Where did the Book of Mormon take place? Most people think it is in Central or South America, or maybe North America. However, we’re going to talk about the most unusual theory around called the Malay Peninsula, as in Malaysia, as in Southeast Asia. It’s a very unusual theory. It’s a fun theory, and we’ll find out more about how KC Kern and Greg Pavone got acquainted with this.
KC: So, with that in mind, I encountered this [Malay theory.] I can’t remember where it was. Honestly, I think it must have been a blog post. I don’t know if it was on Mormon Matters, or the blogosphere circa 2006-2007. There was some comment about it. It’s like Malay theory. Seeing [the comments about the Malay theory], it just did not register. I was just like, what the heck is this? But [these comments] kept coming up. I’m like, “Why do you keep talking about the Book of Mormon in Malaysia?” This makes no sense.
GT: That was my reaction, too, when I first heard about it.
KC: It’s just completely bonkers. I’m thinking, “Why doesn’t this guy get banned?” Okay, so, I’m just like, okay, Malaysia, what are you even talking about? So I opened up Google Earth, and I type in “Malaysia.” And then Google Earth starts spinning—goes across the world, starts zooming in, and I see it.
KC: I see this. [The shape of the internal map from Mormon’s Map] It was a jaw-dropping moment. It was like—how has nobody noticed this before? That was just the first impression. I started digging more, and then I came across Ralph Olsen’s work where he basically proposes that the Book of Mormon took place on the Malay Peninsula. The narrow neck and the land northward and the land southward, it all took place there. Now, Lehi and his family left the Arabian Peninsula and traveled the coast around India, the Bay of Bengal and then landed and stayed on the Malay Peninsula. That’s just so like, “Wait, what? No, the Book of Mormons is about America.” So, the first concession to make is, this is absolutely 100% incompatible with any traditional reception history of the Book of Mormon and that has to be established upfront. You can’t make it work—pretty much at all. There’s no question that for Joseph Smith and early Saints and everyone—this was about America.
KC: But, there’s one thing that I think is really worth noting. What I have found is, as I’ve looked into various geography theories, a lot of them turn into dead ends very quickly. What I have found is that the Malay one, has continued to be a fruitful line of inquiry, meaning that the more you press against it, the more it yields. Let me give two examples there. The Karen, like I said, they’re an ethnic minority in Burma, and they’ve had a lot of military conflicts with the Burmese Government. They’ve set up their own militia. In their history, and this is in the early 90s, there was this one confrontation where they had the stronghold around this oxbow lake thing on a river on the border of Thailand. They named that stronghold Kawmoora (Cumorah.) I kid you not. I read this in a book, and it’s just like all the Karen, their last outpost was Kawmoora. I’m just like [wow!]
KC: If any of this, in any remote sense, was emerging from the Ohio River Valley, or from Mississippi or from Chiapas, Mexico, a lot of people would be making a lot of noise on the apologetic side. The other thing is after I published that article on the blog, I got a note from this guy in Kentucky. He said, “I can prove this theory true.” I’m like, “Okay, I’ll bite.” So, I respond, I get his phone number. I have a conversation and he says that there were some Karen students they were refugees in the U.S. in Kentucky. He was a shop teacher or auto mechanic and he had some [Karen] students that he was talking to. He had somehow gotten his hand on the Caractors Document. Do you know which I’m talking about? The one that was copied by John Whitmer and may or may not have been the Anthon Transcript.
GT: That Mark Hofmann made a forgery of it, too.
