Why Should We Be Concerned with Book of Mormon Geography?

Given the possible controversy that might be raised, I should make it clear that these are my own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of the Interpreter Foundation.

There have been a number of times over the years when I have been involved with studying the Book of Mormon where I will explain something I find fascinating to my wife, who gently responds, “Why would anyone care about that?” Although a little deflating, it really is a very good question. I’d like to look at Book of Mormon geography in just that light. Why might we care? What good does it do to know that Manti is north of Nephi and south of Zarahemla? Is it important to know that the Book of Mormon doesn’t typically give those descriptions for the relationships of those cities, but rather which are “up” or “down” from wherever one begins a journey?

Measured against the “will it affect my salvation” question, the answer is clearly that Book of Mormon geography is entirely non-essential. It is entirely possible that people can drink of the living waters of the Book of Mormon without any concept of geography. They have since it was first published. It is also quite true that one can drink of those living waters even if they hold an erroneous idea of Book of Mormon geography. Since there was only one geography for those who wrote the text–and we believers in the text have come up with hundreds of possibilities for that geography–most of us are wrong. Even if we might be right for the most part, I suspect that pretty much everyone is wrong about something in the geography, so we had better hope that understanding Book of Mormon geography won’t be on the final exam when we knock on the pearly gates.

As I think about it, Book of Mormon geography has seemed to matter for perhaps four different reasons. The first is simply the challenge of it. Like climbing a mountain because it is there, Book of Mormon geography is an interesting puzzle in and of itself. Solving it scratches an itch, but it serves no other master. The next three reasons do seem to have another master in mind.

Second, Book of Mormon geography has been used as a foundation for proving the Book of Mormon. I use ‘proving’ intentionally, understanding that it really cannot be done. That doesn’t mean that the attempts are not made, or that those who do so really don’t hope that it is what they are doing. The geography is used to provide a place against which either artifacts or history may be compared to the Book of Mormon and thereby demonstrate that the Book of Mormon must be a translation of a historical text if it corresponds to particular ruins, artifacts, or history (I’m not commenting here on the quality of the correlations, just how they appear to be used).

Third, there is a relatively recent use of the geography: It serves as a rallying point for patriotic nationalism. What started with geography has virtually left specifics behind. The argument assumes geography and hinges on nationalistic readings of prophecies. In this evolution of the use of geography, the purpose of geography becomes a referential proof—not of the Book of Mormon—but of a religiously inspired nationalism.

Fourth, geography can be used as the foundation for better understanding the people who wrote the Book of Mormon. While that might not affect our salvation, it does help provide a deeper understanding of the living people who wrote the histories that Mormon crafted into our Book of Mormon. Geography becomes a framework for understanding rather than the thing to be understood. Although not necessary for our salvation, the result of deepening our understanding of the Book of Mormon writers and their very human issues and struggles cannot help but affect our salvation as we more clearly see how the gospel can apply to our own real issues and struggles.

Of course, it is obvious that I have a personal preference for the fourth option. Others will prefer one of the other three for their own reasons. However, I suggest that there is a body of work developing that shows that geography provides more information than simply solving the puzzle of geography. Establishing a location allows us to use both that location and the known history of that location to improve our understanding of the text.

In my opinion, the great value of John L. Sorenson’s 1985 pivotal An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon was not the geography, although it represents the culmination of a careful examination of all possible textual references and inferences about geography. Had it stopped there, it would have been another geography and not become as influential as it has been. What moved it beyond an esoteric discussion of geography was that Sorenson used geography to ask more important questions about the people who lived on that geography and in that time. Placing the action of the Book of Mormon in the region known as Mesoamerica makes for a reasonable geography, but it also makes for a picture Book of Mormon peoples as living and participating in a particular culture. His recent book, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book, continues his thoughts on how the text fits into the geography he has identified.

One of the interesting ways that geography can lead to an understanding of the Book of Mormon is in providing an important background to an otherwise enigmatic story in the Book of Mormon. Limhi sent a party to find Zarahemla to request help against the Lamanites. It was perhaps the grandparents of those in that party who had come to the land where the people of Limhi were, and they would certainly have retained some remembrance of where Zarahemla was. Zarahemla was along the River Sidon. If the party followed the Sidon, they had to have found Zarahemla. They missed it. Instead they found the remains of the Jaredites. How could that have happened? The specific geography in Mesoamerica provides a simple and complete solution to the question. There are two rivers with headwaters within twenty miles of each other in the same mountain range. The search party followed the wrong river. In doing so, they would naturally end up in the region where the geographic model places the Jaredites. Lawrence Poulsen provided the first and most complete explanation of this interesting solution to a Book of Mormon question (see Lawrence Poulsen’s web site).

Unlike the archaeology of the Bible, archaeology and the Book of Mormon cannot start with a location that has both records and traditions maintaining the locations of important sites throughout history. We have never not known the location of Jerusalem. We have no such anchor for the Book of Mormon, and the nature of the available records in the New World virtually assures that we will not (pre-contact texts are only available in Mesoamerica, and there are a limited number of them, compared with a rich literary tradition in the Old World). Without the firm anchor point, geography will continue to be argued as a geography. We will likely see others proposed and current correlations refined and re-argued. Personally, I don’t have the patience for that kind of work, though I greatly admire it in those who do it in sincerity.

Understanding that geography in and of itself will not improve our understanding of the Book of Mormon, I lean to the ability of geography to provide a framework from which we can build that better understanding. Noting that there were people in a particular geography at a particular time is still in the realm of proof-texting our geography rather than trying to understand the text. The value of any geography should be its productivity for explaining the Book of Mormon, not for proving it—not for proving our faith in it. Geography is productive when the geography itself explains the events of the text. Geography is productive with an examination of the known history and culture of the peoples living in that area during Book of Mormon times elucidates why people acted in the ways that they did. Geography will come closest to affecting our salvation if it leads to a richer understanding of scripture, and a deeper way of connecting with those whose lives and whose writings gave us that scripture.



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About Brant A. Gardner

Brant A. Gardner (M.A. State University of New York Albany) is the author of Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon and The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon, both published through Greg Kofford Books. He has contributed articles to Estudios de Cultura Nahuatl and Symbol and Meaning Beyond the Closed Community. He has presented papers at the FairMormon conference as well as at Sunstone.

67 thoughts on “Why Should We Be Concerned with Book of Mormon Geography?

  1. The December 2012 issue of the Ensign magazine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published an article derived from a devotional address by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to students at BYU-Idaho on January 24, 2012. The Ensign article, The Tradition of Light and Testimony, which begins on page 29, shares profound insights relating to the significant role of the United States in bringing to pass the restoration of the gospel. Within it is one of the most succinct and straight-forward statements by Church leadership to date in identifying and quantifying the “promised land” of the Book of Mormon. Where is that “promised land” today and what significance does this have to the Heartland Model Geography?
    The Ensign magazine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published an article, in the December 2012 issue, which originated from a transcription of a devotional address by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to students at BYU-Idaho on January 24, 2012.
    The resulting Ensign article, The Tradition of Light and Testimony shares profound insights relating to the role of the United States in bringing to pass the restoration of the gospel.

    Wrote Elder Perry, “The Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints is truly a world-wide Church. Nevertheless, it is important to realize that the Church could never have become what it is today without the birth of a great nation, the United States of America. The Lord prepared a new land to attract the peoples of the world who sought liberty and religious freedom.”

    Elder Perry began by explaining that while the latter day Church is “truly a worldwide Church,” we should never forget that the Lord prepared a great latter day nation of liberty and religious freedom which made it possible for the restoration of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Then Elder Perry declared in as clear a description as is possible…,

    “The United States is the Promised Land foretold in the Book of Mormon—”

    Continuing, he wrote, “…a place where divine guidance directed inspired men to create the conditions necessary for the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was the birth of the United States of America that ushered out the Great Apostasy, when the earth was darkened by the absence of prophets and revealed light. It was no coincidence that the lovely morning of the First Vision occurred just decades after the establishment of the United States.”

    An interesting excercise is to insert the words “United States” into prophetic passages from the Book of Mormon regarding the latter-day “promised land” or “land of promise” as indicated by Elder Perry. In doing so, note how this effects the significance and clarity of the passage.
    1 Nephi 12:1

    “And it came to pass that the angel said unto me: Look, and behold thy seed, and also the seed of thy brethren. And I looked and beheld the United States (land of promise); and I beheld multitudes of people, yea, even as it were in number as many as the sand of the sea.”
    1 Nephi 13:14

    “And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the United States (land of promise); and I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten.”

    1 Nephi 14:2
    “And harden not their hearts against the Lamb of God, they shall be numbered among the seed of thy father; yea, they shall be numbered among the house of Israel; and they shall be a blessed people upon the United States (promised land) forever; they shall be no more brought down into captivity; and the house of Israel shall no more be confounded.”

