Geography and the Book of Mormon

_"[The angel Moroni] said there was a a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent [not a chunk of Central America thousands of miles away], and the source from whence they sprang." -Joseph SmithOne June 4, 1834, Joseph Smith, traveling through Illinois, wrote to Emma that he and others had been "wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as proof of its divine authenticity."[1]"Most members of the Church know that the Lamanites, who consist of the Indians of all the Americas as well as the islanders of the Pacific, are a people with a special heritage." -Spencer W. Kimball [1]_"And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east." -Helaman 3"The camp passed through Huntsville, in Randolph County, which has been appointed as one of the Stakes of Zion, and is the ancient site of the City of Manti" -The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star, "History of Joseph Smith", Vol. 16"Early readers assumed the Book of Mormon people ranged up and down North and South America from upstate New York to Chili. A close reading of the text reveals it cannot sustain such an expansive geography." - Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 93"Why not leave hidden the things that the Lord has hidden? If He wants the geography of the Book of Mormon revealed, He will do so through His prophet, and not through some writer who wishes to enlighten the world despite his utter lack of inspiration on the point." - Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, 5:83

Book of Mormon Tours (Google Video), by Living Hope Ministries Where is the River Laman? (Google Video), by Living Hope Ministries * Zarahemla Found? (Google Video), by Living Hope Ministries
Contents _1 Hemispheric geography theory_ 2 Limited geography theory _3 Who were the Lamanites?_ 4 Hill Cumorah _5 Zelph the White Lamanite_ 6 The Nephite altar on Tower Hill _7 Remains of Adam's altar on Spring Hill, Daviess County, Missouri_ 8 "Preserved" for a "righteous people" _9 Quotes_ 10 Notes _11 See also_ 12 External resouces _12.1 Non-Mormon_ 12.2 Mormon

[edit]Hemispheric geography theory

"LDS have traditionally interpreted the text hemispherically and assumed a blank continent." [2]

"Generations of Mormons grew up with the notion that American Indians are descended from a lost tribe from the House of Israel, offspring of a Book of Mormon figure named Lehi, who left Jerusalem and sailed to the Americas around 600 B.C." [3]

"The hemispheric perspective of the Book of Mormon, the idea that most of the ancestors of the Native Americans living everywhere in the Western hemisphere from Alaska to Chile including areas out in the Pacific were Book of Mormon people, is abundantly established in virtually all of the material generated by the church for the last 170 years and recognized as authoritative; such as prophetic conference speeches and books, official lesson manuals, etc." [4]

Although this is the traditionally held belief, because of studies in archaeology, DNA, linguistics, demographics, and archaeology, some (including many Mormon apologists) have attempted to deny that this was the authoritative/exclusive position of Mormonism.

_See also: Hemispheric geography theory_

[edit]Limited geography theory

"[M]ost LDS scholars have already conceded an Asian origin for Native Americans and admitted the absence of any trace of a presumed progeny of Lehi." [5] Most Mormon apologists and many laymen, in response to DNA research, BoM demographics, and the Native American traditions (which do not correlate with the Book of Mormon), now hold to a limited geography theory.

"[O]nce you say there were other people here, you say: OK, where were the Nephites, and how many more people were here. We have all kinds of other DNA signatures to worry about all of a sudden. It may be that we never find any Hebrew DNA (whatever that looks like) in the New World. ... But if we do find some, that's fine; if we don't find some, that's fine too. There's no way that negative evidence on that hurts the Book of Mormon whatsoever once you believe in a limited geography. If you believe in a global geography, you're basically done, toasted, game over." -John Clark (Professor of Anthropology and Director of the New World Archeological Foundation, BYU) [6]"Joseph Smith and other early Latter-day Saints, for example, most likely believed that North America was the land northward and that South America was the land southward in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon itself does not sustain this view (which supports the claim that Joseph was not the 'author' of the Book of Mormon). Along with other frontiersman of the day, Joseph and the early Saints saw no distinction between Indians anywhere in the hemisphere. Therefore to the early Saints, a 'Lamanite' was any Indian. We know now that this view is incorrect." - Michael R. Ash (FAIR)[2]

[edit]Who were the Lamanites?

"Descendants of the Book of Mormon peoples (Population density)", from the December 1975 Ensign[3]

This section is a stub. Please edit it to add information.

See main page: Lamanite

[edit]Hill Cumorah

Those who locate the Book of Mormon events in Mesoamerica are forced to explain how Hill Cumorah is thousands of miles north in upper New York state. The general way to deal with this has been to invent a theory of two Cumorahs which categorically rejects statements by Mormon prophets.

_See main article: Hill Cumorah_

[edit]Zelph the White Lamanite

"[T]he Zelph story goes as follows: While on Zion’s camp, some bones are unearthed on top of a small mound. Joseph Smith declares that the man was Zelph, a white Lamanite and a righteous man. I expected to hear that the Zelph story couldn’t be taken seriously as an actual event - it was just a rumor. It turns out at least 7 or 8 people present at the camp reported on Zelph, including Wilford Woodruff. President Woodruff recorded in his journal that Joseph had a revelation, and that he learned that Zelph was a warrior under the great Prophet Onandagus. After doing my reading, I came away pretty convinced that the Zelph episode did in fact take place. The first problem with this story is immediately evident. If Joseph had a revelation about Zelph, what does that mean for the limited geography theory? If the Book of Mormon took place, as we’re now told, in a small area in Mesoamerica, how did Zelph’s bones end up on a mound in Illinois?" [7]"The brethren procured a shovel and a hoe, and removing the earth to the depth of about one foot, discovered the skeleton of a man, almost entire, and between his ribs the stone point of a Lamanitish arrow, which evidently produced his death. Elder Burr Riggs retained the arrow. The contemplation of the scenery around us produced peculiar sensations in our bosoms: and subsequently the visions of the past being opened to my understanding by the Spirit of the Almighty, I discovered that the person whose skeleton was before us was a white Lamanite, a large, thick-set man, and a man of God. His name was Zelph. He was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus, who was known from the Hill Cumorah, or eastern sea to the Rocky mountains. The curse was taken from Zelph, or, at least, in part--one of his thigh bones was broken by a stone flung from a sling, while in battle, years before his death. He was killed in battle by the arrow found among his ribs, during the last great struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites." -History Of The Church, Vol II:“This revelation to the Prophet in relation to Zelph, is something that our modern critics should consider carefully, who claim that the Nephites and Lamanites did not contend in their final struggle in these northern parts of the United States, and that their activities were confined to Central America and perhaps as far north as part of Mexico” (Joseph Fielding Smith, [I]Church History and Modern Revelation[/I] 3:31).

[edit]The Nephite altar on Tower Hill

This section is a stub. Please edit it to add information.

