Book of Mormon/Geography/New World/Great Lakes geography

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Book of Mormon Great Lakes geography

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Question: Does the Book of Mormon fit best in a geography located around the Great Lakes, between the United States and Canada?

Unfortunately, the geographical details of the Book of Mormon do not fit terribly well in models presented thus far

This model is proposed by several different works. These include:

  • Duane R. Aston, Return to Cumorah: Piecing Together the Puzzle Where the Nephites Lived (American River Publications, 2003). ISBN 0965516709.
  • Delbert W. Curtis, Christ in North America: Christ Visited the Nephites in the Land of Promise in North America (Tigard, OR: Resource Communications, Inc., 1993). ISBN 1883266246.
  • Edwin G. Goble and Wayne N. May, This Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation (Colfax, WI: Ancient American Archaeology, 2002).
  • Paul Hedengren, The Land of Lehi: Further Evidence for the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah: Bradford & Wilson, 1995).
    • [2nd edition by (Tepran, 1999). ISBN 0915073072.
  • Wayne N. May, This Land: Only One Cumorah! (Colfax, WI: Ancient American Archaeology, 2004).
  • Wayne N. May, This Land: They Came from the East (Colfax, WI: Ancient Ameri­can Archaeology, 2005).
  • Rodney Meldrum, DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography: New scientific support for the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon; Correlation and Verification through DNA, Prophetic, Scriptural, Historical, Climatological, Archaeological, Social, and Cultural Evidence (Rodney Meldrum, 2007), mail-order DVD. ( Index of claims )
  • Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon & The United States of America (Salt Lake City, UT: Digital Legend, 2009), multiple.
  • Rod Meldrum, Rediscovering the Book of Mormon Remnant through DNA (Honeoye Falls, NY: Digital Legend Press, 2009), multiple.
  • Phyllis Carol Olive, The Lost Lands of the Book of Mormon (Bonneville Books, 2003). ISBN 1555175104.

An additional argument for a Great Lakes setting is made based on DNA evidence:

Unfortunately, the geographical details do not fit terribly well in models presented thus far.

===John Clark: "None of the geographies deals convincingly with the spatial details of features and cities in the Book of Mormon"

John Clark said of these efforts:

Of all LGL proposals I have seen, Aston's Return to Cumorah makes the strongest case for a credible geography. For those seriously interested in an LGL geography, this is the book I recommend. It is succinct and deals with a variety of evidence. His analysis is interesting because he once held the view that Book of Mormon lands were located in Mexico and Central America but has since become persuaded that a much stronger case can be made for western New York and Pennsylvania and Ontario, Canada. In particular, he rejects the so-called "two-Cumorah theory." I do not accept Aston's arguments, but I consider them the best of the current proposals that are trying to reclaim New York as ancient Nephite and Lamanite territory...

As with all LGL proposals, Aston is forced to improvise in identifying the named seas of Book of Mormon lands. The northern portion of Lake Erie is the west sea, and the western portion of Lake Ontario is the sea west, while the eastern part of this same lake is the sea east. Lake Cayuga of the Finger Lakes is the east sea. The sea south is the southern portion of Lake Erie. For the greater land northward, Lake Huron serves as the sea west with its northernmost extremity (Georgian Bay) serving as the sea north. A critical point in this confusing cascade of "seas" is one's point of reference, whether it be in the land northward or southward. Perspective and point of reference are important issues, but it looks very much like special pleading to have different names for the same bodies of water and the same names for different bodies of water. This undercuts the utility of naming things and referring to them in normal speech.

It is a frequent practice in Book of Mormon geographies, when confronted with an uncooperative claim from the text about the locations of things vis-à�-vis one's proposed geography, to postulate the existence of two different places with the same name. Given Aston's goal of resolving the problem of two Cumorahs, it is ironic that he must have two lands northward and duplicate seas to pull it off. To me, duplication of place names is a sure sign of trouble with a geography and of overly complex assumptions about how to read the text. Aston's correlation is implausible. The reason both Curtis and Aston need two lands northward is the awkward fact that the proposed hill Cumorah is east of the Niagara neck, their proposed narrow neck of land. In simplistic internal geographies that read the Book of Mormon as implying a narrow neck of land connecting the lands northward and southward, the existence of the hill Cumorah south or southeast of the narrow neck places it in the land southward. Unfortunately for these correlations, the Book of Mormon clearly places this hill in the land northward. The hill Cumorah is a later name for the Jaredite hill Ramah, and the Jaredites inhabited only the land northward. We are thus required to place Cumorah in the land northward. Failure to do so is sufficient to dismiss all correlations that identify the Niagara neck as the narrow neck of land mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Having a land northward for the Jaredites and later Nephites that is different from that for the early Nephites is overly complicated and unconvincing...

