Question: Was it revealed to Joseph Smith that the Book of Mormon city of Zarahemla was located on the Mississippi River opposite where Nauvoo is located today?

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Question: Was it revealed to Joseph Smith that the Book of Mormon city of Zarahemla was located on the Mississippi River opposite where Nauvoo is located today?

Church leaders have indicated that no one knows the location of Zarahemla

In 1929, Anthony W. Ivins, member of the First Presidency, said in General Conference:

There is a great deal of talk about the geography of the Book of Mormon. Where was the land of Zarahemla? Where was the City of Zarahemla? and other geographic matters. It does not make any difference to us. There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question. So the Church says we are just waiting until we discover the truth. All kinds of theories have been advanced. I have talked with at least half a dozen men that have found the very place where the City of Zarahemla stood, and notwithstanding the fact that they profess to be Book of Mormon students, they vary a thousand miles apart in the places they have located. We do not offer any definite solution. As you study the Book of Mormon keep these things in mind and do not make definite statements concerning things that have not been proven in advance to be true.[1]

Harold B. Lee also did not show any awareness that the location of Zarahemla had been revealed through Joseph Smith:

Some say the Hill Cumorah was in southern Mexico (and someone pushed it down still farther) and not in western New York. Well, if the Lord wanted us to know where it was, or where Zarahemla was, he'd have given us latitude and longitude, don't you think? And why bother our heads trying to discover with archaeological certainty the geographical locations of the cities of the Book of Mormon like Zarahemla?[2]

Claims that D&C 125 names the site ignore that it was already named Zarahemla by settlers

Matthew Roper observed:

On 2 July 1839, Joseph Smith and other church leaders visited the site [of "Zarahemla, across the river from Nauvoo] in question. The entry published in the History of the Church reads as follows:
Spent the forenoon of this day on the Iowa side of the river. Went, in company with Elders Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, and Bishops Whitney and Knight, and others, to visit a purchase lately made by Bishop Knight as a location for a town, and advised that a town be built there, and called Zarahemla.[3]

The last three words of this entry, "and called Zarahemla," were not written by Joseph Smith but were written into the "Manuscript History of Joseph Smith" by Elder Willard Richards when he recorded the history for that date sometime after the Prophet's death in 1844.[4] However, referring to the settlement as "Zarahemla" before the March 1841 revelation is consistent with other historical evidence showing that the Saints already referred to the site by that name. Brigham Young, who began keeping a regular journal in early 1839, recorded that on 2 July 1839 "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."[5] Elias Smith, a cousin of Joseph Smith, recorded in his journal for 24 June 1839 the following: "Moved from Commerce to Lee County, Iowa Territory, and went on the farm bought of F. P. Blevins." 87 In his journal for 16 August 1840, he recorded the death of the Prophet's brother Don Carlos and noted that there was a "Conference at Zarahemla" on that day. "[6] These early references to the name of the Iowa settlement previous to March 1841 indicate that the Saints referred to it as Zarahemla long before the reve­lation in question. There is no indication in these early sources that this designation was based upon revelation or even that it was Joseph Smith's idea. This evidence suggests, rather, that the name did not originate with the March 1841 revelation and that the Lord was referencing a location already known among the Saints by that name. The purpose of the revelation was most likely to counsel the Saints to gather at the appointed place and not, as the authors [of the Heartland theory] suggest, to reveal the ancient location of a Book of Mormon city. The Saints did what they would often do—name places they lived after places mentioned in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. There is no compelling reason to associate the Iowa settlement with ancient Zarahemla.[7]

Thus, the site called "Zarahemla" had been given the name long before the revelation. The revelation referred to the site by the name given by settlers; it did not instruct that a new name for the site be adopted.


Notes

  1. Anthony W. Ivins, Conference Report (April 1929), 16.
  2. Harold B. Lee, "Loyalty," address to religious educators, July 8, 1966, Charge to Religious Educators, second edition (Salt Lake City: Church Educational System and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982), 65, cited in Dennis B. Horne (ed.), Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluation Doctrinal Truth (Roy, Utah: Eborn Books, 2005), 172–173.
  3. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 3:382, emphasis added. Volume 3 link
  4. "Manuscript History of Joseph Smith," 2 July 1839, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City. See also History of the Church, 3:382, emphasis added; Dean C. Jessee, "The Writing of Joseph Smith's History," BYU Studies 11/4 (Summer 1971): 439–73; and Howard C. Searle, "Willard Richards as Historian," BYU Studies 31/2 (Spring 1991): 41–62.
  5. Elias Smith Journal, 24 June 1839, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.
  6. Elias Smith Journal, 16 August 1840, emphasis added.
  7. Matthew Roper, "Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography (A review of "Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America" by: Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum)," FARMS Review 22/2 (2010): 15–85. off-site wiki