Saturday, November 6, 2021

November 1-7: D&C 125-128 part 2

This is the second part of my discussion of this week's Come Follow Me lessons. This post focuses on D&C 128. 

As I mentioned in part 1, D&C 128 provides us with one of the keys to understanding the historicity of the Book of Mormon: the New York Cumorah.

Once we accept the teachings of the prophets about the Hill Cumorah--that the hill in New York where Joseph found the plates is the same hill referenced in Mormon 6:6--we can be confident that the book is a translation of an actual history, involving real people in a real place. 

Rejecting those teachings has led to lots of confusion among Latter-day Saints. 

Let's review the verse.

20 And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book! The voice of Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna, detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light! The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times! (D&C 128:19–20)

It takes a lot of sophistry to reject what Joseph wrote here. 

Everyone in Nauvoo, and everyone who read the Times and Seasons, knew that Joseph was referring to the hill in New York from which he obtained the plates. Just the year before, in 1841, the Times and Seasons had published the part of Letter VII in which Oliver Cowdery explicitly identified that hill as the one in Mormon 6:6.

Only when we take D&C 128:20 out of its historical context can we be confused. 

That's why our M2C take it out of context.

Those scholars, along with their followers and donors, who teach that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica also teach that the "real" Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is not in New York. They teach there are "two Cumorahs," with the "real" Cumorah somewhere in southern Mexico. This is the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, or M2C.

The M2C scholars claim Joseph didn't specify New York in D&C 128:20, so he could have been referencing the hill in southern Mexico. 

I wrote about this recently on another blog, so I'll just repost the comments here.

A recent article in BYU Studies made this statement.

"The only firm link between a specific location on the ground today and the Book of Mormon is the stack of plates Joseph Smith obtained from the Hill Cumorah in upstate New York. At best, such a link tells us only where Moroni, the ancient Nephite prophet who buried the plates, spent some time at some point after his people had been destroyed. It tells us very little, however, about where he or his people had been prior to that."

The logical fallacy here should be obvious, but the author (and the editors) skipped right over it. Some might say this was intentional. I prefer to think it was merely a result of groupthink. The citation cartel doesn't even realize how deeply embedded their M2C mindset is (the same reason why Saints, Volume 1, portrays a false historical narrative present by misrepresenting what early Saints knew about Cumorah).

Obviously a survey article cannot get into a lot of detail, but that doesn't excuse misleading readers with statements such as this about "the only firm link." Another footnote or two could have given readers at least an opportunity to become more fully and accurately informed.

We will spend a moment on this point because it exemplifies the editorial bias of BYU Studies that continues to misled and misinform Latter-day Saints.

The "only firm link" claimed by the article consists of statements made by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery about where Joseph found the plates. No third party observed Joseph obtain the plates. The text itself does not mention a location in modern terms. The stone box containing the plates is not extant. No one other than Joseph and Oliver described detailed personal knowledge of where Joseph obtained the plates. 

Yet the article ignores (and explicitly downplays) what Joseph and Oliver actually told us, which is far more than the location of the plates.


In 1842, Joseph sent a letter to the actual editor of the Times and Seasons, which published the letter in September. The letter, now canonized as D&C 128, includes verse 20:

And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! (Doctrine and Covenants 128:20)

Joseph's shorthand reference to Cumorah is obscure to most Latter-day Saints today because the New York Cumorah has been de-correlated in recent years. But readers in 1842 knew exactly what and where Cumorah was because the year before, in 1841, the Times and Seasons published a specific description of Cumorah. It was a republication of what is known today as Letter VII.

Key point: until Letter VII was published, the location and significance of Cumorah was well-known but undocumented.

Joseph's mother Lucy Mack Smith explained that Moroni told Joseph "the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place" (identifying the ancient name during his first encounter with Joseph), but a three-mile radius leaves lots of possible locations. Joseph wrote that "he revealed unto me that in the Town of Manchester Ontario County N.Y. there was plates of gold" but he didn't describe the location in more detail. Lucy reported that in early 1827, before he got the plates, Joseph met the angel when coming home from Manchester "as I passed by the hill of Cumorah, where the plates are." This narrowed the possible locations, but there are several hills in the area. Obviously, Joseph's family knew which one was Cumorah because Joseph referred to it by name without further description, but outside of his family, no one knew either the name or specific location until much later.

We know exactly where Joseph found the plates only because Oliver described the location in detail in Letter VII. 

Letter VII was one of a series of 8 essays on early Church history originally published as letters in the Messenger and Advocate (18/34-5). Oliver wrote them with the assistance of Joseph Smith. Joseph had them copied into his journal as part of his life history where we can read them in the Joseph Smith Papers.

Joseph approved their republication in the Times and Seasons and Gospel Reflector, both in 1841. The letters were republished as well in the Millennial Star (1841) and in The Prophet (1844), as well as in a special pamphlet in England that sold thousands of copies (1844). 

In Letter VII, Oliver described Cumorah in detail.

