Comparing Book of Mormon Geography Models

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Issues with both/most Models

Perhaps the biggest problem with most models are their failure to match the configuration of ‘border’ cities explained the the war chapters of Alma 42-54. Alma 50:7–14 Alma 50 we learn that Moroni creates a NEW border between the Nephite and Lamanite lands, and fortifies it with garrisons/cities which run between the Land of Nephi and Land of Zarahemla “in a straight course from the east sea to the west [sea]” (Alma 50:8–11, esp. verse 11; Alma 22:27). Alma 56:25 verifies this by showing that south frontier town of Manti, while only a few days march from the west sea city and other south frontier garrisons (Alma 53:21Alma 56:31), is also close enough to reasonably march to Nephihah and Moroni and the east sea (Alma 51:26). Moroni also fortifies the entire east coast from the new southern border all the way to the “Narrow Pass” (Alma 50:34; 52:9) or “Line Bountiful” (Alma 22:32–33) which leads to the land Northward. In essence making a backward L of defensive cities to guard the Nephite southern frontier and eastern coast.

When Amalickiah comes to battle the Nephites in Alma 51, he first takes the southmost ‘east coast’ city of Moroni and “all of their fortifications”, and then goes on to “take Nephihah, Lehi, Morianton, Omner, Gid and Mulek, all of which were east on the borders of the seashore” (Alma 51:26), suggesting that those cities were arranged in that order from south to north along the east sea.  They then “march forth… that they might take possession of the land Bountiful and also the land northward” (Alma 51:30).

This configuration in the heartland model is virtually impossible unless you tuck the entirely of the lands of Nephi and Zarahemla in some little corner between the great lakes (such as the lower Peninsula of Michigan). However if you do this, you destroyed nearly every other correlative piece of evidence used by Heartlanders. From Zelph, to the D&C Zarahemla, to the Adena and Hopewell ruins.  For the Mesoamerican models a similar problem arises when matching the narrow neck with Tehuantepec. The problem lies in the Yucatan Peninsula ruining the logic and description of the ‘east sea cites’ of Moroni, Aaron, Nephihah, Jershon, Lehi, Morianton, Omner, Gid, and Mulek.  Since we know that Nephihah (and thus Moroni) are somewhat aligned with Manti (Alma 53:21; Alma 56:31), and that Manti is at the Head of Sidon, then if our Sidon is the Grijalva or Umacinta, the only possible location for Nephihah & Moroni is the Belize area. But there is NOWHERE in the text to suggest that after taking Moroni and Nephihah (which we know are on the south near the Amalakite border), that the army then travelled 320 miles to get to the cities near Bountiful and the narrow pass! (Alma 50:34; 52:9)

This is why essentially NO internal model I’ve seen seems to look like the Yucatan. They almost universally agree with the ‘backwards L’ configuration of the Alma 42-54 war border cities.  To make these models work, we must disregard Alma 51:26 which says of Nephihah, Lehi, Morianton, Omner, Gid and Mulekall of which were east on the borders of the seashore”, and instead guess that actually most of them stretched across the Yucatan and weren’t actually by the east/north sea. Of course, if this were the only problem they’d be in pretty good shape, but there’s a lot of other issues with these models, so read on.

To explore the details of the above configuration with an accompanying internal model map, see the Internal Model of the Book of Mormon page.

Issues with the Heartland Model

The Book of Mormon heartland model is a model first proposed by Rod Meldrum and others which places the entirety of Book of Mormon narrative in the Eastern United States of America. It seems to have arisen in response to perceived problems in the “limited Mesoamerican model”. These includes issues such as the ‘two Cumorah’ theory, early prophetic and apostolic quotes about Book of Mormon culture & individuals in North America, as well as the way Mesoamerican models appear to discount the many impressive North American prehistoric cultures which seem to fit well into the Book of Mormon narrative.

Strengths

– The greatest strengths of the heartland model are NOT having to invent a second land Cumorah.  (See ‘Issues’ with the southern Mesoamerican model) Although it seems reasonable to suppose that the Book of Mormon’s final battle and ‘Hill Cumorah’, might not be the exact hill Joseph got the plates from, it is highly problematic to suppose it is not at least relatively close to it, and at least in the the same land Cumorah.
– References which obviously prophesy about the United States on ‘this land’ (ie. the land the ancient prophets lived on) simply work better for heartland. Although Mexico/Guatemala also work, just not as well given the general idea of a ‘land of liberty’ and U.S. revolutionary ‘freedom’ culture.
– Early LDS prophetic statements (as well as the account of ‘Zelph’) work only if Nephites/Lamanites lived in North America too.
– Basically see the “Issues” section for the Mesoamerican models, and you’ll see the “strengths” of the Heartland models.  The heartland model’s strengths are not so much in geography as in context, ideology, and prophesy associated with the Book of Mormon and early LDS leaders.

