The Great and Spacious Book of Mormon Arcade Game

My two recent articles on Lehi’s Trail at The Interpreter  (“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map, Part 1” and Part 2) have been noted and responded to by RT of the Faith Promoting Rumor blog, whose critiques were the primary topic of my work. He points out that my work is rife with methodological and other flaws, though the specific flaws and failed arguments are not yet identified.

Further, regarding my responses in Part I to the dozens of issues he has thrown out, he complains that I have taken a shotgun approach. I’m not sure what words best describes the action of pulling out the scattered pellets delivered from a shotgun blast, but perhaps “anti-shotgun approach” would be more appropriate. In spite of the diverse topics that require treatment, such as ancient sacrificial practices, the use of camels in the ancient Near East, the alleged blunder of mentioning the “fountain of the Red Sea,” and the details of the terrain around the candidate for Bountiful that handily and surprisingly refutes RT’s claim that a place like Bountiful could not possibly have been uninhabited, there are some key focus areas in the two-part article that merit more than a casual dismissal, in my opinion. I was expecting more substance. I thought there were a few interesting findings and possibly new resolutions to past problems worthy of comment.

He does offer the complaint that I frequently point to cited work of others instead of developing several already treated issues from the beginning, though does not specify where my reliance on previous work is inadequate. The two-part document was already on the rather lengthy side, so I hope my efforts to reduce unnecessary redevelopment of past work can be forgiven.

Naturally, RT was also not pleased by my lack of respect for some branches of modern biblical scholarship that claim the Bible has little historical value and is largely a pious fraud.  That does not come as a surprise, though the extent of his focus on that one issue somewhat surprised me, as if no sane person could agree with scholars like Kenneth Kitchen who dare to challenge the biblical minimalists directly and bluntly. The implicit appeal to authority on this issue does not seem like a convincing response to me, but since I’m not a biblical scholar worthy of engagement on the issues, I suppose all that needs to be done is to assert that his original case still stands, as he does.

To his credit, RT did somewhat acknowledge one point from one of the focus areas of my response regarding the low probability of Joseph having accessed one of the maps of Arabia that had the name Nehem or Nehhm:

On the subject of maps, I agree with
Lindsay about their rarity. In a strictly historical sense, the
likelihood of JS encountering one in rural Western New York wasn’t very
high. But my argument for dependence on a map doesn’t actually rise or
fall on the question of accessibility, but on a combination of other
factors, e.g. the BoM’s fictional character, the vague geography of the
journey through Arabia vs. the precision of the location Nahom, the
similarity between Ireantum and Erythraeum, other map features, etc. I
assume that there were more maps available to JS in his world than we
have record. Also, Rick Grunder has informed me that near to the time JS
was dictating 1 Nephi he may have visited the Reynolds Arcade in
Rochester, New York, which seems to form the material background for
parts of the story of Lehi’s dream. At the time the Arcade was an exceptionally large and lavish building that featured a library, rare maps, and periodicals. [link is to Grunder’s PDF file]

This shows some progress, perhaps, compared to his previous essay on Nahom (part 3) that approvingly quoted Philip Jenkins: “The map evidence makes it virtually certain that Smith encountered and
appropriated such a reference, and added the name as local color in the
Book of Mormon.” He at least recognizes that access to a Nahom-related map may not have been so likely, but still seems persuaded that the Book of Mormon ultimately depends on a map through some means.

But one thing in his response greatly surprised me: RT’s approval of a newly proposed modern source as inspiration for a key portion of the Book of Mormon, namely, the Reynolds Arcade in Rochester, New York as the inspiration for Lehi’s vision featuring the great and spacious building.  This creative idea comes from Rick Grunder, a master of finding creative parallels for Book of Mormon elements (see the review of his work by Ben McGuire, “Finding Parallels: Some Cautions and Criticisms, Part One” and “Part Two” at The Interpreter). Grunder views the Reynolds Arcade parallel as the crowning achievement of his Mormon studies work, one that should convince Mormons that the Book of Mormon is rooted in modernity. Grunder’s crowning discovery from his decades of research to explore, rather exclusively,  the purported modern origins of the Book of Mormon is detailed in “The Dream of the Iron Rod,” PDF file taken from Entry 350, “Reynolds Arcade (Rochester, New York),” in Mormon
Parallels: A Bibliographic Source
, 2nd ed. (Lafayette, New York: Rick
Grunder ‐ Books, 2014), pp. 1367‐1431; available at

The great and spacious Reynolds Arcade in Rochester. The observatory on top was missing at the time.

According to Grunder, as Joseph neared the end of his translation work of the Book of Mormon in June 1829, near the beginning of the translation of the small plates of Nephi, he got the idea for the “great and spacious building” in Lehi’s dream when he made a trip to Rochester to look for a printer of the nearly completed manuscript. Inspired by a large building in Rochester, the Reynolds Arcade, towering at four-and-a-half stories, and just a block or so from an iron railing on an aqueduct that crossed the local Genesee River, Joseph thought of an iron rod and a “great and spacious building” that plays such a significant role in 1 Nephi. Joseph then quickly added that material to his dictated translation and voila, 1 Nephi was written, followed by the rest of the small plates material in short order.

Grunder makes an interesting case. There was an iron barrier, a fence
or guardrail, running along the impressive aqueduct of the Erie Canal
that crosses the Genesee River in Rochester. The iron fence and the
aqueduct were not far from the original Reynolds Arcade, built in 1828,
which in Grunder’s view is a great and spacious building–or rather, the
great and spacious building that inspired Joseph. It was a
four-and-a-half story building with a unique open interior like modern
malls. It had shops on the first and second floors, including a popular
post office. While four stories may not seem tall enough to qualify as
Lehi’s giant building, a small but lofty structure on the top went well
above the four-story bulk of the building, extending as high as 90 feet.
So if Joseph were the author of the Book of Mormon, he could have seen
that building and been wowed. Then he could have seen the aqueduct and
got the idea of an iron rod.

