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John Bernhisel’s Gift to a Prophet: Incidents of Travel in Central America and the Book of Mormon

TitleJohn Bernhisel’s Gift to a Prophet: Incidents of Travel in Central America and the Book of Mormon
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsRoper, Matthew
JournalInterpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture
KeywordsBook of Mormon Geography; Early Church History; Mesoamerica; Smith, Joseph, Jr.

The claim that God revealed the details of Book of Mormon geography is not new, but the recent argument that there was a conspiracy while the Prophet was still alive to oppose a revealed geography is a novel innovation. A recent theory argues that the “Mesoamerican theory” or “limited Mesoamerican geography” originated in 1841 with Benjamin Winchester, an early Mormon missionary, writer, and dissident, who rejected the leadership of Brigham Young and the Twelve after 1844. This theory also claims that three unsigned editorials on Central America and the Book of Mormon published in the Times and Seasons on September 15 and October 1, 1842, were written by Benjamin Winchester, who successfully conspired with other dissidents to publish them against the will of the Prophet. Three articles address these claims. The first article addressed two questions: Did Joseph Smith, as some have claimed, know the details of and put forth a revealed Book of Mormon geography? Second, what is a Mesoamerican geography and does it constitute a believable motive for a proposed Winchester conspiracy? This second article provides additional historical background on the question of Joseph Smith’s thinking on the Book of Mormon by examining the influence of John L. Stephen’s 1841 work, Incidents of Travel in Central America, upon early Latter-day Saints, including Joseph Smith.