Issues

– With the Eastern US heartland model, Nephi’s journey from eastern Arabia to America doesn’t really make sense.   A seemingly insurmountable issue is in Alma 22:28 which quite clearly explains that the Land of First Inheritance (first landing) was by the WEST seashore.  So if Lake Erie is the West Sea, how would they land there?  Where can you possibly place the Nephite landing “on borders by the seashore, and on the west” and make it fit with the Eastern United States?  Both Alma 22:28 and Mosiah 9:1 talk about the Land of Nephi and the “land of their first inheritance, after they had crossed the sea”, as if they can be used interchangeably. (ie. the Land of First Inheritance is IN or very near the land of Nephi.  We know the land of Nephi is south of the narrow neck.  So once again, how can ANY model which puts the narrow neck on the Great Lakes, or the land of Nephi in the heart of the US, make the place they first landed work? (pretending they came up the Mississippi also does not work, as the text clearly states the land of first inheritance is by the West SEASHORE..
– Many references to the West Sea run into this same problem!
– The story of Hagoth makes little sense if the West Sea is the Great Lakes (and a completely different sea than the one mentioned concerning their first landing?). Hagoth is said to have “launched… forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward” (Alma 63:5).  But how do the ‘Great Lakes’ even really get you access to the Hearland Model’s “land northward” (Eastern Canada)?  They would only get you access the the Narrow Neck region’s of Bountiful and perhaps desolation (places in contact with Zarahemla), but the text suggest a LARGE distance saying that the people who left, “were never heard of more” (Alma 63:8). Reading the whole account in Alma 63:5–9, makes it clear that this model stretches the Book of Mormon text past it’s logical limits. Also, a Polynesian connection to Hagoth (as proposed by many LDS apostles) is impossible in the Heartland model.
–  The land of Desolation which is an “exceedingly great distance” north from the Land of Zarahemla and Narrow Neck, also make very, very little sense if you try and place it in Canada. The text states that the land was the heartland of the Jaredite Civilization, covered in bones, and was “rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land”  (Hel 3:3–8).  How can you get Eastern Canada to fit that description?  It is NOWHERE devoid of timber (until you get to the uninhabitable tundra). It has NO evidence of an ancient civilization and certainly not one that was “exceedingly expert in the working of cement” (Hel 3:7). It is SO WET that bones disintegrate within a few years, and would never be preserved the hundred years or so required by the text (from the Jaredite destruction to the Nephite exploration of the area).
–  Cumorah is SOUTH (in the land southward) of the narrow neck in the Heartland Model. The logically problematic, two Cumorah theory of Sorenson’s model is one of the reason’s the Heartland Model gains supporters.  But yet the Heartland model introduces a greater problem by putting the Hill Cumorah in the Land Southward. (since their ‘Narrow Necks’ are the isthmus areas created by the Great Lakes). Mormon 2:20,29 makes it clear that the final Nephite retreat was “northward” from the Narrow Neck, and for at least 3 of the battle cities “in the borders west by the seashore” (Mormon 2:6–8, Mormon 3:8 & Mormon 4:3).  There is ABSOLUTELY no indication that the Nephites fled north of the Narrow neck into the Land Northward (where a treaty was made giving them the land Northward, Mormon 2:17), only to then circle around a Great Lake and then back south through a different narrow neck, back into the Land Southward to upstate New York (cumorah).  This logic slaughters the geography mentioned in the text.
– The Mississippi River makes a poor match with the River Sidon for several of the following reasons.
– The Sidon should empty into the “seas,” (Alma 3:3) which are the Great Lakes in the Heartland Model.  The Mississippi flows into the Gulf of Mexico, far away from these “seas.” In fact the head of Sidon can be placed south of Zarahemla, near the land of Manti (Alma 22:27,29; Alma 43:22). This requires hearlanders to make the “head” of the river, it’s mouth or delta. But even this simply doesn’t work with the geography laid out in Alma 56:25 where the “head of Sidon” is meantion in connection with Nephihah, which Alma 51:26 places on the East Sea.
– The confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers as the “head” of the river Sidon is baffling logic. Nor does it work with the same scriptures listed above.
– The Heartland Model has the land Bountiful southeast of Zarahemla; the Book of Mormon has it northward. (A map demonstrating these claims is available here, about a third of the way through.)
– The Heartland Model elsewhere claims that Bountiful is directly north of the land of Nephi; in the Book of Mormon, Zarahemla is directly north of the land of Nephi.
– The Heartland Model’s Land of Nephi does not stretch from east to west sea, as it would need to in order to match the Book of Mormon text.
– The Book of Mormon has the sea west to the west of the Zarahemla and the land of Bountiful, but the Heartland Model has it east of Zarahemla and north of Bountiful.
– The land of first inheritance should be on the west sea, west from the land of Nephi.  The Heartland Model places it south of the land of Nephi, on the Gulf of Mexico that is not even one of the “seas” in his model.
–  Heartland Model uses a city founded by Mormons near Nauvoo (named “Zarahemla) to locate the Nephite city of Zarahemla.  The model ignores that it was settlers who started calling it Zarahemla first, not scripture or Joseph Smith.  The lines about Zarahemla were added later, for historical clarity, by an editor when the revelation was published.
–  Likewise, a city called “Manti” was ascribed to the prophet by later editors, but it was not in the original text.
–  Items in many models: armor, weapons, defensive works, cities, presence of dead bodies, bodies of water.
–  Heartland Model does not match the known archaeology of the Hopewell area that he wishes to make into the Nephites.
–  The Heartland Model’s seasonal and climate claims have problems; some Book of Mormon elements (e.g., extreme heat, rather than snow, in and end-of-the year battle) do not match his proposed geography.
–  The Heartland Model also misunderstands the evidence about population sizes and growth.
–  The Heartland Model misrepresents and misunderstands the issue of stone cities versus wood cities, and burning “stone” cities.

