Proposed Book of Mormon geographical setting

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The geographical setting of the Book of Mormon is the set of locations of the events described in the Book of Mormon. There is no universal consensus among Mormon scholars regarding the placement of these locations in the known world, other than somewhere in the Americas. A popular "traditional" view among many Latter Day Saint faithful covers much of North and South America; while many Book of Mormon scholars, particularly in recent decades, believe the text itself favors a limited Mesoamerican or other limited setting for most of the Book of Mormon events.

The largest of the churches embracing the Book of Mormon—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church)—has not endorsed an official position for the geographical setting the Book of Mormon, although some of its leaders have spoken of various possible locations over the years.[a][b][c] There have also been multiple attempts to identify the several civilizations in the Book of Mormon, which are dated in the text as living from 2500 BC to 400 AD, but no consensus has ever been reached.

According to Joseph Smith, an angel named Moroni told him "there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang."[6] According to Joseph Smith, Moroni explained that the coming forth of the Book of Mormon was to be concurrent with the fulfillment of ancient prophecies regarding the latter-day church of Christ.[7] According to Latter Day Saint scripture, the narrative in the Book of Mormon came to an end in the ancient land Cumorah,[8] where Moroni, in 421 AD deposited the golden plates prior to his death. Mormon and Moroni's Cumorah is claimed by many believers to be the same land containing the modern "Hill Cumorah" near Joseph Smith's home in Palmyra, western New York,[9] from whence the gold plates of the Book of Mormon were retrieved. Others view the modern "Hill Cumorah" to be distinct from the original, and simply to have been named after it; thus adding no information to the question of the location of the lands described in the Book of Mormon.

Internal map[edit]

G[eorge] F. Weston, MAP OF ANCIENT AMERICA [:] LECTURE SIZE]. Independence, Missouri: [Herald Publishing House?], 1899. Image courtesy of Boston Rare Maps.

Internal Book of Mormon geography focuses on the relationships between lands and other geographic features, independent of where they might be physically located on today's maps. The purpose of constructing unbiased internal maps is to orient major lands, seas and landmarks mentioned in the text, and estimate relative distances between them; without trying to 'fit them' into any proposed setting on a modern map. A careful investigation of the Book of Mormon's internal geography is useful to guard against bias by researchers using favored "known-world" settings and/or traditions.

The following is a brief overview of the Book of Mormon's New World[d] (American) internal geography. Three groups are known to have migrated: Jaredites, Lehites and Mulekites:

  • The Jaredites along with 22[11] other families landed in what was later called the "Land Northward" during the time of the building of the "great tower."[12] There is no mention of any of the other families after the landing. It is presumed that they remained with the descendants of Jared and his brother, but this is inconclusive. The Jaredites remained there until destroyed between 600 and 300 BC.[13] Their land is described as being surrounded by four "seas"[14] with a "Narrow Neck" linking to a "Land Southward" to which they never ventured except for hunting.[15] This core area does not preclude expansions into areas beyond the north, east or west seas.
  • The Lehites[16] landed on the coast of the "Land Southward" around 589 BC. The term "Land Southward" seems to be used in different contexts as the Nephites gradually migrate Northward with what is possibly an explicitly-defined change in the terminology in Alma 22:31-32. The Land Southward was nearly surrounded by seas. One sea which was near the dividing line of the latter definition of the "Land Southward" from the "Land Northward" was described as the "Sea that Divides the Land."[17] The Book of Mormon does not explicitly identify the "West Sea" or the "East Sea"[e] with the "waters of the great deep", "great waters" or "many waters" crossed by Book of Mormon peoples to the New World.
  • The Mulekites landed in the Land Northward[18] around 587 BC[19] and proceeded southward through the Narrow Neck, founding the city "Zarahemla" which was in the heart of the land[20] along the river "Sidon."[21]

After arriving in the New World, Nephi, a son of Lehi, left the place of their first landing and traveled with his followers "many days" in the wilderness.[22] "Many" is a non-specific word that can mean anything from "three hours"[23] to "forty days."[24] This particular journey did not take Nephi and his followers beyond the territory that would later be called the land of Nephi. Numerous other travel times are mentioned within the Book of Mormon, generally just days or less. Thus the text of the Book of Mormon is often viewed by scholars as favoring a 'limited' setting of just a few hundred miles for most of its events. For example, a group ostensibly consisting of the very young and old with "their flocks" and some belongings, could travel from the land of Nephi "down" through a "strip" of wilderness to the land of Zarahemla in less than 21 days.[25]

