There are 76 thoughts on ““War of Words and Tumult of Opinions”: The Battle for Joseph Smith’s Words in Book of Mormon Geography”.

  1. Great Article.

    Any serious student of the Book of Mormon and Church History can surely agree that there is no church sponsored view on any one place, location or area as to where the Book of Mormon events (including those at Cumorah) took place.

    It is most disingenuous to try and use handpicked words, opinions, scriptures, and other sources to promote one theory over another. The fact is there is no revelation at all on this matter, despite the opinions derived and shared by members of the church over time.
    To promulgate the idea of ‘revelation’ to support a particular theory is highly suspicious, inconsistent with the Church’s view, and in fact lazy.

    Any real analysis (without the benefit of revelation on the matter) must require using the text of the Book of Mormon as the primary guide for establishing relationships between geographic landmarks and cities/lands.

    Unfortunately we don’t have a full picture of all archaeology across the American continent – we only have what is known and available to help us draw possible correlations to the text. The more correlations linked to the text (i.e. text from the scriptures and not comments of past church members), the stronger the position.

    Surely Mesoamerica is the strongest possibility based on a careful reading of the text and our current knowledge of Ancient American Culture.

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  5. Just another disappointing article… what I would like to see is all of JS official words on this topic. Since the Times & Season articles are viewed by the church as not conclusive words of JS it thus has no bearing on this geography topic. Please does anyone have all of JS words on this topic of BoM geography (words that we know are his)? That would be so helpful in this discusion and in which this author leaves out… appears this author is a mezo guy as well. Sure would love to have an unbiased article written on this topic.

    • And since JS talked a lot about the BoM to his family, maybe his mother or brothers or sisters have made statements on what he said? This would be useful as well.

    • Miles, I’m sure someone could pull something together. I fear it wouldn’t help much because we would still be left with trying to decide when Joseph dispensed revealed information and when he mentioned things he had thought about, but of which hadn’t received any divine confirmation. The arguments over the Times & Seasons article really hinges on that very issue. If Joseph was the one who wrote the article, I would say that it is clear evidence of what he was thinking about–but not the result of revelation. Why? No one at the time knew that the cities that were identified were too late to have had anything to do with the Book of Mormon.

      What about the other scenario? What if someone else (take your pick of possible authors) wrote it. How did it manage to escape Joseph’s notice? If Joseph had heard about it (and again, how could he not) it would take a major conspiracy among the apostles themselves for something on which Joseph had strong opinions to be so completely forgotten.

      Regardless of what Joseph did or did not say, the set of possibilities that came from that early body of Saints was widely inclusive, and subject to the various availability of anything that looked like it supported the Book of Mormon. The only way to see the various statements made by apostles after Joseph is that there was nothing that had been considered a revealed geography. If Joseph knew one, he failed to convince those around him. I find that a very hard proposition to accept. If Joseph could convince them of polygamy, Book of Mormon geography would have been a piece of cake.

      • What about the piece of paper written on by Fredrick Williams that stated Lehi’s landing site was at 30 degrees south latitude? That would have put them in Chile making the Book of Mormon lands in South America.

    • Hello Miles,

      I am sorry you found the article “disappointing,” but I can’t help but sense that what is really meant is that the article is not what you would like to see. The fact is there is precious little of anything on Book of Mormon geography from Joseph Smith. All the statements that Heartlanders have used have carefully examined collectively by Matt Roper in papers that can be found in my footnotes.

      I must say I continue to be fascinated by the tendency among Heartlanders is dismiss the Times and Seasons articles as being from Joseph Smith because “the Church” says it is inconclusive, yet they nonetheless insist that “Joseph knew” by revelation Book of Mormon geography, when the Church says Book of Mormon geography has never been revealed. One matter (history), the Church generally does not make official statements, but lets the scholars sort it out. On the other matter ( non-personal revelation), the Church, and specially the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, maintains sole authority to declare.

      Nonetheless, your dismissal that “the Times & Season articles are viewed by the church as not conclusive words of JS it thus has no bearing on this geography topic” is the same mistake that Rod Meldrum makes. Just because something in history is unknown does not mean it is unknowable. Besides, it is not really correct to say “the Church” considers it inconclusive. While one employee at the Church History Library said it is inconclusive, the Church Curriculum Department deemed them reliable enough to use in the manual of Joseph Smith’s teachings. Furthermore, the statement from the CHL employee was made before the Roper et al. wordprint studies. Whose to say this new evidence has not changed some minds at the CHL?

      The fact is, we don’t need the Church to tell us if the evidence is convincing. We have our own minds and critical thinking skills. We can decide for ourselves if the evidence is sufficient to consider these the words of the Joseph Smith. Personally I think it is; but you don’t have to agree with me. At the end of the day, as I said in my article, I don’t think it matters. This whole war over the words of Joseph Smith is just a distraction. What matter is if the geography actually fits the text. And on that matter, the Heartland model fails miserably.

  6. I appreciate your commentary on the geography of the Book of Mormon. I agree we need to first look at what the Book of Mormon prophets say about their geography first. I have found a website that I think is true to that statement and provides a very interesting insight into where the Book of Mormon took place. Please take a look at http://www.achoiceland.com and let me know what you think.

    The geographical connections are right on. The Book of Mormon needed to take place on a peninsula and Baja California matches all the elements in the Book of Mormon.

    • My first question regarding a peninsula and Baja California would be.. where are the four seas?

      Second question.. where are mountains “who’s height is great”?

      “And there shall be many mountains laid low, like unto a valley, and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains, whose height is great” (Helaman 14:23)

  7. @Theodore Brandley Please show me where Moroni ever said he buried the plates in Cumorah. Men write hymns.. not Angels. As I stated.. which you some how missed.. “In fact, in Joseph’s account in the Pearl of Great Price, (which by the way is scripture) he refers to the hill where the plates were buried, but never calls it by any name.” It was named by the people.. not Moroni.. and not Joseph. But even if that is the name that was given the hill.. it does not mean it was the same hill… any more than the towns in Utah like Nephi, Bountiful, & Lehi refer to the towns in the Book of Mormon.

    I asked other questions.. and let me add to that list of questions:

    “Where are the fault lines and mega earthquake activity in the Great Lakes or Heartland area lands of promise of the type that have been estimated at around 9.0 to 11.0 in magnitude that led to a “great quaking of the whole earth” as described by Nephi?” (3 Nephi 8:12).

    This is the problem.. ignore what the Book of Mormon has to say about the land.. dismiss the words in the Book of Mormon.. because those people didn’t know what they were talking about.

    What does Jacob say concerning the land they were on?

    Lets read together.. 2 Nephi 10:20

    And now, my beloved brethren,
    seeing that our merciful God
    has given us so great knowledge concerning these things,
    let us remember him,
    and lay aside our sins,
    and not hang down our heads,
    for we are not cast off;
    nevertheless, we have been driven out of the land of our inheritance;

    but we have been led to a better land,
    for the Lord has made the sea our path,
    AND WE ARE UPON AN ISLE OF THE SEA.

    Ok.. so are you now going to tell me that Jacob does not know what it means to be on an isle of the sea?

    Read the next verse.. 21

    But great are the promises of the Lord
    unto them who are upon the isles of the sea;
    wherefore as it says isles,
    there must needs be more than this,
    and they are inhabited also by our brethren.

    Are we now going to dismiss Jacob and what he had to say?

    Who do I listen to? You and your perception of what Moroni said?.. the theorists?.. or a prophet of God who lived in the land and wrote in the scriptures the description of the land he was on?

  8. I am amazed at what these theorist put forth. Prophets or not.. God reveals information when he WANTS man to know more than they do. We should first goto the Book that has the description of what the land looked like.. what kind of plants and animals were there?.. what kind of changes were going to be made in the land?.. and what kind of changes were made in the land? Those who lived in the promised land.. knew east from west.. and north from south. It is simple.. it is not hard.

    Start with those who wrote the the scriptures down. What did they say? It doesn’t matter what anyone else says. If Nephi says he traveled east.. or west.. we certainly don’t need the MesoAmerican theorist giving us a new “Nephite” lesson how how they viewed the points on a compass. East sea, west sea, north sea, south sea. Four seas.. surrounding the land of promise. In Mesoamerica.. the “narrow neck of land” runs east and west.. not north and south.

