NOTE: I haven’t written much here lately, and not too much brand new since March of 2015 when I commenced my research into the Book of Mormon geography (see Book of Mormon Covenant Lands). That was nearly four years ago.
I have recently completed enough online to invite others to review Book of Mormon Covenant Lands. Two published authors in this subject graciously agreed to take a look. One was Jonathan Neville. Jonathan has written many books on the Book of Mormon (my two favorites are The Lost City of Zarahemla and Letter VII) and authors a popular Book of Mormon blog. The second person, Brant Gardner, is also a Book of Mormon book author and author at FairMormon, an LDS apologetics site.
There is in the church now a great divide between those who: A) believe the narrative history of the Book of Mormon occurred in North America, USA/Canada (I call it N1C); and B) those who believe it occurred in Mesoamerica (called M2C). The M2C position is that there must be two hill Cumorah’s and that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is really located somewhere in Mesoamerica.
To deflect criticism or controversy it is sometimes argued that “geography doesn’t really make any difference” regarding the Book of Mormon. However, the Book of Mormon contains prophecies, warnings, and special covenants that apply to the land of the Book of Mormon and the people who inhabit it.
The question of N1C vs M2C is now a litmus test between Book of Mormon researchers (BTW, Jonathan Neville is N1C and Brant Gardner is M2C). If you are N1C then you are immediately suspect by M2C proponents in anything you write or propose about the Book of Mormon. Also vice-versa. Most M2C groups, when challenged, will claim to be neutral on the question of Book of Mormon geography. However, while M2C models are documented, they avoid presenting information on N1C geographic models, archaeological discoveries, or writings.
Book of Mormon Central claims to be neutral, but in practice they are not. For example, their logo still contains a Mayan glyph. They exclude N1C information and perspectives and argue against anything N1C. Book of Mormon Central is owned by Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (bmaf.org) whose mission statement is to promote the Book of Mormon as an “ancient Mayan codex“.
BYU Studies is a bastion of the M2C. They lead the charge and make no claim to neutrality in their policies. Their first “key objective” is to include only “authors who share the same goals and objectives as we do”, which in general is fine but for N1C that means “not welcome”.
My Book of Mormon Logical Model and Map declares that I am definitely of the N1C persuasion. The reason is not primarily because of geography or maps. It’s doctrinal. The scriptures declare it. The prophets declare it. The M2C people will say “the scriptures are not definitive” and the prophets only did “the best they could with what they knew” but just weren’t privy “to the additional information that scholars have since determined”. They say “it’s the science of archaeology that counts” and trumps all other considerations, and “not everything the prophets say is doctrine so I am not obligated to accept it”. It is not hyperbole for me to say that all of this is the consensus opinion of the M2C folks from my own personal experience. I disagree with it totally.
I have been alive long enough to see that “the sciences” are a moving target, always shifting and changing by definition. Not a foundation to build upon when the rains come and the winds blow. The M2C position is, in my opinion, untenable. By the standard of following only the sciences, the M2C boosters should abandon M2C because the overwhelming consensus of non-LDS archaeologists, the leading experts in Mesoamerican archaeology, is negative. They think it is a joke. They say the written language doesn’t match, the evidence on the ground doesn’t match, the animals don’t match, and the timelines don’t match up either. They say the decline of Classic Maya civilization and the abandonment of Maya cities in the southern Maya lowlands of Mesoamerica is between the 8th and 9th centuries at the end of the Classic Maya Period, and that pre-classic Maya experienced a similar collapse in the 2nd century. None of this matches up with Book of Mormon time-lines. Not. Even. Close.
Most of the membership of the Church doesn’t buy into M2C, with it’s 2-Cumorah requirement, either. They trend to believing the prophets and the scriptures and Joseph Smith (e.g. the Wentworth letter) and they don’t read “academic” books and papers, especially those members who live outside the US. So now the M2C folks are arrayed against the scientific establishment, the lay members of the church, the Prophets, and the Scriptures. It’s what I mean by being “untenable”.
One of the most serious issues is the censoring and altering the words of the prophets in church publications and manuals. This is caused, I believe, by M2C tainted editors who are promoting their M2C worldview. It is not a systemic policy but it happens. What follows below is an egregious example. Simply deplorable.
