I can’t tell you the number of times over the past five years that I have heard critics (and some Mormons) say something along the lines of “Mormons have always believed that the Book of Mormon took place in all of North American and South America, with the Isthmus of Panama as the ‘narrow neck of land.'”
Problem is, that isn’t the case. Not all Mormons have believed that, although some have. Some Mormons, over the years, have believed that the Book of Mormon has been geographically situated in a variety of different places.
I’m not going to go into a bunch of information about Book of Mormon geography. (There are good sources where you can read about it all you want.) What I wanted to address was a common criticism, companion to the above statement, that the limited geography theory (LGT) for the Book of Mormon is a new development—an ad hoc response—brought up by apologists to somehow salvage credibility when it comes to the Book of Mormon. Some say, even, that the LGT is a response to criticisms relative to DNA studies.
Such criticisms show an amazing lack of understanding concerning both Book of Mormon geography theories and Mormons in general. These theories aren’t new with latest generation of apologists; they have been around for almost a hundred years, long before the latest way of recycled and refreshed criticisms against the Book of Mormon.
I was reminded of this fact when I was looking through some older Church magazines in our ward library the other day. One issue of The Instructor, dated August 1956, included an article entitled “Digging Into History’s Storehouse.” The magazine was the official Church publication for the Sunday School organization.
The article (which was tied to a cover photo of the “Temple of the Warriors” in the Mexican Yucatan site of Chichen Itza) talked about archeology in general terms and, very specifically, about archeology in Central America:
The archaeological treasures in Central America, completely covered by jungle growth or buried under plowed fields or even serving as sturdy foundations for more modern buildings, are all dramatically coming into view again. It now appears that unearthing of these remains will make of Mexico a vast archaeological site, and open-air museum a thousand miles long.
What does this article mean for Book of Mormon geography? Not much; it doesn’t try to pin-point locations of Book of Mormon cities, other than to say the following:
No competent student maintains that discoveries of archaeologists as yet prove the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon, as every faithful member of the Church knows, is a divine book whose miraculous “coming forth” and subsequent translation must be accepted on principles of faith.
But that accepted fact has never cooled the interest of Latter-day Saints in findings of archaeologists in Central and South America. The uncovering of cities, walls, pyramids, artifacts or highways are, for Book of Mormon students, strong external evidences of great, ancient civilizations that once thrived on the American continents. Some of those civilizations had their beginnings with Book of Mormon peoples.
The bottom line? A 1956 official publication of the Church should go a long way to help critics understand that a limited geography theory that focuses on Mesoamerica should not be seen as a later development by apologists in response to Book of Mormon criticisms.