The Rochester iron rod is on an aqueduct going across the Genesee
river, not running along the bank of the river, as in Lehi’s dream, and
the river does not divide the wicked in the great and spacious building
from the rod of iron in Lehi’s dream, but yes, there was an iron railing and a
river and a rather tall building for upstate New York standards. And
Joseph could have seen all that in his June(?) 1829 trip to Rochester,
where he tried to find a printer to print the Book of
Mormon. Therefore, if the visit was early enough in June, it would be theoretically possible for Joseph to have used
the Reynolds Arcade as inspiration for the early chapters of 1 Nephi in
his remaining days of translation work, generally understood to have
been completed by July 1. Grunder is ecstatic with this find.

RT is intrigued by the iron rod + Reynolds Arcade theory, and notes that he has always wondered where Joseph got the iron rod idea.

Better still, RT hopefully hints that the Arcade housed “a library, rare maps, and periodicals.” Could the Arcade solve the mystery of the Dream Map, offering the source to the rare maps of Arabia that Joseph would need to complete the Book of Mormon? In a way, it’s a beautiful theory.

But did the Arcade house rare maps that Joseph could have accessed? What is the evidence for this?

Grunder cites an 1830 source that mentions maps at the Athenaeum, an educational institute in Rochester which was housed in the Arcade:

“Under its [the Arcade’s] roof,” reported New York City’s Monthly Repository magazine in 1830, “are six stores, an extensive boarding house, the post office, printing and exchange offices, the Atheneum, justices’ and lawyers’ offices, &c. The Atheneum is very creditable to the place, having a very valuable library, maps, the periodicals and newspapers from various parts.” (Monthly Repository 1:5, cited further above, pp. 123-24).

Maps, perhaps. But where are the “rare maps” of RT? And where are the rare maps of Arabia that might have inspired Joseph? No evidence that I have found supports that wishful notion. But it’s a beautiful theory, nonetheless.

RT’s implicit “Grunder on steroids” theory, where “rare maps” at the Arcade might have helped Joseph, needs to be considered and perhaps fleshed out a bit. I think it goes something like this (warning: unnamed methodological flaws and rhetorical posturing follow): Joseph, looking for a printer because he’s almost ready to print his book, stumbles across a building that inspires a whole new section for the crucial beginning of the book that he hasn’t exactly written yet. There will be a mysterious vision with a tall building, an iron rod, a river! Maybe a post office and a bar. No, scrap that. But we’ll import a tree with genuine New York “fruit country” fruit. Only white. And the story of the vision will take place during a voyage through–say, look at that rare map here in the Athenaeum–Arabia! Let’s see, how to get from Jerusalem to the ocean. Ah, there it is! South-southwest along the Red Sea, then stop at Nehem/Nehhm for “local color,” and then due east across the desert to, um, Bountiful (OK, that’s not on the map, but a guy can make a lucky guess now and then, right?). Grab the hat, time to dictate a few more pages to a scribe, and then to press! Just in the nick of time.

To flesh out the theory, it helps to know a little more about the Athenaeum. According to RIT’s “History of RIT” page, it was founded in 1829 by Colonel Nathaniel Rochester and other Rochester community leaders “for the purpose of cultivating and promoting literature, science, and the arts.” It was housed in the Reynolds Arcade, and had a book collection that would grow over the years until  1847, when the Athenaeum merged with the Mechanics Literary Association, founded in 1836 by William A. Reynolds (son of Abelard Reynolds), to form the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Association. The resulting merged library would have over 8,000 volumes, making it a truly significant library. It would be a major part of the roots of RIT (not to be confused with RT). When it was in the Reynolds Arcade, it included a meeting room and a small reading room with a library, provided by Abelard Reynolds. Though small in 1829, could it have offered what Joseph needed, just in the nick of time?

If so, Joseph’s access to the fledgling library and whatever exotic maps it may have might pose a problem. Important information comes from the Rochester Athenaeum Collection at RIT:

The first meeting of the Athenaeum was held on June 12, 1829 and Nathaniel Rochester was chosen as the first president. For a $5 annual fee, individuals could use the Athenaeum’s space in the Reynolds Arcade building for private events. More importantly, however, they could use the organization’s collection of books and journals. These materials were not limited to the field of science, but spanned a variety of subject areas. On February 12, 1830, the Athenaeum was granted a charter from the State of New York, with the stated purpose of “cultivating and promoting literature, science and the arts.”

Grunder’s theory could be even more beautiful if he would but speculate that Joseph was there at that first meeting, perhaps with Solomon Spaulding, gleefully discussing Book of Mormon lore while picking up story tips from his fellow literati as they scanned rare European maps of Arabia and then watched sunset on a walk across the aqueduct while holding on to the iron rod as they crossed the misty river and tried not to fall into the gulf of misery and woe.


Sadly, whatever treasures the Athenaeum had or would one day have, they probably were not available to Joseph. Like a variety of other libraries in the US at this time, this was not a public library where any farm boy could wander in and handle rare maps of Arabia, if one imagines that the Atheneum had such things. Joseph had just recently struggled to get money to buy paper for the translation process. He and Oliver had been short on food. He was relying on a mortgaged farm from Martin Harris to pay the overwhelming cost of printing the Book of Mormon. I don’t imagine he was ready to spend $5 in 1829 dollars to pay an annual fee to access a fledgling library that he had nearly no time to enjoy. The Athenaeum is simply not a promising candidate for Book of Mormon origins. But could the Arcade itself have played a pivotal role?

The “nick of time” part is where we still run into some difficulty. Did Joseph actually visit Rochester before he had completed Lehi’s dream in the early chapters of 1 Nephi? June was a pretty busy month for Joseph and I don’t think there is adequate time in Grunder’s scenario for a June Rochester trip followed by frenetic translation of almost the entire small plates of Nephi. First note that chronologies of the translation of the Book of Mormon put its completion around July 1 or the end of June. For example, David Whitmer said that “The translation at my father’s farm, Fayette Township, Seneca County, New York occupied about one month, that is from June 1, to July 1, 1829” (Kansas City Daily Journal, 5 June 1881, as quoted at FAIRMormon). On June 11, Joseph, possibly through the work of Martin Harris, applied for a copyright for his book to help protect his rights, a process that required filing the printed title page of the Book of Mormon in a distant copyright office in Utica, New York, about 120 miles from Palmyra, as detailed by Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, BYU and Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2015), p. 164. The title page of the 1830 Book of Mormon makes it pretty clear that the account of Ether and the burying or sealing up of the plates had already been described, so it’s fair to say that the translation of 1 Nephi was already underway by that date. A key question is when did Joseph go to Rochester and how much remained to be translated when he went?

