Category Archives: Book of Mormon Prophets

The Lost Ten Tribes in America

Esdras Preacheth the Law

After the Neo-Assyrian Empire conquered the Kingdom of Israel (c. 720 BC), ten of the twelve tribes were deported. They have become known as the Lost Ten Tribes because their whereabouts was unknown.

In the apocryphal book 2 Esdras
 we have a small clue about where they might have gone.

“Those are the ten tribes, which were carried away prisoners out of their own land in the time of Osea the king, whom Salmanasar the king of Assyria led away captive, and he carried them over the waters, and so came they into another land.

“But they took this counsel among themselves, 
that they would leave the multitude of the heathen, and go forth into a further country, where never mankind dwelt, . . .” (2 Esdras 13:40-41)

According to these verses, the ten tribes were taken over waters, then they decided to go to a land that was even further away, a land where “never mankind dwelt”. What we can assume from this is that they went a far distance to a land that, as far as they knew, was uninhabited. That would pretty much rule out the Middle East, Africa and Europe because they would have known that those lands were inhabited. They also wanted a fresh start. They were looking for a land away from “the heathen”.

This record from Esdras has similarities to Book of Mormon records. The  Mulekites, the Jaredites, and Lehi’s family all left the Middle East under tumultuous circumstances.

Although many of the early European settlers saw the Native Americans as savages and treated them accordingly, others believed them to be the lost ten tribes and respected them accordingly. William Penn, for whom the US Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is named, was one who believed them to be Israelites. He was well known for his good relationships and successful treaties with the natives. In a 1683 letter to the Committee of the Free Society of Traders in London, England he wrote:

William Penn

“I am ready to believe them of the Jewish race — I mean of the stock of the Ten Tribes—and that for the following reasons: First, they were to go to a land not planted or known, which, to be sure, Asia and Africa were, if not Europe, and he that intended that extraordinary judgment upon them might make the passage not uneasy to them, as it is not impossible in itself, from the eastermost parts of Asia to the westermost parts of America. In the next place, I find them of the like countenance, and their children of so lively resemblance that a man would think himself in Duke’s Place, or Berry Street, London, when he seeth them. But this is not all; they agree in wrights, they reckon by moons, they offer their first fruits, they have a kind of feast of tabernacles, they are said to lay their altar upon twelve stones . . “

Feast of Tabernacles

Penn points out that the Native Americans had “a kind of feast of tabernacles.”  A few things that happened anciently at a Sukkoth or Feast of Tabernacles are:

  • People Gather at the temple (at the temple courtyard, or around the temple)
  • The people live in sukkah (booths or tents) for seven days with the sukkah opening facing the temple (Leviticus 23:42-43)
  • The king or religious leader addresses the people
  • The people are encouraged to love and serve God
  • Scripture (the law) is read (Deuteronomy 31:10-13)
  • Sometimes a new king is coronated
  • It is said to be the festival of the future, looking forward to the coming of the Messiah

When we read the first 6 chapters of Mosiah, the gathering of the people at the temple to hear King Benjamin sounds very much like a Sukkot.

  • The people gathered at the temple (Mosiah 2:1)
  • They lived in tents which faced the temple (Mosiah 2:5)
  • The King, Benjamin, addressed them (Mosiah 2:8)
  • The law was read
  • The people were exhorted to love and serve God
  • A new king, Mosiah, was named
  • King Benjamin (about 124 BC) told of the coming of the Messiah

The Nephites observed the Sukkot or Feast of Tabernacles, as did their Native American ancestors.

We also know that the Nephites reckoned time by the moon.

“And they gave an account of one Coriantumr, and the slain of his people. And Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons.” (Omni 1:21)

Unlike our calendar which is based on the solar year, the Jewish calendar follows the lunar cycle.

Many events associated with the restoration occurred on major Jewish holy days.

  • Moroni’s first visit to Joseph Smith on September 21, 1823 happened during Sukkot.
  • Joseph received the plates on Rosh Hashanah which is often called the Feast of the Trumpets, or the day of shouting.