    2 Nephi 1:5

    “But, said he, notwithstanding our afflictions, we have obtained [the] United States (land of promise), a land which is choice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed. Yea, the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord.”

    2 Nephi 1:10

    “But behold, when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in unbelief, after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord—having a knowledge of the creation of the earth, and all men, knowing the great and marvelous works of the Lord from the creation of the world; having power given them to do all things by faith; having all the commandments from the beginning, and having been brought by his infinite goodness into this precious United States (land of promise)—behold, I say, if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true Messiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is just shall rest upon them.”

    Ether 2:8

    “And he had sworn in his wrath unto the brother of Jared, that whoso should possess this United States (land of promise), from that time henceforth and forever, should serve him, the true and only God, or they should be swept off when the fulness of his wrath should come upon them.”

    The Book of Mormon prophets included 36 specific prophecies and promises relating to this “nation” that would be established on their lands in the latter days. The only nation in the Americas that qualifies in each of these prophecies is, as Elder L. Tom Perry has pointed out, the United States of America…a covenant and promised land of God.

    • As I indicated, there are some ideas about geography that no longer have to do with geography at all. Your comment is about a concept, not a geography. There is nothing here that correlates to physical features. There is nothing that tells us anything about the Book of Mormon peoples.

      This is an excellent example of one of the current trends, but it is a mirror of our modern attitudes rather than a serious study of either geography or the people of the text. It says much more about us that it does the Book of Mormon.

      • I enjoy comments about the geography of the Book Of Mormon. I recently read the opinions of Mr. Muldrum, regarding the location as being in the Ohio valley. It all seems to fit, but again, opinions are still opinions.
        Thank you for this article.
        Keith Arnold

  2. Stig and Brant:

    One of the reasons that I am interested in Book of Mormon geography is that I have an old friend who left the Church because the anitis convinced him that inasmuch as there was no known location to fit the text, the book must therefor be fiction. So part of it with me is apologetics.

    Also, knowing exactly where the events took place lends greater clarity to the meaning of the text, just as it does to the Bible. One does not have to go to the Holy Land to have a testimony of Jesus Christ, but being in the Garden Tomb adds a whole new dimension to that testimony. There is a spirit of place, and standing in the Sacred Grove can powerfully intensify a testimony of the First Vision.

    I agree with much of what both of you have presented. The truth must be in a geography the stretches from Mesoamerica to Cumorah.

    Speaking of Cumorah:
    There are five documentary sources that confirm it was Moroni who told Joseph Smith, prior to the translation of the Gold Plates, that the hill in Palmyra was anciently known as Cumorah.

    1. The only first-person source comes from the epistle that Joseph Smith dictated on September 6, 1842, which was later canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 128.
    “Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfillment of the prophets — the book to be revealed.”(D&C 128:20)
    The inference is that Joseph knew the name “Cumorah” before the book was revealed. That knowledge could only have come from Moroni. This is substantiated in the subsequent documents.

    2. An early documentary source confirming the above are the lines from a sacred hymn, written by W.W. Phelps. William Phelps lived with the Prophet in Kirtland and was in essence his executive secretary during the Nauvoo period.
    “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,
    It was the angel who told Joseph that the record was hid in “Cumorah.” This hymn was selected by Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet, approved by the Prophet, and published in 1835 with a collection of hymns, 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)
    This hymn was also included in the 1841 edition as hymn #262.

    3. 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)
    The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt was complied, edited and published in1881 by his son, from the documents and records left by his father after his death. From the length and detail of the address given by Oliver Cowdery in 1831, from which the above quote is taken, it had to have been recorded by Parley P. Pratt at the time it was spoken. “In writing his autobiography, Pratt relied heavily on his previous writings. After extensive analysis, Pratt family historian Steven Pratt concluded that almost ninety percent of the text is either based on or copied from earlier works” (Matt Grow, assistant professor of history at the University of Southern Indiana.)

    4. The Prophet’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, provides two separate items of evidence in the original manuscript of her memoirs. In the first item, Lucy is remembering what Joseph told her after Moroni first appeared to him. The quote begins with what Moroni had told Joseph:
    “Now Joseph beware when you go to get the plates your mind will be filld with darkness and all man[n]er of evil will rush into your mind. To keep you from keeping the comman dments of God and you must tell your father of this for he will believe every word you say the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place remove the Grass and moss and you will find a large flat stone pry that up and you will find the record under it laying on 4 pillars — then the angel left him.” [sic] (Lucy Mack Smith, History 1844–1845, Original Manuscript, page 41)
    Lucy dictated the above about 20 years after the fact, but it is consistent with other evidence. In the following, Lucy recalls directly what her son said in her presence. 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 an gel of the Lord— as I passed by the hill of Cumo rah, where the plates are, the angel of the Lord met me and said, that I had not been engaged enough in the work of the Lord; that the time had come for the record to brought forth; and, that I must be up and doing, and set myself about the things which God had commanded me to do:” [sic] (Lucy Mack Smith, History 1844–1845, Original Manuscript, page 111)
    In both of these quotes from the Prophet’s mother, she demonstrates that in her mind it was Moroni, who told Joseph, prior to the translation of the plates, that the hill in Palmyra was named Cumorah.

    5. 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)

    All of the documentary evidence is consistent that it was Moroni who told Joseph Smith, prior to the translation of the Gold Plates, that the ancient name of the hill in Palmyra was “Cumorah.” There is no documentary evidence to the contrary.

    • Theodore:

      Your comment on the reason for looking at geography is actually an important one. It is close to using it as proof, but perhaps just a step back from that and defending the text. I do believe we need to do that.

      That you would consider a discussion of Cumorah as an appropriate follow-up to that reason suggests to me that in this case you are not an apologist for the Book of Mormon, but rather for a particular belief about the Book of Mormon. We are all allowed to develop those as we will. However, you should be aware that the historical information you are citing is the result of a labeling shift within the early church and not evidence for an identification of the New York drumlin with the Book of Mormon Cumorah. Two historians have examined the evidence behind the type of data you have cited:

      At what point in modern times this New York hill was first called Cumorah is difficult to determine. In his account in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith refers to the hill where the plates were buried, but never calls it by any name. In the Doctrine and Covenants the name “Cumorah” only appears one time, in an 1842 epistle written by Joseph Smith: “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah!” (D&C 128:20). No other uses of “Cumorah” have been found in any other of Joseph Smith’s personal writings. When this name does appear it has been added by later editors or is being quoted from another individual. (Rex C. Reeve Jr. and Richard O. Cowan, “The Hill Called Cumorah,” 73–74)/

      Unfortunately, the evidence you are citing falls into the retroactive changes of name and don’t provide evidence of the connection. I must also point out that the major reason for suggesting that it might have been Cumorah is because records were buried in Cumorah, and we know that the plates given to Joseph came from that New York hill. I’m sure that is how the original connection was made. However, it is an erroneous connection.

      6 I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni. Mormon 6:6

      So, according to Mormon, the plates Joseph received were never buried in Cumorah. If they were never in Cumorah, then taking then out of the New York hill cannot identify it as Cumorah, but rather forcibly says it was not.

      • Brant, in our quote from Rex C. Reeve Jr. and Richard O. Cowan:

        “At what point in modern times this New York hill was first called Cumorah is difficult to determine.”

        Both they and you are ignoring most of the evidence. In 1835 the LDS gatherings were singing,

        “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;”

        It is obvious that that the hill in Palmyra was commonly called Cumorah by at least 1835. Oliver Cowdery was calling it Cumorah by 1831.

        Also, please explain your reasoning that by Mormon stating that he hid all the records in Cumorah except the ones he gave to Moroni, prevented Moroni from burying them in the same hill 36 years later? I cannot follow that reasoning.

        I have provided five items of documentary evidence, all of them in agreement, that Moroni, before the record was translated, told Joseph Smith that Cumorah was the name of the hill in Palmyra. What evidence can you provide that would refute this?

        • Theodore:

          You can argue with Reeve and Cowan about the after-the-fact insertion of the name into the accounts. There are clear about what Joseph said. Moroni spoke to Jospeh, and if anyone were to be quoting Moroni’s identification, it was Joseph. However, Joseph didn’t use Cumorah until late. Perhaps you missed the point where they were speaking of what Joseph said, not what others did.

          There is nothing that prevented Moroni from burying the plates in the same hill. The point is that the text never says he did. The text never says where they were buried. So, you can assume he buried them in Cumorah because the New York hill is called Cumorah, but that is circular reasoning.

          We have the Book of Mormon not telling use what Moroni did with the plates.
          We have no evidence from Joseph that Joseph understood the New York hill as Cumorah until very late — after others had begun using that term.