|Teachings of the Presidents, Brigham Young Manual,
Chapter 47: President Brigham Young’s Witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith
|Original talk by Brigham Young, delivered June 21 1874,
Journal of Discourses Vol. 18 p. 239
|When Joseph first received the knowledge of the plates that were in the hill Cumorah, he did not then receive the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood, he merely received the knowledge that the plates were there, and that the Lord would bring them forth. … He received the knowledge that [early inhabitants of the Americas] were once in possession of the Gospel, and from that time he went on, step by step, until he obtained the plates, and the Urim and Thummim and had power to translate them.||When Joseph first received the knowledge of the plates that were in the hill Cumorah, he did not then receive the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood, he merely received the knowledge that the plates were there, and that the Lord would bring them forth, and that they contained the history of the aborigines of this country. He received the knowledge that they were once in possession of the Gospel, and from that time he went on, step by step, until he obtained the plates, and the Urim and Thummim and had power to translate them.|
When Joseph Smith wrote the Wentworth Letter, he made this request:
At the request of Mr. John Wentworth, Editor and Proprietor of the Chicago Democrat, I have written the following sketch of the rise, progress, persecution, and faith of the Latter-day Saints, of which I have the honor, under God, of being the founder. Mr. Wentworth says that he wishes to furnish Mr. Barstow, a friend of his, who is writing the history of New Hampshire, with this document. As Mr. Barstow has taken the proper steps to obtain correct information, all that I shall ask at his hands, is, that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation.
Unfortunately, some church publications do not honor Joseph’s request by publishing the entire account, but instead use a censored version the Wentworth letter and intentionally removing just the following lines to hide Joseph Smith’s statement about Jaredites and Nephites being from America, “this country”:
|The Teachings of Joseph Smith, Priesthood Manual, p 441||The Encylopedia of Mormonism, 1992, Wentworth Letter, Appx. 12.|
|Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God.
… This book … tells us that our Savior made His appearance upon this continent after His resurrection; that He planted the Gospel here in all its fulness, and richness, and power, and blessing; that they had Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers, and Evangelists, the same order, the same priesthood, the same ordinances, gifts, powers, and blessings, as were enjoyed on the eastern continent; that the people were cut off in consequence of their transgressions; that the last of their prophets who existed among them was commanded to write an abridgment of their prophecies, history, etc., and to hide it up in the earth, and that it should come forth and be united with the Bible for the accomplishment of the purposes of God in the last days.
|Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God.
In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel, at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites, and came directly from the tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites, of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country.
This book also tells us that our Savior made His appearance upon this continent after His resurrection; that He planted the Gospel here in all its fulness, and richness, and power, and blessing; that they had Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers, and Evangelists, the same order, the same priesthood, the same ordinances, gifts, powers, and blessings, as were enjoyed on the eastern continent; that the people were cut off in consequence of their transgressions; that the last of their prophets who existed among them was commanded to write an abridgment of their prophecies, history, etc., and to hide it up in the earth, and that it should come forth and be united with the Bible for the accomplishment of the purposes of God in the last days.
Because of surreptitious M2C editing and M2C stealth promotion, many members are unaware of the teachings of the prophets, and so the M2C position can seem okay to those who buy the books etc. — but I maintain that to contradict the clear pattern of what the of prophets and the scriptures have taught is out of step, doctrinally, with what the Book of Mormon teaches:
2 Nephi 9:28-29,4
28 O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
29 But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.
42 And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches–yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them.
The above scripture is harsher than I would dare to be, so I just quote it. I don’t think it would be right to do less. Also, consider that Jesus “upbraided” some of His Apostles for their initial unbelief of the testimonies of his resurrection. Upbraided means “chastised” and “severely criticized”. So, in fairness to the dedicated M2C people they are in good company, but if they are wise they will repent their ways as the ancient Apostles did.
14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
“Stiff neckedness and unbelief” also held back the early Apostles from understanding about the “other sheep”:
3 Nephi 15
11 And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words, he said unto those twelve whom he had chosen:
12 Ye are my disciples; and ye are a light unto this people, who are a remnant of the house of Joseph.
13 And behold, this is the land of your inheritance; and the Father hath given it unto you.
14 And not at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell it unto your brethren at Jerusalem.
15 Neither at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell unto them concerning the other tribes of the house of Israel, whom the Father hath led away out of the land.
16 This much did the Father command me, that I should tell unto them:
17 That other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
18 And now, because of stiffneckedness and unbelief they understood not my word; therefore I was commanded to say no more of the Father concerning this thing unto them.
In support of my position I quote President Oaks below. The complete talk is available here.
I maintain that the issue of the historicity of the Book of Mormon is basically a difference between those who rely exclusively on scholarship and those who rely on a combination of scholarship, faith, and revelation. Those who rely exclusively on scholarship reject revelation and fulfill Nephi’s prophecy that in the last days men “shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance” (2 Ne. 28:4).
— Dallin H. Oaks, 29 October 1993, The Historicity of the Book of Mormon
Now that I have quoted President Oaks, I could probably end this post and be done. However, I also want to document just how strong the case for N1C really is. It is far stronger than most realize, and is definitely not limited to any one “opinion” but is backed up by many prophets, many scriptures, authoritative accounts, and word of the LORD himself. Below are significant testimonies that I have chosen to share because they transcend “opinion”.
