Yes, there’s a place named “Lamanai” in Belize, but in Joseph Smith’s boyhood state of New York there’s “Oneida”. (Alma 32:4)


My mother-in-law and I were with our luggage outside the Salt Lake Airport terminal. My wife, seated on a bench behind us, recognized the person sitting across from her. With surprise, my wife turned and greeted her dear friend Lorraine who, like us, was waiting for transportation.

Lorraine told us of her travels and humanitarian service in Central America. In particular, Lorraine mentioned her visit to Belize. With conviction, she called the region she had been in “the land of Lamoni”.  

Nobody snapped at Lorraine’s reference to the Mesoamerican land of Lamanai. Nobody dragged the dear sister’s pure and admirable motives into the cold water of fact. But, there was little doubt in my mind where my wife’s friend had gotten the idea that the Mayan “lamanai” is the same as the Book of Mormon “Lamoni”. 

The Mesoamerican “Book of Mormon geography” business is alive and thrashing in Mormondom. Quite a flock seems to favor that businesses' watering hole! But not everybody is convinced that all is well there. (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 84:54-59)



The Mayan term “lamanai” means “submerged crocodile”. Lamanai on the eastern Yucatan, is named after the aquatic reptile that skulks in the waters there.

“Lamoni” of the Book of Mormon, on the other hand, was a Lamanite king who ruled over “the land of Ishmael”. (Alma 17:21) Many of his people later settled in the Nephite land of Jershon. (Alma 27:22) There is no land named Lamoni in the Book of Mormon.

The name “Lamoni” sounds a lot like “Lamani”, which is how Lamanite” transliterates into Hebrew. Similarly, “Israelite” is really pronounced “Yisra’Eli”. The ite” ending isn’t Hebrew - its an add-on for the sake of translation.

Coincidentally “Lenni Lenape” (original people) sounds a little like “Lamanim leNephi“, which means “Lamanites for Nephi”, in Hebrew.

The name “Lamoni” also sounds a lot like “l’maani” (לְמַעֲנִי) which means, “for mine own sake”. (Yesha’Yahu (Isaiah) 37:35) Could the name “Laman” be a shortened form of “L’maan’Yahu” meaning “for the LORD’s sake”, or “L’maan’El”, meaning “for God’s sake”?

“L’maan’El” has a familiar Book of Mormon ring to it. It sounds like “Lemu’El” (Laman’s brother). “Lemu’El” means “belonging to God” (Proverbs 31:1, 1 Nephi 2:11). Like the names of the Germanic chieftains Hengist and Horsa, the names of the eldest sons of Lehi sound somewhat alike. With the divine reference “El” added to “Laman”, the names of the two brothers sound very similar indeed.

In order for the Mesoamerican place name “Lamanai” to be equivalent to “Lamanite” or “Lamoni”, there would have to be some connection between the Mayan term for “submerged crocodile” and the Book of Mormon name(s).

Well let’s see: The most appropriate Hebrew word for “crocodile” is “tanin” (תַנִין). “Tanin” is translated “dragon” in the King James Bible. (Isaiah 27:1) Various venomous serpents and aquatic monsters qualify as “taninim” (plural). E.g. Deuteronomy 32:33, Genesis 1:21. One might contend that “Laman” and “tanin” somehow got nested. One might point out verses like, “…the Lamanites … they did fight like dragons …” (Alma 43:43-44); or one might propose that a king Lamoni, like a Pharaoh of old, was symbolically associated with the local crocodile. (Abraham Facsimile No. 1, Fig. 9; see also Ezekiel 32:2) Arguments like this, of course, are a stretch; but this is the kind of reasoning that Mesoamerican setting propagandists might seize upon (should they be so scripturally resourceful) in promoting the notion that a place named Lamanai” in Belize, legitimizes a Central American setting for the Book of Mormon. But does this kind of reasoning really lead us to the authentic literary locale of the Book of Mormon?

Names (including place names) tend to move with people. The available literature of the time, gave early Mormons the opportunity to discover that there were Native American migrations from the north into Mexico and Central America. (“Ancient Ruins”, Times and Seasons, January 1, 1844, Editor John Taylor quotes an article from the Texas Telegraph, October 11, 1843. Before that, there was Ethan Smith, Josiah Priest and other sources available to members of the Church.)

The Mexican historian Vetia tells us of the propensity of some migrating ancient North Americans to name new settlements after ones they had left behind. (Ancient America Rediscovered, compiled by Donald W. and W. David Hemingway, translated by Ronda Cunningham, pg. 50.) So if an occasional Mesoamerican name happens to sound like a Book of Mormon name, what does this really prove? If you find Hebrew sounding names in Poland, it doesn’t prove that the biblical Hebron is there.

