction, which do wickedly, when they are fully ripe; and as I have said so shall it be; for this is the cursing and the blessing of God upon the land, for the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.

This is another reason why it is so important that we understand what land Alma was referring to. It was the land of promise that Lehi obtained, the covenant land of his inheritance, which included the area where he landed (Florida), the area to which Nephi fled (Tennessee), the area to which King Mosiah fled (Illinois and Iowa), and all of the land of Zarahemla and Bountiful (Indiana, Ohio), up to the area around Cumorah (New York, Ontario).

Alma invoked the ancient covenant of blessing and cursing, based on the righteousness or wickedness, respectfully, of the people.

17 And now, when Alma had said these words he blessed the church, yea, all those who should stand fast in the faith from that time henceforth.

Alma blesses the earth, he invokes the covenant, and then he blesses the church and all righteous people. The rest of Alma--and the rest of the Book of Mormon, really--explains how the covenant works. Eventually, the covenant led to the destruction of the Nephites because the cursing overtook the blessing.

Today, those who live on the same land--the United States of America--have enjoyed the blessings of the covenant, but when the people become fully ripe in wickedness, the cursing will take over and we, like the Nephites and Jaredites before us, will also be destroyed, unless we repent.

This blessing/cursing is all the more powerful because it was Alma's final message to the people.

The next question is, where did Alma learn about the covenant?

First, notice that in Chapter 37, Alma spoke to Helaman about this covenant land. He explained that the Jaredites were destroyed because of the curse, and he didn't want Helaman to let the people know about the Jaredite wickedness because he didn't want his people, the Nephites, to adopt the same practices.

Alma 37:28 For behold, there is a curse upon all this land, that destruction shall come upon all those workers of darkness, according to the power of God, when they are fully ripe; therefore I desire that this people might not be destroyed...
31 Yea, and cursed be the land forever and ever unto those workers of darkness and secret combinations, even unto destruction, except they repent before they are fully ripe.

What's more, Alma apparently learned about this principle from Abinadi. We don't have all of Abinadi's words ("many things did Abinadi prophesy against this people"), but his priests summarized them in Mosiah 12:12: "And again, he saith thou shalt be as the blossoms of a thistle, which, when it is fully ripe, if the wind bloweth, it is driven forth upon the face of the land. And he pretendeth the Lord hath spoken it. And he saith all this shall come upon thee except thou repent, and this because of thine iniquities."

Centuries earlier, Nephi invoked the same language. "For the day shall come that the Lord God will speedily visit the inhabitants of the earth; and in that day that they are fully ripe in iniquity they shall perish." 2 Nephi 18:16.

Although we don't have all of Abinadi's prophesy, we do have additional links to Alma's teachings. "And it shall come to pass that except they repent I will utterly destroy them from off the face of the earth; yet they shall leave a record behind them, and I will preserve them for other nations which shall possess the land; yea, even this will I do that I may discover the abominations of this people to other nations." (Mosiah 12:8)

Of course, this is a shadow; the Jaredites left a record from which we can discover their abominations, just as the Nephites left a record from which we can discover their abominations.

Alma explained this: "For behold, the Lord saw that his people began to work in darkness, yea, work secret murders and abominations; therefore the Lord said, if they did not repent they should be destroyed from off the face of the earth.... And now, my son, these interpreters were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled, which he spake, saying: I will bring forth out of darkness unto light all their secret works and their abominations; and except they repent I will destroy them from off the face of the earth; and I will bring to light all their secrets and abominations, unto every nation that shall hereafter possess the land." (Alma 37:22, 24-25).

Alma had warned the people about this when he invoked the covenant against the people of Ammonihah: "Behold, now I say unto you that he commandeth you to repent; and except ye repent, ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. But behold, this is not all—he has commanded you to repent, or he will utterly destroy you from off the face of the earth; yea, he will visit you in his anger, and in his fierce anger he will not turn away.
"Behold, do ye not remember the words which he spake unto Lehi, saying that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land? And again it is said that: Inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord." Alma 9:12-13.

