Zarahemla, Iowa: A Brief Critique of the Heartland Geography “Zarahemla”

Zarahemla, Iowa.

Heartlanders quote D&C 125 to show that, in their opinion, the Lord revealed the ancient location of Zarahemla:

Let them build up a city unto my name upon the land opposite the city of Nauvoo, and let the name of Zarahemla be named upon it. (D&C 125:3)

Even though there is nothing about this passage that would lead one to conclude that the Lord is identifying the ancient location of Zarahemla, in their desperation Heartlanders somehow seem to think that that is exactly the case. The more likely interpretation (and the correct one, as we will see) is that the Lord was simply naming the location after the Book of Mormon Zarahemla, much like other cities were named after ancient cities of renown (Carthage, Ill., Bountiful Utah, and Rome, TX come to mind).

My friend Tyler Livingston pointed me to a crushing argument against the Heartland interpretation of this passage, an argument by Matt Roper which I had previously overlooked. The area across from Nauvoo, which the Lord would dub “Zarahemla”, was in fact already called “Zarahemla” by some of the saints prior to the revelation of D&C 125, in March 1841. The Lord was merely using a name for the area which had already come into use by the saints, no doubt naming it after the Book of Mormon Zarahemla.

On July 2, 1839 (at least a year and eight months prior to D&C 125), Brigham Young recorded in his diary:

“Brothers Joseph, Hyrum and others came over the river to Montrose, and went out on the prairie and looked out the sight for a city for the Saints, which was called Zarahemla.”

The Prophet’s cousin, Elias Smith, also referred to a “conference at Zarahemla” in August of 1840 (that’s eight months prior to D&C 125). Matt Roper’s original publication and citations for these can be found here. The obviously correct interpretation is that the Lord was simply using the name already in use by the saints for the area, not revealing the ancient location of the Book of Mormon Zarehemla.

For more information on the community of Zarahemla, across the river from Nauvoo, see this short description at the Joseph Smith Papers:

Also see here, in the Church History study guide:

And finally, here is a video produced by FairMormon which discusses this issue:

John Sorenson’s Book of Mormon Geography in Google Maps

Finally there is a way to really explore John Sorenson’s Book of Mormon geography. Made popular by his 1985 publication “An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon“, Sorenson’s geographic model for the Book of Mormon has withstood the test of time and remains the preeminent geographic model for Book of Mormon events. Unfortunately, exploring and testing his geographic model in an accessible way has proven difficult given the arrangement of data and maps in his books.

I have scoured Sorenson’s book for his geographic correlations and have mapped them in Google Earth and saved the map for public consumption. Click on the individual pins for information on the archaeological/modern geographical location that Sorenson ties it to, as well as the page number in his book where he justifies it. This is meant to be a faithful reproduction of John Sorenson’s geographic model, not necessarily an endorsement of it (though I do believe he has brought us close to the truth). One of the advantages to doing it in Google Maps, as opposed to Google Earth (which is easily done using the same .KML file) is that you can turn on the “terrain” base map, which is a powerful way of understanding the lay of the land.

Please enjoy, and leave comments about what you think of the map.

You can play with the map below, or follow this link for the full view (which is much easier to use):

P.S. Sorenson’s map should not be explored without also considering Brant Gardner’s essay on Nephite directional systems.

P.S.S. if you’d like the .KML file for this map please let me know.

“Jershon” and Book of Mormon Geography

The story of the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi (ANL) is one of many examples which demonstrates why a basic knowledge of Book of Mormon geography enriches ones reading of the text.

Upon seeking refuge among the Nephites from their bloodthirsty Lamanite brethren, the Nephites grant land to the people of ANL in Jershon “which joins Bountiful”, and said, “we will set our armies between the land Jershon and the land Nephi, that we may protect our brethren in the land Jershon” (Alma 27:22-23).

Among other examples, Alma 22:29 establishes Bountiful as north of Zarahemla, and Zarahemla as north of the Land of Nephi. Not only do the Nephites grant a portion of their land to these people, they find them land as far away from the Lamanites as was possible in order to keep them safe. This fact is not explicitly spelled out in the text, and without a basic knowledge of Book of Mormon geography it would go unnoticed.

Postscript: A related topic is the meaning of “Jershon” in Hebrew (“to inherit”):

The “Head” of the River Sidon vs The “Head” of Lehi’s River

If you don’t need an introduction to the debate over what the meaning of “head” is in reference to the River Sidon, you can skip down to the bottom of this post.

The Heartland Geographic Model for the Book of Mormon looks something like this:

As you can see, the “head” of the River Sidon is not a “head” at all, but rather a “confluence” of two rivers. At the Mormon Evidence Facebook group, Jake Hilton (who I’m almost certain is the administrator of the group), argues the following:

1828 Noah Webster’s Dictionary: “Head” – Definition #23 = “Conflux.” Look up the definition for “conflux” and you get “A flowing together; a meeting of two or more currents of a fluid.” It also says for you to see “confluence.” If you look up “confluence” in the same dictionary you get “A flowing together; the meeting or junction of two or more streams of water, or other fluid; also, the place of meeting; as the confluence of the Tigris and the Frat, or of the Ohio and Mississippi.” And there you have it. In 1828, as Joseph Smith was translating the record, the conflux of the Ohio and the Mississippi was regarded as a “head” of the river.