  • The land of Zarahemla is north of the land of Nephi.[26] The lands of Zarahemla and Nephi are near an east and a west sea. A narrow strip of wilderness divides the land of Zarahemla from the southern land of Nephi. The region of Zarahemla features the nearby river "Sidon" - the only river named in the localized New World setting.[27] The shallow (it could be crossed on foot) river Sidon originates in highlands to the south[28] of the city of Zarahemla, near a land and city called Manti which is at the head of the river Sidon.[29]
  • The land of Bountiful lies far north of the land of Zarahemla.[30] A fortified line between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Bountiful could be crossed in a single day from the west sea to the east [sea].[31][f] There is explicit reference to a "sea" east of the land of Zarahemla, as far north as the southern borders of Bountiful.[33] A sea east of Bountiful seems to be implied.
  • The land of Desolation is north of Bountiful.[34] The border between the land of Bountiful and Desolation is also described as a "line" running from "the east to west sea". This "line" could be traversed by a Nephite in "only" a day and a half, presumably by boat,[35] because the vicinity of Desolation was a "place where the sea divides the land".[17] A "narrow pass" or "passage" ran northward near the Bountiful/Desolation border which is mentioned in context with the nearby east and west seas.[36] In contrast to the breadth of the Desolation / Bountiful border,[37] the entrance to "the narrow pass which led into the land northward" is described as a "point".[38] Elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, a "narrow" or "small neck of land", by the border of the land Bountiful and the land Desolation is described connecting "the land northward and the land southward".[39] Serving as the entrance to "the land south", this pass, or perhaps the whole "narrow neck of land", appears to have been narrow enough to be blocked by a "poisonous serpents" epidemic.[40]
  • The land northward is covered "with large bodies of water and many rivers."[41] The land is bordered in each of the cardinal directions by bodies of water called seas.[14] There are limits to how far north the land extends.[42]
  • Cumorah situates in "a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains", south of a particularly "large" body of water called "Ripliancum"[43] and east of the Jaredite Land Northward.[44] The land of Cumorah was the decisive gathering place of both the Nephite and earlier Jaredite armies.[45] The Jaredite King Omer and his family settled east of the place where the Nephites nation would be destroyed.[44] Lands south of Cumorah, where a "few" Nephites had temporarily escaped destruction, are referred to as the "south countries".[46] This "country southward" may have been beyond the borders of principal Book of Mormon lands frequently mentioned in the text.[47] A Jaredite land of "many waters" and Zarahemla were near enough to each other, that travelers from the land of Nephi in the south could confuse the general region where the Jaredite nation was destroyed with the land of Zarahemla.[48]

Numerous other details in the Book of Mormon indicate principal lands that are quite localized, generally negating the possibility that the Book of Mormon settings cover major parts of both North and South America.

Joseph Smith's statements regarding Book of Mormon geography[edit]

Published articles in the Times & Seasons newspaper (of which Joseph Smith was the editor) indicate that Book of Mormon peoples, or their descendants,[g] migrated from "the lake country of America" to Mexico and Central America.[50] In 1841 Joseph Smith read Stephens' Incidents of Travel in Central America. Smith held Stephens' work in high regard and recommended it.[51] However, Stephens' bestseller did not change Smith's position that Book of Mormon events took place in northern America, in lands primarily occupied by the United States.[h]

In the Wentworth Letter Joseph Smith wrote the following[53] regarding his interview with the angel Moroni:

I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country', and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people was made known unto me: I was also told where there was deposited some plates on which were engraven an abridgment of the records of the ancient prophets that had existed on this continent ...

In his "AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES" editorial of July 1842, the Times & Seasons newspaper corroborates wars described in the Book of Mormon with archaeological finds in northern America. It is not certain as to which articles in the Times & Seasons signed "-ED" were authored by Joseph Smith, approved by Joseph Smith, or otherwise handled by editorial assistants since Joseph Smith was frequently absent and only the nominal editor.[citation needed]

The Times & Seasons quotes Josiah Priest's American Antiquities statement that "Weapons of brass have been found in many parts of America, as in the Canadas, Florida, &c., with curiously sculptured stones, all of which go to prove that this country was once peopled with civilized, industrious nations ..."[54]

The Times & Seasons associates earth, timber and metal works found in northern America (presumably artifacts of mound builder societies) with implements and constructions described in the Book of Mormon.[55] As much as Joseph Smith approved of Stephens' work, the Times & Seasons only makes minor mention of it, and then only to conclude in the "American Antiquities" editorial, that the peoples of Central America are tied historically to the Book of Mormon. Regarding the peoples of Central America, the Times & Seasons concludes:

Stephens and Catherwood's researches in Central America abundantly testify of this thing. The stupendous ruins, the elegant sculpture, and the magnificence of the ruins of Guatemala, and other cities, corroborate this statement, and show that a great and mighty people-men of great minds, clear intellect, bright genius, and comprehensive designs inhabited this continent. Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormen [Mormon] unfolds their history.-ED.[56]

The article does not actually say that Book of Mormon lands are to be found in Central America. This assertion came later in several unsigned newspaper articles, published in the Fall of 1842. The use of first person plural ("we" and "us") indicates that the articles may have been a collaborative effort.[57] A 2009 "word-print" stylometry study of the unsigned articles concluded that they contain Joseph Smith's vocabulary and average sentence lengths.[58] One LDS apologist, however, argues that the statistical word-print analysis cannot identify everything that was edited in the articles and by whom. Without an endorsing signature we cannot tell the extent to which Joseph Smith agreed with the opinions expressed in the unsigned articles.[59]

In the March 15, 1842 edition of the Times and Seasons, Joseph Smith informed readers that he would endorse his articles with his signature.[i] W. Vincent Coon argues that the unsigned 1842 articles contradict each other.[61] One of the articles in question mentions "Joseph Smith" in the third person. This same article alleges that Lehi "landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien" which would place Lehi's landing on a western shore of South America.[62] The 1842 Times and Seasons editorials, written by Joseph Smith, are readily identified as they end with his "ED".[j] Joseph Smith had found it necessary to go into hiding for much of the Fall that year.[64] Though he was still official editor of the Times and Seasons, it is doubtful that he was acting editor at the time inasmuch as he was keeping a low public profile and had been in hiding, as Doctrine and Covenants 127:1 and 128:1 attest. LDS Church History Scholars believe that John Taylor may have served as "the acting editor for the Times and Seasons" in Joseph's absence.[65] In November 1842, Joseph Smith officially resigned as editor, explaining that, "The multiplicity of other business that daily devolves upon me, renders it impossible for me to do justice to a paper so widely circulated as the Times and Seasons." John Taylor was then made official editor of the newspaper.[66]

Published in the same issue as the unsigned "ZARAHEMLA" article (October 1842) with its anachronistic claims about the ruins of Quirigua, is a signed epistle to the church from the Mormon prophet in hiding. In Joseph Smith's letter (canonized as the 128th section of the LDS Doctrine and Covenants) the Book of Mormon land Cumorah is referenced among other locations of significance near the Finger Lakes.[k][l][m]

