Fri - Aug 29, 2008 : 08:58 am
Book Of Mormon Lands
I've been reading a few books and websites lately on the "geography of the Book of Mormon", and see that it is quite a contentious point for many people! A desire to understand the BOM geography was the specific thing that got me into reading the Boook of Mormon for the first time on my own. That isn't to say that my testimony is based off of someone's idea of where these lands are, or on some sort of physical evidence ... it's just that in digging as deeply as i could, and trying to picture people, places, and events in my head, the BOM came alive for me like never before, and when the prophets would speak, it was no longer a bunch of 'church stuff' and "and it came to pass's" ... i was better able to understand their meaning, and feel them speaking directly to me.
We know from reading the Book of Mormon three major, undisputed, things in relation to the geography:
1) that the events (after Lehi's family migrated) took place on this, the American continent
2) that there were more than one group of people who migrated to the Americas
3) that the Book of Mormon represents only the smallest portion of the records kept, that it contains more of the gospel and less of the history, and that there are records of many other nations that we have not been given at this time. It is an abridgement, meaning it's the 'reader's digest version' of the history of the gospel.
from those things, we could suppose that:
1) there are probably records and prophets for all nations of the earth, and it will be exciting to see those!
2) that the bulk of the history of the people in the Americas has not been revealed to us.
3) there could be varied physical origins of the people "native" to this continent when the Europeans first arrived.
I had to throw that last one in because its become more important to consider since we've now got DNA evidence to back it up.
based on these things, i've always supposed that we don't have record (or much record) of the people in South America or Alaska, but that the BOM mostly took place "up here".
imagine my surprise, then, when i picked up my first "mormon archealogy"-type book, to find that the Hill Cumorah was in Guatemala, and not in New York, as i'd been led to believe by Moroni (a prophet) speaking to Joseph Smith (a prophet), and other modern prophets (notably Brigham Young) who mentioned accounts of Joseph returning to Cumorah ...
it seems that at some point, once giant stone temples in South America were discovered, people began creating theories and weaving complexities to displace the Book of Mormon and plop it down into the jungles of South America.
This isn't to say that there weren't people in South America and Central America during the times of the BOM, nor does it mean that these groups never met and interacted (as far as we know, the Lamanites built the giant temples) ... but people forget (or ignore?) a few things:
- much of the geography was changed at the time of Christ's coming. cities fell into the sea, were covered by mountains which had toppled, valleys became mountains and mountains became plains ... it *is* therefore imaginable that, even if we knew precisely where everything took place, geographies and possibly even climates could appear vastly different than in earlier BOM times.
- we know where the Hill Cumorah is, and that this is the place where Mormon deposited the plates during the last great war. as plain and simple as this is, we know it is the case.
- we know that 'this land' was to be preserved as a land of liberty, as long as its inhabitants were keeping the commandments. are Guatemala, Columbia, Nicaragua, Peru, Mexico wider known for their freedom than the United States?
- in D&C 125, the Lord tells the saints to call the city directly across the river from Nauvoo "Zarahemla". Why might that be?
- Joseph smith, 3 later prophets and 5 other men went to one of the many ancient man-made mounds on the bluffs over looking Valley City, Iowa, and the prophet took a shovel and dug into the earth, exposing some bones. they found an arrowhead in the rib cage, and the prophet spoke by revelation (saying the Lord had opened up a vision to him) saying that the bones were of the body of a Lamanite warrior who was under the great prophet Onandugas, whose name was "known from Cumorah to the Rocky Mountains", and had fallen during the last great war. We know from this that the last great war must have taken place (at least enough for this man to have fallen!) in the United States, and that the prophet he was under was known across the U.S. ... Joseph did not name any South or Central American landmarks or cities. [this incident is in the History of the Church books].
- Brigham Young once mentioned at a temple dedication that some of the area around (St. George, UT?) was where the Gadianton Robbers had hidden.
- i have a friend who is always reminding us that when Utah was named, the Saints wanted the state to be called Deseret, but people unfriendly to the Saints convinced the government to call it "Utah", after the "Ute" indians. It was later discovered that the name means "High On The Mountaintops", or something to that effect ... Similarly, the name of the indians inhabiting the area around niagra means "narrow neck of land", and it is believed that the word "Niagra" is grom the Mohawk "ni-waa", meaning 'small', and "on-yara", meaning 'neck'. hmmm ...
- the 'dead sea' and the 'red sea' are incredibly small compared to our "Great Lakes", yet they were known as 'seas' throughout ancient times. the BOM freqently mentions the 'narrow neck of land' and a sea on the west and a sea on the east. it mentions a large river that runs north and south. there are few geographic locations that match so closely. Where is the great river (Sidon) that runs north/south located at panama or yucatan? there isn't one ... yet there *is* a Missippi river that runs from the great lakes (and remember the folks of niagra - the 'narrow neck') ...
- the seas are always referred to as 'dividing the land', rather than the land 'dividing the seas'. no one has mentioned this anywhere else, so i may be way off-base, but it would seem to me that in an area where the 'seas' were giant lakes, it would seem more that they were dividing the land than a place where the land narrowly wandered between two great oceans (where it would seem the land is dividing the sea).
i've been to some of the locations in central america, and the things we know of those cultures don't really fit the Nephites and Lamanites from what we know. We know that they built their cities out of wood, dug treenches and fortified their walls sometimes with soil ... this matches with archealogical finds of the "Hopewell" and "Adena" cultures of north america (who built mounds and trenches, who seem to have built their homes of wood, as we can still find posts in some of the locations, and in whose mounds we have sometimes found metal breastplates , spear heads and other tools, as well as stone 'plates' inscribed with middle-eastern looking writing, as well as images of a Christ-like figure on a cross) ...
I don't know if the heavy bias toward the Book of Mormon lands is rooted in the error that came out when Joseph was still alive (someone published an article in his name saying the newly found ruins in south america were of BOM lands, but he corrected the error and required the paper to have his signature before attributing anything else to him) ... or maybe the bias is rooted in the attempts of early government archealogy in the United States doing their best to hide away signs that an 'advanced' civilization once lived here (they were afraid that if the general population viewed the natives as anything other than -or related to anyone other than - "savages", they couldn't continue expanding westward without running into opposition).
either way, it's nice to know that there are places we can look to individually to help us picture the places and events mentioned in scripture ... but, like the disputed places in the Bible (Jesus' tomb, where Noah's ark landed, where the manger was, etc), it doesn't really matter if we do or don't ever find the undisputed location: the substance of the scriptures is in the teachings, and those teachings will lead us closer to outr Father In Heaven.