          We a parallel situation with the shift from translators to urim and thummim, which occurred after W. W. Phelps made the connection and other saints picked up the terminology. It wasn’t what Joseph originally called them, but it has become the traditional name for the interpreters. That is a direct parallel to Joseph’s shift in vocabulary concerning the New York hill.

          If the Book of Mormon doesn’t support the plates coming being buried in Cumorah, then the fact that they came out of a hill can’t be used as evidence that the hill was Cumorah. All the Book of Mormon says is that it wasn’t Cumorah. Positing that Moroni went back has no textual evidence and does nothing more than attempt to find a reason to support a conclusion that was reached for other reasons.

          If the one person who knew first hand what Moroni had said didn’t use Cumorah for the hill until late, then we have no sure way to tie prophetic declaration of the name.

          We have a parallel instance where we have better data to trace the history of the terminology of the urim and thummim being applied to the seer stones. That is also a case where Joseph adopted the term, but only later and after those around him were already using it.

          If we go for quite final information, the New York hill does not fit the description of Cumorah as a particularly defensible location, and the archaeology of the area has zero indication of habitation or any significant battle taking place there.

          The only reason to link the New York hill to the Book of Mormon is tradition, and it is certain that the tradition began early. It did not begin with Joseph (according to available information) and has no clear evidence to tie it to Moroni, else Joseph would have used the term earlier.

          The fact that it has been a tradition for a very long time does not mean that the tradition is correct. I’m not saying it is was intentionally misleading, it was simply part of the process by which the early saints assimilated the Book of Mormon into their collective retelling of their story.

          • Brant,

            How could it be written in the Book of Mormon where Moroni had buried the plates? He could not write in them after they were buried. What Moroni did was tell Joseph the name of the place he buried them on the first night he visited them. That is the testimony of all the documentary witnesses. You are obfuscating the facts.

            What I am searching for is the truth. The only documentary truth we have on Book of Mormon geography is the location of the Hill Cumorah. Any proposed geography that does not include Palmyra as the Cumorah of the Book of Mormon cannot be true.

          • Theodore, I agree that it is unlikely that Moroni wrote on the plates where he buried them. All I have said is that the only thing the Book of Mormon text says is that it wasn’t in Cumorah.

            The problem is that you are asserting that Moroni told Joseph that he had buried them in Cumorah. If Joseph knew that, then Joseph would have been the source of the information about the identification of the New York hill as Cumorah. The documentary history indicates that he did not, and that it was other people who made the identification. Joseph does use that name in his own writing until later. Therefore, your statement that “the only documentary truth we have on Book of Mormon geography is the location of the Hill Cumorah” is not correct. The documentary truth is that we cannot link that name to Joseph until late and therefore cannot attach it to Moroni either.

            I understand that there is the force of tradition behind the identification. There is force of tradition behind a lot of things that better history indicates is not true. There were prominent church leaders who did not believe that Joseph used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon, and they were influential in establishing a tradition that it was the urim and thummim. That is now known to be a late addition (and its sources is pretty will known). We do know that the plates came from the New York hill. Only tradition links the name to Cumorah.

            Perhaps someone thought is “new Cumorah” just as many locations received their names in honor of other places (New York, Cairo, NY, Madrid, NM, etc.). I can easily see why the early saints called it Cumorah, but I can’t find anything in the Book of Mormon to justify it. Other historians can’t find anything in Joseph’s own words to justify it. If Joseph called it something else, why insist that it was different from what he called it? The evidence is that the association is late and was inserted backwards into documents that did not originally contain the name. So, we have documents that appear to use the term early, but they are actually based on the later assignment.

          • Brant,

            It appears that you are reading others’ opinions about it instead of reading the documents directly. Emma Smith, Lucy Smith, Oliver Cowdery, William Phelps and David Whitmer all testify that it was Moroni that told Joseph Smith that the hill in New York was known anciently as Cumorah. Joseph confirmed it in 1842.

            What I understand from your position is that the Mesoamerica theory is true, therefore Cumorah of the Book of Mormon cannot be in New York. Now that is circular. There would be no arguments against Cumorah being in New York if it were not for the Mesoamerica limited geography theory.

            That’s it. I will say no more.

          • There would still be arguments about Cumorah for those who carefully read the text and compare it with archaeology. New York simply doesn’t fit. Remember that all of the people you are citing wrote things down after the fact. We know that the saints were constructing the ways to integrate their understanding quite early, and can see that Phelps was influenced by a history that he read to shift the terminology away from interpreters to the biblical (and therefore more understandable) urim and thummim. Eventually, Joseph used that terminology as well in spite of the fact that he was not the first and clearly used different terms early. That is the same problem we have with the identification of Cumorah. Someone else comes up with it, and by 1842 Joseph adopts it. However, there is zero evidence that ties the identification to Joseph earlier than that. Therefore there is zero evidence that it came from Moroni (who only spoke to Joseph and Joseph should have received the information from Moroni had that been the source).

            History and archaeology are against a firm identification. Tradition is certainly for it. We know that the there are parallel traditions where we can clearly trace the human history. There is no reason, save for tradition, to make the New York hill into the Book of Mormon Cumorah. When combined with the fact that it doesn’t fit the text and doesn’t fit the archaeology, it appears that the tradition developed from human sources.

            I agree that we have beat this particular horse to death. I recognize that I have not convinced you. You recognize that you haven’t convinced me. That is not likely to change. However, I hope that some reading this exchange can profit from it in some way.

  3. The only way substituting United States for Promised land works is if you accept the two content setting for the Book of Mormon. Which I do personally do not! It doesn’t fit because that is not where the Jaredites and Nephites lived! Columbus did not discover the United States in fact he never set foot on the the North American continent. It is a nice little exercise that only supports and emphasis “patriotic nationalism”

  4. I was about to ask you for an example of what you meant by number 3 since I wasn’t sure I had ever read anything that would exemplify what you meant, but Stig Strom’s comment answered that question.

  5. Even though I disagree with their formulation of Book of Mormon geography, I was gratified to see that your article drew an immediate and forceful response from representatives of one of the four reasons you provided.

    Another reason for studying Book of Mormon geography might also be listed:
    To present lessons in military strategy. An LDS midshipman at Annapolis in the 60s (Keith Haines, a classmate of Oliver North) wrote a paper for his military strategy class comparing Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon and Captain Moroni crossing the Sidon — suggesting that identical tactics reflect similar historical & social realities, e.g., an apparent but deceptive march away by Moroni is another example used by Haines (Alma 52:21-26), while Hugh Nibley has discussed the very interesting parallels of Moroni and Persian Kawe/Kavag in his Approach to the Book of Mormon, lesson 17 (Alma 46:11-27,36, 62:4-5).
    In still another instance, we are able to compare the strategy of Moroni and Saul only because a lost portion of I Samuel 11:1-4 is now filled in with fragments from Qumran Cave 4, explaining to us that the demand to return refugee subjects is used as a pretext for an invasion (Alma 35:3-13, 43:3 – 44:23). Geography plays a central role in each of these scenarios.

    Morgan Deane is coming out soon with a book about military strategy in the Book of Mormon.(forthcoming Kofford Books).

    • Interesting! Another reason to fully understand the geography. I suspect that there were some American Civil War battles fought on the same ground as some Book of Mormon battles. Perhaps there will be more in the future? There is a lot of war in the Book of Mormon and it was written for us. The Israelis used battles from the Bible to design strategy for defending modern day Israel.

  6. Theodore, Why do the two locations have to be mutually exclusive? In the book of Mormon we possess a very truncated body of knowledge about the Nephites. The Lord is far more concerned that we avoid their fate, and less concerned in our finding their pottery. Given the fact that the term “Nephite” was applied to those who were believers and the name “lamanite” applied to those who fought against the believers, we have no reason to believe that the entire civilization was only found in one general location. Given the emphasis on missionary work in the book of Mormon, it may one day be possible to find Nephite (christian) ties from Argentina to Alaska, but we don’t have enough info and we won’t as long as we keep bickering.

    HOWEVER we do know that the events that make up the data that we have did take place in a very specific area. My point is that Meldrum and his party may have legitimate points and there may be Nephite history in north america, this would make sense if all those who believed on Christ were generally called Nephites. At the same time folks like Jerry Ainsworth, Brant and others may also be correct in their work concerning other locations in mesoamerica. The existence of evidence in one place does not rule out the possibility of the other. Such myopic views are not reasonable.

    In the end, while important, such petty infighting over what amounts to speculation about subjects the Lord has yet to reveal is not worthy of our time. Continue the research, but please avoid the vanity of trying to make those who disagree with you appear foolish. Searching to prove the locations of place the Lord destroyed, and then claiming to be an authority to others is not wise. One might as well go searching for antediluvian relics in Jackson County,Mo.