Several earlier statements by Joseph Smith, indicate that events described in the Book of Mormon took place in lands occupied by the United States of America. In an 1833 letter to N.C. Saxton, he wrote:

The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western tribes of Indians … . By it we learn that our western tribes of Indians are descendants from that Joseph that was sold into Egypt, and that the land [of] America is a promised land unto them, and unto it, all the tribes of Israel will come, with as many of the Gentiles as shall comply with the requisitions of the new covenant. But the tribe of Judah will return to old Jerusalem.[70]

The expression, "our western tribes of Indians" refers to Indian tribes who lived west, or were pushed west from the east coast of the United States by European expansion. LDS missionaries were sent to these peoples in the early days of the Church. Latter-day scripture refers to these peoples as "Lamanites".[71] Several passages in LDS scripture associate these native peoples with peoples of the Book of Mormon.[72] LDS scripture teaches that the land of their Book of Mormon ancestors (presumably the territories now occupied by the United States of America) was ordained to become a land "free unto all ...".[73] The ancient land of their inheritance is, according to LDS scripture, associated with the land of "New Jerusalem.".[74] New Jerusalem, "the city of Zion" is, according to LDS scripture to be built in northern America.[75]

Some scholars argue that Joseph Smith came to believe that the Maya ruins on the Yucatán Peninsula discovered in the late 1830s, offered evidence in support of the Book of Mormon's authenticity. A more recent inclusion in History of the Church proclaims the ruins were likely Nephite or belonging to "the ancient inhabitants of America treated of in the Book of Mormon".[76] In view of the position that ancient peoples migrated from the north into Mexico and Central America, the linking of Mesoamerican artifacts with "ancient inhabitants ... of ... the Book of Mormon" is not inconsistent with Joseph Smith's statements placing Book of Mormon lands in northern America. The History of the Church statement was inserted under the date June 25, 1842 and is not taken from any holograph writing of Joseph Smith or records kept by his clerks. The date, in fact, is only a few weeks prior to the publication of the AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES editorial, citing northern American evidence of Book of Mormon history. The inclusion in History of the Church reads as follows:

Messrs. Stephens and Catherwood have succeeded in collecting in the interior of America a large amount of relics of the Nephites, or the ancient inhabitants of America treated of in the Book of Mormon, which relics have recently been landed in New York.[77][n]

Stephens brought to New York hundreds of artifacts from Mayan sites, including sculptures and architectural remnants. Shortly after arriving in New York, most of these relics were lost when the building that housed them was destroyed by fire.[79]

According to Mormon 6:5, Nephite civilization came to an end near the year 384 A.D., with only a few Nephites surviving,(Mormon 6:11) of which some or all were "hunted until they were destroyed" by the surviving tribal civilization. The Copan and Quirigua, sites in the Yucatan visited by Stephens and Catherwood, contain artifacts that date more recent than Book of Mormon times. It has not been shown that any of Stephens' artifacts date to Book of Mormon times, and Joseph Smith does not make this assertion.

The first history of the Church was written in 1834 and 1835 by Oliver Cowdery, as a series of articles published serially in the Church's Messenger and Advocate. In this history, Cowdery stated that the final battle between the Nephites and the Lamanites occurred at the "Hill Cumorah," the very same Hill Cumorah in New York, where Joseph Smith said he obtained golden plates and other artifacts which were used to translate the Book of Mormon. These plates and artifacts were shown to only a few witnesses and never to the general public. The plates were later claimed to have been returned to the angel, Moroni.[80][o] Oliver Cowdery also identified the Jaredites' final battle as occurring in the same area as the Nephite/Lamanite final battle. Since Smith was an editor of the Messenger and Advocate and approved the history, all but proponents of limited South American and Mesoamerican geography theories believe it conclusively demonstrated Joseph Smith's belief as well. In any case, evidence appears to show that Smith did not subscribe to the limited Mesoamerican or South American geography theories promoted by some LDS today.[81] Joseph Smith clearly advocated a northern American setting (near the Finger Lakes) for the Book of Mormon land Cumorah, hence The Doctrine and Covenants, Section 128:20.

Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Smith's mother, in her account of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, says that the divine messenger called the hill where the plates were deposited the "hill of Cumorah" meaning "hill of" the Book of Mormon land "Cumorah". In another account, she said that young Joseph referred to the hill using this description.[82] Joseph Smith's preeminence as an authority on the Book of Mormon is evinced by the following account given by his mother:

During our evening conversations, Joseph, would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities and buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them.[83]

Efforts to associate Joseph Smith with the geographic notions of his contemporaries remain speculative. A note in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams, a scribe and counselor to Smith, asserts that Lehi's people landed in South America at thirty degrees south latitude.[84] Early LDS church leader, Orson Pratt also speculated that the Nephite landing site was on the coast of Chile near Valparaiso, but Pratt indicated that this hypothesis was arrived at by supposition, not divine revelation.[85] In 1938 an article in the Church magazine The Instructor discouraged Church members from making too much of the Williams document.[86]

Hemispheric models[edit]

Evidence indicates that early members of the Church did not pay a great deal of attention to Book of Mormon details about distances.[p] The "Hemispheric" or "Two-Continent" model proposes that Book of Mormon lands stretch many thousands of miles over much of South and North America. There is no first hand, verifiable statement by Joseph Smith endorsing this view. One of the earliest advocates of a hemispheric setting was the young missionary Orson Pratt, who as early as 1832 publicly promoted the idea that Lehi "crossed the water into South America".[88] For some who read the Book of Mormon, with maps of the Western Hemisphere in view, the Isthmus of Panama seems an easy fit for the Book of Mormon's "narrow neck of land". Pratt claimed that the "running battle", culminating in the destruction of the Nephite nation, started at "the Isthmus of Darien" (Panama) and "ended at Manchester" (western New York).[89] Pratt never attributed his geography (or one like it) to Joseph Smith. Pratt in fact, indicated that the South American landing idea was supposition, not revelation.[90] Pratt's geographic views were published in the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon, but retracted from later editions.

