Where did the Book of Mormon take place? There are probably more theories out there than you know. I’m going to share a Zoom presentation I gave May 10, 2021 to a Community of Christ group. In part 1, we’ll talk about internal maps, the Middle East, and an African Theory of the Book of Mormon.
GT: I thought we could kind of start out a little bit with Middle Eastern geography. Most of this comes from a film put out by, mainly by BYU, called Journey of Faith. I’ve got the DVD there. They seem to think that the Frankincense Trail seems to be the likely route that Lehi and his family proposed. I’ve got a link there, if you want to watch that. It’s pretty good. It’s definitely a well-done video. There’s a link there. What proponents would call a bull’s eye, is where in First Nephi 16:34, “And it came to pass that Ishmael died and was buried in a place which was called Nahom.” So, basically, that’s one of the best spots that we have for Book of Mormon geography, and it talks about it. There are several quotes in there that this Nahom is on the Frankincense Trail. I might go out of order here, I wanted to show a little bit on the map here. On that left map, you can see, basically, they left Jerusalem headed mostly south, down to the wadi, well, actually, where it crosses–that word Timna there, they kind of crossed that river there, and they’re on the western side of the Red Sea. That’s where they probably joined up with the Frankincense Trail.
GT: If you look at the middle map there, you can see that the Frankincense Trail goes into the Sinai Peninsula, but that’s really where Lehi and his family probably joined that, into Arabia and then took a left turn there on that third map, at the bottom there and headed [west.] There are a few different sites there for different potential harbors for Nephi’s harbor. Of course, in the interest of giving all perspectives–of course not everybody believes Nahom is a bull’s eye. John Hamer left a comment and said, “It should come as no surprise or no shock to us that Nahum, which is spelled with a U instead of an O, a Hebrew prophet in the Bible has a Semitic name. It should, therefore, come as no shock that there are places in Semitic speaking countries that share that name, or at least the consonants N, H, M.” Of course, Hebrew, a lot of times, leaves out a lot of the vowels.
GT: John says, “When I first wrote about Nahum on a board, I did a quick test. I said to myself, ‘they speak Arabic in Iraq. Let’s see if there’s a Nahum in Iraq, and a quick Google search picked up a place called Nahum in the Mason province, immediately south of Al Amarah.’ In other words, the Book of Mormon had said that Lehi and his party traveled past Babylon, there was another potential Nahum bull’s eye, waiting in Mesopotamia. Another Google search shows that historically there was a town called Nahem, in Lebanon, halfway between Tyre and Acre. If Joseph Smith had sent Lehi to America via Phoenicia, there would have been another bull’s eye!”
GT: So, he basically goes on to say “[NHM] is not really a bull’s eye. He questions whether it’s even noteworthy, given that the entire volume of a large Semitic country in which to find a Semitic route. There’s a Nihm in Arabia, which is not precisely matched to the Nahom, but, the three letters match. Not everybody is convinced. In Journey of Faith, this is, of course, where Ishmael died and was buried in the place of Nahom on the Frankincense Trail. So, that’s the most likely route and probably the best archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon. There are a couple of possible ports in Yemen.
GT: I would first start off with a very different theory, the African theory by Embaye Melekin. This is kind of an interesting theory. Obviously, it’s not in the Americas. I will say this, we did see, if Nephi, left Yemen, it would be a lot easier to go to Eritrea or Ethiopia than any of the other places. It kind of has that advantage of being a relatively short trip. You can see Eritrea is on the border of the Red Sea. So, you’re kind of still staying within the Middle Eastern model. So, Melekin has written a couple of books, The African Bible. This one on top, I think, is the first edition. The one on the bottom is the second edition. I looked on Amazon, the top one was like $800. I don’t think anybody’s going to be buying that one. I think it’s basically the same book. They’ve just got two different covers. But, he basically thinks that the Book of Mormon took place in Africa. He says the Sabeans are the Nephites, and the Agazians are the Lamanites. He kind of also believes that the Bible took place in Africa. He definitely seems to have an African bias there. You can actually preview the book. I’ve got a Google link here you can read.
GT: He’s got another book called 80 Reasons Why the Book of Mormon is an African Bible. From what I understand, he’s just kind of read the Book of Mormon on his own. He’s not a member of any Restorationist church, but he believes it is the word of God.
Have you heard of the African Theory? What are your thoughts of Nahom and Nephi’s harbor?
We’re continuing our series on Book of Mormon geography theories. This time we’ll hit Malay, Baja, and New York geography theories.
GT: The next theory that’s definitely different is the Malay theory by Dr. Ralph Olsen. Ralph passed away about five years ago, unfortunately. I actually spoke with Ralph before he passed away. This is a really fun theory. I know a lot of people will look at this theory and say, “Asia? Southeast Asia? How can this be?” But, one of the nice things about this is, number one, you’ve got a north/south orientation on a peninsula here. So, it kind of matches Mormon’s Map that we mentioned a few slides ago with Dr. [Sorensen]. The word Thailand means land of the free. We talk about the Book of Mormon being–or in the Book of Mormon, it mentions that America will be, or the Promised Land; I shouldn’t say America. It never says America. The Promised Land is a land of liberty. This area has never been colonized by any of the Western powers, so that could be a case where you could say, “Oh, I did not know Thailand means land of the free,” but that’s kind of interesting.
