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.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Additional comments on abstract maps

I've posted about abstract maps before, but I want to clarify a point that may have become obscured.

I've always emphasized that the spiritual message of the Book of Mormon is, without question, the main purpose for the book. If you're not drawing spiritual strength and insights from the scriptures and deepening your faith in God, you should work on that before you focus on historicity and geography.

That's a given for me.

But that takes faith, and not everyone has faith. What do we do for people who don't have faith?

"And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118).

Except for punctuation, the same words are repeated in D&C 109:7. It is also interesting that the same admonition is extended to those who attend the temple. (D&C 109:14).

Those who have faith to accept the scriptures as the word of God have a spiritual gift, which is wonderful. But those who "have not faith" need to do some study to create a foundation for faith. That study may include issues of historicity and geography that often are an impediment to faith.

In our culture, people want visual references. In that sense, an abstract map can be helpful for people who want to understand the text because they accept the divine authenticity of the scriptures on faith. Such a map can help them focus on the teachings of the Book of Mormon without getting bogged down into confusing passages about geography and chronology.

But people who don't have faith, or who are interested in the historicity and geography because of their faith, also are visually oriented. They want a map that makes sense in the real world, and also fits the descriptions in the text. That describes my interest and the purpose for this blog.

Consequently, to the extent I objected to abstract maps in general, I should have qualified my objection. For those who have faith and are not troubled by or interested in historicity and geography, abstract maps can be helpful tools to understand the text more easily. Such maps can be a useful introduction for those who are new to the Book of Mormon. I still think there is a serious problem of imprinting a particular geography--even an abstract one--but if the people involved accept the scripture on faith alone, they may never care about the real-world geography, so a mental abstract map is no problem.

But I don't think many of those people are reading this blog anyway.

There are also many people who are attached to a particular geography and want to keep that idea in mind regardless of other ideas. And that's fine with me, as well. I'm not asking you to change your mind. I'm not even asking you to read this blog, actually.

I'm not writing this blog for everyone; I write for those who, like me, think it matters where the Book of Mormon took place, and those who want to explore the evidence from Church history, the text, and the various sciences. My focus here is on real-world historicity and geography, following the evidence wherever it leads. I think it makes a big difference where the Book of Mormon took place, for the reasons I've documented in all these posts. Others don't think it matters, and that's fine.

In my view, there are two categories of Book of Mormon maps: those that show Cumorah in New York, and those that don't.

I see this as a clear binary choice.

For me, any map that doesn't put Cumorah in New York is not useful or even relevant. But I emphasize, that's because I think knowing the real-world setting is important. If you don't think it's important--and again, I emphasize that's a perfectly reasonable and faithful approach--then you can find value in non-New York maps.

To me, without that pin in the map and all that goes along with it (Letter VII, etc.), it makes no difference what you do with the geography. Whether you create an abstract map, or a map in Baja, Central America, Peru, Thailand, or anywhere else, every non-New York based map rejects what Oliver Cowdery wrote (and what Joseph endorsed).

But that's just how I see it. It's not a universal truth and it's certainly not official or endorsed by anyone who matters.

At the risk of over-repetition, others have different opinions and I'm perfectly fine with that.


I think the text describes the North American setting, with Cumorah in New York. I think this setting reconciles everything Joseph taught, as well as the statements by Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer. It makes sense out of the promises and prophecies. It fits the archaeology, anthropology, geography, and geology.

That's why, to me, an abstract map is useless.

But that's just how I see it.

I emphasize, one more time, that I'm not being critical of those who prefer abstract or other maps. My criticisms are focused on factual and logical errors that I've come across as I've studied these issues. I don't expect everyone, or even most people, to see things my way or to agree with me.

And certainly, if what you believe takes you into the Book of Mormon and brings you closer to God, don't stop or change course just because of anything I write.

But if you are interested in the real-world setting (for some, this is because of your faith while for others it is because you don't have faith), then I welcome you here and hope you find, as I have, greater meaning in the Book of Mormon because of its setting in Moroni's America.

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