There was no consensus of opinion among early Mormon leaders on the topic of Book of Mormon geography. The hemispheric setting of Apostle Parley P. Pratt, for instance, differed from that of his brother Orson. Strongly influenced by John Lloyd Stephens' 1841 bestseller, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Parley Pratt set various Book of Mormon lands (including, apparently, the narrow neck) farther north and west of Panama.[91] As early as 1842, Apostle John E. Page published a more limited, non-hemispheric setting for the Book of Mormon. Page originally placed the narrow neck at the Bay of Honduras; and by 1848 appears to have relocated the narrow neck more to the northwest.[92] [q] Other LDS, in 1842, figured all of Central America to be the narrow neck.[93] Prior to the influence of John Lloyd Stephens' popular book, some church members placed the southernmost Nephite land of Manti well within the boundaries of United States territory.[94]

In the 1850s the following unsigned statement was circulated among Latter-day Saints:

The course that Lehi traveled from the city of Jerusalem to the place where he and his family took ship, they traveled nearly a south, southeast direction until they came to the nineteenth degree of North Latitude, then, nearly east to the Sea of Arabia then sailed in a southeast direction and landed on the continent of South America in Chili [Chile] thirty degrees south latitude.

The original is in the handwriting of early church leader Frederick G. Williams, who held a definite opinion[citation needed] on the subject of Book of Mormon geography. The statement was partially rewritten by church authorities Richards and Little and published as a "Revelation to Joseph the Seer" - a statement which the original did not contain.[95] The Chilean landing site, promoted in the Williams document, matches Orson Pratt's geography. Prominent LDS would later call into question the statement's authority;[96] but before this would happen, church leaders publicly attributed (without verification or proof) features of Orson Pratt's geography to Joseph Smith.[97] The idea that Lehi landed on the coast of temperate Chile,[r] thousand of miles south of Panama's narrow neck, and that tropical Colombia's thousand mile long Magdalena River is the River Sidon, were presented by church scholars as mainstream, majority views in the LDS community.[100]

Central America models[edit]

It has been claimed in recent years[citation needed][when?], that within the Mormon community, more scholars have gravitated toward this general group of geographic scenarios than any other group of theories. While there are disagreements about where the "narrow neck of land" resides, e.g. southern Mexico, Honduras, the Isthmus of Rivas between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, Panama, the following list of theories can all be categorized as Central American based.

Early LDS became engrossed with John Lloyd Stephens' 1841 bestseller, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. Despite Stephens' own published conclusion that the marvelous stone ruins which he and Frederick Catherwood documented were not of "great antiquity",[101] some LDS nevertheless, placed much importance on matching these stone ruins to Book of Mormon cities.[s] For some, this endeavor had higher priority than looking for the narrowest and correctly oriented Mesoamerican isthmus. In time, more Mormon scholars came to realize that the New World Book of Mormon lands were quite localized.[103]

The earliest, most limited Central American models were posited by members of the RLDS Church.[104] In one detail, none of these proposed settings are exactly limited geographically: they all require Moroni to have transported the plates and other articles thousands of miles to western New York.

LDS apologist Vincent Coon cites non-LDS archaeologist Salvatore Trento, who posits the possibility that Joseph Smith actually discovered buried metal tablets engraved with "weird markings".[105] Trento notes comparable discoveries in Northeastern America which Coon points out are not likely the result of a singular ancient individual traveling thousands of miles from Central or South America.[106] Such finds are consistent with the 19th century "Mound Builder" literary setting in which the Book of Mormon is classed by mainstream American History and Literature specialists.[107]

Heartland models[edit]

The "Heartland" Model or "Heartland Theory" of Book of Mormon geography states that the Book of Mormon events primarily occurred in the heartland of North America.[108] The Hill Cumorah in Ontario County NY is the hill where Joseph Smith found the Golden Plates and is the same hill where the civilizations of the Nephites (Cumorah) and the Jaredites (Ramah) fought their last battles. Oliver Cowdery with the assistance of Joseph Smith wrote "... Here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed. By turning to the 529th and 530th pages of the Book of Mormon, you will read Mormon's account of the last great struggle of his people, as they were encamped round this hill Cumorah.  In this valley fell the remaining strength and pride of a once powerful people, the Nephites—once so highly favored of the Lord, but at that time in darkness, doomed to suffer extermination by the hand of their barbarous and uncivilized brethren. From the top of this hill, Mormon, with a few others, after the battle, gazed with horror upon the mangled remains of those who, the day before, were filled with anxiety, hope, or doubt."[109]

Among its proposals are that Mound Builders, including the Hopewell and the Adena, were among those peoples described in accounts of events in Book of Mormon books such as Alma and Helaman. The ancient city of Zarahemla is believed to be near Montrose, Iowa. (D&C 125:3). The Mississippi River is identified as the River Sidon, and the Springs of Northern Georgia just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee are identified as possibly being the Waters of Mormon. The Niagara Falls Peninsula has been described as the "narrow neck of land" mentioned in the Book of Ether. In addition, the Appalachian region of Tennessee is most likely to be the Land of Nephi.[110] It is also proposed that Lehi's journey sailed west after going around Africa which would be a much shorter voyage than across the Indian and Pacific Oceans (as demonstrated by the path of the modern-day "Phoenician" ship's experimental circumnavigation voyage around Africa in 2010 by Philip Beale followed by an Atlantic crossing in 2019-2020). They propose that Lehi and his family landed somewhere near Florida, that the land of Nephi was in Tennessee and that the Mulokites and Jaredites settled the land after traveling along the great lakes river system into Ohio valley and then the proposed Zarahemla site near Montrose, Iowa.

