Book Review: “Ancient American Indians”

This was published in 1991, which was the year of Paul Cheeseman’s passing while he was serving as a missionary in Palmyra. As my study continues, I am still trying to figure what his mission was, and if he served at the Hill Cumorah or just around Palmyra. It would be kind of ironic being that he was part of the group that believed the Hill Cumorah in New York was the “secondary” hill.

But the few sources I have studied it almost seems that Cheeseman had a heart for the North American study of the Book of Mormon (before it was labeled the Heartland Model). AND that he was criticized for it by his peers.

As a reminder, Wikipedia says that Paul Cheeseman was an archeologist and professor of religion at Brigham Young University, and spent a lot of his time in search of Book of Mormon Evidence with that group. In fact, he is the man that appears in the video “Ancient America Speaks”, produced in 1974 where he goes all through Mesoamerica and shows the ruins and how they connect to the Book of Mormon. (One of my favorite VHS tapes to show on my mission).

What led me to this book began with an article in 1975 Ensign entitled “Transatlantic Crossings: A New Look”. First off, the Ensign rarely gets into physical evidence of the Book of Mormon, they stick to the spiritual side of things…but then, this is 1975.

In this article, Paul Cheeseman goes into a meeting of diffusionists he attended where non-Mormons, led by Dr. Joseph Mahan (who we will be writing more about in the future) all brought together evidence that there was a religious and advanced pre-Colombian presence here in North America. What threw me off about that article was not ONE lick of evidence talked about Central or Mesoamerica.

15 years later comes this book “Ancient American Indians”. The introduction reads as follows: “The author is of the opinion that students and scholars have neglected the studies of North American Indian cultures before the Spanish conquest. Some have believed North America had little to offer regarding ancient American studies because there are no magnificent stone pyramids. Therefore, the author has devoted three years to investigative, on-site studies, in over thirty five states, photographing and cataloging the better-known ruins and civilizations of pre-Columbian North America”

Now my question is WHO are these “students” and “scholars” that are neglecting North America? The ones in academia in general? Or the ones down the hall from his office? I don’t honestly know.

I do know that he got criticism for this book by his peers. His book was panned by the likes of Martin H. Raish and John L. Sorenson (main members of the Meso-club) as “a work of shoddy scholarship and hurts more then helps a true understanding of the Book of Mormon”. My question is why?

The book is simply a list of sites, artifacts and history that most of us who study the Heartland theory of the Book of Mormon already know (the Bat Creek stone, Decalogue Stone, Cahokia, etc). I have admittedly read half of it and sped-read the other half, simply because I already knew the material. Not sure how it “hurts” an understand of the Book of Mormon. Maybe because it “hurts” the Mesoamerican theory. There are plenty of Central American pieces riddled all through the book, but then again, it is a 2014 reprint of the 1991 publication.

Probably the most interesting quote I picked up was this: “It is the authors opinion that whenever there are discoveries which might possess even the slightest religious overtones, some scholars brand the research as fraudulent, simply to protect their academic reputation”. I wonder if that same fear comes to those at BYU when ever something from North America is discovered.

Go get this book!

Book Review: “Hidden Cities”

I first heard of Roger Kennedy in the film made by Steve Smoot called “Lost Civilizations of North America”. He was interviewed in the film about his knowledge of Ancient Pre-Columbian activity. He was the director of the American History Museum at the Smithsonian Institution and even in his position, was not aware of all the evidence of Ancient America till late in his career…Hence the book “Hidden Cities”.

It is a very well written and researched book, published in 1994. He is well versed in American history. And in his writing, he weaves what was going on in history when certain antiquities were found.

While he touches on the antiquities of Central and South America, he feels the United States antiquities are older and more surprising to find. He writes “Before anything so ambitious had been built in Mexico, Central or South America, earthen buildings were arranged in strict repeated geometric patters along the bayous and channels in what are now the states of Louisiana and Mississippi.”

His writing is eloquent, but he does seem to slightly “show off” with his knowledge and takes his time getting to the point of the antiquity or site or concept. Yet in reading you do have to be patient and get more of a history lesson then just a typical “list” of ancient antiquities like other books do.

Sometimes the history lessons are fun. Sometimes you want him to cut to the chase. And he does put a lot of emphasis on race and the damage done to the Native American and African American as slaves. It is all true, but if you are of European descent, you might feel like crap after a while.