    The question to ask is quite simple and strictly scripturally based:
    “Where are the four seas in your Mesoamerican model that Helaman tells us existed in the Land of Promise?” (Helaman 3:8)
    And the followup questions, Where is the Sea that Divides the Land, Ether mentioned?” (Ether 10:20).

    MesoAmerica is NOT the Book of Mormon lands!

    Sea.. is not a lake. Sea is a sea.

    Joseph received the translation of the Book of Mormon by the power of God. How did he do that? He put the seer stone into the bottom of a hat.. put his face over the opening of the hat to block out all the light.. and then read the words that appeared on the rock to his scribe.. whomever it would be.. his wife Emma.. Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris.. it didn’t matter. It was Simple. Not hard to understand. Joseph was given the words that were familiar to him.. and anyone else who would read what he wrote at the time he wrote it. Sea means sea.. Not the Great lakes. Grab a 1828 dictionary and look up the words he wrote and see what the definition of those words were at the time.

    1828 Dictionary
    Sea: 2. A large body of water, nearly inclosed by land, as the Baltic or the Mediterranean; as the sea of Azof. Seas are properly branches of the ocean, and upon the same level.

    Large bodies of water inland, and situated above the level of the ocean, are lakes.

    The appellation of sea, given to the Caspian lake, is an exception, and not very correct. So the lake of Galilee is called a sea, from the Greek.

    3. The ocean; as, to go to sea. The fleet is at sea, or on the high seas.

    4. A wave; a billow; a surge. The vessel shipped a sea.

    5. The swell of the ocean in a tempest, or the direction of the waves; as, we head the sea.

    Is there any doubt that the north, south, east and west sea in the Book of Mormon is not a lake? Why are we listening to a bunch of people who are trying to fit square pegs into round holes? The Great Lakes Theory is not the lands where those in the Book of Mormon resided!

    Food for thought..

    And it came to pass
    that in the thirty and seventh year of the reign of the judges,
    there was a large company of men,
    even to the amount of five thousand and four hundred men,
    with their wives and their children,
    departed out of the land of Zarahemla
    into the land which was northward.

    And it came to pass that Hagoth,
    he being an exceedingly curious man,
    therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship,
    on the borders of the land Bountiful,
    by the land Desolation,
    and launched it forth into the west sea,
    by the narrow neck which led into the land northward.

    And behold, there were many of the Nephites
    who did enter therein and did sail forth
    with much provisions,
    and also many women and children;
    and they took their course northward.
    And thus ended the thirty and seventh year.

    And in the thirty and eighth year,
    this man built other ships.
    And the first ship did also return,
    and many more people did enter into it;
    and they also took much provisions,
    and set out again to the land northward.

    Look at MesoAmerica.. what direction would you sail to go northward? West!

  9. “War of Words and Tumult of Opinions”

    The title of the article does describe the nature of the debate over proposed Book of Mormon lands. It drew me into the article. That said, Joseph Smith made the statement with respect to alternative visions of salvation–those of the Presbyterians (Calvinism) and Methodists (Arminianism). Salvation was at stake.

    I don’t think we are going to be asked at the court of the Great Jehovah about our views on where Book of Mormon lands were. I read all claims with interest trying to understand how they interpret various points in the Scriptures. The debate gets bitter at times because, in my opinion, many people have devoted much of their lives to developing and promoting a particular solution.

    I appreciate the article and largely agree with the conclusions. It is too easy to use Joseph Smith to support multiple conclusions, but it doesn’t appear to me at all that Joseph Smith actually knew where they were and had similar interest in trying to locate them as we do.

    I think if the Lord wanted us to know where the lands were, he would have revealed it. Sometimes I wonder if he wants us to put the puzzle together. Sometimes, I wonder if other considerations might be on his mind. One such consideration might be that anything from the history or culture of the Book of Mormon lands pointing to Nephites would be viewed through the lens of the Lamanites and they didn’t have much good to say about the Nephites. So, our Nephite heroes may not come through to us in anything like a positive light.

  10. Sorenson’s Mormon Codex is an exhaustive survey of the correspondences between the Book of Mormon and a mesoamerican setting, borne of decades of research and study. Heartland followers have much work to do if they want to be compared to the study and validation contained therein.

    • Brethren,

      The preponderance of documentary evidence is that it was Moroni who told Joseph Smith that the hill in Palmyra,
      New York was known ancient as Comorah. Any proposal, including Sorenson’s Codex, that ignores this fact is only imaginative speculation.

      One must begin with the premise that Moroni knew of what he spoke. Otherwise it is all an imaginative tale.

      • Theodore,

        In regards to the hill where Joseph was directed, the name “Cumorah” never came up. It seems that the name derived from either Oliver Cowdrey and/or David Whitmer. Since nobody argued with the point, the name stuck. Therefore, we think of the site in Palmyra as the Hill Cumorah, even if there is no record of Joseph or Moroni giving it that name.

        • Ike,

          What you have written is the promulgation of a myth produced by ignoring the documentary evidence for the purpose of supporting the Limited Mesoamerica theory. The facts are as follows:

          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. Any geographical setting that does no have the ancient Cumorah in the State of New York is imaginative speculation that cannot be true.

          • In order to locate the hill Cumorah in the Land of Promise, we first must locate the Land of Promise, not the hill. After all, numerous hills could be pointed out to be the original hill Cumorah. And for those who want to claim the upstate New York site of the hill where Joseph found the plates under Moroni’s direction, it is of interest that Joseph never called the hill by that name.

            Hill Cumorah in upstate New York. The hill was named by early Church members as a result of the plates found there by Joseph Smith. If you have ever actually noted the shape of the hill and try comparing that to descriptive information in the scriptural record, such as seeing from the top over a battlefield containing about 700,000 combatants.. you would find that the hill lacks those qualities.

            In fact, in Joseph’s account in the Pearl of Great Price, he 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 once, in an 1842 epistle written by Joseph Smith: “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah” (D&C 128:20). No other use of “Cumorah” has 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.

            At the present time, the Church has no official position on any New World location described in the Book of Mormon. There is no official revelation in the Church establishing the drumlin in New York as the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon where two nations were destroyed. It is true that a number of Church leaders in the past expressed the opinion that the hill in New York is the same hill described in the Book of Mormon, though many comments are contradictory, and on what basis the opinions are based is unknown. And it should be understood that no person’s personal comment, no matter their position, is binding on the Church or considered an official statement of the Church. Only new revelation following proper procedure, and being accepted by the Church as a whole, would clear up this point. And despite the claims of many Theorists, statements from Joseph Smith or others on geography, are not binding on the Church, since they have never been included in official Church statements.

            At what point in modern times this New York hill was first called Cumorah is difficult to determine. A late account from David Whitmer’s diary dated September 7-8, 1878, is the earliest possible association of the name with the New York hill, in which he wrote: “When I was returning to Fayette, with Joseph and Oliver, all of us riding in the wagon, Oliver and I on an old fashioned, wooden spring seat and Joseph behind us, while traveling along in a clear open place, a very pleasant, nice-looking old man [walking] in a clear open place, who saluted us with “Good morning, it is very warm,” at the same instant wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation, and by a sign from Joseph I invited him to ride if he was going our way, but he said very pleasantly, “No I am going to Cumorah.”

            This was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant, and as I looked enquiringly at Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared so that I did not see him again.”

            However, even this use of the term does not identify any specific site with Cumorah.
            In 1938 Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote an article published in the Deseret News arguing against what he then termed the “modernist” theory that the final battlefield of the Nephites and Jaredites may have been in Central America rather than in New York. In 1956 this article was included in a selection of Elder Smith’s writings compiled by his son-in-law Bruce R. McConkie. Although Elder Smith would become president of the church 32 years later, he apparently never revisited the question as president of the church. However, in a letter written to Fletcher B. Hammond, who argued emphatically for a Central American location and had sent Elder Smith a copy of his findings, the apostle explained, “I am sure this will be very interesting although I have never paid any attention whatever to Book of Mormon geography because it appears to me that it is inevitable that there must be a great deal of guesswork.” Apparently, he did not consider his 1938 argument as settled and definitive or as a doctrinal statement.

            Sidney B. Sperry, after whom an annual Brigham Young University symposium is named, was also one who initially supported the New York Cumorah view as that area being the final battlefield of the Nephites and Jaredites. During the 1960s, as he began to explore the issue, he came to a different conclusion. Reversing his earlier position, he wrote:

            “It is now my very carefully studied and considered opinion that the Hill Cumorah to which Mormon and his people gathered was somewhere in Middle America. The Book of Mormon evidence to this effect is irresistible and conclusive to one who will approach it with an open mind. This evidence has been reviewed by a few generations of bright students in graduate classes who have been given the challenge to break it down if they can. To date none has ever been able to do so.”

