Joseph the Geographer?

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The Book of Mormon is inextricably intertwined with Joseph Smith. We undeniably have the text because he translated it. Recently there has been much ado about what Joseph Smith thought about the book’s geography. Without trying to tie Joseph down to any particular idea at any particular time (and there is also evidence that he was flexible in his thinking on the subject, altering and refining some of his views with later information), the real question is what we should expect of Joseph as a geographer of the Book of Mormon. For those who might suggest that Joseph should be held as the definer of Book of Mormon geography, that suggest appears to be based on one or more assumptions about Joseph that neither the church nor he would accept as accurate. Any of the following might be the basis for assuming that Joseph knew the geography of the Book of Mormon, but none are correct.

1) Joseph was a prophet, therefore he knew everything. That is perhaps an enticing thought, but one that Joseph and every other modern prophet has actively denied. Joseph Fielding Smith taught:

When is a prophet a prophet? Whenever he speaks under the inspiration and influence of the Holy Ghost. Men frequently speak and express their own opinions. The Lord has not deprived men of individual opinions. Good men, men of faith, have divergent views on many things. There is no particular harm in this if these views are not in relation to the fundamentals. Some men are Democrats, some Republicans. Some believe in a particular political philosophy and some are bitterly opposed to it, and yet they are faithful men with a testimony of the gospel.

When prophets write and speak on the principles of the gospel, they should have the guidance of the Spirit. If they do, then all that they say will be in harmony with the revealed word. If they are in harmony then we know that they have not spoken presumptuously. Should a man speak or write, and what he says is in conflict with the standards which are accepted, with the revelations the Lord has given, then we may reject what he has said, no matter who he is. Paul declared that he, at times, gave his own opinion in his writing.

(Doctrines of Salvation 1: 187. The reference to Paul is actually to Joseph Smith’s explanation of 1 Cor. 7:4 as recorded in D&C 74—see verse 5.)

2) Joseph translated the Book of Mormon, so he knew the geography. As a translator, he wouldn’t know any more than the text did. If he knew more, it would be because he created the text, not translated it. As an author he would know because he had it in mind so that he could write the text. Of course, we don’t believe that, so we should accept this reason.

3) Moroni told Joseph. This idea is usually based on a late statement from his mother that prior to the translation, Joseph told stories to his family. This is the statement from Lucy Mack Smith’s draft of her history, before it was recast into smoother language:

In the course of our evening conversations Joseph would give us some of the most amusing recitals which could be imagined he would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent their dress their manner of traveling the animals which they rode The cities that were built by them the structure of their buildings with every particular of their mode of warfare their religious worship—as particularly as though he had spent his life with them.

(Lucy’s Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir, 345.)

Accepting that the basic statement is correct (while allowing for some variation in the details since it was written down long after the fact), we have Joseph receiving cultural information about the people (presumably from Moroni). The statement never says anything about geography. In fact, the statement is consistent with what Moroni seems to have done, which is provide a vision. That is a good way to understand the people, but a poor way to learn geography. I doubt Joseph knew how to create a geography based on background images to the people he was paying attention to.

4) Joseph made statements related to geography, therefore he knew. This is really a fascinating assertion, because it is the faith-promoting reworking of both 1 and 2. It assumes that because he said something that he both knew what he was talking about and that it had to be right because he said it. That is denied by any close examination of Joseph’s history. In Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling, he documents a number of occasions when Joseph Smith indulged in the frontier habit of exaggerated boasting (much to the discomfort of accompanying saints who felt he should be more circumspect). Bushman describes:

Charlotte Haven, an observant young lady from New Hampshire who heard Joseph report on his Springfield adventures, was appalled. “His language and manner were the coarsest possible. His object seemed to be to amuse and excite laughter in his audience.” Expecting more from a man who claimed to be a prophet, she thought nothing he said “impressed upon his people the great object of life.” Joseph appeared raucous and impious. He uttered not a word “calculated to create devotional feelings.”

(Rough Stone Rolling, 483.)

Joseph Smith certainly never assumed that everything he said was to be considered either inviolate truth or even religious. Sometimes he simply amused his audience. Accepting statements only because Joseph made them denies Joseph the right to be the man he was, a right he declared firmly.