You are acquainted with the mail road from Palmyra, Wayne Co. to Canandaigua, Ontario Co. N.Y. and also, as you pass from the former to the latter place, before arriving at the little village of Manchester, say from three to four, or about four miles from Palmyra, you pass a large hill on the east side of the road. Why I say large, is because it is as large perhaps, as any in that country. To a person acquainted with this road, a description would be unnecessary, as it is the largest and rises the highest of any on that rout. The north end rises quite sudden until it assumes a level with the more southerly extremity, and I think I may say an elevation higher than at the south a short distance, say half or three fourths of a mile. As you pass toward canandaigua it lessens gradually until the surface assumes its common level, or is broken by other smaller hills or ridges, water courses and ravines. I think I am justified in saying that this is the highest hill for some distance round, and I am certain that its appearance, as it rises so suddenly from a plain on the north, must attract the notice of the traveller as he passes by.

At about one mile west rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former, leaving a beautiful vale between. The soil is of the first quality for the country, and under a state of cultivation, which gives a prospect at once imposing, when one reflects on the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.

The last sentence, bolded here, explains why few living Latter-day Saints know anything about Letter VII. If you poll Latter-day Saints about how we know where Joseph found the plates, approximately zero can tell you because Letter VII has been suppressed by the M2C citation cartel. 

And this article, while mentioning "the only firm link," doesn't tell us the source of that firm link.

To its credit, this article does cite Letter VII. But look how dismissive the reference is, without acknowledging that "the only firm link" is Letter VII itself.

A letter written the same year by Oliver Cowdery to William W. Phelps similarly identifies a North American setting for at least some of what happened in the Book of Mormon—in this case, New York’s Hill Cumorah, where Smith reportedly found the gold plates, as the site of the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites.6 

An uninformed reader will see this glancing reference as a minor detail found in an obscure "letter" written "by Oliver Cowdery to William W. Phelps." There are many current Church leaders who know nothing more about Letter VII than this, and they won't be informed by this article or anything else BYU Studies publishes.

In a sense, the article relates an accurate statement. Oliver did write a letter to Phelps. But that's misrepresentation by omission because casual readers don't understand that this was President Oliver Cowdery, a member of the First Presidency, writing facts with the assistance of Joseph Smith to refute the anti-Mormon claims that the Book of Mormon was mere fiction. The "letter" was published in the official Church newspaper, and, as mentioned above, copied into Joseph's own history and repeatedly republished in official Church publications.

It was anything but mere private correspondence.

Not only was Letter VII written by a member of the First Presidency and approved by the rest of the First Presidency (Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams), but it has been reiterated by every prophet and apostle who has ever formally addressed the topic, including members of the Firs Presidency speaking in General Conference.

But readers of BYU Studies know none of this, and this article doesn't help by dismissing Letter VII as merely "a letter."  

Once we realize that "the only firm link" is Letter VII, there is no excuse for omitting--let alone rejecting--the rest of what Letter VII tells us. 

To those of us who accept the teachings of the prophets, Letter VII (and the subsequent teachings of the prophets reaffirming it) renders moot all discussion of Cumorah that proposes a location other than New York. 

Any legitimate discussion of Book of Mormon geography would make this point crystal clear. But this article does the opposite by derisively mentioning it in passing before devoting the bulk of the discussion (and citations) to M2C.

No one has to accept Letter VII and the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. Plenty of LDS scholars have provided plenty of rationales for rejecting these teachings, with great success. We're all free to believe whatever we want. 

But BYU Studies and the rest of the M2C citation cartel continue to obfuscate the issue and deprive readers of the ability to make informed decisions.


We'll discuss more aspects of the article in future posts, but here let's consider a few more details about Oliver's essays on Church history. 

Part of Letter I has been canonized in the Pearl of Great Price as the note to JS-H 1:71.  

Additional information from these essays:

Letter IV explains that Moroni told Joseph the records "were written and deposited not far from" Joseph's home. Thus, Mormon and Moroni spent enough time in the vicinity to write the record. 

Letter VIII describes in detail the location and construction of the stone box that contained the plates.   

November 1-7: D&C 125-128 part 1

The lesson manual appropriately focuses on baptism for the dead, but these sections also contain important information about the Book of Mormon that many Latter-day Saints know nothing about.

With D&C 125:3 and 128:20, we have in the scriptures for everyone to see the two keys to understanding Book of Mormon geography. Interpreting the text with those two keys unlocks not only the evidence and historicity, but the meaning of many passages.

It seems only rational to realize that if the key fits, why not use it to unlock more meaning?

And if two keys fit, all the better.


Section 125 is important, but the manual does not mention it. 

3 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)

The name Zarahemla is significant.

The CES manual mentions D&C 125 and explains the name this way:

It was common in Book of Mormon times to name cities “after the name of him who first possessed them” (Alma 8:7). The Latter-day Saints gave many of their settlements Book of Mormon names. For example, in Utah are such cities as Nephi, Moroni, Manti, and Bountiful.

One of the first settlements named in this way by the Saints was Zarahemla, at Nashville, Lee County, Iowa.

That explanation is laughable in two ways. First, the Lord told Joseph to name the site Zarahemla. It wasn't the Latter-day Saints giving "their settlements Book of Mormon names." 