The scriptures below indicate missionaries being sent to the “Lamanites” in Missouri. In the Doctrine and Covenants, the city of the future New Jerusalem mentioned by the prophet Ether is also identified as being in Missouri. These are canonized scriptures, with the Lord speaking in the first person and should not be construed by faithful members of the church as “just” the opinion of Joseph Smith. Because of the taint of M2C some LDS visitors centers have labeled the mission as “missionaries sent to the Indians” to hide the reference to Lamanites in Missouri. Some visitors centers have also employed Mayan glyphs in their portrayals.
For more information on these first missionaries of the church, I recommend Lamanites in North America.
Doctrine and Covenants 10
45 Behold, there are many things engraven upon the plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel; therefore, it is wisdom in me that you should translate this first part of the engravings of Nephi, and send forth in this work.
46 And, behold, all the remainder of this work does contain all those parts of my gospel which my holy prophets, yea, and also my disciples, desired in their prayers should come forth unto this people.
47 And I said unto them, that it should be granted unto them according to their faith in their prayers;
48 Yea, and this was their faith–that my gospel, which I gave unto them that they might preach in their days, might come unto their brethren the Lamanites, and also all that had become Lamanites because of their dissensions.
49 Now, this is not all–their faith in their prayers was that this gospel should be made known also, if it were possible that other nations should possess this land;
50 And thus they did leave a blessing upon this land in their prayers, that whosoever should believe in this gospel in this land might have eternal life;
51 Yea, that it might be free unto all of whatsoever nation, kindred, tongue, or people they may be.
52 And now, behold, according to their faith in their prayers will I bring this part of my gospel to the knowledge of my people. Behold, I do not bring it to destroy that which they have received, but to build it up.
Doctrine and Covenants 28:9
9 And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites.
Doctrine and Covenants 28:14
14 And thou shalt assist to settle all these things, according to the covenants of the church, before thou shalt take thy journey among the Lamanites.
Doctrine and Covenants 54:8
8 And thus you shall take your journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites.
Doctrine and Covenants 84
2 Yea, the word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of his prophets, and for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem.
3 Which city shall be built, beginning at the temple lot, which is appointed by the finger of the Lord, in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, and dedicated by the hand of Joseph Smith, Jun., and others with whom the Lord was well pleased.
3 And that it was the place of the New Jerusalem, which should come down out of heaven, and the holy sanctuary of the Lord.
4 Behold, Ether saw the days of Christ, and he spake concerning a New Jerusalem upon this land.
The scriptures above may seem conclusive however M2C proponents say that some church leaders have occasionally referred to Mesoamericans, South Americans and Pacific Islanders as being of Lamanite descent (and I don’t doubt that) so therefore, they say, “Lamanites can be anywhere” and therefore the scriptures cited “don’t mean anything specific”.
However, these first missionaries carried the message that the Book of Mormon was all about the forefathers of the “aboriginal inhabitants” of “this country” (Wentworth letter). When the missionaries took the Book of Mormon to the Lamanites the message from the Lord was that its history applied to this land (DC 10:49,50). This country or this land means whatever the land or country the hearer is from and not the “entire hemisphere” — despite M2C related sophistry.
Thousands of moons ago, when the red men’s forefathers dwelt in peace and possessed this whole land, the Great Spirit talked with them, and revealed His law and His will, and much knowledge to their wise men and prophets. This they wrote in a Book; together with their history, and the things which should befall their children in the latter days. “This Book was written on plates of gold, and handed down from father to son for many ages and generations. “It was then that the people prospered, and were strong and mighty; they cultivated the earth; built buildings and cities, and abounded in all good things, as the pale faces now do. “But they became wicked: they killed one another and shed much blood; they killed their prophets and wise men, and sought to destroy the Book. The great Spirit became angry, and would speak to them no more; they had no more good and wise dreams ; no more visions ; no more angels sent among them by the Great Spirit; and the Lord commanded Mormon and Moroni, their last wise men and prophets, to hide the Book in the earth, that it might be preserved in safety, and be found and made known in the latter day to the pale faces who should possess the land; that they might again make it known to the red man; in order to restore them to the knowledge of the will of the Great Spirit and to His favor.
I include a quote from Joseph Fielding Smith below because he speaks directly to the N1C vs M2C issue. Of course the M2C folks won’t accept Joseph Fielding Smith on this issue. They gainsay his teachings.
This modernistic 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, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. It is for this reason that evidence is here presented to show that it is not only possible that these places could be located as the Church has held during the past century, but that in very deed such is the case.