  7. In his account of his visits from Moroni and his visits to the hill where the record was buried, written down in 1838, Joseph Smith never refers to the hill as Cumorah, nor does he say that Moroni called it Cumorah. If the hill WAS the Cumorah referred to in the Book of Mormon, why wouldn’t Moroni have used the name? And if Joseph had been told by Moroni, either then or at any of their annual meetings for four years, that it was either THE Cumorah, or called by Moroni Cumorah, why doesn’t that name appear in the account? It is also absent from the testimonies of the three and eight witnesses.

    I think that, in the vacuum of an actual name, it became natural for Mormons to apply that name to it, in a naive conception of the ancient geography. After all, by mid-1831 most of the members from the Palmyra area had relocated to Kirtland, Ohio, and they needed some convenient label for a place of such significance. And of course we carry on that name today, for the same reason, celebrated in a pageant that is advertised all over the region. It needs a name, and Cumorah connects it to the record found there. But we should remember that the same name can apply to multiple places. Palmyra’s name comes from Syria, Manchester from England. New York also has Rome, Syracuse and other towns named after ancient cities. The name is not the thing.

    • More documentation would be nice, but the five synoptic documents I quoted are sufficient to establish the truth that it was Moroni, on his first visit, who told Joseph Smith that the hill in Palmyra was known anciently as Cumorah. Anything to the contrary is pure speculation as there is no direct evidence to support it.

      • I must strongly disagree with your contention that “the five synoptic documents I quoted are sufficient to establish the truth”. The only real and effective way of establishing absolute truth is to ask God in prayer for a personal testimony after real study and serious pondering (see Moroni 10:3-5).

        Even then, the Lord may not feel the need to answer you one way or another if that is not consistent with His purposes and His plans. D&C 130:14-17 tells us that Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord quite earnestly to know when the Second Coming would be and that the Lord would not specifically tell him.

        I strongly suspect that the identity of which hill is Cumorah is one of those area where the Lord is leaving us to our own devices. I have read the Book of Mormon more than 50 times in the last 25 years and have read many books on Book of Mormon geography. In my opinion John Sorenson has made the very best case for a real world location for the Book of Mormon. He puts Cumorah in southern Mexico. I am content with that and see no reason to insist on a Cumorah in New York.

        • Tom,

          I agree with you that the Holy Ghost is the confirmer of all truth.

          John Sorenson placed Cumorah in Mesomerica because for his thesis to be true it had to be there. Even he agreed that if Cumorah was not in Mesoamerica then his theory did not work.

  8. The question of the relationship of geography to the Book of Mormon is bifurcated, because there is another part of the story that takes place in the Middle East. The fact that the small amount of information that is mentioned there has been remarkably confirmed in only the last three decades as matching the Arabian Peninsula is a remarkable bullseye. The existence of a narrow canyon carrying a spring-fed stream across the coastal mountains and into the Gulf of Aqaba; the paralleling of the Red Sea and the incense trail; the burial of Ishmael at a place called “Nahum”; the turniing east and finding, at the sea, a large oasis of fruit bearing plants, bees and honey, trees large enough for timber to build a ship, and nearby outcroppings of easily smelted iron ore, at a location where the monsoon winds could propel a ship on its way; all of these are points that do not draw attention to themselves, that were not of obvious significance to Joseph Smith or any of his contemporaries, and were little appreciated in his day, but they show a complex of descriptions that matches the Arabian Peninsula as it really is (and not as Americans in 1829 imagined it). If it was common knowledge, none of his contemporaries who attacked the Book of Mormon knew it. Nowadays, you can buy a satellite image of the “Bountiful” oasis in Oman from the US Geological Survey, an artistic view from space of a remarkable, unexpected anomaly. But how did Joseph know, if not from an authentic ancient source?

    • For example, start with the dominant geographical feature of the Book of Mormon, the river Sidon. Now match it to the dominant geographical feature on North America east of the Rocky Mountains. The Mississippi River is the link which joins Mesoamerica to Cumorah.

  9. My feelings about all this have mellowed, I suppose. Although I appreciate your work and Dr. Sorensen’s, which to me are the only serious attempts to reconcile Book of Mormon civilizations and geography with the historical record, I don’t see a good match anywhere in the Americas for the culture and geography described in the Book of Mormon. Of course, that’s just the opinion of a jaded old apostate, but I appreciate nonetheless the sincere and intelligent efforts, which have spurred me to re-evaluate things on many occasions.

    Ultimately, however, I’ve come to realize that the value of the Book of Mormon is entirely spiritual. It doesn’t really work as history (at least not for me), and treating it as such divorces it from its real value: from the very beginnings of the LDS church, the book has changed lives because it touches people spiritually. Without that, the book is worthless. If the Book of Mormon is a genuine witness of God, the history and geography are of very little importance, so it’s ironic that some “defenders” of the book have done violence to its text in order to make things fit.

    I think it’s best to work with the hand you’ve been dealt, which in my view doesn’t support a literal Nephite history. In that case, focus on what the book means and how it works in people’s lives. That’s what is important.

  10. Whether or not the New York hill Cumorah is the historic hill of Mormon’s record is not central to Book of Mormon geography. That it is not was convincingly argued by Dr. Sidney B. Sperry in his “Book of Mormon Compendium” (1968). After a long-held belief in the New York Cumorah, he was forced by critical analysis of the text to locate Cumorah somewhere in eastern Mexico north of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. We likewise could progress beyond geography debate deadlocks by giving more serious attention to the critical text. Mormon’s map in Alma 22, when we come to understand it correctly, could resolve most if not all our problems of Book of Mormon geography.

    • Garth,
      All of the events after Mormon Chapter 3 and the America portion of Ether take place in the Land Northward/Desolation where Cumorah was located.

      I agree with you on “Mormon’s Map.” The fact that he inserted this condensed geographical overview into the narrative in Alma 22 is evidence that he really wanted us to know where everything occurred. However, the translation into English is quite cryptic and the punctuation we have may not be correct. One key to understanding it is that all directional names in the Book of Mormon are relative to the context. They are not absolute. For example, sometimes Zarahemla is in the land northward and sometimes it is on the land southward. Thus in Alma 22:32 the lands northward and southward are probably entirely different areas than are lands of the same names in verse 31. Thus it can only be understood in the context of a real geographical setting.

        • Ah, OK, I see how you’re taking that verse. Yes, I suppose it could be interpreted that way, but I would simply assume it was talking about initial landfalls, not necessarily where the city was later established. OK, sorry for the minutiae digression; back to the regularly scheduled comments.

          • Nathan,

            Notice in the verses below that the Lord brought them through the wilderness before he took them across the sea and into the land where they remained. It would appear that they sailed up the river Sidon and landed at Zarahemla.

            “And they journeyed in the wilderness, and were brought by the hand of the Lord across the great waters, into the land where Mosiah discovered them; and they had dwelt there from that time forth” (Omni 1:15-16)

            “for the Lord did bring Mulek into the land north, and Lehi into the land south.” (Helaman 6:10)

  11. As a non-member who has sojourned with his lds wife and family for 40 years into many mormon doctrine/history and culture areas, i recall about 10 years ago sending an email to a well known lds professor and apologist asking about the 2 cumorahs- he replied that at that time he knew of few if any mormon scholars who did not believe in a cumorah in ny and a cumorah in mesoamerica. Wow ! it seems debate is alive and well! and i ask myself why?
    If the PSR of the church were to declare ny as the cumorah of the Book of Mormon in a “thus saith the Lord ” declaration would members leave the church- i think not! would many “scholars” leave ? perhaps! would the anti’s have a field day in criticizing? most certainly!

    • Frank, I’m certain that if the church were to announce revelation on the subject of Book of Mormon geography, there would suddenly be much less discussion about it. In spite of the appeals to traditional opinions, often held by the highest authorities in the church, the church has never made such an official announcement. Personally, I think that is wise because there is still much we don’t know. The process of discussion has refined a lot of information, and our understanding of the geography behind the text is much better now than it has ever been, but it is far from settled.

      The very fact that most of the discussions about the original post have been about geography rather than the value of geography is witness to the current differences of opinions on the topic. By my count (and knowledge of some of those who have posted) we have about five different geographies represented in this discussion. That tells me that although I think the value of geography is in understanding the actions of the people, there are many for whom the Everest of geography is still the more interesting goal.

  12. I have long agreed that #4 (understanding the text more deeply by understanding the culture, which requires understanding the geography) is the most compelling reason to understand Book of Mormon geography. It’s the reason Greco-Roman studies are worth bringing up in Sunday school—they illuminate passages such as “There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose” (Mark 1:7). Near eastern geography is looked on favorably in a sacrament meeting talk because it illuminates why the wicked are threatened with an “east wind” (Hosea 13:15; Hab. 1:9). I enjoy Book of Mormon geography most when it illuminates a passage, especially doctrinally.