Second, the manual overlooks the significance of Alma 8:7. Because the Lord named the site in Iowa, we should conclude from Alma 8:7 that this was, indeed, the city "first possessed" by Zarahemla. 

The revelation refers to "the name of Zarahemla," not "the name Zarahemla." We should therefore infer that means not the city Zarahemla but the man Zarahemla (Omni 1:18). IOW, it's not a generic name, but the name of a specific person. Presumably the man who first possessed the area.

It's also interesting to realize that no "city" of Zarahemla is mentioned in the Book of Mormon until Alma. Prior to that, we have only the land of Zarahemla. This suggests that there was no "city" until after Mosiah's people arrived and built up the area, but it was still named the city of Zarahemla because it was the place "first possessed" by Zarahemla. 

We can't say for sure that the site designated in D&C 125:3 is the same as the site of the city of Zarahemla in the Book of Mormon. But it does seem plausible because the site satisfies the requirements in the text for the city of Zarahemla, as several people have shown (including me, in Moroni's America.)

The two keys of Cumorah and Zarahemla are really all we need to put together a coherent framework for understanding the text, a framework that aligns with the evidence from archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography, etc.

Naturally, the M2C advocates reject this interpretation of D&C 125:3. (In Part 2, we'll see that they also reject the New York Cumorah of D&C 128:20.)

In their zeal, some M2C scholars claimed the Iowa site was called Zarahemla before Joseph received the revelation, but they relied on an erroneous interpretation of a specific journal entry and some post facto insertions in the historical record. Closer examination revealed that the journal entry was written after March 1841, and that the insertions were made for clarification after March 1841. Thus, we can see that the Lord directed Joseph to name the site Zarahemla.

For M2C to work, Zarahemla must be somewhere in Mesoamerica. Obviously, there is no scriptural support for that. M2C promoters cite the 1842 Times and Seasons article that claimed Zarahemla had been "found" in Guatemala:


Since our ‘Extract’ was published from Mr. Stephens’ ‘Incidents of Travel,’ &c., we have found another important fact relating to the truth of the Book of Mormon. Central America, or Guatemala, is situated north of the Isthmus of Darien and once embraced several hundred miles of territory from north to south.— The city of Zarahemla, burnt at the crucifixion of the Savior, and rebuilt afterwards, stood upon this land...
(Times and Seasons III.23:927 ¶2–3)
It is certainly a good thing for the excellency and veracity, of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, that the ruins of Zarahemla have been found where the Nephites left them: and that a large stone with engravings upon it as Mosiah said; and a ‘large round stone, with the sides sculptured in hieroglyphics,’ as Mr. Stephens has published, is also among the left remembrances of the, (to him,) lost and unknown. We are not going to declare positively that the ruins of Quirigua are those of Zarahemla, but when the land and the stones, and the books tell the story so plain, we are of opinion, that it would require more proof than the Jews could bring to prove the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb, to prove that the ruins of the city in question, are not one of those referred to in the Book of Mormon.
(Times and Seasons III.23:927 ¶4)

I don't think anyone today has a model of the Book of Mormon that puts Zarahemla in Quirigua. The ruins there post-date the Book of Mormon era anyway, dating mainly to the 8th century.  

As far as I can tell, our M2C friends love these 1842 articles in the Times and Seasons because they think they demonstrate that Joseph Smith was an ignorant speculator who sought guidance from credentialed experts. Today, they are the credentialed experts and they want everyone else to seek guidance from them. 

You can find lots of pros and cons on the Internet on all of this.

In my view, as I discussed in The Lost City of Zarahemla and two other books about the Times and Seasons and Nauvoo, Joseph Smith was merely the nominal editor of the Times and Seasons. He had nothing to do with articles that he didn't sign as his (such as the Wentworth letter). He had little time with all the other responsibilities he had. 

Wilford Woodruff said Joseph barely had time to sign the documents they prepared for him.

Plus, during these months in 1842 Joseph was on the run, hiding from the Missouri officials who sought to arrest and extradite him.

The debate is too detailed to discuss here, but the point is, it strikes me as a major fallacy to elevate the anonymous Times and Seasons articles above the revelation in D&C 125.

There are several historical accounts that relate the intention to build a temple across the Mississippi River from Nauvoo. The two temples would face each other. One account says the site on the west was dedicated, but so far as I know, there are no official Church records documenting that dedication.

It would be an ideal location for a temple, though, and may be a reason why the Nauvoo temple faces west.

The cover of my Zarahemla book is an aerial photo looking west over the Nauvoo temple at the area the Lord designated as Zarahemla. 

If you ever visit the Nauvoo temple, you should stand at the entrance and look west. Think about the land of Zarahemla on the other side of the river.

Lots of possible scenarios have been developed to explain how the text of the Book of Mormon describes this area.

Anyone who wants to dive into the Zarahemla and Times and Seasons issues can read my books on these topics, with hundreds of footnotes and details.  

