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John A. Tvedtnes
Monday, April 27 2009

A Brief History of the Limited Geographic View of the Book of Mormon

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Many readers of the Book of Mormon assume that the events depicted therein took place all over North, Central, and South America and that only the peoples named in the Book of Mormon lived in the Americas anciently. A more careful reading of the text has led various Latter-day Saint leaders and scholars to challenge this popular view and to suggest that the Jaredites, Mulekites, Nephites, and Lamanites lived mostly in southern Mexico and Guatemala, the area known as Mesoamerica (or Middle America, which has the same meaning), with the Isthmus of Tehuantepec being the "narrow neck of land" mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

In the past few years, some critics of the Book of Mormon have suggested that this view is a recent development and a few even suggest that it was their writings that made Latter-day Saint scholars revise earlier ideas about the geography of the Book of Mormon. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Some Church leaders and scholars have long championed the Mesoamerican view.

The limited view of Book of Mormon geography began in 1842, when the Church's newspaper, the Times and Seasons, noted the recent publication of a book by Stephens and Catherwood that chronicled the discovery of various ruins in Mesoamerica. While suggesting that Lehi landed south of the Isthmus of Darien (today called Panama), the unnamed author noted that the discoveries could prove important for the Book of Mormon. [2] Two weeks later, the newspaper took up the subject again:

Since our "Extract" was published from Mr. Stephens' "Incidents of Travel," we have found another important fact relating to the truth of the Book of Mormon. Central America, or Guatemala, is situated north of the Isthmus of Darien and once embraced several hundred miles of territory from north to south. The city of Zarahemla, burnt at the crucifixion of the Savior and rebuilt afterwards, stood upon this land as will be seen from the following words in the Book of Alma: - "And now it was only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea; and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla was nearly surrounded by water: there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward."

It is certainly a good thing for the excellency and veracity of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, that the ruins of Zarahemla have been found where the Nephites left them: and that a large stone with engravings upon it, as Mosiah said; and a "large round stone, with the sides sculptured in hieroglyphics" as Mr. Stephens has published, is also among the left remembrances of the (to him) lost and unknown. We are not going to declare positively that the ruins of Quirigua are those of Zarahemla, but when the land and the stones and the books tell the story so plainly, we are of opinion that it would require more proof than the Jews could bring to prove that the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb, to prove that the ruins of the city in question are not one of those referred to in the Book of Mormon.

The same article declared that "It will not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens' ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon." [3] Since the city Zarahemla was situated in what the Nephites called "the land southward" (Alma 22:32; Helaman 5:16; Mormon 1:6; Ether 9:31) and the Mesoamerican region being described in the Times and Seasons is north of the Isthmus of Panama, the unnamed author seems to be suggesting that the Nephite/Lamanite homeland was in Mesoamerica. Even Apostle Orson Pratt, who generally held a continent-wide view of the Book of Mormon, wrote that the Nephites "inhabited the cities of Yucatan at the time they were attacked and driven from the land southward." [4] Since the Yucatan peninsula is in southeastern Mexico, this implies that the Isthmus of Tehuantepec was the narrow neck of land.

In 1891, Elder George Reynolds of the Church's First Council of the Seventy wrote that "the Land where the Jaredites made their first settlements was north of the Land called Desolation by the Nephites, and consequently in some part of the region which we know as Central America. It appears to have been for a lengthy period, if not during the whole of their existence, the seat of government, the residence of the reigning monarch, and the center of Jaredite civilization." [5]

As early as 1917, Louis Edward Hills, of the RLDS Church, proposed locating the hill Cumorah in southern Mexico, north of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. [6] That proposals of a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon were already known among Latter-day Saints during the early part of the 20th century is evidenced by the fact that Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency, in his talk at the April 1928 general conference, mentioned "some differences of opinion" regarding whether the last great battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place around the New York hill the Church had recently purchased. [7] A decade later, Joseph Fielding Smith addressed the question of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec being the "narrow neck of land" and argued against the view. [8] He may have been prompted to reply to an article in the July 1938 issue of the Improvement Era that suggested Tehuantepec as the "narrow neck of land." [9]

An early proponent of a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon was B. H. Roberts of the First Council of the Seventy, who wrote in 1909 that "the physical description relative to the contour of the lands occupied by the Jaredites and Nephites, that being principally that two large bodies of land were joined by a narrow neck of land - can be found between Mexico and Yucatan with the isthmus of Tehuantepec between." [10] Continuing his discussion of Book of Mormon geography, Elder Roberts wrote:

