Shannon Caldwell Montez has written an amazing thesis on the Secret Mormon Meetings of 1922. BH Roberts was an influential Seventy at the turn of the 20th century. He seems to be the first leader who recognized problems with the Book of Mormon. He presented his findings to church leaders, and eventually spoke to Mormon scholars to find answers to archaeological problems with the Book of Mormon. This led to the first limited geography theory, and other attempts to explain anachronisms in the Book of Mormon. Shannon details who attended the meetings, and how their beliefs were affected by this information. Check out our conversation….
Intro to Secret 1922 Meetings
Shannon 11:58 There were three meetings with the General Authorities. There were also three meetings, at least three meetings, with the intelligentsia. So, once B. H. Roberts had talked to the General Authorities, and he didn’t find answers there, he also began speaking with groups of, a whole bunch of people with PhDs, which was very rare in Utah. So, he had gathered, and I was not able to figure out who put these meetings together, how people got invited. I couldn’t find any documentation about them at all, besides some mentions in people’s journals.
GT 12:36 Did they take place at Henry Moyles’ house?
Shannon 12:38 Yes. So, all three that I know about, there may have been another, all three meetings were at Henry Moyles’ house, yes.
GT 12:47 And that’s right in downtown Salt Lake. You have a picture of it.
Shannon 12:49 There’s a picture of it in my thesis, if people want to see it. It’s still there. Well, actually, I haven’t looked at it, since COVID.
GT 12:58 Right.
Shannon 12:59 And, it was slated for possible destruction, whatever.
GT 13:05 Oh, it was?
Shannon 13:06 Somebody had bought the three houses and was possibly going to tear them down and rebuild. So, if anyone’s got a lot of money, and can buy these houses, then, maybe do it.
Beginnings of Limited Geography
GT 19:26 Now, I know the current scholarship on that, on the apologetic side, is that the Lehites were a small group and that all these other people were already here. Was that brought up as a possible solution for B. H. Roberts back then?
Shannon 19:43 Yeah, so actually, and I touch on this in my thesis. There was a geography meeting in January of 1921. They were creating the 1920 version. I don’t know how the meeting was in 1921, but it’s a 1920 version of the Book of Mormon. They wanted to include maps of where Zarahemla is, and things like that. They had this group gather together to try to figure out how to do this map. Over the course of this, B.H. Roberts was in these map meetings. They determined that there was no place that they could put the map. There are too many variables, and one of the men in these intelligentsia meetings, his name is Willard Young. He’s actually a son or grandson of Brigham Young. He was a mapmaker. He was able to say, “Okay, in this passage where they say they cross the thing in this amount of time, the maximum distance this can be is this.” So, he was able to kind of determine what kind of features would need to be there in order to place the map in that place.
GT 21:02 So, he created an internal map. Is that right?
Shannon 21:05 They were trying to, and at the end of these meetings, they were like, “There is no place that we can put this.”
Shannon 21:12 Somebody said, “Maybe we could just say it’s in one small place.” But there is a…
GT 21:18 Because I believe it was Ivins, was it Anthony Ivins? Was he one of the first people to propose a limited geography theory? Because originally it was like North and South America, right?
Shannon 21:29 Right.
GT 21:29 And that’s what everybody believed.
Shannon 21:30 The entire continent, hemisphere. That’s the hemispheric theory.
GT 21:34 Yeah, then the narrow neck of land was, like, Panama. So, Willard Young was among the people who said, “These distances are too large.” There is no way this is going to happen.
Shannon 21:46 And Anthony Ivins, as well, you’re right. You remind me that they were all trying to figure out how we can do this. But the limited geography theory was rejected, because there is a revelation. Joseph Smith is quoted as saying that they landed in a certain place in South America.
GT 22:07 In Chile.
Shannon 22:08 In Chile.
GT 22:09 Thirty degrees south latitude.
Shannon 22:10 That’s right. Thank you.
GT 22:14 It said that it was in D&C 7, but I didn’t see that in D&C 7.
Shannon 22:18 It wasn’t in D&C 7. The D&C 7, if I’m remembering correctly, and, again, I wrote this a couple years ago, my memory is the worst. That’s why I’m a great historian. I can remember nothing. But, from what I remember, D&C 7 was on the other side of this paper. It was on this same paper, so it was like, if we are going to say that Joseph Smith’s revelations…
GT 22:42 Because D& 7 is about John the Beloved never dying.
Shannon 22:46 Okay.
GT 22:46 That was why I got confused. Okay, so it was on the other side of the paper.
Shannon 22:49 Right, it was on the same paper that the revelation came on. So, it’s like, if we’re going to throw this out, we have to throw this out. We can’t keep one and ditch the other.
GT 22:59 Okay.
Shannon 23:01 And he’s saying, maybe we can. But this is going to also be a problem, because Joseph Smith himself believed this theory that all Native Americans are descended from the Lamanites. So, if the prophet says that, and if the prophet is the one that saw this, how do we discount the prophet, without discounting the Book of Mormon? So that’s a question we still have.