If those who currently inhabit the covenant land do not recognize how the covenant applies, they will be subject to the same cursing Alma warned the people about.

That's one of the most important teachings of the Book of Mormon. It's why Mormon and Moroni wrote and deposited the record in the New York area. The Book of Mormon took place in Moroni's America.

Lesson 30: The Great Plan of Happiness

This lesson covers Alma 40-42.

To help class members gain a greater understanding of life after death and the mercy that is available to them through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Points to consider.

Why did Alma teach his sons?

Because he was so concerned about the situation of his society that he wanted to innoculate his own children.

Alma 35:15 Now Alma, being grieved for the iniquity of his people, yea for the wars, and the bloodsheds, and the contentions which were among them; and having been to declare the word, or sent to declare the word, among all the people in every city; and seeing that the hearts of the people began to wax hard, and that they began to be offended because of the strictness of the word, his heart was exceedingly sorrowful.

How similar is this to our societies today? The hearts of the people are hardened to the point that they don't want to even hear about God. In the U.S. and other countries, God is effectively banned from schools and public spaces. Many people in society are offended because of the strictness of the word of God. We see this all around us.

Think of what it means to be offended in the first place. "It is reported that President Brigham Young once said that he who takes offense when no offense was intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense was intended is usually a fool." Think of people who have said they're offended by what religious people say and/or do. Do they have a legitimate cause for concern, or do they just not like the message because it may implicate them?

Alma 35:16 Therefore, he caused that his sons should be gathered together, that he might give unto them every one his charge, separately, concerning the things pertaining unto righteousness. And we have an account of his commandments, which he gave unto them according to his own record.

Hopefully none of us are offended by "things pertaining unto righteousness." And do we keep records (journals) of what goes on in our families?


Although this lesson focuses on the resurrection and atonement, I like to think about how it exemplifies the ninth Article of Faith:

9 We believe
-all that God has revealed, (scriptures and what God has told us individually)
-all that He does now reveal, and we believe (living prophets and what God tells us individually)
-that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. (future revelations to the prophets and us as individuals)

Alma cited Abinadi extensively in his teachings to his sons. For example, he cited Abinadi's comments about the blessings and cursings on the land (which I discuss in Lesson 31). He also quoted Abinadi's teachings about the resurrection. There's a nice analysis of this link between Alma and Abinadi here. You can download the .pdf. I put a copy of the chart below. In that chart, the comparison doesn't start until Chapter 39, but in lesson 31, I show Alma started referring to Abinadi sooner than that.

Corianton apparently was influenced by the teachings of Nehor, who "testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life." (Alma 1:4).

Because Alma taught about judgment and good and evil, Corianton was apparently confused by the contradiction between the teachings of Alma and Nehor's teachings. Perhaps Corianton committed sin because he had been persuaded that everyone would have eternal life in the end. This teaching may account for the situation in society that concerned Alma so much.

To respond, Alma clarified what the resurrection is, what the first resurrection is, and what it means to have something restored. In Alma 41:15, Alma clarifies that " the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all."

Alma’s Use of Abinadi When Speaking to Corianton
(Organized in the Order of Alma’s References)