In recent years, this theory, which challenges the traditional paradigm of Central America as a primary location for Book of Mormon geography, has become a "movement"[111][112] among many active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Proponents see this new model as a way of better supporting the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

While travelling through Illinois, Joseph Smith claimed to have had a vision that was written down by Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith and others who were present:[113]

On the top of the mound were stones which presented the appearance of three altars having been erected one above the other, according to the ancient order; and the remains of bones were strewn over the surface of the ground. The brethren procured a shovel and a hoe, and removing the earth to the depth of about one foot, discovered the skeleton of a man, almost entire, and between his ribs the stone point of a Lamanitish arrow, which evidently produced his death. Elder Burr Riggs retained the arrow. The contemplation of the scenery around us produced peculiar sensations in our bosoms; and subsequently the visions of the past being opened to my understanding by the Spirit of the Almighty, I discovered that the person whose skeleton was before us was a white Lamanite, a large, thick-set man, and a man of God. His name was Zelph. He was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus, who was known from the Hill Cumorah, or eastern sea to the Rocky mountains. The curse was taken from Zelph, or, at least, in part-one of his thigh bones was broken by a stone flung from a sling, while in battle, years before his death. He was killed in battle by the arrow found among his ribs, during the last great struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites."

A few days later, Smith wrote the following: "The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity ... During our travels we visited several of the mounds which had been thrown up by the ancient inhabitants of this country-Nephites, Lamanites, etc.[114]

Great Lakes theories[edit]

Proponents of the Great Lakes theory adhere to the teachings of LDS Church leaders,[115] official church history,[116] and church canon[117] that identify the hill in Palmyra, New York as the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon, the place of the final Nephite battle. Great Lakes theories differ in that they incorporate the land of Palmyra, New York as the place of the final Nephite battle and the place where the Jaredite Omer walked.[118]

South America models[edit]

