THE QUESTION AND THE PROPOSAL
Why study the geography of the Book of Mormon? Isn't the spiritual aspect of it the most important part? Let me quote the Lord Jesus Christ:
"Come unto Me, O ye Gentiles! And I will show unto you the greater things, the knowledge which is hid up because of unbelief. Come unto Me, O ye House of Israel! And it shall be made manifest unto you how great things the Father hath laid up for you from the foundation of the world; And it hath not come unto you, because of unbelief. Behold, when ye shall rend that veil of unbelief which doth cause you to remain in your awful state of wickedness and hardness of heart and blindness of mind, Then shall the great and marvelous things which have been hid up from the foundation of the world from you--Yea, when ye shall call upon the Father in My name with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, then shall ye know that the Father hath remembered the covenant which He made unto your fathers, O House of Israel" (Ether 1:109-112)
Mormon selected and wrote exactly what the Holy Spirit indicated to him should be written. As to the words which we have, and which we do not have, Mormon wrote:
"And these things have I written which are a lesser part of the things which He taught the people; And I have written them to the intent that they may be brought again unto this people from the Gentiles according to the words which Jesus hath spoken. And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first to try their faith, and if it so be that they shall believe these things, Then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them; And if it so be that they will not believe these things, Then shall the greater things be withheld from them unto their condemnation." (3Nephi 12:2-4)
My answer to the question posed is to ask another question. Haven't we been under this condemnation since 1832?
And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received, which vanity and unbelief hath brought the whole church under condemnation. And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all; and they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written," (Doctrine & Covenants Sec. 83:8a,b)
In these two verses we have the Hebrew equivalent of the superlative. "Condemnation" is used three times as we have "treated lightly" the Book of Mormon, which is identified as "the new covenant". One hundred and seventy-one years after its first printing, we are still not agreed on the major geographical location of the lands in the Book of Mormon. We still do not have "the greater things"! Can we even dare suggest that any aspect of the Book of Mormon is less important than any other when we, as yet, do not have all that the Lord would give to us?
Investigators have come to realize that the overall land mass described in the book is too small to include all of North and South America. We are therefore to look at either North or South America. Most of those who favor the North American continent are agreed that the area which is encompassed by southern Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Belize is the most likely location for the Book of Mormon lands. This assumption is based on observations which point to an area where climate, topography, land and sea relationships, and the presence of ancient cultures with corresponding building ruin sites and time frames, seem to agree with the interpreted record of the book.
My interest at this point is not to endorse or defend any theory, but to take the record as a true account, "given in plainness" to us for our benefit. We will explore the geography as it is given to us by Mormon and Moroni.
Readers who love the Book of Mormon, and have felt the Holy Spirit witnessing to the truth of it, have a desire to confirm all of the words in the experiences of their lives. One aspect of our testimony which I have felt led to study and which I think deserves more attention is our ability to share the Book of Mormon in truthful geographical terms. We tell people the book is true, and that they can believe its message, rely on its teachings, and have faith in the message of Jesus Christ found on its pages. We tell them that if they will read it and
"ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ...with a sincere heart, with real intent having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost." (Moroni 10: 4,5; Restored Covenant Edition-RCE)
We tell them that they can believe in the words of the prophets, and base their lives on the gospel principles contained therein. We tell them they can believe - and indeed know - that these were real people, in real lands, doing real things, because the book is historically true. Then comes the inevitable question, "Where are the Book of Mormon lands?" The answers go something like this:
--"Well brother so-and-so took a trip to ______ and he believes that ......", or
--"Sister _______ feels that she has some insight and that _______ is the location of.......", or
--"Most of the church people now believe that....."
Many people have attempted to identify the lands of the Book of Mormon by advancing theories and drawing maps. These maps are either of the internal or external types ie: maps based only on what "the book" says, or those which attempt to place the lands and the stated locations in a known geographical area. All of the major authors of those maps and theories have been detailed in a very complete work by John L. Sorensen. (John L. Sorenson, "The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book", F.A.R.M.S.,1992) Still, there are not two individuals that completely agree, or know without equivocation, just where the Book of Mormon lands are located. For every two theories at least one, and possibly both, is incorrect: that is - false, untrue, not right, in error, etc. We have been told the Spirit of God is
"to guide us into all truth," ( John 16:13)
"if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." (James 1:5)
We have been told in all our scriptures "to seek", "to knock", "to ask", that light, in the form of wisdom and understanding and great stores of knowledge, might be given to us. We need to ask ourselves, "Is it important that we know with certainty where the Book of Mormon lands are located?" "Does it matter that we give only 'possibly correct' theories and conjectures to those who want to know?"