GT: K.C. Kern did a four part review of this theory on Wheat and Tares [blog]. I’ve got a link there, if you’d like to see. So, this could include modern day Thailand, Malaysia and Burma. I’ve actually got an interview with K.C. coming up in about a month, and we’re going to go into a lot more detail than I’m going in this presentation. But, the thing that I like about this is a lot of the anachronisms that the Book of Mormon critics complain about [including] gold, horses, elephants, that sort of thing, disappear completely with this theory. So wheat, barley, has been used in the right time period. Dr. Olsen’s first manuscript is called The Malay Peninsula. I’ve actually got it on my website. Voni Rivas is Ralph’s daughter. She’s on the call here tonight. She gave me permission to put this on my website. So, if you’re interested, this is a kind of the free version of the book here. You can purchase the book there, but the free version is now on my website. That link there. The website is down right now. Voni is trying to get it back up.
GT: The Baja theory: I interviewed David Rosenvall, him and his dad. His dad was a geographer. I think he was at BYU, if I remember right. You can see his website there. http://achoiceland.com. I’ve got the interviews. I interviewed him a while back. He basically believes the Baja Peninsula [theory,] which is, of course, just below Southern California, and across the bay there from mainland Mexico. Once again, it has a north/south orientation. So, that seems to be a benefit. It’s got a similar climate to the Mediterranean, a lot of times. Nephi says that they took seeds with them, and the seeds grew. They probably wouldn’t grow very well in New York. But, being a Mediterranean climate, theoretically, these seeds would have grown. David also says this is compatible with the Mesoamerican theory. He says that maybe they started in Baja and then perhaps migrated over to mainland Mexico. The peninsula matches, the distances match. He says there are no anachronisms. I take a little bit of issue with that. I’ll talk about that in just a moment.
GT: The Book of Mormon and early church leaders said the Book of Mormon was about the inhabitants of this continent. So, that would be another advantage there. One of the things that David has done is he says that there are some similarities between Uto-Aztecan language and Semitic languages, and so they’ve done some research on there. I think we need to get some more on that. But he thinks that there are elements of Semitic languages in Aztec languages.
GT: Some of the cons: the biggest is that he said that there are no anachronisms. One of the claims is the elephants, horses, plants are found here. The problem is the elephants, and the horses are found in the La Brea Tar Pits, which are in the Baja Peninsula. But the carbon dating dates those to the last Ice Age, which is 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. So, yes, there were elephants. There were horses. But we haven’t found anything that dates to the time of Lehi. So, that’s one of the problems. But, yes, there have been some things found in the La Brea Tar Pits.
GT: Another theory that’s kind of a fun theory is kind of this New York/Great Lakes theory. The one that I’m familiar with, is, can be found at http://Bookofmormongeography.org. With this theory, it’s kind of a limited geography theory in the fact that, basically, it that takes place among the Great Lakes. You can see between the lakes [a narrow neck of land.] Those lakes could be called seas. The Dead Sea in Israel is much smaller than the Great Lakes. So, if you refer to the Great Lakes as seas, you could argue that. You’ve got lots of places for narrow necks of land there.
GT: This is the one theory that I’m most familiar with. There were some reviews done on a website called Mormonheretic.org, and these were done back in 2008, so they’re a little bit dated. The website has definitely changed since then. My impression is the guy, and I wish I knew who it was that runs [bookofmormongeography.org.] He’s not a scholar at all. If you challenge him on anything, he gets really, really defensive. But being in New York/Great Lakes, one of the things about the Book of Mormon is it never mentioned snow or cold. I can’t imagine, especially being around the Great Lakes, there would have been a lot of snowstorms and even a lot of cold. I know everybody likes to say the Hill Cumorah is in New York. You would think that they would have mentioned a snowstorm in the Book of Mormon. So, Sorenson and most other people think that it was more of a tropical climate. So, that’s another problem with the Great Lakes theory. As far as pros, it’s not a north/south peninsula, but it has several candidates for a narrow neck of land. The lakes could be reasonably construed as seas. Limited geography is more appropriate than say, a hemispheric model.
What are your thoughts on Malay, Great Lakes, and Baja theories?
We’re into part 3 of our look at Book of Mormon geography theories. This time, we’ll cover 3 of the more popular theories: South America, the Heartland, and Mesoamerica.
GT: I will tell you what. This was one of the first Book of Mormon geography models that I had ever heard. About 20 years ago, my girlfriend, at the time, who is now my wife, we went on a trip to Hawaii. We went to a branch in Hawaii and the branch president was a big proponent of this model. It was kind of funny, because he was really a big fan of Venice Priddis. George Potter has kind of some variations on this model, as well. His website is http://nephiproject.com. There’s another guy by the name of Del Dowdell at http://nephicode.blogspot.com. I don’t want to say all three of these theories are the same, but they’re, as far as locationally, they’re very similar. The idea is the Incas were the Lehites or the Lamanites and Nephites. I know that Venice Priddis spent a lot of time, similar with the Baja theory. They brought seeds and the seeds grew in the Americas.
