There’s some Mopologist on Mopologist fighting going on today with Stephen Smoot taking a shot at the Heartlanders in this blog post. I know this is esoteric stuff that doesn’t appeal to most people, and I feel a bit embarrassed to admit I like this topic, but here is my take on BOM geography.
I’ve been making notes on Book of Mormon geography for the purpose of making an extended analysis of it. I’ve got a 30 page Word doc now documenting BOM geography theories and the BOM verses that cover the geography, along with summaries of various theories. It’s very interesting to me, but not enough to put it all together.
The three main geography theories are:
1. LGT model in Mesomerica (LGT stands for Limited Geography Theory which means that the Book of Mormon took place in a very small, isolated area)
2. Heartland model in the US midwest
3. Hemispheric model covering the entire North and South America continents.
I believe the hemispheric model is what the Book of Mormon author intended to convey. It fits very well with the text and with how Joseph Smith and early saints talked about and understood the Book of Mormon. There is one data point that’s off, and that is the issue the LGT’ers jump on to claim the BOM took place in a small area. That is Mosiah 24 where it took 21 days to travel between Nephi and Zarahemla.
But I think all the models have problems and the Hemispheric model is most accurate, in terms of what the author meant. I am purely looking at this from an internal textual basis, with no weight given to historical and scientific evidence not contained within the text of the Book of Mormon.
I believe the Book of Mormon is scripture, the Word of God. Its message is a powerful witness of Christ and has been transformative in millions of lives, including my own and many others I have seen first hand. I don’t believe it is historical, but I believe it is miraculous, inspired, and inspiring. It’s consistent and complex in many ways. The geography is an important part of that complexity.
I think Joseph Smith mapping out potentially where the Book of Mormon should be set, geographically, was likely a part of the process of the inspiration process where human creativity intersects with the divine to create an inspired work.
I think the narrow neck is clearly intended to be the Isthmus of Panama, with South America as Lamanite country and North America as Nephite territory. Jaredites also were North America. The Pueblos are in the right spot. The distances don’t make perfect sense, but they’re reasonable. A ship is required to send timber up to the barren north Mexico-southwestern US area, because of the long distance. Only one Cumorah.
C = Cumorah
D = Desolation
NN = Narrow Neck
B = Bountiful
Z = Zarahemla
N = Nephi
But then I found this map from 1796.
In this map, the Isthmus of Panama is just about equal to the narrow neck of land of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico. Before the Panama Canal was built in the early 1900’s, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec might have been the higher profile “narrow neck” in Central America. One of the weaknesses of the model is the distance to Cumorah, so this alleviates that a little, so this map is also an alternative. This also is nice because it maps out three civilizations that Joseph would have known about, roughly in the right spot. Zarahemla and Bountiful is Maya territory. Nephi and the Lamanite land down south is the Incas. And the pueblo sounding civilization in the area occcupied by the Pueblo tribes. Not that the BOM describes actual ancient civilizations, but that the author did some proper due diligence in mapping it all out realistically.
I don’t love the LGT, primarily because it puts an emphasis on historicity and literalness and weird things as a result of it, like whether or not MesoAmericans did this or that. I don’t like it because it takes away from what is important about the book.
I also don’t like it because it decreases the scope. The Book of Mormon was an ambitious book. It was meant to be an origination story for Native Americans. It was meant to apply to the entire continent of America. It’s big. The LGT makes it small. It shoves it into the background and makes the people insignificant. Small is not what the author, who I believe is Joseph Smith through the inspiration of God, intended it to be. Even though, I view the historical aspect of it as not literally true and meant to have metaphorical value, I still think it’s valuable to receive the book’s internal text the way Joseph Smith and God intended it.