Nibley on Book of Mormon Geography

In general, Dr. Hugh W. Nibley wrote very little about the geography of the Book of Mormon. And I suppose with good reason. In 1890, George Q. Cannon wrote:

Book of Mormon Limited Geography ModelThere is a tendency, strongly manifested . . . among some of the brethren, to study the geography of the Book of Mormon. . . . We are greatly pleased to notice the . . . interest taken by the Saints in this holy book. . . . But valuable as is the Book of Mormon both in doctrine and history, yet it is possible to put this sacred volume to uses for which it was never intended, uses which are detrimental rather than advantageous to the cause of truth, and consequently to the work of the Lord. . . . The First Presidency has often been asked to prepare some suggestive map illustrative of Nephite geography, but have never consented to do so. Nor are we acquainted with any of the Twelve Apostles who would undertake such a task. The reason is, that without further information they are not prepared even to suggest. The word of the Lord or the translation of other ancient records is required to clear up many points now so obscure.1

In 1993, the First Presidency wrote:

The Church emphasizes the doctrinal and historical value of the Book of Mormon, not its geography. While some Latter-day Saints have looked for possible locations and explanations because the New York Hill Cumorah does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Cumorah, there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site.2

A few weeks ago, a member in our congregation told me about a DVD he recently viewed and was excited to share it with me (see DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography). When he first told me about the DVD, the first thought I had in my mind was an article by Dr. Nibley entitled Ancient Temples: What Do They Signify? in the September 1972 Ensign. Here are a few excerpts that may (or may not) pertain to the ongoing question about the locale of the Book of Mormon:

Citchen Itza What most impressed me last summer on my first and only expedition to Central America was the complete lack of definite information about anything. Never was so little known about so much. We knew ahead of time that of the knowledge of the ancient cultures there wasn’t much to be expected, but we were quite unprepared for the poverty of information that confronted us on the guided tours of ruins, museums, and lecture halls. It was not that our gracious guides knew less than they should. It is just a fact of life that no one knows much at all about these oft-photographed and much-talked-about ruins.

In the almost complete absence of written records, one must be permitted to guess, because there is nothing else to do; and when guessing is the only method of determination, one man’s skill is almost as good as another’s. An informed guess is a contradiction of terms, so our initial shock of nondiscovery was tempered by a warm glow of complacency on finding that the rankest amateur in our party was able to pontificate on the identity and nature of most objects as well as anybody else.

One would suppose it to be a relatively easy thing to decide whether a given structure had served as a hospital, a monastery, a palace, a storeroom, a barracks, a temple, a tomb, or an office. But it is not easy at all, with everything stripped completely bare and all the interiors looking just alike. Usually, we do not even know who the builders were or what their names were or where they came from.

Stock phrases, such as, “We know as little about the history of the Mixtecs as we do about the Zapotecs,” may confirm a scientist’s integrity, but they hardly establish him as an authority. Admission of ignorance, though a constant refrain in guidebooks and articles, is really no substitute for knowledge. This writer is as ill-equipped as any ten-year-old to write about the people of ancient America, because he has never seen their records—but then who has?

The vast archives of the Old World civilizations that bring their identities and their histories to life simply do not exist for the New World, and so all we can do as we sit drinking lemonade in the shade is to gaze and emote and speculate and rest our weary feet.

There are two things, however, about ancient American ruins upon which everyone seems to agree: (1) the reliefs that adorn the walls of some of these structures with ritual games, sacrifices, processions, audiences, and well-known religious symbols leave little doubt that they were designed to be the scenes of religious activities; (2) some of these religious structures were laid out to harmonize with the structure and motion of the cosmos itself, as witness the perfectly straight axial ways that point directly to the place of the rising and setting sun at solstices and equinoxes or the total of 364 steps and 52 slabs to a side that adorn the great pyramid of Chichén Itzá.

It is an eloquent commentary on the bankruptcy of the modern mind, as Giorio de Santillana points out, that we can find so little purpose or meaning in the magnificent and peculiar structures erected by the ancients with such immense skill and obvious zeal and dedication. These great edifices are found throughout the entire world and seem to represent a common tradition; and if they do, then we have surely lost our way.