Conclusion: None of these assumptions ought be accepted as a reason to assume that Joseph Smith knew much more about the Book of Mormon than anyone else, and certainly not about geography. I find it much more plausible that he was excited to learn how marvelous a work he had translated, just as the rest of us are.

33 thoughts on “Joseph the Geographer?

  1. jonathan n

    This list of 4 reasons to dismiss what Joseph Smith said about geography seems designed more to support a Central American thesis than to really assess what Joseph Smith said. For example, the Lucy Mack Smith statement doesn’t describe “geography” in the sense of maps, but it does describe their manner of traveling, their architecture, their animals, etc. Unless you reject her comments entirely, how would Joseph Smith have concluded that the Nephites and Lamanites lived in the Midwest if what he saw in vision was Central America? Unless you suggest that Missouri and Guatemala are so similar as to be easily confused, I think you have to reject Lucy Mack Smith’s account entirely, not just say that the statement “doesn’t say anything about geography.”

    There’s a fifth assumption that you left out, which is that the D&C is revelation and not just Joseph Smith’s own ideas. Specifically, the D&C refers to the “borders of the Lamanites” and sending Oliver Cowdery “into the wilderness among the Lamanites.” This has been explained elsewhere along the lines of your number 4) above, but this leaves us with the dilemma of leaving everything open to subjective interpretation.

    We are left with this: The Book of Mormon as a modern expansion of an ancient record; The Book of Mormon itself containing an ancient expansion of an ancient record (on the premise that, as many others have suggested, the BoM authors exaggerated the numbers of their armies, the political influence of the Nephites, etc.) and a modern expansion of a modern record (the D&C) because Joseph Smith engaged in exaggerated boasting, to include these references in the D&C to the Lamanites.

    Your conclusion that Joseph Smith didn’t know much more about the Book of Mormon than anyone else is necessary for your Book of Mormon geography, but it seems that you’re not only rejecting Lucy Mack Smith’s account and the D&C, but also anything Joseph Smith said that doesn’t fit your own ideas.

  2. Brant Gardner

    jonathan: While I do espouse a Mesoamerican location for the Book of Mormon, the reasons aren’t designed for that. They are the kinds of critical questions that have to be asked of any historical question. Take the question of Lucy’s remembrance. Remember that it is about 50 years after the fact, so we need some caution in understanding what she says. Nevertheless, I think it is clear that Joseph saw something. What it says is that he seems to have seen a vision. You suggest that he should have been able to tell the difference between Mesoamerican lands and New York or Ohio. On what basis might you think that? I assume that you suppose that the Book of Mormon took place in a jungle. That isn’t the area. I have been in the proposed region, and there is nothing that Joseph would have seen in the background that would tell him that it was qualitatively different from any area he was familiar with.

    As for your fifth assumption, I certainly don’t advocate that Joseph’s revelations were his own ideas, but I very much advocate (with evidence) that they were couched in his own vocabulary and understanding (as with every other prophet–ever). By the time the D&C talks about “borders of the Lamanites,” the general church communal vocabulary had assumed that the Book of Mormon was related to North America and that the Indians west of them were the Lamanites (which tells you that they didn’t know much about Book of Mormon geography, because Lamanites are south and east in the Book of Mormon, not west).

    The Book of Mormon is the translation of an ancient record. The translator spoke a particular brand of English and his understanding influenced some of the vocabulary of his translation (a statement which must be made for any translation).

    I don’t reject Joseph as a prophet–ever. I do accept him at his own word, that he was not a full-time prophet. In many moments, he was a father, a politician, a wood-chopper, a wrestler, and a man who liked to have fun. That very human man was also a prophet of God. Since he didn’t appreciate people in his own day who wouldn’t allow him that humanity, I suggest we respect him enough to do what he asked of those who lived around him–that they understand him as a man as well.