I include Mark E. Peterson, Marion G. Romney, and Gordon B. Hinckley below because their statements were made publicly in General Conference while teaching in their official capacity as Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Moroni came back from the dead, a resurrected man! He had lived in America some fifteen hundred years ago and was the sole survivor of his people in a series of tragic battles which took many lives.
As the fighting neared its end, Mormon gathered the remnant of his forces about a hill which they called Cumorah, located in what is now the western part of the state of New York. Their enemies, known as Lamanites, came against them on this hill.
When finished with the record, Moroni was to hide it up in that same Hill Cumorah which was their battlefield. It would come forth in modern times as the Book of Mormon, named after Moroni’s father, the historian who compiled it.
Mormon then wrote directly to us as modern Americans who now occupy this promised land and said: “How can ye stand before the power of God, except ye shall repent and turn from your evil ways?
Millennia ago he [Jesus] declared: “There shall none come into this land, he was speaking of America, save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.
It is my purpose in making these remarks to point out from the record of ancient inhabitants of America that the foregoing decrees have been carried out.
In the western part of the state of New York near Palmyra is a prominent hill known as the “hill Cumorah.” (Mormon 6:6) On July twenty-fifth of this year, as I stood on the crest of that hill admiring with awe the breathtaking panorama which stretched out before me on every hand, my mind reverted to the events which occurred in that vicinity some twenty-five centuries ago—events which brought to an end the great Jaredite nation.
“For behold, this is a land which is choice above all other lands; wherefore he that doth possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God.” (Ether 2:7–10)
Pursuant to this decree concerning the land of America, the Jaredites were swept off in the manner we have reviewed, because, rebelling against the laws of Jesus Christ—the God of the land—they “ripened in iniquity.”
This second civilization to which I refer, the Nephites, flourished in America between 600 B.C. and A.D. 400. Their civilization came to an end for the same reason, at the same place, and in the same manner as did the Jaredites’.
We in this good land of America are now hearing much debate concerning the treaty designed to reduce the likelihood of nuclear attack on this continent. There is much talk of a balance of power and of a balance of terror. In the context of this current discussion I should like to read to you what the God of heaven said long ago concerning this land as recorded in the book of which we are speaking: “Behold, this is a choice land , and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ” (Ether 2:12).
Gordon B Hinckley, October Conference, 1979
I include a letter in response to an inquiry regarding the location of the hill Cumorah. The letter was sent by the Secretary to the First Presidency with instructions from the First Presidency.
Dear Bishop Brooks:
I have been asked to forward to you for acknowledgment and handling the enclosed copy of a letter to President Gordon B. Hinckley from Ronnie Sparks of your ward. Brother Sparks inquired about the location of the Hill Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon, where the last battle between the Nephites and Lamanites took place.
The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon.
The Brethren appreciate your assistance in responding to this inquiry, and asked that you convey to Brother Sparks their commendation for his gospel study.
F. Michael Watson
Secretary to the First Presidency
The following quote from L. Tom Perry shows that N1C is still relevant in more recent times. The church leaders give the “academics” all the rope and latitude they ask for and demand – while still themselves teaching the scriptures, the Prophets, and the N1C perspective.
The United States is the promised land foretold in the Book of Mormon—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 a few decades after the establishment of the United States.
From a devotional address delivered on January 24, 2012, at Brigham Young University–Idaho.
And there is more of evidence for N1C.
In contrast, zero prophets and zero scriptures testify in behalf of M2C.
A disingenuous M2C argument is “there is no archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon in North America”. What this often means is “we don’t see any ancient stone temples in North America”. I don’t understand this because it is a fact that the Book of Mormon does not mention any such thing.
However, when early settlers came to America they found hundreds of thousands of mounds, massive earthworks, and old fortifications long ago abandoned. A number of these were carefully documented in Smithsonian field surveys and published in 1848 as Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley. Personal histories and newspaper accounts are common that describe the artifacts, earthworks, and mass burials that were found by the early settlers.
For information on Book of Mormon archaeology in North America a good place to start is LDS Archaeology.
Below is Heber C Kimball’s experience near the hill Cumorah. It is not atypical.
“In the towns of Bloomfield, Victor, Manchester, and in the regions round about, there were hills upon the tops of which were entrenchments and fortifications, and in them were human bones, axes, tomahawks, points of arrows, beads and pipes, which were frequently found; and it was a common occurrence in the country to plow up axes, which I have done many times myself. I have visited the fortifications on the tops of these hills frequently… The hill Cumorah is a high hill for that country and had the appearance of a fortification or entrenchment around it. In the State of New York, probably there are hundreds of these fortifications which are now visible, and I have seen them in many other parts of the United States.”