    I would love to compile a list of examples where ancient American culture illuminates BoM passages more clearly. I’d also be very interested in other commenters’ additions to this list.

    1. Limhi’s expedition. As the author explained above, mesoamerican geography gives a plausible explanation of how Limhi’s expedition could get lost, but not know they were lost, and still find their way home.

    2. Swords stained with blood (Alma 24:12–15). This powerful image of backsliding sinners makes much more sense once you realize that the Book of Mormon may have taken place in a culture that used wooden swords, not metal ones (the “macuahuitl”). Metal doesn’t get stained by blood, but wood could definitely get reddish blotches after soaking up blood, just like our spirits get deeply altered by the bad habits we indulge in.

    3. His image in your countenance (Alma 5:14, 19). The general thrust of Alma’s imagery is apparent without any background knowledge, but it’s even more punchy when you’re aware of an American cultural practice of wearing masks that represent your deity, so that you’re actions are considered synonymous with the deity’s actions. In other words, Alma might possibly be paraphrased, “Is Jehovah’s face carved on your mask? Do your actions reflect his actions?” (see Mark Wright’s interview).

    I’d welcome other examples from other commenters.

    Sometimes people complain when Book of Mormon geography is brought up in, say, Sunday school. I think those complaints stem from the assumption that the only reason for doing so it #1, #2, or #3 above. And when that assumption is correct, then I think the complaints are somewhat valid. But it is not always correct. If someone brings up Semitic wedding customs to illuminate the parable of the ten virgins, no one accuses them of delving into contentious, irrelevant hobbies or trying to “prove” the Bible true rather than relying on the Spirit—because the reason for bringing up the scholarship is to understand the passage better. I think that’s also possible for Book of Mormon studies as well.

    • Nathan, I agree that you will find some good information in Mark Wright’s work. There are others, so keep looking for his presentations. I find that Mesoamerican culture can explain aspects of the stories of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies and Ammon at the waters of Sebus. I have given presentations on both of those at FairMormon conferences in the past and you will find them on their website, if you are interested. As I work on correlating the text with history, I find that most major events are best explained in a Mesoamerican geography. For example, I think there are reasons why the end of the Nephites occurred when it did based on Mesoamerican history. Why not earlier and why not later? The answer is in the surrounding events. I haven’t published that one yet, so you’ll have to wait until I pull the last pieces of the puzzle together, but I really am finding that pretty much every major action fits into not only a Mesoamerican geography, but into a Mesoamerican culture and historical timeline.

  13. Can we assume that Mormon’s map in Alma 22 was clear to him, free of ambiguity. If Mormon did in fact describe the lands of his record in Alma 22 for us today to know the locations, this means the geography of Mormon’s record was intended with purpose that should not be in conflict with the religious history to lead to Christ. In other words, our secular musings for historic geography are a distraction from the spiritual record, only if the intent of our study is out of focus with Mormon’s purpose for his map and related historic geography. So, anyone and everyone, what is the purpose of Mormons map in Alma 22:27-34, and how many clues does Mormon give us in historic contexts in these few verses to be able to identify without equivocation the lands of his record if we can get located in the right place and look over Mormon’s shoulder and see through his eyes? His map is not there just to confuse, and is worthy of long and ponderous prayerful study. “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5). Is Mormon’s map an exception?
    Before crediting Sorenson’s map with a final stamp as being the most carefully studied and accurate, compare his vague narrow strip of wilderness borderline between Zarahemla and Nephi with Alma 22:27—nowhere close. And where is Sorenson’s land southward “nearly surrounded by water” beyond the “unknown” territory label of his limited geography map?
    Before arguing too rigidly for distant geographies in North, South, or Meso- America, if Mormon’s map can be confirmed (in Central America?), we might then consider migration influences into these distant lands during Book of Mormon times and after, with ample evidences that are accumulating from archaeological explorations. Here we begin to move beyond the focus of Brant’s essay that has stimulated this discussion, that may generate other papers for further objective geography study. Thanks to all.

    • Garth,
      Great thoughts and questions! I would like to address some of them in detail but I am limited to my cell phone at present and am traveling for the next ten days. More later when I return home.

  14. Tradition affects many LDS beliefs. We call Heavenly Father “Elohim” and Jesus “Jehovah” simply because it was useful to early 20th century church leaders to so ao. When Elder James Talmage established it in “Jesus the Christ”, it pretty much solidified it for the last century of American LDS tradition.

    Yet, in Joseph Smith’s time, the names were often interchangeable for the 2 members of the Godhead (see the use of Jehovah in D&C 109).

    In the same way, Cumorah became the name of a hill in New York; Urim and Thummim became the name of the Interpreters, etc.

    People label things according to their perceptions.

    Someone here said that the BoM lands had to be between Mesoamerica and New York Cumorah. Why? How about it was more limited, and Moroni wandered in the wilderness for decades until he reached the New York area, then was commanded to bury the plates?

    When we say Nephite or Lamanite, do we really think of DNA-related peoples? Or are the culturally related according to belief in God, etc? Nephites became Lamanites and Lamanites became Nephites, and Mulekties became both. Clearly, today’s native americans are mostly culturally Lamanite descendants, and not by DNA.

    The Church had a tradition concerning the curse of the Canaanites being a curse on black people. Yet, science shows us that the ancient Canaanites were a Semitic people! They definitely were not black. It was easy for many members to read into the Noah story that Ham’s descendants were black, and assume it was so, even when the science showed otherwise.

    So, traditions make up a huge part of our understanding of the Book of Mormon and other ancient things. Time we start questioning some of our traditions, and see what the text and geography really say.

  15. The Cumorah location question is always on people’s minds. For years I with others have thought of Moroni wandering hiding in exile and dragging the gold plates around, even though he did not know how long he could survive because the Lamanites were hunting down every stray Nephite and killing anyone who would not deny Christ. After fifteen years Moroni completes the record of his father Mormon, and would have written more if he had more space or ore to make more plates. He has been hanging around for fifteen years after the last battle at Cumorah, witnessing the final destruction of his people. So, where were the plates for safe keeping? Did he then wander into the land northward for another twenty years dragging the sacred plates to eventually end up in New York to burying them at a spot led by revelation where Joseph Smith could obtain them 1400 years later? I don’t think so. We are getting ahead of the story.
    Sometime after closing Mormon’s record, Moroni by revelation directive did forge other plates, in fact twice as many as Mormon’s record to be attached as the sealed portion. On these plates Moroni would have spent considerable time in Mormon’s hidden cave repository of all the records, where he abridged the record of ether, wrote his short book and bid farewell. He also translated and recorded the record of the brother of Jared revealing the history of the world from beginning to end, that is the bulk if not all of the sealed portion (see Ether chapter 4). Joseph Smith was forbidden to break the band, told that it must remain sealed until after the Book of Mormon was accepted, and if not it would be withheld to the people’s condemnation. How are we doing?

    How long Moroni’s record assignment took we can only guess, but it was no small task. All we know is that the Nephite slaughter had past at least fifteen years before this assignment, so Moroni was living in disguise in his homeland. The point is that he did not flee the last battle grounds entirely for perhaps 25 years. Chances are he left north until things cooled off and returned, which could account for him dedicating the St. George and Manti, Utah temple sites (reportedly revealed to Brigham Young).
    So, after some 25 years, how is Moroni going to undertake the epic journey 3,000 miles through the wilderness to New York and keep the records safe to bury them where Joseph Smith could get them in the latter days? Pretty mind stretching.
    It seems easier to believe in the New York Cumorah, even though there is no physical evidence and critical geography examination doesn’t fit. Our assumptions about Moroni’s epic journey from Mexico to New York to bury the plates is not impossible.
    It now makes more sense to me that these sacred records remained with the other records in Mormon’s hidden cave repository for safe keeping, that Moroni as a resurrected being flew from the Mexico Cumorah to New York, perhaps eight years before Joseph Smith’s encounter when the Smith’s moved from Palmyra, and deposited them near their home for easy access. There is more to the story, but this is sufficient for the present. Moroni did plenty of flying, taking away and returning the plates after loss of the 126 translated manuscript pages with Martin Harris, and also the angel (Moroni?) conducting the viewing for the three witnesses.