  3. jonathan n

    Thanks for the response. I agree that we can’t be sure of the accuracy of what Lucy wrote, although it was not 50 years after the fact. The first edition was published in 1853, and it had been dictated around eight years earlier, so her recollections were more like 20 years after the fact. We rely on her account for many of the other aspects of the early history, as well. And I too have visited both the Midwest and Central America. Although the Mennonite farms in Belize do look quite like Missouri, Illinois, etc., Guatemala is quite different.

    Your explanation of the fifth assumption essentially restates what I said, which I meant more as observation than criticism; you seem to agree that the D&C is a modern expansion of a modern record. You also seem to say that he wasn’t a full-time prophet even when he was receiving/writing the revelations in the D&C. If we accept that, then what else in the D&C is an “expansion” (which is a euphemism for the Prophet’s own thoughts)?

    I just don’t think it makes sense to dismiss what Lucy wrote, what the D&C says, and what Joseph himself wrote, in his own hand, regarding these issues.

    BTW, I see your point about the Lamanites living south and east, but only if you propose an entire North American setting, which I think almost everyone agrees doesn’t fit. But a Midwest setting does make a lot of sense.

  4. Brant Gardner

    jonathan n: Thanks for the corrections on Lucy’s time frame. I think you are still discounting the problem of background too much. I’m thinking of Chiapas more than highland Guatemala, but I doubt that I could accurately tell you which was which even based on having been there should someone show me a landscape photo. The next problem is what we pay attention to. There were some experiments in visual perception done to the background of a rather pedestrian scene of a putative TV anchor and co-host. Those who watched did not notice that the background wall changed from green to red. Seems strange, but that was the research (at least as I recall it). Suggesting that Joseph understood massive geography because of the background setting of a vision is contrary to both the logic of any scene and especially the science of visual perception. I’m sure that Joseph needed to understand the people whose story he was to translate. He did a remarkable job of preserving much of that cultural content. I simply can’t see any way that it translates into a complex geography.

    As for your “fifth assumption,” you appear to be reading something in to my response that I never intended to be there. I do not consider the D&C to be a “modern expansion.” I do, however, know it to be the result of Joseph’s revelations. I also know that Joseph himself felt that at times he needed to clarify or expand on his originally dictated text. If Joseph Smith himself, who knew more than any of us ever will of how he received translation, thought that the words of the revelations could be altered and improved, then that tells me that he didn’t believe that God spoke those very words. He believed, and I believe, that God spoke to him and revealed information to him, but he believed (and I believe him) that the actual words might be changed and sometimes amplified to help explain what he knew God wanted us to know. That isn’t a modern expansion. That is a prophet who understands what God intends and tries his best to communicate God’s will to us.

    As for the geography itself, that is really a very different topic and worthy of discussion. The point about Lamanite locations is interesting because the text rarely has any Lamanite incursion from the west, yet early saints used “Lamanite” to describe Indians in the western lands. In the Book of Mormon, “west” doesn’t go very far before it hits the sea west. There is a lot of land between a Midwest setting and the western sea, way more than the text allows.

    Don’t you think it a bit unusual that your criticism of my comments about Joseph suggest that I don’t take him sufficiently literally, but your defense of the Midwest geography requires giving up on any textually described relationship between Zarahemla and the western sea? I may allow that Joseph Smith didn’t understand the Book of Mormon, but I assure you that Mormon understood the Book of Mormon. If we both believe Joseph was a prophet, that suggests that we should both believe that the Book of Mormon best understands its own geography.

  5. Theodore Brandley

    Brandt,

    How do you account for the following excerpt from a letter writen by he Prophet to his wife, Emma, while on Zion’s Camp in Western Illinois?

    “The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendour and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed.” (Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, Deseret Book, 1984, p. 324)

  6. Brant Gardner

    Theodore:

    Since that quotation plays a part in the discussions of Zelph, I would first refer you to Kenneth Godfrey’s article (http://farms.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=8&num=2&id=202).

    As for the statement itself, it is the very subject of the original blog post. What do we take from Joseph as a geographer and what did Joseph say that was related to his and his followers assumptions about the geography? For my answer to that, refer to the opening post.

