Nauvoo newspaper articles signed by Joseph Smith, place Book of
Mormon events in his own country.
In the fall of 1841, Joseph Smith dictated a letter of thanks to
physician John M. Bernhisel for the
gift of a two volume book, Incidents of Travel in Central America,
Chiapas and Yucatan, by John
Lloyd Stephens. The letter was written in the handwriting of John
Taylor and signed in Joseph’s
name. What does the letter actually tell us about Joseph Smith’s
understanding of Book of Mormon lands?
In the Bernhisel letter, Joseph praises Stephens’ book, saying that
it “corresponds with and
supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon;” Joseph then adds, “I
have read the volumes with the greatest interest and pleasure and
must say that of all histories that have been written pertaining to
the antiquities of this country it is the most correct luminous and
comprehensive.”  You will notice that Joseph mentions antiquities
of his own country. Stephens’ best seller mostly describes incidents
of travel in Central America, hut the bestseller does shine a light
on the history and “antiquities of this country” - the United States
of America. According to Stephens:
“ . . . a new flood of light has poured upon the world, and the
field of American antiquities has been opened.”
“ . . . In our own country, the opening of forests and the discovery
of tumuli or mounds and fortifications, extending in ranges from the
lakes through the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi, mummies in a
cave in Kentucky, the inscription on the rock at Dighton . . . the
ruins of walls and a great city in Arkansas and Wisconsin Territory,
had suggested.. 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.” 
Joseph says he read Stephens’ volumes “with the greatest interest”.
It is unlikely then, that Joseph missed Stephens’ conclusion that
the ruins which he and artist Frederick Catherwood documented, were
relatively recent - not of great antiquity. Stephens devoted an
entire chapter to this point.  Further research has vindicated
Stephens’ assessment on the age of those spectacular Mesoamerican
The Prophet had made several powerful, even scriptural statements
placing Book of Mormon
peoples and events in lands now occupied by the United States. Did
Stephens’ bestseller change
Joseph’s mind about the setting for the Book of Mormon?
It is evident, from Joseph Smith’s July 15, 1842 “AMERICAN
ANTIQUITIES” article, published in the Times and Seasons newspaper,
that Stephens’ writings only served to confirm the Prophet’s
conviction that Book of Mormon events took place in his own country.
Editorials fully endorsed by Joseph Smith in the Times and Seasons
are readily identified by his “ED”. Joseph Smith’s signed articles
discuss in greater detail, discoveries in the American backyard, as
summarized in Stephens’ book: mounds, fortifications, mummies, ruins
of walls, and the remains of earth and timber cities.
In one of several 1842 editorials on Josiah Priest’s American
Antiquities, Joseph Smith places the arrival of the Jaredites in
“the lake country of America” (region of Lake Ontario).  All
of the articles pertaining to Book of Mormon setting signed by
Joseph Smith, are consistent with the view that Book of Mormon
peoples or their descendants, migrated from mound builder territory
to places as far south as Mexico and Central America. None of
Joseph’s signed articles explicitly place Book of Mormon lands in
Central or South America.
In the fall of 1842, Joseph Smith found it necessary to go into
hiding. (D&C 127). Church History scholars agree that even though
Joseph Smith retained the official title of newspaper editor, he was
probably not the acting editor during this episode.  It was
during Joseph Smith’s public absence that several newspaper articles
emerged, doting on Stephens’ bestseller. These conflicting,
exuberant pieces place Book of Mormon sites in Central and South
America. The use of “we” and “us” in the commentaries may indicate
that the articles were the work of more than one person.
The first of these unsigned articles is titled, EXTRACT from
Stephens’ “Incidents of Travel in Central America.”  The
commentary asserts that all of Central America is the Book of
Mormon’s narrow neck of land. The article further alleges that the
mysterious and wonderful ruins of Palenque discovered by Stephens
“are among the mighty works of the Nephites”. Subsequent research
has shown these ruins to be more recent than Book of Mormon times.
On the heel of the EXTRACT article came the “FACTS ARE STUBBORN
THINGS” article.  Joseph Smith is mentioned in the third person
in this piece. This article asserts that Lehi “landed a little south
of the Isthmus of Darien”. This notion does not fit with the final
unsigned article which anachronistically ties Zarahemla or some
other Book of Mormon city, to the Central American ruins at
Quirigua. These ruins are many hundreds of miles northwest of
Panama. It seems absurd to think that elderly Lehi and Sariah landed
a little south of Panama and then trudged over 1,500 miles. packing
their belongings through mosquito infested jungles, to finally
inherit a southern coast of Guatemala.