To me, it is no longer acceptable to advance a theory which may be incorrect because, in reality, it is an untruth, a falsehood, and a lie; and as such, comes from the adversary of our souls, who is "the father of all lies" (Genesis 3:5). As we share these theories we bear a false witness, no matter how well intentioned we may be. We do a grave injustice to the cause we so lovingly uphold, and we have done this now for one hundred and seventy one years! (1830-2001 A.D.) We can no longer be accepting of theories! We must know the truth! The spiritual half of the Book of Mormon, with all of the important eternal principles which have been upheld since they were taught in the beginning, is advanced as true. The other half, the temporal or physical, has yet to be fully and truthfully documented to the world. We have to want this knowledge. We have to want it intensely enough to do whatever is required to get it!
Remember the words in the Doctrine and Covenants:
"The elements are eternal, and spirit and element receiveth a fullness of joy..." (D&C 90:5e)
We have been content to have the spiritual parts of the Book of Mormon. It is when the "element" part is added, the physical part - the tangible and geographical part - is put with the "spirit" part, that we will receive "a fullness of joy"!
As I have tried to discuss the geography with others I have found:
1. My knowledge of the spiritual teachings has much outweighed my knowledge of the geography and this has somehow seemed acceptable.
2. Until now, my appreciation of the role of geography in sharing the Book of Mormon with others had been minimal. This aspect of the book is extremely important however, as new and exciting information about the earliest peoples of the Americas is being presented to the public in the form of TV documentaries and videos, internet web sites, periodicals, and books by competent authors (Michael Coe; George Stuart; Linda Schele; and others).
3. It was only as I prayerfully studied several times, the entire book, in a very short period of time, that I felt appreciation for and some competence to discuss the geography. Since the record deals with different time periods and different locations, the geography is woven into the life experiences of the people and their messages. Although it is not possible to study the book for only the geography, it is useful to attempt to isolate those verses dealing with places, lands, etc. from the rest of the text. I did this by drawing circles around all words and phrases dealing with the geography and found it was then easy to quickly pick out those parts, while still maintaining them in context to the events which were occurring.
4. In the arena of ideas, theories, and debate, I have found that no matter how right we think we are, or how dedicated to the discovery of truth and of sharing that truth with others we are, there is within each of us a defensive posture which allows for very little change from our own entrenched viewpoint. This viewpoint may have been arrived at by our own thorough study, or by our simply accepting it because we heard it from someone whose opinion we valued.
The change from one accepted theory or supposition to another is referred to as a "paradigm shift", and is very difficult to accomplish. It is precisely for this reason that we need to recognize the truth whenever it is presented to us for the very first time. We must be thoroughly versed in the text and must not attempt discussion or acceptance without this thorough knowledge base.
Only as we, together, want very desperately to know and share the truth, can we set aside our "pet" theories, ideas and defensive postures, and truly find what the entire scripture is saying to us.
If we are ever to be able to share with others the temporal side of the Book of Mormon, and bring together the "element with the spirit", we must be willing to fast, pray, expect, and consider each others' contributions to the effort. Only as we do this will we be able to say, "Yes, this is where this record took place," and know it is the truth. We cannot do that now! This book is dedicated to be a guide to help you discover the physical truth of the locations described in the Book of Mormon.
The maps which accompany the text are not drawn to scale and there may be some variations between maps as to locations and size representations. Locations are only positioned relative to one another as accurately as the textual information allows. No attempt has been made to place these on a commercial map of a specific geographical area. This task awaits future discovery and enlightenment.
All scriptural references in this book are from the following publications:
1. "The Holy Scriptures--Containing the Old and New Testaments, an Inspired Revision of the Authorized Version by Joseph Smith, Junior," Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, current edition.
2. "The Book of Mormon--Restored Covenant Edition," Zarahemla Research Foundation, Independence, Missouri, 1999.
3. "Book of Doctrine and Covenants," Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, current edition.
Geography List of Contents