see also this list.  (first adapted from a list compiled by Gregory Smith)

Issues with the Limited Mesoamerican or Mayan-land Models

The majority of Mesoamerican Book of Mormon geography models seek to correlate the Isthmus of Tehuantepec or the Isthmus of Guatemala with the Book of Mormon “Narrow Neck”. In my analysis, I only cover the former, as the latter do not seem very plausible (although many of the issues below cover them as well). They far exceed the heartland models in their ability to synthesize the text with known archaeology. However, all of these models however suffer many of the same substantial problems which gave rise to the Heartland models (ie. excluding 95% of the continent and its ancient cultures from the B.O.M. Narrative). Despite the many issues listed below, I find the Umacinta/Tonina/Kaminaljuyu the most convincing of the Mesoamerican models, and a true candidate for a valid possibility to the text.

Strengths
– Kaminaljuyu (Guatemala City) as Nephi works pretty well both temporally and geographically.
– The cultural correlations of the limited Mesoamerican models are fantastic. The Maya and their culture and climate fit well with many Book of Mormon statements. (Although forcing BOTH the Nephites and Lamanites (including Mulekites and all other ‘ites’) into the Mayan culture seems more monolithic than we should suppose.  If the Mulekites culturally evolved for hundreds of years completely separate from the Nephites, we should see that as a distinctly different culture should we not?).
– Tonina and Palenque work fairly well as matches for Zarahemla. Their relationship east of the Umacinta River (Sidon) fits well with the text. Also their dates of establishment could possibly work with the text (200 BC). (However, their rise and fall does not fit well, as their populations seem abysmally small before the time of Christ, and only reach significance long after the time of Christ)).
– The isthmus of Guatamala and Motagua Valley/Ridge work fairly well as the ‘narrow strip of wilderness’ separating the lands of Nephi and Zarahemla. It’s an obvious geographic barrier, with the ‘head of sidon’ (headwaters of the Umacinta River) right there in the narrow wilderness strip where the text demands.

