Specific works/DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography (DVD)/Geographical claims

Table of Contents

Geographical claims

A FairMormon Analysis of: DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography (DVD); Introduction to Book of Mormon Evidences (Seminar), a work by author: The FIRM Foundation

Response to geographical claims made in the DVD DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography

The following tables respond to specific geographical claims made in the DVD. Only the geographical claims are treated here. For other issues related to this DVD and the presentation "Introduction to Book of Mormon Evidences," see the following:

A note about DNA claims

It is claimed in the DVD and associated seminars that criticisms related to DNA and the Book of Mormon have not been addressed by LDS scholars. This is incorrect. For a detailed discussion of DNA related claims, see the following:


Heartland (Meldrum) Geography claims

Claims made in the seminar "Introduction to Book of Mormon Evidences

Page Claim Response Author's sources

High culture

  • The presenter claims that Central America has become a popular location for Book of Mormon lands because they had a "high culture." The presenter asks: "When have the Lord's people ever been the highest culture?" The presenter claims that Israelites were "living on the mountains" and that the Lord's people have never been the "largest, greatest culture."
  • What did Joseph Smith have to say about this? The presenter ignores the words of Joseph Smith on this matter. Joseph claimed that the Book of Mormon people had "high culture:"

...a great and a mighty people had inhabited this continent-that the arts sciences and religion, had prevailed to a very great extent, and that there was as great and mighty cities on this continent as on the continent of Asia. Babylon, Ninevah, nor any of the ruins of the Levant could boast of more perfect sculpture, better architectural designs, and more imperishable ruins, than what are found on this continent. (Joseph Smith, Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, [original edition] (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1984). ISBN 0877479747. GL direct link) (emphasis added)

  • As noted below, the words "this content" are defined by Webster's 1828 dictionary as the Western continent, comprising the North and South American landmass.
  • The search for a "high culture" area is also necessitated by the Book of Mormon text, since it describes a civilization with kings, cities, trade, settled agriculture, and writing. Mesoamerican theorists point out that only in Mesoamerica is there evidence of literacy and record-keeping.
  • None

Claims made in section 1: DNA Evidence

 [needs work]
Page Claim Response Author's sources

Claims made in section 2: Geography

Page Claim Response Author's sources

DVD 2-11:33

  • It is claimed that the "Hill Cumorah" in New York is the "Hill Cumorah" referred to in the Book of Mormon.
  • The hill in New York was not called "Cumorah" until after the publication of the Book of Mormon.
  • The Book of Mormon does not say that the plates were buried in Cumorah—it states that all of the other Nephite records were hidden there. The only reason we know where Moroni ultimately buried the plates is because of where they were found.
  • The geology of the Hill Cumorah in New York makes the presence of a cave there extremely unlikely.
  • Hill Cumorah issues
  • None

Claims made in section 3: Joseph Smith

Page Claim Response Author's sources

DVD 3-3:55

  • The DVD provides the following quote from the Wentworth Letter, in which Joseph said:

"I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, and shown who they were, where they came from, a brief sketch of their origin, their progress, their civilization, their laws, their governments. And all this happened on this continent...The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country." (emphasis added)

  •  Misrepresentation of source
  • Note that the following text from the Wentworth Letter is ommitted from the presentation:

The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country. This book also tells us that our Saviour [Savior] made his appearance upon this continent after his resurrection, that he planted the gospel here in all its fulness [fullness], and richness, and power, and blessing; that they had apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists; the same order, the same priesthood, the same ordinances, gifts, powers, and blessing, as was enjoyed on the eastern continent, that the people were cut off in consequence of their transgressions... (emphasis added)

  • Note that in the portion of the Wentworth letter that follows the quote given by the presenter, that Joseph refers to "the eastern continent."
  • It is claimed that the reference to "this country" refers to the United States of America. One must remember that the United States was much smaller at this time.
  • Most of the Native Americans referred to resided in territories which were not part of the United States. Most of the land to the west in the 1830's was designated as "Unorganized Territory" and "Mexican Possessions."
  • See Reviews of DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography, Section 3: Joseph Smith, FAIR (2008).
  • None

DVD 3-4:37

  •  Author's quote: I went back and looked in Noah Webster's dictionary of the 1850's, when Joseph Smith was around, and when it said "continent," they're not talking about North and South America. OK? There's a North American continent and a South American continent in Noah Webster's dictionary.

