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Latest from Mormon Land: Iowa John and the next crusade — searching for Zarahemla

Also: Why does the LDS Church own so much property in Missouri? The answer dates back to the biblical beginning.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) This scene from a Book of Mormon video depicts inhabitants of Zarahemla kneeling and praying to God when their spiritual and governmental leader, King Benjamin, invites them to do so. Supporters of the Heartland Research Group are searching for remains of the ancient city of Zarahemla, which they believe is buried underground in southeastern Iowa.

These are excerpts from The Salt Lake Tribune’s free Mormon Land newsletter, a weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Want this newsletter with additional items in your inbox? Subscribe here. You also can support Mormon Land with a donation at Patreon.com/mormonland, where you can access, among other exclusive gifts and content, transcripts from our “Mormon Land” podcasts.

Digging deep into the Book of Mormon

Forget Indiana Jones. Try Iowa John.

Yes, John Lefgren and other supporters of the Heartland Research Group aren’t hunting for the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail, but they are searching high and low — in this case, really low — for archaeological evidence supporting the church’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon.

Right now, they’re on a quest to find Zarahemla ... in southeastern Iowa.

They’re using light detection and ranging sensors — along with carbon dating, magnetometry and other technological tools — to pinpoint the ancient Nephite capital, which they believe is waiting to be discovered underground just outside of Montrose.

“We’ve gone down into the ground with core sampling to get charcoal/carbon from fires that are 1,700 years old,” Lefgren told the Iowa Starting Line news site. “It’s all serious stuff.”

The charcoal will be shipped to a Lithuanian lab for carbon-14 dating to determine its age.

Lefgren said Zarahemla rose to a population of 100,000, the Iowa Starting Line reported, to become the “largest city in North America” before its destruction.

He’s convinced the lost city will be found.

“We’ve moved a hundred times from where we were a year ago,” he said, “just because the technology has allowed us to do things that could never have been done otherwise.”

The Show Me (Eden) State

The fact that the church owns lots of land in Missouri is hardly news to Latter-day Saints.

But it counted as such recently to FOX 4 in Kansas City, especially the reason the Utah-based faith holds some 3,000 acres in northwestern Missouri.

Church founder Joseph Smith taught that the biblical Garden of Eden was located in Jackson County and that Adam and Eve fled to a place called Adam-ondi-Ahman in nearby Daviess County.

“Mormons believe Adam blessed his children at the site,” the FOX 4 story concludes, “and former church President Joseph Fielding Smith previously stated Jesus Christ would appear at Adam-ondi-Ahman before the end of the world.”

Essays? What essays?

In 2013, the church began releasing scholarly articles that cover some of the faith’s dicier doctrines, thornier theology and stickier historical questions.

These Gospel Topics essays won praise and made headlines for tackling a range of touchy topics: Did Joseph Smith translate the Book of Mormon by peering at a rock in a hat? Did Latter-day Saints really abandon polygamy in 1890? Did Brigham Young order the Mountain Meadows Massacre? Do members believe humans can become like God?

Trouble is, few members even know they exist — as Wheat & Tares blogger Bishop Bill discovered recently when he began teaching a few of the essays to members of the elders quorum in his congregation.

“There [were] about 20 people in attendance,” he writes. “When I ask[ed] by a show of hand[s] who had read all the essays, only one person raised his hand.”

Such a percentage would hardly please top Latter-day Saint leaders, who approved the 11 essays (which have since been divided into 14).

“The church places great emphasis on knowledge and on the importance of being well informed about church history, doctrine, and practices,” states the Gospel Topics webpage. “...We again encourage members to study the Gospel Topics essays ... as they ‘seek learning, even by study and also by faith.’”

So, will the number of hands increase when Bishop Bill covers the next round of essays?

From The Tribune

• A formal contract with the church allows Utah to quantify the aid the faith provides to the poor so the state then can count it toward fulfilling its welfare obligations.

This deal, ProPublica reports, has saved the state some $75 million over the past decade, but it also has deprived many from securing assistance they otherwise might get.

“If a state’s premier social safety net is the church,” said W. Paul Reeve, chair of Mormon studies at the University of Utah, “what does that mean if you’re not [a member]?”

Read the story, a Tribune editorial and a By Common Consent blog.

• The November assault of missionaries in Mexico and last week’s shooting of an 18-year-old proselytizer in Alabama have renewed interest in the safety of the tens of thousands of young Latter-day Saints who spread out across the globe every year in search of converts.

In the wake of those attacks, we asked former missionaries if they ever felt unsafe during their service.

To find out what they said, read the story.

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