Critics of the Book of Mormon say the geography is so vague that it could take place anywhere, or no where. Jonathan Neville weighs in on that issue,and tells more about the Heartland Theory of Book of Mormon.
GT: It’s funny that you mentioned that because I know there are critics of the Book of Mormon that use that to throw all of them. “The Book of Mormon is so vague, it could be anywhere and so, therefore, it’s nowhere.”
Jonathan: That’s right.
GT: How do you respond to that?
Jonathan: I respond to that, that if you only take the Book of Mormon, you’re right, it could be anywhere. It could even be fictional, If you’re only looking at the Book of Mormon. That’s why it’s so critical to know what Joseph and Oliver taught, because they both said it was in America, let’s say, the Western Hemisphere. But at least it was in this part of the world and they said Cumorah is in New York. They couldn’t have made it any clearer by saying it was a fact. So, that’s why, to me, it’s either Cumorah or bust. If Cumorah is not in New York, then there’s no reason to think it happened anywhere, seriously. I know there’s a lot of members of the Church and more and more of them now, who think it’s fiction.
GT: See, and the thing that comes to my mind is what Sorenson said. I’m trying to remember which book that was. But I remember reading it, where Sorenson basically says that Joseph said, “Well, yeah, Lehi landed in Chile or Peru, Chile, and then he embraced the Yucatan stuff.” Sorenson basically says two things. One, Joseph embraced a hemispheric model, which I know you disagree with. But, number two, Joseph didn’t really know. He was only given the gold plates and God didn’t reveal everything. So, Joseph embraced things like Yucatan and things, but he really didn’t know. So, according to Sorenson, he’s reading the text as carefully as he can read it. It’s an hourglass shape and all that.
Jonathan: I know, well, it’s not just Sorenson. John Clark did a presentation. They had a Joseph Smith Bicentennial thing at the Library of Congress, I think it was 2005. They had a whole presentation on it. John Clark did a paper where he said that Joseph Smith not knowing anything about the geography is actually evidence that it was divine, that he didn’t compose it. Because, all he did was relate what he read off the stone. That’s a whole ‘nother topic, but, that he didn’t know anything about the Book of Mormon. So, that proves he didn’t write it. That’s his argument.
I thought to myself, “Okay, if you want to go that way, that’s an argument.” People make arguments. But it’s laughable to me, because how could he have been any more explicit? I mean, his mother told us, and she said, and she quoted him, even in one case. But his mother said that the very first night Moroni I showed up, he told Joseph Smith, this record was in the hill of Cumorah, three miles from your house. That’s the first time Joseph ever heard the word. That was the first Nephite word he ever heard, other than Moroni, I guess?
GT: I know Sorenson says Joseph never called it Cumorah.
Jonathan: I know. I know, they say that.
GT: It just said it was a hill.
Jonathan: I know, and that’s what the historians down here at the Church History Department are saying, too. So, I’m saying, “Well, if you look in the Saints book, they totally de-correlated Cumorah.”
Do you agree that Saints has de-correlated Cumorah?
The Book of Mormon ends with a great battle with millions killed near a hill called Cumorah. Yet no bones were found near the Hill Cumorah. How does Jonathan Neville reconcile this? He’ll describes more of the Heartland Theory of Book of Mormon.
Jonathan: So, when it comes to the Hill Cumorah in New York, it’s really fascinating, because I think that was the key to interpreting the text. When you go back and look carefully–first of all people say there are millions of people killed, there are millions of Jaredites killed there. That’s not what the book says at all. If you look at the book, Coriantumr talks about 2 million of his people killed. That was years before the final battle, at Cumorah. He, also, it’s hard to tell from the text, what timeframe he is referring to. I did an analysis if he was only talking about in his own lifetime, or over the history of the Jaredites. I can’t tell which it was. Even if it was over his lifetime, 2 million people, that worked out to something like 20 or 30,000 a year, which, to me is not that plausible, but much more plausible than 2 million. But, if you look at what Ether wrote about the Jaredite battle, he tells us how many people died on the last three days of that week. It was one week of battle, and it was like half, half, half. So, I extrapolated backwards, and it was less than 10,000 people in the whole Jaredite battle, which makes sense.
Jonathan: Oliver Cowdery in Letter VII said there were thousands of bodies from the Jaredites, which means less than 10,000, and that’s what the Book of Mormon text says. So, if you realize that the Jaredites were less than 10,000, in their final battle, and also, if you remember that Moroni said he was only talking about the people in this north country. He wasn’t talking about the entire hemisphere, even about all the Americas or even anywhere outside of this north country where he was living when he wrote this, around New York. There were lots of other Jaredite peoples. He was only talking about the ones in Ether’s genealogy that were living in Northern New York that were extinguished. It was less than 10,000.
