Meridian Magazine article titled “Heartland as Hinterland: A Look at
Book of Mormon Geography” wants the core of Nephite civilization to be in
Central America with outlying settlements in
Mesoamerican setting devotees have argued similar things before.
Mesoamerican setting devotees have argued similar things before.
to Dr. Wright's reheated hypothesis, American
History and Literature scholars have long known that the authentic core
setting for the Book of Mormon is in Joseph Smith’s own country -
Mound Builder territory of the
The so called “Book of Mormon geography” controversy Brother Wright refers to in the opening paragraph of his article, is a problem unique to Mormons. This endemic controversy hasn’t kept mainstream researchers from getting at the historical and literary facts. We are talking about the kind of objective and informed scholars who place the literary setting for King Arthur’s Camelot in Britain of old (not at a castle ruin in Spain or Italy), and the biblical court of King David at bronze age Jebus (Jerusalem, 1 Chronicles 11:4), though modern archaeology has not substantiated many of the Bible’s population claims. Take a look at the head counts in 2 Samuel 24:9 and 1 Chronicles 21:5
Bible definitely lays out the locale of its relatively small Promised
Land, whether archaeology appears to support the scriptural narrative or
not. The historicity of the Bible can be treated as a separate matter
from the subject of its literary settings. The same is true for the Book
of Mormon. It’s just that a lot of Mormons either don’t know it yet, or
don‘t want to separate the Book of Mormon from the appearance of
archaeological support. But scripture is its own guide to covenant lands,
and the Book of Mormon deserves to be classed as sacred scripture as
much as the book of Daniel or the book of Job, or the Bible in
general - independent of historical proof.
partly because they are conflicted, that a lot of Mormons have trouble
posing their geography problem correctly. Many start, not with where LDS
scripture plainly places the Book of Mormon land Cumorah
(LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128:20),
but instead focus on exotic ruins and
large ancient population centers, thousands of miles away in the
clever Mormons seek to stress in the minds of a larger church audience, the
fact that there really were large numbers of infrastructure building peoples
long ago in say,
believe the best available evidence places the core narrative of the Book of
Mormon squarely in
Dr. Wright discovered the remains of a pre-Columbian horse in
unspecified “preponderance of evidence” is likely code for large
infrastructure building populations? But hold those Mayan horses! The fact
that there were a lot of people in
problem with Wright’s “preponderance of evidence” is that it doesn’t take in
simple things (to Israelites) like the agricultural ordinances of
the Law of Moses, which faithful Nephites kept in full.
(2 Nephi 5:10)
These seasonal ordinances require a setting in the temperate Northern Hemisphere.
Someone studying the King James Bible and Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews or the Tribes of
Israel in America (1825, pp. 149-150)
could glean that much. You can’t keep the seasonal ordinances of the Law “in
all things” in tropical
Why would the God of Israel lead faithful Israelites with priesthood to a place where they couldn’t keep all the Law as commanded; especially after killing a wicked man to obtain the written Torah? (1 Nephi 4:15-17) It’s not just a matter of getting the timing of sacred ordinances right, it’s a matter of having the right seasons, produce and animals. The very idea of a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon is Torah oblivious. But try getting the goy minded to appreciate that! It goes to show that you can be a college educated Church member and still think like a Gentile.
Dr. Wright is all too quick to cite apostate John E. Page
(previous member of the Twelve Apostles under Joseph Smith) in an attempt to
support his thesis of a
“northward migration” from
There was no question in the minds of early Latter-day Saints where it was the fair Nephites fell. The general location of the land Cumorah had been revealed! (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 10:49-51; 128:20) As for the location of the Nephite capital land Zarahemla, you got different answers depending on which Apostle you asked. Opinions differed on the order of thousands of miles. Which begs the question: How reconcilable is Dr. Wright’s opening statement that “The Church, of course, has no official position on where the Book of Mormon took place” with his unspecified “preponderance of evidence” which “always has and always will favor a Mesoamerican setting”?
decries the exaggerated “hemispheric” model but could say more to inform his
readers that this gross geography once was the accepted Church paradigm.
Zarahemla in South American (not
The “Book of Mormon geography” mess, that the Church finds herself in today, is largely of her members own making. It’s what happens when you treat the Book of Mormon “lightly” (God’s word not mine!) and put the attractions of other things (e.g. wonderful ruins described in Stephens’ bestseller) ahead of plain scriptural detail. (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 84:54-59)
A real Church history kicker is that at the time the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon was approved, John Taylor was President of the Quorum of the Twelve with active Apostle Wilford Woodruff! These brethren knew who contributed the unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” piece published in the Times and Seasons newspaper back in October 1842. Both brethren shouldered the printing business at the time. The Prophet was in seclusion over the Boggs incident in the fall of 1842, and Orson Pratt had just been excommunicated.
The sensational “ZARAHEMLA” article alleged certain ruins in Central America to be those of the Book of Mormon Zarahemla, or some other Book of Mormon city; even though Stephens’ himself concluded that the ruins were in fact, relatively recent. Joseph had read both volumes of Stephens’ book and thought it “most correct”! Those who wrote the “Zarahemla” piece ignored Stephens’ conclusions about the age of the stone ruins and attributed them to the Nephites. If the unsigned “ZARAHEMLA” piece was really the authoritative work of the Prophet Joseph Smith (as some want to believe), why then did President Taylor and Elder Woodruff later allow the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon to feature Orson Pratt’s geography - placing Zarahemla in South America?