I do feel Roger Kennedy was very fair in his discussions. Most of his book covers the likes of Washington, Jefferson and Jackson and their dealings with ancient American antiquities. He sites many examples that explain how treating the natives as less-then a human caused much of the antiquities to be lost. (Manifest Destiny)

My favorite section is a short couple of pages where he goes into the example of religious people who believed the natives were of a tribe of Israel. He considers these people one of the few who were actually allies of the displaced natives. It is during this section he quotes the likes of Manasseh Ben Israel, Ethan Smith and even Joseph Smith.

When taking about the Mormons view of the Natives, he gives an overall positive view of Joseph Smith and was well researched on the Book of Mormon. All through the explanation, he kept saying the Nephites were the Mound Builders (even though Smith hardly ever made the direct reference, Kennedy did it for him), and made it look more like Smith had “discovered the truth about the builders of the mounds”.

One of Kennedy’s quotes on the Mormons: “Smith became founder of the only world religion to be based in American archeology”. An interesting take on The Book of Mormon.

I overall loved this book. I loved watching Kennedy on Smoot’s documentary to begin with, but the book is very complimentary to his “old-fashioned history teacher” presence. I would have loved to have met him, but he passed not long after the making of “Lost Civilizations”. I was lucky that my copy had his autograph on it.

Book Review “Book of Mormon Geography”

“Book of Mormon Geography: In Search of Ramah-Cumorah” is such a long title for such a short book. But this 90 pages is packed full of North American goodness, it’s hard to know where to begin.

If you are a researcher of the same material I have been reading you HAVE to get this book. It was written by Willard Bean and Cecil McGavin. As a reminder, Willard Bean was the professional boxer who was called on a special mission in 1915 to Palmyra, which was known as the most prejudice place on earth against Mormons at the time, and Willard was the first Mormon to live there since Joseph Smith was kicked out 85 years earlier.

One of his missions was to purchase the Hill Cumorah and many other church sites. His 5 year mission turned to 24 years. He spent much of his time on Hill Cumorah and sees things from a different perspective.

On a side note, his life is currently being made into a film. I originally wrote a screenplay about his life, getting ready to make my own film, but TC Christensen beat me to it (a long story for another time).

The first piece of evidence to take from in reading this book is that the 2-Hill Cumorah theory was new and for some members of the church is was a problem. It goes on to read “In recent years there has been a tendency among certain students of the Book of Mormon to originate Book of Mormon cultures far to the south. Many students of the subject are convinced that the three colonies that came to America had their existence in Central America and Mexico.”

They continue” Most students who accept this theory do not consider the Hill Cumorah in western New York as the hill where gold plates were originally deposited, nor the area immediately south of the Great Lakes as the site of the Jaredite and Nephite battlefield.”

In wrapping up the introduction “The following pages are a plea in defense of the old theory – the interpretation of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Orson Pratt and a countless number of the Authorities of the Church.”

Then, they proceed to go into example after example, quotes from church leaders, and quotes from the likes of Champlain, Frontenac, Turner, McIntosh and New York governor DeWitt Clinton all experts in evidence of pre-Columbian contact to North America.

This book should be considered a starting point for the rest of your study. I generally make it a personal rule that if a Mormon wrote a book on Book of Mormon Geography, then you need to back that up with non-Mormon sources. In this case, My study has evolved into not only pre-Columbian North American influence, but the evolution of the 2-Hill Cumorah theory itself.

This book was written in 1948, a year after the book “Cumorah-Where?”was written by Stuart Ferguson, which made the case of the 2-HIll Cumorah theory. You can see a review of that book earlier on this blog.

Book Review “America BC”

While everyone’s eyes in Book of Mormon archeology were focused in Central America, there was a time when a group of people, non-Mormon related, got together and talked about who was here in the United States before Columbus, namely diffusionists.

In 1973, was organized the ISAC Organization (Institute for the Study of American Cultures), headquartered in Columbus, Georgia. It was founded by Joseph B. Mahan and focused its study on pre-Columbia’s contact to America. A lot of influence in the ISAC Organization (not sure who influenced one or the other) came from this book written by Barry Fell.

Fell was a professor of Invertebrate Zoology at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. Published in 1975, America BC is simply a list of evidences of native intelligence that has been ignored by the general scientific community.