  7. Theodore Brandley

    Brant,

    I have read Kenneth Godfrey’s article that you cite above. He confirms that Joseph did receive a vision on the subject of Zelph and even states that he hopes to someday hear Moroni and Zelph elaborate on the story. Godfrey’s main point is that because several individuals had recorded the incident, and they did not all include all of the details, that we are left in doubt as to what exactly was included in the vision. The fact not in dispute is that Joseph did receive a vision on the subject.

    “and subsequently the visions of the past being opened to my understanding by the Spirit of the Almighty” (HC vol. 2:, p.79-80)

    The day following his receipt of this vision the Prophet wrote a letter to his wife, in his own handwriting, stating that they were, “WANDEDRING OVER THE PLAINS OF THE NEPHITES, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, AS PROOF OF ITS DEVINE AUTHENTICITY.”

    The Prophet was acting as a prophet when he received the vision and the following day wrote to his wife that they were on “the Plains of the Nephites” and that the bones they were finding were “proof of [The Book of Mormon’s] devine authenticity.” These statements that he wrote to his wife came from the vision given by “the Spirit of the Almighty.” This was not Joseph’s opinion, this came from his knowledge.

  8. Brant Gardner

    Theodore:

    As Godfrey points out, there is a problem in knowing what the contents of the vision were. At the most literal interpretation, it describes a post-Book of Mormon period where the relation of Zelph and his people is not clearly connected to the events we have from the text.

    The second question is how Joseph’s statement accords with the Book of Mormon itself. Certainly he and others thought that they were seeing remnants of Book of Mormon peoples. They thought all Western Indians were remnants of Book of Mormon peoples. In that context, everything that Joseph says in his letter makes perfect sense.

    The problem is whether or not it tells us anything about the Book of Mormon. Notice that they are “wandering over the plains of the Nephites,” a phrase you highlight. Where are these mentioned in the text? There are none. In fact, the text of the Book of Mormon doesn’t seem to have any indication of large plains. Whatever they were describing, it wasn’t a place or event from inside the text.

  9. Theodore Brandley

    Brant,

    **As Godfrey points out, there is a problem in knowing what the contents of the vision were. At the most literal interpretation, it describes a post-Book of Mormon period where the relation of Zelph and his people is not clearly connected to the events we have from the text.**

    In spite of “the most literal interpretation” by those trying to support the Mesoamerica theory, the Prophet made clear in his letter to Emma that the setting of the vision was during the Nephite period.

    **The problem is whether or not it tells us anything about the Book of Mormon. Notice that they are “wandering over the plains of the Nephites,” a phrase you highlight. Where are these mentioned in the text?**

    In the letter following the Vision, Joseph stated that what they saw in Illinois was proof of the “devine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.” This certainly tells us a great deal about the Book of Mormon. At one time the Prophet stated that, “Could you gaze into heaven for five minutes, you would learn more than you could by reading all of the books that had ever been written on the subject” (Teachings p. 324). Joseph gazed into a heavenly vision and then told Emma he was on the Plains of the Nephites. It is not reasonable that the Lord would allow the Prophet to be misled on this point immediately following the vision given to him by the Almighty.

    The book of Ether mentions the “Plains of Heshlon” and “the Plains of Agosh” (Ether 13:28; 14:15) These would be the same plains that the Nephites later inhabited in the Land Desolation. “The Plains of the Nephites” phrase does not appear in the Book of Mormon but was introduced by the Prophet Joseph Smith subsequent to the vision he had on “the subject.”

  10. Brant Gardner

    Theodore:

    I agree that there is a similarity between “Plains of Heshlon, Plains of Agosh” and “plains of the Nephites. However, assuming that they must be the same because of Joseph’s statement about a time period after the close of the text is precisely the same problem as accepting any other geographic statement without seriously asking the question of the text.

    As for declarations of “divine authenticity,” the saints saw that in many aspects of both North and Central America. If we accept all such statements, then we are committed to a hemispheric interpretation of the text. However, the text doesn’t support that reading. We are left with the precise problem we started with. Do we believe that Joseph knew the geography because he was a prophet, or do we believe that (as a prophet) he translated an ancient text (which knew its own geography).