Case #
Alma’s Words
Abinadi’s Words
Times Exact Phrase Is Used Elsewhere in Scripture*
Case 1
Alma 39:8
Mosiah 17:10
Stand as a testi­mony against you at the last day
Case 2
Alma 39:15– 16, 18
Mosiah 15:10–11,18
Salvation unto his people
1 (Luke 1:77)
Case 3
Alma 40:2
Mosiah 16:10
Put on immortal­ity, . . . put on incorruption
1 (1 Corinthians 15:53–54)
Case 4
Alma 40:13
Mosiah 16:2
Gnashing of teeth
23 (but only once in the Book of Mormon)
Case 5
Alma 40:13
Mosiah 15:26
They have no part
Case 6
Alma 40:15–17
Mosiah 15:21–26
First resurrection
9 (Revelation 20:5, 6; Mosiah 18:9; D&C 45:54; 63:18; 76:64; 132:19 [twice], 26)
Case 7
Alma 40:16– 20; 41:2
Mosiah 15:21
Resurrection of Christ
3 (Acts 2:31; Hela­man 14:17; 3 Nephi 6:20)
Case 8
Alma 40:21
Mosiah 16:10
Brought to stand before God . . . be judged . . . accord­ing to their works
Case 9
Alma 40:21– 23, 26
Mosiah 15:24, 26–27
Bringeth about the restoration
0 (but 2 Nephi 30:8 is nearly identical)
Case 10
Alma 42:9–11
Mosiah 16:4
Carnal, sensual, devilish
2 (Moses 5:13, 6:49)
Case 11
Alma 42:11
Mosiah 15:19
Were it not for the redemption
Case 12
Alma 42:15
Mosiah 15:9
Demands of justice
2 (Alma 34:16 [twice], and 2 Nephi 9:26 is nearly identical)
Case 13
Alma 42:26
Mosiah 15:19
Prepared from the foundation of the world
9 (Mosiah 4:6, 7; Mosiah 18:13; Alma 12:30; 13:3, 5; 18:39; 22:13; Ether 3:14)

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Lesson 22: Have Ye Received His Image in Your Countenances?

This lesson covers chapters 5-7 of Alma. Alma "began to deliver the word of God unto the people, first in the land of Zarahemla, and from thence throughout all the land." (Alma 5:1).

The scriptures don't say that he started in the city of Zarahemla, but we infer he did because verse 2 relates what he taught the people there. In Chapters 6-7, Alma crosses the river to teach in in Gideon. The text implies this city/land was at some distance from Zarahemla because Alma could not visit when he was serving at the judgment-seat. The people of Gideon had different issues from those living in the city of Zarahemla. Generally they were more faithful in Gideon, which I infer means they were not as divided over issues of wealth. 

In 5:27, Alma asks the people if they have been sufficiently humble. Next he asks "are ye stripped of pride?" Then, in verse 29, "Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy?" Later, in verse 54-55, Alma focuses on the "wearing of costly apparel" and "supposing that yea are better one than another," "turning your backs on the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them."

These questions suggest the people in the city of Zarahemla considered themselves wealthy. A look at the Iowa location of Zarahemla might help explain why the people there would have been wealthy.

First, if (as I think) the Mulekites sailed up the Mississippi River, they would have had to stop at the Des Moines rapids, which are just south of the Nauvoo area.

 When we look at the river bed, we see that these rapids near Keokuk, Iowa, are the first place where the shallows make passage of a large ship impossible. It makes sense that the Mulekites would have disembarked here and "dwelt there from that time forth." At this point of the Mississippi River, you can cross on foot much of the year. It would make an excellent trading area.  

When Joseph Smith purchased the land for Nauvoo, he actually purchased far more land across the river in Iowa, as this map from the Joseph Smith papers shows.

If this area--designated in the 1800s as the "half-breed trace"--was the location of the ancient city of Zarahemla, the location could explain why the people were wealthy and why they had problems with pride, etc. (Of course, every human society has problems of pride, envy, etc. However, Alma focuses particularly on this when he's in the city of Zarahemla.)

People ask if there is archaeological evidence for a city in this area. There is archaeological evidence of settlements along the river, north and south of this site, that date to Book of Mormon times, but nothing that can be identified as the city of Zarahemla, per se. 

The city of Zarahemla and its inhabitants were burned (3 Nephi 8:8). Later, the city was built again (4 Nephi 1:8) but the city is not mentioned afterward. It could have been destroyed again, of course. The river could have flooded the city, deposited sand over it, or any number of other possibilities. For now, I note that it's a location that seems to fit the text nicely.

Another consideration is that D&C 125 hints at this site as the location of ancient Zarahemla.