From Fell: “There is more to America’s past then appears upon the surface. A strange unrest is apparent among many of the younger historians and archeologists of the colleges and universities, a sense that somehow a very large slice of America’s past has mysteriously vanished from our public records. For how else can we explain the ever-swelling tally of puzzling ancient inscriptions now being reported from early all parts of the United States, Canada and Latin America?”

Example after example, Fell shows pictures of ancient script that come from the “Celts, Basques, Libyans and even Egyptians” written in stone and by other means. At one point, Fell talks about his struggle to get people to believe what he was finding. “When the suggestion was made at one stage in one of the newspapers that we might be forging the inscriptions, it became increasingly necessary to have cameras as well as witnesses on hand to record the thick coat of lichens covering the inscriptions before they were brushed clean for making a plaster cast.”

Fell tells us being a marine biologist is part of what gained this interest in ancient script and evidences of pre-Columbian contact to the new world. He would spend much of his life studying voyages of ancient people who left inscriptions, and utilized his fellow biologists at Harvard to help him with the study of Epigraphy, which is the study of clarifying inscriptions or epigraphs.

He also spends a lot of time talking about the stone chambers in Northern New York, Vermont and New Hampshire, including “Mystery Hill” which (labeled in the book) was later to be known as American Stonehenge.

It is during this time of the writing of this book that others emerged with their findings and books written (some of which we will be featuring), such as Gloria Farley, Henrietta Mertz and Cyrus Gordon. It helps to have the non-Mormon perspective of pre-Columbian contact in America in making an unbiased study of Book of Mormon archeology.

This is definitely a crucial book to find in doing your own study of Ancient America.

Book Review “Just One Cumorah”

This is kind of an interesting take, continuing with the search for the 2-Hill Cumorah theory. This book was written in 1959 by Riley L. Dixon. Dixon then died soon after because in this copy of the book, a program of his funeral was glued to the inner cover.

While not an archeologist, or presumably any precious letters behind his name, Dixon obviously thought it important enough to present this case on the heels of Jospeh Fielding Smith’s forgotten declaration in the Doctrines of Salvation where he spent a number of pages exclaiming why the Cumorah in New York IS the Cumorah where the battles happened and the plates were originally buried.

It was obviously a point of discussion enough at the time to the point that a prophet of God had to clarify. In this book, almost the whole final chapter is word for word Smiths claims from the Doctrines of Salvation.

As a writer, I did notice that the bulk of the book was slow moving while it almost gave a play-by-play of every event in the Book of Mormon, when it could have taken fewer pages to get to the point of “there is only one Hill Cumorah and here’s why”.

Dixon’s thesis leans on the idea that Lehi could have landed in South America, most of the action is in Central America, and then the battles started north all the way up to New York. I personally struggle with this idea for obvious reasons, but what mostly intrigues me is the evolution of the 2-Hill Cumorah theory.

Probably the best part of purchasing this book was a letter that was left in the book. It seemed to have been written by Jerry Ainsworth, who might be someone who is important in the Book of Mormon archeology world. It continued to show the snobbery of the “experts” who continue to ignore the voices of those who challenge this point of view or put them down as not “scholared”.

The 2-Hill Cumorah argument is almost the same as arguing Clark Kent is not the same as Superman simply because one wears glasses and the other doesn’t. (Also refer to Captain Amazing in the movie “Mystery Men”).

Book Review “Cumorah-Where?”

This was an obscure little book that I found from reading other material that led me to this. Stuart Ferguson, a successful lawyer and creator of the New World Archeological Foundation, takes 73 pages to tell me why he thinks the Hill Cumorah is in Central America and NOT in New York. This book was written in 1947, which seemed to be a turning point for that theory to be cemented in the stone walls of BYU academia. It is interesting because it was not long after that that a few other publications came out AGAINST the 2-Hill Cumorah theory (which I will be featuring in future posts).

It the time of the writing (and is mentioned at the beginning of the book) the 2-Hill Cumorah theory was fairly unknown. So it was obvious that this book was an attempt to make it known to all the world THIS was the new idea.

In the beginning, he stresses the importance of needing to know the location of the Book of Mormon to support its validity (which is interesting because most people are all for the spirit of the matter, but then again this is what was on Ferguson’s mind. He eventually left the church due to unbelief).

He writes “The Book of Mormon, although primarily important for its theology and doctrines, is in large measure historical…Geography has always been important to the understanding of history. It is important to the Book of Mormon student”.