            Sperry, who was very familiar with what Joseph Fielding Smith had previously written, told him that he did not feel comfortable publishing something that contradicted what the apostle had written, but that he and other sincere students of the Book of Mormon had come to that conclusion only after serious and careful study of the text. As reported by Matthew Roper, Sperry said that Elder Smith then lovingly put his arm around his shoulder and said, “Sidney, you are as entitled to your opinion as I am to mine. You go ahead and publish it.”

            It seems clear, then, that Elder (later President) Smith did not regard his views as the product of revelation, nor did he regard it as illegitimate to have a different view of the matter.

            Another issue with this site is that it simply does not meet the Book of Mormon criteria as set down by Mormon. First of all, the hill Cumorah in the scriptural record is located to the north of the Narrow Neck of Land, in what is called the Land Northward.

            In Alma we find that “Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward” (Alma 63:5); and Mormon wrote that the narrow neck separated the Land Southward from the Land Northward, and was the distance in width that a Nephite could cover in a day and a half (Alma 22:32), and that the Land Southward was surrounded by water except for the Narrow Neck of Land. Not only was the Land of Desolation north of the narrow neck, but that it went so far northward it came into the old Jaredite land (Alma 22:30), and the land on the south was called Bountiful and the land on the north was called Desolation (Alma 22:31). The key understanding in this is that the Land of Cumorah was so far northward,” and this area of the Jaredite lands continued northward to the Land of Many Waters (Mormon 6:4), where the Hill Cumorah was located in the Land of Cumorah (Mormon 6:2).

            Mesoamerican Theorists want to claim that “the text requires a relatively short distance between Cumorah and the neck of land,” however, as can be seen, the scriptural record suggests otherwise. Consequently, along with the upstate New York area model, the Mesoamerican model simply does not fit the scriptural record in this regard.

          • Mr Nirom,

            You obviously totally ignored all the documentation above that establishes beyond reasonable doubt that it was Moroni, prior to the translation of the plates, who told Joseph Smith that the ancient name of the hill in Palmyra was “Cumorah.”

            Just take WW Phelp’s hymn by itself, published in 1835 in the Church’s first hymnal.

            “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 Moroni who said the record was hid in Cumorah.

            This hymn was sung at their meeting and all the members would have been familiar with it. This hymn was approved and published by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Hymns approved and published by our prophets become doctrine. For example, from where else do we learn the doctrine of our Heavenly Mother? The fact that Moroni told Joseph Smith that the ancient name of the hill in New York was Cumorah would have been doctrine to the Church from 1835. Now, nearly 200 years later, you and others want to ignore or change the doctrine because it does not fit your perception of the geography.

            Mr Niron, between believing Moroni or your philosophies, whom do you suggest I follow on this issue?

            • Theodore, you missed the point of Mr Nirom’s citations. The name Cumorah became attributed late and appears because it had become the way to refer to the hill. There is no early documentation (1830 and before) from Joseph indicating that he ever used that term. He came to it later. When you cite people like Whitmer, you are citing remembrances from 50 years later. That isn’t documentary evidence that the name was used earlier, only that it became associated and was used later. The documentation you note is all of that type. It is referential and later. It was unquestionably an early identification, but not one that can be traced directly to Joseph or from him back to Moroni.

          • Theodore said:

            “Hymns approved and published by our prophets become doctrine.”

            Theodore, a couple of things here. The Church publishes hymns, not the prophets. Second, where did you read something like that? It is certainly not in the Handbook of Instructions, nor in the scriptures. Do you have an authoritative statement from the church or one of its leaders stating that hymns published by the Church are to be taken as doctrine? You know, the Church has published “Popcorn popping” and “Give, said the little stream.” Are those doctrine too?

          • Brant, you wrote:
            “The name Cumorah became attributed late and appears because it had become the way to refer to the hill.”

            How can you write such an unsubstantiated speculative statement after just reading the documentation that the early saints by 1835 were singing in their congregations that it was Moroni who first called the hill Cumorah?

            The first quotation is in the first person and the others are from someone close to the Prophet quoting what he had told them. Five synoptic testimonies! There is a formula for computing the probability of the truth of an event based on the number of independent witnesses to the fact. With each witness the probability goes up. When you have five witnesses testifying to the same thing the probability of the fact being true reaches over 90%.

            What evidence do you have that Moroni did not tell Joseph Smith that the hill in New York was the ancient Cumorah? You have none. All you have is the circular reasoning that begins with the premise that the Limited Mesoamerica theory is true, therefore the ancient Cumorah has to be in Mesoamerica. You have too much invested in the Mesoamerica theory to even contemplate that it might not be true. Whereas I begin with the premise that Moroni told Joseph Smith that the ancient Cumorah was in New York and that Moroni knew what he was talking about and could not lie.

            • Theodore:
              You have the question wrong. It isn’t a question of proving that Joseph didn’t say there was a connection. It is a case of not finding any such connection until late. I am not the one to make the assertion. Reeve, Rex C., Jr., and Richard O. Cowan. “The Hill Called Cumorah.” In Regional Studies in LDS History: New York and Pennsylvania, edited by Larry C. Porter, Milton V. Backman Jr., and Susan Easton Black. Provo, Utah: BYU Department of Church History and Doctrine, 1992, 73–74:

              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.

              As I noted, it is easy to find later attributions by other people, and even later ones when Joseph adopted the terminology. There is no evidence that it originated with Joseph (nor, therefore, with Moroni).

          • Loren,

            “Hymns teach doctrine” (The Power of Hymns, Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Seventy, Ensign July 2001), is an adage that the Brethren have repeated over the years. As for “Popcorn” it is not in our standard hymnal. I prefer the example of “O My Father.” ☺

            The hymn in question was chosen by commandment from God to Emma and approved by the Prophet Joseph for publishing (see D&C 25:1)

          • Brant,

            Reeve and Cowan were simply in error in their statement and with it they have created an erroneous myth. I will demonstrate. They wrote:

            a) “At what point in modern times this New York hill was first called Cumorah is difficult to determine.” That is not difficult at all. Oliver Cowdery is recorded as referring to it as Cumorah in 1831 and the Saints were singing hymns about it in 1835.

            b)“In the Doctrine and Covenants the name “Cumorah” only appears one time…” So what? In the context of that scripture (D&C 128:20) the prophet specifically states that Moroni declared from Cumorah that the book was TO BE revealed. The inference is that Joseph knew the name of the hill before the record was revealed. This fact is supported by four other witnesses.

            c) “No other uses of “Cumorah” have been found in any other of Joseph Smith’s personal writings.” So what? It is found and supported by four other witnesses who either directly or in context state that it was Moroni who first called the hill Cumorah.
            The evidence is all that it was Moroni who told Joseph Smith that the ancient name of the hill in New York was Cumorah.

            If you had this much evidence that Moroni told Joseph Smith anything about geography in Mesoamerica you would consider it a slam dunk. Cumorah is the only geographical location from the Book of Mormon that we do know by revelation directly from an angel who was there. If you reject this revelation you are doomed to never understand the geography of the Book of Mormon.

            • Theodore, we clearly hold different opinions. I notice that your objection to Reeve and Cowan (historians who have looked at the documents) is basically that they are wrong because they don’t agree with you. I have seen the same kind of evidence in the historical development of the use of Cumorah as they have, so I’ll go with their conclusions. You will, of course, continue with your own. I don’t think we need to press this issue any more since there is obviously not going to be any resolution. Readers will have enough information to make their personal decisions, which is the value of these discussions.

          • Theodore

            “Teaching” doctrine and “becoming” doctrine are very different things, as I am sure you are aware. Sunday school and institute manuals teach doctrine but never establish or create doctrine.

            Why do you limit “doctrinal” music to the hymn books in the chapel? Why not include the children’s song book? It is also an official church publication. But, since you are making the rules I will live by them. How about the last hymn in the hymn book, “God save the King.” Is that doctrine too, or only in England?

          • Loren,

            The hymn, “God Save The King” would not be appropriate to sing in America but is sung the LDS congregations in England, and in Canada near the First of July, Canada Day. The footnote on that hymn references the doctrine found in the Twelfth Article of Faith and in Psalms 33:12.

