Book of Mormon/Geography/Statements/Twentieth century

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Twentieth Century statements about Book of Mormon geography: 1900-1999


This page is a chronology of statements from primary and secondary sources. Sources may be viewed by following the citation links.

Jump to statements in: 1829–1840|1841|1842|1843|1844|1844–1899|1900–1999|2000–


B.H. Roberts: "we need not be surprised if we sometimes find them mistaken in their conceptions and deductions"

And let me here say a word in relation to new discoveries in our knowledge of the Book of Mormon, and for matter of that in relation to all subjects connected with the work of the Lord in the earth. We need not follow our researches in any spirit of fear and trembling. We desire only to ascertain the truth; nothing but the truth will endure; and the ascertainment of the truth and the proclamation of the truth in any given case, or upon any subject, will do no harm to the work of the Lord which is itself truth. Nor need we be surprised if now and then we find our predecessors, many of whom bear honored names and deserve our respect and gratitude for what they achieved in making clear the truth, as they conceived it to be—we need not be surprised if we sometimes find them mistaken in their conceptions and deductions; just as the generations who succeed us in unfolding in a larger way some of the yet unlearned truths of the Gospel, will find that we have had some misconceptions and made some wrong deductions in our day and time...[1]


Joseph F. Smith (25 May 1903): "the question of the situation of the city [of Zarahemla] was one of interest certainly, but if it could not be located the matter was not of vital importance"

On May 25, 1903 President Joseph F. Smith attended a convention on the Book of Mormon at BYU Academy in Provo, Utah. After several individuals and expressed and presented their views on the subject, “President Smith spoke briefly and expressed the idea that the question of the situation of the city [of Zarahemla] was one of interest certainly, but if it could not be located the matter was not of vital importance, and if there were differences of opinion on the question it would not affect the salvation of the people: and he advised against students considering it of such vital importance as the principles of the Gospel . . . . [He] again cautioned the students against making the union question–the location of the cities and lands–of the equal importance with the doctrines contained in the book . . . . [President Anthony H. Lund] advised those present to study the Book of Mormon, and be guided by the advice of President Smith in their studies.[2]


Joseph F. Smith (circa 1918): "President Smith declined to officially approve of the map, saying that the Lord had not yet revealed it"

The present associate editor of The Instructor was one day in the office of the late President Joseph F. Smith when some brethren were asking him to approve a map showing the exact landing place of Lehi and his company. President Smith declined to officially approve of the map, saying that the Lord had not yet revealed it, and that if it were officially approved and afterwards found to be in error, it would affect the faith of the people.[3]


George F. Richards (1922): "The land of North and South America is a very much favored portion of our Father's footstool"

The land of North and South America is a very much favored portion of our Father's footstool, and he has declared with his own mouth that it is a land of promise -- a chosen land -- above all other lands.[4]


Anthony W. Ivins (Apr 1929): "Where was the land of Zarahemla? Where was the City of Zarahemla?...There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question"

We must be careful in the conclusions that we reach. The Book of Mormon teaches the history of three distinct peoples, or two peoples and three different colonies of people, who came from the old world to this continent. It does not tell us that there was no one here before them. It does not tell us that people did not come after. And so if discoveries are made which suggest differences in race origins, it can very easily be accounted for, and reasonably, for we do believe that other people came to this continent...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.[5]


James E. Talmage (Apr 1929): "the Book of Mormon does not give us precise and definite information whereby we can locate those places with certainty"

April 1929: James E. Talmage, General Conference,

I sometimes think we pay a little undue attention to technicalities, and to questions that cannot be fully answered with respect to the Book of Mormon. It matters not to me just where this city or that camp was located. I have met a few of our Book of Mormon students who claim to be able to put their finger upon the map and indicate every land and city mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The fact is, the Book of Mormon does not give us precise and definite information whereby we can locate those places with certainty. I encourage and recommend all possible investigation, comparison and research in this matter. The more thinkers, investigators, workers we have in the field the better; but our brethren who devote themselves to that kind of research should remember that they must speak with caution and not declare as demonstrated truths points that are not really proved. There is enough truth in the Book of Mormon to occupy you and me for the rest of our lives, without giving too much time and attention to these debatable matters.[6]


Melvin J. Ballard (Apr 1930): "We were made to know that the Gospel message would find thousands who had the blood of Israel in their veins in South America"