He continues “If we misconstrue the geography of the Book of Mormon, we may make an entirely consistent record appear inconsistent with itself and with factual findings of science. In some instances worthwhile persons may be dissuaded by our own errors from making a complete investigation of Mormonism.” (Kind of ironic coming from Ferguson).

He then compares what he calls the “New York View” to the “Middle American” view. He explains evidence that supports both and then criticism for both. Of course the criticism for the Middle American view was barley a page long, while the criticism for the New York view was 11 pages, spending most of his time talking about how Oliver Cowdery was a flawed individual and that the Zelph’s Mound episode was weak.

Simply stated, he feels that early church leaders did not know what they were talking about.

His closing statement: “The writer favors the Middle American view. The Book of Mormon itself seems to speak so clearly on the question, and there can be no doubt as to the credibility of the evidence from that source.” (My interjection: the Book of Mormon is NOT clear on where it happened, otherwise, why are are having this discussion.) “There mere fact that the early members of the Church took up the New York view and that it has been adhered to ever since does not necessarily make it correct”.

At the moment, in my personal study about the Hill Cumorah, so far it seems that it has almost become spiritual vs archeological. There is more historical and spiritual evidence of New York being the hill and possibly more archeological evidence of it being in Central America. OR is it that we’ve spent so much time in Central America that we’ve gotten comfortable in that idea? OR are academics (who are LDS) are afraid to mix the archeology and the spiritual?

Another thing I noticed in the 2-Hill Cumorah Theory is that it seems to have to continually be reintroduced to the public. In 1999, a video was released called “In Search of Ancient Cumorah”, which seemed to “reintroduce” the idea of a 2-Hill Cumorah theory. I am using this video as a basis for the next round of video I will be producing for Hidden in the Heartland.

The other fact about the 2-Hill Cumorah theory is that very few members STILL know nothing about it. When I talk about it in Hidden in the Heartland, people respond with “what…?”. I can understand they would be confused since the Church has spent millions of dollars building and maintaining a Hill Cumorah Visitors Center and and Pageant to go with it.

Again, Stuart Ferguson and the New World Archeological Foundation have spent 100 years digging in Central America and found great stuff. I have yet to hear of any kind of archeological dig in North America by BYU or any related organizations.

Book Review “View of the Hebrews”

The attractive idea of this book is that is was written in 1825, by Ethan Smith (no relation to Joseph Smith). The front cover reads that Smith is a “Pastor of a Church in Poultney, Vermont”. It is interesting to read older books talking about the past. It may not be entirely accurate, but there is that chance that it is closer to the truth then what is written today.

Smith ascertains that the Native American are a tribe of Israel and gives example after example to support his claim. He goes into the native traditions and likens them unto Jewish traditions. It is a little hard telling what is just his opinion and what is an actual fact, but it is an amazing claim.

He pulls quotes from the likes of Doctor Jarvis, Reverend Samuel Sewall, Samuel Willard, Manasseh Ben Israel, James Adair, William Penn and many more who give some inkling at to the origin of the Native American. Some of these names are people who have written other books on the subject, which we will eventually feature on this blog.

He uses scriptures and quotes from people who have lived among the natives to build the case that the Natives were once a God fearing people, worshiping the same God as the Europeans, that their original language could have been Hebrew and that there would some day be a restoration of all things. In fact, he uses Isaiah 18 as his basis that the natives would be part of some sort of restoration.

From the book “Should it be proved a fact that the aborigines of our continent are the descendants of the ten tribes of Israel; it would heighten the probability to a moral certainty that we are the people especially addressed and called upon to restore them; or bring them to the knowledge of the gospel, and to do with them whatever the God of Abraham designs shall be done.”

There were theories that Oliver Cowdery knew this pastor or lived in the same town as Ethan Smith or even went to the same church. And there are many claims that Joseph Smith used this book to write the Book of Mormon because of how similar the discussion of the natives being part of the Lost Tribes of Israel becomes. There is no solid evidence of this. It is only coincidental.

My personal feeling on that matter is that while there are similarities, there are many other writers (whom we will be reviewing) that also talk about the Natives belonging to a lost tribe of Israel and no one has yet revealed any kind of record of the event to match with the Book of Mormon. There are many people talking about it, but no one showing record. So whether it’s a hoax or not, I ask the question: What does Joseph get out of creating a record out of scratch? At the end of his life I would assess…not much.