Another interesting aspect of Alma 5 is the mention of sheep, shepherds, and wolves. There must have been sheep in the city of Zarahemla. We've already stipulated that, because the Nephites "strictly" observed the Law of Moses, but Alma emphasizes the point is repeated here.

v. 37: ye that have professed to have known the ways of righteousness nevertheless have gone astray, as sheep having no shepherd
v. 38: ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd.
v. 39: And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye?
v. 59: For what shepherd is there among you having many sheep doth not watch over them, that the wolves enter not and devour his flock? 
v. 60: if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep; and he commandeth you that ye suffer no ravenous wolf to enter among you, that ye may not be destroyed.

These metaphors would be ineffective if the people living in Zarahemla did not have sheep. In verse 59, Alma abandons the metaphorical use and speaks directly to actual shepherds. 

Some species of sheep that are indigenous to North America have survived to the present day, including the Bighorn and Dall. Anciently, their populations were in the millions. Although confined mainly to the western US, Canada, and northern Mexico.

Wolves are indigenous to North America and were ubiquitous throughout North America before the Europeans arrived. They were part of Native American Indian legends and mythology. Their devastating impact on domesticated animals led to federal government programs to eradicate wolves from grazing areas. See this article.

Because Alma discussed wolves in this sense, I think it's possible that whatever domesticated sheep the Nephites had--whether related to the other indigenous North American species or species Lehi brought with him--were killed off after the destruction of the Nephite society. The situation could be similar to that of horses, where recent research has shown the traditional explanation for horses--that the Spanish brought them all--is not consistent with the actual records. See excellent article on horses:

Friday, June 10, 2016

Lesson 21: Alma-Did Judge Righteous Judgments

This lesson covers Mosiah 29-Alma 4. These chapters address the question of what system of government is most likely to preserve peace and righteousness, a topic covered well in the lesson manual.

Alma 2 discusses Amlici's attempted insurrection. Alma leads the Nephite armies across the River Sidon to battle against Amlici and his army (the Amlicites). Although Alma's men prevail, the Amlicites who survive flee southward. Alma's spies follow them until they see the Amlicites join with a Lamanite army. Then the spies hurry back to camp, alert Alma, and a battle ensues.

You may be surprised to know that Alma 2 has generated a tremendous amount of discussion about Book of Mormon geography. The question is whether the Amlicites--and Alma's spies after them--crossed the River Sidon. Many people think they did, although the text doesn't say so. I disagree: I think the Amlicites and the spies stayed on the eastern side of Sidon.

The text frames the battle as part of a race to the city of Zarahemla: "except we make haste they obtain possession of our city, and our fathers, and our wives, and our children be slain." (Alma 2:25)

Verse 27 describes how the battle took place:

27 And behold, as they were crossing the river Sidon, the Lamanites and the Amlicites, being as numerous almost, as it were, as the sands of the sea, came upon them to destroy them.

I think this verse means Alma and his men were crossing the river from east to west, and the Lamanites came upon them from behind. Others think this verse means the Lamanites were already on the western bank. I've had numerous discussions on this point, and I think both interpretations are plausible, depending on what assumptions you make.

I adopted the first one because it makes more sense to me conceptually, and because the text specifies that Alma crossed the river initially to attack the Amlicites, and then crossed it again to defend Zarahemla, but it never mentions anyone else crossing the river.

In a way, this is geography minutia. You can read the debates online. For me,the point of this account is how much effort Alma exerted to protect and save the liberty of his people.

Still, here's how I envision the battle taking place:

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Lesson 20: My Soul Is Pained No More

This chapter covers Mosiah 25-27. In Chapter 25, king Mosiah causes the people to gather together. I find this interesting because I infer the people came in from throughout the land of Zarahemla; this was not only a gathering of the residents of the city of Zarahemla.

Alma relates the story of the people of Limhi. Then Limhi and all his people desired baptism. The text doesn't say where this took places except "into the water," but I infer the people were baptized in the river, much as the early LDS were baptized in the Mississippi River.