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Webster's 1828 dictionary refers to the entire North and South American landmass as a single continent.

DVD 3-4:58

  • Joseph said in the American Revivalist that "The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western tribes of Indians."

DVD 3-5:41

  • In the American Revivalist, Joseph stated:

The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western tribes of Indians... By it, we learn that our western tribes of Indians, are descendants from that Joseph that was sold into Egypt, and that the land of America is a promised land unto them.

  • It is claimed that this letter was "written by commandment from God."
  • The commandment to write the letter was not to confirm a geographical location for the Book of Mormon. According to B.H. Roberts:

The Prophet states subsequently that he wrote this communication by commandment of the Lord. The general condition of the world as noted by the Prophet at the commencement of this chapter, was doubtless the occasion of the Lord sending forth such a note of warning to the inhabitants of the earth as is here presented. (Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, edited by B.H. Roberts, volume 1 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1972), 312).

  • None

DVD 3-6:22

  • Joseph's mother said that he "would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent…"

DVD 3-8:46

  • Joseph wrote during Zion's Camp that they were "wandering over the plains of the Nephites"

DVD 3-13:11

  • The story of Zelph is claimed to prove that the Northeastern United States was the land of the Nephites.

DVD 3-16:51

  • "Eight different people" are claimed to have said that they saw "wagon loads" of plates in the Hill Cumorah in New York.
  • The question is not whether or not Joseph and the others saw a cave, but where that cave was actually located.
  • The Hill Cumorah in New York is a drumlin, and is not geologically likely to have a cave such as the one described.
  • Archaeology and the Hill Cumorah
  • None

DVD 3-17:26

  • Joseph sent missionaries to the Lamanites.

DVD 3-21:41

  • Missionaries were sent to the "borders of the Lamanites."

DVD 3-30:59

  • In the Bernheizel letter, Joseph states:

"I received your kind present by the hand of Elder Wudruff and feel myself under many obligations for this mark of your esteem and friendship, which to me is the more interesting as it unfolds and develops many things that have great importance to this generation and corresponds with and supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon."

  •  Misrepresentation of source
  • The presenter simply dismisses this statement and claims that Joseph's purpose in writing the letter was to express his friendship with Bernheizel, despite Joseph's praise of a Mesoamerican book and its relationship to the Book of Mormon.
  • See Reviews of DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography, Section 3: Joseph Smith, FAIR (2008).
  • Here is a statement from Joseph Smith that was not included in the presentation:

The stupendous ruins, the elegant sculpture, and the magnificence of the ruins of Guatamala [Guatemala], and other cities, corroborate this statement, and show that a great and mighty people-men of great minds, clear intellect, bright genius, and comprehensive designs inhabited this continent. Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormen [Mormon} unfolds their history.-ED. (emphasis added)[1]

  • Page 862 of this issue of the Times and Seasons states: "The Times and Seasons, Is edited, printed and published about the first and fifteenth of every month, on the corner of Water and Bain Streets, Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, by JOSEPH SMITH." This statement was signed "ED," which attributes it directly to Joseph Smith.
  • For more detail, see: Joseph Smith's geographical statements about the Book of Mormon.

Claims made in section 4: Promised Land

Page Claim Response Author's sources

DVD 4-1:29

  • Missouri is the New Jerusalem.
  • This is correct.

DVD 4-3:05

  • The narrator claims that the New Jerusalem is Zion.

Fact checking results: This claim is false

What did Joseph Smith have to say about this? The narrator attempts to equate Zion exclusively with the location of the New Jerusalem, but this contradicts the words of Joseph Smith:

...speaking of the Land of Zion, It consists of all N[orth] & S[outh] America but that any place where the Saints gather is Zion which every righteous man will build up for a place of safety for his children...The redemption of Zion is the redemption of all N[orth] & S[outh] America." (emphasis added)[2]

  • Other latter-day prophets have declared that North and South America constitute the land of Zion: see Location of Zion.

DVD 4-2:47

  • Missouri is the only "Land of Promise" in the Western Hemisphere.

