Category Archives: Hopewell Culture

The Law of Moses Among the Nephites

Joseph-Knew---Oman-by-wikimedia-commons---Hendrik-DacquinAfter taking his family into the wilderness and realizing they were not going back to Jerusalem, Lehi sent his sons back to retrieve the brass plates. The plates were an essential item for a family leaving their homeland and starting a new life in a new land. Lehi’s son Nephi understood that the family “could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law.” He also knew that “the law was engraved upon the plates of brass.” (1 Nephi 4:15-16)

If retrieving the plates was important enough that Lehi was willing to send his sons into a potentially dangerous situation to get them, and the family was willing to trade everything they had for them,  it stands to reason that when they arrived in the promised land they would strictly live the law of Moses. Throughout the Book of Mormon we read that the righteous did live the law. They built altars and offered sacrifices.

According to the law of Moses, there are two things that must not be part of a sacrificial alter.

Joseph Knew - Mayan AltarIt cannot be made of hewn stone.

“And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.” (Exodus 20:25)

One is not allowed to cut the stones when making an altar. One is to use no tools upon the stones. If one does use tools, the altar is polluted.

The above photo is an example of the type of altars in Central America which many people believe are Nephite altars. If this is a Nephite altar, the Nephites clearly were not strictly living the law of Moses.

By contrast, we have record of Joseph Smith identifying a Nephite altar in North America while on the Zion’s Camp march. The altar identified was made of un-cut stones, as would be consistent with the law of Moses.

Joseph Knew - Mayan Temple with AltarAltars must have no stairs.

“Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.” (Exodus 20:26)

Altars were on raised structures and getting to them required ramps. Priests wore robes and did not wear anything underneath. If they climbed stairs, those people encircling the structure would see the priest’s “nakedness”.

In the foreground of the above photo we see an altar in Central America. Not only do the cut stones disqualify it as a Nephite altar, but the stairs do as well.

Joseph-Knew---Ramped-AltarThroughout the Mississippi Valley, in what can be described as temple compounds, structures have been found which could have been built for altars. These structures were not made of cut stone and do not have stairs leading up to them. In this drawing from the 1848 book, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, we see a raised structure with four ramps, one on each side.

Such ramped altars would have been in keeping with Exodus 20. These types of altars would have been built by the descendants of Lehi, who risked so much to preserve the law.

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Image credits:

Oman Wilderness by wikimedia commons, Hendrik Dacquin

Mayan Altar by: wikimedia commons, CEHancock

Mayan Temple and Altar by: morgue, xololounge

Nephite Cities in America’s Heartland

Joseph-Knew-Mormon-Media-Network-Great-Circle“Few realize that some of the oldest, largest and most complex structures of ancient archaeology were built of earth, clay, and stone right here in America, in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. From 6,000 years ago until quite recently, North America was home to some of the most highly advanced and well organized civilizations in the world – complete with cities, roads, and commerce.” — Dr. Roger Kennedy, former director of the Smithsonian’s American History Museum

In the heartland of North America the Hopewell civilization built some of the largest and grandest earthworks in the world. The Hopewell and Nephite cultures thrived during the same time frame, 400 BC – 300 AD and many students of the Book of Mormon believe they are one and the same.

Mound cities appear to have been designed for defense. For this defense, great ditches, 6 feet deep were dug around the outsides. That dirt was then piled 6 feet high as a second defense. On top of the mound tall timbers were embedded making a palisade as a third defense.

It’s hard to call it a coincidence that Nephite Captain Moroni defended his cities in the same manner.

  • And now it came to pass that Moroni did not stop making preparations for war, or to defend his people against the Lamanites; for he caused that his armies should commence in the commencement of the twentieth year of the reign of the judges, * that they should commence in digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities, throughout all the land which was possessed by the Nephites.
  • And upon the top of these ridges of earth he caused that there should be timbers, yea, works of timbers built up to the height of a man, round about the cities.
  • And he caused that upon those works of timbers there should be a frame of pickets built upon the timbers round about; and they were strong and high. (Alma 50:1-3) * 72 B.C.