Issues
– Like the Heartland model, they must ignore early prophetic views that supported a Continental model. Especially statements concerning Zelph and New England Nephite occupation. Also scriptural assertions that at least the land, if not hill, ‘Cumorah’ is in New England where the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith in vision. Also the many, many instances in the Book of Mormon which essentially prophesy of a future nation of freedom (unmistakably the U.S.) being built upon the same lands as Mormon seemed to live on. Instead, they force the Book of Mormon into a small corner of Central America. They correlate all Book of Mormon lands and peoples with merely two Mesoamerican people’s (Maya & Olmec), while almost entirely ignoring the largest and most influential cultures on the continent (Adena, Hopewell, Anasazi/Ancient Peubloan, Mexican Highland/Teotihuacan, Zapotec, Mixtec, Huestec, Parapucha, etc).
– They require a “Second Cumorah theory”, where Moroni wanders (with the heavy plates) over 2000 miles after the final battle somewhere in southern Veracruz Mexico to get to New York to bury the plates. By suggesting that Cumorah and the final battle are ONLY ~100 miles from the ‘Narrow Neck’, it requires the readers to believe that Mormon for some confusing reason, took all the records from the Hill Shim in desolation (when the Lamanites looked to ‘overthrow the land’- Mormon 4:23), only to transport them 100 miles with hundreds of thousands of people to a new Hill, which has essentially NO strategic or geographic significance where they still exist to this day–completely separate from the region where the Book of Mormon would be buried.  Think about this… when the early LDS saints fled from Ohio and Nauvoo, 30-70,000 people fled over 1500 miles to find safety and a new home. Why would the Nephites only flee 100-250 miles?!  Especially when a flight up the Caribbean coast toward Texas would have been so easy. With their massive army they could have easily cut their way through the Huestec lands and found a northern land to settle… UNLESS they were forced SO far north (ie. New York) that they reached the edge of the habitable continent and had nowhere left to flee.
– Although the text never calls the hill where Moroni buries his plates ‘Cumorah’ think of the logic of two Cumorah’s in regard to Moroni 1:1 where he says “I had supposed not to have written more.. but as of yet I have not perished”. This suggests Moroni was unsure when he was going to be killed by Lamanites!  This is incredibly important, as we can assume from this that he certainly would have hidden the plates before the final battle, at the same time he hid ALL the records (ref), so as to not risk having the record falling into enemy hands before the last of the final battle. Then… when he doesn’t die, he must have gone back to their hiding place, and ‘written more’.  So the idea that Moroni travelled long distances after the final battle is entirely plausible, BUT not with the plates! (that part doesn’t make sense) It would appear that he assured their safety by leaving them in their hiding place between each time he went BACK to that hiding place and ‘wrote more’ before his final demise.
– Although Mayan models do a good job at finding cultural correlations, none of them have done a very good job at really matching individuals Book of Mormon cities with archaeological ruins (with the exception of Kaminaljuyu). In my opinion, none of them can match Zerahemla with convincing archaeological ruins which match the level of prominence and significance afforded these cities in the text. Particularly in the case of Zarahemla.
 Teotihuacan and the Mexican highland culture, the largest and most influential city and culture in prehistoric North America, is mysteriously scant or absent from the Book of Mormon in these models (as well as Zapotec culture). Even though the Teotihuacano zenith might have post-dated the date given for Nephite destruction, it was still a rapidly growing regional influence which by 420 AD eclipsing any of the cultures put forth for Zarahemla in predominate Mayan models. These models usually identify the Mexican Highland as “the land northward”… yet in Mormon’s description of the final flight to “Cumorah”, the land northward is said to be emptied of its inhabitants (Mormon 5:5). We see no such occurrence in the archaeology.  In fact that logic of the final battle MAKES NO SENSE given what we know of Teotihuacan. Why wouldn’t the Nephites make an alliance with them, if they were part of their northern ally cultures which they had been ‘guarding’ (ie. protecting the narrow neck – Alma 22:33) for nearly a thousand years? It also makes no sense in relation to the final Battle… why did Teotihuacan not get involved if the Nephites fled into their land in Veracruz to escape the Lamanite army?