Lost City of Zarahemla

Sunday, October 31, 2021

October 25-31: D&C 124

Not a lot of people know about the Center for Latter-day Saint Arts. They have a series of artwork for the Come Follow Me lessons, here:

For this week, they have a fascinating sculpture that you can see here:

The description is insightful: Lowell Fitt began work on the sculpture above three or four years ago when he amassed small steel cuttings. In his mind’s eye, he could imagine the pieces coming together, “…the mix of the scrap pretty closely resembled the confusion and lack of focus in our ever more non-religious world view and the lack of any focus let alone a di-vine focus.” From his cuttings, he created a globe and then decided to use a small gem stone to represent each of the temples (including announced and those under construction) in the world. It was his goal to replicate the Church’s mission to “fill the earth with sacred edifices that will bless the lives of God’s children throughout the world.”


This week's lesson has a lot of important teachings about life and death. For example, this verse explains what has happened with two specific individuals.

19 That when he shall finish his work I may receive him unto myself, even as I did my servant David Patten, who is with me at this time, and also my servant Edward Partridge, and also my aged servant Joseph Smith, Sen., who sitteth with Abraham at his right hand, and blessed and holy is he, for he is mine.

(Doctrine and Covenants 124:19)

These verses reflect the way the sites for temples are chosen. Sometimes there are little-known reasons why particular sites are chosen. For example, the site chosen for the Oklahoma City temple had been blessed by local Native Americans before the Church announced the location.

42 And I will show unto my servant Joseph all things pertaining to this house, and the priesthood thereof, and the place whereon it shall be built.

43 And ye shall build it on the place where you have contemplated building it, for that is the spot which I have chosen for you to build it.


Another interesting point is the non-biblical Edwardsian language, such as in this verse:

6 For, behold, I am about to call upon them to give heed to the light and glory of Zion, for the set time has come to favor her. 

"light and glory" appears only once in the scriptures, but it is a term that Jonathan Edwards used frequently. E.g., "when the morning, the appointed time of the church's light and glory comes, then Christ will wonderfully appear."

9 And again, I will visit and soften their hearts, many of them for your good, that ye may find grace in their eyes, that they may come to the light of truth, and the Gentiles to the exaltation or lifting up of Zion.

"Light of truth" appears three times in the D&C and nowhere else in the scriptures. Edwards used it six times, such as here. "And then, or after that time, was first fulfilled what was typified by God's voice and light going forth from Mt. Sinai, and spreading abroad into all nations round about; for then first did the powerful voice of God's Word, and the powerful and glorious light of truth, go forth and spread abroad into Gentile nations. Then was the coming of Christ in the gospel, as "the lightning that cometh out of the east, and shineth even to the west."

one thing that may be intended by fruit and flowers succeeding one another in this candlestick, may be the continuance of the church and gradual increase, her bringing forth fruit, and that in order to the bringing forth more fruit, till she hath reached the latter-day glory, when God [shall] bring forth her righteousness as the light, and her salvation as a lamp that burneth. Then shall she come to a state of glorious light, of truth, knowledge, holiness, and joy.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

May 31-Jun 6: D&C 60-62

These sections give insights into how to follow the directions of the Lord even in difficult circumstances. The Lord also explains that we are responsible to use our own best judgment as we seek to do what is right.

The history and context of these revelations is also relevant to our understanding of the Book of Mormon, as we'll discuss below.

Section 60 was given on August 8, 1831, to those who wanted to know what the Lord wanted them to do once they arrived in Independence. 

Remember that in June, in Kirtland, the Lord had instructed them about their journey to Independence.

D&C 52:9 And let them journey from thence preaching the word by the way, saying none other things than that which the prophets and apostles have written, and that which is taught them by the Comforter through the prayer of faith.

10 Let them go two by two, and thus let them preach by the way in every congregation, baptizing by water, and the laying on of the hands by the water’s side.

In Section 60, the Lord explained that he was pleased they had come to Independence, but "with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but the hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man."  (verse 2)

Verse 3 sets out what I refer to as the rule of Alma 12:9; i.e., we receive knowledge according to how much heed and diligence we give to what we're given, and we gain more when we accept new knowledge and lose what we have when we harden our hearts.

And it shall come to pass, if they are not more faithful unto me, it shall be taken away, even that which they have. (Doctrine and Covenants 60:3)

The same principle is found in other passages, such as 2 Nephi 28:30, and in Matthew, Mark and Luke: For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath (Matthew 13:12) and For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. (Matthew 25:29)

Starting in verse 5, the Lord gives instructions about how to travel back to Kirtland. Review the map again to see where these events took place. (click to enlarge)

I've bolded some of the key points.

5 But, verily, I will speak unto you concerning your journey unto the land from whence you came. Let there be a craft made, or bought, as seemeth you good, it mattereth not unto me, and take your journey speedily for the place which is called St. Louis.

This passage illustrates that some things "mattereth not" unto the Lord. He left it up to the people involved to use their own judgment about how to travel, but he gave them the destination and the urgency. 

It's interesting that the Lord did not just say "take your journey speedily for St. Louis," the way most of us would say it. The phrase "which is called" is used 27 times in the Bible and 10 times in the Latter-day scriptures. This is an example of how the commandments were given "after the manner of their language" (D&C 1:24), which, in Joseph's case, was rich in biblical phrasing, both in these revelations and in his translation of the plates. E.g., "they came down into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla." Omni 1:13.   

