long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Overall geography

Lots of people are asking me to explain Book of Mormon geography on this blog. I haven't done so yet because, in my view, it's important first to set the record straight on Church history. There is still some resistance; i.e., there are still people who cling to the unsigned 1842 Times and Seasons articles about Mesoamerica, reasoning they are more informative than everything Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith wrote because... well, because they like the idea of Mesoamerica better than New York and the Midwest. Maybe because Mesoamerica is more exotic? More mysterious? Or is it because ordinary people can't make sense of it, so they have to rely on the expertise of the Mesoamericanists? Seriously, I can't understand the obsession with the ridiculous and anonymous Times and Seasons articles. And without those, there is zero rationale for putting the Book of Mormon events in Mesoamerica.

At any rate, the North American setting is pretty simple. Here you can see the overview. Basically, the green is Nephite territory and the purple is Lamanite territory. (This is an overlay on a hydrology map, which is important to the explanation.) I have detailed maps showing proposed sites for the major cities, including Zarahemla, Cumorah, Bountiful, Land of Nephi, Sidon, place of first landing, narrow neck, etc., along with the related archaeological sites.
The explanation is not as simple as the map because there are hundreds of verses in the text to discuss. The Mesoamericanists have numerous objections; that's why I had to write a book about it.


  1. Thanks for the map. We appreciate your work and insight to the North American geography of the Book of Mormon.

  2. Jonathan, you continue to refer to the "obsession" that Mesoamericanists have with the T&S articles and yet, so far as I can tell, you are the only person talking about them. No serious modern Mesoamerican geographer turns to those essays for guidance.

    Your continual insistince that they play some critical role in modern methodologies is quite tiresome; saying something over and over again does not in any way make it true.

    As I've said to you elsewhere, Mesoamericanists' only interest in those old articles is to demonstrate the weakness of Heartlander methodology (prioritizing Joseph's opinion, when that opinion apparently was fluid). It has nothing to do with substantiating or validating a Mesoamerican geography. It is a historical curiosity, nothing more.

    And no, I did not just say that Joseph's revelations are a historical curiosity, nothing more. There actually is a large body of fairly accessible geographical information which was revealed directly to Joseph Smith. It happens to be canonized, and therefore ought to take priority over opinions of Oliver Cowdery. I speak of course about the Book of Mormon itself. Being that the Book of Mormon constitutes the largest body of geographical information revealed to Joseph Smith (a point that should not be controversial among believers), we ought to re-examine the common Heartlander trope that Mesoamericanists don't care about the revelations of Joseph.

    I request that you cease with your idiosyncratic focus on these irrelevant T&S essays and start providing something of substance by which we can judge the merits of your preferred model.

    1. James, The fact of the matter is that every serious Mesoamerica Book of Mormon Geography scholar cites the T&S articles in their works. And it was the T&S articles which gave emphasis to looking to Mesoamerica other than Northern America in the first place. The T&S articles started the whole Mesoamerican geography ball rolling, and then later influenced many influential members of the Church. And the corner stone of that "movement", all by making it appear that Joseph Smith wrote, or at least allowed and approved the articles in his role as the nominal editor.

      But, Jonathan makes it perfectly clear that Benjamin Winchester was the most likely author. If Benjamin Winchester was the author then it makes all the difference in the world. By excluding Joseph Smith as author then Mesoamericanists can put more trust in what Joseph Smith, the three witnesses, Lucy Mack Smith, members of Zion's Camp who wrote as witnesses of what Joseph said about Zelph and his mound, and other early Saints did say about where the Jaredite and Nephite/Lamanite civilizations lived. And it doesn't look pretty--to Book of Mormon Mesoamerican theorists anyway.

      When I first read the Book of Mormon I believed that the events I read about took place in the heartland because of the Hill Cumorah, and because of what I read from Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce R. McConkie, and others. And the two Hill Cumorah theory never did make much sense.

      But I became persuaded later on because of the Friberg paintings, the fantastic civilizations that were in Mesoamerica (buttressed by the T&S articles), and of what Sorenson and other researchers and scholars were writing, etc.

      But by Jonathan showing, in his book, "The Lost City of Zarahemla: from Iowa to Guatemala and back again," that Joseph Smith was not the author or at least didn't allow or approve of as editor of the T&S articles, peoples faith in the events and peoples of the Book of Mormon lie on a more perfect foundation. The Heartland model simply makes more sense.

    2. James, thanks for your interest. Your revisionist history is understandable, now that I've shown Joseph Smith had nothing to do with the 1842 Mesoamerican articles, but facts are facts. The limited Mesoamerican geography was premised on the 1842 articles.

      In 2005, a conference entitled "The Worlds of Joseph Smith" was held at the Library of Congress. It was a big deal and attracted significant media coverage. Speakers included Richard Bushman, Terryl Givens, Margaret Barker, Jack Welch, Robert Millet, and Dallin Oaks.There was a display of books, manuscripts, photographs and artifacts, including a page from the original manuscript, a first edition Book of Mormon, etc. But they also had on display an original Times and Seasons from October 1, 1842, turned to the Zarahemla article, as well as the Catherwood drawing of Quirigua. The caption said many early LDS leaders considered "Mesoamerica as the central area in the geography of the Book of Mormon."

      Of course, that statement wasn't even true; it was revisionist thinking by the Mesoamerican advocates who put the display together. Every one of the early leaders cited believed Cumorah was in New York. Some thought South America was involved; the 1879 Book of Mormon put Zarahemla in South America. Only recently has Mesoamerica become a "consensus" for Zarahemla, and that's because of the 1842 articles.

      I'm glad to see so many Mesoamericanists abandon the 1842 Times and Seasons articles lately. That's a step in the right direction.

      Now maybe we can turn to the text, which describes geography that does not, and cannot, match up with any locations in Mesoamerica. This has been shown so frequently and thoroughly it takes willful effort to avoid the reality. Just for starters, Mesoamerica is not "nearly surrounded with water."

      By contrast, the North American setting fits the text. It fits what Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer said about Cumorah. It fits everything Joseph said about the topic.

      People who look at this with an open mind will see. Recognizing the 1842 articles for what they are is an excellent first step.

  3. Don't flatter yourself, Jonathan. I still believe that Joseph authored, or at a minimum did not disapprove of, those T&S articles. Nobody is abandoning them on your account. It has never played determining role for most modern Mesoamericanists.

  4. Have you addressed Neal Rappleye's essay on this topic, published by Interpreter?


  5. I'm interested in your geography as illustrated in this post. Where do you assign the various seas?