And let me here say a word in relation to new discoveries in our knowledge of the Book of Mormon, and for matter of that in relation to all subjects connected with the work of the Lord in the earth. We need not follow our researches in any spirit of fear and trembling. We desire only to ascertain the truth; nothing but the truth will endure; and the ascertainment of the truth and the proclamation of the truth in any given case, or upon any subject, will do no harm to the work of the Lord which is itself truth. Nor need we be surprised if now and then we find our predecessors, many of whom bear honored names and deserve our respect and gratitude for what they achieved in making clear the truth, as they conceived it to be - we need not be surprised if we sometimes find them mistaken in their conceptions and deductions; just as the generations who succeed us in unfolding in a larger way some of the yet unlearned truths of the Gospel, will find that we have had some misconceptions and made some wrong deductions in our day and time.

The book of knowledge is never a sealed book. It is never "completed and forever closed;" rather it is an eternally open book, in which one may go on constantly discovering new truths and modifying our knowledge of old ones. The generation which preceded us did not exhaust by their knowledge all the truth, so that nothing was left for us in its unfolding; no, not even in respect of the Book of Mormon; any more than we shall exhaust all discovery in relation to that book and leave nothing for the generation following us to develop. All which is submitted, especially to the membership of the Church, that they may be prepared to find and receive new truths both in the Book of Mormon itself and about it; and that they may also rejoice in the fact that knowledge of truth is inexhaustible, and will forever go on developing. [11]

Latter-day Saint researcher Janne M. Sjodahl, who died in 1939, considered the region of Central America, as far north as Mexico, to be the location for events depicted in the Book of Mormon. Noting the opinion of Brigham Young's son John Willard Young, an apostle who served in the First Presidency, Sjodahl wrote that "Lehi and his colony, according to Colonel Young, left the Gulf of Persia and crossed the Indian and the Pacific Oceans and landed on the shore of Salvador in Central America. The land of Nephi is the upper valley of the Humuya River in Honduras. The land of Zarahemla is on the west side of the Ulua River in Honduras. The land southward is Honduras, San Salvador and Nicaragua. The land northward is Guatemala, British Honduras, Yucatan and Chiapas." [12]

Sjodahl further noted, "That the Nephites at some time settled on the Mexican plateau is certain; or reasonably so; for they were by treaty given the land north of the 'narrow passage,' (at Tehuantepec?) 'which led into the land southward.' (Mormon 2:29.)" [13] He wrote that "The land Bountiful is in Chiapas [14] ... Tehuantepec is the Narrow Neck of a day and a half's journey and it is believed that it was narrower in former times by forty or fifty miles. Aside from the gentle elevation and subsidence of portions of the coasts of this district it is believed that the map holds the same general contour as in the days of the Nephites. Desolation is north of the isthmus of Tehuantepec and includes all of Mexico north and west of the high divide." [15]

"The probability is that the Isthmus Tehuantepec is indicated as the point where the boundary line between Desolation and Bountiful was drawn. That isthmus, from the bay of Campeche to Tehuantepec, is only about 125 miles in width, I believe. The distance could easily be covered by couriers in the time mentioned" in Alma 22:32. [16] Sjodahl defined the "narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward" (Alma 50:34) as "a ridge of hills, rising to a height of 730 feet, bends in a semi-circle around the bay of Tehuantepec, in places approaching the coast to within 15 or 20 miles." [17]

During the 1930s and 1940s, Jesse A. and J. Nile Washburn championed the Mesoamerican view of Book of Mormon geography. In 1937, they wrote that, "It is thinkable, therefore, that the Hill Cumorah in New York is a namesake of another Cumorah, probably in Central America, the possible home of the peoples of the Book of Mormon. But this question in no way affects the divinity of the record." [18] In 1939, they argued that "the narrow neck of land was farther north" than the Isthmus of Panama, and noted that "one of the foremost authorities in the Church [Roberts?] placed it at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and a number of other students have agreed with this ...  For want of something better the writers tentatively accept the view that the Isthmus of Tehuantepec was the narrow neck ... However, the rejection of the Isthmus of Panama is not based entirely on a guess. There is good reason to believe, from the information of the text itself, that it could not have been the location itself." [19]