6 And from thence let my servants, Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, take their journey for Cincinnati

Cincinnati is the site of an important Hopewell fort called Miami Fort on a high bank at the convergence of the Ohio and the Great Miami River, forming a triangle at the top. The location is called Shawnee Lookout, high above the rivers. When I visited the site I took this photo of the Ohio River.

I also noticed that a golf course there had a museum of Hopewell artifacts found in the area that is well worth seeing if you visit the area. Actually, the golf course closed in 2019 and I don't know what happened to the artifacts, but I have photos of them. Here's one photo I took of a copper breastplate.

Miami Fort has the double wall system typical of Hopewell defensive positions. Archaeologists note that the people lived in the valleys below. Most of them say these locations were for "ceremonial purposes," but they don't explain why the Native Americans built a system of double walls which, combined with the steep cliffs on both sides, made the area easy to defend. In other words, these were "places of resort" (Alma 48:5, 8, 52:6).

The double wall, steep cliffs, and triangular shape is identical in design to the Indian Point fort near Kirtland, which is also found at the convergence of two rivers. Anyone who visits Kirtland needs to see this site. 

The historical marker explains that the walls of the Indian Point site were built around 140 BC, just when we would expect from the Book of Mormon.

That might seem like a digression but it's not really because as we'll see in upcoming Come Follow Me lessons, Joseph Smith and his contemporaries were frequently encountering the mounds of the Nephites in these areas.

Sections 61-2 were given along the Missouri River, as the wonderful painting that illustrates this lesson depicts. 

The journey from Kirtland to Independence and back again was not easy. We see on the map in the Joseph Smith papers (below, click to enlarge) that the Saints traveled by land to get from St. Louis to Independence, despite traveling by river from Cincinnati to St. Louis.

That may seem surprising. We normally think of rivers as the easiest way to travel in the days before highways and motorized vehicles, but the Missouri River was treacherous for ships. A museum in Kansas City explains that "The most treacherous of the many hazards were fallen trees lying hidden from sight just under the river’s surface. These “snags” crippled and sank hundreds of steamboats from the 1820s to the 1870s."

During the 1850s and 1860s, many Latter-day Saints emigrating from England to Utah arrived in St. Louis and took steamboats up the Missouri River before joining wagon trains and handcart companies. One of these, the Steamboat Arabia, took many Latter-day Saints before it struck a snag and sunk in 1856.

Everyone escaped before the boat sank, but the entire cargo was lost. In the ensuring years, the boat was covered with silt and the river changed course. Some adventurers sought to recover the cargo. They searched the river without success until a local farmer told them he'd heard the boat was buried under his farm, half a mile away from the current course of the river. It turned out, the legend was correct: the boat was covered by 45 feet of farmland. In 1988, the boat was excavated.

Now the artifacts are on display at the museum. The web page is The museum also has a display about the Mormon immigration to Utah.

With this context, let's look at D&C 61:4-6.

4 Nevertheless, I suffered it that ye might bear record; behold, there are many dangers upon the waters, and more especially hereafter;
5 For I, the Lord, have decreed in mine anger many destructions upon the waters; yea, and especially upon these waters.
6 Nevertheless, all flesh is in mine hand, and he that is faithful among you shall not perish by the waters.

The Steamboat Arabia was only one of about 400 steamboats that sunk on the Missouri River. These boats carried as much as 200 tons of food, liquor, weapons, equipment, clothing, tools and other supplies. Much of this cargo would be useful for good purposes, but much of it could be used for evil purposes. Perhaps that's what the Lord was referring to in these verses. 

14 Behold, I, the Lord, in the beginning blessed the waters; but in the last days, by the mouth of my servant John, I cursed the waters.
15 Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters.
16 And it shall be said in days to come that none is able to go up to the land of Zion upon the waters, but he that is upright in heart.
17 And, as I, the Lord, in the beginning cursed the land, even so in the last days have I blessed it, in its time, for the use of my saints, that they may partake the fatness thereof.
18 And now I give unto you a commandment that what I say unto one I say unto all, that you shall forewarn your brethren concerning these waters, that they come not in journeying upon them, lest their faith fail and they are caught in snares;
(Doctrine and Covenants 61:14–18)

In this case, the boats on the Missouri River were caught in literal snares.

These passages are also interesting to consider in light of Helaman 3. In the days of the Nephites, the waters were not cursed.

10 And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping.
11 And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement. [Note: not stone and cement. The Hopewell constructed homes using wood and cement. Reconstructions of this technique are found in several museums in the Midwestern U.S.]

14 But behold, a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, yea, the account of the Lamanites and of the Nephites, and their wars, and contentions, and dissensions, and their preaching, and their prophecies, and their shipping and their building of ships, and their building of temples, and of synagogues and their sanctuaries, and their righteousness, and their wickedness, and their murders, and their robbings, and their plundering, and all manner of abominations and whoredoms, cannot be contained in this work.
(Helaman 3:10–14)

Regarding the curse on the waters, the lesson manual points out:

Are all waters cursed by the Lord?