I also think it's interesting that Mosiah 25:23 says "there were seven churches in the land of Zarahemla." We can't tell if a "church" in this sense was like a stake or a ward, but here is the description:

20 Now this was done because there were so many people that they could not all be governed by one teacher; neither could they all hear the word of God in one assembly;
 21 Therefore they did assemble themselves together in different bodies, being called churches; every church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma.

This leads me to conclude that the term "church" refers to a "congregation" or "assembly." A congregation would be more like a ward than a stake, IMO. This means the population of Zarahemla may not have been as great as is sometimes proposed. True, there were nonbelievers as well, and for all we know, there were many more nonbelievers than believers. I mention this to suggest that maybe these Nephite cities were not all that large--at least not as large as we often think.

This reminds me of small branches of the Church I've visited throughout the world. No matter how small the congregation, the principles of the Gospel apply equally.

"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Matthew 18:20.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Lesson 19: None Could Deliver Them but the Lord

This lesson covers seven chapters in Mosiah--a lot to cover in one lesson. Most of this discussion is from Moroni's America.

Mosiah 18. 

When Alma “fled from the servants of king Noah” (Mosiah 18:1), he didn’t go far. He “went about privately among the people” to teach the gospel. Those who believed him went to the “place which was called Mormon, having received its name from the king, being in the borders of the land having been infested, by times or at seasons by wild beasts” (Mosiah 18:4).

The place of Mormon has unusual characteristics, being close enough to the city of LehiNephi for Alma to go about privately teaching, yet also in the borders infested by wild beasts. It was notable enough that the King named it, another indication of its proximity. One possible location for the “infested” land is the mountain ranges east of Chattanooga, which are natural borders and would harbor migrating or hibernating animals such as bears or wolves.

Verse 5 offers more description of the place Mormon:  

"5 Now, there was in Mormon a fountain of pure water, and Alma resorted thither, there being near the water a thicket of small trees, where he did hide himself in the daytime from the searches of the king."

You can get an idea of the general geography by looking at this map of the City of Nephi and surrounding areas:

There are plentiful natural springs in this area of Tennessee, some of which are tourist attractions today. The “thicket of small trees” suggests this particular fountain had been cleared, possibly to be developed as a water source.

It turns out there is a particular spring in Tennessee that has healing properties and has played important roles in history. Plus, the area was inhabited around 500 B.C. We're still working on the archaeological details so I won't name it specifically yet, but hopefully we will soon.

The text explains that the king sent spies and found out where Alma was assembling with his followers. [I think the spies took names and told the king, who sent his army to round up Alma’s people from their homes in the city and surrounding areas.]

The Lord warned Alma that the king’s army was coming, so he alerted the people (about 450 of them) and they “departed into the wilderness” (Mosiah 18:34) with their tents and families, as well as their flocks and grain (Mosiah 23:1).

Mosiah 23-24

Although the text does not give us directional information, it seems likely that Alma would move in the direction of Zarahemla—north and west—instead of deeper into Lamanite territory.

They “fled eight days’ journey into the wilderness and they came to a land, yeah even a very beautiful and pleasant land, a land of pure water” (Mosiah 23 3-4). They called the land Helam and “they built a city, which they called the city of Helam” (Mosiah 23: 19-20).

There are many places in Tennessee that fit this description. Most ancient sites have been destroyed, of course. There used to be hundreds of sites along the Tennessee River. The few that remain can give us an idea of what once existed. We also have records from some early explorations of ancient sites that no longer exist. 