    This is how I now tell “the rest of the story” mystery of how the gold plates could have got to New York. I apologize to the wonderful artistic renderings of Moroni burying the gold plates in the New York Cumorah illustrated in the Book of Mormon. His Maya jade bracelet is an appropriate culture clue to place of origin. And his clothing is of this world. His gray hair is angelic. Who can say? Angels can travel and appear in disguise. Mother Whitmer’s encounter with a heavenly messenger to see the gold plates for instance. Good art is good impressionistic teaching and doesn’t compromise truth or progress in history study.
    Interesting as the Cumorah question may be, again, as I previously stated, it is not central to Book of Mormon historic geography when the full geographic picture is taken into account without major compromises that have plagued the “heartland” hypothesis of Book of Mormon lands. It is noteworthy that virtually all of the data accumulated to argue for this hypothesis comes from the first decade of Church history when tradition developed without knowledge of geography and archaeology. Thinking began to change when Joseph Smith and his close associates’ attention was turned to the Maya ruins in Central America (Times and Season September 15 & October 1, 1842) that came to light in the 1841 published explorations of John Lloyd Stevens.
    It must also be recognized that there has never in Church history, until now, been a time when Book of Mormon lands have excluded Central America and been confined to the eastern USA. This “heart land” hypothesis is sadly uninformed and does not defend the Book of Mormon with educated people, including non-Mormon’s who know Book of Mormon civilization and its geography requirements are not found in the eastern USA. The informed conclusion from forcing this isolationist viewpoint that has gained momentum over the past decade, is misplaced faith in a fictional Book of Mormon–another reason why Book of Mormon geography–in getting it right–is important.

    • V. Garth Norman said, “Moroni would have spent considerable time in Mormon’s hidden cave repository of all the records, where he abridged the record of Ether. … He also translated and recorded the record of the brother of Jared revealing the history of the world from beginning to end—that is, the bulk (if not all) of the sealed portion (see Ether 4).”

      Do we know for certain that Moroni translated and abridged the book of Ether? Might it possibly have been Mormon who did it before he died, then Moroni copied the translation/abridgement onto the plates?

      • The text doesn’t specifically tell us. We know that Mosiah1 translated Ether’s record. Based on what we see from what Moroni gave us, my opinion is that Moroni was working with Mosiah1’s translation rather than a new translation. I’m not sure why we would expect it to be translated anew.

      • So there were three steps:

        1. Translating: Done by Mosiah₂ (and conceivably again by Moroni, although I agree with Brant that it’s unlikely that we should expect a second miraculous translation).

        2. Abridgment: Done by either Mormon or Moroni. In my mind, this need not have been directly from the 24 gold plates of Ether straight onto the gold plates of Mormon; it could have been planned out in an intermediate volume (like a draft on paper or vellum, etc.).

        3. Engraving: Definitely done by Moroni (Ether 1:1), even though it was planned by Mormon (Mosiah 28:19).

        I think it might be important to separate (2) and (3), because it opens up the possibility that the person who engraved Ether (i.e., Moroni) might be different from the person who abridged it (i.e., Mormon, potentially). I don’t know that that’s a hugely important detail, but it seems to me a possibility that has to be considered (unless I’m overlooking something). I don’t know how much that affects Garth Norman’s reasoning above, but it might be a factor.

        • Translating: I strongly suspect that Moroni used Mosiah’s copy because of the description of what Moroni does not provide. Moroni summarized information that replicated the brass plates. I suspect that was easy to do because he already had the translation and the nature of the text came from Mosiah. Had Moroni taken the effort to translate, it is harder to account for the summary.

          Abridgment: This was actually the point of the inclusion. Moroni is so active in mediating the message that the point is not the translation but the way it is presented and interpreted.

          Engraving: Clearly Moroni. While Mormon does indicate that we should have the information, there is nothing in the way he creates his record and what his overall plan is that has Ether as an integral part. It is support for Mormon’s use of and interpretation of secret combinations/Gadianton robbers, but only as support for it. My opinion is that Mormon intended it as an appendix, perhaps even understanding that Moroni would do it–though he might have thought to include Mosiah’s translation in the same way that he intended to include the small plates.

          • I think I see what you’re saying. Even if Mormon abridged Ether in some way, Moroni was just as (if not more) involved in the presentation or interpretation of Ether with his commentary.

          • Yes. When Mormon wrote, he interpreted history to support his theological design. When he came to certain texts, he quoted pretty extensively (from all we can tell). There are times when he interacts with his information, but not with the quoted texts.

            Moroni works very differently with the book of Ether. He presents material from Ether and then moralizes on it. If he were following his father’s pattern, we would have to suggest that he was neither translating nor copying verbatim, but rather retelling. There is no reason that he couldn’t have done something other than what his father did, but it remains that what he did is dramatically different from how Mormon handled historical materials.

  16. Garth,
    Excellent reasoning on Moroni needing to be in Mormon’s cave for an extended period to do all the engraving on the sealed portion of the Gold Plates. I also agree that he would not have carried all these plates, plus the breastplate, Liahona, and Sword of Laban, that were also in the stone box, 3,000 miles through enemy territory. I also agree with you that the Heartland theory has too many negatives, although it does have some positives.

    However, your theory of Moroni flying back and forth from a cave in Mesoamerica also creates a few questions. What do we do with Joseph and Oliver returning the plates to the cave? Did they fly back and forth also? What do we do with the above evidence that Moroni told Joseph Smith, “the hill in Palmyra was called Cumorah by the ancients?” Actually, I think there is more sacred significance to Cumorah than we know.

    More later on Mormon’s Map.

  17. If the Lord has Nephi take a monumental journey of 8 years and 8000 miles, with small children in tow, why not Moroni travel 3000 miles. Nothing states he took 25 years to complete the record. It is just as likely he took some crib notes of the records, or memorized them as an oral record, which he then written down later.Oral traditions were commonly kept from generation to generation. The only reason to put them on metal plates would be to preserve them for another time, long after the oral tradition would no longer be in existence. Oral traditions were very common throughout the world, including in the Americas, where few groups had writing.

    It may very well be that along his massive journey, Moroni found a friendly people that took him in and helped him smelt more plates. No longer was he among DNA ancestral Nephites and Lamanites (though he may not have known it), but among those who would be cultural Nephites and Lamanites. The peoples of Mesoamerica lived very differently than those up north, so it may have been safer at times for him.

    I cannot imagine anyone being in hiding for 40 years straight. He would have to have enough stability to hunt, live, write and make new plates. That he “finished” his writing 3 times suggests major periods of change/danger, followed by periods of sufficient safety for him to consider writing again. Given the work needed to smelt and refine gold plates, it suggests that Moroni did not work alone, but had others to help him. If so, it is possible he had others to also help him move about, carrying the other national Nephite treasures with him.

    None of this is answered by Garth Norman’s hypothesis. In fact, an angel flying around to relocate records does not fit the M.O. of the Book of Mormon. Why not have Moroni also write his writings AFTER his death? Also, as a hypothesis (it is not a theory), there is no way to prove/disprove it. “There were some standard human tragedies and wars occurring, then some unknown but magical stuff occurred, then Moroni gave Joseph the plates” simply does not work within the pattern of the Book of Mormon.

  18. Theodore, I don’t think we should look beyond the mark with unanswerable mystery probings about angels or flying to transport the plates and how that affects building the stone box. Don’t put physical limitations on angels as resurrected beings.
    Gerald, You missed my point about the 25 years. From the last battle in 385 to Moroni completing his father’s record in 400 A.D. after witnessing the final destruction of his people was 15 years. Additional time to translate and record the sealed portion of the plates in Mormon’s cave was substantial. Nowhere is there any hint of the plates being written from oral history memory. It was always recording and abridging from other records. Moroni’s record is the same up to his personal final chapter 10.
    It is easy and entertaining to get caught up in speculation over Moroni’s life and travels during the 35 years of unwritten history to his last entry in 421 A.D.
    I welcome and try to consider all alternatives, marginalize speculation, lean heavily on primary sources, and consider secondary sources with caution. For instance, the account of Joseph and Oliver entering the lighted record cave at the hill Cumorah in Manchester is a secondary report, and subject to interpretation. To most it is an obvious vision experience and not a literal physical excursion. It is for sure not a physical “fact” for locating Cumorah of the Book of Mormon. We run into trouble when we put too much weight on speculative thinking of reported incidents like this. I repeat that we can’t determine Book of Mormon geography on circumstantial evidence and must make every effort to first comprehend the historic geography picture of Mormon’s map in Alma 22 with related texts, consistent with the entire record. Then and only then will we be able to see scattered secondary geography statements in proper perspective.
    I have said all I care to at this time about the New York Cumorah mystery debate and will here sign off on that subject and encourage more thorough careful reading of Book of Mormon historic geography in historic contexts. Any Book of Mormon history connections developing in the eastern USA are due to migration and culture transfer, directly or indirectly through time from Mesoamerica–certainly worth studying.

    I might recommend my Mesoamerican & Book of Mormon Lands study map with Gazetteer (2005) that was designed for individual readers study aid (ancientamerica.org). I have also recently completed a comprehensive condensed map just of Mormon’s Map in Alma 22 with 13 locations as a one-page Book of Mormon study aid insert that will be available soon on line (MormonsMap.org) where extended study notes and discussion posts are planned. This new condensed map will be available at the coming BMAF conference on October 19.