Many years ago while doing missionary work in Montana I was given to understand by the whispering of the Spirit, as I wondered why the Lamanites had not been brought into the Church at an earlier period--the Lord made known to me that there were many things that he had to do for them before they were prepared to accept the Gospel message. I believe that the things the Lord had in mind are being accomplished and that their day dawns also. I was impressed with it on that memorable Christmas morning in 1925 in South America when Brother Wells, Brother Pratt and I knelt in that beautiful grove of weeping willow trees on the banks of the Rio de la Plata and dedicated the land for the spreading of the Gospel, and the Spirit of the Almighty was upon us. We were made to know that the Gospel message would find thousands who had the blood of Israel in their veins in South America. Then we saw the day when it would go to the fifteen million of Father Lehi's children who are in that land, and that the shackles, politically, would be broken, the day of retribution would come, the day of deliverance, and that they would come into a full realization of the promises of the Almighty. For, for that very purpose, we read in the third section of the book of D&C, was the Book of Mormon given, to bring them, the Lamanites, to a knowledge of the truth.[7]


Heber J. Grant (1937): "I am a firm believer that this country, both North and South America, is the choice land of the world"

I am very thankful that I am not in the least pessimistic or at all alarmed about the work of the Lord. I am a firm believer that this country, both North and South America, is the choice land of the world, a land choice above all other lands, according to the words of the prophets in the Book of Mormon. I believe in its final destiny. I believe that there is an over-ruling Providence protecting this country. I believe that this is the only place in the United States of America where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could have been established and continued without the most terrible persecution, worse than anything we ever had.[8]


LDS Department of Education Study Manual (1938): "the Book of Mormon deals only with the history and expansion of three small colonies which came to America and it does not deny or disprove the possibility of other immigrations"

Indian ancestry, at least in part, is attributed by the Nephite record to the Lamanites. However, the Book of Mormon deals only with the history and expansion of three small colonies which came to America and it does not deny or disprove the possibility of other immigrations, which probably would be unknown to its writers. Jewish origin may represent only a part of the total ancestry of the American Indian today.[9]


Question: Did Joseph Fielding Smith reject the theory that the final battlefield of the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica rather than New York?

Joseph Fielding Smith, before he became President of the Church, argued for a New York location as the scene of the final battle

One review of this topic notes:

In 1938 Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote an article published in the Deseret News arguing against what he then termed the "modernist" theory that the final battlefield of the Nephites and Jaredites may have been in Central America rather than in New York. In 1956 this article was included in a selection of Elder Smith's writings compiled by his son-in-law Bruce R. McConkie. Although Elder Smith would later become president of the church in 1970, his article arguing for a New York location as the scene of the final battlefield was written many years before he assumed that position, and he apparently never revisited the question as president of the church. There is evidence that Elder Smith may have softened his opposition on the Cumorah question. In a letter written to Fletcher B. Hammond, who argued emphatically for a Central American location and had sent Elder Smith a copy of his findings, the apostle explained, "I am sure this will be very interesting although I have never paid any attention whatever to Book of Mormon geography because it appears to me that it is inevitable that there must be a great deal of guesswork."  Apparently, he did not consider his 1938 argument as settled and definitive or as a measure of doctrinal orthodoxy.

Joseph Fielding Smith acknowledged that this was his opinion, and that others were entitled to their own opinions regarding this subject

Sidney B. Sperry, after whom an annual Brigham Young University symposium is named, was also one who initially supported the New York Cumorah view (that is, an area of New York as the final battlefield of the Nephites and Jaredites). During the 1960s, as he began to explore the issue, he came to a different conclusion... Reversing his earlier position, he wrote: "It is now my very carefully studied and considered opinion that the Hill Cumorah to which Mormon and his people gathered was somewhere in Middle America. The Book of Mormon evidence to this effect is irresistible and conclusive to one who will approach it with an open mind. This evidence has been reviewed by a few generations of bright students in graduate classes who have been given the challenge to break it down if they can. To date none has ever been able to do so."  Sperry, who was very familiar with what Joseph Fielding Smith had previously written, told him that he did not feel comfortable publishing something that contradicted what the apostle had written, but that he and other sincere students of the Book of Mormon had come to that conclusion only after serious and careful study of the text. Sperry said that Elder Smith then lovingly put his arm around his shoulder and said, "Sidney, you are as entitled to your opinion as I am to mine. You go ahead and publish it." [10]

It seems clear, then, that Elder (later President) Smith did not regard his views as the product of revelation, nor did he regard it as illegitimate to have a different view of the matter.


Melvin J. Ballard (Apr 1938): "for these millions who are in Mexico, Central America and South America their day must come"

To the descendants of Father Lehi, who have suffered so long, for whom we received the precious record of the Book of Mormon, it did not come to us for our sake, it was committed into our hands to hold in custody for these millions who are in Mexico, Central America and South America their day must come. It is coming, and I see the hand of God preparing for their deliverance. But you, you must lead the way.[11]


Washburn and Washburn (1939), An Approach to the Study of Book of Mormon Geography: Book cover

Cover of Washburn and Washburn (1939) focusing attention on a Mesoamerican location.
  • J.A. Washburn and J.N. Washburn, An Approach to the Study of Book of Mormon Geography (New Era Pub. Co., 1939). Note that the cover circles Mesoamerica.


