Joseph Smith’s Influence on Mormon City Planning
In 1833 Joseph Smith published plans for a City of Zion to be built near Independence in Jackson County, Missouri. The City has not yet become a reality, but some of its basic features were used in Latter-day Saint settlements for approximately 70 years after it was designed.
The similarities and differences between the basic plan and actual cities have been pinpointed in an examination of more than 500 settlements colonized by Church members between 1830 and 1900.
The basic features of the City of Zion plat included large city blocks; exceptionally wide streets; designated areas for schools, business establishments, and churches; and streets laid out “on the square” beginning from a common point.
As each city developed, the basic features of “Zion” were retained, even though exact amounts of land designated for each function varied in each settlement. In Salt Lake City, for example, the residential blocks were first laid out in ten-acre plots. In other cities, the blocks were either eight or six acres, depending on the terrain and the expected population density.
Members of the Church, mostly farmers, lived in town and commuted to their farms. This farm-village concept was common in New England, but was rare in the development of the remaining areas in the West.
The first town actually constructed according to the plat was Far West, Missouri. Nauvoo, Illinois, followed the basic plat, but a number of features were altered to fit the terrain. As the Saints moved west, they did not design their communities according to the Zion plat, since most were building only temporary homes.
Salt Lake City was laid out according to a slightly modified version of the plat. As the Saints surveyed the city, they constructed city blocks to be altered to fit the foothill terrain and allowed buildings to be structured where none had been planned.
Each new community in the western United States, Canada, and Mexico followed the basic principles of the original city plat: large blocks, wide streets, and the farm-village pattern.
However, none of the cities followed either the exact dimensions of the original City of Zion, or the pattern set by Salt Lake City. Today Provo is probably the most representative example of early Mormon city-planning, since the plans for several cities followed its eight-acre block plan.
The Age of Accountability in Antiquity
To Latter-day Saints, age eight is when we become accountable for our behavior. It is interesting to note that research indicates that from early history the approximate age of seven was commonly accepted as the age of responsibility and accountability.
Under Roman law, a child under the age of seven was not considered to have developed sufficient discretion or judgment to be responsible for his actions.
That Roman law and most of Rome’s paternal customs were undoubtedly influenced by Greek and Spartan paternal customs. Under Roman law, “minors” were divided into three classes: infants; impubes, those prior to puberty; and upberes, those after puberty. Infants were those under the age of seven, and impubes were those from age seven to puberty. Under the law all those who had not reached puberty were subject to guardianship laws.
Infants and insane persons were considered “without intelligence” and could not act for themselves. Their “tutor” or guardian acted for them.
After age seven, each child was granted full legal rights. He was then considered to have intelligence, even though it was not mature judgment. He could perform legal acts on his own, unless his guardian demonstrated that an action was not in his best interest.
The laws, as recorded by both Justinian and Gaius, demonstrate the evolution of Roman law into the great civilizing force that it became, and one constant was the attitude toward children and the age of accountability.
Roman and Greek laws regarding infants affected the laws of most, if not all, countries, that eventually came under Roman influence; this involved most of the countries of Europe.
More than 2,000 years after the early Greeks and Romans, the Lord revealed that age eight, and not seven or nine, was the proper age of accountability.
The historicity of the story of Jonah has been questioned by some scholars on several counts. First, they say, the account is vague, and while some specific places are mentioned (Nineveh, Joppa, Tarshish), the king of Nineveh, for example, is never mentioned.
Second, the Old Testament provides the only account of the dramatic repentance of the Ninevites.
Third, the very nature of the Book of Jonah leads some experts to believe that it is pure fiction, written for the express purpose of proving the omnipresence and love of the God of the Hebrews (hence its lack of historical milieu).
Fourth, some have argued that there exists no whale or “great fish” whose throat is large enough to permit it to swallow a man whole.
The first three objections are negative in nature and not conclusive. A true story could easily be written without historical perspective if the purpose of the narrative is to prove a given point. Without the change brought about by the repentance of the people of Nineveh, the story of Jonah is without historical value. But the moral value of the story does justify its existence and demonstrates again God’s love when we are obedient to what he asks of us.
Jonah’s apprehension at being called to preach repentance to Nineveh is easier to understand when one learns of the cruelty for which the Assyrians were known. The Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II, for example, made known how he tortured captives, including women and children. Some were left to die of thirst, while others were imprisoned or burnt alive. Still others were impaled on stakes, flayed, and left to dehydrate in the sun. The now-famous wall panel of Sennacherib from Nineveh, depicting the taking of Lachish, shows Assyrians torturing Israelite captives in this manner. The luckier ones escaped with minor tortures, such as amputation of a hand, an ear, a finger, a nose, or having their eyes put out.
Jonah’s fear of the Assyrians, then, was not without justification. It was only after suffering through a dangerous storm at sea and the harrowing experience of being swallowed by a fish or whale that he decided to brave the wicked population of Nineveh.
Jesus’ reference to Jonah, however, has added credibility to the account. (See Matt. 12:38–41; Matt. 16:4; Luke 11:29–30.) And it is interesting to note that the Greek New Testament uses the word “whale,” while the Hebrew book of Jonah says that “the Lord had prepared a great fish.” (Jonah 1:17.)
The fact that the animal was “prepared” could indicate that it was not a conventional animal, and that it was easily capable of swallowing a man whole. In addition, there exists a more recently documented case of a man who was actually swallowed by a whale and lived to tell about it.
In 1891, a whaling crew operating off the Falkland Islands was beset with difficulties. A whale, which emerged when a harpoon sunk into its flesh, turned on the small boat and capsized it. Three of the men who were overboard were unable to make it back to the mother vessel.
Later that evening, the dying whale surfaced and was rigged to the side of the whaling ship. When the crew began the task of butchering it, one of the three missing men, James Bartley, was found inside the whale’s stomach. He had survived in his mammalian undersea prison for 15 hours! The acidity of the whale’s stomach had permanently bleached his skin and removed his hair, and he was almost blind. Unable to continue his chosen trade, Bartley turned to shoe making and remained a cobbler the rest of his life.
The seemingly impossible story of Jonah becomes more believeable when viewed in relationship to the equally fantastic—but true—modern event. And as for the historicity of the prophet Jonah, son of Amittai, he is known to have lived in the days of Jeroboam II. (See 2 Kgs. 14:25.)