Mormon-Media-Network-Joseph-Knew-Great Octagon Max-S-RiseThe largest of these mound cities is found in Newark, Ohio. Known as the Great Octagon and the Great Circle, this city was not a place of defense, but it was a place of worship and a center for learning and Astronomical study. In 1982, professors Ray Hively and Robert Horn of Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana studied the layout of the city and determined that the people who built it had a keen understanding of astronomy and geometry. The great octagon, in conjunction with the great circle, was laid out in such a way as to line up with the rising and setting of the moon.

Mormon-Media-Network-Joseph-Knew-Great-Octagon-Max-S-SetThe Nephites of the Book of Mormon were aware of moon cycles and we know at the very least they used those cycles to chronicle time.

  • 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)

The Nephites had enough awareness of the heavens to recognize when a new star appeared. They recognized, and presumably had names for, constellation patterns.

  • Mormon-Media-Network-Joseph-Knew-Great-Octagon-Max-N-setAnd behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you. (Helaman 14:5)
  • For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. (2 Nephi 23:10)


The Moon travels through a cycle from north to south that takes 18.6 years to complete. Hively and Horn noted that the Octagon and Circle are aligned with the points on the horizon that mark the rising and setting of the moon at its southern and northern most points. It has been estimated that the odds of this being accidental or coincidental are approximately one in forty million. The people who built this city recognized not only the 28 day cycle of the moon, but also understood its 18.6 year pattern. 

Joseph-Knew-Mormon-Media-Network-Great-Circle-2It is believed by many scholars that the Great Circle and Octagon were used for religious services. Just inside the Octagon, in front of the eight gates or entrances, are eight flat-topped mounds. They stand 6 feet high, and are 75 to 90 feet long and 40 to 60 feet wide. It’s unknown for certain what these mounds were, but it’s possible they were placed there to prevent people on the outside from seeing the religious ceremonies taking place inside the Octagon. Is it possible that this, being the largest Nephite religious structure, was the temple in the Land Bountiful? Was it here that the righteous gathered after the great destruction at the time of the crucifixion?

  • Joseph-Knew-Mormon-Media-Network-Great-Circle-3And now it came to pass that there were a great multitude gathered together, of the people of Nephi, round about the temple which was in the land Bountiful; and they were marveling and wondering one with another, and were showing one to another the great and marvelous change which had taken place.
  • And they were also conversing about this Jesus Christ, of whom the sign had been given concerning his death. (3 Nephi 11:1-2)

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Newark Great Circle and Octagon photos — Energy Media Works LLC

Great Octagon and Circle etchings — Public Domain


The Hopewell Culture — Were They the Nephites of the Book of Mormon?

Many people believe, and we at Joseph Knew share the belief, that the North American people known as the Hopewell were the Nephites of the Book of Mormon.

Because many of our future articles will talk about these people and their connection to the Book of Mormon, we want to share information about them now. It’s important to understand who they were, where they lived, how they lived and what became of them.

Who Were the Hopewell?

The Hopewell people were one of the most influential cultures in North America. They were artists, architects, astronomers, scholars and theologians. They are most commonly known as mound builders. They built mounds for religious reasons, as burials sites, for protection, and as effigies.

The name Hopewell comes from Mordecai Hopewell, a landowner in Chillicothe, Illinois. It was on his property the first mounds were excavated in the 1800’s.

Joseph-Knew-Hopewell-Cement-WallWhere did They Live?

This was a Native American culture that developed and spread throughout the Midwest. It is not associated with any specific tribe, but rather is a way of life that was common throughout the heartland of North America, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Mississippi, and the Ohio Valley. The main concentration was found in these areas, but evidence of them can be found in other areas as well.

They built their cities mainly near waterways such as rivers and lakes that could support their trade system.

They created large enclosures of earthen walls 2 -3 meters high. These walls outlined shapes such as squares, circles and octagons. They created entire cities using geometry and astronomy. Their sacred enclosures often occupied spaces of over 100 acres and were laid out in distinctive patterns aligned with the sun, moon and stars.

Joseph-Knew-Hopewell-Culture-Cement-Houses-Helaman-3-11How did They Live?