    We can agree that he was a prophet. What he knew of geography is either to be accepted by assumption (see the opening post) or examined against the only source that can tell us whether Joseph knew the geography–the text itself. I prefer Joseph as translator. It fits with all available evidence more solidly and doesn’t require that I dismiss him as a prophet. It rather strongly supports that essential part of his special prophetic mission.

  11. Theodore Brandley

    Brant,

    **As for declarations of “divine authenticity,” the saints saw that in many aspects of both North and Central America. If we accept all such statements, then we are committed to a hemispheric interpretation of the text. However, the text doesn’t support that reading.**

    In my opinion the text of the Book of Mormon definitely and precisely describes a continental view, i.e. from Costa Rica to Cumorah. We definitely agree that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. How much of the geography of the Book of Mormon he understood is not known. In my opinion he knew that the Nephites were at one time in Illinois, and that the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is in the State of New York (see my comments on “The Two Cumorah Theory” blog by Larry Poulsen http://www.fairblog.org/2008/02/12/the-two-cumorah-theory%e2%80%9d/#comment-4004 ).

    If you are interested in learning more about my continental view on the geography of the Book of Mormon, Larry Poulsen has posted my thesis on the subject, “A North American Setting For The Book Of Mormon,” on his website at http://brandley.poulsenll.org . It is a large file so be patient while it downloads. Steven Danderson will be critiquing my thesis on FAIRBlog.org after he has time to study it.

    Shalom,

    Theodore

  12. Paul

    When Christ died, the whole face of the land was changed, and the 400 years after Christ visited them contain no significant information on the new geography.

  13. Theodore Brandley

    Paul,

    The Prophet Joseph Smith stated that, “The Book Of Mormon was the most correct book on earth.” This correctness, or exactness, would also apply to the geographical descriptions contained within the pages of the book. Mormon wrote the book about three hundred and fifty years after the geological changes that occurred in America at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. He also wrote the book for our day, which he had seen. We may therefore be confident that his described geographical locations have not changed significantly from the time that he wrote it.

  14. Allen Wyatt

    Paul, we do have information on the geography post-Christ because the book was redacted by Mormon. If he did not recognize the land any longer, then why do we have his editorial comments throughout the text that give geographic hints?

    Theodore, it is a stretch to say that a comment about the correctness of the book applies to geographic information, some of it quite vague, within the pages of the book. Besides, Joseph’s comments primarily deal with the theological concepts contained within the book as evidenced by the concluding phrase of the same sentence: “a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” Geography has nothing to do with getting nearer to God.

    -Allen

  15. Theodore Brandley

    Allen,

    My research into the geographic information in the Book of Mormon astounded me as to how very exact it is. Once the right key is found everything falls into its rightful place like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and the picture becomes clear.

    You are only partially right when you say that geography has nothing to do with getting nearer to God. A long term LDS old friend of mine apostatized last year when the anti’s convinced him that the Book of Mormon had to be a fable because there were no locations in America that fit the text. The testimony of the Resurrection by two prophets of God at the Garden Tomb has been an anchor to my soul for the past 35 years. What one can feel at the Sacred Grove, or the Garden of Gethsemane is testimony strengthening, as is reading King Benjamin’s address from the top of his tower, or kneeling on the top of the temple mound in the city of Bountiful.

    Theodore

  16. EditorJack

    Theodore Brandley Says:
    September 1st, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    “My research into the geographic information in the Book of Mormon astounded me as to how very exact it is. Once the right key is found everything falls into its rightful place like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and the picture becomes clear.”

    Please–would you be willing to share this key with the rest of us? I, for one, would be grateful to hear what you have to say about this.

    Thanks!

  17. Theodore Brandley

    The key to understanding the geography of the Book of Mormon is to understand the meaning of the phrase, “head of the river Sidon.” This leads to the identity of the river, which leads to the archaeological site of the city of Zarahemla. Everything else flows from there.

    However, we’re drifting away from Brant’s topic and we should leave further discussion on this for Steven Danderson’s upcoming critique of the thesis. Meanwhile you can download and read, “A North American Setting For The Book of Mormon” at http://brandley.poulsenll.org . Because of the size of the file it takes some time to download.