The final unsigned article titled “ZARAHEMLA”.  blunders in
attributing to Mosiah, words
written by Amaleki in the Book of Mormon. The article implies that
because a large stone with
hieroglyphics on it was found by Stephens at Quirigua, that this has
something to do with the large engraved stone presented to Mosiah.
(Omni 1:20) The article mentions the “small neck of land”, but
strangely, the only isthmus named in the article is the isthmus at
Panama which cannot be the “small neck” if Zarahemla is supposed to
be northwest of it. It is as if the writers of the article confused
the narrow strip of wilderness” south of Zarahemla for the narrow
neck of land. (Alma 22:27, 32).
There is no indication that these conflicting unsigned articles were
intended to be anything more than provocative and interesting press
of the day. They are certainly not canonical. By contrast, an
epistle to the Church from the Prophet in hiding was published in
the same issue as the unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” piece. The epistle,
bearing the Prophet’s signature, is declared by him to be “the word
of the Lord” (D&C 127:10), and has been canonized as D&C 128. It is
this section of LDS scripture, incidentally, which places the land
Cumorah in the Finger Lakes region of western New York. (D&C 128:20)
There is no reference to any of the dubious unsigned articles in
Joseph Smith’s journal. His epistle to the Church, which mentions
Cumorah, is recorded there.
Joseph Smith’s endorsement of the conflicting articles is less
definite than the published works
which bear his signature or “ED”. It is not at all surprising to
find Joseph Smith’s terminology and expressions used in the unsigned
articles. It is entirely possible that the unsigned articles were a
collaborative effort, not unlike Wikipedia. The editing of a single
word by a second contributor can change the direction, tone and
meaning of a sentence, while preserving word-length. Who edited
what, and the extent to which Joseph endorsed all the contents is
The unsigned newspaper articles have not proven very authoritative
in scholarly efforts to
ascertain the Book of Mormon’s original setting. A more fruitful
approach involving statistical
analysis would be to compare components of the literary setting of
the Book of Mormon directly to other works such as the Bible,
Incidents of Travel in Central America and American literature from
the 19tt Century “Mound-Builder” genre. Hebrew Scriptures and
Stephens’ Incidents of Travel in Central America contain references
to monkeys and palm trees. The Book of Mormon does not. Why is that,
and how significant is it? Literature treating North America’s
mysterious mound builders describe ancient encounters with horses
and mastodons. Hmmm, that’s curious! 
[l] The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, compiled and edited by
Dean C. Jessee, S.L.C.,
Deseret Book, 2002, pg. 533.
 Stephens, John Lloyd, Incidents of Travel in Central America, pp.
 ibid, Vol. II, Chapter XXVI, “COMPARATIVE MODERN DATE OF RUINS”,
 Priest, Josiah, American Antiquities. “Traits of the Mosaic
History found among the Azteca
Nations”, pg. 202.
 “Traits of the Mosaic History Found Among the Aztaeca Nations”,
Joseph Smith (editor), Times
and Seasons, June 15, 1842. Vol.3, No. 16, pp. 818-820.
 Roper, Matthew, “Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon:
Historical Antecedents and
Early Interpretations”, section titled
“John Taylor’s View”, BYU Maxwell Institute. 2004.
 Times and Seasons, September 15, 1842, Vol. 3 No. 22, pp,
 ibid, September15, 1842. Vol.3, pp. 92l-922
 ibid, October 1, 1842, Vol. 3, No. 23, pg. 927.
[I0] Matthews. Cornelius, Behemoth: A Legend of the Mound-Builders.
About the Author:
The writer of this article is LD S and has an MS degree in Physics
from the University of Utah. He has a Hebrew language background,
having studied Hebrew in Israel at the Ulpan Akiva, and at the U of
U. He works in the field of medical x-ray devices as an R&D
engineer. He is trained in the methods of Six-Sigma and has
performed statistical comparisons between the Bible and the Book of
Mormon using Minitab software. He is the author of the book Choice
Above All Other Lands, Book of Mormon Covenant Lands According to
the Best Sources and has done considerable research on Times and
Seasons articles relating to Book of Mormon geography.
Choice Above All Other Lands
A new book by author, linguist, W. Vincent Coon.
The book can be purchased on the author's website.
Click here to view Vincent Coon's website
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