J. Reuben Clark (1940): "Thus the hemisphere – Zion in its full area –was becoming “a land of liberty"

Clearly, if the people of this land, this whole land of America, all of it, must serve Jesus Christ, `the God of the land,’ or be swept off, and this is the gist of all and every blessing promised for, and every judgment uttered against this land, the God must so provide that men in all the Americas could serve him. The era of the Gentiles must be an era of freedom of worship throughout the Hemisphere else Zion could not be established. This was God’s plan and must be brought about....

Then in the early decades of the last century, both before and after Joseph’s First Vision, God moved upon the other peoples, one by one, to assert and win their independence, and as fast as hey won it, they one by one – I am speaking with historical accuracy – set up their new governmental systems in the framework of our Constitution, sometimes in the first instance, practically copying it word for word. Different juridical traditions have led them to develop their governmental systems along diverging lines from ours, but in great principles their fundamental document is a replica of our God-given instrument. Thus the hemisphere – Zion in its full area –was becoming “a land of liberty.”[12]


LDS Department of Education Study Manual (1940): "There is a tendency to use the Book of Mormon as a complete history of all pre-Columbian peoples...The book does not give an history of all peoples who came to America before Columbus"

There is a tendency to use the Book of Mormon as a complete history of all pre-Columbian peoples. The book does not claim to be such an history, and we distort its spiritual message when we use it for such a purpose. The book does not give an history of all peoples who came to America before Columbus. There may have been other people who came here, by other routes and means, of which we have no written record. If historians wish to discuss information which the Book of Mormon does not contain but which is related to it, then we should grant them that freedom. We should avoid the claim that we are familiar with all the peoples who have lived on American soil when we discuss the Book of Mormon. . . There is safety in using the book in the spirit in which it was written. Our use of poorly constructed inferences may draw us far away from the truth. In our approach to the study of the Book of Mormon let us guard against drawing historical conclusions which the book does not warrant.[13]


George Albert Smith (Oct 1940): "They will find that it contains, in addition to what the Bible has told us about the world, what the Lord has said about this Western Hemisphere"

I recommend that not only you Latter-day Saints read the Book of Mormon, but that our Father's other children read it. They will find that it contains, in addition to what the Bible has told us about the world, what the Lord has said about this Western Hemisphere -- that this should be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles and that no king should dwell upon this land, but that He, the God of Heaven, would be our King and would fortify this land against all the nations, that this should be a land of peace and happiness, on Condition that we would honor the God of this earth, the Father of us all. The factor controlling this promise is that we must keep the commandments of our Heavenly Father or it cannot be realized.[14]


David O. McKay (1843): "and this includes Canada and the southern republics, was a choice land when the Jaredites left the land of Shinar approximately four thousand years ago"

America, and this includes Canada and the southern republics, was a choice land when the Jaredites left the land of Shinar approximately four thousand years ago. So it was fourteen hundred years later when Lehi and his colony formed the nucleus of a nation, prospered on the bounty of the country, and after a thousand years perished because of transgression. America was a great land when the stately Indian chiefs ruled their tribes, which thrived from the Bering Sea in the north to the Panama and towering Andes in the South.[15]


Ezra Taft Benson (Apr 1955): "the Promised Land, the land of Zion, includes all of North and South America"

I found they [those in 11 Latin American nations he had visited] liked to be referred to as Americans.... I found they were happy to learn that to the Latter-day Saints the Promised Land, the land of Zion, includes all of North and South America.[16]


Lowell T. Bennion (Sunday School - 1955): "The Book of Mormon itself does not purport to be a history of all pre-Columbian peoples in the Western Hemisphere"

“The Book of Mormon itself does not purport to be a history of all pre-Columbian peoples in the Western Hemisphere. It simply tells briefly the story of these three peoples who came to this Continent. Its story ends in 421 A.D. What may have happened elsewhere on the American Continent before, during, or after the Nephite record was written (600 B.C. - 421 A.D.), we have no way of knowing.”[17]


Harold B. Lee (11 Nov 1959) "it seems all are in agreement that the followers of Lehi came to the western shores of South America"

...from the writings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and of other inspired men, it seems all are in agreement that the followers of Lehi came to the western shores of South America....I believe we are (today) not far from the place where the history of the people of Lehi commenced in western America.[18]


Mark E. Peterson (1982): "Now, a General Authority might speculate, I suppose. We have had speculation, for instance, on the part of some with respect to Book of Mormon geography"