Counterparts to the great ritual complexes of Central America once dotted the entire eastern United States, the most notable being the Hopewell culture centering in Ohio and spreading out for hundreds of miles along the entire length of the Mississippi River. These are now believed to be definitely related to corresponding centers in Mesoamerica.3

Dr. Nibley went on to explain that all over the Old World and New, these ancient structures or temples functioned as “powerhouses” that attest to “the fading or fictive nature of the vaunted powers from on high.” In fact, it is likely these magnificent structures were just counterfeits built near the end of each respective civilization.

One thing that leads us to suspect that most of the great powerhouses whose traces still remain were never anything more than pompous imitations or replicas is their sheer magnificence. The archaeologist finds virtually nothing of the remains of the primitive Christian church until the fourth century, because the true church was not interested in buildings and deliberately avoided the acquisition of lands and edifices that might bind it and its interests to this world.

Adena Hopewell Site Map The Book of Mormon is a history of a related primitive church, and one may well ask what kind of remains the Nephites would leave us from their more virtuous days. A closer approximation to the Book of Mormon picture of Nephite culture is seen in the earth and palisade structures of the Hopewell and Adena culture areas than in the later stately piles of stone in Mesoamerica.

C. Northcote Parkinson has demonstrated with withering insight how throughout history really ornate, tasteless, and pompous building programs have tended to come as the aftermath of civilization. After the vital powers are spent, then is the time for the super-buildings, the piling of stone upon stone for monuments of staggering mass and proportion. It was after the disciples of the early church decided to give up waiting for the Messiah and to go out for satisfaction here and now that the Christians of the fourth century took to staging festivals and erecting monuments in the grand manner, covering the whole Near East with structures of theatrical magnificence and questionable taste.

Dr. Nibley compared the building program of the Nephite church to the present LDS Church building program:

How unlike the building program of the Church today which can barely erect enough of our very functional, almost plain chapels to keep abreast of the growing needs of the Latter-day Saints.

Though such piles as the great pyramid-temple of Chichén Itzá yield to few buildings in the world in beauty of proportion and grandeur of conception, there is something disturbing about most of these overpowering ruins. Writers describing them through the years have ever confessed to feelings of sadness and oppression as they contemplate the moldy magnificence—the futility of it all: “They have all gone away from the house on the hill,” and today we don’t even know who they were.

Amid the ruins of the New World, as in Rome, we feel something of both the greatness and the misery, the genuine aspiration and the dull oppression, the idealism and the arrogance imposed by the heavy hand of priestcraft and kingcraft, and we wonder how the ruins of our own super buildings will look someday.

The great monuments do not represent what the Nephites stood for; rather, they stand for what their descendants, “mixed with the blood of their brethren,” descended to. But seen in the newer and wider perspective of comparative religious studies, they suggest to us not only the vanity of mankind and the futility of man’s unaided efforts, but also something nobler; the constant search of men to recapture a time when the powers of heaven were truly at the disposal of a righteous people.

Dr. Nibley’s article was in the back of my mind yesterday as I watched Rod Meldrum’s presentation about DNA and Book of Mormon geography. While I do not agree with a number of Mr. Meldrum’s assertions, I love the way he approached the subject as simply a student of the Book of Mormon and as a sincere seeker of truth.

After watching the DVD, I then went on the Internet and searched for additional information. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to find the “charged” public exchange A Faulty Apologetic for the Book of Mormon on the FAIR blog that occurred earlier this year.

But after reading through the whole exchange and other related material, I began to ponder about the role of scholarship in informing faith. For example, where does scholarship end and where does faith and the prompting of the Spirit begin in the divine process we call revelation?

What are your thoughts and experiences concerning this issue?

Sources:

  1. Cannon, George Q. “Editorial Thoughts: The Book of Mormon Geography”. The Juvenile Instructor. 1 January 1890: 25:18–19.
  2. Correspondence from Michael Watson, Office of the First Presidency, 23 April 1993 as cited in Hamblin, William J. “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon”. Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. 1993: 2:161-197.
  3. Nibley, Hugh W. “Ancient Temples: What Do They Signify?“. September 1972. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1 December 2008.

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  1. Sharon Standley’s avatar

    I am not a scholar, just a convert to the church. While it is interesting to contemplate where everything took place, I believe the most important thing is that it did take place and we can learn so much from it.
    Thanks for sharing all this information.

  2. Greg’s avatar

    Thanks Sharon. Hopefully, we can always keep that front and center when we discuss questions of geography.

