Saturday, December 13, 2008

Book Of Mormon Geography: Why Mesoamerica Is The Best Fit For The Primary Location Of Book Of Mormon Events

Time to fire up this blog once again. I was intending to focus exclusively on doctrinal issues, but I may expand it to cover Mormonism in the news as well. But I can think of no better topic to re-launch this blog with than Book of Mormon geography.

According to, the official position of the Church is that the events narrated in the Book of Mormon occurred somewhere in the Americas, but that the specific location has not been revealed. This position applies both to internal geographies and to external correlations. No internal geography has yet been proposed or approved by the Church, and none of the internal or external geographies proposed by individual members has received approval. Efforts in that direction by members are neither encouraged nor discouraged.

As a result, the geography of the Book of Mormon continues to spawn endless fascination and debate. Unlike Biblical lands, which are easily discernable, the precise location of Book of Mormon cities and lands still escapes us. If you drive down the Pan-American Highway through Mexico and Central America, you will not see a sign stating "Zarahemla: Next 15 Exits".

There are several leading theories about the location of the core lands of the Book of Mormon.

(1). Great Lakes/Western New York State. Proponents of this theory cite the proximity of the Hill Cumorah and phrases like "land of many waters" to support their contention.

(2). Isthmus of Panama. Primarily because of the "narrow neck of land"

(3). Peru. One early Church leader, Orson Pratt, opined that the initial landing of Lehi and his family was near present-day Santiago, Chile; from there, they eventually moved north.

More information on competing theories can be found at

But the most widely held and likely theory is Mesoamerica. The latest to support this idea is Dr. Stephen L. Carr, who presented his ideas at the Book of Mormon Lands Conference held in Salt Lake City on October 17th, 2008. As reported on October 22nd in the Mormon Times, Dr. Carr cited a list of 10 items to use in judging whether the culture of a proposed area fits the Book of Mormon's described culture:

1. There should be a high state of civilization that includes city-states. "Each of the cities mentioned in the Book of Mormon is probably a small city-state," Carr said. "In fact, sometimes, the location is mentioned as 'the land of such-and-such' or 'city such-and-such.' Sometimes these seem to be superimposed. It's almost as if the Book of Mormon were like the state of Utah, where ... each county is a city-state."

2. There should be an agricultural base that could support millions of people.

3. There needs to be a society with a written language and scribes as important officers. "Mesoamerica is the only place in the Western Hemisphere where there was a written language in Book of Mormon times," Carr said.

4. There should be calendaring and dating systems.

5. There should be a merchant class that uses a system of weights and measures.

6. There should be engineering skills to build temples, towers and highways -- using cement.

7. Precious metals should be used by special artisans.

8. There should be a warrior society. "This is not just a ragtag group of people," Carr said. "They had special fortifications. They were trained."

9. There should be marriage alliances used in the culture to build political relationships.

10. There should be some traditions of a white bearded god, such as found in Mesoamerica.

While these items can be found scattered throughout the entire Western Hemisphere, only in Mesoamerica are they all found together. And Mesoamerica was an area unknown to Joseph Smith in 1829.

To aid in locating the core area, it must have both the requisite "narrow neck of land" and a major river that flows from south to north. Mesoamerica best fits this profile. But I will cite two other items which I believe further supports the Mesoamerica scenario:

(1). The geological cataclysm accompanying the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Documentation of this event begins in 3 Nephi, Chapter 8. Thunderings, lightnings, earthquakes, and the earth swallowing up cities are described. It ends with a period of thick darkness, so thick that one could not see his hand in front of his face. What could cause this? A series of volcanic eruptions. And where in the Western Hemisphere do volcanoes exist in sufficient quantity to cause such damage? Southern Mexico and Northern Central America - the area of Mesoamerica.

(2). Alma 46: 40 contains this interesting verse: "And there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year were very frequent in the land—but not so much so with fevers, because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, to which men were subject by the nature of the climate". This best correlates to a subtropical or tropical environment. For example, malaria causes fever. The control for malaria is quinine, which was discovered in the tropics. Both the fevers and the curative plants exist in sufficient quantities only in Mesoamerica.

Consequently, I'm sold on the Mesoamerica scenario, although the debate about Book of Mormon geography does not, in my opinion, lessen the value of the book in any way. The Lord doesn't just love the Jews; He loves all peoples, and there is no reason to assume that only the Jews would be permitted to bring forth a Bible. Other peoples also have their "Bibles". Other peoples will be allowed to bring forth their "Bibles" in the future when the time is right. Likewise, the riddles of Book of Mormon geography will be resolved when the time is right, most likely through a combination of human research and divine revelation.

In the final analysis, Carr estimated that the entire area of the Book of Mormon, from the original Hill Cumorah in the north to the city of Nephi in the south was between 450 and 600 miles. The width at its widest would be about 150 to 250 miles. "Roughly the size of state of Utah and Idaho up to about Idaho Falls," Carr said.

Other related articles of interest from the Mormon Times:

-- Digging up the City of Nephi: Archaeological exploration of a possible site for the City of Nephi will begin next month in the highlands of Guatemala.

-- Seven wonders of the Book of Mormon: A Dead Sea Scrolls scholar explores seven "wonders" he has found in the Book of Mormon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought you might be interested in Hugh W. Nibley's comments about the Narrow Neck of Land and in Nibley on Book of Mormon Geography. I thought they were insightful, although few in the Church seem to have pursued these ideas.