Fact checking results: This claim is false

The prophets and apostles have clearly stated that Missouri is not the only land of promise, nor the only area to which Book of Mormon promises apply.
  • For example, Wilford Woodruff said:

This land, North and South America, is the land of Zion; it is a choice land-the land that was given by promise from old father Jacob to his grandson and his descendants, the land on which the Zion of God should be established in the latter days. (emphasis added)[3]

DVD 4-3:35, IBME

  • The New Jerusalem will be upon "this land," meaning exactly where the Book of Mormon prophet was standing when he made that statement.
  • The Introduction to Book of Mormon Evidences seminar offers a strict interpretation of the words "this" and "that" as used in the scriptures. The word "this" is interpreted to mean the very spot upon which the statement is made.
  • And how does the narrator know where the Book of Mormon prophet was standing when he made that statement? He simply assumes that Ether was standing in North America, and then uses Ether's own words to "prove" this!

DVD 4-4:40

  • The Land of Promise is a "choice land," interpreted by the narrator to be "a land where people would choose to live."
  • The term "land of promise" refers to whatever land the Lord has granted to His people, and upon which they are commanded to gather.
  • See also: more detail.

DVD 4-5:34

  • The choice land will be lifted up by God above all other nations because God approves of the political system ("nation") on the choice land.

DVD

  • It is claimed that the gentiles mentioned in 1 Nephi 13 are Joseph Smith's ancestors (American colonists) because he brought the book forth.

DVD

  • Where the Book of Mormon comes forth will be a land of liberty with no kings, fortified against all other nations, and God will be the King of the people of the land.

Claims made in section: Prophesies and Promises

Page Claim Response Author's sources

DVD 5-4:37

  • It is claimed that the only nation that "fulfills every Book of Mormon requirement to be the promised land" is the United States since it is a "land of liberty" and there would be "no kings" in the land.

DVD 5-6:01

  • The narrator claims that the city of Zarahemla was provided through revelation and that it was located on the Mississippi River opposite where Nauvoo is located today.

Claims made in section: Tents, Temples and Teepees

Page Claim Response Author's sources

DVD 6-1:54

  • The narrator concludes that the Book of Mormon people used tents from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem. According to the narrator, "ancient peoples almost always had tents as a survival strategy" because "they didn't know at that time if the Syrians or the Babylonians or somebody were going to come to call and they might have to leave their permanent structures."
  • Actually, Lehi's family could just as easily have had tents if his family traveled as traders.
  • It is possible that the people had tents because they were often required to go to battle against the Lamanites. Any army would use tents or other temporary structures.
  • The "tents" mentioned in the Book of Mormon are also likely booths or temporary structures used for the Mosiac festival of sukkoth (see Mosiah 2:2-6).
  • FAIR Review Section 5: Identifying the Nephites
  • None

DVD 6-2:51

  • In 124 B.C., the people brought tents to listen to King Benjamin's speech. This is used as proof that the people lived in tents.

DVD 6-3:30-3:44

  • It is claimed that the Lamanites may have lived in tents in order to keep up with the movement of their food supply. The Lamanites are claimed to not have done "much in the way of city building."
  • This is used to imply that the Lamanites were nomadic. However, when the sons of Mosiah travel to Lamanite country on their mission (prior to the time of Christ) the Lamanites were clearly living in cities. (This is in contrast to the DVD's claim that "they didn't do much in the way of city building.") From the descriptions of their kings and kings over kings, they were not only cities, but large ones with a complex social organization. There is some evidence for Lamanite nomadic hunting and gathering early in Nephite history (Enos 1:20), but this is not the dominant Lamanite lifestyle through most of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon text disagrees with the presenter's claim that the Lamanites were nomadic throughout most of Nephite history.
  • According to the Book of Mormon, Lamanites also lived in cities:
    • "And these are the names of the cities of the Lamanites which were converted unto the Lord; and these are they that laid down the weapons of their rebellion, yea, all their weapons of war; and they were all Lamanites." Alma 23:13
    • "Now the Lamanites and the Amalekites and the people of Amulon had built a great city, which was called Jerusalem." Alma 21:2
  • Nomadic peoples can rarely threaten settled, agricultural societies with annihilation, since agricultural societies have higher birth rates, higher population densities, and more surplus food and expertise.
  • FAIR Review Section 5: Identifying the Nephites
  • None

DVD 6-6:20

  • Mesoamerican temples shown in a photo could not be "Nephite temples" because they date to "about 900 years A.D."
  • To state that these structures were built "about 900 years A.D." is a gross over-simplification of facts. This statement ignores the complexity of overlapping Mayan cultures. The Maya built new structures on top of older structures. This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to examine early pre-Classic Mayan structures which do date to Book of Mormon times.
  • Amerindians as Lamanites/Maya and Olmec
  • FAIR Review Section 5: Identifying the Nephites
  • None