Grunder depends on Joseph taking his time to get 1 Nephi started. He requires Joseph to have pretty much stopped translating after hitting the end of the Book of Mormon and its title page (at the end) in order to seek out printers, before rushing to complete the last few pages. How many pages? There are 143 pages from 1 Nephi 1 to Omni in the 1981 printing of the Book of Mormon. Translation rates have been estimated at 5 to 10 pages a day. During June, Joseph would deal with the three witnesses, he would travel to Palmyra and then Rochester and spend time seeking printers, he would travel back to work with scribes to translate the plates, and then he would need at least half of June to complete the translation at a rapid pace. It’s no wonder that Grunder states that Joseph must have gone to Rochester early in June and then did the translation of 1 Nephi afterwards:

THE LATEST COMPARISON OF ORIGINAL SOURCES suggests that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were not settled in the Whitmer cabin to begin this part of the dictation until about June 5 (EMD 5:417, detailed chronology assembled from extensive documentation). Very shortly thereafter, they visited the Grandin printing shop in Palmyra. Then Joseph went on to Rochester where he was reported again almost immediately with Martin Harris.

The negotiation with printers did not initially require Joseph to abandon the work of translation, for he sent Martin Harris to Palmyra “by early June, and possibly before” with a manuscript copy of the title page to use in negotiations (MacKay and Dirkmaat, p. 165). Martin met with Egbert B. Grandin in Palmyra. The man who became the typesetter, John Gilbert, reported that it was in early June when Harris and Grandin met (see Gilbert’s 1892 typescript memoir, “Recollections of John H. Gilbert  [by himself],” archived at BYU). Grandin was skeptical and refused to take on the project. Grandin would publish an article on June 26, 1829 mocking the Book of Mormon project as the “result of gross imposition, and a grosser superstition,” showing that at this time in late June, Grandin was not seriously considering taking on the publication task at this time. After Grandin’s rejection, Joseph and Martin together sought help from others in Palmyra, without success.

According to Pomeroy Tucker an employee of E.B. Grandin, when the initial negotiations took place in June, Joseph brought the title page and some manuscript pages, and was able to tell Grandin how many folios (sets of folded pages) would be needed to complete the book:

In June, 1829, Smith and the prophet, his brother Hyrum, Cowdery the scribe, and Harris the believer, applied to Mr. Egbert B. Grandin, then publisher of the Wayne Sentinel at Palmyra (now deceased), for his price to do the work of one edition of three thousand copies. Harris offered to pay or secure payment if a bargain should be made. Only a few sheets of the manuscript, as a specimen, with the title-page, were exhibited at this time, though the whole number of folios was stated, whereby could be made a calculation of the cost. Mr. Grandin at once expressed his disinclination to entertain the proposal to print at any price, believing the whole affair to be a wicked imposture and a scheme to defraud Mr. Harris, who was his friend, and whom he advised accordingly.

[Pomeroy  Tucker, Origin,  Rise,  And  Progress of Mormonism: Biography  Of  Its  Founders  And  History  of Its  Church (New York: D. Appleton, 1867), pp. 50-51.]

This suggests that the manuscript, of course, was nearly complete and Joseph at least knew how many more pages of text would be needed to complete the translation. Is this consistent with theories that suggest Joseph was ready to start creating major, lengthy new sections on the fly? Yet it appears there may still have been some translation to be done, so some additional content may have been forthcoming in the final days of June.

An important question is when did Joseph then go to Rochester to look for other printers to take on the task of publication. Pomeroy Tucker states that Joseph and his team “immediately” went to Rochester after visiting Grandin (Tucker, p. 52), but Tucker wouldn’t know the details of their trip apart from what Joseph would later tell Grandin sometime after his return.  Of course, given early June negotiations with Grandin, one can assume that the trip to Rochester happened shortly threafter, giving a mid-June estimate for that trip, which is what several authors have accepted (e.g., see the chronology for Oliver Cowdery at which puts the trip at mid-June). Y

More recently, however, MacKay and Dirkmaat in From Darkness Unto Light state that Joseph Smith and Martin Harris decided to visit printers in Rochester, “likely arriving in Rochester sometime in July” (MacKay and Dirkmaat, p. 168, emphasis mine). After several days  discussing and negotiating with printers in Rochester, Elihu Marshall agreed to take on the project. This was not yet a good solution for Joseph, though, who would have a hard time staying close to the work in a town almost 25 miles from Palmyra, but the offer from Marshall gave him standing to renegotiate with Grandin, who now realized that someone was going to print to the book after all, and he might as well be the one to get the work, but under rather harsh terms (MacKay and Dirkmaat, pp. 168-175). According to MacKay and Dirkmaat, “While it is not known definitively when the men settled on terms with Grandin, by 11 August 1829, Jonathan Hadley reported in his paper that the Book of Mormon was ‘soon to be put to press’ in Palmyra rather than in Rochester” (p. 175).

A chronology at FairMormon also puts the Rochester visit in July 1829, with the Grandin deal being finalized in August.  In the widely cited and detailed Book of Mormon chronology compiled by Eldon Watson at, the Rochester trip does not appear to take place in June at all, which is packed with Book of Mormon translation work. In that chronology, 1 Nephi 11 is completed by June 7, 1829. Later, 2 Nephi 27, giving details about the three witnesses, is estimated to be translated on June 20, giving rise to the three witnesses event near the end of June. Whether Rochester was visited in mid-June or in July, Watson’s chronology leaves no room for speculating that something on that trip was a catalyst for material in 1 Nephi 8 and 1 Nephi 11. Lehi’s vision was already described.

