Question: What is the Hemispheric Geography Theory regarding the location of Book of Mormon lands?

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Question: What is the Hemispheric Geography Theory regarding the location of Book of Mormon lands?

The Hemispheric Geography Theory is the traditional understanding of the Book of Mormon

The Hemispheric Geography Theory (or HGT) is the traditional understanding of the Book of Mormon. It postulates that the events in the book took place over North and South America, with the Isthmus of Panama as the narrow neck of land.

Orson Pratt was the best-known proponent of the hemispheric model

The earliest and best-known proponent of the hemispheric model was Orson Pratt, who espoused it as early as 1832[1] and continued to teach it for decades. Throughout the nineteenth century, many Latter-day Saint writers followed Pratt’s model, and eventually his geographical ideas were incorporated into the footnotes of the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon. The popularity of the hemispheric model notwithstanding, it simply is not clear whether it was the result of prophetic revelation or merely the outgrowth of the personal ideas and assumptions of the Prophet Joseph Smith and other brethren.[2]

Joseph Smith likely believed in a hemispheric Book of Mormon geography

Frederick G. Williams attributed this model to Joseph Smith,[3] but this was based on William's interpretation of an anonymous manuscript that did not appear in print until 1882.[4]

A more recent advocate of the HGT, Earl Wunderli[5] has been reviewed.[6] Wunderli believes that the Book of Mormon text is clearly hemispheric, though he seems to presume that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon as a nineteenth century work, and thus reflects Joseph's preoccupations.[7]

Advantages of the hemispheric model

  • it matches how the earliest members of the Church tended to read the Book of Mormon
  • many members of the Church continue to have this sort of 'image' in their mind as they read the Book of Mormon–it is familiar, and comfortable
  • it has sanction in the writings and talks of many Church leaders of the past, who gave their personal opinions about it. However, now the Church takes no position on it.

Disadvantages of the hemispheric model

  • distances in the Book of Mormon are extremely difficult to square with the HGT scale, which requires thousands of miles in a North-South direction
  • even if it were true that there was an exceedingly great distance between the core Nephite domain and the Cumorah where the Nephites and the Jaredites were destroyed, there is no justification from the text of also extending this exceeding distance throughout the whole western hemisphere.

Notes

  1. A newspaper account of Mormon missionaries who preached in Pennsylvania in 1832 mentions Orson Pratt in connection with this teaching. See B. Stokely, “The Orators of Mormonism,” Catholic Telegraph (Cincinnati), 14 April 1832, a reprint from Mercer (PA) Free Press.
  2. "Statement on Book of Mormon Geography," FARMS (accessed 18 September 2006) off-site
  3. John W. Welch and John L. Sorenson, "Did Lehi Land in Chile? An Assessment of the Frederick G. Williams Statement," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 57–61.
  4. 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
  5. Earl M. Wunderli, "Critique of a Limited Geography for Book of Mormon Events," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35 no. 3 (2002), 161–197.
  6. Brant Gardner, "An Exploration in Critical Methodology: Critiquing a Critique (Review of: “Critique of a Limited Geography for Book of Mormon Events,” Dialogue 35/3 (2002): 161–97)," FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 173–224. off-site
  7. See Gardner, "Critiquing a critique," footnote 16 (referring to Wunderli, note 44.)