One candidate that has been preserved and can be visited today is Pinson Mounds, located approximately 200 miles northeast of Chattanooga and 28 miles from the Tennessee River. The 400-acre site is elevated above wetlands and a river that form its southern border. Over 30 mounds were constructed here over a long period of time. The probable age of some features is between about 100 B.C. and A.D. 260,[i] a reasonable fit for Alma’s early development in about 145 B.C. As is typical of many sites, mounds were added and developed in later years. The site includes the “second-tallest mound in the United States (Sauls Mound, at 72 feet) and a circular earthen enclosure similar to earthworks found in the Ohio Valley.”[ii]

Could Alma and his people travel 200 miles in 8 days? That’s an average of 25 miles per day, or about 8-10 hours of walking (or canoeing) at 2.5 to 3 miles per hour. Because they were fleeing from the Lamanites, this seems a reasonable estimate, even for a large group with animals. Alma’s people settled in for two decades.

About 20 to 24 years later, though, the army of Lamanites that was chasing Limhi’s people (and had found the priests of king Noah in the land of Amulon) came across Alma’s land of Helam. Alma surrendered to the army. An initially strange thing about this account is that this army chased the people of Limhi for two days before losing their tracks, at which point “they were lost in the wilderness” (Mosiah 22:16). How could they become lost after two days when they were following the tracks of a group of people? Even if they got lost, couldn’t they have simply turned around and made their way back to LehiNephi?

One possible answer is they feared being killed by the king of the Lamanites if they returned empty-handed. We learn in Mosiah 23 that they “had followed after the people of king Limhi” and “had been lost in the wilderness for many days” (Mosiah 23:30). This suggests they did not stop the pursuit of Limhi when they lost the tracks. Maybe they continued down the river. Every fork in a river must be explored, a laborious process.

At some point, the Lamanites stumbled upon the priests of king Noah, led by Amulon. Amulon and his brethren joined the Lamanites, but for some reason, Amulon also didn’t know the way back to the land of Nephi.

Continuing with the proposed geography, if the Lamanites had chased king Limhi’s people to the Duck River, they would have eventually reached the Tennessee River at a point about 30 miles downriver from a point due east of Pinson Mounds. They could have found Amulon in that area, a successful discovery that would have made it possible to return to their king. Hence, they “were traveling in the wilderness in search of the land of Nephi when they discovered the land of Helam” (Mosiah 23:35).

This sequence suggests they didn’t recognize the Tennessee River—the way back to the land of Nephi. Maybe they followed tributaries into the land of Helam. Alma had no problem showing them “the way that led to the land of Nephi” (Mosiah 23:37), which suggests the “way” was obvious, even though the Lamanites had missed it. What obvious “way” could there be other than a river? Alma would simply have to lead the Lamanite army to the Tennessee River and explain they needed to go upriver.
Of course, this is merely one of many scenarios possible in this area of the country. There are many other rivers and archaeological sites in Tennessee where the events described in the text could have taken place. Pinson Mounds is plausible, based on the text, and I like it because it can be visited today. Most ruins from this time period have been destroyed. Other plausible alternative settings for the land of Helam would likely be about the same distance northwest from the city of Nephi.

[i] Robert C. Mainfort, Jr., Pinson Mounds: Middle Woodland Ceremonialsim in the Midsouth (University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, 2013),  p. 197.
[ii] Robert C. Mainfort, Jr., and Mary L, Kwas, “Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park,” The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, online at 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Lesson 15: Eternally Indebted to Your Heavenly Father

This lesson covers Mosiah 1-3. There is a lot of material in here relevant to historicity and geography, but I'm only going to mention two things.

First, again from Moroni's America, "King Benjamin taught his sons the importance of language, but apparently the writing system was difficult. Lehi could read the engravings on the brass plates because he “had been taught in the language of the Egyptians” (verse 4), and yet the plates contained the Hebrew Torah. One needed to understand the “learning” of the Jews and the “language” of the Egyptians (1 Nephi 1:2). Brother Sorenson explains this:

"King Benjamin wanted his three sons to become ‘men of understanding,’ so he ‘caused that they should be taught in all the language of his fathers, . . . that they might know concerning the prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers.’ (Mosiah 1:2). The expression “in all the language” can only mean that different degrees of mastery were possible. He wanted the princes to master the system to the maximum degree, not to have just a superficial knowledge... The substantial time investment required to attain mastery of the texts explains the later observation that “some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches” (3 Nephi 6:12). Unlike Benjamin’s princes, the Nephite poor could not afford the years of study, nor the mentors, needed to master full literacy." [i]

Without a written language, “even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things or even do not believe them when they are taught them because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct” (verse 5).