DVD 6-6:40

  • The Church produced film "The Testaments" depicts Mayan temples as existing during Nephite times.
  • None

DVD 6-7:11

  • Mayan temples do not look like Solomon's Temple.
  • None

DVD 6-7:24

  • Mayan temples were used to perform sacrifices, which is not consistent with the use of Solomon's Temple.
  • This is not surprising either, since if the Mayans were related to the Lamanites they would have used their temples in a different manner than the Nephites. The Book of Mormon clearly states that by approximately A.D. 400 that the Lamanites were performing human sacrifices (Mormon 4:13-14).
  • FAIR Review Section 5: Identifying the Nephites
  • None

DVD 6-7:24

  • Hopewell (supposedly "Nephite") temples were used for 'proper' purposes, unlike Mayan structures..
  • No one knows what rituals the Hopewell performed in their religious structures. There are no witnesses, and no written records. The presenters are simply presuming that their model is correct.
  • FAIR Review Section 5: Identifying the Nephites
  • None

Claims made in section: Weather and Climate

Page Claim Response Author's sources

DVD 0:17

  • The narrator claims that ocean currents would have carried Lehi's group to the East Coast of North America.
  • The Book of Mormon states that Lehi's ship was driven by the wind: "And it came to pass after we had all gone down into the ship, and had taken with us our provisions and things which had been commanded us, we did put forth into the sea and were driven forth before the wind towards the promised land." (1 Nephi 18:8) (emphasis added)
  • The Book of Mormon states that the Nephite's land of first inheritance was near the western seashore: "...in the land of Nephi; yea, and also on the west of the land of Zarahemla, in the borders by the seashore, and on the west in the land of Nephi, in the place of their fathers’ first inheritance, and thus bordering along by the seashore." (Alma 22:28) (emphasis added)
  • None

DVD 1:56

  • The narrator claims that the only two seasons in Mesoamerica are "hot" and "really hot," and that this does not support the statement in Alma 46:40 that refers to "some seasons of the year."

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Countries nearer the equator experience "dry seasons" and "wet seasons."
  • The temperature in the Guatemalan highlands (where Mesoamerican supporters believe Lehi's party settled) is actually very temperate, with daytime temperatures of 75 to 80 degrees Farenheit.
  • None

DVD 7:18

  • The narrator defines "whirlwind" as a tornado and a "tempest" as a hurricane. The narrator states that "Central America, the location where the Book of Mormon was supposed to have happened has never had a single recorded tornado."

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Claims made in section: Buffalo Evidence

Page Claim Response Author's sources

DVD 2:31

  • The narrator uses the reference in Alma 22:31 to "wild beasts" which had "come from that land northward looking for food" and claims that these are buffalo.
  • Ether 9:34 states that "the people did follow the course of the beasts, and did devour the carcasses of them which fell by the way." This is used by the narrator to support the claim that the Lamanites were a migratory people who were following the buffalo.
  • Looking at Ether 9:30-31, we can see the context in order to understand why the animals were moving:

And it came to pass that there began to be a great dearth upon the land, and the inhabitants began to be destroyed exceedingly fast because of the dearth, for there was no rain upon the face of the earth. And there came forth poisonous serpents also upon the face of the land, and did poison many people. And it came to pass that their flocks began to flee before the poisonous serpents, towards the land southward, which was called by the Nephites Zarahemla. (Ether 9:30-31) (emphasis added)

  • This is not a migration due to seasons: It is a movement of animals and people as the result of a drought.

DVD 6:05

  • The narrator claims that the bones of 60 million buffalo disintegrated on the plains, and therefore it is reasonable to expect the bones of the Nephites to have disintegrated as well.