Why would Moroni present his record to Joseph Smith on the Jewish Feast of the Trumpets? Because he was an Israelite announcing the restoration. It’s appropriate that today he is depicted blowing a trumpet.


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Hill of Ancient Seers and Prophets

In September 1827, the Book of Mormon Prophet Moroni visited Joseph Smith. During that first visit from Moroni, Joseph saw in a vision the hill in which the plates were buried. After that, Joseph began referring to that hill outside Palmyra, NY  as Cumorah. This was not a name he received from the Book of Mormon. It was the name he received from Moroni.

Other early leaders, who were close to Joseph Smith, called the hill Cumorah as well. Orson Pratt believed that the hill was not only the place where Moroni buried the Book of Mormon record, but was also the hill in which Moroni’s father Mormon deposited hundreds of other records. In the church publication, Millennial Star, Pratt wrote:

Joseph Knew - Young Orson Pratt
Orson Pratt

“And all the ancient plates, Mormon deposited in Cumorah, about three hundred and eighty-four years after Christ. When Moroni, about thirty-six years after, made the deposit of the book entrusted to him, he was, without doubt, inspired to select a department of the hill separate from the great sacred depository of the numerous volumes hid up by his father. The particular place in the hill, where Moroni secreted the book, was revealed, by the angel, to the Prophet Joseph Smith, to whom the volume was delivered in September, A.D. 1827. But the grand repository of all the numerous records of the ancient nations of the western continent, was located in another department of the hill, and its contents under the charge of holy angels, until the day should come for them to be transferred to the sacred temple of Zion.

“There is no spot on this wide world of ours, which is calculated to excite more vivid reflections, than the wonderful hill of Cumorah. There the history of one-half of our globe, reposed, for fourteen centuries, in profound unbroken silence: there, ‘the everlasting Gospel,’ engraved, not on tablets of stone, but on plates of gold, awaited the voice of the heavenly angel to reveal the priceless treasure: there, buried in the holy archives of Cumorah’s sacred hill, are plates of brass, plates of gold, undimmed by time; sacredly guarded as the temple of heaven: there shines the Urim and Thummim, the stones of light, the gems of immortality: there, reposes in words of light, the hidden knowledge of ages past, the prophetic history of ages to come: there wisdom has selected her palace, and understanding her dwelling place, until ‘the spirit is poured out from on high’ and ‘the skies pour down righteousness;’ then, ‘the earth opens and brings forth salvation.’

The Hill Cumorah c. 1920

“All the wealth of ages is valueless, compared with the records of eternal wisdom, the inexhaustible fountain of understanding, hidden in the secret recesses of the wonderful—the beautiful—the lovely hill Cumorah! O, Cumorah! The hill of ancient Seers and Prophets! The hill
of God! Sanctified by holy angels’ feet! From thy bowels is heard a voice, low, sweet, mild, of heavenly tones! Yet it thrills through every fiber of the heart! It speaks of man—of God— of earth—of heaven—of hell! It speaks of the past—of the future—of the destiny of nations— the reign of Messiah—the resurrection—the final judgment! O holy, lovely mount! The sacred resting place of Zion’s law! In thy chambers dwell eternal riches! In thy lovely bosom are fountains that never dry! Speak! O speak again! Let Zion hear thy voice! For thy voice is not the voice of feeble helpless man! But the voice of the Eternal One, speaking from the ground.” (Millennial Star, 1866)

In 1835, Oliver Cowdery wrote a number of letters he called The Rise of the Church. These appeared in the church publication, The Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. They were also reprinted in the Times and Seasons. In letter VII he wrote about the hill and described the area around it. It was his belief that the great and final battle in Cumorahland took place west of the hill, between the Hill Cumorah and a smaller hill about a mile west. Cowdery, like Orson Pratt, believed that the hill was not important only to the Nephite prophets, but to the Jaredites as well.

Oliver Cowdery

“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 route. 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. . . .

“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.” (Oliver Cowdery,The Rise of the Church, letter VII)

Both of these men were close to the Prophet Joseph Smith. We can assume that much of the information they gained about Book of Mormon lands came from him. They were also both prophets themselves and would be entitled to their own personal insights.