KC: Right, or at least was inspired by that. He [the teacher] supposedly had that, things copied from the gold plates. This Karen student looks at that and says, “Oh, I know this. This is chicken scratch script.” It was just like, what? Okay, what is this about? So, I look it up. The proper name for the script is called Leke script. It’s unique to the Karen people. They teach their youth in these camps, how to how to write in this script. I contacted an expert in the script. There’s not a lot [of experts]. I gave them the Caractors Document and said to them, “Does this check out? Does this look familiar at all?” The expert said, “Well, are many iterations of [the script]” They had examples from the 1800s, and stuff like this. [The Caractors] would be coming from 500 or 400 AD. It’s not going to be a match. But, they mentioned that there were certain characters that looked similar. At that point, it’s like—I know, Dan Vogel’s is like, “Oh, well, it’s just 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 in Arabic numbers and [Joseph is] just reconfiguring them.” The characters are simple enough and abstract enough that you can squeeze in anything, but just the fact that the aesthetic was—completely unsolicited—recognized by a Karen student, and made enough of an impact that they contacted me out of nowhere, in response to the article. It was just like [Wow!] This should not be happening. If this is completely nonsensical, we should not see any of this. And if anything like this was happening about Mayan glyphs, you know there would be entire volumes of apologetic works written about it.
What are some things that really add strength to the Malay Theory?
GT: I mentioned Simcha Jakobovici, which is a horrible name to spell, in relation to the Jesus Tomb. He has another film. He’s a documentarian. He says, “Where are the last 10 tribes now?” Simcha is really interesting in the fact that he’s kind of an atheist Jew. He doesn’t believe in Judaism or Jesus or anything. So, it’s interesting that he’s finding the Jesus tomb. It’s interesting that he’s following the lost 10 tribes. But I was watching this one time, and I called Ralph the next day. Because Simcha tries to identify where the last 10 tribes have gone. One place was Afghanistan. Another place was in Africa, I think that was the tribe of Dan. They’ve actually done some genetic testing on that, that may have confirmed that. But a third place was the Malay Peninsula. I was like, “You’re kidding me.”
Simcha: In a tomato packing plant near the Gaza Strip, I came across a small group that most Israelis take for Thai guest workers. They are a people who come from the hill country, on the India-Burma border. They say they are descendants of the Lost tribe of Manasseh. There is at least one Rabbi here who believes them.
GT: I don’t know how reputable he is, but he actually said it was Manasseh that went to Malay.
Simcha: The hill country where Burma meets India is home to the people called Menmaseh, or Manasseh, who now claiming descent from the lost tribe of Manasseh.
GT: I was like, “Are you kidding me?” I called Ralph the next morning. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, you’ve got to see this.” I don’t think that’s been confirmed genetically, so, I don’t know.
KC: Just about the dispersion aspect, there’s—the idea would be that that the Lehites would have left from the Arabian Peninsula and followed the coast going down. There actually was a ship captain, I want to say part of Alexander the Great’s fleet, that actually did do that trip. There are some pockets of the population that claim descendency from Macedonia and Greece and stuff like that from that trip. So, the idea is that there’s a whole lot of possibility of making that trip and that distance from Arabia or from the Middle East to Southeast Asia. That’s not out of the question at all. The other thing I should note, is for anybody that really has hung their hat on the Mesoamerican theory, if you watch the Journey of Faith documentary that talks about the trip out, John Sorenson actually walks through what he supposes the trip from the Arabian Peninsula to the west coast of Central America would have looked like. He says just realistically, the text says many days. You can’t get much out of that. But, if they’re really on a boat, they’re probably following the coastline and stopping for water and stopping for food along the way. Well, John Sorenson draws this map through, along the coast and down the coast of India and then up, and then you run into the Malay Peninsula. He has them going along the side on the west side, and then through and then into the Pacific. What that means is that even if you don’t put any stock into the Malay theory at all, and you’re more of, “this is definitely Central America,” you have to acknowledge that Lehi and Nephi set foot on the Malay Peninsula, and stayed there at least for a pitstop. Let that sink in. Everyone that believes in the Book of Mormon, that that [the Lehites] came across the Pacific, believes that the Lehites were in Malaysia at one point. How do we know they didn’t stay?
Are you familiar with the Malay Theory? What do you think of it?
Edit to add the following photo from a listener:
I have attached a photo that I took at a museum adjacent to the royal palace in Bangkok. The exhibit features writing on gold plates that was done by ancient Thai people (It’s kind of hard to see the writing in the photo.) When I saw this exhibit, I remembered the dialogue article about the Malay setting, which is why I snapped a photo of it, to show others. Not definitive proof, but I just thought you might be interested in knowing that there were gold plates in the area.