So, in order to get from “head” to “a meeting of two or more currents of a fluid” we have to use the 23rd definition, and then follow that definition across the dictionary.

Here is the word “head” in the 1828 dictionary:

Here is the word “conflux” in the 1828 dictionary:

There have been various arguments against this interpretation, starting with the fact that the river seems to flows from Manti through Zarahemla, and that Manti is south of Zarahemla and the text seems to indicate that Manti is higher in elevation than Zarahemla.

The “Head” of the River in Lehi’s Dream

However there is another bit of evidence in the Book of Mormon that I personally haven’t seen used yet, and which I think ought to be considered. 1 Nephi 8:13-14 says the following:

13 And as I cast my eyes round about, that perhaps I might discover my family also, I beheld a river of water; and it ran along, and it was near the tree of which I was partaking the fruit.

14 And I looked to behold from whence it came; and I saw the head thereof a little way off; and at the head thereof I beheld your mother Sariah, and Sam, and Nephi; and they stood as if they knew not whither they should go.

Here we have Lehi, in a vision, associating the “head” of the river with the place “from whence it came”. This is an obvious blow to the idea that the “head” of a river in the Book of Mormon is anything but its starting point.

I don’t want to overdo it though, because it isn’t the case that this one example of the use of  “head” in reference to a river should dictate the way we interpret it in all other cases. The immediate and broader contexts of individual instances should be taken into account. However, we do know for a fact that in at least one case in the Book of Mormon the “head” of a river unambiguously refers to the place “from whence it came”. On the flip side, there are no examples anywhere in the Book of Mormon where the “head” of a river unambiguously refers to a “confluence”.



Can A Man See God?

I failed to mention here an article that I authored which was published by the Interpreter last November.

Abstract: Joseph Smith’s First Vision is a favorite target of critics of the LDS Church. Evangelical critics in particular, such as Matt Slick of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, seek to discredit the First Vision on biblical grounds. This article explores biblical theophanies and argues that Joseph’s vision fits squarely with the experience of ancient prophets, especially those who are given the rare blessing of piercing the veil of light and glory, the Hebrew kabod, that God dwells within.

The backstory on this paper is pretty simple. I stumbled upon a Youtube video of Matt Slick, of CARM, attempting to debate a group of LDS youth who were entering a temple in Idaho. He whipped out 1 Timothy 6:16, a strategy which I’ve personally experienced in my limited interactions with Slick online. Years ago when I first encountered Slick’s arguments along these lines I pounded out a few preliminary thoughts in this old blog post. Many of those early ideas made into my paper. The paper is primarily apologetic, but it involves some exploration of biblical themes which was very interesting and educational for me as I researched the topic.

I am a working professional in a completely irrelevant field, so I am not an expert on the issue. I don’t anticipate publishing more essays at a steady pace due to time constraints, but I do hope to publish occasionally throughout the years.

Omission of Section 132 from the D&C

A fascinating bit if history on Section 132 that I was previously unaware of:

“Generating even more controversy in discussing the revelation was an officially sanctioned scriptural work entitled, Latter-day Revelations: Selections from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Published in 1930 under the imprint of the LDS Church, the volume was actually compiled by James E. Talmage, who by this time was a senior apostle in the Quorum of the Twelve. This work was characterized as containing “Sections and parts of Sections from the Doctrine and Covenants, the sections comprising scriptures of general an enduring value…”. Its purpose, in the words of Talmage, was “to make the strictly doctrinal parts of the Doctrine and Covenants of easy access and reduce its bulk.” Accordingly some ninety-five sections of the Doctrine and Covenants were completely omitted, along with parts of twenty-one others. The most noteworthy of these omissions was the entire text of Section 132! Fundamentalist Mormons were outraged, “accusing the [LDS] church of changing the scriptures.” In response, then Church President Heber J. Grant, ordered the work immediately “withdrawn” from sale and the remaining copies “shredded to avoid further conflict with the fundamentalists,” according to Talmage biographer, James P. Harris.”

Newell G. Bringhurst, “Section 132: Contents and Legacy” in The Persistence of Polygamy, (Independence: John Whitmer Books: 2010), 83-84.

Progression Between Kingdoms

I thought I’d post here a few quotes in favor of the concept of progression/regression between kingdoms. I began to look up all the quotes until I discovered that the folks at the New Cool Thang blog had already done all the hard work. I reproduce the quotes here for my own benefit so I can always find them in the future when the need arises, giving the credit to others for finding them.

“The brethren direct me to say that the Church has never announced a definite doctrine upon this point. Some of the brethren have held the view that it was possible in the course of progression to advance from one glory to another, invoking the principle of eternal progression; others of the brethren have taken the opposite view. But as stated, the Church has never announced a definite doctrine on this point.”

-Secretary to the First Presidency in a 1952 letter; and again in 1965

“None would inherit this earth when it became celestial and translated into the presence of God but those who would be crowned as Gods — all others would have to inherit another kingdom — they would eventually have the privilege of proving themselves worthy and advancing to a celestial kingdom but it would be a slow process [progress?].”