To summarize my assessment: None of the geographies deals convincingly with the spatial details of features and cities in the Book of Mormon. The proposed geographies distort the text and are unconvincing. Consequently, I reject each proposal purely on its handling of the internal details of the Book of Mormon. I also reject each proposal on methodological grounds.[1]

Clark also points out some difficulties with the archaeological arguments adduced for this model:

Numerous problems are inherent in Aston's argument, but I will address only the most serious. Why did the destruction of sites affect only those of the Nephite era? Urban sprawl is no respecter of archaeological sites and cannot edit the archaeological record in this manner. Ritchie provides a complete archaeological sequence for New York, with nothing missing. He relies on acceptable techniques of dating materials through radiocarbon and through changes in artifact styles. The so-called gap suggested by Aston does not exist. Ritchie's account is thought to be problematic and misleading only because the Nephite-equivalent period in New York is one of relatively low population, and Aston believes these to be Book of Mormon lands. In short, the fault is not inherent in the archaeological report but in the assumptions dictating the reading of it. As shown below, subsequent research in New York is substantiating the historic patterns described by Ritchie. When a detailed archaeological record fails to validate one's hypothesis, this should provoke reexamination of the hypothesis rather than rejection of the record of archaeological findings.

The issue of site destruction is at the center of all LGL claims. I address it from the perspective of an archaeologist with three decades of field experience. Archaeologists are rather hasty with claims of "destruction." But we do not use this term with the same meaning that it is being given in LGL arguments. For archaeologists, the ideal site is "pristine," meaning that it remains "undisturbed" by various natural agents (tree falls, rodents, hurricanes, earthworms, forest fires, etc.) or cultural forces (such as farming, looting, mining, and urban sprawl) until we get a chance to take it apart carefully, layer by layer. If archaeological sites were eggs, we would prefer them boiled rather than scrambled. For most archaeologists, scrambled sites lose most of their interpretive value, as Aston points out. When a site is plowed, looted by clandestine diggers or "avocational" archaeologists, or cut through by sewer lines or road right-of-ways, the pristine "order" of artifacts and features such as floors, fire hearths, and post molds is destroyed and scrambled. What is lost in pristine context, however, is partly compensated for by the increased visibility of the site. This is the critical point. LGL advocates use the term destroyed to mean "wiped off the face of the earth, obliterated, expunged, or erased." Archaeologists use destroyed to mean "altered, transformed, messed up, or scrambled." Even after enormous damage, these sites still exist, and their artifacts still exist, albeit in smaller pieces; however, the spatial relationships which once obtained among the various artifacts and features are obliterated.

The thrust of Aston's argument is that destruction has removed all traces of the sites in question, and this is the reason, according to his speculation, that they are not represented in Ritchie's master work. But the opposite is true; sites that are destroyed have increased visibility, are easier to find, and are generally overrepresented in synthetic works. LGL arguments are 180 degrees off the mark.[1]


Question: Was Zarahemla located near present-day Nauvoo?

The intent of this revelation seems to have been to encourage obedience to Joseph's instructions, whether about the name of towns or the locations for settlement

It is claimed that D&C 125: identifies a city as Zarahemla, and this was intended to be a revelatory declaration of the location of the Nephite city of Zarahemla from the Book of Mormon.

The intent of this revelation seems to have been to encourage obedience to Joseph's instructions, whether about the name of towns or the locations for settlement. An exhortation to obedience (a more spiritually vital message) seems more plausible than an oblique revelation of an obscure point of Book of Mormon geography, which none of the recipients noted anyway. Neither Joseph or anyone else described this as the site of the Nephite Zarahemla,[2] and at least two apostles have rejected the idea that anyone knows the location of Zarahemla via revelation.

The claim that the revelation in D&C 125 refers to the Nephite Zarahemla is dubious

Anthony W. Ivins, member of the First Presidency, said in General Conference:

There is a great deal of talk about the geography of the Book of Mormon. Where was the land of Zarahemla? Where was the City of Zarahemla? and other geographic matters. It does not make any difference to us. There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question. So the Church says we are just waiting until we discover the truth. All kinds of theories have been advanced. I have talked with at least half a dozen men that have found the very place where the City of Zarahemla stood, and notwithstanding the fact that they profess to be Book of Mormon students, they vary a thousand miles apart in the places they have located. We do not offer any definite solution. As you study the Book of Mormon keep these things in mind and do not make definite statements concerning things that have not been proven in advance to be true.[3]

Harold B. Lee also did not show any awareness that the location of Nephite Zarahemla had been revealed:

Some say the Hill Cumorah was in southern Mexico (and someone pushed it down still farther) and not in western New York. Well, if the Lord wanted us to know where it was, or where Zarahemla was, he’d have given us latitude and longitude, don’t you think? And why bother our heads trying to discover with archaeological certainty the geographical locations of the cities of the Book of Mormon like Zarahemla?[4]

In addition to this disavowal, and the Church's insistence that no official geography has been revealed outside the Book of Mormon text itself, there are textual problems with this claim.