As for the Rochester trip, July makes more sense to me. A problem with a mid-June date for the Rochester trip is that the subsequent negotiations with Grandin take place later in July (being finalized as late as August),
and the significant events with the three witnesses and the eight
witnesses take place near the end of June. If a bid from Elihu Marshall was obtained in mid-June, why the lengthy delay in getting back to Grandin, having won an all-important competitive bid that would enable working with a printer
much closer to home where the security of the manuscripts and the
details of the work could be adequately supervised? If the issue of finalizing the printing plans was important enough for Joseph to delay the translation project in mid-June, why not follow-up immediately with Grandin upon returning from Rochester?

Arriving in Rochester in July means that Joseph wasn’t interrupting his urgent translation work to travel to Rochester. “Socks first, then shoes. Write first, then print.” It would mean that he was probably done with the translation and would be able to soon provide the initial pages of the manuscript (which Oliver would be working on rapidly in July, producing the Printer’s Manuscript) once the printer was secured. In this scenario, if accurate, no matter how impressed Joseph was by the 4.5 stories of the Arcade, or any other tall building in Rochester, complete with nearby iron rod, a river, and fruit trees in the region, it would be too late to start dreaming about how to use that material in Lehi’s vision. It was already in ink.

The “nick of time” problem isn’t resolved by a June visit to Rochester, if it turns out that his visit was much earlier than July after all, early enough somehow to have preceded the account of Lehi’s vision in 1 Nephi 8. Making up the books of Nephi on the fly to incorporate newly encountered scenes from Rochester leaves us with numerous problems. First, the record of Lehi, which was in the 116 lost pages that could turn up at any time, as far as Joseph knew, most likely contained some aspects of Lehi’s vision, for it is in the midst of Lehi’s discussions after his dream and just before Nephi’s own version of that dream that Nephi tells us that the many details of Lehi’s preaching at this time are given in the large plates plates (1 Nephi 10:15). Nephi also tells us in the midst of Lehi’s dream-related account in 1 Nephi 8:29 that he is not going to write all the words of his father on this matter, which follows 1 Nephi 1:17 where Nephi explains that he is abridging the record of his father and then will give his own record. The lost 116 pages should have more details from Lehi’s visions and preaching, not much less than Nephi’s abridgement. The same should apply to details of life and struggles along Lehi’s trail, including details that one might allege could come from a map.

This is a point to emphasize. The material about Lehi’s vision and Lehi’s journey was very likely already on the lost 116 pages and not something Joseph could conceivably make up on the fly.  If Joseph were a con man making things up and fooling his scribes, Lehi’s vision — and the gist of the travels through Arabia — can’t be freshly concocted at this stage or else his own scribes and whoever may have had the 116 lost pages could cry foul. Innovations from a mystery map in the Arcade doesn’t help, nor does inspiration from four stories of spaciousness at the Reynolds Arcade. None of this is in the nick of time in any scenario.

The relationship of the small plates to the rest of the Book of Mormon also poses crucial problems for theories of fabrication, including last-minute fabrication based on seeing a “great and spacious building” in Rochester. Many details in Nephi’s writings are relied on in subtle ways throughout the Book of Mormon, such as Lehi’s and Nephi’s use of dust imagery, building on the theme of rising from the dust in Isaiah 52, which is fittingly used by Moroni to close the Book of Mormon and is employed in other subtle ways in the text (I have a forthcoming article submitted to the Interpreter on this topic, which builds on a related essay by David Bokovoy). While the iron rod is not explicitly mentioned later in the Book of Mormon, several concepts related to Lehi’s vision are present, including:

  • the need to “lay hold upon the word of God” to lead us in a “strait and narrow course across th everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked” (Helaman 3:29)
  • avoiding “the great gulf of death and misery” that represents death and hell (Alma 26:20; Helaman 3:28-30; Helaman 5:12)
  • the consistently negative implications of “spacious buildings” (Mosiah 11:8-9, referring to Noah’s “elegant and spacious buildings” and “spacious palace,” and then Mormon’s condemnation of Riplakish, who taxed the people to “build many spacious buildings” in Ether 10:5)
  • the tree of life (though this is an important theme from Genesis as well) and its fruit (e.g., Alma 5:34, which juxtaposes the fruit with the waters of life as well).
  • “mists of darkness” in 3 Nephi 8:22, part of the destruction accurately prophesied by Nephi.

1 Nephi and the experiences and teachings along Lehi’s trail are artfully woven into the Book of Mormon. The Liahona plays a critical role. The basic story line with Nephi, Lehi, Laman, Zoram, etc., is already woven throughout the book in numerous references, as is the basic idea of their exodus from Jerusalem in a difficult trek that would take them to the New World where the Nephites will  again apply the name Bountiful from Nephi’s account. The sufferings during that trek, which, contrary to Grunder, who only equates Nephi’s “wilderness” with the verdant, moist territory around Palmyra, did include thirst (Alma 18:37 and Alma 37:42) and did include many details consistent with a record from someone who had crossed Arabia as described (see my “Technicolor Dream Map” articles). While Grunder thinks Nephi’s use of “wilderness” and his failure to use the word “desert” means Joseph was just thinking of the green, moist wilderness around his home when writing the Book of Mormon, if only he would take off the blinders he might see 1 Nephi offers much more than anything Joseph could have dreamed up based on New England terrain. RT had a similar objection that I treat in Part 1 of the Technicolor Dream Map, point #34 in the brief responses to RT, where I point out that the word “wilderness” in the Book of Mormon is an appropriate translation for at least two commonly used biblical Hebrew terms that are sometimes also translated as “desert.” In fact, as the group came to the southern end of the Dead Sea, they would encounter the wide rift valley of Arabah, a name that actually means wilderness, just as Nephi had recorded.

There are many further details to consider. For example, as members of Lehi’s family moved back and forth in the Jerusalem area, the use of “up” and “down” is always perfectly consistent with the real terrain.  But the real excitement comes in recognizing that the now plausible description of once-ridiculed, “impossible” places like the Valley of Lemuel and Bountiful, along with accurate, plausible directions, and the impressive archaeological confirmations for ancient Nahom, even coupled with a Hebraic word play, add layers of ancient reality to Lehi’s Trail that have no relationship whatsoever to Joseph Smith’s local terrain. That’s why the leading critics and skeptics insist there must have been help from a map and perhaps many other sources to even get a few of those many things right. To me it’s rather extreme to speculate that significant portions of the writings of Nephi et al. were concocted on the fly in late June, in part inspired by a newly encountered building, resulting in pages of new text hastily tossed into the manuscript just in time for printing. But some theories are too beautiful to drop. 