    -Theodore

  18. Will Dunn

    I made the mistake of suggesting on Jeff Lindsey’s blog that perhaps the Book of Mormon will one day be seen as spiritual rather than physical.

    Yet where is the harm? I believe that the day may come(30-40 years down the road)where the leadership of the LDS Church may well take the position that the Book of Mormon in fact took place in a spiritual realm rather than a physical one.

    I think there is precedent for such a position. Many LDS people are now believe that Noah’s flood was not a worldwide event but a local one. Many of the Judeo-Christian background see the Garden of Eden story as figurative and not literal. Why would it be so bad to see the Book of Mormon in the same light?

  19. Fern RL

    That was my big question: Why is it really important to know the setting for the Book of Mormon? What is given in the text is usually sufficient for understanding the situations they were in. And the difference between the setting of the Book of Mormon, and all the possible habitations of all the descendants of the Book of Mormon peoples are two different things.

    They left Jerusalem (Land of) and traveled by the Red Sea. We know those places, but it doesn’t prove anything.

    Archaeologists know of Jerusalem and the places mentioned in the Bible, but it doesn’t make them believers in the Bible. They still claim that there are many peoples and civilizations that existed long before Adam and Eve could have lived.

    Non-LDS Archaeologists don’t want to believe in the Book of Mormon, and won’t believe any evidence of it if it stares them in the face. They would be discredited if they did, because that would be called “fringe science.” If an LDS Archaeologist claims something shows a relation to the Book of Mormon, like Stela 5, it is immediately discredited. But most Archaeologists also have to revamp many opinions that they once had regarding the new world and its ancient inhabitants.

    Largely, it seems that some LDS want to say that the Book of Mormon peoples did not spread throughout the whole American Continents, because of the whole theory of Asian descent via the Bering Strait. To me, it is a lot easier to say that the “Indians,” or “Lamanites,” went to Siberia, than vice versa. What the DNA analysis really shows is that the whole “New World” is genetically related to each other and Siberia, and possibly one other group in North Central Russia. And the archaeologists have found at least one site, that is old enough that Asians walking across the so-called land bridge some 12,000 years ago could not possibly have made it all the way there (to Chile.) So they change the theory, saying that they could have come from Siberia by boat along the coastline before the land bridge opened up.

    As far as Joseph Smith and his Geographical knowledge goes, we should also remember that he translated 116 pages of the Book of Lehi, that we don’t have. And the geographical layout was not a prime consideration of either the writers of the Small Plates of Nephi, or of Mormon and Moroni who abridged the rest. There could have been a mass migration of Nephites, including the writers, without necessarily including it in the Book.

  20. Fern RL

    Will, while there may be much misunderstanding concerning the Garden of Eden, and the Flood, it really seems entrenched in Latter-day scripture that the Garden of Eden was in modern day Missouri and that the earth was totally covered with water at the time of the flood as in baptism by immersion. Then the ark must have been carried by floodwaters to the Mountains of Ararat where it is said to have landed.

    Yeah, there is a lot that doesn’t jive with modern scientific theories, but to try too hard to make it work is not really worth it, in my opinion.

  21. Brant Gardner

    Will Dunn:

    “Many LDS people are now believe that Noah’s flood was not a worldwide event but a local one. Many of the Judeo-Christian background see the Garden of Eden story as figurative and not literal. Why would it be so bad to see the Book of Mormon in the same light?”

    There is a major difference between understanding the nature of the elements in a book and the book itself. In the case of the Bible, we have a large assortment of separate books and even inside those a collection of information that have been redacted into a single book (in some cases).

    In the Book of Mormon, it may easily happen that we understand that there are elements of the text that come more from story than history, but I sincerely doubt that there will be a time when the “story” will be considered modern rather than ancient. It is consistent with an ancient document that the writer understand the world differently than we do. However, everything about the modern appearance of the Book of Mormon is tied to an essential antiquity. The antiquity of the text is offered as a proof of Joseph Smith’s prophetic mission (the doctrinal content is considered sacred, but not proof of that mission–see the difference between the Book of Mormon and the D&C).