On the topic of Book of Mormon-ish sounding names found in far-flung places, you might ask how the Lemhi River, valley, pass and Shoshone people of Idaho got the name “Lemhi”. “Lemhi” sounds a lot like the Book of Mormon “Limhi” - don't you agree? Does the name “Lemhi” have something to do with migrating Mormons who settled in Idaho (once Oregon Territory)? Yes, in fact. Ever heard of Fort Lemhi? Note: It apparently took 22 days for a Mormon missionary party, sent out from the Salt Lake Valley, to reach the Shoshone Salmon River Country. Despite the explanation for how Fort Lemhi in Lemhi County, Idaho got its name, the Book of Mormon doesn't say that the expedition organized by king Limhi to find Zarahemla lasted 22 days, or that his people journeyed to Zarahemla in 22 days. Someone appears to have confused the search party king Limhi sent out, with Alma’s company (their exodus from the land of Helam to Zarahemla), and certain facts about travel times in the Book of Mormon.

There are place names in the region of western New York and Canada that match names found in the Book of Mormon. Take for instance the American “Indian” name Oneida. (Alma 47:5) The authentic literary setting for the Book of Mormon is set in the region of “Cumorah … in a land of many waters, rivers and fountains”. (Mormon 6:4-5) The scriptural land Cumorah, with its drumlin hills, situates in the Finger Lakes region of Joseph Smith’s boyhood state of New York; south of that exceedingly “large” body of water we now call Lake Ontario. (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128:20, Ether 15:8-11)

The idea that Cumorahis in southern Mexico is a 20th century RLDS fabrication. It is a tacit dismissal of Joseph Smith’s September 6, 1842 epistle on baptism for the dead, LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128. (RLDS L. E. Hills, "Geography of Mexico and Central America from 2234 B.C. to 421 A.D.", 1917, Independence, MO)

Without crediting or explaining why RLDS members were the first to propose such an idea, a few prominent LDS authors like Thomas Fergusson saw fit to promote the specious “Cumorah” (Milton R. Hunter, Thomas Stuart Fergusson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon, 4th edition, 1957,  pp. 144, 185, 350, 361-363), even though it was pronounced false by several LDS Church leaders. (See Promised Lands)

Footnotes to the 1879 LDS Edition of the Book of Mormon, that are scripturally based, do not mislead!

Ether 15 verses 8-11 with 1879 LDS Ed footnotes

The 1879 LDS Edition of the Book of Mormon correctly identifies Lake Ontario as the Book of Mormonwaters of Ripliancum” north of Cumorah. Regarding these “large” waters, Ether 15:8 (pg. 606), footnote c reads: “supposed to be Lake Ontario.”  This footnote in the 1879 Edition, is based on the location of scriptural Cumorah. (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128:20)

Unfortunately, the 1879 Edition footnotes also promote Orson Pratt’s oversized, far-flung geography. The missionary minded Elder Pratt wanted to stretch the Book of Mormon’s literary setting over the entire Western Hemisphere! Elder Pratt therefore alleged, without scriptural backup, that the Book of Mormon “land southward” is South America. (1879 Edition, Ether 10:21, footnote j) To his credit, Elder Pratt recognized in the scriptural mention of “heaps of earth”, a reference to “ancient mounds of North America”. (1879 Edition, Ether 11:6, footnote c) The Book of Mormon in fact gives more than one explanation for the mysterious American earthworks. (Alma 28:11; 50:1; Ether 10:23)

The 1879 Edition footnotes d and e, for Ether 15:10-11, correctly state: “d, southward, brought them into the region, near the hill, called by the Nephites, Cumorah.” and “e, Ramah was the hill Cumorah.” In other words, Cumorah situates southward from the waters of Ripliancum (Lake Ontario).

Mormon 6:5 (1981 LDS Edition and earlier), correctly reads, “…gathered in all the remainder of our people unto the land Cumorah.” The 1830 Edition reads, “land Camorah”, and elsewhere, “land of Camorah”.

Mormons tend to forget that Cumorah is more than a hill. Cumorah is a land. It was at the Smith family residence, in the land Cumorah that the angel Moroni communicated to the young Joseph Smith about “the fulfillment of the prophets – the book to be revealed.” (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128:20)

With the general location of the land Cumorah identified in “the word of the Lord” (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 127:10), that is, in the Prophet’s canonized epistle (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128:20), the Book of Mormon’s “west sea” has to be Lake Erie. It’s really that simple!

But for such facts to become plain to others (ensconced as they may be in geographic traditions that have more to do with Orson Pratt, or John Lloyd Stephens than the Book of Mormon) the warning in LDS Doctrine and Covenants 84:54-59 should be taken to heart:

If you want to know where the true covenant lands of the Book of Mormon are, don’t become “darkened” in mind. Don't give greater weight to works outside of scripture.

    Olive's Near Cumorah Setting: Desolation - Bountiful Line

Sister Phyllis Olive's Map of Principal Book of Mormon Lands - The Near Cumorah Setting


Vincent Coon וִינְסֶנט כּוּן Copyright 2014

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