  3. Chris’s avatar

    Hi I am LDS and love the church. Here is my dilemma: Let’s assume for 1 minute that in reality the Nephite Civilization did not *ever* exist. Let’s assume for a second it is a lie. If it’s a lie then it does not matter how powerful our feelings are about it. It does not matter if we think we have received a true revelation about the existence of the Nephites — right? I mean if we search deep enough into our minds, we can make black white and white black. Good evil and evil good. Our minds can deceive us. Our hearts can deceive us. And we could subconsciously deceive ourselves if we wanted to badly nough. I have plenty of personal examples, and I’m sure you do too. However, if in reality the Nephite Civilization did exist in a real geographical place in real history, then the revelations we receive about this become much more meaningful. Right? This “grounding ourselves” in reality makes the knowledge of the Book of Mormon that much more significant. Otherwise it is as useless as believing in fairies, leprechauns, big foot, UFOs… many of which we could convince ourselves are true if we read enough testimonies or personal accounts of them and repeatedly exercised faith in them. But the facts remain facts regarless of what people believe. This is why I am persistently looking for the actual Nephite remains such as ancient Hebrew/Reformed Egyptian/Egyptian writings, Zarahemla, Linguistic Evidences, DNA evidences, etc. I know the church tells me to just pray and get a testimony but my testimony is worthless if it does not testify of reality. I know you will tell me this is weak faith, but faith placed in falsehood isn’t all that wise or useful. Let me know what you think. My true goal in life is to scientifically prove the Book of Mormon True. Truth is truth no matter what angle you look at it, so it should pan out scientifically eventually.

  4. Jack’s avatar

    I am just learning the Book of Mormon. I doing this all under one pretense I have about faith:

    “Faith is to believe in what we cannot see. The reward for faith is to see what we believe.”

    Are you going to get your reward?

  5. Greg’s avatar

    Sorry Jack, but I don’t follow your line of reasoning.

  6. David’s avatar

    I am definitely not a scholar either, but I am a studier of The Book of Mormon and it fills my soul with peace and direction. I have watched the DNA DVD, I have talked with many colleagues about the geography of The Book of Mormon and have come to one conclusion: wherever it happened, I know it happened. All things that have come by the hand of God will be evidenced in its own due time, but until then, we are asked to walk by faith, not by sight. It is exciting to see the evidences that do come out on The Book of Mormon, but what greater witness can one have than from God through His Holy Spirit? Science, as long as it is used to seek truth, will eventually confirm the reality of The Book of Mormon–which will be an exciting day; however, we need to remember that even when the Nephites and Lamanites received all the signs from the prophecies of Christ’s coming, they still found ways to conjure up doubt through skepticism and criticism. I hope we don’t fall into that trap of always questioning evidence we receive, especially if it has come by the Spirit of God. Let us walk by faith and then stand still to see the hand of God manifest in our lives.

  7. Greg’s avatar

    Thanks David.

  8. Jack’s avatar

    Thanks David.

    I’m disappointed that only some of the replies are posted.

  9. Theodore Brandley’s avatar

    You might be interested in “A North American Setting For The Book of Mormon” which is more closely aligned with Dr. Nibley’s thinking. (see http://brandley.poulsenll.org/ )

  10. Greg’s avatar

    Thanks for the link Theodore. I look forward to reviewing your thoughts about Book of Mormon geography.

  11. Clint’s avatar

    I really don`t understand the controversy. If anyone believes that Joseph Smith was a prophet and knew something of the happenings of the Book of Mormon, why not just believe what he said about it???? It is documented in “History of the Church” as well as other sources in Church archives that the events of the BofM happened in and around the Ohio valley and up around the hill cumorrah . Not to mention the overwhelming archeological evidence namely, the huge forts left behind in the Ohio valley area that just happen to be built exactly as described in Alma. Also the battle mounds filled with the bones of an ancient people. Archeologists call them the Adena (Jaredite) and Hopewell (Nephite). Many of these carbon date to exactly Jaredite and Nephite time lines. I highly recommend the book “ancient monuments of the Mississippi valley” by Davis and Squier 1847

  12. Theodore Brandley’s avatar

    Clint,

    I agree with you that some of the events of the Book of Mormon occurred in Ohio and around the great lakes. However, there is much evidence in the Book of Mormon itself that the events were not confined to that area.

  13. Greg’s avatar

    You’re welcome BigMG. In reviewing your comment I had a question and wonder if you meant to imply that Joseph Smith had “already been to China”? To the best of my knowledge, Joseph Smith never traveled outside of North America. Regardless, the principles contained in the Book of Mormon are much more important than its apparent geography.

