By Lenet Hadley Read and David Hadley Read
A too negative tone has diminished effectiveness of the differing views regarding where Book of Mormon events took place. Highly positive results occur when evidence is accepted from all camps – creating a very impressive total accumulation of evidence supporting the Book of Mormon.
There are more than the Northeastern American and Mesoamerican models. But these two camps are the most predominant, so this article focuses on them.
All camps can and should agree on the following two points: (1) Book of Mormon people existed in more than one general location in the Americas, and (2) there is evidence Jesus Christ visited peoples in several locations in the Americas. All camps should then unite in promoting this fuller, more powerful story. This would encourage interested Latter-Day Saints and others to seek and rejoice in all evidence supporting the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon itself allows such flexibility.
1. The Book of Mormon says there was more than one migration, including that of thousands, from the major group to other locations (Alma 63:4-9; Helaman 3:3-13). No more is heard of them. Furthermore, the Book says “a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people… [including] their shipping and their building of ships”… cannot be contained in this work” (Helaman 3:14). [Emphasis added]. Obviously there were many migrations, by sea, and as suggested by Hugh Nibley, perhaps also by land. The Book of Mormon makes clear we have neither a record nor the final destination of those migrations.
Because some specific migrations were said to sail “north,” Mesoamerican theorists feel the migrations were simply from south to north. North American theorists feel some migrants could have sailed north out of the West Sea of the Great Lakes, and likely to the Atlantic to points thereafter unknown. Some of them could eventually have ended up South. Under either theory, Book of Mormon people eventually spread to more than one location. Certainly the Mississippi could have been a direct conduit for migrations between both continents.
2. The Book of Mormon says that Jesus Christ, after visiting the major group, left it to visit “other sheep” (3 Nephi 16:1-4). This certainly could and most likely did include those going out earlier from the first major Book of Mormon group. For they were His people, too.[i]
If all camps could admit migrations are a significant part of the story, each would avoid missing or rejecting evidences that do not come from their own chosen geographical setting, but that support the case for the Book of Mormon overall.
Those who only accept archaeological evidence that comes from Mesoamerica miss powerful evidences found in the Eastern United States that support the Book of Mormon. These include: soil samples which support deaths of multitudes around the Hill Cumorah scientifically discovered by James E. Talmage;[ii] ancient Hebrew writing on the Bat Creek Stone with strong scientific support which says “To the Judeans”;[iii] positive similarities between Egyptian hieroglyphics and Native American written languages;[iv] evidences of a lengthy period of peace beginning at the time of Christ as shown in burials;[v] migratory beasts (bison); earthwork walls and places of defense built exactly as the Book of Mormon describes;[vi] the use of metal breastplates and head plates as described in the Book of Mormon;[vii] an amazing earthen structure made in the shape of a middle eastern olive oil lamp with a menorah;[viii] metalworking;[ix] unique pre-Columbian mitochondrial DNA from northeastern Native Americans of a type (Haplogroup X2) that is most strongly found in the Near East (specifically in Druze populations in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan) which indicates that the Near East is the geographic origin for the DNA type;[x] ancient copper pits that were mined; etc., etc., etc.
Much of this evidence could be compatible with the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon lands, as groups might have migrated there from Mesoamerica. It is unfortunate that LDS scholars dismiss too readily the strength of this growing body of evidence.
On the other hand, for those who only accept evidence coming from the Eastern United States, they miss out on other powerful evidences found in Mesoamerica supporting the Book of Mormon. Many books have been written citing such evidences and this has become the currently predominant theory.[xi] Just some of the evidences are: the correlations between Quetzalcoatl and Christ; stela that show men with beards;[xii] knowledge of the Tree of Life; the amazing Toltec/Aztec/Mayan calendar with significant dates;[xiii] correlations between reckonings of measurements as described in Alma;[xiv] accounts of early Spaniards such as Mariano Veytia who in the 1700s described native Mexican legends that reflected corrupted Judeo-Christian teachings and practice,.[xv] etc., etc., etc.
Much of this evidence is compatible with the Heartland theory of the Book of Mormon lands. These evidences could be explained not only by migrations (as mentioned above) but also by potential missionary efforts from Book of Mormon people to the native populations in Mesoamerica. For example, Veytia recounted multiple native Mexican legends regarding bearded men who had come to them from the north, had taught them, and had prophesied that white bearded men would someday come from the east and take possession of the land.[xvi]
Ultimately the only problem is in knowing for certain which is the major Nephite group and which are the break off groups.
Imagine how powerful it would be if all camps, rather than emphasizing differences so greatly, would concentrate more on the unity of their evidences. The unity emphasized should be:
1. Jesus Christ appeared to many groups of believers in the Americas.
All theorists have evidence, gathered throughout the Americas, of the appearance and knowledge of Jesus Christ. These evidences unitedly show that God the Father did not send His Only Begotten Son to bring salvation just to the Eastern Hemisphere.
But it also shows God did not send His Son to only one location in the Western Hemisphere.