…we all have our free agency. God doesn’t rob anyone of that. And sometimes even a General Authority has used his agency in a wrong direction…Now, a General Authority might speculate, I suppose. We have had speculation, for instance, on the part of some with respect to Book of Mormon geography, and it is plain, unadulterated speculation and not doctrine. And if a General Authority has speculated on Book of Mormon geography he did not represent the view of the Church while doing so.[19]


Dallin H. Oaks (29 Oct 1993): "the Book of Mormon is not a history of all of the people who have lived on the continents of North and South America"

Here [BYU, 1950s] I was introduced to the idea that the Book of Mormon is not a history of all of the people who have lived on the continents of North and South America in all ages of the earth. Up to that time, I had assumed that it was. If that were the claim of the Book of Mormon, any piece of historical, archaeological, or linguistic evidence to the contrary would weigh in against the Book of Mormon, and those who rely exclusively on scholarship would have a promising position to argue.

In contrast, if the Book of Mormon only purports to be an account of a few peoples who inhabited a portion of the Americas during a few millennia in the past, the burden of argument changes drastically. It is no longer a question of all versus none; it is a question of some versus none. In other words, in the circumstance I describe, the opponents of historicity [i.e. those who argue that the Book of Mormon is not a literally true record, as it claims] must prove that the Book of Mormon has no historical validity for any peoples who lived in the Americas in a particular time frame, a notoriously difficult exercise. You do not prevail on that proposition by proving that a particular Eskimo culture represents migrations from Asia. The opponents of the historicity of the Book of Mormon must prove that the people whose religious life it records did not live anywhere in the Americas.[20]


John A. Widtsoe (Jul 1950): "under the Prophet's editorship Central America was denominated the region of Book of Mormon activities"

John A. Widtsoe (Council of the Twelve)

As far as can be learned, the Prophet Joseph Smith, translator of the book, did not say where, on the American continent, Book of Mormon activities occurred. Perhaps he did not know…. [The 1842 Times and Seasons article] seems to place many book of Mormon activities in that region. The interesting fact in this connection is that the Prophet Joseph Smith at this time was editor of the Times and Seasons, and had announced his full editorial responsibility for the paper. This seems to give the subjoined article an authority it might not otherwise possess….

They who work on the geography of the Book of Mormon have little else than the preceding approaches with which to work, viz [that is]: that Nephites found their way into what is now the state of Illinois; that the plates of the Book of Mormon were found in a hill in northwestern New York State; that a statement exists of doubtful authenticity that Lehi and his party landed on the shore of the land now known as Chile; and that under the Prophet's editorship Central America was denominated the region of Book of Mormon activities.

Out of diligent, prayerful study, we may be led to a better understanding of times and places in the history of the people who move across the pages of the divinely given Book of Mormon.[21]

…out of the studies of faithful Latter-day Saints may yet come a unity of opinion concerning Book of Mormon geography.[22]


Ezra Taft Benson (Apr 1960 and Oct 1962): "This is a choice land - - all of America"

This is a choice land - - all of America - - choice above all others.”[23]

...this choice land of the Americas....[24]


Marion G. Romney (6 Apr 1963): "I have for the past two years been supervising the Latin American missions...the Lamanites, many of whom live in these missions"

I have just greeted and welcomed our people from Latin America. my Spanish may not have been such as they could understand, but you are in no position to challenge my interpretation of it. I love these, my brothers and sisters. To me they are white and delightsome. And of course I love you, too....I have for the past two years been supervising the Latin American missions. it may not, therefore, be wholly inappropriate for me to say something about the Lamanites, many of whom live in these missions. [25]


Harold B. Lee (8 Jul 1966): "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?"

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?[26]


BYU Master's Thesis (Aug 1968): Uses Mesoamerica as presumptive culture source for costumes destined for a Book of Mormon re-enactments

BYU Master's Thesis for an August 1968 Speech and Dramatic Arts department uses Mesoamerica as presumptive culture source for costumes destined for a Book of Mormon re-enactments.

Amanda J. Brown, "A Design Study in Costume for Projected Dramatic Productions Prescribing a Book of Mormon Setting Identified Herein as Late Preclassic Mesoamerican Culture," Master's Thesis, Department of Speech and Dramatic Arts (August 1968). off-site


Paul R. Cheesman (Nov 1968): "There are those who believe that there are two Hill Cumorahs...Advocates of this theory establish their analysis primarily from the internal evidences of the Book of Mormon"

There are those who believe that there are two Hill Cumorahs. Their theory is that the hill on which Mormon fought the last battle with the Lamanites is not the same hill in which Joseph Smith found the gold plates. Advocates of this theory establish their analysis primarily from the internal evidences of the Book of Mormon. Others conclude that there is only one Hill Cumorah, and that the place where Joseph Smith and Moroni met was the same place Mormon and Moroni visited in the fifth century. There is no official Church view.[27]