Now days it seems wise for the Church to take an ostensibly neutral position on “Book of Mormon geography”, but certain people know that the topic never really was just about “geography”. It’s really about covenant lands - lands which the LORD God wants Gentiles, not just his ancient covenant people, to be able to identify by way of scripture. (Ether 2:9-12, 3 Nephi 29:1)
Yes, the statements of various brethren on the subject of “Book of Mormon geography” are a mass of confusion! Wright admits that it is possible to play “General Authority Chess” and pit “the words of one early saint against another”. The solution is simple: Don’t rely on these!
Level headed American History and Literature scholars agree that when it comes to determining the authentic literary setting for the Book of Mormon, LDS Scripture and verifiable statements by Joseph Smith trump all other Mormon sources. Wright, like so many other Mormons, continues the disservice by not submitting to this sound hierarchy. In fact, as will soon be shown, he avoids citing scripture that gets in his way.
It’s true that Joseph in the Nauvoo period redefined the boundaries
of the American Zion as, “the whole of
It’s true that some of the brethren understood Joseph to mean that
This doesn’t change the fact that the Book of Mormon patriarch Lehi’s American inheritance was a land in the temperate Northern Hemisphere where the seasonal ordinances of the Law of Moses could be kept “in all things”. (2 Nephi 5:10)
Lehi’s company wasn’t just guided across Oceans to the American Promised Land; they were guided across “the large waters into the promised land”. They were guided so far north and inland that “driven snow” was an expression that later generation in the land could relate to. (1 Nephi 11:8; 19:1-3)
This was to be a land of liberty to future Gentiles, where no king would rule over them - “upon the land”, that is. (2 Nephi 10:10-14) The setting rules out Mexico and Central America which has supported the feet of Emperor Iturbide, Dictator Santa Anna, Emperor Maximilian, and the progressive tyrant Francisco Morazan, to name a few.
The Pilgrims and the
American War of Independence were seen in prophetic vision upon the
The land Cumorah
This brings us to the fact that scripture places the land Cumorah
“in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains”.
Cumorah is squarely in the vicinity
This passage of LDS scripture must really gall Dr. Wright; so he
avoids citing it in his article. Instead he asserts,
“…there are no
first-hand accounts that indicate Joseph Smith ever referred to the hill in
Brother Wright’s statement is misleading! From scripture alone we
can’t say for sure that the drumlin hill where
The epistle to the Church indicating the general location of Cumorah is a firsthand statement signed “JOSEPH SMITH”! Joseph’s previous epistle (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 127:10) tells the saints to regard his next epistle as “the word of the Lord”. But Brother Wright doesn’t like it, so he doesn’t mention it. In fact one wonders if Dr. Wright regards Joseph’s (the Lord’s) placement of Cumorah as uninspired. In summary, Dr. Wright remarks:
“I have attempted to respectfully show that the Heartland
Hypothesis can account for Joseph’s inspired statements while keeping the
core narrative of the Book of Mormon in
Whether he knows it or not, Dr. Wright chooses the company of 20th
century members of the
A sizeable part of Dr. Wright’s article is spent informing the
reader about migrations from Mesoamerica to temperate
Joseph Smith actually advocated a migration in the opposite direction!
The Book of Mormon “land northward” was limited by large
bodies of water and many rivers.
3 Nephi 4:23;
7:12) It was
not as open on the north as
It’s important to realize that there are two seasons in tropical
Attacking the vulnerable Heartland model, Dr. Wright tries to make
something of the fact that the Book of Mormon never uses the
expression “plains of the Nephites” which the Prophet designated while
traveling through the heartland of
So where are the principal lands?
With the general location of the land Cumorah revealed in scripture
(LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128:20), and given the fact that
earth and timber Zarahemla was not a great distance from the “land among many
waters” (near the Finger Lakes,
21:25-26), and also considering
that principal lands of the Book of Mormon possessed a general
southward rise in elevation (like western NY), the “west sea” of compact,
principal Book of Mormon lands can only be Lake Erie. This is the
same inland sea coast whose native peoples are identified in LDS scripture
as a remnant of Book of Mormon people
(LDS Doctrine and Covenants 28:8); the same sea to which the people of Nephi congregated during a period
of drought, and from which they spread after the drought.
In the early days of the Church, missionaries were sent to the encampments of
“the Lamanites, residing in the west” by freshwater
It’s a scriptural fact that the principle lands of the Book of
Mormon situate inland a short distance from the coast of “the west sea”.
What then is the American heartland relative to these principal lands? The
answer is also found in scripture: The heartland of
The Doctrine and Covenants even indicates what it was that
these lands were “south” of. They were south of the region of
Though there were later migrations from Central America to
The Prophet Joseph Smith supported the views of Alexander von
Humboldt, and Josiah Priest in regards to ancient peoples arriving in “the
lake country of America” (Great Lakes region). Joseph agreed that
descendents of ancient Americans eventually migrated southward into
Years before the Book of Mormon was published, Ethan Smith proposed that a relatively civilized ancient Israelite culture was responsible for the numerous earth and timber fortified towns, stockades, towers, temples etc that were found in ruins in lands occupied by the United States. Smith believed these ancient North Americans had numerous wars with more savage brethren and were ultimately exterminated by them. Ethan Smith believed that the vanquished Israelite nation responsible for the massive earth, rock and timber constructions must have existed in large numbers.
Smith also wrote about the magnificent hewn stone “pyramids” in
Peoples of Northern America eventually migrated into Central and
Smith’s views parallel the fact that the authentic American setting
for the Book of Mormon is in Joseph Smith’s own country, a thing that
mainstream American History and Literature specialists have long determined.
Interested in the covenant lands of the Book of Mormon? Place LDS scripture and verifiable statements from Joseph Smith ahead of other sources! Stubbornly chained to their unauthentic tradition, Mesoamerican setting apologists, like Dr. Wright, are mostly wrong!