An unsigned document in the handwriting of early church leader Frederick G. Williams alleges that Lehi landed 30 degrees South of the equator, in what would be modern day Chile.[t] There are several theories that try to confirm this. Many people who support this group of theories believe that part of South America was under water, and that the continent rose up during the major earthquakes mentioned in the Book of Mormon during Christ's crucifixion in the Old World.[120]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Encyclopedia of Mormonism states: "Church leaders have generally declined to give any opinion on issues of Book of Mormon geography. When asked to review a map showing the supposed landing place of Lehi's company, President Joseph F. Smith declared that the 'Lord had not yet revealed it' (Cannon, p. 160 n.) In 1929, Anthony W. Ivins, counselor in the First Presidency, added, 'There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question [of Book of Mormon geography]. ... We are just waiting until we discover the truth" (CR, Apr. 1929, p. 16). While the Church does not currently take an official position with regard to location of geographical places, the authorities do not discourage private efforts to deal with the subject (Cannon)."[1]
  2. ^ Previous to this disclaimer, President George Q. Cannon (First Counselor in the First Presidency), had expressed his concern that children might "be permitted to conceive incorrect ideas concerning the location of the lands inhabited by the Nephites" from "agencies which are unreliable". (Cannon, George Q. (editor), "Topics of the Times", Juvenile Instructor, July 15, 1887, Vol. 22, No. 14, p. 221) President Cannon published in the same article the following: "It is also known that the landing place of Lehi and his family was near what is now known as the city of Valparaiso, in the republic of Chili [Chile]. The book itself does not give us this information, but there is not doubt of its correctness." President Cannon was promoting a prevailing view endorsed by the Church in 1887. (See for instance Apostle Orson Pratt's speculative geographic footnotes published in the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon)
  3. ^ In 1938, Joseph Fielding Smith and his assistants in the Historian's Office of the Church published, as part of a compilation, an article giving readers the impression that Joseph Smith taught that Lehi "had landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien". (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 267) The Isthmus of Darien (Panama) is thousands of miles north of Valparaiso, Chile. The popular LDS work quotes an unsigned Times and Seasons article that was published during a "short season" when the official editor of the newspaper (Joseph Smith) was publicly absent.[2][3][4] The newspaper article, in fact, mentioned Joseph Smith in the third person and there is no proof that he authored the piece.[5]
  4. ^ The adjective "New World" is justified in that the Book of Mormon seems to prophetically describe the arrival of the Pilgrims, the American War of Independence, and the rise of the United States of America, "lifted up ... above all other nations", as events taking place on the Book of Mormon covenant land of "inheritance".[10]
  5. ^ "West Sea" and "East Sea are capitalized as proper nouns in the original 1830 edition (Book of Mormon). See pp. 363, 364, 375, and 406. Whereas "sea west" (meaning "sea" on the "west") is not capitalized. (pp. 412, 437) More recent editions make no distinction, in that "west sea" is not capitalized.
  6. ^ Skousen says "sea" was purposely "ellipted" or removed in several cases: compare Alma 22:27 (note that "east" and "west" are not capitalized in the 1830 Ed. of this verse, pp. 287-288), Alma 22:32-33 (note that "East" implies the proper noun East Sea in the 1830 Ed., p. 288), Alma 50:8 (note that "West" implies the proper noun West Sea, p. 363, 1830 Ed.), Alma 50:34 (note that "west" and "east" are not capitalized, p. 365), Helaman 4:7 (note that "East" implies East Sea, p. 415, 1830 Ed.). Implicitly, there was a "sea" east of Bountiful.[32]
  7. ^ American history scholars place the Book of Mormon in the 19th century literary genre dealing with the mound-builder mystery. The original and academically accepted setting for the Book of Mormon therefore treats the mound-builders of North America.[49]
  8. ^ LDS apologist Coon comments on Joseph Smith's letter of appreciation for Stephens' work; as far as it "pertains to the antiquities of this country". Stephens in fact discusses "American antiquities" in "our own country" (the United States) and lists among other things, "mounds and fortifications".[52]
  9. ^ "This paper commences my editorial career, I alone stand for it, and shall do for all papers having my signature henceforward. I am not responsible for the publication, or arrangement of the former paper; the matter did not come under my supervision. JOSEPH SMITH."[60]
  10. ^ Prior to his going into hiding in the Fall of 1842, Joseph Smith published several editorials pertaining to the subjects of archaeology and Book of Mormon geography. As both official and acting editor, all of the following Times and Seasons editorials end with his official "ED":
    "A CATACOMB OF MUMMIES FOUND IN KENTUCKY", Vol. 3, No 13, May 2, 1842, p. 781
    "Traits of the Mosaic History, Found Among the Aztaeca Nations", Vol. 3, No 16, June 15, 1842, p. 818
    "AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES", Vol. 3, No 18, July 15, 1842, p. 858
    This short selection does not include other articles on other subjects which also bear the editor's "ED". Coon points out that newspapers actively edited by Joseph Smith end as follows:
    "The Times and Seasons, IS EDITED BY Joseph Smith. Printed and published about the first and fifteenth of every month, on the corner of Water and Bain Streets, Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, by JOSEPH SMITH."
    Whereas editions possibly edited and printed by others (acting in Joseph Smith's stead) end with:
    "The Times and Seasons, Is edited, printed and published about the first and fifteenth of every month, on the corner of Water and Bain Streets, Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, by JOSEPH SMITH."[63]
  11. ^ On the subject of a Mesoamerican Cumorah, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith said: "This modernist theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, not withstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years ..." "It is known that the Hill Cumorah where the Nephites were destroyed is the hill where the Jaredites were also destroyed. This hill was known to the Jaredites as Ramah. It was approximately near to the waters of Ripliancum, which the Book of Ether says, 'by interpretation, is large or to exceed all.' ... It must be conceded that this description fits perfectly the land of Cumorah in New York ... for the hill is in the proximity of the Great Lakes, and also in the land of many rivers and fountains ..."[67]
  12. ^ Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, who was also aware of the Mesoamerican Cumorah theory, stated that: "Both the Nephite and the Jaredite civilizations fought their final great wars of extinction at and near the Hill Cumorah (or Ramah as the Jaredites termed it) ... Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and many early brethren, who were familiar with the circumstances attending the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in this dispensation, have left us pointed testimony as to the identity and location of Cumorah or Ramah."[68]
  13. ^ In a 1953 General Conference, Apostle Mark E. Peterson stated: "I do not believe that there were two Hill Cumorahs, one in Central America, and the other one in New York, for the convenience of the Prophet Joseph Smith, so that the poor boy would not have to walk clear to Central America to get the gold plates. I do not believe we can be good Latter-day Saints and question the integrity of Joseph Smith."[69]
  14. ^ The insertion is not taken from any known holograph writing belonging to Joseph Smith. The Prophet's journal entry for this date (in the handwriting of Willard Richards, clerk) makes no mention of Stephens or Catherwood, or of relics.[78]
  15. ^ But by the wisdom of God, they remained safe in my hands, until I had accomplished by them what was required at my hand. When, according to arrangements, the messenger called for them, I delivered them up to him; and he has them in his charge until this day, being the second day of May, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight.
  16. ^ W. Vincent Coon cites Doctrine and Covenants 84:54-57.[87]
  17. ^ Roper notes one other less exaggerated, 19th Century geography set between Colombia and Southern Mexico: Plain Facts for Students of the Book of Mormon, with a Map of the Promised Land (An anonymous pamphlet, ~1887)[92]
  18. ^ Coon notes that Pratt's landing cite at Valparaiso, Chile is essentially the same latitude as proposed in the Williams document (~33 deg. South Latitude). Placing Lehi's landing site as far south of the equator as Jerusalem is north would presumably allow seeds brought from Jerusalem to thrive in the New World.[98] Coon however, challenges the logic of this argument as well as the "extreme" Indian and Pacific Ocean crossing.[99]
  19. ^ A Mormon newspaper assured its readers that "cities have been discovered by Mr. Stevens [Stephens] in Central America, exactly where the Book of Mormon left them."[102]
  20. ^ B.H. Roberts concluded the relatively recent attempt to attribute the statement to Joseph Smith to be untenable.[119]