They planted and harvested crops. They hunted and fished. They used tools of not only stone and flint, but of metals. Through a sophisticated trade system, they acquired shells from the Gulf Coast, obsidian from the Rocky Mountains, and copper from the Great Lakes region. They worked in copper, lead, gold, and silver creating not only tools and weapons, but also works of art.

Joseph-Knew-Hopewell-Culture-Newark-Works“They possessed a decided system of religion, and a mythological connection with astronomy, which with its sister science geometry, was in the hands of the priesthood.” (Alexander W. Bradford, American Antiquities and Research into the Origin and History of the Red Race, 1843, pages 69-71)

They built roads of cement. They built their houses, temples and sanctuaries out of timber and cement. They had a definite system of religion and the priesthood was influential in their government. God, religion, family, peace and freedom were extremely important.

Joseph-Knew-Hopewell-Culture-Title-of-Liberty-Alma-46-12When did They Live? What Happened to them?

The influential Hopewell culture flourished for approximately 700 years, beginning about 300 BC, and died out suddenly about 400 AD. Although historians cannot explain their sudden disappearance, if they were, as we believe, the Nephites, the Book of Mormon explains their demise at the hand of their enemies the Lamanites. Moroni, in about 420 AD writes:

“Now I, Moroni, after having made an end of abridging the account of the people of Jared, I had supposed not to have written more, but I have not as yet perished; and I make not myself known to the Lamanites lest they should destroy me.

“For behold, their wars are exceedingly fierce among themselves; and because of their hatred they put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ.

“And I, Moroni, will not deny the Christ; wherefore, I wander whithersoever I can for the safety of mine own life.” — Moroni 1:1-3

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Hopewell artifact images by: World Heritage Ohio. Visit their website here.

Background photo of mounds in the mist by: National Parks Service/Hopewell Culture (HOCU-NPS). Visit their website here.

Timber and concrete wall photo by: Mormon Media Network

Ancient Cities of the Mississippi Valley

As European settlers in North America moved westward they came across more and more curious looking earthworks. Some were simply man-made mounds, some detailed effigies and some were the remnants of great cities.

Between 1845 and 1847 two men traveled through much of the Mississippi Valley surveying and documenting many of these earthworks. Ephraim George Squier and Edwin Hamilton Davis recorded their findings in a publication called “Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley”.

For students of the Book of Mormon, one of their findings is of particular interest. On a site called the East Fork Works (Sometimes called “Gridiron” or “Hebrew Works”) in Clermont County, Ohio, Squire and Davis found the remains of a large complex or city laid out in a very particular manner.


This “Gridiron” (on the right in the above image) was laid out as a walled city with detailed formations. As you can see in the over-lay below, one section of the city was laid out in the shape of a menorah.

Above the menorah section of the city, we can see a Jewish clay lamp.


Also visible in the design and construction of the city are two ancient and important symbols, the compass and the square.


The Hopewell culture, of which this city is a part, dates from 100 B.C. to 600 A.D. Many of their structures and the artifacts found in and around them indicate there was a strong Hebrew influence. This Hebrew culture such as we find in the East Fork site can be explained in the Book of Mormon. A group left Israel in 600 B.C., traveled across the ocean, landed in North America, formed governments, built cities, and about 70 B.C. built, in a particular manner, the great City of Lehi.

“And it came to pass that the Nephites began the foundation of a city, and they called the name of the city Moroni; and it was by the east sea; and it was on the south by the line of the possessions of the Lamanites.

“And they also began a foundation for a city between the city of Moroni and the city of Aaron, joining the borders of Aaron and Moroni; and they called the name of the city, or the land, Nephihah.

“And they also began in that same year to build many cities on the north, one in a particular manner which they called Lehi, which was in the north by the borders of the seashore.” (The Book of Mormon, Alma 50:13-15 – emphasis added)

Whether the city found in Clermont County, Ohio is the City of Lehi, or just another Hopewell city, the Hebrew influence is clear. Combined with evidence from other sites throughout North America, the East Fork site confirms that the early inhabitants of this continent were sophisticated, educated, and religiously devoted.

Copyright © 2014 by Energy Media Works LLC

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Additional information:

They Wrote the Book – Evidence of the Book of Mormon in North America from those that lived it.