            Perhaps my original statement on this subject was too strong and definitive, so please allow me to modify it somewhat. “Hymns approved and published by our prophets MAY become doctrine.” “O My Father” is the prime example, as the doctrine of our Heavenly Mother is found nowhere else in the Standard Works.

            The hymn I was referencing would be a prime candidate for becoming doctrine or scripture as it quotes the message of an angel of God (see also D&C 68:4).

            “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,

            When Moroni came down he said, “a record was hid in Cumorah.”

            • Theodore:

              You won’t find anyone suggesting that early Saints didn’t identify the NY hill as Cumorah. They certainly did. It entered the vocabulary of the Saints early and became pervasive. What it became is not evidence of its origin.

          • Loren,

            BTW, that hymn message and quotation was perpetuated by Parley P Pratt in our hymn, 328, An Angel From On High:

            An angel from on high
            The long, long silence broke;
            Descending from the sky,
            These gracious words he spoke:
            Lo! in Cumorah’s lonely hill
            A sacred record lies concealed.
            Lo! in Cumorah’s lonely hill
            A sacred record lies concealed.

            Notice the quotation from Moroni, the words he spoke, “Lo! in Cumorah’s lonely hill
            A sacred record lies concealed.”

            The recorded sources all agree that it was Moroni, prior to the translation of the gold plates who referred to the hill in New York as Cumorah. You can ignore it if you must, but you cannot refute it.

          • It does not matter how many people say it.. or believe it.. if it is based on a false premise.. it is still false.

            Who ever came up with the idea that the hill in NY where the plates were buried should be called Cumorah.. is an ok idea. But to then go and say that hill called Cumorah is the same hill.. has no foundation. It was never said that Moroni buried the plates at Cumorah. It did say that Mormon did.. but the plates that Moroni had where not the plates that Mormon buried. The Saints can call the hill Cumorah all they want to.. make up songs about it.. talk about it.. and some can even try to convice others that it is the same hill… but that would not make it true.

            The Hill Cumorah was a very bill hill. Big enough that even the King of the Lamanites knew where it was and agreed to allow the Nephites to gather there for the last battle.

            Find the right land of promise.. and the hill Cumorah will be there. And so will all the other tell tale signs.

            Ask yourself.. if Hagoth’s ships sailed North.. just where did they sail to?

          • The Jaredite final battle commenced at the hill the Jaredites called Ramah, which was the same hill the Nephites called Cumorah (Ether 15:11).

            About this hill both sides gathered together for four years all the Jaredites left on the land except Ether (Ether 15:12, 14). Here tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Jaredites died in battle during seven days of horrific fighting leaving only 59 still alive (Ether 15:15-25).

            At this same site, we know that some 300,000 or more Nephites and Lamanites died in battle.

            Yet, not a single artifact has been found—not arrowheads, nothing in this area where farmers have plowed the land for a century and more.

            Certainly one would think that something would have been found, but locals are adamant that nothing has ever been found on their properties.

            Again.. the hill named Cumorah in NY is NOT the same hill that is described in the Book of Mormon.

          • Oliver Cowdery wrote about approaching the hill Cumorah, “We were watching for the highest hill in the neighborhood, but forgot we were approaching it from the south side. “Where is the Hill?” we asked our driver. “There it is,” he said, pointing to a low hill gradually rising at its summit to the northward. It was only one of many hills; not a series of foot hills tied or held together with slight elevations, but rising, most of them from the plain, in varied and graceful lines” (Susa Gates Young, “A Visit to the Hill Cumorah”).

            It is the highest of several such hills in the area, but it is not the type of hill most would think it to be. As one early visitor described it: “Commences to rise away south and is highest near the north end. Here it ends rather abruptly, and the descent on the northwest and east is quite steep and, being covered with grass, slippery.” At the time early church leaders visited the area, the hill was planted over with corn.

            According to Oliver Cowdery, “The whole of the eastern and southern sides is planted out to corn; and along the very summit, which is quite narrow—at the north stood great shocks of corn, looking like stacked guns in the red sunset.”
            As can be seen, the rise of the hill from the sides is quote gradual, and not at all difficult to climb, and when covered with trees, appears as a very low hill.

            From all these descriptions, we find that this hill in New York is 1) unimpressive, 2) one of many similar hills in the area, and 3) only about 130 feet in height, with a slow, gradual rise at one end.

            All of this should suggest that it could not have been the Hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon, which was such a prominent hill that it was known to the Lamanite king, who was not from this area, nor had the Lamanites ever been in the Land Northward until 360 A.D. (Mormon 2:29), and not near the northern portion of the land until around 380 A.D. (Mormon 5:6), prior to the letter Mormon wrote to the Lamanite king around 384 A.D. (Mormon 6:2). Since the king agreed to stage the battle in “the land of Cumorah, by a hill which was called Cumorah,” it would have to have been a hill of some significance for the king to know of it and obviously different from what lay around it.

            Now, if we consider all this in light of the scriptural record, we find that:
            1) Mormon wrote to the Lamanite king offering to gather at this hill area for a final battle (Mormon 6:2-3);

            2) The Nephites pitched their tents around about the hill Cumorah awaiting the Lamanite army (Mormon 6:4);

            3) The Nephites awaited the Lamanite army on the level ground to the side of the hill, which must have been treeless for two reasons: a) There were 230,000 Nephite warriors; and b) They could see the size of the Lamanite army approaching so much so that “every soul was filled with terror because of the greatness of their numbers” (Mormon 6:8);

            4) After the first day of battle, the Nephite force of nearly a quarter of a million people were killed, the 24 remaining were at “the top of the hill Cumorah” (Mormon 6:11);

            5) From the top of the hill, they could observe a large enough area where 230,000 warriors lay dead on the ground (perhaps more if the women and children were not part of the military figure of 10,000, which seems likely);

            6) The victorious Lamanite army withdrew after the battle and did not follow the 24 surviving Nephites up onto the hill Cumorah.
            Now if we consider this, we should realize that the hill Cumorah would have to be: a) very large, b) very tall, c) difficult to climb, d) offer formidable defenses, or all of these. First of all, it is impossible to observe a battlefield where a quarter of a million people were killed from a low-lying hill such as the one in upstate New York. Secondly, what would keep the Lamanites from finishing off the job rather than “returning to their camps,” unless a) the hill offered a difficult climb at night, or b) the hill was so large, it would have been difficult to find the survivors in the dark, or c) the hill offered so much coverage that survivors could not have been located. None of these apply to the hill Cumorah in upstate New York. It is a small hill, with no escarpments, sheer sides, depressions or other defensive or hard-to-find locations. It has been described, as other drumlin hills in the area, as looking like an egg half-buried lengthwise in the ground.

            In addition, and one of the important factors to be considered, is that the Hill Cumorah in the Land of Cumorah, was “in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains” (Mormon 6:4).

            While many places can be found where waters (lakes) and rivers abound, the differing factor involved in this Land of Many Waters, are the “fountains.” Fountains are areas where water bubbles up from the ground, where water sources begin, from which flows the rivers and forms the lakes. These fountains, generally called fountain heads today, are the sources of rivers and streams, typically at higher elevations, such as the source of the Galilee and the Jordan, where the fountain head is located at the foot of a limestone cliff near the town of Banias, or the one at Tell-el-Kadi which emerges from its rocky birth-place and flows in a strong torrent over a rocky bed fringed with oleanders, flow past the ancient city and falls from this point to become the Jordan River which flows to the Dead Sea.

            El-Sededon, the fountain at Tell El-Kady, bursts forth one of the largest fountains in Syria, and what is said to be the largest single fountain in the world, which rushes across the plain southward in a deep, rapid river and is called the “lower springs of the Jordan”

            Nowhere around the hill Cumorah in upstate New York is there a river source, or fountains. Any waters around the Finger Lakes flow from those lakes northward into Lake Erie or Ontario, as has been the case since the last ice age and glacier melts.

            The point of all of this, and of all of my little postings, is simply this—

            Ff it does not agree with the scriptural record, then it is not the place of the Book of Mormon.

            As for this hill Cumorah, one will have to look elsewhere than upstate New York for the Land of Promise.