–  Supporters of this theory ignore many quotes by Joseph Smith and other early Saints which suggest a hemispheric model covering all the way from a landing in South America to a destruction in New England.
– The story of Haggoth traveling to “the land Northward” from the West Sea, just doesn’t make much sense in these models. If the Land Northward is composed of areas like the Mexican Highland, Valley of Mexico or area of Vera Cruz, then why would Haggoth launch from the West Sea to get there? Only the East Sea would get you closer to these areas. It makes no sense both from a launch point and destination route. If Sidon (Umacinta/Grijalva) goes to the Caribbean, why not boat down Sidon to the port and head north along the East Coast?
– The guarding of the “narrow neck” in preservation of “the land northward” doesn’t make much sense in these models for reasons mentioned above. For instance, what culture are they guarding? Teotihuacan?  That’s like Guatemala guarding Mexico. Teotihuacan would have been guarding Palenque or Tonina, not the other way around. Teotihuacan was the most powerful hegemon on the continent– so if they are the Nephites in the land Northward, why didn’t they aid the Nephites in the Final Battle, and why does the text describe a scene where the Nephites after retreating from Zarahemla and desolation “did cut [the Lamanites] off that they could not get into the country which lay before us, to destroy the inhabitants of our land” (Mormon 5:4). If Teotihuacan is the land northward, THE TEOTIHUACANOS would have sent an army and squashed the Lamanite forces. From all we can tell from the archaeology, Teotihuacan was the regional hegemon. (Remember that Mormon was from Jordan near the Narrow Neck, and there is simply nothing in the text to forward the idea that Monte Alban, Teotihuacan or any highland cultures helped in the war–had they helped in the war the tens of thousands of Nephite woman and children SURELY would have been sent there before the final battle instead of fighting to the death with no hope like cornered animals as the text suggests).
– The Grijalva and Umacinta rivers seem a little to big to match with what the Book of Mormon describes of the River Sidon. The river needs to be small enough for a “numberless army” to easily cross (Alma x:xx), but big enough to carry away thousands of corpses. The river also needs to be in a deep canyon near where the battle and crossing took place (ref). And should also form a border of sorts in its areas south of Zarahemla (Alma 22:27; see also Sidon in the Internal Model of the Book of Mormon).
– Suggesting rivers that travel northward, makes the idea of throwing thousands of dead bodies in the river (which then would float through the land of Zarahemla) a bit counterintuitive (see Alma x.xx).
– Attempting to match the Umacinta river with Sidon, and Aguada Fénix with Zarahamla makes the hill Amnihu, which was west of both Zarahemla and the River Sidon, problematic. As there literally NO hills west of those locations.  The city of Gideon is also a problem for essentially all Umacinta models, as there are no sizable archaeological sites just west of Sidon yet still on the way to Nephi (Guatamala city?). Even more of a problem is the proximity of these cities to places like Bountiful and Jershon which are “on the east sea”.

-Most tehuantepec models, place Bountiful and the ‘east sea cities’ in southern Belize. This works well with the idea that Moroni’s cities were to hedge out the Lamanites in the land of Nephi to the south.. But this has major problems as I’ll explain. One of the biggest is Alma 63:5, where it says Haggoth built his ships “on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land desolation, and launched it into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward”.  This STRONGLY suggests that the east narrow neck associated with bountiful is the same as the west narrow neck and that they both touch desolation.  That does not work with their model.  

-Likewise, models place bountiful south of Belize which accords well enough with verses which describe the land/city of bountiful as being “north of Zarahemla (ref).  But those directions break down in Alma 50:34, when Moroni chases Morianton “and not head them until they had come to the borders of the land Desolation; and there they did head them, by the narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east.”   If Bountiful is correctly “North” then surely this should also say, “by the sea on the north and on the south”.  Using tehuantepec as a narrow neck has serious direction issues.  Furthermore, WHERE THEN IS the sea north thats mentioned in (ref)? if its not the Caribbean in this area?

-The east sea cities in this model dont make a whole lot of sense.  Take Alma 52:9, for instance. It says “he also sent orders unto him that he should fortify the land Bountiful, and secure the narrow pass which led into the land northward, lest the Lamanites should obtain that point and should have power to harass them on every side.”   We see that bountiful is a fort which secures the narrow pass. So if Bountiful is in Belize, this makes no sense. This verse accords with others that suggests that bountiful is both on the east sea, and on the narrow pass leading to desolation.

-If on the other hand you put bountiful and the east sea cities in the Tabasco and Tehuantepec area, you have a major issue with directions such as (ref), that say jershon? nephihah? is east of the Land of Zerahemla. They’d have to be crazy to think north-WEST is east. Furthermore, there’s just not much evidence of fortifications in that area, and the bom says basically ALL those cities were fortified. 

-Likewise the proclamation description in Alma 22:27–33, is pretty clear on east to west, 

-And the people who were in the land northward did dwell in tents, and in houses of cement, and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings. 10 And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping. Where is there a place in the Mexican highland where buildings were built MORE of cement than in the Mayanlands? Both largely build only their temples and city centers of stone. With maybe a few exceptions for large apartment complexes. Only the desert southwest has ubiquitous usage of stone and cement (adobe) for all aspects of cultural building.

Issues with my model

– The narrow neck does not fit well with the internal model presented in the text. (It requires suggesting that the authors didn’t understand their own continental geography well– which to be fair ALL models require.)
– If you’d like to contribute to a list of issues, please email them to me. 🙂