The Washburns prepared a map of the Americas with a circle around southern Mexico and Central America as "the probable home-lands of Book of Mormon peoples," and showing arrows leading into both North and South America, as well as the Pacific, for the direction of subsequent migrations. [20] Their list of suggestions about Book of Mormon peoples and their geography includes comments such as: "The language of the record may oftentimes be misread or misunderstood by us in the light of our experience and our modern civilization, particularly as regards the size of lands and number of people" (No. 5). "There seems to be no evidence in the record to justify the universal belief among our people that the Jaredites and Nephites moved their entire civilizations more than four thousand miles from their original homes to northeastern United States. It appears that where they lived, there also they died" (No. 7). "The authors feel that the greatest contribution of their work is the contention that the lands and peoples of the ancient Americas were limited in extent. Should we not think in terms of hundreds of miles instead of thousands, and of millions of people instead of hundreds of millions?" (No. 8). [21]

The Washburns also cite Mormon 8:4-5 and ask how Moroni could not have had access to ore when his ancestors had found plenty of it in their homeland (2 Nephi 5:15). They conclude that he had traveled from that homeland to the area of New York State, allowing that he may have been a resurrected being when he buried the plates in the New York hill. They then add, "May we not, then, say for the present that our sacred hill Cumorah in New York is a namesake of another once-bloodstained and no less appointed place in the homeland of the Jaredites and Nephites? Such at least is the trend of much of the thinking of today." [22]

By 1968, J. N. Washburn was able to write, "Practically all the old maps show the western hemisphere as the homeland of Book-of-Mormon peoples, some of them designating South America as the land of Lehi and North America as the land of Mulek. I remember one book that called for Book-of-Mormon-land to extend from 'the Hudson Bay to Tierra del Fuego,' and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Most recent commentators speak and write of Central America and Southern Mexico as the territory with which Book-of-Mormon people were acquainted." [23]

In 1946, M. Wells Jakeman came to teach at Brigham Young University and founded the department of archaeology (now anthropology), encouraged by Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Council of the Twelve. Jakeman acknowledged the Mesoamerican setting for Book of Mormon geography and taught it openly until his retirement in 1976, influencing a large number of BYU students and faculty and made consideration of the Mesoamerican hypothesis acceptable. Among the Latter-day Saint archaeologists who profited from his insights were Ross T. Christensen and John L. Sorenson, each of whom later became chairman of the same BYU department, along with V. Garth Norman, Gareth W. Lowe, and Bruce W. Warren, each of whom taught in that department.

Elder Widtsoe, while acknowledging that Joseph Smith "did not say where, on the American continent, Book of Mormon activities occurred," leaned toward the Mesoamerican view. [24]

In April 1949, Jakeman, Warren, and others organized the University Archaeology Society (UAS) in order to provide outreach to the Latter-day Saint community on matters of Book of Mormon archaeology and geography. The society's name was changed in 1962 to Society for Early Historic Archaeology (SEHA). The official view of the society was that events described in the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica only. That remains the view of the Ancient America Foundation (AAF), which subsumed the SEHA in the late 1980s.

Prominent Latter-day Saints who supported the limited Mesoamerican view of Book of Mormon geography during the 1950s and 1960s were Apostle Howard W. Hunter (who later became president of the Church), [25] Elder Milton R. Hunter of the First Council of the Seventy, [26] renowned BYU religion professor Sidney B. Sperry, [27] BYU religion professor and SEHA board member Paul R. Cheesman, [28] and Thomas Stuart Ferguson, founder of the New World Archaeology Foundation. [29]

In 1959, Fletcher B. Hammond, an SEHA member, wrote a book entitled Geography of the Book of Mormon, in which he opted for a Mesoamerican view of Nephite and Lamanite lands, with the river Sidon emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. He observed that accepting the New York hill as the location where Mormon hid the plates [30] "disrupts and confuses the entire concept of Book of Mormon geography ... All of the places and countries named in the record may be consistently assembled on a map which may cover some of the countries now known as Mexico and Central America. This cannot be done if the hill Cumorah is placed on a map in the vicinity of what is now Palmyra, New York." [31]

During the 1960s and 1970s, the SEHA published a number of articles reinforcing the idea that Book of Mormon peoples lived in Mesoamerica. [32] In 1981, SEHA contributor David A. Palmer published a book entitled In Search of Cumorah, in which he gave evidence from the Nephite record that sites named therein could be found in Mesoamerica. He located the hill Cumorah in the same area suggested by others. [33]