The Lord’s warning in Doctrine and Covenants 61 was, in part, a warning about the dangers His people could face while traveling to Zion on the Missouri River, which was known at that time for being dangerous. This warning should not be interpreted to mean that we should avoid traveling by water. The Lord has “all power,” including power over the waters (verse 1).

The lesson summarizes Section 62 with good questions we can each ask ourselves.

The Lord wants me to make some decisions “as seemeth [me] good.”

Sometimes the Lord gives us specific direction, and other matters He leaves up to us to decide. How do you see this principle illustrated in Doctrine and Covenants 62? (see also Doctrine and Covenants 60:561:22). How have you seen this principle in your life? Why is it good for us to make some decisions without specific direction from God?

Sunday, May 30, 2021

May 24-30: D&C 58-59

This lesson covers revelations given in Jackson County, Missouri. 

Many of us don't appreciate the significance of Independence, Missouri, in the early 1800s. It was the key point for travel westward. 

In retrospect, it's easy to see how powerful it would have been for the Saints to establish Zion here. Everyone traveling west would have passed through here and learned about the Restoration.

As the lesson manual points out, though, the early Saints had a lot of work to do. They Lord didn't ask them to come to Zion. He needed them to build Zion.

Just like today.

Which is why I post on my HowtoZion blog.


Louis and Clark traveled through the Independence area in June, 1804. Today, you can visit the Lewis and Clark Historic Point at Kaw Point, which is at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers in Kansas City, not far from Independence.

The Oregon Trail began at Independence Landing, where people disembarked from the steamboats after arriving from St. Louis. 

People traveled over the Oregon Trail by foot or on horseback from about 1811 to 1840. In 1836, a wagon trail was organized in Independence. The trail had been cleared to Fort Hall in Idaho. 

An excellent interactive map helps clarify the locations of these events in Church history. 

Click on this link:

When I read sections 58-59, and I think of the Lord's desire for the Saints to build Zion there, I think of Elder Uchtdorf's talk in the October 2020 General Conference titled "God Will Do Something Unimaginable."

How many times in the early years of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did the Saints despair and wonder if God had forgotten them? But through persecutions, perils, and threats of extermination, the Lord God of Israel had something else in mind for His little flock. Something unimaginable.

What do we learn from these examples—and the hundreds of others in the scriptures?

What is needed during times of crisis is calm and clear-headed trust.

How do we do this?

We face the facts and return to the fundamentals, to the basic gospel principles, to what matters most.
You strengthen your private religious behavior—like prayer and scripture study and keeping God’s commandments. You make the decisions based on best proven practices.

Focus on the things you can do and not on the things you cannot do.

My dear friends, my beloved brothers and sisters, God will watch over and shepherd you during these times of uncertainty and fear. 

He knows you. He hears your pleas. He is faithful and dependable. He will fulfill His promises.

God has something unimaginable in mind for you personally and the Church collectively—a marvelous work and a wonder.

Section 59 was given shortly after the land was consecrated for the future temple in Independence. Here are some photos I've taken in Independence that give a sense of what it's like now. We'll discuss these in more detail in future weeks.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

May 17-23: D&C 51-57

This week covers seven sections received in Kirtland, Ohio, in May and June, 1831. When we study these sections in historical context, we can see how reading the D&C in light of the Book of Mormon tells us a lot about the Book of Mormon.  

We see why, when people take tours of Church history sites, they are also taking tours of Book of Mormon sites.

During these months, the Saints from Colesville, New York, arrived in the Kirtland area. Leman Copley initially allowed them to settle on his farm in Thompson, but he later reneged and the Colesville Saints asked Joseph what they should do. 

The Lord instructed these Saints to move to Missouri. This required tremendous faith on their part. 

They had responded to the commandment to sell everything in Colesville and move to Ohio, which was disruptive enough, but now they had to move another thousand miles west to the frontier, to the "borders of the Lamanites."  

In so doing, they were cautioned to "be patient in tribulation," thereby alerting them that their sojourn in Missouri would not be peaceful. (D&C 54:7-10)

Some years ago we visited Colesville and I took some photos of the Joseph Knight home where the Colesville members met. (click to enlarge)

If you enlarge the sign that lists the names of the original members of the Colesville branch, you can see Hyrum Smith, the first branch president of the first branch of the Church, along with Newel Knight, the second branch president.

The Colesville Saints left their homes for Ohio, as you can see on this map.

The revelations in these sections are profound on their own, but when understood in the context of the times, they give us perspective to help us more deeply appreciate their significance. In the context of moving their households and families to unknown frontier areas, the Lord instructed these early Saints about how to regulate stewardships and how to care for "the poor and needy, the sick and the afflicted." 

The Joseph Smith Papers includes a series of useful maps, which you can see here:

If you go there, you'll find these maps.