For those interesting in the Reynolds Arcade and its history and architecture (a great tidbit of American, complete with a “Chinese pagoda” on top!), here are some further materials to consider:

  • Bob Marcotte, “Reynolds Arcade,” “Retrofitting Rochester” series in partnership with the Office of the City Historian of Rochester, Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY, 2012. A good overview of the impressive four-story building that would be an important part of Rochester life for many years.
  • Walking Tour of Rochester’s One Hundred Acre Plot,” This features several photos and drawings of the Reynolds Arcade and other prominent buildings in Rochester, with some history.
  • Reynolds Arcade,”, Monroe County (NY) Library System. Several historic views of the Reynolds Arcade. 
  • Diane Shaw, City Building on the Eastern Frontier: Sorting the New Nineteenth Century City (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), pp. 124-130 (viewable at Amazon). Shaw points out that the glass roofing shown in some photos is from a remodeling effort long after Joseph might have seen the building. 
  • Rick Grunder, “The Great and Spacious Building,” guest post at World Without End, April 27, 2015. A beautiful theory, but best served with a great and spacious grain of salt.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

78 thoughts on “The Great and Spacious Book of Mormon Arcade Game

  1. Well, don't forget, Jeff, that RT pointed out that you are not a historian and by implication RT is and therefore much smarter than you in history. 🙂

    Overall your responses to RT are magnificent. Very professional with humorous sarcasm injected into them.

  2. I googled a bit about the Reynolds Arcade. It looks as though it would have been much more imposing in 1830, when it had only just been built. The older images here (one of the links at the end of Jeff's post) show something that might well be called "great".

    It would also have been "spacious". As another image from the same one of Jeff's links shows, there was this huge open skylit space. Even today it seems to me that there are few buildings that one would naturally call "spacious"; even very large buildings are usually cut up into smallish spaces inside. Now that I think about this, it seems odd to me that any ancient person such as Lehi would have a dream about a spacious building. Whereas the Reynolds Arcade would probably have struck contemporary visitors as being precisely that unusual thing.

    I found a catalog of the Rochester Athenaeum library, which apparently was housed in the Arcade, from 1839. That's a few years after Smith's visit. But it shows quite a number of books about the middle east, including Volume 4 (Arabia) of Josiah Conder's Modern Traveler series. Some bookseller has posted scans of the cover page of that book, and dated it to "ca. 1825". The scans show a big fold-out map of Arabia — in too low a resolution for me to see whether there is any form of Nahum marked.

    At this point my conscience is making me go back to work. I don't know whether the map in Conder's book showed Nahum. I don't know whether the Reynolds Arcade already had a copy of that book in 1829, ten years before it showed up in the catalog that I found. And of course I don't know whether Joseph Smith got a look at Nahum on that map. Even if it was there, he might well have passed within a few yards of it without ever seeing it, for lack of the $5 yearly fee.

    I don't know how stringently that fee was demanded, however. Perhaps the Athenaeum Library would let people in to look at the books for a few hours free, as a come-on, rather than demanding $5 up front to join a library sight unseen. There's nothing so dubious about a guy like Smith wanting to check out a library. Even if he were a true prophet, after all, I could well imagine him wanting to learn all he could about Arabia, just in order to have a better understanding of the mysterious stuff he was translating.

  3. Ach, one more note:

    If you scroll down further in that 1839 catalog of the Rochester Athenaeum Library, you find it shows one copy of the Book of Mormon. It is listed under Tales and Novels, with author S. Spaulding. Obviously whoever classified it there had no particular theological authority. It does show that the Book of Mormon was on the one hand distributed to such a place by 1839, but on the other hand not always appreciated. That might be a useful data point for the early spread of Mormonism.

  4. And one more:

    That scanned catalog to which I linked has a bunch of club rules and meeting notes and stuff at the end. Among them is the rule that strangers are permitted to use the reading room free of charge, throughout their stay in Rochester, if they are first introduced by a guest or member. If that same rule was in effect in 1829, then Smith would not have faced a $5 admission charge.

  5. James, thanks for even looking at this issue. Drawings of buildings, especially those that promote the building, do tend to look more imposing than the real thing, but there's no doubt that this was a significant and imposing building. And it's quite likely that Joseph did see and notice it–but not in time to inspire Lehi's words.

    The details are a bit frustrating when such a beautiful theory is there, so tantalizingly close. Maybe it needs to be upgraded to Joseph seeing a postcard of the building? Or how about Solomon Spaulding or Sidney Rigdon seeing the building? Where there's a will, there's a theory. I'll be interested to see how the theory gets updated, and look forward to further historical details that might further clarify the timing of the Rochester trip, etc.

    Meanwhile, First and Second Nephi are some of the most majestic jewels of the Book of Mormon, rich in Hebraisms, poetry, subtle meaning and powerful prose, with many layers of complexity and structure that shatter theories of casual concoction on the fly after encountering an imposing building, an iron fence, and some local fruit. Hope you'll give it a careful read and see some of the richness there.

  6. Thank you for your insightful and well composed responses to RT. I also grateful for the reference to Eldon Watson's wonderful timeline, of which I was previously unaware.

    That said, it does seem a bit outdated on the point of how the small plates are incorporated into the overall record. Unless I'm misreading Brr. Watson, he seems to think that Mormon inserted the small plates directly into his narrative (see his discussion right after the translation of the 116 pages). However, that doesn't seem to fit with the evidence, as demonstrated here:

    Rather than the small plates being inserted, they seem to have been appended. So you have Mormon's Large Plates, Moroni's additions, then the Small Plates. It's also possible the that small plates were appended to the beginning of the overall record, with Mormon's subscriptio between the end of the small plates and the beginning of the "Book of Lehi". That way, Moroni could still add the (previously unplanned) books of Ether and Moroni and have the title page come from the last leaf, as Joseph states.

  7. @Jeff:

    Heh, you're right — drawings probably do make the Arcade look as great and spacious as it possibly could. I mean, drawing is work. I'm not going to waste my time drawing a dumpy little building. And if I'm doing it because somebody paid me, they probably don't want me to make the place look like a shack.

