A Geography lesson
The Book of Mormon’s Lands
In a previous posting I discussed The Book of Mormon and how the “history” in it is almost certainly fiction and that the archaeological, linguistic and genetic evidence does not in the slightest support as history The Book of Mormon.1
Especially damning was the vast array of anachronisms in The Book of Mormon. Including, horses, wheat, oxen, elephants, iron weapons / tools, chariots etc. All of which did not exist in the Americas in the period supposedly covered by the Book of Mormon.2
Here I will look at an interesting feature of The Book of Mormon its geography and specifically the work of one Vernal Holley (1924-2000)3, with his efforts to identify the geographical locations in the Book of Mormon.
Now Mr. Holley’s book is mainly about the alleged authorship of the Book of Mormon. The book is mainly about the question of whether or not the Book of Mormon was influenced by and/or to a large extent plagiarized from a manuscript written by the late 18th and early 19th century American clergyman Solomon Spaulding (1761-1816).4
Mr. Spaulding was supposed to have written at least parts of an epic that was supposed to trace (fictionally), the wanderings of the ten lost tribes of Israel to America and then their adventures in America. Spaulding's epic manuscript is lost but surviving works by him are alleged to show great similarities with the Book of Mormon.5 I will leave for another time Mr. Holley’s analysis of Mr. Spaulding’s writings and comparison with the Book of Mormon.6
I will here concentrate on Mr. Holley’s treatment of the geography of the Book of Mormon.
The geography of the Book of Mormon is to put it mildly exasperating. Despite the alleged fact that supposedly the events in the Book of Mormon occurred in the Americas the locations for events cannot be located, with one possible but rather damning exception. I will go into that later.
Thus unlike the Bible with its literally thousands of places that can be securely located on a map the Book of Mormon is a tissue of vagueness. To such an extent that maps are frequently entirely fantasy.
For example see the following maps:
The above maps belong in a fantasy novel concerning a fantasy world that exists only in the imagination of the writer.7 I am reminded of the maps that are found in many fantasy novels like Lord of the Rings in order to give an aura of reality to the fictional world being created.
Other maps try to place the places of the Book of Mormon on a real map of the Americas. For example:
Note in order to fit the events and geography of the Book of Mormon the creators of the map elevated most of the Caribbean Sea above sea level. This also served the very useful purpose of “drowning” the evidence of the settlers described in the Book of Mormon. The fact that the Caribbean Sea is at least 20,000 years old and probably vastly older in fact, seems to have escaped the creators of this map also.8
There is a school of Mormon scholars who think the geography of the Book of Mormon is actually confined to the area of Mexico, Guatemala. These thinkers have produced maps like the following:
These so-called believers in a limited geography for the Book of Mormon are not fazed by the total lack of any archaeological evidence for their Israeli immigrants or any of the whole accoutrement of Middle East cultural and agricultural attributes they were supposed to have brought over but can’t be found.9
Because the location descriptions are very poor in the Book of Mormon we have only one half decently sure guide to even one location in the book; the hill Cumorah. Joseph Smith securely located the hill in New York State and said he found the golden plates there. Also the last great battle where the Nephites were allegedly destroyed by the Lamanites supposedly occurred there. Not surprisingly this location doesn’t make any real sense in terms of archaeology and hence efforts by many including the those who believe in a limited geography for the Book of Mormon to relocate the hill Cumorah to say Mesoamerica.10
Supposedly Joseph Smith claimed that Huntsville Missouri was the city of Manti mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Since Huntsville doesn’t seem to agree with the description in the Book of Mormon that is dubious. However it is clear that Joseph Smith did locate the Hill Cumorah in a specific location in New York State. That being case it is reasonable to use that site as a starting point for the geography of the Book of Mormon.11
Thus keeping the Book of Mormon’s location of Hill Cumorah in view can we establish that at least some of the places named in the Book of Mormon have any similarity with the places that existed c. 1830?
Mr. Holley comes up with the following list of similar place names between the Book of Mormon and modern maps of the area around the eastern great lakes.