          • Brethren,

            A brief summary if I may:

            The Parley P Pratt hymn, “An Angel From On High” (Hymn 13 and 328), which was first published in the Second Edition of LDS Hymns in 1840, brings a total of six predominant witnesses of the early restoration who testify that in their minds it was the Angel Moroni who told Joseph Smith, prior to the translation of the gold plates, that Cumorah was the name of the hill in Palmyra, New York. They are Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, W.W Phelps, Parley P Pratt, Lucy Mack Smith and David Whitmer. If we assign only a minimal 20% probability of being correct to each testimony, their combined weight of probability of being correct is over 100%. The only evidence produced to date that is contrary to this is given by Reeve and Cowan, who after a superficial examination of only some of the evidence stated, “At what point in modern times this New York hill was first called Cumorah is difficult to determine.”

            It would appear that any geographical setting for the Book of Mormon, which does not include the New York Cumorah, can not be true.

            • Theodore:
              For some reason you are missing the importance of dates. Certainly by the time that we have these hymns and the remembrances (some of which are almost 50 years after the fact), the name Cumorah was firmly established. That is not in question. It is not in question that Joseph eventually used Cumorah to refer to the hill, just as he eventually used urim and thummim to refer to the interpreters (that one we can trace to Phelps and then to tradition–it didn’t begin with Joseph, but he did eventually adopt the term that everyone else was using).

              The timing is important. Later witnesses to the name simply tell us what we already know, which is that tradition has long associated the NY hill with Cumorah. That is not the same as early evidence that the identification came from Joseph or from Moroni to him. That evidence is lacking. You might argue that “people close to Joseph” used the term–and you would be right. However, we already have evidence that Joseph picked up terminology from them and didn’t contradict them. Their use does not place the origin of the term with Joseph. If Joseph did declare it to be the Book of Mormon Cumorah, we have no evidence the corroborates that hypothesis. We do have evidence that Joseph did not use the term until much later than others around him were using it. If Joseph had declared it, we would expect that he wouldn’t vary and he would use the term from the start. He didn’t. That strongly points to a later identification that came from the community of the faithful who had read the Book of Mormon and make the association according to what they thought they read in the book. However, even in the Book of Mormon, it specifically states that the record given to Joseph was not buried in Cumorah with the rest of the plates (see Moroni 6:6).

          • Theodore

            Thanks for your reply. The footnotes to “God save the king,” as you are aware, are not part of the hymn. While I know that “we believe in being subject to kings,” there is nothing doctrinal about the idea of kingship. In fact, the whole idea of a king goes very much against the doctrines taught in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon. Samuel, Nephi, Mosiah, and others all preached against the potential evils of kingship. As the brother of Jared said, “Surely this thing leadeth into captivity.”

            My point in discussing this is not to criticize the idea of a monarchy. Rather, it is to point out that although hymns teach doctrine, not everything in every hymn is doctrinal.

            The idea of a heavenly mother was not original with Eliza Snow when the penned the words to “O my Father.” First, it would not be her place to introduce new doctrine for the church. Second, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism includes this, “As early as 1839 the Prophet Joseph Smith taught the concept of an eternal mother, as reported in several accounts from that period. Out of his teaching came a hymn that Latter-day Saints learn, sing, quote, and cherish, “O My Father,” by Eliza R. Snow.” So, the hymn did not originate this doctrine since it was merely a distillation of Joseph’s prior teachings. Third, it is not the Lord’s pattern to deliver new revelations to his children through hymns written by miscellaneous persons.

            You cite Moroni as having said “a record was hid in Cumorah.” The problem is that these are not the words of Moroni. They are the words of a song written by an unknown author in the 1835 hymnal. The words of the hymn also say, “A heavenly treasure; a book full of merit: It speaks from the dust by the pow’r of the Spirit;” But it was not the Spirit who called it “a book full of merit.” Again, those are the words of the author of the hymn.

            Theodore, I must side with Brant, Ike and MrNirom on this issue. Words in a hymn do not and cannot make something doctrinal. Hymns are merely reflections of doctrines, beliefs and traditions.

          • Brant,

            Oliver Cowdery is recorded in 1831 by Parley P Pratt as stating:
            “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.”
            This is a direct quote and did not come from someones erroneous tradition.

            W.W. Phelps wrote in 1835, with the Prophet’s sanction:
            “An angel came down from the mansions of glory,
            AND TOLD THAT A RECORD WAS HID IN CUMORAH,”
            This is another quote stating the same thing.

            The mother of Joseph Smith recalls him using the term Cumorah several times before he received the plates.

            Etc. Etc.

            As I understand your assertion, these statements are all attributed to “someone’s” erroneous tradition. But this is all a hopeful supposition on your part because there is no evidence to support it.

            And Brant, your bringing up Mormon 6:6 as evidence that the plates given to Moroni could not have been buried in Cumorah is absurd reasoning. There is nothing in Mormon’s statement that precludes Moroni from years later burring those plates in the same hill that his father hid the other plates.

            • Two things. One, I’m still not disputing that other people used Cumorah for the NY hill. They did. Your evidence shows that. Agreed. What it does not do is tie it to Joseph. You can assert that Joseph must have told them, but that is only an assertion and the evidence from the way Joseph referred to the hill contradicts that hypothesis.

              Two, of course it is possible that Moroni went back to the hill years later and deposited the plates. Notice, however, that we are back to assertions. It isn’t stated in the Book of Mormon. The only textual evidence is that they were not in Cumorah.

              If you really need to continue to make your point, please find direct references to Joseph Smith using Cumorah to identify the NY hill where the textual evidence comes before 1831 and is contemporary rather than an reminiscence that is subject to the intervening tradition.

              You may certainly continue to hold your hypothesis, but you cannot assert that documentary evidence supports it. You have the wrong people saying it at the wrong times.

          • Brant,

            Please allow me to post a closing comment on this issue.

            Almost all of the early saints recorded uses of the word “Cumorah” are in context with Moroni. If anyone made a mistake in the use of the name it could only have been Moroni.

            Your personal requirement that you will not accept anything other than an early first person statement from Joseph is your prerogative, but it is an unrealistic and impossible standard of proof, which does not exist. If it did we would not be having this discussion.

            As for requiring textural proof as to where Moroni buried the plates, how could Moroni have written where he buried them, after he had buried them? Mormon could only comment on what he did with the gold plates, not what his son would later do with them.

            • Let’s all consider this the closing post on this particular topic. Thanks.

  11. I once had an Institute teacher propose this idea in class about four years ago. For myself, I haven’t discounted the idea entirely, but at this point everything anyone has put forth has largely been unsubstantiated. Meanwhile, there is fair amount of correlations and/or evidences that point to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec that I personally find compelling.

    One thing seems pretty certain, however. The Nephites in principle very likely didn’t live in North America, South America, Malaysia or even Baja California. This doesn’t rule out your theory, but then again I don’t see a lot to support your theory to begin with.

    Either way, I’m all for digging deeper – or in your case, (SCUBA) diving deeper. It’s all race to find that sign that reads: Welcome to Zarahemla. Population: 365,321.

  12. Has anyone thought that maybe the BofM location might be in the Gulf of Mexico, underwater? Would that explain the lack of physical evidence of the BofM civilization? Maybe it’s spiritual and not physical as another alternative?

  13. Ike has this sorted rather well. To borrow an old observation about a certain Roman Emperor, these folks who opine on tours end up fiddling while Rome burns. They can, I suppose, be forgiven, since they neither know that they fiddle, nor that Rome burns. So we should, I believe, both mourn for those who get taken in by those making a living in the LDS tour business, and those driven to peddle rubbish. But many of those caught in this web will probably remember little of what they were told a month after their feel-good experience other than, unfortunately, a deepened hostility towards to serious scholarship on issues like DNA and the Book of Mormon..

    In addition, pushing mounds, and fake Michigan relics, phony DNA proofs and other bits of rubbish is game in which more than merely Rodney Meldrum are currently engaged. He is flanked by Wayne N. May, Bruce H. Porter, and others (who are often involved in the LDS travel business).

    • When I first read your comments about the travel business, I thought you were talking about the tours to Central and South America also hosted by LDS travel companies and also claiming tours of Book of Mormon lands. The fact that they support themselves by offering tours of what they believe to be Book of Mormon Lands is not a problem. I’m fine with that. I’m not fine with your insinuation that such activity automatically makes them snake oil salesmen. They have every right to their opinion just as you have yours about where the Book of Mormon lands are.

      One thing is certain, there is no such thing as “solid grounding in scholarly research.” It doesn’t exist. Few things change faster than scholarly research. What will you do if the Heartland theory is right and the Central America theory is wrong? Hopefully, nothing because it doesn’t make any difference.