    And you're also right that even if the dates don't work out for Lehi's vision, there will be ways to finagle this. On the one hand, that's a serious point. A resourceful fraud is hard to rule out. On the other hand you're right to suggest that it somehow takes the shine off the great whistleblowing "arcade game", if it has to be stretched in this way.

    Were Reynolds Arcade and that aqueduct guardrail really sources for the building and iron rod in Lehi's dream? For people who are sure that the Book of Mormon was a fiction by Smith, but who nonetheless care a lot about how exactly it was produced, this is surely a huge deal. I doubt there are more than a few dozen such people in the world. It's an academic point.

    It can't possibly be a major point for ordinary skeptics, because there's no particular reason why Lehi's dream had to be put into the Book of Mormon. The spacious building and the iron rod are both minor details, which could easily have been left out or altered, if Smith were making it up. Conversely, if Smith were just making it up, there's no reason why he couldn't have made up both those details. So it's a bit of a fluke that Smith would have been writing about an ancient dream of a great and spacious building at the same time he saw a modern one in Rochester. But it's not really much less of a fluke on the fraud theory than on the prophet theory. If a Mormon were just to shrug and say, "There you go, a bit of synchronicity," I wouldn't feel like saying, "Oh, come on". I think I'd just shrug back.

    The map in the library concerns me more, however. At the moment it's unclear whether Smith could have had free access to the library in 1829, as he could have under the 1839 rules. It's unclear whether the library had any Arabian maps in 1829, as it did in 1839. And it's unclear whether it ever had any maps showing Nahom or Nehem. If I were willing to invest a couple of hundred bucks in just checking out that last question, I could buy this copy of Josiah Conder's Arabian volume; but I'm afraid I'm not up for that.

    If it should turn out that Conder's map shows Nehem and was on the shelf in the Reynolds Arcade in 1829, though, then the technicolor map scenario would get a huge boost. It would be awkward for the Book of Mormon if the only good fit for Book of Mormon archaeology was stuff that Joseph Smith could easily have seen in 1829 — not just potentially, but in fact.

    One might still argue that just because Smith visited Rochester doesn't mean he looked at that map (if it existed). But I think that's a weak branch. After all, it would make excellent sense for Smith to take any opportunity to look at maps of Arabia, regardless of whether the Book of Mormon is true or false. Either way, Smith was working on a book that involved a journey through Arabia. Whether he was translating or composing, he would very plausibly have been interested in learning all he could about Arabia, and the library in the Reynolds Arcade would have been a sensible place to look.

  8. Hey James, if you are looking for sources Joseph could have ripped off for 1st Nephi, try the Narrative of Zosimus.

    Stunningly close to 1st Nephi. Clear source for Joseph, much more than this building.

    Only one teeny weeny problem: It wasn't discovered until a few decades after the Book of Mormon was published. No one anywhere had access to it in the 1820-30's.

    It's actually a bit of a mystery, really. It's an ancient document from the Old World. There's no possible way Joseph or anyone else could have known about it. But it's very similar to 1st Nephi, so 1) how did Joseph get it to plagiarize and 2) If Joseph didn't plagiarize , how did that story show up in ancient Israel?

    Our Host Jeff commented on it clear back in 2004.

  9. Thanks Jeff for continuing the discussion. If you would like me to address your responses/arguments in more detail and explain why I found them to be so problematic, I would be happy to do so, as soon as I find the available time 🙂 I have quite a few other projects on the burners.

    A few comments:

    1) The reason I referred to your article as a shotgun treatment was not because you dealt with diverse topics, as you are correct that I did the same in my articles, but because I felt the analysis was so thin and ad hoc, meaning that I constantly felt like you misunderstood or failed to appreciate the logic and range of evidence of my argument.

    2) You're correct that I don't find your tendency to dismiss academic biblical studies to be credible or satisfactory. The field of biblical studies is so much more complex, intelligent, and interesting than you seem to be aware. Before you start making broad statements about the nature and status of the various discussions going on in it, I would encourage you to read a little bit more widely than a few books by R. E. Friedman, W. Dever, or K. Kitchen, the last of whom is not even a biblical scholar.

    3) You seem to have misunderstood my point about access to maps. My opinion about the likelihood that JS used a map hasn't changed or progressed. I still think it the most "likely" scenario, but nevertheless understand that maps were not available at just any place.

    4) When I threw out the idea that the Arcade may have been a source where JS was able to access a map, I did not mean for it to be interpreted that I think that actually was the case, or that I was making a full-fledged argument in this regard. I am still uncertain where or when this access to a map could have occurred, and as I've already noted, my argument does not stand or fall on this point. I'm also uncertain when JS may have visited Rochester. Perhaps you are correct that it was in July. I'll wait for other scholars who are more informed about this period to comment. In any case, I still think the parallels with Lehi's vision are compelling and worth consideration. Maybe JS heard about the place through oral conversation, or maybe he had visited the place earlier.

    5) I don't see any indications that Nephi's writings were relied on throughout the BoM. None of the examples you cite are specific or distinct. E.g. "lay hold upon the word of God"; "the great gulf of death and misery"; "the tree of life" are all common Christian themes.

    The basic problem I have with much of your BoM analysis is that it tends to miss the forest for the trees. Because you are already certain about your conclusions, from what I can see you focus on this or that apologetic argument but fail to see the bigger interlocking picture. Yet to be a historian means to consider (fully) the various alternative explanations at hand, even those you may not be predisposed to accept, and then to decide what historical scenario is most likely or plausible based on the full range of evidence. If I see that you attempt to do this with greater consistency, I will be much more interested in talking to you and listening to your points of view,

  10. Jeff,

    I think you make an unreasonable assumption here:

    "This is a point to emphasize. The material about Lehi's vision and Lehi's journey was very likely already on the lost 116 pages and not something Joseph could conceivably make up on the fly. If Joseph were a con man making things up and fooling his scribes, Lehi's vision — and the gist of the travels through Arabia — can't be freshly concocted at this stage or else his own scribes and whoever may have had the 116 lost pages could cry foul."