Modern Maps Book of Mormon
Agathe, Saint * Ogath
Conner * Comner
Ephrem, Saint * Ephraim, Hill
Moraviantown * Morianton
Morin * Moron
Noah Lake Noah, Land of
Oneida Castle Onidah, Hill
Rama * Ramah
Ripple Lake * Ripliancum, Waters of
lands of the Minonion Land of Minon
Tenecum (Tecumsah) * Teancum12
Since Mr. Holley was interested mainly in showing how Spaulding’s epic fantasy was a basis for the Book of Mormon; he does not do an extensive analysis of all the places or towns mentioned in the Book of Mormon. So this comparison can be criticized fairly for being selective.
Some of the comparisons are arresting. There is a town in Canada called Tecumseh, named after the great Shawnee Chief who died in defence of Canada. In the Book of Mormon a town called Teancum is named after a leader who dies defending against the Lamanites who were seeking to get into the “Land Northward”. The town is located on a “seashore” near a border. Just like modern Tecumseh.13
A Further story in the Book of Mormon about a King Gideon who converts to Christianity and is a great peace maker rather interestingly paralleled in the life of a Delaware Chief, called a King, named Tadeuskund, who converts to Christianity and is given the name Gideon. He was also a great peacemaker. It is interesting to record that the actual Delaware Chief was burned to death and in the story of King Gideon a king Noah was burned to death.14
But perhaps the best evidence that Mr. Holley is on to something is a couple of maps:
It certainly looks at least as convincing as all the other maps created for the Book of Mormon.15 The first map is a standard map of the eastern Great Lakes region the second is one with the Book of Mormon locations fitted over it. It seems to fit rather well doesn’t it.
Now the problems with this sort of thing are manifest in that only a small sample of the data points have been used and given that the pattern could probably be made to fit all sorts of locations around the world with equally good fits.
The thing is though that Joseph Smith clearly located the Hill Cumorah in New York state and since we know where it is, all the geographical aspects of the Book of Mormon “must” be done in relation to that location. Of course if you disregard the location of the Hill Cumorah in New York State, the whole geography of the Book of Mormon becomes free floating in order to preserve any sort of “objective” basis for the history in it being real.
Of course if the hill Cumorah is in New York State than the entire Book of Mormon has no “objective” basis in historical reality hence the need to move it along with the rest of the geography.
Since there is no basis for events described in the Book of Mormon actually happening in the neighborhood of the “real” hill Cumorah we cannot take that seriously as a location for the events described. Since Joseph Smith clearly described and indicated that that was the Hill Cumorah than any geography of the Book of Mormon must take that into account. Mr. Holley does do so which makes his speculation more reasonable than others. Although of course not definitive.
Of course this only goes to show that the Book of Mormon, whatever its merits as religious literature is not history. The genetic, linguistic, archaeological evidence refute the idea of any history in the Book of Mormon. And it appears that if Mr. Holley is right that the geographical location of the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith had in mind was the eastern Great Lakes region.
1. See Here .
1. See Here .
3. Holley, Vernal, Book of Mormon Authorship, Self Published, Roy Utah, 1992. Copy can be found at Spaulding Studies, Here .
4. Spalding Studies, Here . Note the name can be spelled either Spaulding or Spalding.
5. IBID, Here .
6. Holley, pp. 1-48.
7. Maps in order are from Book of Mormon Geography Here, About.com Here, Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum Here .
8. Map is from Book of Mormon Geography Here, Caribbean Sea, Wikipedia Here.
9. Maps, in order, from Alleged Book of Mormon Geography Here, The Church of Christ Book of Mormon Interactive Archaeology Map Here, Hazbineldar Here . An attempt to place the Book of Mormon in a Mesoamerican setting is Sorenson, John L., An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City UT, 1985.
1 10. IBID, Sorenson.
11. Holley, pp. 55-56.
12. IBID, pp. 62-63.
13. IBID, p.63.
14. IBID, pp. 63.
15. IBID, pp. 60-61