Jonathan: So, then you get to the Battle of the Nephites and Jaredites. What does Mormon and Moroni say? Well, Mormon, when he gets to the top of the hill. He said, “We beheld my 10,000 and we beheld Moroni’s 10,000.” So, then you ask yourself is 10,000 a number or a military unit? It’s certainly not a number, because otherwise he would have to say, 9,998 of mine, and 10,003 of Moroni’s. It wasn’t exactly 10,000. Ten thousand is a common military unit all around the world for people. In fact, even in this book, I mentioned the Anabasis, the Greek book everybody studies when they study Greek. By the end of the war, they had less than 6,000 people, but they still called them the 10,000. Because it was like a battalion is what we would say today. So, Mormon would say, “I saw my battalion, and Moroni’s battalion” tells us nothing about how many people were actually there.
GT: So, you don’t trust those numbers are literal.
Jonathan: Oh, I don’t think they’re literal at all. I don’t think they could possibly be literal. Because how would you even know if there was exactly 10,000 and not 9,995? In a battle, you’d have no way of knowing. So, it was a military unit. Then, in English, this is tricky.
Do you agree with Jonathan’s line of reasoning?
The biggest problem with the Book of Mormon deals with DNA and archaeology that doesn’t seem to match Native Americas. How does Jonathan Neville, an expert on the Heartland Theory, deal with the Mormon DNA problem?
GT: Of course, there are critics: Thomas Murphy, Simon Sotherton, even Ugo Perego. I wouldn’t call him a critic, but let’s talk about DNA. Now, I know Rod [Meldrum] has what I would view as a very unscientific way to handle that. It was interesting to read what you said. In a lot of ways you, I would say, kind of embrace the limited geography theory, the Meso theory, as far as the Nephite numbers were small. There were lots of Native Americans here before, so you’re just not going to find traces of DNA. I will say that Thomas recently was on Mormon Book Reviews with Steve Pynakker. One of the things that he said, which really surprised me, he kind of embraced Heartland in the fact that this is the environment Joseph grew up in. He saw these mound builder myths, and so the Book of Mormon is an embellishment, I guess, from Thomas’s point of view, of these mound builder myths. So, he does agree with you that Joseph did view the Hopewell people as the Book of Mormon peoples. The criticism is, where’s the Cohen DNA? It’s not there.
GT: And I also love to point out the Lemba tribe in Africa. For those who are not familiar, there’s a black African tribe in South Africa that claimed they were descendants of Israel. They’re black people. They did a DNA test, and, sure enough, they have Cohen DNA. They have Israelite DNA. So, that tends to cause a problem with Book of Mormon proponents. I don’t care whether you’re Heartland, Meso, Baja. No matter what, any theory that you propose in America, it’s Asian DNA. It’s not Israelite DNA. So, how do you respond to that?
Jonathan: Okay, I respond to that two ways. First, Joseph, in the Wentworth letter, he said it was inhabited, the Americas or America, I think he said, was inhabited by two civilizations: the Jaredites and the Lehites, let’s say, which would include the people of Mulek. The way I understand the Jaredites, is they came over. I believe they crossed the Pacific after traversing Asia. It was Jared and his brother and their friends. It didn’t say where their friends came from. But presumably, they were friendly enough to pick up some Asians with them. So, they crossed over. I think they landed up in the British Columbia area. There’s a native tribe up there that that’s their tradition, that their ancestors came on tight ships, and they had glowing pearls inside. That was just a Native American tradition, origin story. And that fits, I think it makes sense. So, then they landed here, and it said they spread out everywhere. When they did their census, a few years later, they only had Jared and his brother. They didn’t talk about all their friends. So, I infer from that that the friends took off even farther away.
Jonathan: So, Jared, and his brother hung out still, presumably, not too far from where they landed, let’s say Seattle area, somewhere up in there. Then, based on Ether’s genealogy, he had 33 plus generations of people, by the time he got to New York, where he was. So, they crossed over the Great Lakes, spread out throughout the United States, all the way down, Central and South America. And I’ve seen studies. There’s one published paper that says the Native Americans traveled to British Columbia, and then north towards Alaska, instead of coming over the Bering Strait, which would imply a waterway to get here like the Jaredites did. There’s lots of ambiguity about exactly whether they cross the Bering Strait or not. So, my interpretation of it is the Jaredites had Asian DNA they brought over during their travels, and they spread throughout the Americas. There could have been other people from Asia, as well. But the Jaredite migration satisfies the Asian to me. And that’s because the only Jaredites that the Book of Ether talks about were his ancestors in New York.