      As far as I know, there is only one absolute certainty when it comes to Book of Mormon lands… and that is, the Golden Plates came out from it’s resting place in a hill in New York. After that, the Book of Mormon geography is a guessing game, grounded somewhat in scholarly research.

      That’s my 2 cents.

      • Yaya,

        I ran into the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (bmaf.org) about three years ago wherein most people tend to agree on a Mesoamerican setting for the Nephite culture. But, as I try to gauge intellectual honesty, what draws me to BMAF is the considerable amount of open and vigorous debate even within the forum itself. Such a debate is indicative of a thinking body that isn’t afraid to have their ideas challenged, and also a group that is at least somewhat more willing to have their minds changed on the subject.

        I will admit that it will take a considerable effort to change my mind against the general Mesoamerican model. But your comment is important, and one that I must always keep in mind.

  14. Loren:

    I very much appreciate your comment. I am confident that Rodney Meldrum is sincere, though both wrong and incorrigible. He has joined with two other fellows to promote, among other thing, fake Michigan artifacts. All three employ the flourishing LDS travel industry to peddle their ideology. Some of the evidence can be found in the first issue of the FARMS Review for 2010. For my introduction to that issue, see http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/22/1/S00001-5176a0e200ca31Midgley.pdf. For the first in a series of essays setting out the long list of problems in Meldrum’s ideology and hence his “movement,” have a close look at Gregory L. Smith, “Often in Error, Seldom in Doubt: Rod Meldrum and Book of Mormon DNA,” FARMS Review 22/1 (2012): 17-161. See

    The fact is that one can be sincere, and devout, and still very wrong and poorly informed. I urge you to read the last paragraph in Greg Smith article. I agree with it fully. I hope this clears up any misunderstanding.

    I must add that one cannot separate a person from their ideas and hence also with the soundness and coherence of their opinions. Latter-day Saints have a tendency to flinch when they see this being done. We tend to prefer “why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along” style discourse. This, unfortunately, opens the door to hucksters. My argument in my essay cited above is that we can’t make progress without weeding the garden.

      • Louis

        Thanks. I had previously read Greg Smith’s paper, but not yours. I am in agreement with both of you. Meldrum’s approach of providing a long list of “testimonials” and bios of supporters (perhaps in an attempt to dismiss the need for sound research?) seems very similar to the approach taken by the “Ordain Women” movement. “How can all of those people be wrong?” seems to be the desired effect.

        While I am in agreement with you on these issues, I still do not understand the passion that seems to underlie your comments. Is your concern that Meldrum, as a “pied piper,” will lead away unsuspecting members who will eventually lose their testimony when Meldrum’s theories come to naught? Or is your concern with Meldrum himself?

        • Loren,

          I won’t speak for Louis personally, but if I were to answer your question, the answer would be: yes, and yes, and then some.

          Meldrum has asserted that if you accept that Joseph is the prophet of the restoration, then you must believe his (Meldrum’s) theory for the Heartland. He has asserted that if you believe in genetics, (but not really because Meldrum flat out mocks evolution) then you will see the obvious genetic correlation between the Hopewell tribe and the Middle East.

          It doesn’t matter if the evidence doesn’t really back up these claims. It doesn’t matter that Meldrum supports himself financially proclaiming this theory. It doesn’t matter that he fails to get any meaningful scholars to back him up on any of his claims. It doesn’t matter that Meldrum openly mocks scholars who have dedicated their lives to relevant fields of scholarship when they fail to fall lock step into his propositions.

          Meanwhile, hundreds (maybe thousands) of Latter-day Saints are contributing financial resources to Meldrum and his organization.

          There are those who find themselves offended and/or annoyed at Meldrum’s antics. I can’t help but agree with them.

          • Ike and Louis

            Thanks for your responses. I agree that Meldrum is arrogant, unbending and dogmatic. I believe that this is the result of his lack of a real doctrinal, archaeological, and scientific foundation upon which to stand. I get that.

            However, the passionate personal rhetoric still evades me. I understand attacking the message. That is fair and appropriate. But, I think that the best way to deal with the Meldrum’s of the world is to ignore them.

        • Loren has a good point. One must constantly be on guard against the unruly passions, which are often base and debasing, or. to roughly paraphrase Aristotle, passion perverts even the best of men. But David Hume argued, and I believe correctly, that reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions. The question then becomes sorting for ourselves the passions. If what drives us is something like the Greek words that sometimes get rendered into English as “likeness” or “affection,” then we are probably close to being in the right “way,” which is also called “light” and “truth.” Is it not the case that the light must shine into dark places, or the way is obscured?

          • Loren,

            To ignore the Heartland movement would be folly. They have had fantastic success in the recent years, and given what has already been established in the discussion on this forum, just letting it go could have potentially devastating consequences to the fields of academia and possibly even the religious body of the church.

            As of late I have wondered into a few different forums wherein I engage the debate with some vigor. Although I don’t pull punches, I am very careful no to step into the ad hominem. I certainly haven’t forgotten that I’m talking to my fellow Mormons.

          • Ike

            If you reread my comments you will notice that I believe that it is fair and appropriate to attack the message when it is wrong, which in the heartland case would embrace “the movement” also. My problem is with personal attacks against Meldrum or others in the movement. I believe that that is when we cross the line into ad hominem attacks.

  15. It seems to me that some turn to tours in place of the work of grounding solid scholarship on the Book of Mormon in what it says about locations and distances and so forth. Sometimes out of guilt for not having taken the contents of the Book of Mormon sufficiently seriously, those with disposable income seem vulnerable to sales pitches that promise to provide (for a price) a fine feel-good experience.

    In this essay Neal Rappleye has done an excellent job sorting the mistakes made by those essentially in the travel business who sell Book of Mormon geographies by claiming that Joseph Smith through divine special revelations provided the Saints with a full, final and fixed geography that just so happen to fit their travel brochure. Without a bit of shame for incoherence, they also grant that the Church (meaning the Brethren) have never endorsed any Book of Mormon geography, and have, instead, welcomed among the faithful serious academic work on these matters.

    • Louis

      I believe that I am in agreement with you that Meldrum’s approach to Book of Mormon geography is not scholarly, scientific or even faith building. Having perused (in the literal meaning of the word) his site, I find little of real value. But, I am not convinced that he is a huckster selling snake oil to unsuspecting buyers. He may truly believe the things he promotes. I am curious why and how you have formed such strong opinions about his “movement” as he calls it, which also appear to spread to him personally. Perhaps I am reading your comments incorrectly. If so, please correct me.

  16. Neal,

    Among other things, you have made a good case that Joseph Smith supported the idea of Book of Mormon events in Mesoamerica. An equally good case can be made for the idea that he also supported Book of Mormon events in the “Heartland.”

    These two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

    • Theodore,

      I agree that Joseph Smith also made statements more consistent with the “Heartland” model. My point is he did not exclusively support the Heartland model, and that those who so argue are misleading and misusing the evidence. Also, I think I made it abundantly clear that I do not think Joseph Smith’s words should be used as evidence for either location, contra the views of both Lund and Meldrum.

    • Theodore:

      Why adopt Rodney Meldrum’s label for an amorphous area that includes the area around the Great Lakes and also the Mississippi Valley? “Heartland” of what? The United States of America? But not the American continent? Meldrum operates on extreme American exceptionalist assumptions, which provides much of his appeal. I have labeled this a “jingo geography”–that is, his insistence that the peoples mentioned in the Book of Mormon must all necessarily have been located in what are now the boundaries of the United States. This also leads to some annoying anomalies. For instance, the indigenous people of Hawaii presumably both have and can correctly claim the promises that attend what he considers the promised land, but their close cousins in New Zealand and French Polynesia cannot, since they are not part of the USA. And First Nation peoples in Canada are not children of promise, but presumably the Native Americans in Alaska are. Given his ideology, American Samoans are in, while the larger population of Samoans are out.

      This sort of thing seems to work well when one is making a living selling tours, waving the flag, promoting patriotic paintings and joining others in promoting fake Michigan relics, and exhibiting what presumably was Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo Legion sword, and so forth. But it is not serious scholarship and does not contribute to the conversation.

      • Louis,

        I also do not agree with the “Heartland” theory. That is why I put it in quotes.

        After three years of research matching the text of the Book of Mormon to the geography and the facts on the ground, I am convinced that the saga in America began on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica and ended at Cumorah in Upstate New York.