Notice how similar the two in the middle are. These are the so-called Mission to the Indians, which was actually the mission to the Lamanites. Notice in the description, the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers put the term "Lamanites" in scare quotations because they are reframing the history. The revelations in the D&C use the term Lamanites, not Indians. Joseph Smith and his contemporaries were completely familiar with the term "Indians" but that's not the term the Lord used in these revelations.

This brings up an interesting point about the sections in this week's Come Follow Me lesson. Notice in section 54:8 that the Lord refers to Missouri as the "borders of the Lamanites."

Two important things to notice here. First, the phrase "borders of the Lamanites" appears only twice in all the scriptures. You can see this in Wordcruncher.

This is another indication from the scriptures that the modern Lamanites, the remnant of Lehi, are "the Indians that now inhabit this country," just as Moroni told Joseph Smith and as Joseph wrote in the Wentworth letter.

Second, the "line running directly between Jew and Gentile" was the line running between the Lamanites (aka Indians) and the European settlers in Missouri. This was the line that constituted the "borders of the Lamanites."  

Another connection between Church history and the Book of Mormon is the location of the New Jerusalem. We'll discuss this more when we get to D&C 84, but already in D&C 45, the Lord had promised that a New Jerusalem would be established. This cross references to 3 Nephi 20:22 and Ether 13:2-6. We now know that Independence, Missouri, was the site of the New Jerusalem of which both the Savior and Ether spoke in the Book of Mormon.

When we look at the map of the travels between Kirtland and Independence, we can see how many significant ruins left by the "Moundbuilders" they passed. It's fun to also see all the modern temples in the area.

Finally, the heading to Section 57 explains that when the Saints arrived in Missouri, "Joseph Smith contemplated the state of the Lamanites and wondered: “When will the wilderness blossom as the rose? When will Zion be built up in her glory, and where will Thy temple stand, unto which all nations shall come in the last days?” Subsequently he received this revelation."

Despite all of this obvious connection between the Lamanites and the "Indians that now inhabit this country," some Latter-day Saints wonder who the Lamanites are today.


There are some helpful maps and explanations of Church history in the area of Missouri at this link:

Many people have visited these historic sites in recent years. The Church has done tremendous restoration work to help us understand and visualize the historic events that took place in these locations. 

I found an Ensign article from 1979 that shows how the sites looked before they were restored. 

The Deseret News also has a series titled "Picturing History" that includes the Leman Copley farm.


These sections are full of awesome teachings and insights. Let's look at a few.

9 And let them journey from thence preaching the word by the way, saying none other things than that which the prophets and apostles have written, and that which is taught them by the Comforter through the prayer of faith. (D&C 52:9)

Here we see the importance of sticking with what the prophets and apostles have written, along with what the Comforter teaches us, or prompts us to say.

So far, we haven't seen anyplace in the Doctrine and Covenants where the Lord instructs us to teach what scholars and intellectuals say, or to follow them instead of the prophets and apostles.

33 Yea, verily I say, let all these take their journey unto one place, in their several courses, and one man shall not build upon another’s foundation, neither journey in another’s track. (D&C 52:33)

This simple instruction about moving to Missouri is full of meaning for each of us in our mortal journey. We're all heading to one place, but we each have our "several courses" that we take to get there. We also don't build on another's foundation because we are responsible to build our own foundation. We can't "journey in another's track" because we each have our own journey and life lessons to learn.

But regardless of our individual course, foundation, and track, "He that is faithful, the same shall be kept and blessed with much fruit." (D&C 52:34)

To use President Nelson's terminology, "lazy learners" like to rely on the foundations built by whichever scholars they prefer. They journey in the courses and tracks set out for them by the scholars. However, "engaged learners" study for themselves, create their own foundations and pursue their own courses and tracks.

The Lord also emphasized that whatever course or track we're on, we must "remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple." (D&C 52:40)

Along these lines, let's end with this passage, which emphasizes the point of establishing Zion. I discuss these principles each week in the How to Zion blog:

14 Behold, thus saith the Lord unto my people—you have many things to do and to repent of; for behold, your sins have come up unto me, and are not pardoned, because you seek to counsel in your own ways.
15 And your hearts are not satisfied. And ye obey not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness.
16 Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved!
17 Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands!
18 But blessed are the poor who are pure in heart, whose hearts are broken, and whose spirits are contrite, for they shall see the kingdom of God coming in power and great glory unto their deliverance; for the fatness of the earth shall be theirs.
19 For behold, the Lord shall come, and his recompense shall be with him, and he shall reward every man, and the poor shall rejoice;
20 And their generations shall inherit the earth from generation to generation, forever and ever. 
(Doctrine and Covenants 56:14–20)

Sunday, May 16, 2021

May 10-16: D&C 49-50

This lesson provides a model for missionary and activation work. There is a lot of important doctrine in these sections, and the historical context makes it all the more interesting.

The specific situation involved a religious community in Ohio commonly called the Shakers. The introduction to D&C 49 summarizes the situation.

Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet to Sidney Rigdon, Parley P. Pratt, and Leman Copley, at Kirtland, Ohio, May 7, 1831. 

[These men were called as missionaries to the Shakers.]

Leman Copley had embraced the gospel but still held to some of the teachings of the Shakers (United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing), to which he had formerly belonged. 