GT 23:29 Now, I don’t know. Recently, I had Jonathan Neville on. He’s one of the Heartland theory proponents. I had mentioned that exact point to him. I didn’t realize it was tied to a revelation. That’s interesting. His contention was that it was written in the hand of Frederick G. Williams, I believe. So, he said, “Well, it’s not clear that Joseph Smith said that.”
Shannon 23:57 Right.
GT 23:59 Do you agree with that?
Shannon 24:00 That is what they were arguing in 1922.
GT 24:04 Okay.
Shannon 24:05 Like, okay. Well, if we’re not going to take anything from his scribes, then should we throw out the whole D&C?
GT 24:12 Because D&C 7 was also written in Frederick G. William’s handwriting.
Shannon 24:16 All of that, yeah. So, it was like, if we’re not going to take anything that his scribes have written in this, then we have hardly anything left. So, it’s kind of like, we can’t just pick and choose what we’re going to believe, based on what’s most convenient. That was B. H. Roberts’ argument at the time. And I believe Anthony Ivins was kind of also saying that. They were like, “This will be safer for us to leave it in mystery, rather than to then put it into the Book of Mormon, nail it down. Because then people will go there, look for the evidence. Who knows what they’ll find? On top of that, in previous editions of The Book of Mormon, there were footnotes that would indicate, “Oh, the ripliancum,” or whatever that word–it means, many waters and the footnote would say, the Atlantic Ocean or something like that.
GT 25:14 This is in the 1920 Book of Mormon?
Shannon 25:17 These were taken out in the 1920 Book of Mormon.
GT 25:19 They were taken out.
Shannon 25:20 So, after, if you look in, like, a 1900 Book of Mormon, I don’t remember what all issue years were. But, if you look at previous editions before 1920, they may have footnotes that refer, and I have this in an index in my thesis, the footnotes that were removed.
Composing Book of Mormon
Shannon: His second study was about where he could have found the material that would inspire him to write the Book of Mormon. He found different parallels in different books of his time and showed how he could have gotten the Book of Mormon, based on other things he was reading. So, just kind of it was in the–he didn’t even come up, necessarily, with this story. But then he placed it in these places. Again, I just think somebody who was very creative and inspired a lot of people who wanted a lot of things explained and I think it got out of hand. I think he was really surprised at how it went.
GT 29:09 So, yeah, let’s go there for a minute. Because B. H. Roberts found a lot of parallels with View of the Hebrews.. Now I have to tell you, I started reading that book, and it was the most dry, boring book I’ve ever read in my life. It’s interesting that he went there, because, of course, the earlier theory was the Spalding theory. That was, like, in the 1830s. Supposedly, Sidney Rigdon got the Solomon Spalding manuscript and got it to Joseph Smith somehow. Nobody knows how. But that wasn’t very convincing to B. H. Roberts?
Shannon 29:47 I guess not. I think that had been around for a long time. I think they had already debunked it to some extent and thought, “No, this isn’t a copy,” by then. I think he was a little more worried about View of the Hebrews. What people don’t understand about View of the Hebrews, people think it’s some kind of fiction book that he copied. It was written more like, not quite a textbook, but maybe an archaeological textbook, and it was trying to be scientific. It wasn’t trying to tell a story.
GT 30:23 But it wasn’t religious at all.
Shannon 30:24 No, it wasn’t religious. It was someone trying to explain how, in his view, so many Native American people had parallel ideas to Hebrew, or to Jewish customs and Jewish ideas and Jewish traditions. So, he was trying to make all these connections and saying somebody must have come over from Jerusalem and brought all of these things.
GT 30:54 You’re talking about Ethan Smith, who’s the author of View of the Hebrews.
Shannon 30:57 That’s right. So, yes, I would not say that the Book of Mormon was plagiarized. I don’t think B. H. Roberts was also saying that. Actually, the other document, the third document, a parallel, is where he takes, “This happened in View of the Hebrews. this happens in the Book of Mormon.” He had at least 13, I think, that were like, there’s a Native American guy standing up on a wall, preaching to people and getting shot at with arrows. They have different names, and they may say they’re from different places, and the arrows might be getting shot for different reasons. But, if I’m going to write a book about a boy who wins a ticket to go to a candy factory, you will maybe assume that I had read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There were so many parallels, it just felt like he maybe had– it was more like…
GT 31:57 He’d been influenced.
Shannon 31:58 Inspired by, yeah. B. H. Roberts was trying to show other influences, besides angels.
Richard Lyman Affair
GT 00:32 One of the things that I found pretty interesting that’s a little bit off topic, but I really want to cover anyway, was the Richard Lyman affair.
Shannon 00:45 Yes.
GT 00:48 For two reasons. Number one, he was in these 1922 meetings. Right?
Shannon 00:53 [Yes.] And I have to credit him to being one of the people that gave me the list.
GT 00:59 Oh!
Shannon 00:59 It was his journal that listed who was at one of the meetings, and Janne Sjodahl’s journal that made another list of people. So, thanks Richard Lyman.
GT 01:11 I was wondering how you said that because that’s a horrible name to spell. And I can see why.
