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.

Book Review “The World of the Book of Mormon”

This book was written in 1978, which was during the peak of the Mesoamerican, 2-Hill Cumorah concept acceptance from the experts at BYU. Author and BYU archeologist Paul Cheeseman covered many concepts that focused on the possibility of the Book of Mormon events happening in Central America.

What I found interesting about the book was how many North American examples were used. I am just assuming that at the time there was no argument between North and Mesoamerica for the location of the Book of Mormon. It was just “if it’s in America, it’s the Nephites” kind of mentality.

But one interesting thing Cheesman wrote in his book that presents the problem was that the three civilizations (Jaredites, Mulekites and the sons of Levi) never met each other for several hundred years. Which means groups of people were rather concentrated. Who knows whoever else was here!

Cheesman used Heartland examples such as The Bat Creek Stone and Native stories from tribes that originated in the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys to support claims for the Book of Mormon, while making the Meso theory its primary study.

There was also talk of the 2-Hill Cumorah theory and I was a little confused if he supported that theory, or didn’t, or was just presenting both cases and and letting the reader decide. He gave quotes from Zelphs Mound incident, other early church leaders and the great quote from Joseph Fielding Smith in Doctrines of Salvation where he pretty much asks the question “what is with this new 2-Hill theory? (maybe not exact quote, but pretty much the same flavor).

He did list other quotes by leaders from early church history, mostly post-Utah-exodus till the turn of the century, that were leaning toward another Hill Cumorah or Mesoamerican theories, but none from an actual prophet (that I remember).

In the chapter that talked about theories of the location of the Book of Mormon, it listed 9 (of the time). Most of them were pretty much focused on central and South America. What I was surprised at was at the beginning of the maps, there was one theory outline that was circled around Florida and up to New York (theory number 9), the only one that actually included Cumorah on the map. He gave detailed explanations of theories 1 through 8, but pretty much ignored number 9. I bought two copies of “The World of the Book of Mormon”. One printed in 1978 the other a reprint in 1984. One book called theory number 9 the “Florida Theory” and in the other book is was just called “number 9”. But there was still no explanation of the theory.

This book is actually a pretty good and fair reading of where our minds were at the time when it came to where the Book of Mormon happened. I am starting to create a theory as to what Cheesman was thinking is presenting North American ideas to the evidence of The Book of Mormon while living among his peers that believed otherwise.

More to come on that…