Many leaders have shared their beliefs that the hill outside Palmyra, NY is the Hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon.

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Hear what Gordon B. Hinckley had to say about the Hill Cumorah in this short video clip. (1:27)



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Image credits: All images in the public domain. The painting of Moroni appearing to Joseph Smith is by the artist C.A.A. Christiansen

Three Messengers

Iroquois_6_Nations_map_c1720-by-RA-NonenmacherThe Seneca are one of the six nations that make up the Iroquois Confederacy. The six are: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Tuscarora and Seneca.

The Seneca lived in Western New York in what is known as the Finger Lakes area. The town of Palmyra sits in the center of Seneca land.

Handsome Lake (Sganyadai:yo) was a Seneca religious leader and prophet. He was born about 1735 near present-day Avon, New York. Not much is known about his parents. We do know that he was born into the Wolf clan of his mother and was later adopted into the Turtle clan.

Joseph Knew Iroquois_western_goodsAt the time of Handsome Lake’s birth, the Seneca nation was prosperous. Living in the Finger Lakes area, which has an abundance of lakes, rivers and streams, they were successful trappers and fur traders. They traded not only with other members of the Iroquois Confederacy, but also with the ever-growing influx of Europeans that was moving further and further inland.

In 1777 Handsome Lake was part of an Iroquois war council that met with the British concerning the revolutionaries battling Britain for independence. It was Handsome Lake’s opinion that the war was a family squabble between Europeans and of no concern to the Iroquois. However, in 1778 he went along with the decision of his people and fought along side the British against the revolutionaries.

After the war, and as retribution for Iroquois support of the British, American Major General John Sullivan led a campaign against the  Iroquois. It was his intent, “…to destroy everything that contributes to their support”.

Archeologist Arthur C. Parker wrote:

“Forty towns were obliterated, 60,000 bushels of corn destroyed, fruit orchards uprooted, girdled or chopped down, one containing 1500 trees. Ruin was spread like a blanket over the Iroquois country and their garden valley reduced to a desolate blighted and forsaken region dotted with blackened ruins. Hardly a food plant remained for the coming winter.” (Arthur C. Parker, Iroquois Uses of Maize and Other Food Plants, 1919, page 20)

Cornplanter-by-F-Bartoli-1796The Iroquois began to fight back and destroyed many white villages. Cornplanter, being the Seneca War Chief, was summoned to Washington DC by George Washington. It was the desire of both men to end the fighting and to live peaceably.

As a result of this retribution, the Seneca people had suffered greatly, both temporally and emotionally.  Their once great nation fell into depression, alcoholism, and immorality.

By this time Handsome Lake was an alcoholic and in poor health. He realized he had wasted much of his life. Rather than being a spiritual leader and example to his people, he had fallen into disgrace. Preparing to die, he asked his daughter to send for his half brothers, Black Snake and Cornplanter. Laying on his cot, Handsome Lake pleaded with the Great Spirit to let him die.

Handsome-Lake-largerWhile working in the back of the lodge, his daughter heard someone shout “Niio” (alright or so be it). When she went to find out what was happening, she found her father lying on the ground near the door of the lodge. He appeared to be dead. When his half brothers arrived, Cornplanter found warm spots on the body and decided to postpone the burial.

The next day, Handsome Lake still appeared to be dead. At midday he woke and sat up. He related a vision he had had while presumed dead.

“Some voice from without said, ‘Come forth’. I hesitated, first thinking that I was speaking to myself. But after it was repeated three times, I arose to investigate. I, with much difficulty, got to the door of my lodge where I saw standing before me three looking alike, all dressed in clean white raiment, standing in clear swept space. Never before have I seen such handsome, commanding men. They held in their hands branches from bushes bearing berries of different colors.”

The men told Handsome Lake that He who created the world in the beginning  sent them.  He sent them to visit Handsome Lake because “He is grateful for my creations, furthermore, he wishes to rise from sickness and walk again upon the earth. Go down and help him to recover.”