  22. Brant Gardner

    Fern RL:

    “Why is it really important to know the setting for the Book of Mormon?”

    It is important for the same reasons as it is important for the Bible. It is unimportant for the same reasons as the Bible. It is entirely possible for very large numbers of readers of either the Bible or the Book of Mormon to receive spiritual nourishment from the books without any understanding of history or cultural placement. However, for many there is value in deepening their understanding by understanding both history and context. Different meanings are available if one understands the historical context in which the texts were produced.

    For both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, there are faith communities who accept the scriptures on faith, but appreciate having that faith bolstered by understanding that it is a faith based on something of sterner stuff than simple hope.

    “We know those places, but it doesn’t prove anything.”

    And that is the problem and the difference in perspective. Knowing places and history doesn’t prove the text spiritually correct. That requires a spiritual confirmation.

    What such information does do is provide a supporting structure for belief, and the context that has the possibility of enriching one’s experience with the text.

  23. Brant Gardner

    Theodore:

    Just as a by the way, I have downloaded and read your document. As you might imagine, I disagree with several things in the way you interpret the text, but isn’t the place to discuss it. We’ll both wait for Steve Danderson’s review.

  24. Ed Goble

    Mr. Brandley,

    I see that you are also proposing a North American Setting as I did with Wayne May in my book This Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation that was published in 2002. Take it from me. The North American Theory is doomed, and is simply not true. I should know. Your conclusions about your head of the Sidon theory are like mine used to be. Its hard to tell whether they are dependent on my old theory or not, or whether they are original to you, but it is, nevertheless the same type of thing. Rather than interpreting it the simple way as it should be that would lead one to the conclusion that the Land Southward was in Mesoamerica, the obvious place for the Land Southward, you follow the same trap I fell into back then thinking that you can explain away the simple meaning of the word head as it is normally understood in English in relation to a river. Occam’s razor favors the simple explanation. There is no way to get around the archaeological colossus of Mesoamerica as John Clark calls it. A North American setting for the Book of Mormon for the Land Southward simply doesn’t work, and I have long since retracted what I wrote about it, although May continues to publish the book as if I continue to agree with it, which I dont. However, I find your theory to be interesting. It is, however, fundamentally flawed, especially if you believe what Joseph Smith wrote about the Geography (not that Brant does). Joseph Smith stated to the brethren, as recorded in the Levi Hancock Journal, that the area where they dug up Zelph was the “Land of Desolation”, forcing the Narrow Neck SOUTH of the United States of America. This refutes any North American Geography, as all North American theory advocates seem to put stock in what Joseph Smith has to say on the subject.

    I believe Cumorah and the Land Northward are in the United States until such time that my current arguments can be refuted that are not based on the words of the prophets, but on the Book of Mormon text. If my current work is refuted, then I will retract my current theory on Cumorah as well. But as for the Land Southward and Narrow Neck, Joseph Smith’s own words refute the North American theory and force those things down Southward.

  25. Theodore Brandley

    Ed,

    Thank you for your comments. I’m sorry that I was not aware of your book on the subject. I’m sure that I could have learned some things from it. And I thank you for your cautions, however I have a high level of confidence in what I have written—not that it will be found to be without flaws nor subject to improvement.

    It will be critiqued openly on FAIRblog and your comments will be welcomed.

    -Theodore

  26. Ed Goble

    Theodore,

    I recognize your right to believe as you do. But your confidence is misplaced.

    I for one, am not just after a theory and to have confidence in it. I’m after the truth, and I want to be refuted if my work is not right. My article “Resurrecting Cumorah” is likely to be published in an upcoming issue of Dialogue soon, or so it seems from their initial reaction to it. So all of the Mesoamericanists can tear into it, and can show me once and for all if I’m wrong on Cumorah, or whether they have to admit once and for all that a Cumorah in New York is rational. This will be my ultimate challenge to them to “convert” me entirely, and if they are right, then I need to be converted. I’ve worked on this particular article for a number of years now. I thought it would be part of a book that I was writing, but it just didn’t fit. They’ve succeeded thus far in converting me to the view that the Land Southward and Narrow Neck are in Mesoamerica.