  1. ^ Clark, John E. (1992), "Book of Mormon Geography", Encyclopedia of Mormonism, pp. 176–179
  2. ^ Times and Season, Sept. 15, 1842, 3:921-922
  3. ^ "Doctrine and Covenants 127".
  4. ^ "Doctrine and Covenants 128".
  5. ^ Reynolds, George, Commentary on the Book of Mormon (1955), Vol. 3, pp. 330-331
  6. ^ Joseph Smith–History 1:34.
  7. ^ Joseph Smith – History 1:36-41
  8. ^ Mormon 6:2-5
  9. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 128:20
  10. ^ "1 Nephi 13, 10-30".
  11. ^ Per Ether 6:16, "the friends of Jared and his brother were in number about twenty and two souls; and they also began sons and daughters before they came to the promised land."
  12. ^ Ether 1:33
  13. ^ Tanner, Morgan W. (1992), "Jaredites", Encyclopedia of Mormonism, pp. 717–720
  14. ^ a b Helaman 3:8
  15. ^ Ether 10:19-21
  16. ^ Hoskisson, Paul Y. (1992), "Book of Mormon Names", Encyclopedia of Mormonism, pp. 186–187
  17. ^ a b Ether 10:20
  18. ^ Alma 22:30
  19. ^ Wright, H. Curtis (1992), "Mulek", Encyclopedia of Mormonism, pp. 969–970
  20. ^ Helaman 1:18
  21. ^ Alma 6:7
  22. ^ 2 Nephi 5:7-8
  23. ^ Helaman 14:263 Nephi 8:19
  24. ^ Mosiah 7:4
  25. ^ Mosiah 23:1-3; 24:20, 25
  26. ^ Alma 49:10; 51:11; 53:10
  27. ^ 6:7
  28. ^ Alma 22:27
  29. ^ Alma 22:27; 16:6-7; 6:7
  30. ^ Alma 22:29
  31. ^ Helaman 4:5-7
  32. ^ Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part Four, FARMS, 2007, p. 2069
  33. ^ Alma 27:20-22; Alma 51:28-32
  34. ^ Alma 22:31
  35. ^ Alma 22:32
  36. ^ Alma 50:34, Mormon 2:29; 3:5-8
  37. ^ 3 Nephi 3:23
  38. ^ Alma 52:9
  39. ^ Alma 22:32; 63:5, Ether 10:20
  40. ^ Ether 9:31-33
  41. ^ Alma 50:29, Helaman 3:3-4
  42. ^ 3 Nephi 4:23; 3 Nephi 7:12
  43. ^ Ether 15:8-11, Mormon 6:4-6
  44. ^ a b Ether 9:3
  45. ^ Mormon 6:1-2, Ether 15:11-14
  46. ^ Mormon 6:15
  47. ^ Mormon 8:2
  48. ^ Mosiah 8:7-8; 21:25-26
  49. ^ Robert Silverberg, "and the mound-builders vanished from the earth", American Heritage Magazine, June 1969, Volume 20, Issue 4
  50. ^ "Traits of the Mosaic History Found Among the Aztaeca Nations", Joseph Smith, Editor, Times and Seasons, June 15, 1842, Volume 3, Number 16, pp. 818-820.
  51. ^ Letter to John Bernhisel, 16 November 1841, Personal Writing of Joseph Smith, compiled and edited by Dean C. Jessee, p. 533
  52. ^ Incidents of Travel in Central America, pp. 97-98, and Coon, W. Vincent, Choice Above All Other Lands – Book of Mormon Covenant Lands According to the Best Sources, pp. 75-76
  53. ^ ""Church History," 1 March 1842, Page 706". Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  54. ^ "American Antiquities", Times and Seasons, July 15, 1842, Volume 3, number 18, pp. 859-60.
  55. ^ "AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES", Joseph Smith, Editor, Times and Seasons, July 15, 1842, Vol. 3, No 18, p. 858.
  56. ^ Times and Seasons, July 15, 1842, Vol. 3, No 18, p. 860
  57. ^ Coon, W Vincent, “Book of Mormon geography articles signed by Joseph Smith” Archived 2010-07-28 at the Wayback Machine
  58. ^ De Groote, Michael, "Book of Mormon Geography article by Joseph Smith?", MORMON TIMES, 30 October 2009; Toone, Trent, "FAIR Conference: Roper's take on Book of Mormon geography", MORMON TIMES, 6 August 2010
  59. ^ Coon, W Vincent, of Mormon geography articles signed by Joseph Smith”, “Book of Mormon Lands and the Times and Seasons Newspaper” Archived 2010-06-08 at the Wayback Machine
  60. ^ Editor, Times and Seasons, March 15, 1842, Vol. 3, No. 9
  61. ^ Coon, W. Vincent, Choice Above All Other Lands – Book of Mormon Covenant Lands According to the Best Sources, Ch. 4, "Unsigned Articles and a Popular Book", pp. 72-104
  62. ^ "FACTS ARE STUBBORN THINGS.", Times and Seasons, September 15, 1842, Vol. 3, No 22, p. 922.
  63. ^ Coon, Choice Above All Other Lands, pp. 95-100
  64. ^ The Doctrine and Covenants, Section 127:1
  65. ^ See for example: Matthew Roper, "Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations, section titled "John Taylor's View", BYU Maxwell Institute, 2004, pp. 225-76
  66. ^ "VALEDICTORY", Times and Seasons, November 15, 1842, Vol. 4, No. 1
  67. ^ Doctrines of Salvation, Volume 3, pp. 233-234
  68. ^ Mormon Doctrine: CUMORAH, p. 175)
  69. ^ The Improvement Era, June 1953, p. 423; 123 Annual Conference of the Church, April 4–6, 1953,General Conference Report, pp. 83-84
  70. ^ Hill 1995, p. 33"Sir, Considering the Liberal Principles," Joseph Smith to N.C. Saxton, editor, American Revivalist, and Rochester Observer, 4 January 1833 (from Times and Seasons [Nauvoo, Illinois] 5 [15 November 1844], 21:705-707)
  71. ^ The Doctrine and Covenants, Section 28:8-9
  72. ^ The Doctrine and Covenants, Section 19:27, The Doctrine and Covenants, Section 57:4, 2 Nephi 30:4
  73. ^ The Doctrine and Covenants, Section 10:45-52, 1 Nephi 14:1-2
  74. ^ 3 Nephi 20:22, 3 Nephi 21:22-23, Ether 13:2-8
  75. ^ The Doctrine and Covenants, Section 57:1-4, The Doctrine and Covenants, Section 84:2-3
  76. ^ "Did the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1842 Locate Book of Mormon Lands in Middle America?", by V. Garth Norman
  77. ^ History of the Church Volume 5, p. 44
  78. ^ The Papers of Joseph Smith Volume 2, edited by Dean C. Jessee, p. 391; see also "Introduction to Joseph Smith's Journal", pp. xxii – xxv)
  79. ^ Roberts, Jennifer, The Art Bulletin, "Landscapes of Indifference; Robert Smithson and John Lloyd Stephens in Yucatan", September 1, 2000.