  19. Garth,

    In response to your request on October 2, 2013 at 12:11 am “to identify without equivocation the lands of [Mormon’s] record” and to match “Mormon’s Map” to real geography, please consider the following proposal of a North American setting. This proposal is the result of three years of research matching the text of the Book of Mormon to the facts on the ground. The first paragraph is a brief synopsis of the setting, which is followed by the match to “Mormon’s Map.” As all the references and explanations are beyond the scope of this posting, they can be found with accompanying maps in the full thesis at http://brandley.poulsenll.org/ .

    Proposed Setting Summary:

    Based on USGS ore deposits and other factors, Lehi’s most probable landing was on the Pacific shores of Costa Rica where the fresh water of the Rio Grande Tárcoles River flows into the Gulf of Nicoya, near the present town of Tárcoles (1 Nephi 18:25). Also based on ore deposits (2 Nephi 5:15), the Nephites then migrated from Costa Rica to what is now central Guatemala where they established the original city of Nephi. Over the next 400 years the Nephites were driven northward through Mexico to a city on the Rio Grande they called Lehi-Nephi (Mosiah 7:1). Again to escape the Lamanites, King Mosiah 1st led them through the wilderness of what is now central Texas to Zarahemla, now known as the archaeological site of Poverty Point, which was on the Mississippi River (Sidon flowed south to the sea (Alma 22:27, Alma 51:11)). Nephite expansion continued east to the Atlantic Ocean. The Land of Bountiful is the coastal plain south and east of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the City of Bountiful is now the archaeological site of Etowah, near Cartersville, Georgia. The Land of Bountiful runs north from Florida to the narrow pass at Harpers Ferry and the narrow neck of land of the Delmarva Peninsula, where the Chesapeake Bay divides the land for 200 miles, and there is a sea on the east and sea on the west (Alma 50:34; Ether 10:20). The Nephites then migrated north of the narrow neck of land into the land Desolation, and through the narrow pass and also up the Mississippi River from Zarahemla into the Heartland. The Jaredites traveled overland from Babel to the Caspian Sea where they built shallow draft barges in which they crossed “many waters” (Ether 2:6). In these barges they rowed to the north end of the Caspian then up the Volga River to within 200 miles of the Baltic Sea. After a short fifteen-mile portage to the Western Dvina River they rowed downstream to the Baltic and around the tip of Norway to their four-year encampment on the shore of the “raging deep” (Ether 3:3). Their new, totally enclosed ships took them across the North Atlantic to the shores of New Jersey.

    The Match To “Mormon’s Map” (Alma 22:27-33)

    There are three keys to the understanding of Mormon’s Map. First, all directional place-names in the Book of Mormon are relative to the context and are not absolute, whether referring to lands or to seas. Even today, if in Florida the east and the west seas are different from the east and the west seas if one is in Mexico. Second, “land of” names can refer to county size, state size or country size areas. Third, the punctuation and verse assignment may not be correct in some of these verses and can be misleading. The quotations of the verses below contain the explanational comments in brackets.

    “And it came to pass that the king sent a proclamation throughout all the land [of Nephi], amongst all his people who were in all his land, who were in all the regions round about, which was bordering even to the sea, on the east and on the west [the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico], and which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore [Gulf Shore], and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon [Mississippi Delta], running from the east towards the west–and thus were the Lamanites and the Nephites divided.” (Alma 22:27)

    “Now, the more idle part of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness, and dwelt in tents; and they were spread through the wilderness on the west, in the land of Nephi [Mexico and Mesoamerica]; yea, and also on the west of the land of Zarahemla [west of the Quachita River], in the borders by the seashore [Gulf Shore], and on the west in the land of Nephi, in the place of their fathers’ first inheritance, and thus bordering along by the seashore [Costa Rica Pacific Shore].” (Alma 22:28)

    “And also there were many Lamanites on the east by the seashore [Gulf Shore], whither the Nephites had driven them. And thus the Nephites were nearly surrounded by the Lamanites; nevertheless the Nephites had taken possession of all the northern parts of the land bordering on the wilderness, at the head of the river Sidon, from the east to the west, round about on the wilderness side; on the north, even until they came to the land which they called Bountiful [Atlantic Coastal Plain].” (Alma 29)

    “And it bordered upon the land which they called Desolation [North Eastern US], it being so far northward that it came into the land which had been peopled and been destroyed, of whose bones we have spoken, which was discovered by the people of Zarahemla, it being the place of their [the Jaredites] first landing.” (Alma 22:30)

    “And they [the Jaredites] came from there up [up through the mountains] into the south wilderness [Bountiful]. Thus the land on the northward was called Desolation, and the land on the southward was called Bountiful, it being the wilderness which is filled with all manner of wild animals of every kind, a part of which had come from the land northward for food.” (Alma 22:31)

    “And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half’s journey for a Nephite, on the line [in line with] Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea [across Northern Florida];

    [This summation statement in chiasmic style should be a separate verse]and thus the [combined] land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla [North America] were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land [Isthmus of Panama] between the land northward [North America] and the land southward [South America].” [This is the only verse in the BofM where the phrase “small neck of land” is mentioned.] (Alma 22:32)

    “And it came to pass that the Nephites had inhabited the land Bountiful, even from the east unto the west sea [Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico], and thus the Nephites in their wisdom, with their guards and their armies, had hemmed in the Lamanites on the south [in Florida and in the narrow strip along the Gulf Shore], that thereby they should have no more possession on the north, that they might not overrun the land northward [Bountiful/Desolation].” (Alma 22:33)

    Theodore Brandley

  20. Theodore,
    You have obviously given a great deal of thought, time and effort into trying to reconstruct the historic geography of the Book of Mormon. Thank you for taking the time to share you research perspectives in some detail. And you obviously love the Book of Mormon and have been very dedicated to try and bring greater understanding and appreciation to this sacred record. I congratulate you and believe you are a person who is open to new truth as it may be revealed, and that you can apply Joseph Smith’s test for locating Book of Mormon lands stated in the Times and Season’s 1 October 1842. It is easy to become fond our our own view points when we invest so much time, resources and energy in adventure quests. We may all agree that “truth” is our goal, that only the truth will do. Joseph’s editorial comment stated that “facts are supported by facts;” the truth injures no one.” If we start with the “facts” contained in the Book of Mormon to guide our searching, “facts” will continue to build if we are on the right track. Your map outline a highly imaginative and not consistent with may facts in the Book of Mormon as I understand them. I believe there are contributions in every serious Book of Mormon geography study, and each serves to ultimately test any and all prospects, so that in the final analysis the truth can be revealed with no untested alternative.
    I submit to you and everyone interested in this subject, that we can discover the real world of the Book of Mormon history, which is revealed in Mormons map in Alma 22. I will be presenting a reconstruction of Mormon’s Map in its Mesoamerica setting like never before at this Saturday’s BMAF meetings in Provo during the noon hour program, which will soon become available with ongoing research posts and responses to questions from my web sites: mormonsmap.com & vgarthnorman.com. After that, I do not plan to discuss peoples different points of view. There will always be differences of opinion over many geography questions. But everyone can embrace Mormon’s map that reveals the major lands and features. I believe it is extremely important that Mormon’s Map Revealed be our first enduring focus to put his record where it really happened so that we can all come to a unity of the faith to the Book of Mormon if its historic geography is going to have value other than causing dissension and casting doubt on its genuine historicity that affects both Mormons and non-Mormons. The crippling widely diversity of opinion is crippling that can and must be resolved with Mormon’s map, for his map to fulfill its purposes set forth in the Book of Mormon.

  21. I stand corrected, Brant. Moroni says “I have written upon these plates the very things which the brother of Jared saw” (Ether 4:4), which doesn’t say he had to interpret as well. Yes, he could have copied Mosiah’s record. However, in verse 5 Moroni says the Lord “commanded me that I should seal them up (sealed portion of plates); and he also hath commanded that I should seal up the interpretation thereof; wherefore I have sealed up the interpreters (Urim and Thumim). This implies that Moroni may have been reading the translation directly through the Urim and Thumim, the same way Joseph Smith translated the gold plates, which could have been easier and less subject to error than copying from the translated record by Mosiah.

    Either way, the point is still made that Moroni did not make a quick exodus with the plates for his safety into the distant land northward. He was still hanging around Cumorah near the narrow neck of land from time to time for about 25 years after the last battle, and then approaching old age did not have to make a hazardous wilderness trek of 3,000 miles over the next ten years or so to New York with these sacred relics in his pack. I really believe when the record task was done he sealed the record and translators up within the library for safe keeping until the latter-day appointed time and place for Joseph Smith to get them.