D&C 125 was not the first application of the name Zarahemla to the area

In fact, D&C 125 was not the first application of the name Zarahemla to the area—Joseph examined the site near Montrose, Iowa on July 2, 1839, and "advised that a town be built there, and called Zarahemla." The History of the Church clearly indicates that this tract of land had recently been purchased by Bishop Knight with the intent of building a town upon it. Joseph Smith simply suggested a name for the new gathering place.[5] If Joseph had known by revelation that this was the site of the Nephite Zarahemla, it seems strange that he said nothing then or later, given his obvious keen interest in Book of Mormon locations.

Little was done across the river, despite Joseph's instructions, until the March 1841 revelation, whose probable intent becomes more clear when read in context. In response to the question, "What is the will of the Lord concerning the saints in the Territory of Iowa?," the Lord replies, " if those who call themselves by my name and are essaying to be my saints, if they will do my will and keep my commandments concerning them, let them gather themselves together unto the places which I shall appoint unto them by my servant Joseph, and build up cities unto my name…."[6]

Obedience is being emphasized, not a geographic identification. Notice also that the Lord specifically stated that Zarahemla, Iowa was being appointed by Him as a gathering place for the Saints (along with Nashville, Iowa). He said nothing about the location having any historical significance.

The geography of the Mississippi also makes the identification of Zarahemla questionable

The geography of the Mississippi also makes the identification of Zarahemla questionable. In the Book of Mormon, the River Sidon near Zarahemla could be crossed on foot by troops during battle (Alma 2:27–35). Despite this fact, one proponent of this claim tells us elsewhere that American bison "won't swim [across a body of water] if they can't clearly see the other side. And so when they get their heads down low, like a buffalo is, this is the Mississippi River at Nauvoo, this is a long swim. The buffalo wouldn't cross there."[7]

This claim is self-contradictory. It asserts that the Mississippi at Nauvoo is too wide for buffalo to swim—yet, it insists that the Nephite Zarahemla is located right across the Mississippi from Nauvoo, and so the model requires that troops be able to ford it. During an April 1842 visit, the anti-Mormon author Henry Caswall reported that the Mississippi between Montrose and Nauvoo was "about a mile and a half in width." He crossed by canoe, and noted that "at length the stout sinews of the Mormons prevailed….[and a]fter labouring hard [paddling] for more than half an hour we safely landed at Nauvoo."[8] It is difficult to see how Alma and his men could ford the river anywhere near the Zarahemla of Joseph Smith's day.


An additional argument for a Great Lakes setting is made based on DNA evidence:

  • See FAIR wiki article on Haplotype X2a.
  • See also FAIR's reviews of Rod Meldrum's DVD, DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography. FAIRWiki link

Best articles to read next

The best article(s) to read next on this topic is/are:

  1. FAIR's reviews of Rod Meldrum's DVD, DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography. FAIRWiki link
  2. John E. Clark, "Evaluating the Case for a Limited Great Lakes Setting," FARMS Review of Books 14/1 (2002): 9–78. off-site
  3. John Clark, "The Final Battle for Cumorah (Review of Christ in North America by Delbert W. Curtis)," FARMS Review of Books 6/2 (1994): 79–113. off-site
  4. John E. Clark, "Two Points of Book of Mormon Geography: A Review (Review of The Land of Lehi by Paul Hedengren)," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 1–24. off-site


Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 John E. Clark, "Evaluating the Case for a Limited Great Lakes Setting," FARMS Review of Books 14/1 (2002): 9–78. off-site
  2. There is, for example, no mention of any connection between the Montrose, Iowa area or nearby Zarahemla Stake with the Nephite Zarahemla in such works as Richard E. Bennett, "Montrose, Iowa," in Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History, edited by Donald Q. Cannon, Richard O. Cowan, Arnold K. Garr (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co., 2000). or Stanley B. Kimball, "Nauvoo West: The Mormons of the Iowa Shore," Brigham Young University Studies 18 (Winter 1978), 132–142.
  3. Anthony W. Ivins, Conference Report (April 1929), 16.
  4. Harold B. Lee, “Loyalty,” address to religious educators, 8 July 1966; in Charge to Religious Educators, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Church Educational System and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982), 65; cited in Dennis B. Horne (ed.), Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluation Doctrinal Truth (Roy, Utah: Eborn Books, 2005), 172-173.
  5. History of the Church, 3:382. Volume 3 link
  6. D&C 125:1-2(italics added)
  7. Rodney Meldrum, DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography: New scientific support for the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon; Correlation and Verification through DNA, Prophetic, Scriptural, Historical, Climatological, Archaeological, Social, and Cultural Evidence (Rodney Meldrum, 2007), mail-order DVD. ( Index of claims ) Quote is from Section #8, "Buffalo Evidence," 1:10-2:30 (approx time stamp).
  8. Rev. Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons: Or, Three Days at Nauvoo in 1842 (London: Rivington, 1842), 3-4.