Tag Archives: 3 Nephi

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


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)

Great Destruction in the Land

Joseph-Knew-3-NephiIn the Book of Mormon we read of great destruction at the time of Christ’s death. Some who believe Central and South America to be the land of the Book of Mormon cite the destruction recorded in the eighth chapter of 3 Nephi as evidence, believing the heartland of North America is not prone to such destruction. As evidence to the contrary we can look at the earthquakes of 1811 and 1812. Named for a Missouri town on the Mississippi River, the quakes have become known as the New Madrid earthquakes.

At 2:15 AM on December 16, 1811 an 8.1 magnitude earthquake hit the central United States. The epicenter was in northeast Arkansas. It was strongly felt over an area of 50,000 square miles (130,000 square kilometers) and moderately felt across 1 million square miles (nearly 3 million square kilometers). By comparison, the devastating 1906 San Francisco quake was felt over approximately 6,200 square miles (16,000 square kilometers).

Four days later another 8.1 quake hit; followed by a 7.8 on January 23, 1812 and an 8.0 on February 7, 1812. From December 16 to February 7 the area was hit by over 2,000 earthquakes or after shocks.

The similarities between the destruction recorded in 3 Nephi and the destruction in America’s heartland are undeniable. Below is a verse-by-verse comparison of events in the Book of Mormon at the time of the crucifixion and events in and around New Madrid, Missouri.



3 Nephi 8:12

. . . for behold, the whole face of the land was changed, because of the tempest and the whirlwinds, and the thunderings and the lightnings, and the exceedingly great quaking of the whole earth;

New Madrid Eye-witness Accounts

There was a great shaking of the earth this morning. Tables and chairs turned over and knocked around – all of us knocked out of bed. The roar I thught (sic) would leave us deaf if we lived. – George Heinrich Grist

Many witnesses reported hearing distant thunder and loud explosions. “Earthquake Booms” can be caused by small earthquakes deep underground which are too small to be recorded. They often have the roar of distant thunder.

There were many reports in New Madrid of flashes of light coming from the ground. This is caused by quartz crystals being squeezed. This phenomenon, which can look like lightning, is called “seismoluminescence.”



3 Nephi 8:14, 17-18

And many great and notable cities were sunk, and many were burned, and many were shaken till the buildings thereof had fallen to the earth, and the inhabitants thereof were slain, and the places were left desolate. 

And thus the face of the whole earth became deformed, because of the tempests, and the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the quaking of the earth.

And behold, the rocks were rent in twain; they were broken up upon the face of the whole earth, insomuch that they were found in broken fragments, and in seams and in cracks, upon all the face of the land.

New Madrid Eye-witness Accounts

“In all the hard shocks mentioned, the earth was horribly torn to pieces – the surface of hundreds of acres, was, from time to time, covered over, in various depths, by the sand which issued from the fissures, which were made in great numbers all over this country, some of which closed up immediately after they had vomited forth their sand and water, which it must be remarked, was the matter generally thrown up. In some places, however, there was a substance somewhat resembling coal, or impure stone coal, thrown up with the sand. It is impossible to say what the depths of the fissures or irregular breaks were; we have reason to believe that some of them are very deep.” – Eliza Bryan

“The surface was sinking and a black liquid was rising up to the belly of my horse, who stood motionless, struck with a panic of terror … [ ] …water spouts, hundreds of them throwing water and sand were to be observed on the whole face of the country, the sand forming miniature volcanoes, whilst the water spouted out of the craters; some of the spouts were quite six feet high… In a few minutes, on both sides of the road as far as the eye could see, was vast expanse of sand and water, water and sand. The road spouted water, and wide openings were to be seen across it ahead of me, then under me, and my [vehicle] sank while the water and sand bubbled, and spat and sucked till my axles were covered.” – J Fletcher

“I went ashore, and found the chasm really frightful, as it was not less than four feet in width and besides the bank had sunk at least two feet. I took the candle, examined to determine its length and concluded that it could not be less than eighty yards long.” – John Bradbury (on the Mississippi River)

“The earth was broken in many places and the openings filled with water. The houses much injured – the only brick chimney in the place entirely demolished . . .” – Daniel Bedinger

Maps from the mid 1800’s referred to some lakes in the area as “Earthquake Lakes”.

In 1912, areas around the Mississippi river were identified and named “Sunklands”. Geologist Myron Fuller believed those lands were created during the New Madrid earthquake.

One terrifying phenomenon that occured in the New Madrid area was that of sand blows or sand boils. Liquefaction can cause geysers of sand, water and tar to gush from the earth. These sand blows can blow up to twenty feet high and can completely cover acres of land.



3 Nephi 8:19-20

And it came to pass that when the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the storm, and the tempest, and the quakings of the earth did cease—for behold, they did last for about the space of three hours; and it was said by some that the time was greater; nevertheless, all these great and terrible things were done in about the space of three hours—and then behold, there was darkness upon the face of the land. 

And it came to pass that there was thick darkness upon all the face of the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof who had not fallen could feel the vapor of darkness;

New Madrid Eye-witness Accounts

“We were visited by a violent shock of an earthquake, accompanied by a very awful noise resembling loud but distant thunder, but more hoarse and vibrating, which was followed in a few minutes by the complete saturation of the atmosphere, with sulphurious vapor, causing total darkness.” – Eliza Bryan

“A dense black cloud of vapor overshadowed the land.” – Godfrey LeSieur



3 Nephi 8:21-23

And there could be no light, because of the darkness, neither candles, neither torches; neither could there be fire kindled with their fine and exceedingly dry wood, so that there could not be any light at all;

And there was not any light seen, neither fire, nor glimmer, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, for so great were the mists of darkness which were upon the face of the land.

And it came to pass that it did last for the space of three days that there was no light seen; . . .

New Madrid Eye-witness Accounts

“My maw tried to light the lamps; but the darkness was so dense they didn’t help at all.” – Eliza Bryan

Not being able to light fires, burn candles, etc., is not unheard of. Fire requires approximately 18% oxygen to burn. At sea level our air contains about 21% oxygen. Although fire cannot “breathe” below 18%, humans can.


The 1811-1812 destruction in the heartland was not an isolated incident. Geologists believe similar events happened 600 years earlier around 1200 AD, and 600 years before that in 600 AD. Perhaps 600 years before that people in the heartland witnessed the same devastation and it was recorded in 3 Nephi.

Copyright © 2015 by Energy Media Works LLC

When using portions of this article, please credit: JosephKnew.com

If you have comments or questions, we would like to hear them. Just click on leave a comment below.


Find all previous posts on the Joseph Knew home page.

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Joseph Knew is part of the Mormon Media Network.


Additional Information:

See: Fuller, Myron L. 1912. The New Madrid Earthquakes. US. Geol. Survey. Bulletin.

JosephKnew.com has assembled several historical documents about the New Madrid Earthquakes. You can find these documents in PDF format here:

Document 1               Document 2               Document 3               Document 4

Document 5               Document 6               Document 7               Document 8

Document 9               Document 10             Document 11             Document 12

Document 13             Document 14             Document 15             Document 16