-Brigham Young, in Wilford Woodruff Journal, 5 Aug 1855

“Once a person enters these glories there will be eternal progress in the line of each of these particular glories, but the privilege of passing from one to another (though this may be possible for especially gifted and faithful characters) is not provided for.”

-Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era 14:87 [November 1910]

“I am not a strict constructionalist, believing that we seal our eternal progress by what we do here. It is my belief that God will save all of His children that he can: and while, if we live unrighteously here, we shall not go to the other side in the same status, so to speak, as those who lived righteously; nevertheless, the unrighteous will have their chance, and in the eons of the eternities that are to follow, they, too, may climb to the destinies to which they who are righteous and serve God, have climbed to those eternities that are to come.”

-J. Reuben Clark, Church News, 23 April 1960, p. 3

“It is reasonable to believe, in the absence of direct revelation by which alone absolute knowledge of the matter could be acquired, that, in accordance with God’s plan of eternal progression, advancement from grade to grade within any kingdom, and from kingdom to kingdom, will be provided for. But if the recipients of a lower glory be enabled to advance, surely the intelligences of higher rank will not be stopped in their progress; and thus we may conclude, that degrees and grades will ever characterize the kingdoms of our God. Eternity is progressive; perfection is relative; the essential feature of God’s living purpose is its associated power of eternal increase.”

-James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith [1899 edition] pp. 420-421

You that are mourning about your children straying away will have your sons and your daughters. If you succeed in passing through these trials and afflictions and receive a resurrection, you will, by the power of the Priesthood, work and labor, as the Son of God has, until you get all your sons and daughters in the path of exaltation and glory. This is just as sure as that the sun rose this morning over yonder mountains. Therefore, mourn not because all your sons and daughters do not follow in the path that you have marked out to them, or give heed to your counsels. Inasmuch as we succeed in securing eternal glory, and stand as saviors, and as kings and priests to our God, we will save our posterity. When Jesus went through that terrible torture on the cross, He saw what would be accomplished by it; He saw that His brethren and sistersCthe sons and daughters of GodCwould be gathered in, with but few exceptionsCthose who committed the unpardonable sin. That sacrifice of the divine Being was effectual to destroy the powers of Satan. I believe that every man and woman who comes into this life and passes through it, that life will be a success in the end. It may not be in this life. It was not with the antedeluvians. They passed through troubles and afflictions; 2,500 years after that, when Jesus went to preach to them, the dead heard the voice of the Son of God and they lived. They found after all that it was a very good thing that they had conformed to the will of God in leaving the spiritual life and passing through this world.

Lorenzo Snow, MS 56:49-53; Collected Discourses 3:364-65.

The question of advancement within the great divisions of glory
celestial, terrestrial, and telestial; as also the question of
advancement from one sphere of glory to another remains to be
considered. In the revelation from which we have summarized what has
been written here, in respect to the different degrees of glory, it is
said that those of the terrestrial glory will be ministered unto by
those of the celestial; and those of the telestial will be ministered
unto by those of the terrestrial—that is, those of the higher glory
minister to those of a lesser glory. I can conceive of no reason for
all this administration of the higher to the lower, unless it be for
the purpose of advancing our Father’s children along the lines of
eternal progression. Whether or not in the great future, full of so
many possibilities now hidden from us, they of the lesser glories
after education and advancement within those spheres may at last
emerge from them and make their way to the higher degrees of glory
until at last they attain to the highest, is not revealed in the
revelations of God, and any statement made on the subject must partake
more or less of the nature of conjecture. But if it be granted that
such a thing is possible, they who at the first entered into the
celestial glory—having before them the privilege also of eternal
progress—have been moving onward, so that the relative distance
between them and those who have fought their way up from the lesser
glories may be as great when the latter have come into the degrees of
celestial glory in which the righteous at first stood, as it was at
the commencement. Thus: Those whose faith and works are such only as
to enable them to inherit a telestial glory, may arrive at last where
those whose works in this life were such as to enable them to entrance
into the celestial kingdom—they may arrive where these were, but never
where they are.”

B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God 1:391-392.

Some years ago I was in Washington, D.C., with President Harold B. Lee. Early one morning he called me to come into his hotel room. He was sitting in his robe reading Gospel Doctrine, by President Joseph F. Smith, and he said, “Listen to this!

“ ‘Jesus had not finished his work when his body was slain, neither did he finish it after his resurrection from the dead; although he had accomplished the purpose for which he then came to the earth, he had not fulfilled all his work. And when will he? Not until he has redeemed and saved every son and daughter of our father Adam that have been or ever will be born upon this earth to the end of time, except the sons of perdition. That is his mission. We will not finish our work until we have saved ourselves, and then not until we shall have saved all depending upon us; for we are to become saviors upon Mount Zion, as well as Christ. We are called to this mission.’ ” 22

“There is never a time,” the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “when the spirit is too old to approach God. All are within the reach of pardoning mercy, who have not committed the unpardonable sin.” 23

Boyd K. Packer, “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 18