  14. BigMG’s avatar

    THANK YOU for making a point that is long overdue, and that is, the Book of Mormon must be read with faith.

    I see hundreds of cool prior-civilizations whose ruins are scattered all over the globe. Not every place is some Book of Mormon evidence, and the more you look at it, probably none are.

    But every year some ‘scholar’ grabs a research grant and takes a troop of undergrads off to some jungle to finally ‘prove’ the Book of Mormon.

    If the Book of Mormon did come from South America, why didn’t Joseph Smith just take a boat down there? He’d already been to China. People were going there all the time. And, he would have had a persecution free environment with plenty of time to translate. Two Cumorahs? pah…

    Just one question among dozens.

    But it seems that any evidence for a North America location has either been ridiculed, found a hoax, or destroyed by development.

    Now that’s more like it. Weak and simple things of the world.
    Read the book for your own spiritual development, not to make yourself famous.

  15. Cameron’s avatar

    I haven’t read much of the details of this kind of thing, but hopefully my comments can contribute something to the discussion.

    I think one mistake experts and novices alike make with history in general is the overestimation of static conditions and the extrapolation of facts through time, space, and culture, beyond what we know for certain.

    I don’t see how anyone could scientifically prove or disprove something as huge as the Book of Mormon, let alone much bigger questions.

    This is in part what makes it easy for me to have faith. There is just so much that we don’t know. Do scientists know yet how our tastebuds work? Do we understand the universal building blocks of the universe yet? Recently, scientists realized they had underestimated the size of our galaxy by 100% or something like that.

    Knowledge is such an ambitious journey, and I think we are a lot farther away from the finish line than we realize.

  16. Greg’s avatar

    Thanks Cameron. I tend to agree. If “knowledge is power” as Joseph Smith said, then revelation is a key ingredient in the process of obtaining knowledge.

  17. Randy’s avatar

    Great post! If anyone is interested in yet another theory on the Book of Mormon lands please visit my blog. One of the things I have a hard time believing is Lehi landing in North America. If you check the dates between his landing and Mulek finding the last Jaredite king it would be at least 100 years in between. Ether also said that the land was utterly destroyed. Why would God put Lehi’s family right in the middle of a bloody war? Unless the last Jaredite king lived for over 100 years. If Lehi landed in Central America like everyone believes then it would conflict with Joseph Smith’s and other early church leader’s belief of a South America landing. There is also a Native American tradition that says that their ancestors landed near Panama. There are also 3 narrow necks of land in the New World that would fit the Book of Mormon: Guatemala, Florida, and upstate New York; great lakes area. I also find it hard to believe that two great nations, the Nephites and the people of Zarahemla, would not discover each other for 500 years with all the wars and contentions that were recorded in the Book of Mormon. One more thing. All migrations went north. If the Book of Mormon history was only in the US, especially in New York, where did everyone go to, Canada? Just some things to think about. My theory is the only one that makes sense. That the Book of Mormon Nephites were pushed north over a 1000 year period by the Lamanites. Go to my blog for a map and more information.

  18. Greg’s avatar

    Randy – Thought you might want to review Dr. Nibley’s comments on the Narrow Neck of Land as part of your studies. Best regards.

  19. Bret’s avatar

    Chris wrote: …This is why I am persistently looking for the actual Nephite remains…