        This North American setting, like the Book of Mormon itself, can be ignored, but I do not believe that it can be refuted. I have a high degree of confidence that it is true.

        • Just some questions I have:

          “What makes you think the seeds from Jerusalem (1 Nephi 18:24), a Mediterranean Climate, would have grown at all in 600 B.C. in North America.. or even Mesoamerica?

          “Where are the two animals in North America or in Mesoamerica the Jaredites brought to, or domesticated from, those animals they brought to the Land of Promise? (Ether 9:19).
          Two unknown animals linked with these more common beasts of burden, the horse, ass, and elephant?

          “Where are the ‘mountains whose height is great’ that Samuel the Lamanite prophesied about in the Land of Promise?” Samuel proclaimed: “and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains, whose height is great” (Helaman 14:23).

          “Using your model of the Land of Promise, what makes you think that the beleaguered Nephite Army, having retreated all across the entire Land of Promise from the Land of Zarahemla (Mormon 1:10) clear to the Land Northward before an overwhelming Lamanite army they had seldom been able to stand against in battle, would suddenly decide to stop and fight a final battle when they could have continually retreated northward into Mexico and the area of present day United States?”

        • You posted some time ago, but perhaps you are still following the comments here. I wondered, why the western coast of Costa Rica? Why not the eastern coast of Costa Rica? Or Nicaragua? Or the northern coast of Honduras?

          It seems to me that a genuinely valuable contribution of the “Heartland” theorists, in all of their several varieties, is the idea that Tribe Lehi may have followed the currents and prevailing winds by traveling West from Oman, coming into the Americas by way of the Cape of Good Hope rather than through the South Pacific. Looking at Ocean currents, that makes sense to me (Somali -> Agulhas -> Benguela -> Atlantic South -> Guiana -> Caribbean, which would still land the party in Mesoamerica). And that voyage could have been completed between the same year’s harvest and planting, which seems to be what the text suggests.

          Do you think they sailed East from Oman? And if so, is that based on tradition, or is there something in the text? I am genuinely curious.

          • Russell, thank you for your sincere question.

            In Alma chapter twenty-two, Aaron taught the gospel in the Land of Nephi to the Lamanite king, father of King Lamoni. While Mormon was writing this abridgement for us, he paused in the narrative and gave us a condensed description of the entire geographical area of the Lamanites and the Nephites. The relevant portion to your question is verse 28:

            “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; yea, and also on the west of the land of Zarahemla, in the borders by the seashore, and on the west in the land of Nephi, in the place of their fathers’ first inheritance, and thus bordering along by the seashore.” (Alma 22:28)

            Notice that Lehi’s landing was west of the land of Zarahemla, and by the seashore, west in the land of Nephi. This is as far west as it gets and therefore somewhere along the Pacific Coast of the Americas.

            The Arabian Bountiful has been well established as the place now known as Kharfot, near the border of Yemen and Oman, where Wadi Sayq meets the Arabian Sea. Evidence for this location as Bountiful was first presented by Warren and Michaela Aston in their book, “In The Footsteps of Lehi: New Evidence for Lehi’s Journey across Arabia to Bountiful.” To get from the Arabian Peninsula to the Pacific Coast of the Americas Lehi and his family had to have sailed east, being guided by the Liahona for favorable winds and currents.

            In his description of their arrival at the Promised Land, Nephi wrote that their seeds grew exceedingly and they were blessed with abundance. He described beasts in the forests of every kind, and all manner of wild animals. Nephi wrote that they found all manner of ore, “both of gold, and silver, and of copper” (1 Nephi 18:23-25).

            That Lehi’s landing was in North America rather than on the South American Pacific Coast is supported by the fact that the Panama land-bridge between the continents is almost impenetrable. For example, the 16,000 mile Pan American Highway that runs from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean to the southern tip of Argentina, has only one break—the fifty-four mile gap through the Darien Jungle between Panama City, Panama, and Columbia, South America. Modern equipment and engineering have not yet been able to build a permanent road through this dense swamp and formidable growth. In 1854 an American Expedition searching for a route for the Panama Canal could not hack their way through this jungle. They became so lost and hungry in this forty-mile wide isthmus that they ate their dead. If Lehi had landed in South America, the Nephites would not likely to have able to migrate to North America by land.

            The first things to look for in searching for Lehi’s Landing are the ore deposits. US Geological Survey maps show that from Mexico to Panama there is only one spot on the Pacific coast where there are known deposits of “gold, silver and copper,” all within a radius of thirty miles of a coastal point. That point is the middle of the Pacific coastline of Costa Rica.

            The second major point for Costa Rica is that the almond tree is indigenous to the Levant of the Middle East, and is mentioned ten times in the Old Testament. However, the almond is also considered to be native to Costa Rica. Lehi’s family brought many fruit and grain seeds and planted them in the Promised Land and the almond probably would have been among them (1 Nephi 8:1, 18:24).

            Costa Rica has all the other features Nephi described. It has fertile soil and 150 inches of rainfall per year. Fruit trees such as avocado, nance and guapinol, as well as tubers such as yucca and “name,” are indigenous to Costa Rica. Today the rich soils produce bananas, pineapple, oranges, nuts, coconuts, yams, and a long list of exotic fruits and vegetables. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve has two thousand plant species with various orchids, and a hundred species of wild animals. There are eight hundred species of birds in Costa Rica. Nephi’s description of all manner of wild animals still holds true today.

            The most probable point for Lehi and his family to land would have been on the lush Pacific costal strip where the fresh water of the Rio Grande Tárcoles River flows into the Gulf of Nicoya, near the present town of Tárcoles. When Lehi left Jerusalem, the first place he camped was beside a river of fresh water where it emptied into the Red Sea. He named the river, Laman, and admonished this son to be “like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness!”(1 Nephi 2:6-9) When Lehi landed in the Promised Land he surely would have settled his family along a fresh water river, not far from the sea. They may have sailed a short distance up the River Grande Tárcoles and found a good settlement site on the rich flat soil on the north bank of the river.

            After eight years in the desert, and traveling more than half way around the world by sea, the tropical paradise of Costa Rica would have been an unimaginable fulfillment of the promised blessing to Lehi and his family.

          • (Replying to Theodore Brandley @7:10 am)

            Thank you! That’s exactly what I was asking (and a very thorough response).

          • Theodore.. I am a bit confused here: You said:

            “Notice that Lehi’s landing was west of the land of Zarahemla, and by the seashore, west in the land of Nephi. This is as far west as it gets and therefore somewhere along the Pacific Coast of the Americas.”

            The scripture (Alma 22:28) does NOT say that Lehi’s landing was west of the land of Zarahemla.

            Please… let us read it again:

            Now the more idle part of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness and lived in tents.
            And they were spread through the wilderness on the west in the land of Nephi,
            yea, and also on the west of the land of Zarahemla in the borders by the seashore,
            and on the west in the land of Nephi in the place of their fathers’ first inheritance,
            and thus bordering along by the seashore.

            In other words.. The more IDLE parts of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness and lived in tents.

            And…
            1. they were spread through the wilderness on the west in the land of Nephi

            and…
            2. also on the west of the land of Zarahemla in the borders by the seashore.

            and….
            3. on the west in the land of Nephi in the place of their fathers’ first inheritance.

            and…
            4. thus bordering along by the seashore.

            They were in four different places.

            The land of Nephi is south of Zarahemla. Just read the preceding verse.. verse 27.. and you will see that.

            First look in verse 1.. it tells you there where Aaron was. “he was led by the Spirit to the land of Nephi”.

            And in verse 27.. it says: the king sent a proclamation throughout all the land, 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, 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 the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla.

            So I don’t know how you got the landing spot west of Zarahemla.

          • MrNirom,

            There is no question that the Land of Nephi was south of the Land of Zarahemla.

            “Now the land south was called Lehi, and the land north was called Mulek, which was after the son of Zedekiah; for the Lord did bring Mulek into the land north, and Lehi into the land south.” (Helaman 6:10)

            But there is also evidence that the land Nephi was also west of the land of Zarahemla, making it actually southwest of the land of Zarahemla.