By 1984, the concept of a limited geography for Book of Mormon peoples was sufficiently widespread for the Church's Ensign magazine to publish two articles by John L. Sorenson on the subject, [34] drawn from the manuscript of the book that was jointly published the following year by the Church's Deseret Book Company and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. [35] While publication in these venues does not grant the status of doctrine (except in the case of official declarations from the First Presidency, sometimes in conjunction with the Twelve Apostles), it is interesting that their publication was allowed. It is also interesting that the Mesoamerican view of Book of Mormon geography is mentioned in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism under the entry "Book of Mormon Studies" and that it has been the theme of several other books, some of them written by archaeologists. [36]

In an address to FARMS supporters on 29 October 1993, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of the Twelve Apostles noted that his acceptance of the Mesoamerican view "goes back over forty years to the first class I took on the Book of Mormon at Brigham Young University ... Here I was introduced to the idea that the Book of Mormon is not a history of all of the people who have lived on the continents of North and South America in all ages of the earth. Up to that time I had assumed that it was ... if the Book of Mormon only purports to be an account of a few peoples who inhabited a portion of the Americas during a few millennia in the past, the burden of argument changes drastically. [37]

Some may object to the idea that the Isthmus of Tehuantepec could be the Book of Mormon's "narrow neck of land," on the grounds that it is not narrow enough. At the General Conference of April 1851, the First Presidency issued its "Fifth General Epistle," in which they proposed a new route for emigrants from Europe, crossing either the Isthmus of Tehuantepec or the Isthmus of Panama, then sailing up the Pacific coast of Mexico to San Diego, California, before coming overland to Deseret [Utah]. [38] It is interesting that equal consideration for bringing the Saints from the Atlantic to the Pacific shores was given to the Isthmus of Panama and the Ishthmus of Tehuantepec. [39]

Finally, we must return to the question of Cumorah. Many Book of Mormon readers automatically assume that the hill near Palmyra, New York, must be the same hill called Cumorah in the Book of Mormon, since Mormon hid plates in the hill of that name and Moroni disclosed the location of plates to Joseph Smith some fourteen centuries later. There is no real logic behind this. Mormon wrote,

And it came to pass that when we had gathered in all our people in one to the land of Cumorah, behold I, Mormon, began to be old; and knowing it to be the last struggle of my people, and having been commanded of the Lord that I should not suffer the records which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred, to fall into the hands of the Lamanites, (for the Lamanites would destroy them) therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni. (Mormon 6:6)

From this, it is clear that Mormon hid in the hill Cumorah "all the [Nephite] records except the abridgment plates, which he gave to his son Moroni. As he was adding his own work and testimony to those abridgment plates, Moroni frequent spoke of his intention to hide the plates, but he never names the place where he hid them. After the last great Nephite/Lamanite struggle at the hill Cumorah in ca. A.D. 385 (Mormon 6:5), Moroni was on the run from the Lamanites and his last entry into the abridgment record notes that the 420th year had passed (Moroni 10:1). He had more than enough time (35 years) to travel from southern Mexico to upstate New York, where he deposited the plates and later revealed their location to the prophet Joseph Smith.

The limited geography view does not mean that there are no descendants of Book of Mormon peoples in other parts of the New World. In post-Book of Mormon times, other Nephites and Lamanites have probably spread to various parts of the Americas. There is strong archaeological evidence that some people from Mesoamerica migrated to portions of the American Southwest and the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys, as also to parts of South America. The Chachapoya of South America were white-skinned, as were the Inca royal family, who are traditionally held to have come from the north almost a millennium after Book of Mormon times. Aztec tradition suggests that their ancestors migrated southward into the Valley of Mexico (again, well after the close of the Book of Mormon narrative) and, indeed, their language, Nahuatl, is related to such tongues as Ute, Paiute, Goshute, and Shoshone, found in the southwestern part of the United States.

[1] I am grateful to Matt Roper for some of the references cited herein.

[2] Times and Seasons 3/22 (15 September 1842), 914-5. While Joseph Smith had recently declared his intention to exercise editorial control over the publication, John Taylor was the editor.

[3] Times and Seasons 3/24 (1 October 1842), 927.

[4] Milennial Star 10 (15 November 1848): 347.

[5] George Reynolds, A Dictionary of the Book of Mormon: Comprising its Biographical, Geographical and Other Proper Names (Salt Lake City: J. H. Parry, 1891), 184; also cited in George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl (Philip C. Reynolds, ed.), Commentary on the Book of Mormon (posthumously published from notes, Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1955-61), 6:126-7.