Benjamin’s declaration indicates that the Lamanites, like the Mulekites before Mosiah taught them, did not have a written language. This is consistent with the experience in North America, where there is little evidence of written language, and inconsistent with Mesoamerica, where there is abundant evidence of written language.

The second thing King Benjamin taught is very relevant to questions of historicity and evidence. Look at verse 6:

 O my sons, I would that ye should remember that these sayings are true, and also that these records are true. And behold, also the plates of Nephi, which contain the records and the sayings of our fathers from the time they left Jerusalem until now, and they are true; and we can know of their surety because we have them before our eyes.

The last clause was no doubt important for Joseph Smith; he had the plates sitting on the table, under a cloth. He didn't translate directly from the plates, but their presence gave him and Oliver the assurance--the surety--that the words they were recording were true.

Likewise, in our day, we have the physical evidence of the Book of Mormon civilization before our eyes, helping us know of the surety of the words in the text.

[i] John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, p. 216-218.

Lesson 14: For a Wise Purpose

This lesson covers Enos, Jarom, Omni, and Words of Mormon. These four short books are important for many reasons, but I'm going to focus just on what Omni tells us about the geography issues.

First, we learn that King Mosiah led his people from the land of Nephi to the land of Zarahemla to avoid the approaching Lamanites. In Omni 1:12, Mosiah was "warned of the Lord that he should flee out of the land of Nephi." In verse 13, "they were led by the power of his arm through the wilderness until they came down into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla."

By now, I hope everyone can envision this as leaving the Chattanooga area for Illinois, like this map shows:

Mosiah (blue arrows) leaving Nephi for Zarahemla to avoid Lamanites (black arrows)

Although the text doesn't specify that they went to the city of Zarahemla, we assume they eventually did. Reciting from memory because his people had no written language, Zarahemla related the history of his people, going back to the time of Zedekiah, king of Judah. They (we call them the Mulekites) crossed "the great waters into the land where Mosiah discovered them and they had dwelt there from that time forth."

This fits nicely with D&C 125 because an ocean-going vessel can travel all the way up the Mississippi until it reaches the Des Moines rapids, just south of Nauvoo. The Mulekites would have had to stop there, and it's such a favorable location, they would have no reason to migrate elsewhere (although they expanded beyond the city of Zarahemla throughout what was known as the "land of Zarahemla").

Mulekites cross Atlantic, sail up Mississippi, settle in Zarahemla across from Nauvoo
Corps of Engineers graphic of Mississippi River bed,
showing the Des Moines rapids as the first impassable part heading north

The next cool thing is Coriantumr's encounter with the people of Zarahemla. To understand this, we need to go to Ether a little.

The next section is taken from Moroni's America:


Omni 1:20-22

And it came to pass in the days of Mosiah there was a large stone brought unto him with engravings on it and he did interpret the engravings by the gift and power of God. And they gave an account of one Coriantumr and the slain of his people. And Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons. It also spake a few words concerning his fathers. And his first parents came out from the tower at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people and the severity of the Lord fell upon them according to his judgments which are just and their bones lay scattered in the land northward.

The sequence of events shows that Zarahemla had not mentioned Coriantumr or the Jaredites to Mosiah before the stone was brought forth. The parenthetical—“And Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons”—is ambiguous. The information could have been taken from the engravings, or perhaps the bringing of the stone prompted Zarahemla to tell Mosiah that his people had discovered Coriantumr. The text doesn’t say when Coriantumr lived. It could have been during Zarahemla’s lifetime or much earlier.[i]
Either way, there is no indication that the people of Zarahemla had themselves discovered any Jaredite remains. Everything Mosiah learned about the Jaredites at this point came from his translation of the engravings on the stone. This is important because it corroborates Amaleki’s statement that the Lord led the Mulekites to the land where they settled and they never left that land. If they went directly to Iowa, then they never visited the land where the Jaredites lived and were ultimately destroyed—i.e., Cumorah.