[We all retain the teachings we inherit from our families and peers. Converts retain the teachings they hold until they learn differently. Learning new beliefs and changing one's worldview is a process of recognizing a second reality.]

Some of the beliefs of the Shakers were that Christ’s Second Coming had already occurred and that He had appeared in the form of a woman, Ann Lee. [Verse 22 explains that Christ does not come in the form of a woman.]

[Ann Lee lived from 1736 to 1784. She was born in England but died in Watervliet, New York, which was about 200 miles east of Palmyra. She was mentioned twice in the Messenger and Advocate and three times in the Times and Seasons. Sidney Rigdon wrote, "The disciples of Ann Lee, Joanah Southcoat, the French Prophets, Jemimah Willkeson, Hull Barton, Matthias, Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, or Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian or any other, are all alike, as far as their salvation is concerned one is just as near eternal life as the other. It is the gift of the Holy Ghost as administered by the apostles, by the laying on of hands, which makes the difference, and it is this alone, and the society which has this power are the people of God and those who have not are not.

(Messenger and Advocate II.4:245 ¶3)]

They did not consider baptism by water essential. [Verse 13 emphasizes the importance of baptism]

They rejected marriage and believed in a life of total celibacy. [Verses 15-17 emphasizes the importance of marriage and family.]

Some Shakers also forbade the eating of meat. [Verses 18-21 explain that God does not forbit eating meat, although it should not be wasted.]

In prefacing this revelation, Joseph Smith’s history states, “In order to have [a] more perfect understanding on the subject, I inquired of the Lord, and received the following.” The revelation refutes some of the basic concepts of the Shaker group. 

The aforementioned brethren took a copy of the revelation to the Shaker community (near Cleveland, Ohio) and read it to them in its entirety, but it was rejected.

(Doctrine and Covenants 49, Heading)

For a good discussion of the Shakers, see Leman Copley and the Shakers (

In 1979, the Ensign published a photographic tour of Church history sites. The photos are interesting to compare to today's restored sites.

There are also some useful photos on the Church's website here:

Section 49 emphasizes some key future events to keep us from being deceived:

23 Wherefore, be not deceived, but continue in steadfastness, looking forth for the heavens to be shaken, and the earth to tremble and to reel to and fro as a drunken man, and for the valleys to be exalted, and for the mountains to be made low, and for the rough places to become smooth—and all this when the angel shall sound his trumpet.
24 But before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose.
25 Zion shall flourish upon the hills and rejoice upon the mountains, and shall be assembled together unto the place which I have appointed.
26 Behold, I say unto you, go forth as I have commanded you; repent of all your sins; ask and ye shall receive; knock and it shall be opened unto you.
27 Behold, I will go before you and be your rearward; and I will be in your midst, and you shall not be confounded.
28 Behold, I am Jesus Christ, and I come quickly. Even so. Amen.
(Doctrine and Covenants 49:23–28)

Section 50 expands on D&C 46, which listed the gifts of the Spirit. Here, the Lord explains how to tell if a manifestation is from the Spirit of truth or not.

21 Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?
22 Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.
23 And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.
24 That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
(Doctrine and Covenants 50:21–24)

The principle of growing in light is also demonstrated by the opposite effect, as taught in Alma 12:9. 

When we accept what the Lord gives us, we are given a greater portion of the word, until we know everything. 

When we don't accept what the Lord gives us, we get less until we know nothing.

9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.
(Alma 12:9–11)

Two areas of confusion among many Latter-day Saints today reflect this principle. Those who accept what Joseph and Oliver taught about the translation--that Joseph translated the engravings on the plates by means of the Urim and Thummim--are not confused. Those who reject what Joseph and Oliver said, however, face a variety of alternative explanations, ranging from a "stone-in-the-hat" to a purely visionary experience to a composition or performance. 

Those who accept what Joseph and Oliver taught about the New York Cumorah likewise express confusion about the historicity of the Book of Mormon. There are Latter-day Saints who, having rejected the New York Cumorah, find their own "hill Cumorah" in many parts of the world. Some, having rejected the New York Cumorah, reject the historicity of the Book of Mormon altogether.

In 1992, Robert L. Millet, then Dean of Religious Education at BYU, gave an important lecture about BYU as a covenant community. He observed an important aspect of missionary work.

    President Joseph F. Smith, in writing to one of his missionary sons, explained:

    Kindness will beget friendship and favor, but anger or passion will drive away sympathy. To win one's respect and confidence, approach him mildly, kindly. No friendship was ever gained by an attack upon principle or upon man, but by calm reason and the lowly Spirit of Truth.

    Now note this important concept:

    If you have built for a man a better house than his own, and he is willing to accept yours and forsake his, then, and not till then, should you proceed to tear down the old structure. Rotten though it may be it will require some time for it to lose all its charms and fond memories of its former occupant. Therefore let him, not you, proceed to tear it away. Kindness and courtesy are the primal elements of gentility. (Letter of 18 May 1896 to Hyrum M. Smith, in From Prophet to Son, pp. 42-43, emphasis added.)

The end