[6] See the map and bibliography of Hills's publications in John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Biook of Mormon Events: A Source Book (Provo: FARMS Study Aid, 1992), 87-9. Sorenson mentions a number of little-known studies (some unpublished) of Book of Mormon geography, some of which follow the Mesoamerican model. Of these, a few were from members of the RLDS Church.

[7] Improvement Era 31 (1928), 674-81. In his own address at the same conference, Elder B. H. Roberts expressed gratitude for President Ivins's remarks about Cumorah and that his comments would be preserved in the official conference record (Conference Report, April 1928, 107).

[8] Church News, 10 September 1938. See also Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954), 3:232-43.

[9] Lynn C. and H. J. Layton, "An 'Ideal' Book of Mormon Geography," Improvement Era 41 (July 1938), 394-5, 439.

[10] Brigham Henry Roberts, New Witnesses for God (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909), 3:502; see also 2:168, where he cites Orson Pratt and George Reynolds. Roberts denounced to the "alleged 'revelation' attributed to Joseph Smith and published in Franklin D. Richards and James A. Little, A Compendium of the Doctrines of the Gospel (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1882), 289. The small scrap of paper records, in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams, that Lehi's party "landed on the continent of South America in Chili thirty degrees south of lattitude. Most serious Book of Mormon scholars do not believe that Joseph Smith authored the text. See Frederick G. Williams III, "Did Lehi Land in Chile?" in John W. Welch, ed., Reexploring the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret and FARMS, 1992), 57-61

[11] Brigham Henry Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3:503-4.

[12] Janne M. Sjodahl, An Introduction to the Study of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1927), 414. On page 165, Sjodahl suggests that Jacob may have been alluding to South America when speaking of the "isle of the sea" and that Central America may have been "one of the other isles." This contradicts his main thesis, found in other portions of the book.

[13] Ibid., 368; also cited in George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl (Philip C. Reynolds, ed.), Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 4:328.

[14] Elsewhere, Sjodahl wrote that "the land Bountiful was Central America, between the Isthmus of Darien and Tehuantepec, as the article in the Times and Seasons seems to imply." Janne M. Sjodahl, An Introduction to the Study of the Book of Mormon, 424.

[15] Ibid., 417. Sjodahl included suggestions of specific sites for some of the cities named in the Book of Mormon, based on unpublished research by Charles Stuart Bagley, but there remains much disagreement on such details.

[16] Ibid., 425; see also ibid., 426.

[17] Janne M. Sjodahl, An Introduction to the Study of the Book of Mormon,, 426.

[18] Jesse A. and J. Nile Washburn, From Babel to Cumorah (3rd ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1944), 257. The first edition, authored by Jesse A. Washburn, was published in 1937.

[19] Jesse A. and J. Nile Washburn, An Approach to the Study of Book of Mormon Geography (Provo: New Era Publishing, 1939), 198.

[20] Ibid., 203.

[21] The list is found in ibid., 205-6.

[22] Ibid., 209; emphasis added.

[23] J. Nile Washburn, Book of Mormon Guidebook and Certain Problems in the Book of Mormon (privately issued, 1968), 117; emphasis added. See also his Book of Mormon Lands and Times (Bountiful: Horizon, 1974).

[24] John A. Widtsoe, "Is Book of Mormon Geography Known?" Improvement Era 53/7 (July 1950), 547, 596-7.

[25] One of Elder Howard W. Hunter's assignments was to oversee the work of BYU's New World Archaeology Foundation (NWAF), which performs archaeological excavations in Mesoamerica. The organization was founded by Thomas Stuart Ferguson and others, but later became associated with BYU.

[26] Milton R. Hunter and Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon (Oakland, CA: Kolob, 1950). See their map on page 138 and see page 139, where they place the hill Cumorah in the region of southern Mexico.

[27] Sidney B. Sperry, "Were There Two Cumorahs?" in his Book of Mormon Compendium (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968), 447-51. A 1964 version was republished in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4/1 (Spring 1995), 260-8.

[28] See especially his The World of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1978).

[29] Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Cumorah-Where? (Independence, MO: Zion's, 1947). Stan Larson used Ferguson's later lack of faith as a vehicle for his own views on the Book of Mormon, but Ferguson's son Larry told me that his father's disillusionment lasted about three years, after which he reaffirmed his belief in the Book of Mormon and died in full faith with the Church, even possessing a temple recommend.

[30] Mormon wrote, "I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni" (Mormon 6:6). Thirty-five years after the battle at the hill Cumorah, Moroni buried the abridgement plates in an unnamed place, probably the hill in New York state to which he sent Joseph Smith. Much evidence has been elicited for a southern Mexico location of the real hill Cumorah, which was not far north of the "narrow neck of land."