The printed text does not retain the capitalization found in the printer’s manuscript on the assumption that capitalization was random. The printer’s manuscript capitalizes the word “Northward” here, suggesting it may be a proper noun. Some instances in the printer’s manuscript capitalize northward, while others do not.

[NOTE: The account in Omni is straightforward, but some commentators have confused it with what happened when King Limhi sent a search party of 43 men who inadvertently discovered the Jaredites and their record in Mosiah 8:7-12. I will address that in the Mosiah chapter.]

What about Coriantumr? How did the people of Zarahemla discover him if they didn’t discover the land where the Jaredites were destroyed? And where did the stone come from?
Ether, the final Jaredite prophet, had told Coriantumr that if he didn’t repent, “he should only live to see the fulfilling of the prophecies which had been spoken concerning another people receiving the land for their inheritance and Coriantumr should receive a burial by them and every soul should be destroyed save it were Coriantumr.” Ether 13:21. Just a few verses previously, Ether had also prophesied about the New Jerusalem.

2 For behold, they [the Jaredites] rejected all the words of Ether; for he truly told them of all things, from the beginning of man; and that after the waters had receded from off the face of this land it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord; wherefore the Lord would have that all men should serve him who dwell upon the face thereof;
3 And that it was the place of the New Jerusalem, which should come down out of heaven, and the holy sanctuary of the Lord.
4 Behold, Ether saw the days of Christ, and he spake concerning a New Jerusalem upon this land. (Ether 13:2-4)

As the sole survivor of the final battle, living all by himself in Cumorah (Ether having either died or declined to join him), Coriantumr surely would have remembered Ether’s prophecies. Ether correctly prophesied that Coriantumr would be the sole survivor; wouldn’t Coriantumr therefore believe that the New Jerusalem would come? Ether had referred to it coming to “this land” which was “a chosen land,” just as he told Coriantumr that “another people” would receive “the land for their inheritance.” Coriantumr could reasonably conclude that the site of the New Jerusalem would be where he would meet the new people who were to receive the land for their inheritance.
From D&C 84:1-5, we know the New Jerusalem will be “in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri.” How would Coriantumr get there from Cumorah?

One route would be to travel south on the Allegheny River to the Ohio River, then south and west to the Mississippi River on his way to the Missouri River, which leads directly to the New Jerusalem. Along the way, probably while on the Mississippi, he was apparently found by the people of Zarahemla, who took him in for nine months before he died.

As for the stone, I think Coriantumr carved it during those nine months he lived with the people of Zarahemla. There is no indication in Omni that Coriantumr communicated with the people. They would have had completely different languages. Unlike the situation with Mosiah, who at least shared a common Israelite ancestry and culture with the people of Zarahemla, nothing about Coriantumr’s Jaredite culture would be familiar. The people of Zarahemla did not keep records and apparently had no writing system, since Zarahemla recounted his genealogy by memory. Coriantumr, having seen another of Ether’s prophecies fulfilled—that he would see another people receive the land for their inheritance—would have wanted to leave a record of his people and his own life. Engraving a stone would probably be the only method available to do so. (Even if he knew Ether kept a record, Coriantumr would have no way of knowing what became of Ether’s plates.) Coriantumr knew the people of Zarahemla wouldn’t understand his engravings, but figured that eventually, someone would decipher it.

His hopes were realized when Mosiah arrived.

[i] Estimates for the final battle of the Jaredites range from 580 B.C. to 400 B.C. (Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting, p. 119) or as late as 200 B.C. (Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers, p. 391). This question is addressed in the Mosiah and Ether chapters.