    My new book will be a refutation of the geocentric cosmology of the Book of Abraham and the Kolob-as-the-star-Sirus theory. It will also attempt to resurrect the notion that we should take the cosmology in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers seriously. It will be called “The Nail of Heaven: God’s throne and the Governing Worlds.” The scope of the book was going to be broader at first, but some of the contents just didn’t fit, such as the Cumorah article.

  27. Ed Goble

    But Theodore, here is the real question that counts. (1)Can you demonstrate it rationally without quoting Joseph Fielding Smith or Oliver Cowdery on it, or (2) are you taking what earlier prophets said on faith, when the Church doesn’t advocate it anymore as an official doctrine. If it is #2, then, it won’t do you or anybody else any good. If you want to be convincing, you must go far beyond the slogan of “Cumorah is Cumorah because the prophets said so.”

    Have you addressed David Palmer’s argument in In Search of Cumorah? Have you addressed each and every point and refuted them rationally? I doubt it. And until that is done, a slogan won’t do anybody any good, or will an opinion that it is so. That is why I am taking this controversy to a new level.

  28. Theodore Brandley

    Ed,

    I’m sure that I haven’t considered every point of which you speak, but will probably have to defend every point in the upcoming critique. My confidence flows from my reading of the text of the Book of Mormon itself. I use very few quotes from the Brethren.

    I applaud your efforts in analyzing the issue of Cumorah and look forward to reading your article.

  29. Ed Goble

    Theodore,

    If that is the case, then at least you are a step above those that only base what they believe on the brethren from back in the day.

    However, the only reason that Palmer can be refuted at all is using a placement for the Land Southward in Mesoamerica. If you place the Land Southward in the United States, then Palmer still comes out on top. It’s kind of an irony. Palmer’s argument was so solid against geographies in the US because his criteria are solid and fit only in Mesoamerica. Where Palmer is wrong is trying to force those criteria on Cumorah. You cannot explain away the criteria that these guys have come up with for the Land of Zarahemla. You can do it till you are red in the face, only to be kicking against the pricks.

  30. Adam Rodgers

    Another obstacle of finding the exact Book of Mormon Geography that should be pointed out is how the land northward looked 2000+ years ago. 3 Ne. 8 says about the land that “there was a more great and terrible destruction in the land northward; for behold, the whole face of the land was changed” & also about the rest of the planet “the face of the whole earth became deformed”.

    Rivers, lakes, oceans, etc. may have been in vastly different locations then now. Lake Bonniville comes to mind as one of the big changes. Every time I go hiking I’m amazed by how many snail shells still litter the ground near the old shoreline.

  31. Brant Gardner

    Adam: Just as there was once a Lake Bonneville, at one time there was no Grand Canyon. Both of those are significant alterations of the face of the earth, but there is nothing in geological science that suggests that either event could have happened in one person’s lifetime, let alone in one geological event.

    A more apt description of the entire face of the land changing might Mount St. Helens, which certainly looks very different from what it did before, but it didn’t move to a new location. Whatever happened in 3 Nephi was significant enough to notice, but not so great that no lived through it and certainly not so great that they therefore didn’t know where they were or how to get from city to city. For example Nephi starts his story in Zarahemla but tells the rest from Bountiful. It appears he could still find the way, since it appears that he made the change after the geological event. Neither Zarahemla nor Bountiful had moved and the way between was apparently intact.

  32. Adam Rodgers

    I think that the destruction was greater than we can imagine. Highways broken up, new mountains, smooth places became rough, great cities sunk, burned or shaken to the ground, rocks rent in twain, broken up upon the face of the whole earth, etc. I wouldn’t know how to describe it any worse than that.

    It is possible that the Grand Canyon was made in a day, maybe by the drainage of a large lake? That’s just speculation on my part, but why does the canyon erosion suddenly end at Lake Mead? I heard that theory from somewhere, I’ll have to dig it up & find out the source.

    Another source of info that I think is typically ignored is from the people who where actually there when these great changes occurred, Indian history. There’s a lot we can learn from them if we ask them.

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