  22. Garth, in support of your first position, Moroni wrote the following in the first chapter of Ether:

    “And I take mine account from the twenty and four plates which were found by the people of Limhi, which is called the Book of Ether.” (Ether 1:2)

    Although he didn’t say “directly from,” it would have been misleading if he meant that he had taken it from Mosiah’s translation. You would also think that inasmuch as Moroni had the means of translating, and was preparing a record to go forth to all the future world, he would have used the original source rather than a 500 year old translation from someone else.

    But as you said, the point you were making is the same, in that it would have taken considerable time and effort for Moroni to do it either way. Also as you mentioned, for Moroni as an old man to carry the Gold Plates, Sword of Laban, breastplate, Urim and Thumim, and either the stone box or tools to make a stone box, for 3,000 miles does not sound realistic.

    • Thank you, Garth. I missed that.

      Let’s see if I now have it right. I was proposing that Moroni translated the sealed portion of the Gold Plates from the Plates of Ether. Brant was proposing that Moroni copied it from Mosiah’s translation, and you are proposing that Moroni translated it directly from the original record of the brother of Jared? I suppose that is a possibility as the original record of the brother of Jared would have been in the Cumorah Library, which was probably Ether’s cavity in the rock where he wrote much of his record. The Lord directed Omer, 3rd great-grandson of Jared, to go to Cumorah. Perhaps it was to carry the records of the brother of Jared to Cumorah for safe-keeping (Ether 9:3)?

  23. Theodore. Your suggestion that Omer may have taken the brother of Jared’s sacred records during his exile fto Ramah-Cumorah, and that Ether used the same record cave makes sense. . The land of the Jaredites in the third generation was limited to two neighboring highland valleys, But Omer knew where he was going to Ramah, and his servant who stayed behind knew where to go to find Omer and bring him back home when it was safe. Piecing together the scattered bits of Cumorah records history into a coherent historic geography is beginning to make more sense. Was Limhi’s expedition led to the record cave to obtain the 24 gold plates of Ether? Was Mosiah’s son Omner (possibly named after Omer) for the records cave in Cumorah. possibly with Limhi’s expedition men to the same record cave to obtain the plates of the brother of Jared and the Urim and Thumim, so he could translate the plates of Ether, and later translate the brother of Jared’s plates? Ammaron as keeper of the records in Mormon’s youth had hidden the records in the hill Shim, probably somewhere in the central highlands of Mexico. He must have had knowledge of the records cave in the hill Cumorah where Mormon was able to transport them for safety when the land northward was being overrun by Lamanite invasions during the last wars. Ramah-Cumorah, we believe in the Tuxtla Mountains of southern Veracruz was commemorated as the beginning and ending place of both Jaredite and Nephite civilizations, made sacred by the records of Ether and of Mormon hidden in that hill and brought forth in our day as historic witnesses.

  24. The cave in the hill Cumorah was the repository of many sacred records. All of the preserved records of the Nephites were placed there as well as the twenty-four gold Plates of Ether. The writings of the brother of Jared would have been there and all of the records of his people down to the time of the prophet Ether. Ether “dwelt in the cavity of a rock” while he finished his record, and when the Jaredites had destroyed themselves at Ramah/Cumorah, Ether left his cave and observed what had happened (Ether 13:13-14; 15:33). Would not this have been the same cave where Mormon and Moroni finished their writings? Would not these prophets have had access to the library of scriptures of those who came before them? The fact that the Lord directed Omer to go to Cumorah indicates that Cumorah was a sacred place prior to the Jaredites (Ether 9:3). Enoch was the leader of the last dispensation prior to the flood. He would have been the keeper of all the sacred records prior to his time. Hugh Nibley refers to Enoch as “keeper of the heavenly and earthly books of remembrance” (Nibley, Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 330). Perhaps Adam’s Book of Remembrance and the writings of the prophets down to Enoch were stored in the library in Cumorah? Where was the original Book of Enoch deposited when he and his city were translated? Noah would have taken his abridgements of these records for their scriptures but surely the originals would be preserved in the land where they were written. Cumorah may be a more sacred place than we know. Why did Coriantumr gather all his people to the hill Ramah/Cumorah for their final battle (Ether 15:11)? Why did Mormon think he would have an advantage by gathering his people to the hill Cumorah for their final stand (Mormon 6:2-5)? Do not a people gather to the temple of the god of their fathers to invoke the assistance of their father’s God in the day of their greatest peril? The ancient Jews have always gathered around the temple of their fathers’ god in their darkest hours, and will again in the last final battle. Enoch would have had a temple and the sacred records would have been stored there, perhaps in a cave below the temple, and left there when all the righteous in the days of Enoch were translated into heaven. I suggest the hypothesis that Cumorah was the site of the temple of Enoch, and that both the Jaredites and the Nephites knew that. That is why they both gathered to Ramah/Cumorah in their darkest hours hoping to gain the favor of God by defending this most sacred site.

  25. Brant. I don’t see Mormon involved at all with Moroni’s record project. A little recorded history perspective: Moroni completed his father Mormon’s record by appointment after his fathers death. The date is 400 A.D. In Mormon chapter 8, Moroni proceeds to complete his father’s record. In verse 5 Moroni states he wanted to write more if he had room upon the plates, “but I have not, and ore I have none” to make more plates. Six pages later he signs off with his testimony and blessing for the covenant restoration of the house of Israel. No more plates, no ore to make more plates. Goodbye.

    Moroni comes back later after a huge plate making project. I estimate he made about 130 plates for double sided engraving (comparing ancient Hebrew engraving with translated text, to abridge the record of Ether and record Mohonri’s (brother of Jared) record–by divine appointment. Of course he probably made plates as he progressed. When he gets to the account of the brother of Jared’s vision of the history of the world from beginning to end, in chapter 4, he tells us that he has copied that record and sealed it by commandment of the Lord–which was twice the volume of Mormon’s abridged record with Nephi’s plates. So that was Moroni’s first record project before abridging the plates of Ether. Moroni sign’s off again after completing Ether’s abridgment, then comes back, still hiding from the Lamanites, and compiles his own small record, half the size of his Ether abridgment.

    Moroni has wandered 15 years in hiding after the last Cumorah battle, witnessing the entire destruction of his people the Nephites and his family. “I alone remain to wander . . .” not optimistic of surviving. He came back to the records cave, and must have dwelt there, “in the cavity of a rock” like Ether, and went out by night for food and observing the people.

    There is much in both Jaredite and Nephite history about the land of Cumorah that is easy to follow in the archaeology and geography around the Tuxtla mountains of southern Veracruz. Anywhere else is problematic when all of the available historic geographic criteria are taken into account, especially in New York. I don’t debate competing geographies. I just look at ongoing accumulating historic archaeology data with the Book of Mormon text and try to follow the leads. For me, the history proofs do lie in Mesoamerica. As the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water but …” but when it comes to Book of Mormon geography, everyone has an opinion, and there are not very many horses that seem willing to be led to even sniff the water.

  26. Theodore. I have considered all proposed lands and waters in search of Mormon’s map in Alma 22:27-34. The truth if it is to be found lies in consistent correlation with every detail within Mormon’s map. There are well over a hundred unsolved map puzzles. Many can be partially right, but only one can satisfy all the the requirements in the historic contexts of Mormon’s map. The final key, I believe, came to me in January 2013. If we are willing to to wipe the slate clean, and open our eyes, minds and hearts to every detail in Mormon’s map description, its simple profound truths and purposes will shine through the clouds of confusion and speak to us with clarity–if we can remain focused and not look beyond the mark. That is my conviction and invitation to all.

  27. Garth,

    You and I have many things in common. We both have unshakable testimonies in the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. We both know that it is an account of real people on real locations on this North American Continent, and that it is historically accurate. We both know that this historicity of the Book of Mormon is being increasingly questioned by members of the Church, in great part because there is no consensus on its geography. We both know that Mormon intended for us to understand where the saga occurred because he inserted geographical information for us throughout his writings. We are both dedicated researchers striving to find the truth of this geography and feel passionate about it. We both prayerfully ponder the text of the Book of Mormon searching for clues and then seek for confirmation of the Holy Ghost on our findings. We both feel confident and inspired in our findings. However, because our convictions of the geography of the Book of Mormon do not coincide in many respects we cannot both be right. As we are both seeking the truth, I propose that we continue this discussion in private. I will initiate an email to you on your website to which you may respond if you are interested in further dialog on this subject.

    With respect and best regards,

    Theodore Brandley

  28. This is way off topic, but I just noticed there is a Mormon add in the Jerusalem Post which reads, “Mormon’s Believe in Christ.” It links to Mormon.org and “What do Mormons Believe.” Does this mark a change in Church policy of holding back on the teaching the Gospel to the Jews? Does this note a milestone of sort or is it an advertising agency error?

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