Jonathan: So, I have no problem with Asian DNA. I think it’s consistent with the Book of Mormon. As far as Lehi and Mulek, we don’t know their ancestry as Ugo has pointed out. We know they came from the area of Jerusalem. Whether they had the X2 haplotype or not, that’s the big controversy is, when did the X2 haplotype break off? Because anybody can look on Wikipedia, or the journals behind it, and see that there’s a concentration around Israel and a concentration in the northeastern United States. I mean, that’s just a fact. Even Ugo acknowledges that. He’s just saying…
GT: Thomas says it’s also in Africa.
Jonathan: Well, yeah, but, of course, people migrated around. But the concentrations of it that were the native peoples that they’ve done the surveys of, the highest concentration is around Israel and the Northeastern United States. Actually, it should be backwards you’re your perspective.
Jonathan: So the entire issue, as I understand it, and I’m not a DNA expert, but I read Ugo’s papers. I’ve talked to Ugo about this. I’ve read Rod’s book, and I understand that the primary difference of opinion between them is when this X2 broke off into this smaller haplotype, X-2A, B, or whatever. Ugo, of course, says it happened long before Lehi.
GT: Ten thousand years ago.
Jonathan: Yeah, but he also says that the first Americans, the first people came to America around 70,000 years ago, something like that.
Jonathan: So, basically, the Darwinian theory of evolution is what he teaches. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. All I can go by is what science tells us. But I’ve seen enough science to know that it’s always subject to change. So, what Ugo says today, he may not say two years from now, because there’s additional discoveries coming out.
What do you think of Jonathan’s explanation?
I wonder why the Brethren cant ever receive the revelation required to clarify mysteries like BOM origin. Renlund just got through telling us that reason can’t substitute for revelation, yet when was the last time any of the Q15 had a revelation that cleared any of this up? They literally just had 10 hours of air time to reveal something new and interesting and it didn’t happen. Nobody knows anything. Nobody has any real idea whether it was Heartland or Meso.
“ The bare facts of the matter are that nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon, as claimed by Joseph Smith, is a historical document relating to the history of early migrants to our hemisphere.”
Dr Michael Coe, Yale Univ
Reference: 1972 Dialogue Magazine
Thus quote is half a century old. Nothing has changed. Can we move on?
I was just in Baja, I think we can discount that area as a landing and settlement site for BoM peoples. The area is extremely arid. I spend considerable time In Peru. That area is probably not a viable option either. I’m not buying the Heartland theory. And the Meso model has it’s problems. What’s left?
There are much more important things for the brethren to seek revelation on than whether Heartland or Meso is correct.
“All I can go by is what science tells us”
Wow. That this guy thinks he’s on the side of science is mindboggling.
“But I’ve seen enough science to know that it’s always subject to change”
Ah, and then comes the kicker. Science changes, therefore I’m not bound by it and can say whatever crazy theory I want, seizing on seeming hints, clues, lore, hearsay, and anomalies and extrapolating well beyond what they suggest to justify a conclusion I’ve already predetermined in my mind is the correct one. When my views coincide with science, I’ll say I’m thinking scientifically. And when my views clash with science I’ll dismiss it as always changing. Classic doublethink maneuver.
I’ve got bad news for you Jonathan, which is that science mostly doesn’t change. Scientific thinking and discovery has produced a vast number of irrefutable facts that have caused many religious traditions to completely discard some beliefs or dilute them significantly. On the issue of Native American origins, it is just a basic fact that they came to the Americas from East Asia over 6,000 years ago thus refuting nineteenth-century lore about them that holds that they were descendants of Israelite tribes who spread throughout the world 4,000-5,000 years ago. DNA studies confirm their East Asian origins. Sorry, no DNA of Middle Easterners and Egyptians from 2200 BCE to 600 BCE among them.
Lastlemming: “There are much more important things for the brethren to seek revelation on than whether Heartland or Meso is correct.”
I heartily disagree. There is so much “history” in the BoM that it ought to verifiable by now. The only way this sinking church gets bailed out is if the brethren can prove the validity of the BOM, and soon.
Here’s a response to Michael Coe from John Sorenson:
John W- I stand all amazed at your “and then comes the kicker” paragraph. So concise, but so fully packed.
Jack, I looked over the response. It is pure garbage. Full of disingenuous smoke and mirrors and intellectual dishonesty. A couple of examples.
Sorenson said: “In any case, the Book of Mormon never suggests that horses were ridden by anybody.”
Alma 18:10 – “Ammon was preparing his horses and his chariots.” Preparing horses and chariots strongly suggests preparing horses for pulling a chariot or to be ridden.