    I can help you with this. Start with a relief map of the USA (all the area east of the Rocky Mountains). Find Nauvoo. Read D&C 125 (Zarahemla is across from Nauvoo). Notice on the map the similarity of the real-world rivers and terrain with the description of both Zarahemla and the Valley of Gideon in the Book of Mormon. Now research the Havanah-Hopewell culture. You should discover that the Havanah-Hopewell people entered the Illinois River Valley (Valley of Gideon) around 200 B.C. and that they came from the south and west. This event in secular history closely aligns with the time Mosiah led the Nephites to Zarahemla. Both history and geography match in time and place. The Havanah-Hopewell also made contact with the Adena culture in the Ohio area. Compare this to Alma’s journey east to the land of Antionum.
    Now read the story of Zeniff, and then research the Tchefuncte and Marksville cultures. Zeniff led Nephites and Mulekites south about 200 B.C., and then they dwelt near the Lamanites for about 80 years. Similarly, the Havanah-Hopewell traveled south and began interacting with the Tchefuncte about 200 B.C. (The Marksville culture is the Tchefuncte culture after the Hopewell made contact with them.) The Tchefuncte were in the Lower Mississippi Valley for hundreds of years before the Nephites and Lamanites arrived, thus, it appears that the Lamanites intermarried with the Tchefuncte.
    By the way the city of Nephi was near the BACK PASS, which was visible (Behold the back pass) through the back wall on the back side of the city. The words BACK and FRONT were used anciently by Semitic cultures (Jews) to indicate the directions of West and East, respectively. The back pass was likely a canyon pass located to the west of the city of Nephi, and was likely the canyon through which the Arkansas River flows. Also, ancient Egyptions referred to south as up or upwards (up to the land of Nephi) and north as lower or down (down to the land of Zarahemla). (Read 1 Nephi 1:2… learning of the Jews and language of the Egyptians.)
    Next, research the Adena culture. Old sources will show the Adena as starting in the Ohio area about 1000 B.C., but newer sources should show a corrected date of about 500 B.C. Next, locate the Hill CUmorah on your map. The last battle of the Jaredites was at the Hill Cumorah and they traveled there from the waters of Ripliancum, or from northward to southward, so the Jaredite bones in the Hill Cumorah area were likely the southernmost collection of Jaredite bones. (Yes, most of the destruction of the Jaredites occurred in the land of Desolation, but the land of Desolation is only the land northward RELATIVE to Bountiful or the narrow neck of land; the Hill Cumorah is in the land northward RELATIVE to the land of Zarahemla.) Next, follow the Hudson river north from the Altantic Ocean, then west to the Hill Cumorah area. This is likely the path the Mulekites took upon their arrival. Upon finding the bones of the Jaredites in the Hill Cumorah area, the people of Zarahemla (Mulekites) headed up into the south wilderness. They likely followed the Ohio River to the area in Ohio where the Adena settled. The Adena (Mulekites) then spread westward down the banks of Ohio river and up the Mississippi river where they established the city of Zarahemla by 200 B.C.
    Next, look up the word HEAD in Webster’s 1828 dictionary (it’s available online) and note that the 23rd definition of head is BODY;CONFLUX, where conflux means confluence. Now study the battle where the Lamanites captured the cities of Manti, Cumeni, Zeezrom, and Antiparah before being stopped near the city of Judea by the Nephites. One of the options of the Lamanite army was to cross the head of Sidon over to the city of Nephihah, yet the head of the river Sidon was far to the south, near the borders of the land of Manti. This either means that the Lamanites would have to backtrack to the land of Manti to cross the head of the River (and end up back in Lamanite territory), or it means that there was another head of the river well north of the land of Manti. Look at your map in the area of southern Illinois. You’ll notice that there are two river confluences (heads), one is of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, the other is more northward where the Missouri river meets the Mississippi river. So, there were either two heads of the river Sidon, or the entire BODY between the two CONFLUX’s was considered the head of the river Sidon. By the way, the reason the search party sent by king Limhi to find the land of Zarahemla failed is because they took a right turn at the southern end of the head (following the Ohio river to the Hill Cumorah area) instead of taking a right turn at the northern end of the head which would have taken them to Zarahemla.
    If you have Google Earth, zoom into the Niagara Falls area. Note that after the falls there’s a deep gorge. The narrow neck of land near Niagara Falls is about a day and a half’s journey across (about 25 miles), but, because of the deep gorge, the Nephites only had to position their armies across two-thirds (a day’s journey) of the narrow neck. From the narrow neck, lake Ontario is the east sea and lake Erie is the west sea. But, from the land northward (relative to the narrow neck), lake Erie now becomes the south sea and lake Huron is the west sea. It’s all relative.

  20. Greg’s avatar

    Wow – that’s a fascinating hypothesis Bret. Thanks for providing it.

    I hope readers understand that there are many possibilities for a Book of Mormon geography setting. But as Pres. George Q. Cannon, Sharon, and others have noted, I hope the book’s primary purpose remains front and center.