Ezra Taft Benson (1972): "I wish that every person in my country, in your country, in all of the Americas on this entire continent would read the Book of Mormon, and in it the prophetic history of these lands"

It should be comforting to all Latter-day Saints that the Lord has given great promises in that sacred volume, the Book of Mormon, promises that should give us comfort and assurance on the condition that we live the gospel. How I wish that every person in my country, in your country, in all of the Americas on this entire continent would read the Book of Mormon, and in it the prophetic history of these lands and the clear warnings for the future. Read what Father Lehi said in 2 Nephi 1:6-8. Read what his son Jacob said in 2 Nephi 10:10-14. Read also 1 Nephi 22:17 . . . . But we must also keep in mind the warning of the Brother of Jared in the second chapter of Ether, verses 9 and 10 . . . . Then in the twelfth verse. My beloved brethren and sisters, these things are true.[28]


Marion G. Romney (1975): "As the conflict intensified, all the people who had not been slain—men...gathered about that hill Cumorah"

In the western part of the state of New York near Palmyra is a prominent hill known as the “hill Cumorah.” (Morm. 6:6.) On July twenty-fifth of this year, as I stood on the crest of that hill admiring with awe the breathtaking panorama which stretched out before me on every hand, my mind reverted to the events which occurred in that vicinity some twenty-five centuries ago—events which brought to an end the great Jaredite nation.

You who are acquainted with the Book of Mormon will recall that during the final campaign of the fratricidal war between the armies led by Shiz and those led by Coriantumr “nearly two millions” of Coriantumr’s people had been slain by the sword; “two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children.” (Ether 15:2.)

As the conflict intensified, all the people who had not been slain—men “with their wives and their children” (Ether 15:15)—gathered about that hill Cumorah (see Ether 15:11). —(Click here to continue) [29]


Spencer W. Kimball (Feb 1977): "There are probably sixty million Lamanites in America"

Spencer W. Kimball in Mexico, 1977,

[p. 2] Columbus discovered America in 1492. After him came many colonizers and explorers. The Puritans and Pilgrims came from Europe . . . . For four hundred years the Lamanites were scattered throughout the Americas. Cortes came here, and Pizzaro went to South America. They had great influence upon the people. They scattered them and persecuted them....

[3] One of the first efforts of the Prophet Joseph Smith was to take the gospel to the Lamanites. Continuing until now, we have preached the gospel to the Lamanites. There are probably sixty million Lamanites in America. They are happy for the gospel as it comes to them. . . . In many natural resources, the land of America is rich and will produce abundantly. This is for you, for us, and for all the good people who live upon the land of America. Protection against enemies has been promised. In all the Americas, neither kings nor emperors will combine to take the land. Great promises are given us, if we live the commandments God has given us....

One of the first efforts of the Prophet Joseph Smith was to take the gospel to the Lamanites. Continuing until now, we have preached the gospel to the Lamanites. There are probably sixty million Lamanites in America. They are happy for the gospel as it come to them. . . . In many natural resources, the land of America is rich and will produce abundantly. This is for you, for us, and for all the good people who live upon the land of America. Protection against enemies has been promised. In all the Americas, neither kings nor emperors will combine to take the land. Great promises are given us, if we live the commandments God has given us.[30]


Hugh Nibley (1978): "one tragically short-lived religious civilization that once flourished in Mesoamerica and then vanished toward the northeast in the course"

In a reprint of an article written in 1967, Nibley added:

The overall picture reflects before all a limited geographical and cultural point of view--small localized operations, with only occasional flights and expeditions into the wilderness; one might almost be moving in the cultural circuit of the Hopi villages. The focusing of the whole account on religious themes as well as the limited cultural scope leaves all the rest of the stage clear for any other activities that might have been going on in the vast reaches of the New World, including the hypothetical Norsemen, Celts, Phoenicians, Libyans, or prehistoric infiltrations via the Bering Straits. Indeed, the more varied the ancient American scene becomes, as newly discovered populations of Near Eastern, Far Eastern, and European origin, the more hospitable it is to the activities of one tragically short-lived religious civilization that once flourished in Mesoamerica and then vanished toward the northeast in the course of a series of confused tribal wars that was one long, drawn-out retreat into oblivion.[31]


Ezra Taft Benson (Jan 1979): "God raised up wise leaders among your progenitors which afforded Latin American countries political freedom and independence"

God raised up wise leaders among your progenitors which afforded Latin American countries political freedom and independence. I only mention the names of a few whom God raised up to accomplish His holy and Sovereign purposes: Jose de San Martin, Bernardo O’Higgins, and Simon Bolivar. These were some of the `founding fathers of your continent. I believe it was very significant that when independence came to the countries of South America, governments were established on constitutional principles–some patterned after the Constitution of the United States. I believe this was a very necessary step which preceded the preaching of the gospel in South America.[32]


Ezra Taft Benson (Dec 1980): "wise and inspired men in North, Central, and South America were raised up who proclaimed the sovereign truth that all men"

The Lord recognized that truth will only prosper where religious freedom exists. Religious freedom cannot be fully enjoyed without a full measure of political freedom. So before the gospel was restored, wise and inspired men in North, Central, and South America were raised up who proclaimed the sovereign truth that all men—not just the privileged, the rich, or the rulers—but all men have divine rights. Among these rights are life, liberty (which includes our freedom to worship), and right to property (See D&C 101:79).[33]

When a Book of Mormon prophet referred to the nations of the world, this hemisphere was designated as `good’ (Jacob 5:25-26).[34]


Hugh Nibley (19 Aug 1983): "All this took place in Central America"

All this took place in Central America, the perennial arena of the Big People versus the Little People.[35]


John Sorenson, Ensign (1984): "the immediate land covered by the book’s events was probably only hundreds rather than thousands of miles long and wide"

John Sorenson wrote, in a two-part article published in the Ensign:

As early as the turn of the century, a few Saints began to look more carefully at what the Book of Mormon itself said on this matter. They found statements there indicating that the scene for Jaredite and Nephite history was likely more limited than they had previously supposed. Then, in 1939, the Washburns published a detailed analysis of the geography in the Book of Mormon based strictly on its own statements and demonstrating the consistency of those statements. Since the publication of their work, An Approach to the Study of Book of Mormon Geography, analysts of the scripture have found still more data in the Book of Mormon’s own statements suggesting that the immediate land covered by the book’s events was probably only hundreds rather than thousands of miles long and wide.[36]

Following the above, publication of John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1996 [1985]), 1.


Neal A. Maxwell (1986): "Whether located in Meso–America or elsewhere, they were one people among many peoples on this planet and perhaps even on the western hemisphere"

Individuals and settings of obscurity are not unusual to the Lord's purposes. Meridian–day Christianity was initiated on a very small geographical scale and with comparatively few people. The larger, busy world paid little heed to it. Likewise with the Book of Mormon peoples. Whether located in Meso–America or elsewhere, they were one people among many peoples on this planet and perhaps even on the western hemisphere.[37]


Question: Did the First Presidency identify the New York "Hill Cumorah" as the site of the Nephite final battles?

The First Presidency's secretary apparently answered a question according to his own understanding - No revelatory basis exists for this position

The First Presidency's secretary apparently answered a question according to his own understanding, and then at the direction of the First Presidency later clarified/corrected his statement to indicate that while many Latter-day Saints have expressed opinions about the location of Cumorah (or other Book of Mormon geography issues), the Church has no official geography. No revelatory basis exists for any geographical scheme outside of the Book of Mormon text itself.

A letter from the Secretary to the First Presidency said that "that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon"

In 1990, F. Michael Watson (secretary to the First Presidency) sent a letter to a questioner which read as follows:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Office of the First Presidency
Salt Lake City, Utah 84150
October 16, 1990
Bishop Darrel L. Brooks
Moore Ward
Oklahoma City Oklahoma South Stake
1000 Windemere
Moore, OK 73160
Dear Bishop Brooks:
I have been asked to forward to you for acknowledgment and handling the enclosed copy of a letter to President Gordon B. Hinckley from Ronnie Sparks of your ward. Brother Sparks inquired about the location of the Hill Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon, where the last battle between the Nephites and Lamanites took place.
The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon.
The Brethren appreciate your assistance in responding to this inquiry, and asked that you convey to Brother Sparks their commendation for his gospel study.
Sincerely yours,
(signed)
F. Michael Watson
Secretary to the First Presidency
Letter from F. Michael Watson sent 16 October 1990.

Two statements made available within the next three years clarified the Church's opinion on the matter

It is apparent that Bro. Watson seems to have been speaking on his own understanding of the matter, and not as an official declaration of Church policy. Two statements made available within the next three years clarified the Church's opinion on the matter. The first was the publication of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Although not an official statement of Church policy, two members of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elders Oaks and Maxwell, served as advisers during the production of the Encyclopedia. Thus, we have the following statement published in 1992:

In 1928 the Church purchased the western New York hill and in 1935 erected a monument recognizing the visit of the angel Moroni (see Angel Moroni Statue). A visitors center was later built at the base of the hill. Each summer since 1937, the Church has staged the Cumorah Pageant at this site. Entitled America's Witness for Christ, it depicts important events from Book of Mormon history. This annual pageant has reinforced the common assumption that Moroni buried the plates of Mormon in the same hill where his father had buried the other plates, thus equating this New York hill with the Book of Mormon Cumorah. Because the New York site does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Book of Mormon geography, some Latter-day Saints have looked for other possible explanations and locations, including Mesoamerica. Although some have identified possible sites that may seem to fit better (Palmer), there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site that has been suggested.
—David A. Palmer, "Cumorah" in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

The Secretary to the First Presidency later clarified his earlier statement: "there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site"

On April 23, 1993, F. Michael Watson arranged for a clarification letter after a discussion with a FARMS staffer. The text is similar and consistent with what was published in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism the previous year:

The Church emphasizes the doctrinal and historical value of the Book of Mormon, not its geography. While some Latter-day Saints have looked for possible locations and explanations [for Book of Mormon geography] because the New York Hill Cumorah does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Cumorah, there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site.[38]

Since the text of this letter was published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, some critics have charged the FARMS authors with either manipulating the Church into sending the letter, or forging the letter text altogether.

Matt Roper of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship located a faxed copy of the same statement sent from the Office of the First Presidency, along with its cover page, and sent FAIR a copy with permission to post it. The 1993 fax was sent by Senior Executive Secretary for the Office of the First Presidency, Carla Ogden, to Brent Hall of FARMS. (Sister Ogden continues to serve in this position as of 2009). The text of the fax matches exactly the text reported to have been in the response by Watson as described in the FARMS Review. The cover letter reads as follows:

I thought you would be interested in this FAX from Michael Watson, secretary to the First Presidency. We have been receiving a number of questions from the Oklahoma, Texas area where anti-Mormons are using a letter from Brother Watson to a Bishop where Brother Watson said that the Church supports only one location for Cumorah, and that is the New York location. I talked with him on the phone the other day and told him of the questions that were coming to us. He responded that the First Presidency would like to clear up that Issue and he would FAX me with that clarification.

Thanks

[signed] Brent [Hall]

Fax from the Office of the First Presidency to FARMS dated April 23, 1993.

(Phone and numbers have been redacted from these scans; they are otherwise unaltered. The top of the First Presidency's fax had "Apr 23 '93 12:25 PM FIRST PRESIDENCY SLC P.1" in fainter letters applied by the receiving fax, which does not appear on the scan.)


Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1992): "The Church has not taken an official position with regard to location of geographical places"

The Church has not taken an official position with regard to location of geographical places [of the Book of Mormon].[39]


  • John E. Clark, "A Key for Evaluating Nephite Geographies (Review of Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon by F. Richard Hauck)," FARMS Review of Books 1/1 (1989): 20–70. off-site
  • William J. Hamblin, "A Stumble Forward? (Review of Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon by F. Richard Hauck)," FARMS Review of Books 1/1 (1989): 71–77. off-site
  • John L. Sorenson, "Review of Mapping the Action Found in the Book of Mormon by Harold K. Nielsen," FARMS Review of Books 1/1 (1989): 119–120. off-site
  • Mark V. Withers, "Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon (Review of Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon by F. Richard Hauck)," FARMS Review of Books 1/1 (1989): 78–79. off-site* John L. Sorenson, "When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land Did They Find Others There?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1 (1992): 1–34. wikiGL direct link
  • William J. Hamblin, "Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 161–197. wiki off-site GL direct link
  • David A. Palmer, "Review of American Book of Mormon Map by Paul D. Proctor," FARMS Review of Books 2/1 (1990): 205–206. off-site
  • John L. Sorenson, "Viva Zapato! Hurray for the Shoe! (Review of "Does the Shoe Fit? A Critique of the Limited Tehuantepec Geography" by Deanne G. Matheny)," FARMS Review of Books 6/1 (1994): 297–361. off-site
  • Matthew Roper, "On Cynics and Swords (Review of Of Cities and Swords: The Impossible Task of Mormon Apologetics)," FARMS Review of Books 9/1 (1997): 146–158. off-site

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. Brigham H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3 Vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909[1895, 1903]), 2:503–504. ISBN 0962254541.
  2. Deseret News, 25 May 1903.
  3. George D. Pyper, "The Book of Mormon Geography," The Instructor no. 73 (April 1938), 160. Event discussed occurred in about 1918; see John L. Sorenson, Mormon's Map (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000), 7. ISBN 0934893489.
  4. George F. Richards, Conference Report (October 1922), 80.
  5. Anthony W. Ivins, Conference Report (April 1929), 16.
  6. James E. Talmage, Conference Report (April 1929), 44.
  7. Melvin J. Ballard, Conference Report (April 1930), 156.
  8. Heber J. Grant, Conference Report (October 1937), 98.
  9. William E. Berrett, Milton R. Hunter, Roy A. Welker, and H. Alvah Fitzgerald, A Guide to the Study of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: LDS Department of Education, 1938), 47–48.
  10. Matthew Roper, "Losing the Remnant: The New Exclusivist "Movement" and the Book of Mormon (A review of "Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America" by: Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum)," FARMS Review 22/2 (2010): 87–124. off-site wiki
  11. Melvin J. Ballard, Conference Report (April 1938), 44.
  12. J. Reuben Clark Jr., “America’s Divine Destiny,” cited in Messages of the First Presidency, edited by James R. Clark, Vol. 6, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1975), 108. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  13. Roy A. West, An Introduction to the Book of Mormon: A Religious-Literary Study (Salt Lake City: LDS Department of Education, 1940), 11.
  14. George Albert Smith, Conference Report (October 1840), 108.
  15. David O. McKay, Conference Report (April 1843), 17-18.
  16. Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, 48.
  17. Lowell L. Bennion, An Introduction to the Gospel: For the Sunday Schools of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (The Deseret Sunday School Union Board, 1955), 113
  18. Harold B. Lee, Quarterly Historical Report for the Andes Mission, 11 November 1959. Cited in Sorenson, Sourcebook, 390.
  19. Mark E. Petersen, “Revelation,” address to religious educators, 24 August 1954; cited in Charge to Religious Educators, 2nd ed., (Salt Lake City: Church Educational System and the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints, 1982), 136–137; cited in Dennis B. Horne (ed.), Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluation Doctrinal Truth (Roy, Utah: Eborn Books, 2005), 315.
  20. Dallin H. Oaks, "Historicity of the Book of Mormon," Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies Annual Dinner Provo, Utah, 29 October 1993; cited in Dallin H. Oaks, "The Historicity of the Book of Mormon," (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1994): 2–3.
  21. John A. Widtsoe, "Evidences and Reconciliations: Is Book of Mormon Geography Known?," Improvement Era 53 (July 1950), 547.
  22. John A. Widtsoe, foreword to Thomas Stuart Ferguson's Cumorah—Where? (Oakland: Published by the author, 1947), cited by John L. Sorenson, Mormon's Map (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000), 7–8. ISBN 0934893489.
  23. Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report (April 1960), 99.
  24. Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report (October 1962), 15.
  25. Marion G. Romney, Conference Report (6 April 1963), 74.
  26. 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.
  27. Paul R. Cheesman, "Archaeology and the Book of Mormon," The Instructor, Vol. 103, No. 11 (November 1968): 429.
  28. Ezra Taft Benson, Official Report of the First Mexico and Central America Area General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held in the National Auditorium Chapultepec Park in Mexico City, Mexico August 25, 26, 27, 1972 (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1972), 131.
  29. Marion G. Romney, "America’s Destiny," Ensign (Nov 1975).
  30. Spencer W. Kimball, Official Reports of the Monterrey Mexico Area Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in Monterrey, Mexico February 19 and 20, 1977, (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978), 2-3.
  31. "The Mormon View of the Book of Mormon" in Concilium: An International Review of Theology 10 (December 1967): 82–83; in Concilium: Theology in the Age of Renewal 30 (1968): 170–73; and in French, Portuguese, and German editions of this journal. It was reprinted in Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1978), 149–53, under the title "The Book of Mormon: A Minimal Statement," with the text from which this segment is cited as a postscript. It was most recently republished in Hugh Nibley, "The Book of Mormon: A Minimal Statement," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Restoration Scripture 19/1 (2010): 78–80. off-site wiki
  32. Ezra Taft Benson, “The Righteous Need not Fear,” La Paz, Bolivia, 10-18 January 1979, in Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), 695. ISBN 0884946398. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  33. Ezra Taft Benson, Puerto Rico, 12-17 December 1980.
  34. Ezra Taft Benson, Puerto Rico Priesthood Leadership Meeting, 12-17 December 1980; cited in Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), 123. ISBN 0884946398. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  35. Hugh Nibley, BYU Commencement Ceremony, 19 August 1983; cited in Hugh Nibley, "Leaders to Managers: The Fatal Shift," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 16 no. 4 (Winter 1983), 12-21.
  36. John L. Sorenson, "Digging into the Book of Mormon: Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and Its Scripture, Part 1," Ensign (September 1984), 27. off-site For second part of the article, see off-site
  37. Neal A. Maxwell, But For A Small Moment (Salt Lake City, Utah: Desert Book, 1986), 18.
  38. Correspondence from Michael Watson, Office of the First Presidency, 23 April 1993. Cited with commentary in William J. Hamblin, "Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 161–197. wiki off-site GL direct link
  39. John E. Clark, "Book of Mormon Geography," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 1:178.