Question: Did Joseph Smith teach a hemispheric, rather than a limited, geography model for the Book of Mormon?

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Question: Did Joseph Smith teach a hemispheric, rather than a limited, geography model for the Book of Mormon?

It does not appear that the Angel Moroni identified the locations of places mentioned in the Book of Mormon

What did Joseph Smith believe and teach about Book of Mormon geography? How does it relate to the location where the plates were buried? Matthew Roper addresses this issue:

The Prophet Joseph Smith knew that the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated had been obtained from the hill near his home. Aside from this, however, it does not appear that the angel Moroni identified current locations for places mentioned in the book. It is noteworthy—but scarcely surprising—that the Book of Mormon itself does not identify the hill in which it was buried. Instead, the hill in which all the Nephite plates other than those of the Book of Mormon were buried is identified (Mormon 6:6).26 It is also unclear how much, if any, geography Moroni revealed to the Prophet—whose calling was that of translator, not geographer. In the absence of revelation on Book of Mormon geography, we must expect the Saints to express their own ideas. Revelation is one thing, while speculation is quite another. Joseph Smith said very little about the geography of the Book of Mormon. What little he did say suggests that he may have shared the view held by his associates, that the Book of Mormon narrative describes events occurring in North, Central, and South America. [1]

Latter-day Saint archaeologist John Clark "points out the dangers of uncritically accepting the opinions of Joseph Smith as authoritative on the issue of Book of Mormon geography." [2]

The dangerous area is where opinion is thought to clarify ambiguities in the text, of which there are many. The minimal fact that various statements are attributed to Joseph Smith that place cities in different lands suggests that he continued to be interested throughout [Page 80]his life in the location of Book of Mormon lands and, consequently, that it remained an open question for him. If he knew where they were, why did he continue guessing? Should we not be similarly open-minded today? Do we go with the Prophet’s early statements or his later statements? [3]

Joseph occasionally expressed ideas related to where the Book of Mormon occurred, which ranged from the area around New York to the lands of Central America

Joseph occasionally expressed ideas related to where the Book of Mormon occurred, which ranged from the area around New York to the lands of Central America. He never explicitly taught a specific geography, although he appears to have held a hemispheric view, just as many members today do. Joseph was as much an observer of the restoration as he was its principle player. When revelations were received, he had to use his physical faculties to interpret and understand them like the rest of us. And although he had a "front row seat" to many of the foundational events, he was often as astounded and surprised by the revelations he received as were those who received them from him, and he had to understand those things that were evidenced but not explicitly stated by revelation in the same way we all do. This includes of course the geographic setting for the Book of Mormon. A limited geography does not in any way contradict the revelations of Joseph Smith.

Notes

  1. Matthew Roper, "Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations," The FARMS Review 16/2 (2004)
  2. Neal Rappleye, "“War of Words and Tumult of Opinions”: The Battle for Joseph Smith’s Words in Book of Mormon Geography," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 11 (2014)79. off-site
  3. John E. Clark, “Evaluating the Case for a Limited Great Lakes Setting,” FARMS Review of Books 14/1–2 (2002): 28.