    Joseph was instructed not to retranslate the 116 pages for fear that something(s) would be changed. It would then stand to reason that there was no overlap in the info provided in the two. One could reasonably assume this is the case especially with all of Nephi's references to items he isn't addressing because they are addressed in Lehi's plates. If you are trying to avoid being accused of not being able to reproduce the same text twice, the easiest and safest thing to do is to produce completely unrelated text. I think it is safer to assume there was no overlap rather than there was. It seems skeptical as well as apologetic evidence would support this theory, unless you have specific examples of Nephi writing about something he claims Lehi also covered in his record.

  11. RT makes an assertion that a historians job is to consider all possibilities and then guess which possibilities actually took place.

    RT also makes multiple guesses about hypothetical ways that Joseph Smith may have incorporated a building in Rochester into the Lehi/Nephi dream story.

    Did I read that correctly?

    Is it not a shotgun approach to make multiple unsubstantiated guesses about what may have influenced Joseph Smith?

    I suppose I would be more interested in RT's response had RT promoted a more singular theory with substantiation.

  12. "Consider all the possibilities" is the first step, and to consider all the possibilities means to raise many hypotheses. What RT means by "shotgun" is not simply that kind of breadth. Artillery fire covers broadly, with obliterative thoroughness. The point of the "shotgun approach" criticism is that shotgun fire covers a broad area by hitting each point only lightly, with a little pellet.

    Whether that's what Jeff was doing, I can't say. But RT's complaint is not that Jeff has tackled many themes, just as he himself has. Breadth itself is not a fault.

  13. Here is the best scan I could find of the fold-out map in Josiah Conder's 1825 book, which is listed in the 1839 catalog of the Rochester Athenaeum Library in the Reynolds Arcade. Is that a "Nehem" down there kind of around where NHM is supposed to be? Could be, maybe; but I just can't make it out precisely. Maybe someone else can find a better scan, or somehow enhance this one.

  14. RT, first let me thank you for coming by to comment and share your perspectives. I recognize time has been limited and it's not reasonable for me to expect detailed responses so soon after publication and perhaps ever, given that my approach must seem hopelessly infantile and unworthy. But I do appreciate the comments here and I will respond in more detail later when I get a moment as well. But for now, thanks for the exchange and for contributing to the conversation. Though I disagree with your conclusions, you have made a valuable contribution by pointing out areas that need consideration and further work. Some of that work has been done, though, such as found in Aston's latest book, which I strongly recommend. The issue of the uninhabited nature of Bountiful is especially interesting, for example, and should raise an eyebrow or two, IMHO.

  15. To Anonymous @ 10:53 PM, May 24, 2016

    The text of D&C 10 states that the reason the 116 pages weren't re-translated was not "for fear that something(s) would be changed", but rather that evil men would "alter the words which you [Joseph Smith] have caused to be written" (v. 10) so that "if he [Joseph Smith] bringeth forth the same words, behold, we have the same with us, and we have altered them; therefore they will not agree…" (v. 17-18). The Lord (or Joseph if you're a skeptic) was worried that the 116 pages would be altered to read differently, thus the command to not retranslate the same portion. Therefore it does not stand to reason that "there was no overlap in the info provided in the two", as you state.

    Furthermore, there is ample evidence in D&C 10 that there is plenty of overlap between the small plates of Nephi and the abridged account of Lehi. Here is D&C 10: 38-45.

    38 And now, verily I say unto you, that an account of those things that you have written, which have gone out of your hands, is engraven upon the plates of Nephi;

    39 Yea, and you remember it was said in those writings that a more particular account was given of these things upon the plates of Nephi.

    40 And now, because the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi is more particular concerning the things which, in my wisdom, I would bring to the knowledge of the people in this account—

    41 Therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained;

    42 And behold, you shall publish it as the record of Nephi; and thus I will confound those who have altered my words.

    43 I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.

    44 Behold, they have only got a part, or an abridgment of the account of Nephi.

    45 Behold, there are many things engraven upon the plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel; therefore, it is wisdom in me that you should translate this first part of the engravings of Nephi, and send forth in this work.

    Nephi and Mormon are also clear in Nephi 7 and Words of Mormon that the small plates of Nephi cover the same account as Lehi's record, though with different emphasis.

    So now that we've established that we should expect overlap, how is it reasonable to assume that Lehi's dream would be in Nephi's account, but not Lehi's? What about their travels in Arabia? Answer: it's not reasonable. The vision of the tree of life and travelling through the wilderness together are significant events and it's highly doubtful that Lehi would have simply not included them in his account.

    It makes sense that "If you are trying to avoid being accused of not being able to reproduce the same text twice, the easiest and safest thing to do is to produce completely unrelated text". However, this is explicitly ruled out by D&C 10; God (or Joseph Smith) made very clear that the account of Nephi that we have now does cover the same ground as the lost 116 pages. That's why Jeff's point ("If Joseph were a con man making things up and fooling his scribes, Lehi's vision — and the gist of the travels through Arabia — can't be freshly concocted at this stage or else his own scribes and whoever may have had the 116 lost pages could cry foul.") is such an important one.

    1. Musicnut

      What's the difference between "The Lord (or Joseph if you're a skeptic) was worried that the 116 pages would be altered to read differently, thus the command to not retranslate the same portion." and " fear that something(s) would be changed". I'm a bit confused as to what you're saying that I didn't.

      Also, I don't see that you have established overlap. You seem to have furthered my argument:

      "a more particular account was given of these things upon the plates of Nephi."

      "the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi is more particular"

      "44 Behold, they have only got a part, or an abridgment of the account of Nephi.

      45 Behold, there are many things engraven upon the plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel"

      Clearly what was contained in the plates of Nephi was not the same as what was included in Lehi's account. Mormon basically says the same thing in Words of Mormon.

      If, as the revelation states, Nephi's plates were more specific (not an abridgment) and more gospel-centric, one could expect that a completely spiritual and gospel-centric story like Lehi's vision would be included in Nephi's account but not in Lehi's. Also, being an abridgment, details of the journey, such as geographical landmarks, would be less likely to be included.

      Both Jeff's stance and mine are speculation. I think mine makes more sense based on the evidence provided, the situation, and the stakes involved.