Shannon 01:15 I think it’s Sjodahl. I don’t know if I ever say it right.
GT 01:19 SJO, right?
Shannon 01:19 Yeah, and actually, so, Richard Lyman, in his journal, it says Shurrdall. And so, I couldn’t figure out who this was until later. I saw an article about Book of Mormon historicity basically written by a man named Janne Sjodahl, SJODAHL.
GT 01:40 Right. He’s Norweigan.
GT 03:42 Lyman was one of these more liberal people and then he got involved in kind of polygamy, kind of adultery. Was adultery or polygamy?
Shannon 03:55 I think it’s a murky situation for people who grew up with polygamy, grew up believing that there was nothing wrong with it; grew up believing it was the higher law and then suddenly being told that you can’t live this when he meets this woman who would be a great wife. I think he was like, “I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t [marry.]” So, what he did with this woman is they promised to be sealed in heaven.
Shannon 03:59 “When one of us dies, the other one will get sealed to you,” whoever [lives longest.] So, they had planned on–I mean the church never disavowed eternal polygamy. Our prophet right now has eternal polygamy. He’s sealed to more than one woman. So, he just believed what we still believe is that you can be sealed in heaven. His problem was acting on it on earth while his other wife was still alive.
GT 04:54 And his other wife was the Relief Society General President.
Shannon 04:57 Right. Yep. Yes, she was Amy Brown Lyman. I remember hearing about her like 15 years ago in a Church meeting. They talked about different Relief Society General Presidents and hearing that her husband had gotten excommunicated due to adultery. And I was like, “How have I never heard this story?” So, it was kind of fun to come and actually be able to research this even more. I remember looking it up at the time and being like, Wow, that’s crazy.
GT 05:28 Because there’s a new biography on Amy Brown Lyman by Dave Hall, right?
Shannon 05:31 Oh, really? Yes. Dave Hall was the expert on this part and Amy Brown Lyman. So, I saw those articles.
Takeaways from the Secret 1922 Meetings
GT 43:05 So can we give any generalizations? I mean, would it be safe to say the apostles and general authorities who were in the meeting either rejected it completely like Joseph Fielding Smith? Or maybe I shouldn’t say rejected it, but put it on a shelf, maybe, and just ignored the issues, while others became more nuanced? Let’s just talk about that group first. Is that a good generalization?
Shannon 43:34 It’s hard to say. Again, it’s so hard to say because I couldn’t access actual records. So maybe I could find talks.
GT 43:45 So, you’re not able to answer that question.
Shannon 43:47 To go through 20, I don’t even remember how many people were in the room with the general authority meetings. My mind had at least 20 people.
GT 43:55 In the Moyle meetings.
Shannon 43:55 General Authorities, I think it was 27 or something like that. That was the 12 plus the presidency of the 70s. So maybe 17-21 people, something like that. Their stuff, those papers are just so much harder to access. So, I can’t. I really can’t say. It does seem that the Church as a whole for a minute, tried to [say,] can we embrace science and faith and make this work? And I think after a few years, they started to just say, “You know what?” Faith only. If it comes as a question of faith or science, go with faith.
Shannon 44:45 You can see Frederick Pack, one of my favorites. And we’ll talk about him. He was a scientist, and he wrote a book a few years later, about 1925, so after these meetings. It really did a good job for a lot of intellectuals at the time, balancing faith and science. And so, it looked for a minute like maybe the Church could make this work. But then we get people like Joseph Fielding Smith, who was like, “Absolutely not.” I think Joseph Fielding Smith was really threatened by intellectuals. And he wanted to show that his status was higher as a man of faith. And because I think he hadn’t even graduated high school. So, for him, he has to go on the cultural cachet that he has, which is “I’m a son of an apostle. I’m a descendant of Hyrum.” So, he’s going to use his cred as hard as he can. Whereas someone like Talmage, who is lower than him can’t use quite the same amount. And that’s the way the church ended up. I do feel like there was a reaction and that certain things were put on shelves.
We also discuss others like Janne Sjodahl, who owned a house of ill-repute (and may have been a patron!), BH Roberts post-Manifesto married, adn the faith/science battles in the 1930s both at BYU and among the apostles. What are your thoughts on Shannon’s thesis?
Fascinating – thank you
What a brilliant thesis topic. I had never heard of these meetings. This was very interesting. I hope some day you will find some of the sources you said were lacking. Thank you for the interview, the research, and for sharing with us!
I get the feeling BH Roberts would have made it “The September Seven” had he brought this up 70 years later. It’s really pretty amazing to me that nothing happened to Roberts’ membership, but then there was really no precedent for someone bringing up uncomfortable facts that threaten the Church’s truth claims. It’s interesting to contemplate an alternate history of the Church where it wrestles seriously with Roberts’ findings and Joseph Fielding Smith is never elevated to the Twelve.
Secret Meetings? ‘Secret’ is a sensationalized characterization for these meetings, but it’s effective in creating a sense of drama and excitement about this segment Roberts life.
Further reading for anyone interested in a more complete, less “click bait” examination of BH Roberts as well as some commentary on Shannon’s thesis: