Monday, October 31, 2016

sowing confusion

A book titled Underwater Forensic Investigation makes this point:

"Another old defense axiom is that a good defense lawyer can make the simplest of cases complex. Many cases today involve forensic evidence and complicated expert testimony. The more difficult the testimony is to understand, the more room the defense has to sow confusion.

"Trials in which DNA testimony occurs are so convoluted that even people who understand DNA typing often lost track of the testimony and its significance... the defense attorney, in cross-examination, might bring up allele frequency, population statistics, laboratory procedures, and other matters of little relevance to the question of who left blood at the crime scene.

"This approach uses two defense principles: impeach the evidence and confuse the jury.

"Without actually impeaching the evidence, the defense attorney so obscures the forensic procedures that a jury member might mistake confusion for reasonable doubt."

As a former defense lawyer myself, I recognize these tactics on display in the discussions about Book of Mormon geography. To the extent the Book of Mormon is on trial--and it is, always and everywhere--critics must either 1) impeach the evidence or 2) confuse the jury (in this case, every individual who encounters the Book of Mormon).

It may seem somewhat shocking to realize that some LDS defenders of the Book of Mormon use these same tactics to promote the Mesoamerican and other non-New York Cumorah theories.

But it's not shocking when we realize the tactics are the inevitable result of Mesomania.

In this post, I'm not going to address the impeachment tactic. I'll save that for another day. Instead, I'll focus on the tactic of sowing confusion.

In my Mesomania book, I make these observations:

1. Neither Joseph nor any of his associates ever questioned the New York setting for the Hill Cumorah.

2. Everything that can be directly attributed to Joseph Smith puts the Book of Mormon in North America, specifically within the territory of the United States circa 1842.

3. Not a single document that connects the Book of Mormon with Central or South America can be directly linked to Joseph Smith.

While no accounts written by humans are perfect, proponents of the non-New York Cumorahs have managed to sow confusion to make the Church history look more complex and confusing than it really is. In Mesomania, I go through the usual suspects (e.g., the Bernhisel letter, the Times and Seasons articles), so I won't rehash those here.

This is all straightforward and clear, but some LDS scholars and educators have gone to great lengths to sow confusion about these statements.

Their approach consists of four main elements. First, they attribute to Joseph Smith statements he didn't make. Second, they assume that statements by others were either approved by Joseph or reflected his thoughts. Third, they reject any statements by Joseph and Oliver (e.g., Letter VII) that contradict their particular theories as the product of speculation, uncertainty, or deception. (this tactic is essentially impeachment, so I don't discuss it here.). Fourth, they insist on their own subjective interpretation of the text.

These elements combine to facilitate tremendous confusion.

It is particularly interesting that Joseph Fielding Smith warned that the two-Cumorahs theory would cause the Saints to become confused. Without alluding to the standard defense lawyer tactic, President Smith zeroed in on exactly what is going on here.

For now, I'll give just two examples.

"Internal map" approach. The so-called "consensus" approach to Book of Mormon geography among LDS scholars and educators maintains that we should look to the text, not to any statements by Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, or any other prophets and apostles.

Does this appear reasonable at first glance?


The rationale is that the text is the closest thing we have to the voice of God that we can rely on; statements by Joseph are unreliable because Joseph "changed his mind" over time and/or was speculating, and/or never claimed revelation on this specific point; Oliver Cowdery was also speculating and unreliable and didn't record revelation on this point; both of them were wrong anyway as a matter of fact; and subsequent prophets and apostles are just giving their opinions and are wrong because the New York setting doesn't fit the geographic criteria established by the scholars and educators.

With this explanations before us, we can spot the fallacies of the original premise, but here is the critical point.

Most believers accept the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon as an actual history. Most also accept that Joseph's "translation" consisted of his reading the words that appeared on a seer stone; that is, he was not the actual translator in the normal sense of the term because he didn't understand the language in which the plates were written. Someone else put it into English so he could read the words on the stone. Therefore, we accept the text as scripture.

Ultimately, the reason we accept it as scripture is because of what Joseph and Oliver told us about its provenance. People who don't believe them don't accept the text as scripture.

This is why it is so effective to sow confusion about Joseph and Oliver, whether you reject what they said about the Book of Mormon itself, or just what they said about where it occurred.

What the LDS scholars and educators don't tell us is what they really mean: the New York setting doesn't fit their own models of Book of Mormon geography, so they insist on this "internal map"analysis that rejects the New York Cumorah and allows them to "interpret" the text however they like.

[And they don't tell us that the text fits very nicely in a North American setting.]

The "internal map" approach is inherently problematic because it is mostly subjective. That's why we have so many different models based on this approach. No two people can independently come up with the same map just by reading the text because the text is so vague.

Think about that premise a moment. Does it make any sense? Try testing it by working out Biblical geography just from the text, without reference to a map (either a physical one or the one imprinted on your memory).

The fallacy of the "internal map" approach was demonstrated recently when we had a modern equivalent to the Council of Nicea. (I wrote about this Council of Springville here.) A group of LDS scholars, all of whom apparently reject what every modern prophet and apostle has said about Cumorah, assembled in a conclave to interpret the "difficult passages" in the text of the Book of Mormon.

And even then, they couldn't reach agreement on every point.

All because they reject the pin in the map that Joseph and Oliver gave us.

Instead, thanks to Mesomania, they can only see Mesomania in the text, so they subjectively interpret the text to match the mental and graphic maps they've created over the years. To them, there is no "head of Sidon," for example; it's the "headwaters of Sidon." It's a "narrow strip of mountainous wilderness," with the term mountainous supplied by their own imagination. I've discussed the Sorenson translation of the text many times, but the point is, when you're concocting an "internal map" of the Book of Mormon, especially by committee, you're imposing your own ideas onto the text by definition.  You're interpreting what you think the terms mean.

In a real sense, this is akin to traditional Christian interpretation of the Bible. There are hundreds of variations of Christian doctrine, all quoting the same Bible, but each with a different interpretation of a particular passage or term.

One purpose of the Book of Mormon was to eliminate the confusion that continues to characterize Christianity.

It's deeply ironic that now the Book of Mormon is being used not to eliminate confusion, but to cause it in the minds of the Latter-day Saints.

The way to avoid this defense lawyer tactic is to heed the important pin in the map of Cumorah in New York. That one pin eliminates most of the confusion that continues to characterize what LDS scholars and educators are teaching.

Confusion about statements.

Second, an awesome researcher I won't name here* explained the consensus approach. Realize this is a Mesoamerican proponent, so he's explaining this from a friendly perspective. That's what makes this so telling when you look at it from a non-Mesoamerican perspective.

"Many will sincerely ask, as some have before, How can we ignore the fact that "men [such] as. Oliver Cowdery, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, David Whitmer, and many others, could speak frequently of the Spot where the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained the plates as the Hill Cumorah [in addition to other matters concerning Book of Mormon geography], and not be corrected by the Prophet, if that were not the fact"?

[Notice the rhetorical tricks here. First, it's a partial quotation from Joseph Fielding Smith, who actually wrote "It is difficult for a reasonable person to believe that such men as Oliver Cowdery..." Here, the researcher deletes the point about reasonable persons to ask how we can ignore these facts. The "reasonable person" terminology invokes a legal standard. Deleting this phrase is much easier than addressing it. Second, the researcher inserts the clause "in addition to other matters concerning Book of Mormon geography," thereby shifting the focus away from Cumorah. 

President Smith identified specific individuals, but it was not only "men such as" those identified and "many others," but every contemporary of Joseph Smith who accepted the New York setting for Cumorah. It was a unanimous position until after Joseph and all of his contemporaries died off.

The next section of the analysis shows how confusion is sown.]

"The problem with the approach of those who pose such a question is that they are choosing to be selective in regards to the statements which they quote.

[Sowing confusion here.]

In other words, if this is the position that people take, then they will invariably be forced to choose which authoritative statements about Book of Mormon geography they want to believe and which they want to ignore.

[Thus begins the classic framing of the issue that sows confusion by the techniques I listed above: 

First, they attribute to Joseph Smith statements he didn't make. 

Second, they assume that statements by others were either approved by Joseph or reflected his thoughts. 

Third, they reject any statements by Joseph and Oliver (e.g., Letter VII) that contradict their particular theories as the product of speculation, uncertainty, or deception.

Watch how this develops. He is going to conflate the Cumorah issue with the Hemispheric model to sow confusion about Cumorah.]

For example, can we ignore the statements as early as 1830 that have Lehi landing in Chili" and "in South America"? [These can't be directly linked to Joseph Smith]

Can we ignore the Hemispheric Theory that had its beginnings at least by 1830 with Oliver Cowdery and Parley P. Pratt (and possibly Joseph Smith)?

[Note the use of possibly here. And so far, no one is questioning Cumorah in New York.]

Can we ignore the details of the Hemispheric Theory supplied as footnotes in the Book of Mormon itself by Orson Pratt (and approved by the First Presidency)?

[This point refutes the claim that John Taylor or Wilford Woodruff wrote, or knew Joseph wrote, the Times and Seasons articles that contradicted the footnotes on the location of Zarahemla, but these same footnotes declared unequivocally that Cumorah was in New York.]

Can we ignore the 1838 identification of the city of Manti by Joseph Smith in northern Missouri?

[This identification was attributed to Joseph, and is consistent with everything else he actually said/wrote, but we can't definitely link it to Joseph based on the historical evidence we have so far. But why would we want to ignore it?]

If we can't, then we are forced to ignore the fact that in the Book of Mormon text itself the city of Manti is located in the land southward,

[This is pure Mesomania; he is assuming that northern Missouri cannot be the land southward because he's envisioning Central America, but Missouri as the land southward fits fine in the North American setting.]

we are forced to ignore the 1842 editorial by Joseph Smith in the Times and Seasons

[Here is a false attribution, which has been a major source of confusion for a long, long time]

to the effect that Zarahemla was near Quirigua, Guatemala, and we are forced to ignore the actions of Joseph F. Smith when he declined to officially approve of a map showing the exact landing place of Lehi and his company saying that the Lord had not yet revealed it.

[A great example of sowing confusion by conflating the issues. Joseph F. Smith's statement does not dispute the New York setting for Cumorah.]

We are also forced to ignore the 1929 statement by President Ivins that "There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question [of Book of Mormon geography] So the Church says we are just waiting until we discover the truth."

[Again, the New York Cumorah does not "settle" the question of Book of Mormon geography; it is merely a starting point. So President Ivins is correct, but he doesn't cast doubt or confusion about Cumorah.]

And we are forced to ignore the 1993 letter coming from the office of the First Presidency stating that "there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site that has been suggested."

[I am highly suspicious of this one. First, I haven't been able to track down any such First Presidency letter. The Cumorah article in the 1992 Encyclopedia of Mormonism uses this exact language here, but without quotation marks or citation. That article was written by David A. Palmer, who sowed a tremendous amount of confusion with his 1981 book, In Search of Cumorah, which I've addressed before on my blog and youtube channel. Note that Palmer cites himself in this article. 

FairMormon and Mesoamerican proponents claim this message was contained in a "fax from the Office of the First Presidency to FARMS, April 12, 1993." But compare the fax to Palmer's article:

Fax: While some Latter-day Saints have looked for possible locations and explanations [for Book of Mormon geography] because the New York Hill Cumorah does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Cumorah, there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site.

Palmer: Because the New York site does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Book of Mormon geography, some Latter-day Saints have looked for other possible explanations and locations, including Mesoamerica. Although some have identified possible sites that may seem to fit better (Palmer), there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site that has been suggested.

The "fax" is just a rewording of Palmer's article, which predates the fax. 

Here is what the Palmer article looks like when it is edited to become the fax from the First Presidency. You just have to move the first sentence to the middle, change and delete a few words, and voila, an important announcement from the First Presidency that refutes Letter VII and endorses the two-Cumorah theory:

So while it's possible the First Presidency reworded Palmer's article and faxed it to FARMS, does anyone really believe that? 

By citing the "office of the First Presidency," FairMormon implies that Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas S. Monson reworded Palmer's article and faxed it to FARMS. 

In fact, the fax was sent by Carla Ogden, then Senior Executive Secretary for the Office of the First Presidency. She apparently reworded the article from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

I've been criticized by some LDS scholars for using the term "citation cartel," but there's no better example than this. First, David Palmer writes his book justifying the two-Cumorahs theory. Then he gets the job to write the Cumorah entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, in which he cites himself as authority. Then a staffer from Church headquarters rewords the article and faxes it to FARMS. FARMS then uses it to sow doubt about Cumorah, omitting the inconvenient fact that it was their own guy, David Palmer, who wrote the material. It's a wonder to behold, for sure, but this is what passes for LDS scholarship about Mesoamerica.

You can read this entire episode here

Beyond the obvious problem of the First Presidency communicating an important doctrinal position by fax to a single organization, think of the implications of this statement. FARMS, FairMormon, and the rest of the citation cartel are actually claiming that the First Presidency has said that "the New York Hill Cumorah does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Cumorah." This would mean the First Presidency has evaluated this subject in far more detail than they've ever explained, and reached the conclusion that Joseph, Oliver, and all previous prophets and apostles were wrong.

Maybe we should get some clarification on that. If someone does get some clarification, we can address the issue more specifically.]

Relying on selective authoritative statements from the past is a very weak position if it represents one's only argument for Book of Mormon geography.

[This is a straw man argument. No one relies solely on "selective authoritative statements from the past."]

While one certainly has the liberty to believe whatever he chooses in view of the fact that Church officials have approved no official map of Book of Mormon geography, those who hold too closely to tradition and ignore the information at hand put themselves in jeopardy.

[Of course, this is exactly my point about Mesomania.]

In 1844 Joseph Smith said the following: "I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions." (Joseph Smith, D. H. C. 6:183-185, January 20, 1844)

[This is the prime reason to stick with what Joseph actually said and wrote, instead of conflating those statements with those of his contemporaries. But on one point, they were all consistent: Cumorah is in New York.]

While equating Book of Mormon geography with the things of God" is an individual matter, I still have to believe that those who hold too tightly to traditional statements about Book of Mormon geography will either shut their eyes to new information or put themselves in jeopardy of "flying to pieces" when what is being substantiated, quoted and taught with more frequency at the present time is overwhelmingly contrary to their traditions.

[This tautological rhetoric obfuscates the question of what is tradition and what is information. By definition, anyone who holds "too tightly to traditional statements" will "shut their eyes to new information." Mesoamerican proponents have developed their own traditions, replete with their own private interpretations of the text, that they adhere to at all costs. By and large, they shut their eyes to new information about Church history, as well as the sciences. In this article alone, the author has attempted to confuse the issues by conflating the Cumorah question with the various statements about the hemispheric model, and has cited what I consider a phony fax to cause further confusion.

If you read the publications of the Mesoamerican proponents, you will see this same effort to cause confusion in a variety of forms. I chose this one as an illustration because it is relatively concise, and because it epitomizes what you'll read elsewhere.]

(I did address the question of "Why not?" on another blog, here.)


*I didn't name the researcher because his identity is irrelevant to the issue.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Intellectual history of Book of Mormon geography

The intellectual history of Book of Mormon geography is a fascinating topic. It's easy to follow the logic that led from the early establishment of Cumorah in New York and the speculation about other Book of Mormon sites (which led to a hemispheric model), to the development of the two-Cumorahs theory and the abandonment by scholars of the New York setting for Cumorah (meaning the Mormon 6:6 Cumorah).

The rationale makes sense at every step of the way, once you adopt the premise that Joseph and Oliver didn't know what they were talking about, so they were speculating and, it turns out, they were wrong about the location of Cumorah. I don't agree with that premise, as I've explained, but it's not irrational.

A very curious development that I do find irrational is the fairly recent reliance on the anonymous 1842 Times and Seasons articles that claimed Zarahemla was in Quirigua and other sites in Central America were built by the Nephites. The long-standing view is that Joseph wrote or edited these articles, or that if he didn't, John Taylor and/or Wilford Woodruff did. I've offered detailed historical analysis to suggest otherwise, but set that aside. If Joseph, Taylor, or Woodruff wrote those articles, why would John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff have allowed the Orson Pratt footnotes that put Zarahemla elsewhere? If the long-standing attribution to Joseph Smith is correct, why would Taylor and Woodruff (and Orson Pratt, for that matter) reject what Joseph supposedly wrote? Or if they wrote the articles and Joseph merely allowed them to be published, why change their minds without explanation? It makes no sense. These anonymous articles appear once and then are completely forgotten until everyone who knew Joseph dies off, at which point they are resurrected and become one of the principal foundations for the Mesoamerican setting.

Based on that point alone, I conclude that Taylor and Woodruff knew Joseph had nothing to do with the 1842 articles. If, as I propose, William Smith and Benjamin Winchester were responsible for them, neither Taylor nor Woodruff would have brought it up because William and Benjamin were in such disfavor. Better to forget the whole thing and move on. Even better, put Orson Pratt's ideas into the official edition of the Book of Mormon for 40 years.

I doubt Taylor and Woodruff ever dreamed the day would come when entire books would focus on those anonymous Times and Seasons articles.

To their credit, some Mesoamerican proponents have abandoned the Times and Seasons articles, but others have not. They continue to present them in firesides, lectures, books, etc.

Apart from the anonymous Times and Seasons articles, and based on the premise of Joseph's ignorance and speculation, the intellectual history of the Mesoamerican model makes a lot of sense and is logical. I can see why so many people embraced it once it got going.

Of course, I think the basic premise was a mistake, as Joseph Fielding Smith pointed out, but the choice to accept that premise is not irrational. Poor judgment, IMO, but not irrational.

Speaking of Joseph Fielding Smith, he did imply that he thought the narrow neck of land was in Central America, but this is not inconsistent with the New York Cumorah. His main point was the location of Cumorah in New York, which he wisely (prophetically) recognized was directly tied to the credibility and reliability of Joseph and Oliver. Hence his warning.

Nevertheless, the scholars decided that the geography doesn't work that way--John Sorenson famously claims that scenario is worthy of a witless sci-fi movie. Instead, the text describes a more limited geography, not a hemispheric or even half-hemispheric model. Based on the text, I agree with them on the more limited geography.

This leaves us with a choice: do we accept the New York Cumorah of Joseph and Oliver and go from there, or do we adopt an interpretation of the text that describes Central America and reject Joseph and Oliver?

The intellectual history shows that LDS scholars (and educators), for the most part, chose the text. This was actually a contraction of the hemispheric model that identified the narrow neck as Panama; i.e., the scholars thought the text described an hourglass, and the only place that fit was Central America. Given the limited-scope geography described by the text, they confined the setting to Central America and moved Cumorah there.

But as you go through this, ask yourself if they really chose the text or instead chose a particular interpretation of the text that originated with the hemispheric model. I think they did the latter, and after decades of adherence to that interpretation, we have Mesomania.

I looked high and low, but I couldn't find any detailed scholarly attempt to test the New York Cumorah against the text. Instead, the intellectual history shows this refinement and contraction of the hemispheric model, combined with circular reasoning arguments against the New York Cumorah (such as the requirement that it be near volcanoes). That's why I conducted the experiment that resulted in Moroni's America.

True, there have been a variety of proposals that limit the geography to New York or the Great Lakes area, but as near as I can tell, these disregard many passages in the text.

My conclusion after running my experiment: the text fits North America well, and much better than Central America. Plus, you get to support Joseph and Oliver as a bonus. Not to mention every prophet and apostle who has commented on Cumorah (except Harold B. Lee's offhand comment about latitude and longitude).

At this point, in light of the historical and scientific and theological evidence, I can't think of a rationale for the Mesoamerican setting that remains valid. I haven't read one, either. But of course my point of view is just mine, and you're free to disagree.

In the same way that I think every member of the Church should read Letter VII, I think everyone interested in the geography issue should know the intellectual history.

Hence this post.

One of the best outlines of the intellectual history was created by Alan C. Miner. He did a great job compiling the sources. It's located here.

For those interested, I've annotated his work for one of my youtube videos. I provide it here for those who don't want to watch the video.

Brother Miner has done a tremendous amount of excellent work on the Book of Mormon, as you can see from his web page. In my view, there are areas that are influenced by the Mesoamerican theory, and I point out some of them, but overall, I highly recommend his research. I assume others have updated it, but this is the file on his web page as of October 2016.

My notes are in green. I highlighted in yellow some key points that I comment on in the video, but I don't have a good way to insert notes in this blog. I corrected some of the typos in the original, but otherwise, it is his text, with my analysis.

Alan C. Miner
March 3, 2002

Evolution of Book of Mormon Related Geographical & Cultural Thought

     Dr. Henry Eyring, professor of chemistry at the University of Utah published a book in 1983 called Reflections of a Scientist. In it he mused about the relationship between religion and science. The book concludes with the following"
     As parents and teachers we pass on to our children and pupils our world picture. Part of this picture is religious and part of it deals with the world around us. If we teach our pupils some outmoded and nonessential notions that fail to hold water when the students get into their science classes at the university, we run grave risks. When our proteges shed the bad science they may also throw out some true religion. The solution is to avoid telling them that the earth is flat too long after it has been proved round. Don't defend a good cause with bad arguments.
     So I am certain that the gospel, as taught in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is true. It's a better explanation of what I observe in science than any other I know about. There are still lots of things I don't know, but that doesn't bother me. I'm a happy muddler. The gospel simply asks me to find out what's true as best I can and in the meantime to live a good life. That strikes me as the best formula for living there could be. (Reflections of a Scientist. S.L.C.: Deseret Book, p. 101)

     In 1909, B. H. Roberts said the following:
     Let me here say a word in relation to new discoveries in our knowledge of the Book of Mormon, and for matter of that in relation to all subjects connected with the work of the Lord in the earth. We need not follow our researches in any spirit of fear and trembling. We desire only to ascertain the truth; nothing but the truth will endure; and the ascertainment of the truth and the proclamation of the truth in any given case, or upon any subject, will do no harm to the work of the Lord which is itself truth. Nor need we be surprised if now and then we find our predecessors, many of whom bear honored names and deserve our respect and gratitude for what they achieved in making clear the truth, as they conceived it to be--we need not be surprised if we sometimes find them mistaken in their conceptions and deductions; just as the generation who succeed us in unfolding in a larger way some of the yet unlearned truths of the Gospel, will find that we have had some misconceptions and made some wrong deductions in our day and time. . . . All which is submitted, especially to the membership of the Church, that they may be prepared to find and receive new truths both in the Book of Mormon itself and about it. (B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God , Vol. II. (3 Volumes), Deseret News: Salt Lake City, 1909, pp. 503-504)

     It is in this same spirit that I submit the following chronological summary of those events that have shaped the evolution of thought on Book of Mormon geography. This summary is built on the previous works by John Sorenson and Joseph L. Allen.[ ] and historical information recorded by A.A.F (S.E.H.A.). The reader should also be aware that all the documentary statements pertaining to the summary are contained in the footnotes. So let us begin.

[Note: AAF is the nonprofit foundation behind Book of Mormon Central]

     Book of Mormon geography as a whole was not part of the picture to the early saints (and apparently not even to Joseph Smith). What was important was the coming forth of the record and the spread of the gospel. To that end, it is not surprising that the understanding of geography ("tunnel vision geography" if you will) related only to the "obvious" source of the record (the "hill Cumorah") there in New York, and the places to which the early Church members were to carry the gospel (to "the borders of the Lamanites"). According to John Sorenson:
     To the saints, the one sure fact was that the plates had come out of the hill in New York, therefore, it was felt, that must have been the scene of the final Nephite battle. Furthermore, there is no evidence that early Latter-day Saints, any more than other frontier people of the time, differentiated among "Indians." An Indian, anywhere in the United States and by extension anywhere in the hemisphere, was considered generically pretty much like any other Indian. . . . Consequently, a Lamanite was a Lamanite was a Lamanite to a Book of Mormon believer in the 1830's.

     It is important to note that in relation to the Lord's reference to "Lamanites" and "the borders of the Lamanites" in revelations recorded during this time period (and beyond), the Lord also made it clear that he speaks to men "after the manner of their language" and understanding (see D&C 1:24). Thus the words like "Cumorah" and "borders of the Lamanites" were sufficient for the times. They "brought home" the truth of the Book of Mormon in an immediate way.

[Note: no mention of Joseph referring to Cumorah before translating the plates, or David Whitmer hearing the name from a divine messenger before reading the text, or Oliver Cowdery preaching about Cumorah on his first mission. However, some of these events are mentioned later, in the site-specific section in the second half.]

     While traveling through Illinois on June 3, 1834, members of Zion's Camp located a few bones, including a broken femur and an arrowhead, approximately a foot below the earth's surface, and these remains became the catalyst for revelation to Joseph, regarding the skeleton's identity. Joseph identified the man as "Zelph" and stated a number of things concerning him. This information was recorded in diaries or journals by a number of different men. Joseph also wrote a letter to his wife Emma at this time. The dilemma is that while all the accounts are generally consistent, they all have differing pieces of information.
[Note: this is the logical fallacy that one account is better than multiple accounts; i.e., if we had only one account, we’d accept it as authoritative. Lots of examples of this. In reality, no two persons would record the same event in identical words.]

As to what facts were recorded properly and what were not we probably will never know. However, whether the "facts" were recorded properly (or even whether now they might be interpreted to have any bearing at all on Book of Mormon geography) might not necessarily be the most important perspective to take about these incidents. To the men that were there, the question was only whether the Book of Mormon was true, and whether Joseph Smith was a prophet.

[Note: now we’re deciding what was important to the men on Zion’s Camp, but their own accounts indicate they were interested in the connections between the Book of Mormon and the route they were traveling.]

That is, the early saints were saints because they followed the voice of authority and a book. The Book of Mormon was part of the picture much more for its spiritual impact than its intellectual impact. It is easy to observe that Book of Mormon geography as an intellectual process was not part of that picture. These men (including Joseph Smith) would not have quibbled over details concerning a Book of Mormon geography that they knew nothing about; rather they would only have focused on an authoritative "proof" of the Book of Mormon. Thus all "facts" reported by these men should be taken with this in mind.

[Note: these men were as interested the setting of the Book of Mormon as anyone else is; that’s why they recorded what Joseph said.]

     Statements regarding Book of Mormon geography during the years 1835-1840 can be viewed in the same light as those recorded previously but with one exception. For the first time we come across an authoritative statement that the site of Lehi's landing was "the western coast of South America." This implies a developing hemispheric model of Book of Mormon lands, even though such knowledge might have amounted to only a general outline concept of North and South America.

[Note: here he completely ignores Letter VII, which is the most detailed and unequivocal statement about Cumorah on record.]

     In this established Nauvoo period, we find a number of statements, and the first impact of published ("scientific") information on Book of Mormon geography. Charles Blancher Thompson wrote a book, Evidence in Proof of the Book of Mormon, printed in Batavia, New York, in 1841 which dealt with antiquities in the New York area. Additionally, John M. Bernhisel sent from the east to Joseph Smith a copy of John Lloyd Stephens' Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan. a sensational "best-seller" in both the United States and England. Mr. Stephens had documented and illustrated his travels through the jungles and ancient ruins of Central America. Both books stimulated treatment relative the Book of Mormon in the Nauvoo Times and Seasons. Nevertheless, the main focus appears to be, as before, validation or "proofs" of the Book of Mormon story, not a treatise on Book of Mormon geography.

[Note: Thompson’s book borrowed from Winchester’s articles. Bernhisel gave the Stephens books to Woodruff to take to Nauvoo. Woodruff read them and wrote about them in his journal. He never says he delivered them to Joseph; instead, he says he wrote a letter to Bernhisel, which is probably the letter long attributed to Joseph Smith. IOW, there is no evidence that Joseph ever read the books. In 1844, Joseph donated a copy of the Stephens books to the Nauvoo library, along with 37 other books, and it is not known if these were the same books he’d received from Bernhisel. There is no record of Joseph reading any of these books, apart from the Book of Mormon itself (he donated a copy of the Book of Mormon to the library. He would have had to spend a lot of time reading to get through all of these books, but not a single scribe or associate mentioned him spending time reading, apart from reviewing his own history in 1842.]

Also during this time, the first official Church account of the Zelph incident was compiled and edited from previous accounts by Willard Richards. Whether any of the editing mattered to the saints who had already heard the various stories is doubtful, but future readers would be influenced because the information from the various accounts was written as if it all came from one person's diary (written in the "first person" form).

[Note: It was a common practice to rewrite records into the “first person” form, which is how we get the false characterization of the famous “most correct book” statement as a quotation of Joseph Smith. Actually, that statement came from Wilford Woodruff’s journal, and it was his summary of an entire days’ worth of teaching, not a direct quotation. The compilation of the Zelph account has caused some confusion, so it’s much better to read the specific accounts.]

[Note: he forgot to mention that Letter VII was republished in the 1841 Times and Seasons, the 1841 Gospel Reflector, and the 1844 special pamphlet in England. IOW, Joseph sought to make it available to everyone in the Church.]

     During the Exodus and Utah Pioneer period, there were obviously more important things to do besides studying Book of Mormon geography. The statements from this period belong exclusively to those charged with the duties of printing material for the Church (Orson and Parley P. Pratt to be precise), a job which was handled from the distant shores of England. From whatever studies they made, or whatever sources they sought, it is apparent that as time passed, they developed a more detailed hemispheric model of Book of Mormon geography. However, John Sorenson sounds a note of caution about the efforts of this time period:
     For at least the first 50 years of the Church's existence, virtually everyone who thought in detail about and then put their thoughts in print on any gospel topic were few in number. . . . whatever efforts at thoughtful study had to be sandwiched among urgent, time-consuming duties like missionary labors and eking out a living on the frontier. . . . We must realize that the Book of Mormon was not an object of careful study in the early days of the Church, in fact it was referred to surprisingly little.

[Note: I know this is the consensus among historians, but people quoted often from the Book of Mormon. For examples, read Winchester’s Gospel Reflector. Joseph Smith made a point of re-reading the Book of Mormon in 1841-2. He and Parley P. Pratt revised it in 1837.]

The scripture anchored faith and clarified aspects of theology, but it was not studied systematically, let alone critically, as history or geography. For example, even Orson Pratt, who was one of the best informed and had one of the most logical minds among Latter-day Saints of his day . . . supposed that the Jaredites brought "elephants, cureloms and cumoms (very large animals)" with them across the Pacific Ocean on their barges [even though] the Book of Ether fails to say anything about elephants or cumoms on the barges (the vesels were, after all, only "as long as a [temperate zone] tree"--Ether 2:17). [Yet] even if the incongruity of Pratt's assertions had been detected by an alert reader, there was no medium nor atmosphere to allow pointing it out. . . .

[Note: This is an important point. There was not a lot of debate about this topic, at least not in print. They all knew Cumorah was in New York and never equivocated about that. However, they assumed the civilization had spread throughout the hemisphere. To counteract anti-Mormon arguments, they took any ancient site as evidence of Book of Mormon peoples. In 1841, someone brought “evidence” of Lehi’s arrival in South America, but Joseph ignored it. In 1842, Joseph corrected Orson Pratt’s hemispheric geography in the Wentworth letter, but that didn’t stop him or Parley from speculating.]

[During this time period] failure to study the Book of Mormon with care was joined with limited knowledge of the external world to prevent anything like the kind of careful study of [Book of Mormon] geography that is possible today. Besides, the predominant objectives of 19th century Mormonism--to gather and establish the Church in a safe home base and to preach the gospel--turned the attention of most people in directions that did not call for and did not really allow "analyzing" the scripture.

[Note: good points. But it’s also true they had all learned from Joseph and Oliver that Cumorah was in New York, so they assessed the text with that pin in the map.]

     The years immediately following this period of print ruled over by the Pratts were filled almost entirely with accounts of the feelings of authorities of the Church as they returned to "where it all began"--the "hill Cumorah" in New York. Additional stories circulated about Moroni personally dedicating the sites of the St. George and Manti temples.
[Note: These anecdotal stories didn’t circulate all that much, although they were known. Only later did they acquire some significance, which has since been downplayed.]

Thus in retrospect, it is easy for me to see that such authoritative and spiritually moving accounts solidified the position of the New York hill as the main peg in the developing Book of Mormon geographic model. It is no surprise to find "the New York hill Cumorah" among Orson Pratt's hemispheric geographical footnotes appearing for the first time in the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon. Pratt's basic model was that the entire North American continent was the Land Northward and the entire South American continent was the Land Southward. The Isthmus of Panama was designated as the Narrow Neck of Land. He proposed that Lehi landed near Valparaiso, Chile. With these and other notes included in the scriptures, this model became the standard for most Latter-day Saints.

[Note: This is a misleading analysis of Pratt’s footnotes. He was careful to distinguish between speculation and fact. He declared unequivocally that Cumorah was in New York, but as for the other sites, he wrote “it is believed that” to clarify that these locations were not known.]

[Map: Book of Mormon Lands as Viewed by Orson Pratt (1879). Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 185]

     During these years, the specific idea that Lehi landed in Chile (thus implying a hemispheric model) was not only backed up by some authoritative endorsements, but designated for teaching: (1) the 1836 statement of Frederick G. Williams was reprinted in James A. Little and Franklin D. Richards' "A Compendium of the Doctrines of the Gospel" printed by the Deseret News; (2) articles by George Reynolds and A. H. Cannon appeared in the Juvenile Instructor aimed at instruction in "the Sunday Schools in Zion"; and (3) an article by B. H. Roberts appeared in the Millennial Star. It was however, as John Sorenson points out,

     the [accumulated] writings of George Reynolds which affected the most people. He was personal secretary to Brigham Young and then secretary to the first Presidency in the administrations of Presidents Taylor, Woodruff, Snow, and Smith. He was simultaneously one of the presidents of Seventy for nineteen years. It was while he was a prisoner in the Utah territorial prison from 1879 to 1881 as a result of a famous test case over polygamy that he began his work. An early fruit of his effort was the series of pieces in the Juvenile Instructor which ran between 15 November 1880 and 1 February 1881. Amplified somewhat, these then were published in 1888 as The Story of the Book of Mormon, the first popularization based on the scripture. Because of Reynold's intimate connections with the key Church leaders and his ties with its media (he was assistant editor for the Instructor and associate editor of The Deseret News), his book quickly reached best-seller status, apparently being published five separate times within the year 1888 (twice in Salt Lake, twice in Chicago and once in Independence)! [Reynold's work] culminated in the 1899 publication of the monumental A Complete Concordance of the Book of Mormon. What Reynolds did was to flesh out and somewhat rationalized the outline geography Pratt had presented in the footnotes of the Book of Mormon. He explicitly agreed with Pratt and cited the footnotes at times . . . Yet he noted that other men had somewhat different ideas. . . . [although still hemispheric models differing little from Pratt and Reynolds] One seems to have been Karl G. Maeser, who with student Heber Comer, mapped a model in 1880 at the Brigham Young Academy in Provo.

[Comer and Maeser 1880 Model, John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: pp. ]

     Another hemispheric model was introduced (author unknown) in a pamphlet titled Plain Facts for Students of the Book of Mormon with a Map of the Promised Land.

["Plain Facts" 1887 (Minimal External) Model, John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: pp. ]

     Still another model was in development by B. H. Roberts about the year 1888, and apparently there began to be many more. As one student was to remark: "there [are] so many [models] entertained by so many men that theory after theory spring[s] up all around the country. . . . we know the whole thing is in a shape that my opinion is as good as the other fellow." People were creating hemispheric models where variations were slight and substantiation was lacking.

[Note: he forgot to mention that in 1889, the Improvement Era, edited by Joseph F. Smith (then a counselor in the First Presidency) reprinted Letter VII and Oliver’s other historical letters.]

     The year 1890 is marked with an authoritative word of caution about the many maps of Book of Mormon geography that were being promoted. With no basis for their reasoning other than an author's opinion, Elder Cannon could obviously see "that suggestive maps prepared by these brethren would confuse instead of enlighten," and he cautioned them to avoid promoting them for "the present time." Yet sadly, some people have carried this quote beyond those "present times," even to our day implying that Book of Mormon geography was not intended to be understood (thus somehow setting it apart from the process of understanding the more important doctrine that is found in the book). However as John Sorenson notes:
One thing evident in all the discussion is that neither the proponents of the many map correlations nor Elder Cannon found anything intrinsically wrong in pursuing such studies, only in the confusion and disunity that resulted. There is no trace of a viewpoint that the geography of Book of Mormon events had been settled, by Joseph Smith, Orson Pratt or anyone else.

[Note: Except that everyone agreed Cumorah was in New York. No one questioned that because Joseph and Oliver had made it so clear.]

     In the almost 20 years subsequent to George Q. Cannon's statement, printed items related to Book of Mormon geography were remarkably few and only repeated information stated previously. There is one interesting happening worthy of note however. Joseph Allen writes that in 1901, Benjamin Cluff, president of Brigham Young Academy, requested and received permission from the First Presidency of the Church to form a "Zarahemla Expedition." The expedition's intent was to locate the Land of Zarahemla in Colombia, as they felt that he Magdalena River was the best candidate for the River Sidon. The general feeling of the organizers of the expedition was that the heartland of the Book of Mormon was in Central and South America. Still the general thinking of the day was that the history of the Book of Mormon covered a large amount of ground from South America to North America. The expedition never reached Colombia because of a revolution in the country. However, regarding he accomplishments of the expedition, Cluff wrote that the expedition served to open to the Mormon people a knowledge of the countries on the South where they believed the ancient Nephties and Lamanties lived and to stimulate interest in the ancient ruins of central and South America-- specifically to date those ruins. However, most significantly, Cluff noted that they probably furnished some evidence to corroborate the theory of Anthony Ivins and other Book of Mormon authorities that the narrow neck of land spoken of in the Book of Mormon as being "a Sabbath day's journey for a Nephite from sea to sea, was the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. This appears to be the first documentation of any theoretical changes that might have been proposed that the Narrow Neck was any place but Panama.

[Note: the “narrow neck” is always conflated with the “narrow neck of land” for some reason. This is what has given rise to the hourglass model.]

     The years from 1909 to 1920 were marked by remarks and actions which distanced the Church somewhat from the Orson Pratt hemispheric theory of Book of Mormon geography that had developed through the years. In his writings of 1909, B. H. Roberts, a great champion of the Book of Mormon, concluded from his studies that between 600 B.C. and 46 B.C., the Nephites were confined to a relatively small area. He also cast doubt on the statement of Frederick G. Williams regarding the site of Lehi's landing in Chile on the western coast of South America. And his statement concerning one's openness to "new discoveries in our knowledge of the Book of Mormon" seemed to close the door to the whole of South America being the land southward. In 1918, the associate editor of The Instructor published a statement about the Frederick G. Williams statement saying that it was "subject to grave doubt." He also ran a note that he had overhead President Joseph F. Smith to say that as far as Book of Mormon geography was concerned, "the Lord had not yet revealed it."

[Note: Saying the Lord had not yet revealed Book of Mormon geography is not the same as saying we don’t know that Cumorah is in New York. After all, Joseph F. Smith had reprinted Letter VII and visited the hill. Any number of possibilities exist even with the New York Cumorah as a pin in the map. The Church is wise not to take a position on overall geography or any site other than Cumorah—which is pretty much what Joseph Smith did. In my view, the difficulty is the large number of sites in North America that could correspond to Book of Mormon locations.]

     In 1920 a Church committee (composed of Orson F. Whitney, Antony W. Ivins, Joseph Fielding Smith, Melvin J. Ballard, George E. Richards, and James E. Talmage) was given the assignment of preparing a new 1921 edition of the Book of Mormon. They met "to give certain brethren an opportunity to state their views regarding the geography of the Book of Mormon." After hearing many hours of presentations on the geography of the Book of Mormon, they saw fit to delete all of Orson Pratt's geographical footnotes from the new edition of the Book of Mormon. Thus the hemispheric model was being modified but the full geographic picture of the Book of Mormon was still unsettled. However, the one point that seemed without question was the New York Hill Cumorah. The years that followed saw an initial thrust of pressure by informed students of Book of Mormon geography toward Church officials to modify their stance on the New York Cumorah. Jean Driggs presented his material to James Talmage [NOTE} However, in 1927??? the Church purchased the site of the New York hill and with it came an official authoritative entrenchment on the New York hill Cumorah. [NOTE} However, students continued to study the Book of Mormon geography intensely and in the 1930's the ideas derived therefrom led to an "internal map" which showed that hill Cumorah by necessity was located near the narrow neck. This map was developed by [ ] and they met with and presented their ideas to Joseph Fielding Smith. This led once again to a statement by Smith reinforcing a commitment to the New York hill. [NOTE}

[Note: JFS strongly denounced the two-Cumorahs theory with a warning that it would cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. That warning has come true.]

     1925 Jean Driggs Book of Mormon Model--the first adequate LDS map of Middle America--the first LDS to maintain that the hill of the final battle was in Central America.
     1930      Beginning of serious archaeological excavation work (Exploring 49)
1930's      Silvanus Morely, father of archaeology of Yucatan--Classic ruins - Chichen Itza and Uxmal (Ex, p. 48)
     1938      Lynn C. Layton--the first "internal" model of the Book of Mormon
     1939   J. Alvin and J. Nile Washburn--An Approach to the Study of the Book of Mormon--First detailed internal analysis of Book of Mormon geography--They demonstrate convincingly that the extent of the map was restricted by the text itself to a few hundred miles. Moreover, the layout tended to favor Central America although no external statements are made.

[Note: JFS’s comments about the two-Cumorahs theory responded to this trend.]

1955??: The highly popular multivolume Commentary on the Book of Mormon by George Reynolds and Janne Sjodahl.
 (volume IV has a copyright of 1959)

1957? 1962-1967:
     In 1957? (1962) the Church brought forth a special large-print student edition of the Book of Mormon that included a number of colored prints illustrating Book of Mormon culture. This was to be purchased and used by all Seminary students for use in their classes for a number of years. Included with an array of Arnold Friberg illustrations were pictures of cultural artifacts from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Columbia and Peru. However most distinctively at the beginning of the book was a large print of the New York hill Cumorah with the word "CUMORAH" carved out of foliage on the hill and with the title "The Hill Cumorah" at the bottom of the page (see Illustration). Thus without overtly declaring so, the implication of the prints was a hemispheric model with a New York hill Cumorah.

[Illustration: "The Hill Cumorah," The Book of Mormon, 1962, preface.]

[Note: these images remained in the missionary edition until 1981.]

     Starting in 1968, A Companion To Your Study Of The Book of Mormon began to be used for Religion 121, 122, 421, and 422 at B.Y.U. This was carefully prepared by Daniel Ludlow to avoid the subject of geography in the New World. Most interesting is his quote of the Frederick G. Williams information regarding Lehi's travels through Arabia (Richards & Little "Compendium, 1925 edition), but which is cut off before the mention of Lehi's landing in Chile. No maps are included in the commentary.

     In 1979 the Church Educational System prepared a commentary for use in all its Religion 121-122 classes for the next 10 years. There were a few cultural pictures from Mexico, Guatemala and Peru. However while there were some outline maps of Lehi's travels through Arabia, there were no maps of the New World (in America). Most telling, however, is a quote from Doctrines of Salvation, 3:233-34 (see the notation for 1938) with the heading as follows: Mormon 6:1-6. Where Did the Last Great Nephite-Lamanite Battle Take Place?" The following words are in italics: "the Prophet Joseph Smith himself is on record, definitely declaring the present hill called Cumorah to be the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon." Thus the concept of a hemispheric model with a New York hill Cumorah was apparently the model authorized to be taught by Church authorities.

[Note: Like Orson Pratt’s footnotes, the location of Cumorah was certain, but the rest of the geography was speculative.]

     In 1989 the Church Educational System prepared a commentary for used in all its Religion 121-122 courses for the decade which followed. Photos of cultural artifacts from both North America and South America are conspicuously absent. There is however an internal map prepared by Daniel H. Ludlow. A caption at the bottom states: "Possible comparative relationships for use of the sites mentioned in the Book of Mormon based on internal evidences. No effort should be made to identify points on this map with any existing geographical locations (cf. 3 Nephi 8:5-18)." While locations for the Land Southward (appearing much like South America) are detailed on this map, the Land Northward is left quite ambiguous and a location for the hill Cumorah (hill Ramah) is conspicuously absent. However, included in the commentary for Ether 2:7-10 is a statement by Marion G. Romney while standing on the "hill Cumorah" in New York. On this hill he contemplated "the events which occurred in that vicinity some twenty-five centureies ago--events which brought to an end the great Jaredite nation." Thus, once again, without overtly stating as much, the concept of a hemispheric model with a New York hill Cumorah was still established in the authorized teachings of the Church.

[Illustration: Map: "Possible Book of Mormon Sites (in Relationship to Each Other)." Church Educational System, Book of Mormon Student Manual , 1989, p. 163.]


The Mesoamerican Theories can basically be categorized in two different ways: (1) As to which of two rivers was the Sidon: The Grijalva or the Usumacinta; and (2) as to whether cardinal directions were the basis of Joseph's translation or whether directional terms in the Book of Mormon could be interpreted in a different manner: Cardinal Directions vs. "Nephite North."

     The following is a list of authoritative statements and notable research steps that have been taken toward a greater understanding of Book of Mormon culture and geography. They have been separated into three groups: (1) those statements that tended to sustain the New York hill Cumorah in a hemispheric setting; (2) those statements that tended to sustain the New York hill Cumorah while assuming that most of the Book of Mormon story happened in Central America; and (3) those statements and research steps that supported not only a limited region for the B of M. story, but the location there of the hill Cumorah. This approach naturally favors Mesoamerica.

[Note: he doesn’t even consider a North American setting (e.g., Heartland or Moroni’s America).]

[Note: everything in the following sections that can be directly attributed to Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, or David Whitmer focuses on the area covered by the United States, circa 1842. Everything pointing beyond that area is attributed to others.]

1827      In retrospect from 1845, Lucy Mack writes (History of J.S.) that Joseph went to the "hill Cumorah."
1829      In retrospect from 1878, David Whitmer writes of meeting Moroni who was going to "Cumorah."
[Note: Whitmer related this incident as early as 1832, which we know from Zina Young, as I’ve written about.]
1830      Revelations (D&C 28:8-9; 30; 32:2) the "borders of the Lamanites" and sending men to the "Lamanites."
1830      Revelations (D&C 49:24; 54:8) "Lamanites" and the "borders of the Lamanites."
1832      W.W. Phelps--prairies of the far west = "land of desolation."
[Note: we don’t know if this term is an adjective or a proper noun.]
1834      Joseph Smith (Zions Camp) to Emma--wandering on "the plaines of the Nephites."
[Note: this letter actually followed the Zelph incident, suggesting he wrote to Emma based on what he learned in the Zelph revelation.]
1834The Zelph Incident (Zions Camp): "Lamanite" skeleton. Reuben McBride, Moses Martin, Wilford Woodruff, Levi Hancock, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith.
1835      Oliver Cowdery (Mes & Adv.) N.Y. "hill Cumorah" place of last Jaredite battles.
[Note: This is Letter VII. Also in 1835, Joseph had his scribes copy the letters, including Letter VII, into his personal history.]
1836      Frederick G. Williams note: Lehi landed in Chile ("30 degrees south latitude")
1838      J. Smith (History of the Church) refers to "tower hill" where "remains of an old Nephite altar" stood.
1838      A. Jenson: infers that J.S. said that Huntsville, Randolph County = "ancient site of the city of Manti."
1840      Orson Pratt: "the western coast of south America" is the site of Lehi's landing.
1841J. Smith letter concerning J. Bernhisel's gift of J.L. Stephens' Incidents of Travel: "of all histories . . . pertaining to the antiquities of this country it is the most correct, luminous & comprehensive . . . [it] supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon."
[Note: No one knows who wrote that letter because the handwriting has not been identified, but the context, spelling, and content point directly to Wilford Woodruff.]
1842      Times and Seasons book review: B of M people "are the authors" of antiquities of eastern U.S.
1842      Times and Seasons book review (J.L. Stephens' Incidents of Travel) = proof of B of M.
[Note: he forgot to mention the Wentworth letter. When compared with Orson Pratt’s pamphlet, from which it was taken, we see that Joseph edited out all the hemispheric material to emphasize that the Lamanites are the Indians who live in this country. He was writing from Nauvoo, IL, to Mr. Wentworth of Chicago, IL; i.e., both men would understand “this country” to mean the United States, or possibly the countryside of Illinois.]


1842      Times and Seasons remark concerning John Lloyd Stephens' ruined cities: "The city of Zarahemla . . . stood upon this land" (Central America)      
[Note: This anonymous article, IMO, was written by Benjamin Winchester and edited by William Smith and/or W.W. Phelps. The historical evidence is compelling.] 
1843      Willard Richards (Manuscript Hist. of the Church) "Compiled" Zelph Incident: Written in "first person"
1843      Times and Seasons book review (J.L. Stephens' Incidents of Travel) = proof of B of M.
1844Mosiah L. Hancock: (retrospect Autobiography) infers that J.S. said at this time that "Nephites lost their power" in (pointing to) Mexico.
1845      Lucy Mack dictates (History of J.S.) that Joseph went to the "hill Cumorah."
1848      Orson Pratt (England): Most Book of Mormon cities were in northern South Amer.& Cent. Amer.
1848      Orson Pratt: Nephites pursued from the city of Desolation (Yucatan) to N.Y. hill Cumorah.
1849      Orson Pratt: Stephens' book confirms Book of Mormon.
1851      Parley P. Pratt      Lehi landed in "Chili."
1855      Parley P. Pratt (England): Lehi landed in Chile.
1866Orson Pratt (England--Millennial Star): Nephi at the time of the crucifixion resided in "the northwestern portions of South America" The "Hill Cumorah is situated in western New York."
1868Orson Pratt (England-Journ. of Dis.): Jaredites landed near Gulf of California, migrated eastward to New England states. "Their last struggles were in the Satae of New York."
1870      Orson Pratt: Savior appeared at the temple in "the northern part of South America."
1872Orson Pratt (England-Jour. of Disc.): Lehi landed "in Chili, not far from where the city of Valaraiso no stands" The city of Zarahemla was near the mouth of the Magdalena river. Hagoth launched his ships from "near the Isthmus of Darien. Nephites migrated to the "great Mississippi Valley." At time of Christ, Nephites dwelt in North America & part of South America. The last great battle was at the N.Y. Hill Cumorah.      
1873Brigham Young Jr. and George Q. Cannon visit N.Y. Hill Cumorah. Written acct. in Millennial Star. Special feelings contemplating the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites.
[Note: Every prophet and apostle who has commented on Cumorah’s location agrees it is in New York.]
1874Brigham Young chooses site for St. George temple "because the Nephites had previously dedicated that very site."
[Note: Joseph said Zelph/Canandaga was known from the Rocky Mountains to Cumorah, which accurately described the Hopewell (Nephite) trade network during Nephite time frames.]
1877      Brigham Young (Journ of Disc.): Joseph & Oliver went into cave of records in the hill Cumorah [N.Y.].
1877Brigham Young dedicates site for St. George temple: "Moroni stood and dedicated this piece of land."
1878      David Whitmer account published of seeing Moroni on way to "Cumorah."
[Note: as mentioned above, he told Zina Young about this in 1832.]
1878 Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith visit the N.Y. hill Cumorah. "The spirit of prayer, of blessing and prophecy rested upon [them]."
1879      Orson Pratt's hemispheric model of geography inserted in the 1879 Book of Mormon as footnotes.
[Note: To repeat, the footnotes showed Cumorah in New York as a fact, but the other sites as speculative.]
1880      George Reynolds (Juvenile Instructor): Lehi landed in Chilli.
1882Richards & Litle (Compenium of the Doctrines of the Gospel) include Frederick G. Willilams note that Lehi landed in Chile.
1883 William Smith: the final Nephite war "commenced at the Isthmus of Darien" and ended at "the hill Cumorah near where Palmyra, NY now stands."
[Note: William Smith always advocated the Mesoamerican setting, which is more evidence he edited the 1842 T&S articles.]
1886      A. H. Cannon (Juvenile Instructor- for Sunday Schools) Lehi landed "on the coast of Chili."
1890 George Q. Cannon: First Presidency have declined to prepared a suggestive map of Nephite geography. "We have strong objections to the introduction of maps and their circulation among our people which profess to give the location of the Neephites cities and settlements."
1899      Reprint of 1835 Oliver Cowdery statement on the hill Cumorah in New York (The Improvement Era).
[Note: Joseph F. Smith was editor of The Improvement Era.]


     1904      B.H. Roberts (History of the Church): Zelph incident recorded as in 1843.

     1909B. H. Roberts thinks it proper "to dispel . . . a misapprehension of the extent of Nephite occupancy of the North Continent." "no further northward than southern parts of Mexico" "in other words, the Nephties were occupying the old sead of Jaredite empire . . . the land of Moron." Frederick Williams note is in doubt. We should be open to new truths about the Book of Mormon even despite what revered predecessors have said.
       1918 Frederick Pack (The Instructor) Frederick Williams note is in doubt. Joseph F. Smith said that the Lord had not yet revealed an official map of Book of Mormon geography.
     1928 B.H. Roberts: The facts "eliminate all doubt about the [N.Y.] hill recently purchased for the Church" being the site of the last battles. (The Deseret News)
[Note: In this time frame, RLDS scholars developed the “two-Cumorahs” theory on the basis that the Book of Mormon took place in a limited geography set in Mesoamerica.]

1934      Joseph Fielding Smith: Re-edits the Zelph Incident from 1843 & reprints it in the Documentary History.
1938 Joseph Fielding Smith (The Church News): "Modernistic theory" has arisen limiting Nephites to area around the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The statements of the early brethren must be upheld!
[Note: JFS actually issued a strong and specific warning about the dangers of the “two-Cumoras” theory. LDS scholars rejected JFS on the ground that he didn’t know what he was talking about. They usually say he also said man would never land on the moon, either unaware or uninterested that JFS later corrected his mistake and even met with the Apollo astronauts. But JFS repeated this warning as President of the Quorum of the Twelve in the 1950s.]

           Two "Cumorah"

           1921Geographical footnotes first included in 1879 in Book of Mormon (Orson Pratt's continental perspective--without supporting evidence) are finally taken out of the Book of Mormon
           1917Louis E. Hills--RLDS--the first Book of Mormon model strictly limited to Mexico and Central America.
           1925 Jean Driggs Book of Mormon Model--the first adequate LDS map of Middle America--the first LDS to maintain that the hill of the final battle was in Central America.
           1930      Beginning of serious archaeological excavation work (Exploring 49)
     1930's      Silvanus Morely, father of archaeology of Yucatan--Classic ruins - Chichen Itza and Uxmal (Ex, p. 48)
1938      Lynn C. Layton--the first "internal" model of the Book of Mormon
           1939 J. Alvin and J. Nile Washburn--An Approach to the Study of the Book of Mormon--First detailed internal analysis of Book of Mormon geography--They demonstrate convincingly that the extent of the map was restricted by the text itself to a few hundred miles. Moreover, the layout tended to favor Central America although no external statements are made.
           1938-44 Itzan Society, Berkeley, Tom Ferguson and Wells Jakeman (MAA p. 250)
           1939-41      Veracruz & Tabasco (La Venta), Matthew Stirling (Ex, p. 49)
           1943      Drawings of Izapa by Matthew Stirling of visit in 1941 (ex 116)
           1946 Kaminaljuyu report--Alfred Kidder, Jesse Jennings, Edwin Shook-Carnegie Institute of Wash. (Ex, 49)
           1946 Wells Jakeman to BYU, Department of Archaeology formed (MAA 252)
           1946-1960 Wells Jakeman Chairman of Dept. of Archaeology at BYU (Arch Dig. #1, 13)
           1947      Cumorah Where? Tom Ferguson (MAA 253)
           1949      University Archaeological Society (UAS) founded
           1950 Ancient America and The Book of Mormon Ferguson and Milton R. Hunter (MAA 253)
           1952      New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF)
           1953      Wells Jakeman--4 part Stela 5 in UAS Bulletin
           1955-59      250,000 granted by LDS Church to NWAF
           1956-69Edwin Shook, Univ. of Pennsylvania & Guatemalan government--Tikal (Exploring, p. 49)
           1956      Chiapa de Corzo NWAF
           1958 Plaster cast of Stela 5 Ross Christensen, Carl H. Jones, Welby Ricks, Alfred Bush (Ex, p. 116)
           1958      Wells Jakeman, Stela 5 book
           1961-1964      Izapa-NWAF
           1961--      BYU-NWAF Howard W. Hunter--objectivity (MAA 277)
           1965 UAS name changed to Society for Early Historic Archaeology (SEHA) (Arch Dig #1, 13)
           1965      Wells Jakeman retires at 65
           1966-69      San Lorenzo--Michael Coe
           1966-1970      NWAF surveys Grijalva before flooding by dams (MAA 280)
           1968-73      Kaminaljuyu, Pennsylvania State University (Ex. p. 49)
           1973, 76      Garth Norman, Izapa Sculpture (Ex 117)
           1974 Conference: John Sorenson Mesoamerican model and Garth Norman Mesoamerican model compared
           1978-1986 John Sorenson becomes chairman of Dept. of anthropology at BYU
           1979 Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) organized by John Welch (Expl 191)      
           1980's      Tenochtitlan developed, Mexican government (Ex 49)
           1980, 87Garth Norman--"Astronomical Orientation of Izapa," Maya convention Austin TX (Ex 117)
           1981 Palmer: In Search of Cumorah. This book listed multiple criteria for the location of the Hill Cumorah at which the final battles were fought. The New York Hill Cumorah only met a few of these criteria, while the Mesoamerican hill Vigia met all of them.
[Note: Classic example of circular reasoning. Palmer assumes the Mesoamerican setting, then creates criteria that fit Mesoamerica and exclude New York, but the criteria do not arise from the text (e.g., volcanoes).]
           1984 John Sorenson: "Digging into the Book of Mormon" appears in the Ensign
[Note: Peak Mesomania in Church publications, apart from the still ubiquitous artwork.]
           1985 Sorenson: An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. As the name implies, this book detailed and supported a cultural and geographical setting in Mesoamerica for the events of the Book of Mormon
[Note: Sorenson starts by excluding other possibilities, which he doesn’t even investigate, including the New York Cumorah. Understandable because his professional focus was Mesoamerica.]
           1987 Warren : The Messiah in Ancient America. This book gave multiple cultural details supporting the visit of the Messiah to Mesoamerica.
           1987      Hauck: Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon
           1989 Allen: Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon This book taught a Mesoamerican setting with a multitude of maps and pictures ( See Clate Mask article)
[Note: Used as a textbook in some BYU classes!]
           1989 Godfrey: "The Zelph Story" A complete treatment of all known statements on the Zelph incident which took place during the Zion's Camp journey of 1834 (see notation) was finally written by Kenneth A. Godfrey ("The Zelph Story"). It included copies of the original sources. The effect of this article was to set aside the Zelph story as a basis for Book of Mormon geography.
[Note: Cannon has a much better article, here:]

1990      Sorenson: The Geography of Book of Mormon Events
1990's      FARMS Publications

     John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book, Part 1. A History of ideas: The Geography of Book of Mormon Events in Latter-day Thought." Provo: FARMS, 1990, pp. 7-50. (Note* I would strongly advise every student of Book of Mormon geography to read this account because it documents in a more understandable narrative manner the perspectives and influences that have been brought to bear on the subject)
[Note: because it was done in 1990, it doesn’t include more recent North American settings (Heartland, Moroni’s America). Also doesn’t include a methodology that starts with the New York Cumorah.]

     Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon. Orem: S&A Publishers, 1989, pp. 49, 116-117.
     AAF Historical Manuscripts
     John Heinerman, Hidden Treasures of Ancient American Cultures. Springville: Cedar Fort, 2001, pp 46-51.