  21. Greg’s avatar

    Thanks Marc, interesting…

  22. BigMG’s avatar

    I’m definitely with Bret on this one.
    Whoever left all those stunning marvels of hewn stone in South America were amazing people; just like those found in China, Korea, Japan, India… pretty much all around the world. (Some say on Mars too. Heh, Nephite Martians! Wait’ll the BYU diggin’ for Nephites department hears about that!)
    When the Aztec-Nephite theory arose in the 1970′s, we would wait eagerly for that ‘final proof’ that everyone would whisper about. Eventually those titillating rumors, that would swell people’s heads with the pride of being able to finally poke back at critics, evaporated.
    The so-called proofs were never quite what they added up to be.
    I’m not at all confident that the Lord wants us to be focusing all of our time and energy on diversions like this anyway.
    What I am sure of, is that people have put reading the Book of Mormon for a testimony of Christ on the backburner in favor of titillation and reading into sacred texts their own theories.
    Do I believe that America is the location of much of the Nephite, Jaradite, and Mulekite history? Well, if the prophet said as much, then yes.
    But, do I really care?
    Not really. When was the last time we heard anything about new Garden of Eden finds in Missouri?
    That’s secondary, and I put it in the ‘Nice to know’ category.
    But, like the folks digging around in Egypt and Iraq, where there is absolutely no alternative possible, there will always be doubt. That’s just the way things are.
    I know that the Book of Mormon is authentic and scripture. The what and where is nice to know; especially if it is somewhat accurate.

  23. Jorge Ponce’s avatar

    Soy un SUD desde hace 33 años, de 1980-1982 serví una misión de tiempo completo (En Guatemala) y durante estos 33 años he servido en varios llamamientos en la iglesia, actualmente soy presidente de estaca (en octubre 2012 cumplo 10 años en este hermoso llamamiento), con todo respeto expreso lo anterior, y lo hago para expresarles mi convicción de que el Libro de Mormón es verdadero, es otro testamento de Jesucristo, y contiene la plenitud del Evangelio. Esto lo sé porque pregunté a Dios, y testifiqué y sigo testificando de El. A parte de esto considero que el conocer geográficamente las tierras del L. de M. no nos servirá para ganar la vida eterna, pero si despierta por lo menos en mí un interes sano, he podido hacer investigaciones bibliograficas tanto de autores SUD y no SUD de la ubicación geográfica de las tierras del L. de M. y en mi opinión muy personal creo que dichas tierras están ubicadas en el area de mesoamerica, es la unica area hasta hoy que se apega tanto geográfica como cronológicamente con las descripciones que nos da el libro. En conclusión; el libro es verdadero, escrito por profetas antiguos, traducido por José Smith por el don y el poder de Dios.

  24. Greg’s avatar

    Thank you Jorge!

  25. Bret’s avatar

    When it comes to the Book of Mormon, perhaps there are only two paths: belief and doubt. I choose to believe that the Book of Mormon is true and that the events in the Book of Mormon actually took place in a real-world location. I know that there are those who question these things, and therefore they begin to take steps on the path of doubt. I have the desire to help these people by sharing my knowledge, but can knowledge from one be substituted for faith in another? How is faith to grow strong if it has no need to grow? Perhaps this is where testimonies come into play. Testimonies serve to nurture faith. But only if the listener believes.

    On the subjects of Book of Mormon history and geography, a person is more likely to believe the testimony of a highly educated scholar of both ancient history and the Book of Mormon than a casual reader who has some ideas, but no credentials. Of course, there are those like Nicolaus Copernicus, who are/were advanced scholars, but, because they have/had ideas outside the norm, they are/were not easily believed (even though Copernicus happened to be right). The choices then appear to be: A) to proceed on faith and simply believe without question, or B) begin to question and then search for answers in the hope of finding truth, but at the risk of killing faith.

    Since no one has published a universally believable theory about a real-world location for a geographical setting for the Book of Mormon, how is an investigator supposed to take faith in the Book of Mormon once the journey down this path (geography) has begun? Adding to this, many of those who have a theory (or subscribe to a theory) on Book of Mormon geography attack other theories with criticism, which does nothing to help investigators, and causes bruised feelings between authors and their supporters. This can be viewed as very un-Christ-like behavior.

    Are we to stop investigating? No. Ever since the quest to locate the lands of the Book of Mormon began, there is no turning back. Dropping the quest would be seen by non-believers as admitting defeat… suggesting that the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction. But I say it isn’t a work of fiction. I say that there is a one-to-one correlation between real-world history and the history recorded in the Book of Mormon. I say that there is no reason to doubt. But why believe me? I’m just a stranger represented by words on a computer screen.

    Perhaps the only way the entire world would ever find out where the events of the Book of Mormon took place is if the LDS Prophet developed his own theory then went to the Lord to ask if it is correct… and then received revelation on the subject. That is unlikely to happen because (the world) being given that knowledge would find a diminished need for faith, which is, perhaps, the first step to believing. (Of course, an individual may make the same attempt for him/herself, but then the results would be private to that person.)