Fact checking results: This claim is false

The bones of the buffalo aren't on the plains because they were worth money—they were gathered up, packed into boxcars, and shipped to the east for use in industrial processes and agriculture on a vast scale.
  • The DVD miscites its source: estimates for the number of buffalo are actually less than thirty million, not sixty.
  • See: buffalo claims.
  • None

Claims made in section: Chronological Evidence

Page Claim Response Author's sources

DVD 0:40

  • The narrator points out that in the Book of Mormon only two cities are mentioned up until about 100 years before Christ, after which many cities are mentioned. This is offered as proof that the Nephites did not expand significantly prior to 100 B.C.
  • The Book of Mormon only includes Nephi's record up until approximately 150 years before Christ. After that point, Mormon's original abridgment takes over.
  • Jarom 1:7 indicated that there were a number of cities by 399 B.C.:
"...we withstood the Lamanites and swept them away out of our lands, and began to fortify our cities, or whatsoever place of our inheritance."
  • The small plates of Nephi (1 Nephi to Omni) were a religious, not secular record (Jacob 1:2-4)—so, it is not surprising that less information on geography is available in them.

DVD 2:38

  • The narrator notes that the "narrow neck" of land is not mentioned until 90 B.C., and that this indicates that the Nephites major expansion did not occur until that time.
  • There is no correlation that can be made between the first mention of a geographic feature, and the expansion of the Nephites.
  • The small plates of Nephi (1 Nephi to Omni) were a religious, not secular record (Jacob 1:2-4)—so, it is not surprising that less information on geography is available in them.

DVD 3:27

  • The narrator assumes that the Hopewell culture is Nephite because of the timeframe of 100 B.C. to 400 A.D.
  • Jarom 1:8 indicates that the people "multiplied exceedingly and spread upon the face of the land" 400 years before Christ, 300 years prior to the timeframe proposed by the narrator.
  • The Hopewell spread north to south; the Nephites spread south to north, the opposite direction.

Claims made in section: Nephite Defenses

Page Claim Response Author's sources

DVD 2:41

  • The DVD presents Hopewell fortifications as evidence that the Hopewell were Nephites. The DVD presentation notes that the presence of defensive structures such as earthen ditches with a stockade on top in Hopewell structures.
  • The DVD only cites examples consistent with the Heartland model. While such examples do exist, they ultimately provide little support for the LNAM because the structures are not unique to the Hopewell. They are found throughout the world.
  • FAIR Review Section 5: Identifying the Nephites
  • None

Claims made in section: Nephite Structures

Page Claim Response Author's sources

DVD

  • The DVD claims that Mesoamerican cities are primarily built of stone.
  • This indicates a misunderstanding of the extant knowledge about Mesoamerica. There are certainly impressive stone cities and ruins in Mesoamerica, but it is a mistake to conclude that these made up the whole city. Regional centers tended to have a core of buildings made of more durable materials, such as brick, stone, and earth. Most of the rest of the city was made of wood and mud ("waddle and daub") construction.
  • For example, although the Church produced video "The Testaments" places the Book of Mormon in a Mesoamerican setting, one notes that the houses being lived in are made of wood. It is also important to note that many of the iconic Mesoamerican stone ruins date to after the Book of Mormon period, despite the unfortunate tendency of some graphic designers and movie makers to use images of these cities as if they were Nephite.
  • FAIR Review Section 9: Nephite Structures
  • None

DVD

  • The DVD claims that stone structures cannot be burned.
  • Stone buildings and cities can and do burn. A stone city is not only made of stone. There are many other materials within buildings, used as part of the structures' construction and furnishings. Once fires are started, masonry can become unstable and stones can shatter from the heat, leading to further destabilization of the building. A modern day example is when arsonists burned the Nauvoo Temple. The temple was constructed of stone, yet is was destroyed by fire just the same. What was left after the fire became unstable and collapsed during a tornado. Clearly, a stone building is not immune to fire.
  • FAIR Review Section 9: Nephite Structures
  • None

DVD

  • The narrator claims that "if we're looking for temples made out of stone, then we're looking for the wrong kind of temples. Because these temples were made from timber."
  • The narrator bases this assumption on Helaman 3:9.

And the people who were in the land northward did dwell in tents, and in houses of cement, and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings.

  • It should be noted that the people described in this verse do not represent all of the Nephites—only those who moved north.
  • Scholars supporting the Mesoamerican location do not insist that temples must have been made from stone.
  • FAIR Review Section 9: Nephite Structures

Notes

  1. Joseph Smith (editor), "American Antiquities," Times and Seasons 3 no. 18 (15 July 1842), 860. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  2. Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, [edited by Dean C. Jessee], "Joseph Smith's July 19, 1840 Discourse," Brigham Young University Studies 19 no. 3 (Spring 1979), 392.
  3. Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses 15:279.