  80. ^ "Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith". Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  81. ^ Oliver Cowdery, "Letter Seven," Messenger and Advocate, July 1835
  82. ^ The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith By His Mother, Edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor, Bookcraft, 1996, p. 107 n. 14; See also History of Joseph Smith by His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, p. 100
  83. ^ History of Joseph Smith by His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, p. 83
  84. ^ U.A.S. Newsletter (Provo, Utah: University Archaeological Society at Brigham Young University) January 30, 1963, p. 7.
  85. ^ Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses (London, England: Albert Carrington, 1869), vol. 12; p. 342; Volume 14, p. 325 (1872)
  86. ^ Frederick J. Pack (Chairman of the Gospel Doctrine Committee of the Church) and George D. Pyper, The Instructor 73, No. 4, 1938, p. 160.
  87. ^ Coon, W. Vincent. "How Exaggerated Settings For the Book of Mormon, Came to Pass".
  88. ^ Roper, Matthew, "Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations", see section titled "Hemispheric Interpretations of Book of Mormon Geography", Maxwell Institute, 2004
  89. ^ Roper cites Pratt's comments as published in "The Orators of Mormonism", Catholic Telegraph, 14 April 1832, a reprint from the Mercer Free Press. Similar statements were published (early 1832) in the Franklin Democrat, another Pennsylvania newspaper.
  90. ^ Pratt, Orson, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 14, p. 325
  91. ^ Roper, Matthew, "Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations", see section titled "Parley P. Pratt's View", Maxwell Institute, 2004
  92. ^ a b Roper, Matthew, "Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations", see section titled "John E. Pages View", Maxwell Institute, 2004
  93. ^ "Extract from Stephen's "Incidents of Travel in Central America", Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, No. 22, Sept. 15, 1842, p. 911
  94. ^ Millennial Star, "History of Joseph Smith", May 13, 1854, Vol. 16, p. 296; see also Journal of Samuel D. Tyler, Sept. 25, 1838
  95. ^ Richards, Franklin D. and Little, James A., A Compendium of the Doctrines of the Gospel, 1882 edition, p. 289
  96. ^ Pack, Frederick J. (Gospel Doctrine Committee Chair) and Pyper, George D. (asst. ed. of The Instructor), "ROUTE TRAVELED BY LEHI AND HIS COMPANY", The Instructor, Vol. 73. No. 4, April 1938, p. 160; see also Roberts, B.H., New Witness for God, Vol. 3, pp. 501-503
  97. ^ Cannon, George Q. (editor), "Topics of the Times", Juvenile Instructor, July 15, 1887, Vol. 22, No. 14, p. 221
  98. ^ "1 Nephi 18, 24".
  99. ^ Coon, W. Vincent, Choice Above All Other Lands – Book of Mormon Covenant Lands According to the Best Sources, pp. 64-69
  100. ^ Reynolds, George, Commentary on the Book of Mormon (1955), Vol. 1, pp. 14, 189, 190; Vol. 2, pp. 6, 308-309, 376, 381; Vol. 3, pp. 311, 312, 315, 330-331; Vol. 4, p. 237; Dictionary of the Book of Mormon (1954), pp. 208-209, 238, 253, 255, 285, 326; see also Roberts, B. H., Seventies Course in Theology, First Year, p. 118; Smith, Joseph Fielding, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 3, pp. 73-74; McConkie, Bruce R, The Millennial Messiah, p. 206
  101. ^ Stephens, John Lloyd, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, Vol. II, Ch. XXVI, "COMPARATIVE MODERN DATE OF RUINS", pp. 442-443
  102. ^ Times and Seasons, April 1, 1845, Vol. 6, No.6, p. 855
  103. ^ Roper, Matthew, "Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations", Maxwell Institute, 2004
  104. ^ See Hills, L.E., Geography of Mexico and Central America from 2234 BC to 421 AD, Independence, Missouri, 1917; A Short Work on the Popol Vuh and the Traditional History of the Ancient Americans by Ixt-lil-xochitl (Independence, MO, 1918); New Light on American Archaeology (Independence, MO, Lambert Moon, 1924); see also Gunsolley, J.F., "More Comment on Book of Mormon Geography", Saints Herald 69/46 (1922), 1074-1076
  105. ^ Trento, Salvatore M., Field Guide to Mysterious Places of Eastern North America, pp. 240-244
  106. ^ Coon, W. Vincent, Olive's Near Cumorah Setting by Deduction and Best Fit
  107. ^ Silverberg, Robert, "...and the mound-builders vanished from the earth", American Heritage Magazine, June 1969
  108. ^ Deseret News
  109. ^ "History, 1834–1836, Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII, Joseph Smith Papers Letter VII". 1835. pp. 155–159.
  110. ^ "FIRM". Archived from the original on 2016-10-11. Retrieved 2016-08-31.
  111. ^ Groote, Michael De (2010-05-27). "The fight over Book of Mormon geography". Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  112. ^ Moulton, Kristen. "Book of Mormon geography stirring controversy". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  113. ^ "History, 1838–1856, volume A-1, 23 December 1805 – 30 August 1834". p. 483.
  114. ^ "Letter to Emma Smith, 4 June 1834". p. 56.
  115. ^ Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1956, vol. 3, pp. 232-243.
  116. ^ LATTER DAY SAINTS' MESSENGER AND ADVOCATE, Volume I. No. 1. KIRTLAND, OHIO, OCTOBER, 1834, pp. 12, 157-158]
  117. ^ D&C 128:20
  118. ^ Ether 9:3
  119. ^ Roberts, B.H., New Witness for God, Vol. 3, pp. 501-503
  120. ^ Priddis, Venice, The Book and the Map – New Insights into Book of Mormon Geography


Further reading[edit]