[edit]Remains of Adam's altar on Spring Hill, Daviess County, Missouri

"On our arrival at Diahman, our camp was pitched upon the town plat which had just been surveyed by direction of the Prophet, and of course each one was anxious to obtain the most eligible, or first choice of lots. As I was young and unmarried my choice would come near the last under the rule of "oldest served first." So when it was my choice I found I must take the top lot on the promontory overlooking the Grand River valley, or go farther away and lower down than I wished to. So I chose the upper, which at first appeared rocky, but which made the other lots appear almost enviable. When, after a few days, the Prophet accompanied us to this spot, and pointed out those rocks as the ones of which Adam built an altar and offered sacrifice upon this spot, where he stood and blessed the multitude of his children, when they called him Michael, and where he will again sit as the Ancient of Days, then I was not envious of anyone's choice for a city lot in Adam-ondi-Ahman. Yet I would not have it inferred that my inheritance there, or those given me elsewhere are to be especially guaranteed to have in future." (Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life's Review [Independence, MO: Zion's Printing and Publishing Co., 1947], 35-36)"The Prophet Joseph called upon Brother Brigham, myself and others, saying, 'Brethren, come, go along with me, and I will show you something.' He led us a short distance to a place where were the ruins of three altars built of stone, one above the other, and one standing a little back of the other, like unto the pulpits in the Kirtland Temple, representing the order of three grades of Priesthood; 'There,' said Joseph, 'is the place where Adam offered up sacrifice after he was east out of the garden.' The altar stood at the highest point of the bluff. I went and examined the place several times while I remained there." (Heber C. Kimball, quoted in Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball [Salt Lake City: privately printed, 1888], 209-210)"... it was stated by the Prophet Joseph Smith, in our hearing, while standing on an elevated piece of ground or plateau near Adam-ondi-Ahman, where there were a number of rocks piled together, that the valley before us was the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman; or in other words, the valley where God talked with Adam, and where he gathered his righteous posterity, as recorded in the above revelation, and that this pile of stones was an altar built by him when he offered up sacrifices, as we understand, on that occasion." (John Taylor, Mediation and Atonement [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1882], 69-70.)

[edit]"Preserved" for a "righteous people"

"America received her first consecration as a favored land when the Lord planted here the Garden of Eden as a habitation for Adam and Eve. ... A thousand years later Enoch's Zion flourished here. ... And then some six hundred years thereafter this land was deluged by the Flood and left uninhabited, so far as human beings were concerned, until the Lord led to this land from the tower of Babel a colony of people, the Jaredites, declaring as he led them that he was bringing them to a 'land of promise, ... choice above all other lands,' and 'that whoso should possess this land ... from that time henceforth and forever, should serve him, the true and only God, or they should be swept off when the fulness of his wrath should come upon them' (Ether 2:7-8. ... Six hundred years B.C., as time was running out for the Jaredites, the Lord brought to this land Lehi and his colony. Before they arrived here the Lord said to them, as he had said to the Jaredites, 'Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands' (1 Nephi 2:20). Simultaneously he warned them that if they did not serve him, they would not prosper in the land but would be cut off from his presence." - Marion G. Romney[4]