GT: The problem with Venice’s map here is that this was true about 18 million years ago. So, your timeline is a bit off. Of course, I’ve got a link to the Smithsonian Magazine there. So, that’s a big problem, being off 18 million years. So, it’s kind of hard to argue that that’s what the land was like when Lehi landed here. So, some pros of the South American theory, if you believe that the Amazon Basin River was flooded, then you do have a north/south Peninsula. It’s at the wrong time period, though. It’s got a similar climate to the Mediterranean. The peninsula matches. The distances are an okay match. Church leaders actually embrace North and South America as land of the Nephites.
GT: The Heartland theory, I don’t know if Jonathan Neville is here. He’ll probably correct me on a few things. I know that Meldrum, May and Neville kind of all have slightly different takes on this theory, but this is the one that I found. It kind of gives you an idea of where Zarahemla, Lehi and Nephi–places are, Cumorah. One of the benefits of this theory is, this is kind of where Joseph Smith grew up. He was familiar with the legends of the Indians or the Native Americans. So, you can see that a lot of this would have been incorporated with Joseph Smith’s thinking. Once again, this looks like a really large section of area. I don’t think it fits the limited geography theory. Whether you believe Sorenson or not, you’ve got to say a lot of the work he’s done on distances, makes a lot of sense. So, this seems a bit more spread out than it probably should be. We’re talking thousands of miles, when we probably should be in the hundreds of miles as far as differences.
GT: Once again, it’s not a north/south peninsula. It has several candidates for your narrow neck of land. Mississippi or Missouri rivers are plausible for a river Sidon. Lakes could be reasonably construed as seas. It’s very near the Hill Cumorah, so you’ve got your one Cumorah theory. I know Rod has spent a lot of time, and I’m going to talk about this in a couple of slides here, claiming that he solved the Middle East problem with the X lineage. He’s going to call that a pro. I’m actually going to call that a con, but I left it in the pros here for now.
GT: The Mound Builder culture likely influenced Joseph Smith. Cons: you’ve got the elephants, horses, plants problem. The Mound Builders just don’t have the technology to build a temple like unto Solomon. There were no chariots. There were no wheeled vehicles. Technologically, the Mound Builders were more kind of Stone Age technologically. It seems unlikely that the Book of Mormon never mentioned snow. The climate doesn’t seem to match, especially when you’re getting into the Great Lakes region. It seems to me, I’m speaking on my behalf and so people may question this. But I’m going to say, it seems like Rod loves to mix science with religion. He will use a lot of quotes from early church leaders that support his theory and then he will ignore some of the other ones. I know there’s a quote where Joseph Smith said–the South American proponents say that Lehi landed at 30 degrees south latitude and Rod just kind of ignores that completely. Sorenson basically says that Joseph didn’t know everything and so [you can discount the Hemispheric Model.]
GT: Moving on to Mesoamerican theory. This is Dr. Sorensen’s theory. Like I said, this probably has the most scholars behind it. You’ve got Sorensen’s map on the top. There are other variations like Garth Norman. I’m trying to get Garth on my podcast. He has a different candidate for the River Sidon and he takes a few issues, but basically, the overall map is pretty similar. You can see you’ve got the land Bountiful, land Desolation. Once again, as we look at this, if this is your narrow neck of land, it’s more of an east/west orientation than north/south. So, that’s a little bit of a problem. I know Sorenson puts a lot in the Yucatan Peninsula as well. Sorenson has a couple of books. You can purchase them there, the bottom one there, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon is probably the most scholarly one.
GT: You’ve got Brant Gardner’s review. Brant’s a big fan of the Mesoamerican theory. I would say that the majority of people that believe in a literal Book of Mormon probably support this theory the most. BYU also put out another DVD. It’s also called Journey of Faith: the New World. So, it talks mostly about the Central American theory/Mesoamerican theory. The pros: it’s supported by most scholars. It’s the best researched. All other limited geography theories depend on Sorensen’s work. Your distances match. He seems to have identified the old Olmec and the Maya as the–the Olmec are the Jaredites and the Maya are the Lamanites and Nephites. Sorenson has identified pre-Columbian contact. Some of the cons: it’s more of an east/west orientation rather than north/south. The Yucatan Peninsula is not really that narrow. The DNA doesn’t match. Once again, how did the plates get to New York? Sorenson proposes a two Cumorah theory, where the last battle took place in Central America and then Moroni had 30 years to get it to New York. So in 30 years, you can move anything. Still has a problem with elephants, horses, plants, etc. All of the American theories suffer from that.
 Unfortunately, Garth Norman and John Sorensen both passed away in December 2021.
What is your favorite theory & why? Did you know there were so many theories?