  16. Regarding RT's point #5 above:

    "I don't see any indications that Nephi's writings were relied on throughout the BoM. None of the examples you cite are specific or distinct. E.g. "lay hold upon the word of God"; "the great gulf of death and misery"; "the tree of life" are all common Christian themes."

    Doing a quick word searches in the standard works, I found only one instance of "gulf" in the Bible (Luke 16:26) and 6 in the BoM (3 outside of the small plates), all of which allude to the imagery in the tree of life vision. Interestingly, a simlar and very common biblical metaphor for hell is "pit" (or "bottomless pit in Revelation) yet it is never used in the BoM with that meaning except in the Isaiah chapters.

    A search for "Tree of Life" shows up only 3 times in the NT, all in the Revelation of John. It shows up 4 times in the OT (outside of Genesis), all in proverbs and never referencing "The" tree of life. However, Alma uses it 10 times. Several of these are clearly references to the Genesis account, but some are clear allusions to Lehi's vision:

    "Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely" -5:34

    "Come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life." -5:62

    "And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life." -32:40

    "Lay hold upon the word of God" doesn't show up in the Bible, though it does say "lay hold on eternal life". Moroni frequently admonishes to "lay hold on every good thing", and only Helaman expressly says "Lay hold upon the word of God". There doesn't seem to be a strong indication here of unique imagery or expression.

    The word "spacious" never shows up in the Bible, nor are there any instances where buildings of any kind symbolize pride. That imagery is completely absent. So the use of "spacious buildings" to communicate pride is a uniquely Nephite symbol.

    "Mist" or "mist of darkness" is found it both the Bible and the BoM with similar meaning and frequency of use.

    So of the 5 that Jeff mention, 3 are are clear cases where old world Christians and the Nephites did use different imagery and language, which can be explained by the tree of life vision.

  17. @RT:

    "Because you are already certain about your conclusions, from what I can see you focus on this or that apologetic argument but fail to see the bigger interlocking picture."

    "My opinion about the likelihood that JS used a map hasn't changed or progressed. I still think it the most "likely" scenario, but nevertheless understand that maps were not available at just any place."

    It seems, RT, that you are doing the very thing you accuse Jeff of doing. You seem to have determined that Joseph Smith must have used a map (otherwise the NHM or Bountiful arguments would lead to a conclusion that you have already decided against) and therefore — in the absence of evidence — you act with certainty of your conclusion.

    We all have blinds spots, of course (and if we knew what they were, they wouldn't be blind spots) and this one seems to be one for you — only your certainty in your conclusion allows you to determine that the most likely scenario is one for which you can produce no evidence.

  18. I found a better scan of that 1825 book, on It's listed there under "James Duncan, The Modern Traveler, Arabia, 1825". James Duncan was the publisher of Josiah Conder's travel series. The scan is quite high resolution, though a few words are still hard to make out.

    And I see no Nehem or anything much like it. What I thought might be Nehem at the lower resolution was apparently Deban.

    The full text seems to be free to download from The copyright has long since lapsed, of course. It may be interesting as an indication of what someone near Joseph Smith could have known about Arabia.

  19. James, thank you for the awesome detective work. I also thought maybe you had found another Nehem map that Gee had missed in his quest, but the map is still of much interest. The next question is when the Athenaeum acquired it. Perhaps the RIT library can answer that. But for now, many thanks for great detective work and your interest in ths issue!

  20. Musicnut, thanks! One note: the iron rod = word of God, and people need to hold it to reach the tree in a straight course. That is the idea in Helaman 3

  21. Hel. 3:29-30:
    29 Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked–

    30 And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out.

  22. The fruit in Lehi's dream is an interesting issue. Not your typical New York fruit. One non-LDS scholar was especially impressed by this aspect of Lehi's dream. Here is Margaret Barker writing in The Worlds of Joseph Smith (Provo, BYU Press: 2006):
    White Fruit and a Guiding Rod The tree of life made one happy, according to the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 3: 18), but for detailed descriptions of the tree we have to rely on the noncanonical texts. Enoch described it as perfumed, with fruit like grapes (1 Enoch 32: 5), and a text discovered in Egypt in 1945 described the tree as beautiful, fiery, and with fruit like white grapes. 21 I do not know of any other source that describes the fruit as white grapes. Imagine my surprise when I read the account of Lehi’s vision of the tree whose white fruit made one happy, and the interpretation that the Virgin in Nazareth was the mother of the Son of God after the manner of the flesh (1 Nephi 11: 14–23). 22 This is the Heavenly Mother, represented by the tree of life, and then Mary and her Son on earth. This revelation to Joseph Smith was the ancient Wisdom symbolism, intact, and almost certainly as it was known in 600 bce.

  23. I've never understood this fear that someone who had the missing 116 pages would fudge them into a different reading so that if Smith reproduced them exactly, then the now-fudged first copy wouldn't match the exact reproduction, and it could then be claimed that the reproduction was imperfect and therefore fake.

    Was even God so worried that whoever it was could erase and re-write bits of the missing pages in such a way that the alteration would be undetectable? It's really not that easy to alter handwritten text without it being obvious. They didn't have laser ink erasers then, but they did have magnifying glasses. And even if you can erase the original writing in a passage, and forge the original scribe's handwriting, it's really tricky to make a new text fit neatly into the space that had been filled by the old one. The fear that someone could really alter the 116 pages undetectably just seems unrealistic. Perhaps the uneducated Joseph Smith might have unrealistic fears about document forgery, but how could God have such unrealistic fears?

    At the very least the story is odd; it must place at least some strain on credulity. Whereas if Smith had made up the 116 pages, either right off the top of his head or working from outline notes with a lot of extemporaneous improvising, then he would have had no chance of reproducing the missing pages exactly from memory, and he would have known it. The fear would have been realistic and obvious, that if he had tried to reproduce them, someone who had the first version could indeed have come forward, and demonstrated many differences between his second version, and a first version that was demonstrably not altered.

    Hence the need for God himself to discard 116 pages of his own divinely inspired revelation, that had been miraculously preserved through centuries and delivered by an angel and translated by miracle, for fear of the remote chance that some forger could have made undetectable alterations.