  • "In this important and interesting book [the Book of Mormon], the history of America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel, at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the Tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites, of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnent are the Indians that now inhabit this country." (Joseph Smith Jr., published in Times and Seasons March 1, 1842 and in History of the Church, Vol 4).
  • "The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western tribes of Indians... our western tribes of Indians are descendants from that Joseph who was sold into Egypt, and that the land of America is a promised land unto them." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 17).
  • "With pride I tell those who come to my office that a Lamanite is a descendant of one Lehi who left Jerusalem some 600 years before Christ and with his family crossed the mighty deep and landed in America. And Lehi and his family became the ancestors of ALL of the Indian and Mestizo tribes in North AND South AND Central America and in the islands of the sea, for in the middle of their history there were those who left America in ships of their making and went to the islands of the sea." Spencer W. Kimball, "Of Royal Blood," Ensign, July 1971
  • "When Columbus came, these descendants of the Book of Mormon peoples and those with whom they had mixed numbered in the millions and covered the islands of the Pacific and the Americas from Point Barrow to Tierra del Fuego. …There are nearly 130 million Lamanites worldwide…I rejoice that it has been my privilege to carry the gospel to the Lamanites from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, from the reaches of Canada to southern Chile, and in the islands from Hawaii to New Zealand." - Spencer W. Kimball, "Our Paths Have Met Again", Ensign, Dec. 1975
  • There is a curse on these aborigines of our country who roam the plains, and are so wild that you cannot tame them. They are of the House of Israel; they once had the Gospel delivered to them, they had the oracles of truth; Jesus came and administered to them after his resurrection, and they received and delighted in the Gospel until the fourth generation when they turned away and became so wicked that God cursed them with this dark and benighted and loathsome condition." -Brigham Young
  • "You Polynesians of the Pacific are called Samoan or Maori, Tahitian or Hawaiian, according to your islands. There are probably sixty million of you on the two continents and on the Pacific Islands, all related by blood ties. The Lord calls you Lamanites, a name which has a pleasant ring, for many of the grandest people ever to live upon the earth were so called. In a limited sense, the name signifies the descendants of Laman and Lemuel, sons of your first American parent, Lehi; but you undoubtedly possess also the blood of the other sons, Sam, Nephi, and Jacob. And you likely have some Jewish blood from Mulek, son of Zedekiah, king of Judah. The name Lamanite distinguishes you from other peoples. It is not a name of derision or embarrassment, but one of which to be very proud." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.596)
  • "The Book of Mormon deposited its people on some unknown shore -- not even definitely identified as America -- and had them live out their history in a remote place in a distant time." - Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 97
  • "But God, our Heavenly Father, reserved this--the land of promise--for the especial purpose of building up his kingdom in the latter days. As the 'Book of Mormon' informs us, it has been hid from the eyes of the generations of men for this purpose. If it had not been thus hidden the nations of the earth would have overrun the land until there would have been no foothold found for the establishment of the kingdom of God upon it. But the Lord concealed it, from the days of the flood, from the eyes of men, excepting those whom he led hither; as we are informed by the 'Book of Mormon' that no nation after the flood, knew anything about this land; although I believe it, is said in the Norwegian Antiquarian researches, that this land was visited by the Icelanders in the eleventh century. But there is nothing authentic in this. But be that as it may, this land was kept secret until Columbus was moved upon by the Spirit of God, to go forth and penetrate the western ocean." - Apostle George Q. Cannon (July 21, 1867)
  • "Here 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." - Dallin Oaks[5]
  • "Following the discovery of America, the Quiches vigorously opposed marrying Spanish conquistadores and members of successive groups of European colonists. They have held tenaciously to a traditional custom practiced by the ancient Israelites and brought to America by the Nephites who I believe were among their forebears. This custom was based on a belief that people of Israelite stock are God's chosen people and must keep their racial stock pure. While the Nephites were living the gospel of Jesus Christ during Book of Mormon days, this chosen people doctrine was a safeguard against their marrying Lamanites. After the last great war, the surviving Nephites, however, mixed with the Lamanites; but it seems that the chosen people doctrine survived and was handed down through their pagan posterity, the Quiche Mayas. It has resulted in this people maintaining themselves through successive generations as a more or less pureblood Indian race, perhaps maintaining themselves as direct descendants of Nephite-Lamanite peoples more purely than have any other tribe of the American Indians." - Milton R. Hunter, Archaeology and the Book of Mormon, p.71
  • “Moses too made promises to the tribe of Joseph, whose land, America, was to be precious for the things of heaven and of earth, and who would “push the people together to the ends of the earth.” (See Deut. 33:13-17.) These are just some of the biblical prophecies, and we have the Book of Mormon record which tells of the Jaredites who were the first to come to America. They came at the time of the confusion of languages during the building of the tower of Babel” (N. Eldon Tanner, “If They Will But Serve the God of the Land,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1976, p.48).
  • "When it was first published in 1830, there was little scientific or historical evidence to substantiate the claims of Joseph Smith that the record came from metallic plates and told of ancient civilizations on the North and South American continents. Today such outward evidences have been discovered and help confirm that Joseph Smith was telling the truth about the Book of Mormon." (James E. Faust - November 1981 Ensign)


1. Jessee, Dean C (1984), The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book. p. 324 2. Michael R. Ash, "What is 'Official' LDS Doctrine?". URL: 3. Lane Johnson, "Who and Where Are the Lamanites?" Ensign, Dec. 1975, p. 15 4. Marion G. Romney, "America's Fate and Ultimate Destiny". "Marion G. Romney was second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when this fireside address was given at Brigham Young University on 2 May 1976." URL: 5.

[edit]See also

[edit]External resouces