            You are correct in your reading of Alma 22:28 in that it does not say that the land of Nephi was west of the land Zarahemla. What it does establish is that there was a wilderness west of the land of Zarahemla inhabited by Lamanites. We get a fuller picture by combining this with other passages. In Alma chapter 2 for example we read of a horrendous battle between the Nephites and the dissenting Amlicites at the hill of Amnihu, on the east of the river Sidon and south of Zarahemla. Alma and his armies drove them west across the river Sidon and sent spies to follow them. The Amlicites connected with an army of Lamanites who were coming in from the “course of the land of Nephi” (Alma 2:24). This indicates that the trail to the land of Nephi went through the wilderness on the west of the land of Zarahemla. That this wilderness was quite extensive is demonstrated later in this same battle when the Lamanites and Amlicites were driven west and north through this wilderness until they came to another wilderness called the wilderness of Hermounts (Alma 2:36-37).

            • I do note that this speaks of where a trail might be, not the cit from which the combatants arrived at that trail, nor that they had come from Nephi.

          • I agree, but the main point is that the trail that led to the land of Nephi went through the wilderness on the west of the land of Zarahemla, not the south. Additionally, the land of Nephi could not be straight south of the land of Zarahemla because there is a sea to the south of the land of Zarahemla. Alma 22:27 notes that there was a narrow strip of wilderness south of the land of Zarahemla which ran east and west, and the seashore was on the other side of that narrow strip. The textual evidence is that the land of Nephi was southwest of the land of Zarahemla.

      • I agree that US Mormons often tend to read “USA” into all or most Book of Mormon references about latter-day Gentile nation(s), even when other interpretations might make more sense, and I have often been guilty of this myself. About a year ago, it struck me that the “mighty nation” referenced 1 Nephi 22:7 may well have been the Spanish Empire rather than the relatively small, young, and weak United States [link removed]. I suspect other Book of Mormon verses could likewise have broader or different interpretations than those we tend to hear in the US.

    • Those who probably are very sincere writers have tried to place the events depicted in the Book of Mormon in the Malaysian Peninsula, Peru (in one version Peru was an island until Jesus appeared in America. One writer has even insisted on Abyssinia in Africa, and another bit of speculation, presumably ground in a revelation from God, asserts that large portions of the events depicted in the Book of Mormon took place in the Gulf of Mexico. This one ignores geology entirely and hence also the depth of the Gulf. Theodore Brandley has his own hemispheric geography. He has the Jaredites landing in northern New Jersey, and the Lehi colony landing in Costa Rica and then the Nephites and Lamanites in lockstep spreading north and northeast, where the Nephite nation came to its final end at the drumlin that he claims, on the basis of hymns and hints, was the Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

      When speculating about the location of events in the Book of Mormon, recently it has become both common and, I believe, quite fruitful to focus on the host of geographical detains in that text. When serious efforts have been made to trace and understand Lehi’s flight from Jerusalem, paying very close attention to the text has yielded much. But some inclined to speculate most often cease to continue to do that when they try to locate the Lehites in America. They do not begin with an internal map. They most often locate Lehi’s landing and then march both the Nephites and Lamanites to the drumlin in New York. Theodore Brandley provides a good example of this mistake with his hemispheric geography. Some others have also had the need to fix this one location. Brandley does this by claiming a that Moroni revealed this to Joseph Smith, and then he is free to have the Lehites land in Costa Rica. And then he can locate willy nilly the names of places and topography on a map. An important difference between Brandley and Rodney Meldrum (and his two allies) is that Brandley does not restrict the blessings of a land of promise to the current borders of the United States. Otherwise his efforts, though more specific about actual locations, suffers from the same flaws that are associated with the label “heartland.”

      Having made in brief form the points I wished to make, I must now add that from my perspective, this is not the place for Brandley to promote his own Book of Mormon geography. Comments should be directed, I believe, to the soundness of Neal Rappleye’s review essay. In addition, the early identification of the drumlin with the word Cumorah (in hymns and in popular opinion) has been covered more than sufficiently.

      • Louis,
        Contrary to your mischaracterization of my research, every step of my thesis is based primarily on the minute details of the text of the Book of Mormon. It contains over 200 references to Book of Mormon passages. The entire thesis was developed by matching the text of the Book of Mormon to the facts on the ground. The above small sample of how I deduced Lehi’s landing from the details of the text is the method I used throughout.

        Your charges against this research obviously come from something other than reading it. I welcome detailed sincere questions and discussion regarding my research and reasoning but reject your general mischaracterizations.

        • Theodore:

          I applaud you for not turning to the LDS travel industry to sell your Book of Mormon geography. I am also confident that you are sincere and also convinced that you have figured out where the Lehites landed and then lived. But your conviction does not make it so.

          Your claim that there is a known fixed point in the long and often grim history of the Lehites–the exact location of the place where the Nephite nation came to and end–has been shown in these comments to be, if not flat out false, at lease very likely wrong. And despite your not using the slogan “heartland,” and despite three years matching Book of Mormon passages to your geography, you have made some of the same mistakes that are made by those who huddle around that label. How so? You have scattered willy nilly Lamanites and Nephites over many thousands of miles as you have then move lockstep from the west coast of Costa Rica north through Mexico and then over about half of the United States. The primary difference is that yours is not a jingo geography. Finally, you don’t seem to realize that this is not the proper venue to advance your speculation.

          • Louis,

            Thank you for a more civil condemnation. You wrote:

            “You have scattered willy nilly Lamanites and Nephites over many thousands of miles as you have then move lockstep from the west coast of Costa Rica north through Mexico and then over about half of the United States.”

            Your using the terms “willy nilly” and “lockstep” demonstrate again that you have not read the thesis and have only glanced at the maps. The thesis follows the text of the Book of Mormon in great detail. It tracks the Nephites from Costa Rica to Guatemala and the original city of Nephi. Over the next 400 years the Lamanites drove the Nephites northward through Mexico to the Rio Grande. King Mosiah 1st then led his people across the vast wilderness plains of Texas to the Mississippi River. The Nephites then migrated east to the Atlantic Ocean then up the Atlantic Coastal Plain, which they called the land of Bountiful. In time they moved further north past the “Narrow Neck of Land,” which we know as the Delmarva Peninsula, and into the Northeastern US. They also migrated up the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes. All of this comes from matching the text of the Book of Mormon to the facts on the ground.

            You wrote:

            “Finally, you don’t seem to realize that this is not the proper venue to advance your speculation.”

            You commend me for not writing a book on the subject and then condemn me for posting thoughts from my thesis, on your otherwise open forum, when the subject of Book of Mormon Geography arises. Why should my ideas and thoughts be banned from this forum? Where else would it be better to vet these ideas than on a blog of LDS scholars who are mostly committed to the Mesoamerica theory? Louis, you don’t need to be afraid of what may be the truth.

  17. Small note re footnote 80:

    On Joseph calling the NY hill Cumorah, I would note the reference now found in D&C 128.

    WW Phelps made an association between the NY hill and the name Cumorah in 1833 (E&M Star, Jan. 1833).

    • The meaning of the name Cumorah in D&C 128:20 is ambiguous. This verse says: “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed.”

      It’s possible that the name Cumorah is not used in this verse to refer to a hill in New York. (No hill is mentioned.) The name Cumorah may be used here to refer to the ancient (and perhaps distant) land of Cumorah.

      Mormon made the entire abridged record that became the Book of Mormon in the land of Cumorah (see Mormon 6:6). The source materials for his abridgment were then “hid up in the hill Cumorah” and Momon gave the abridged record, which he calls “these few plates” (Mormon 6:6) to his son, Moroni. Hence, this abridged record was written in the land of Cumorah. Moroni later “hid up” this abridged record “unto the Lord” (Mormon 8:4) in a location never identified in the Book of Mormon.

      On September 21, 1823, the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and declared that the record compiled anciently by Mormon would soon be revealed. D&C 128:20 alludes to this declaration, which took place in the upstairs bedroom of the Smith home (see Joseph Smith History 1:27-50).

      After receiving Moroni’s declaration, Joseph went to the hill near his home where the plates were deposited. That hill soon came to be called Cumorah by at least some members of the Church. Because of this, it’s possible that, in D&C 128:20, the name Cumorah refers to that hill. However, it’s at least as likely that the name Cumorah is used in this verse to refer to the ancient (and perhaps distant) land of Cumorah—the place where the “glad tidings” were written by Mormon. Similarly, it would be proper to say that the message of the Book of Revelation comes to us from the island of Patmos, where it was written (see Revelation 1:9), even though the manuscripts from which this message was eventually translated were “hid up,” so to speak, in other locations.

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