3 Nephi 3:22 – “Lachoneus had gone forth throughout all the face of the land, and they had taken their horses, and their chariots, and their cattle, and all their flocks, and their herds” People were raising horses and they were “taken”. So the horses were tended, had to have an economic or personal purpose (they weren’t wild) and were regarded as property.
So, while the Book of Mormon doesn’t directly say that horses were ridden, it clearly states that they were domesticated and raised and existed 600 BCE-400 CE. Gee, I wonder why they would domesticate horses. Yummy horse meat I guess.
In response to Coe saying, “they had a compass to navigate by,” Sorenson says, “Not at all. What they had was a device that gave Lehi’s original party travel instructions, but it worked by ‘faith,’ not on any mechanical (‘compass’) principle.” Oh, so they had a magic compass that worked by ‘faith’ and not by magnetism. It pointed the direction of a destination, but how dare we call it a compass (in spite of the fact that it is called that in the Book of Mormon). Wow, that really helps your case there Sorenson.
I get that the fervent desire of the proponents of both theories is to find irrefutable evidence that the BOM is true. To me, it ends up looking like toddlers having a slap fight – lots of furry, a few tears, and precious little “damage” done.
If we are going on historicity, we’ll end up tossing much of the Old and New Testaments. The BOM has many more misses than hits. And if ever there was a smoking gun that missed the mark, it’s the Book of Abraham.
Find value in the standard works and apply it to your life’s journey. That “truth” offers richness, comfort, and inspiration.
This “My dad can lick your dad” is a pointless distraction.
@BeenThere, yes many of the Bible’s stories can be tossed out, eg Adam and Eve, the Tower of Babel, Noah, etc. However, Canaan, Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Sea of Galilee, Augustus, Herod, and Ananias were historical figures, there were horses, chariots, and coins used in the civilizations referred to in the Bible. BOM? Nada.
BeenThere, I’ll add a recommendation of the book Bible Unearthed by Neil Asher Silberman and Israel Finkelstein. I read it a few months ago and was blown away at just how much archaeology has been able to corroborate about the Bible.
vagra2 & John W
No argument from me. Many Bible stories are told about real people in real places. And many are sacred myths told in the same settings.
A political thriller set in modern day Washington D.C. will still be fun to read in a couple of centuries. An accurate description of the library in a Georgetown brownstone makes the story come alive regardless of whether our protagonist is real or not, or whether the story is real or not.
The point is that we can derive value regardless of whether the stories are true (factual), inspiring, or just fun. Historicity makes for a cool story and has the added benefit of imbuing it with believability. Its the claim of “Thus sayeth the Lord” that we need to sort out. If He didn’t, it doesn’t matter how many archeological clues set the stage – He didn’t.
I feel we are ignoring the possibility that the BoM is set in Africa.
John W., the Silberman / Finkelstein book is indeed excellent, but its point is *not* that archaeology corroborates the Bible. In fact it suggests that most familiar OT stories (the Patriarchs, the Exodus, the Conquest of Canaan, the United Kingdom) are more or less completely legendary until well into Kings and Chronicles, when the OT texts began to be composed during Josiah’s reign (and taking their modern shape after the Babylonian Exile). This accounts for such anachronisms as references to camel caravans at the time of Joseph (Gen. 37:25).
I talked briefly about Africa back in January. See https://gospeltangents.com/2022/01/bom-from-middle-east-to-africa/
Michael Ash did a review of the African theory: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1470&context=msr
Zla’od, you’re right that Silberman and Finkelstein don’t validate as true the stories of the OT. But their book seizes on a number of clues about material culture in the OT that do in fact turn out to be held up by archaeology. The existence of Israelites circa 1200 BCE is a huge finding. Now, of course, the Israelites turn out to be Canaanites, but still, a huge archaeological finding. Bible Unearthed is something I now point to in order to debunk a common apologist argument I hear about Book of Mormon historicity being roughly equivalent to Bible historicity. In that, there is so much we haven’t been able to verify about the Bible, and yet it is socially acceptable to talk about it as if it is roughly true and did happen and that the Book of Mormon is kind of the same. Not a whole of evidence to corroborate it, but there is no problem in viewing it as having a core basis in history. This kind of thinking is false equivalence on steroids. Bible Unearthed shows just how much the Bible is actually rooted in history (with a good portion invented, sure). We have nothing of the sort for the Book of Mormon. All, and I mean all, supposed archaeological findings corroborating Book of Mormon historicity are either so loose that they’re not significant (yes, the Olmecs had writing just like many, many other ancient and disconnected civilizations) or they are distorted by the apologists to be significant but unravel upon further scrutiny. Such as the finding that migrants to the Americas had Middle Eastern DNA. Yes, but that was from a 24,000-year-old skeleton of a boy found in Far Eastern Russia.