[31] Fletcher B. Hammond, Geography of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing, 1959), 72. See also ibid., 89-90, 119. Hammond reiterated his view in a paper delivered in 1964 to the Campus Chapter of the University Archaeological Society at Brigham Young University, published by the society as a monograph, Geography of the Book of Mormon: "Where is the Hill Cumorah?"

[32] I did not attend BYU but was introduced to the limited Tehuantepec concept in 1961 at a meeting of the SEHA's Salt Lake chapter. A colleague living in Chicago notes that he first learned it in a priesthood lesson late in 1977, while he was on mission.

[33] David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah: New Evidences for the Book of Mormon from Ancient Mexico (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon, 1981).

[34] John L. Sorenson, "Digging into the Book of Mormon: Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and Its Scripture," 2 parts, Ensign 14/9 (September 1984) and 14/10 (October 1984).

[35] John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret and FARMS, 1985). A reprinted edition was subsequently issued by FARMS. Other books by John Sorenson that discuss the limited Tehuantepec view of Book of Mormon geography are: The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Bbook (Provo: FARMS, 1997); Images of Ancient America : Visualizing Book of Mormon Life (Provo: FARMS, 1997). Other recent books dealing with this view are: Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon. (Orem, Utah: S.A. Publishers, 1989); Richard Hauck, Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon: Settlements and Routes in Ancient America (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1988); David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah: New Evidences for the Book of Mormon from Ancient Mexico (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon, 1981); Michael J. Preece, Book of Mormon Lands: A Proposed Setting (Salt Lake City, Utah : MJP Publishing, 1990); B. Keith Christensen, The Unknown Witness: Jerusalem, Geology, and the Origin of the Book of Mormon (privately issued, 1992); Robert A. Pate, Mapping the Book of Mormon: A Comprehensive Geography of Nephite America (Salt Lake City: Cornerstone, 2002).

[36] See John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Bbook (Provo: FARMS, 1997); Sorenson, Images of Ancient America : Visualizing Book of Mormon Life (Provo: FARMS, 1997). Other recent books dealing with this view are: Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon. (Orem, Utah: S.A. Publishers, 1989); F. Richard Hauck, Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1988)); Michael J. Preece, Book of Mormon Lands: A Proposed Setting (Salt Lake City, Utah : MJP Publishing, 1990); Robert A. Pate, Mapping the Book of Mormon: A Comprehensive Geography of Nephite America (Salt Lake City: Cornerstone, 2002); Stanford Robison, The Maya Legacy: A Sequel to the Book of Mormon Story (Las Vegas: privately published, 1977). In a videotaped lecture, Hugh Nibley said, "The Book of Mormon is a crazy quilt of ethnic mixture, and we have always been so simplistic about it. When I was a little kid everything you found was either Nephite or Lamanite. Well, that's not so at all according to the Book of Mormon. It talks of vacant lands and people who had been there, of vast areas deforested by the former inhabitants of the land. They weren't Jaredites either. This was down in the south lands." See Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 3 transcripts (Provo: FARMS, n.d.), 27.

[37] Dallin H. Oaks, "The Historicity of the Book of Mormon." In Paul Y. Hoskisson, ed., Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures (Provo: Brigham Young University religious Studies Center, 2001), 238-239.

[38] "It is wisdom for the English Saints to cease emigration by the usual route through the States, and up the Missouri river, and remain where they are till they shall hear from us again, as it is our design to open up a way across the interior of the continent, by Panama, Tehuantepec, or some of the interior routes, and land them at San Diego, and thus save three thousand miles of inland navigation through a most sickly climate and country. The Presidency in Liverpool will open every desirable correspondence in relation to the various routes, and rates, and conveniences, from Liverpool to San Diego, and make an early report, so that if possible the necessary preparations may be made for next fall's emigration." The epistle was published in the Deseret News 1/30 (8 April 1851), then reprinted in the Frontier Guardian 3/9 (30 May 1851) and Millennial Star 13:201-216 (15 July 1851).  More recently, it was published in James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965), 2:70-71. See also B. H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, 3:349.

[39] For evidence that the Isthmus of Tehuantepec fits the Book of Mormon description of the "narrow neck of land," see Matthew Roper, "Travel Across the 'Narrow Neck of Land'," Insights 20/5 (2000).

© 2005 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.

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