Zelph’s Mound – He served under the Prophet Onandagus.


Images in the article are from the Squire and Davis book “Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley”, plate XXXIV, page 95.

The Menorah added in over-lay is from: wikimedia commons.

The oil lamp added in over-lay is from

Newark Holy Stones

In the summer and fall of 1860 an archeological paradigm was turned on its head. Two artifacts were found in Ohio. They were immediately labeled as a hoax because they didn’t fit within the accepted thinking of the day. David Wyrick, a Licking County surveyor found the artifacts. The first (#2 in the photo above) was a triangular, wedge shaped stone found in the bottom of a pit near ancient Hopewell earthworks in Newark, Ohio. The second (#1 in the photo) was found 10 miles south during the excavation of a burial mound.

Joseph-Knew-Newark-Holy-Stone-KeystoneThe triangular stone, known as a “keystone” is inscribed on all side with Hebrew characters. It translates as:

“The Holy of Holies, The Law of God, The King of the Earth, The Word of the Lord.”

The other stone, known as the Decalogue Stone was found inside a sandstone box or case . The case was carved specifically to house the Decalogue Stone. The stone itself is inscribed on all sides with characters, which have been determined to be “Block Hebrew” or “Monumental Hebrew”. On the front of the stone is a robed man who appears to be holding a tablet. Above his head is written “Moses”. When translated, the writings, which cover the Decalogue stone were found to be the Ten Commandments.


The Hopewell mounds around the area where these artifacts were found carbon date to 150 – 250 AD. Skeptics, believing the artifacts were part of a hoax, posed two questions about these stones.Joseph-Knew-Newark-Holy-Stone---Decalogue-Stone

How could there be Hebrew writings on stones in North America during this time frame?

How could people living in North America two centuries after Christ have knowledge of the Ten Commandments?

Both of these questions can be answered if one accepts that a group of Jews, led by the Prophet Lehi came to North America in 600 BC and brought with them brass plates which contained the five Books of Moses.

Another argument proposed by skeptics is that the limestone used to make the Decalogue stone is not indigenous to the Newark area. However, in a paper published on an Ohio State University website , James L. Murphy of Ohio State University says such limestone is common in Muskingum County, Ohio.

The Hebrew script found on the Newark Holy Stones differs from that used today.

The Hebrew alphabet changed significantly after the Babylonian exile (597 – 582 BCE). If a group came to North America around 600 BCE we would expect that their script and the script of their descendants would differ from present-day script.

Joseph-Knew-Newark-Holy-Stones---Ceremonial-BowlAlong with the Keystone and the Decalogue stone, a small stone bowl was found. In his book, “The Book of Mormon in America’s Heartland – A Visual Journey of Discovery”, Rod Meldrum presents an explanation for the bowl’s purpose.

“The small stone bowl or cup is significant because similar stone vessels are typical of Jews who kept the purity laws. Stone vessels do not become impure, and purity was very important.

“After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, the use of stone bowls as ritual objects were discontinued. Stone bowls to hold ceremonial oils, such as this, are significant because it could have been part of Hopewell sacred rituals, as it was for the Jews.”

Such ceremonial bowls would have still been in use by a Hebrew culture in North America in 150-200 AD because the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD did not affect their culture.

Skeptics when these stones were found, and some skeptics today, believe these stones are forgeries because there is no evidence of a Hebrew civilization or even a Hebrew influence in the Hopewell civilization. These stones were some of the first artifacts found that depicted Hebrew script. Just because something is new or unusual doesn’t make it a forgery. Since 1860, many other artifacts have been found which support the idea that early inhabitants of North America were of Jewish decent.

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Holy Stone photos by: Mormon Media Network.

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Additional Information:


Alphabet Chart from: — Click chart for larger view.

Additional Reading:

“The Script of the Torah” Jerusalem, Israel: Aishdas. 2002., Sanhedrin 21b-22a

“An Annotated Transcription of the Ohio Decalogue Stone.” by J. Huston McCulloch, Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers vol. 21 (1992): 56-71.

“A History of the Hebrew Language”. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. 1993. ISBN 0-521-55634-1.)


Previous Posts:

Zelph’s Mound

They Wrote the Book

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