The men told him “Take of these berries and eat of every color. They will give you strength: then come with us.”

The men then took him on a journey where he saw many of his people. He saw their sins and sufferings. After that first visit, they visited him many times and gave him instructions for the people. Handsome Lake became a great religious leader to his people. When the three messengers visited him, he then imparted the message fearlessly to his people. The religion he established among his people was called Gai’wiio meaning The Good Message or New Gospel. 

Who were these three messengers? Could they have been earlier inhabitants of North America?

In the Book of Mormon, in the book of 3 Nephi, Christ called and ordained twelve Nephite disciples. When asked what they desired, nine of them asked to live to an old age and then to be taken quickly into Christ’s presence. The other three asked to remain on earth until Christ’s second coming. They were granted that request.

3 Nephi, Chapter 28

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Image Credit:

Painting Handsome Lake and the Three Messengers by Ernie Smith, from the Collections of the Rochester Museum & Science Center, Rochester, NY.

Iroquois Nation Map — R.A. Nonenmacher, wikimedia commons

Iroquois Trading with Europeans — Public Domain

Seneca War Chief Cornplanter — F. Bartoli (1796)

They Wrote the Book

On September 21, 1823 the Book of Mormon Prophet Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith. It could be said that at that moment Joseph entered a School of the Prophets. His knowledge of the Book of Mormon, its lands, its people, its customs, practices, and wars, did not begin when he started translating the plates. It started when he met Moroni, the keeper of the plates.

John Wentworth
John Wentworth

In March 1842, at the request of John Wentworth, editor of the newspaper, the Chicago Democrat, Joseph penned a history of the church up to that point. He described that first visit of Moroni and included:

“I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origins, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people, was made known unto me.” (emphases added)

In her history, Joseph’s mother Lucy Mack Smith tells how his understanding of Book of Mormon people and events grew after that first visit from Moroni.

“From this time forth, Joseph continued to receive instructions from the Lord, and we continued to get the children together every evening for the purpose of listening while he gave us a relation of the same.”

Lucy Mack Smith
Lucy Mack Smith

Describing those evening conversations she wrote:

“During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them.” (emphases added)

Between that first visit in 1823 and 1827 when Joseph received the plates, Moroni visited the prophet at least twenty times. He was also instructed by other heavenly “teachers”. Again, from the Wentworth letter:

“After having received many visits from the angels of God unfolding the majesty and glory of the events that should transpire in the last days, on the morning of the 22nd of September, A.D. 1827, the angel of the Lord delivered the records into my hands.”

Before Joseph received the plates he had a good understanding of the people of the Book of Mormon, as Lucy Mack Smith put it, the inhabitants “of this continent”.

"The Hill Cumorah" by C.C.A Christensen
“The Hill Cumorah” by C.C.A Christensen

After that first visit from Moroni, during which he saw in a vision, the hill in which the plates were buried, Joseph began referring to that hill as Cumorah. This was not a name he received from the Book of Mormon. It was the name of the hill he received from the very person who showed him the hill. Moroni, who had buried the plates in the hill himself called the hill Cumorah.

From these writings, the Wentworth letter (penned by Joseph Smith himself), and his mother’s autobiography, we learn what Joseph knew about the Book of Mormon lands and people.

He saw them. He knew what they looked like. He knew how they dressed.

He spoke with them. He received firsthand, eye-witness accounts of their lives.

He knew where they came from. He knew they were descendants of Joseph who was sold into Egypt.

He knew where they lived. He saw their cities and buildings.

He saw their progress. He saw their civilizations, their laws and government.

He knew whom and how they worshiped. He saw their righteousness.

He knew what became of them. He saw their wars, and iniquities.

We have an expression we use when we want to identify someone as an expert in a given field. We say, He wrote the book on that subject. The person didn’t literally write the book about the subject, but he or she knows more than pretty much anyone else about it. Joseph Smith knew the lands of the Book of Mormon and he received much of his understanding from the people who lived there. He was taught by Moroni, who literally wrote the book. He met and talked with Nephi, who literally wrote the book. Joseph knew the lands and history of the Book of Mormon.

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