    So, my advice is this: If you have to, read all you want about the geography of the Book of Mormon, but don’t expect to find the truth… yet.

  26. Trent’s avatar

    Bret, I appreciate the comments above. The more you study the book itself, the geography and the comments from the prophet Joseph Smith, the more North America makes sense.

    Also, there is DNA evidence that several of the Great Lakes Tribes or Native American tribes in the Great Lakes region have the European marker, but sadly enough this is rarely if ever mentioned.

    You might want to look into some of the back issues on ancientamerican.com. There is tons of information on this topic in this magazine.

  27. Theodore Brandley’s avatar

    Below are five items of documentary evidence which confirm that it was Moroni, prior to the translation of the Gold Plates, who told Joseph Smith that Cumorah was the name of the hill in Palmyra:

    1. Oliver Cowdery, Second Elder of the Church and Co-President with Joseph Smith, stated the following in 1831:

    “This Book, which contained these things, was hid in the earth by Moroni, in a hill CALLED BY HIM CUMORAH, which hill is now in the state of New York, near the village of Palmyra, in Ontario County.” (Autobiography of P.P. Pratt p 56-61, as taken from his journals, emphasis added)

    2. Following Joseph’s meeting with Moroni at Cumorah, one year before Joseph received the plates, Joseph told his parents that he had “taken the severest chastisement that I have ever had in my life.” Joseph said:

    “It was the angel of the Lord. AS I PASSED BY THE HILL OF CUMORAH, WHERE THE PLATES ARE, the angel met me and said that I had not been engaged enough in the work of the Lord; and the time had come for the record to be brought forth…” (History of Joseph Smith by his Mother Lucy Mack Smith: The Unabridged Original Version, Compiled by R. Vernon Ingleton, Stratford Books, 2005, p. 159; emphasis added)

    3. David Whitmer confirmed this in an interview in his later years when he stated:

    “[Joseph Smith] told me…he had a vision, an angel appearing to him three times in one night and telling him that there was a record of an ancient people deposited in a hill near his fathers house CALLED BY THE ANCIENTS ‘CUMORAH,’ situated in the township of Manchester, Ontario county N.Y…” (Milton V. Backman, Jr., “Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration,” p. 233; emphasis added)

    4. Additionally, we read in Doctrine and Covenants:

    “Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfillment of the prophets — THE BOOK TO BE REVEALED” (D&C 128:20)

    Again, it is apparent that Moroni called the hill in Palmyra “Cumorah” before the book was translated.

    5. Finally, supporting this is a quote from a sacred hymn, selected by Emma Smith and published in 1835. Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet, produced this under instructions and directions from the Lord. “And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church.” (D&C 25:1)

    “An angel came down from the mansions of glory,
    And told that a record was hid in Cumorah,
    Containing the fulness of Jesus’s gospel;”

    (Collection of Sacred Hymns, 1835, Hymn 16, page 22,
    http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperDetails/collection-of-sacred-hymns-1835?dm=image-and-text&zm=zoom-inner&tm=expanded&p=24&s=Cumorah&sm=none )

    “…in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” (D&C 6:28 & 128:3)

    There are some who may try to discredit the first three witnesses, but the last two are unimpeachable. All five witnesses are in harmony with each other, and with no direct evidence to the contrary the combined evidence from the documentary records of the Church is compelling, that it was Moroni who told Joseph Smith that the name of the hill in Palmyra was Cumorah, before he received the gold plates.

    There may also those who will say that Moroni just called the hill in Palmyra after the real hill that was elsewhere. However, for Moroni to mislead Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints in this manner would have been highly deceptive, and angels cannot deceive (D&C 129:7). Also, I can’t believe that Moroni would have let Joseph Smith even misunderstand the location of the hill Cumorah. It was around the hill Cumorah where Moroni’s father, Mormon, and the remainder of his family, his friends, his people and his entire civilization were annihilated. This is where lay the bones of his father, his family and his people. To Moroni, Cumorah was sacred, hallowed ground. For him to rename another location, Cumorah, would be like Admiral Nimitz renaming Chesapeake Bay to Pearl Harbor.

    It would appear that any Book of Mormon Geography Theory that does not have the Cumorah of the Book of Mormon in Palmyra, NY, cannot be true.

    Theodore Brandley

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