I’m excited to have a Mesoamerican expert on the show. Brant Gardner is an antropologist, and he tells why he thinks the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica. We’ll talk about anachronisms, and Brant will give his take on the other theories, from Africa to Baja to Heartland. Can a faithful person believe in evolution and an old earth? Brant will answer. Check out our conversation…

Hemispheric Model

GT  14:14  Okay. Interesting. It seems like, and I remember reading John Sorensen’s book. I can’t remember the name of it, the blue book.[1] One of the things that he said, it seems like in the early days of the church, people thought it was more of, like, Panama was the narrow neck of land and North America was the land of Nephi, and South America was where the Lamanites lived. I talked to Shannon Caldwell Montez, recently, and she said in 1922 there was the, I think it was Ivins was one of the first people to propose more of a limited geography theory and more Mesoamerica. I also remember, there’s a revelation or something. I don’t know how to describe it. But there’s something written down where Joseph Smith said that Lehi landed 30 degrees south latitude, which we would call Chile, probably. So, can you talk about how Sorenson and/or you reconcile some of those statements and the history of Book of Mormon geography?

Brant  15:42  You start off with trying to find out what Joseph believed. And it’s pretty obvious as you read what Joseph said, what we have from other people, that they began as believing that the entire hemisphere was–the entire New World was the Book of Mormon land. And if you look at any map, it’s really obvious. You get down to Panama, and you’re going to go, “Okay, yeah, that’s a pretty narrow neck.” And you obviously have a land southward. You obviously have a land northward. And they pretty much believed that. The other thing that they, obviously, believed is that because Book of Mormon lands encompassed all of that, any Indian that they found was going to be a Book of Mormon related Indian. And so, they would preach to the Lamanites as they went off, because their worldview was that everybody was explained by the Book of Mormon. That begins to change a little bit. Even at the times when Joseph Smith learns about Mesoamerica and he gets excited about it. He gets excited about it, because they’re really cool ruins. The Book of Mormon said there were civilized people. And everybody was saying, “Well, yeah, the North American Indians don’t appear all that civilized to me.”

Digging into Meso

GT  22:36  Okay. I know there was another reference to some ruins found in the Yucatan Peninsula. How far is that from Guatemala? Is that relatively short distance, or it seems like it’s a little bit farther than that.

Brant  22:52  Guatemala is the heel of the boot, and everything that you’re talking about is the Peten, which is the toe of the boot. So most of what we see is the foot. That’s up into where the Usumacinta goes. There’s a lot of Maya ruins up in there. Particularly, it’s called the Maya lowlands. You come out of the highlands of Guatemala, there’s a mountain range. Then, you drop down into the lowlands. And down into the lowlands is where you start getting the famous forests. And so those are the places where there were really big Maya civilizations. And so, it’s really tempting to say that the Book of Mormon took place there, because you have really cool ruins there. It’s sort of like saying, the New Testament must have taken place, maybe in Egypt, or Greece, because all of the ruins are really cool there.  And they’re not nearly as cool in Israel. My reading of the Book of Mormon is that Zarahemla was not necessarily as sophisticated as its cousins around it. Because it’s the Book of Mormon and we love the Book of Mormon people, we like to think that any pretty ruin is Nephite, and an ugly ruin is Lamanite.  But I think it was probably the reverse.

DNA Problem

Brant  32:20  Yeah, I mean, let’s just take the hypothesis that the Nephites landed on the Gulf Coast of Guatemala, somewhere in the ballpark, of 600 BC. How many people did they have in the boat with them? Sorenson suggests that, maybe 30. And that’s including people that are not named, some servants and some other people that might have been there that weren’t named in the family. So, maybe 30 people. They land on that coast. You’ve got 30 people who have to learn how to survive in a new area, in a new world where they don’t know the plants. They don’t know which ones will kill you, if you eat them. They don’t know the animals. They’re not sure which of the snakes are poisonous. And there are snakes all over the place. I mean, they’ve got a problem of how to live in this brand-new world. So, obviously, they’re going to learn what they can from the people around them. And in 600 BC, in the foothills of Guatemala, that could have seen the approaching sail, we’ve got six different communities of at least 1000 people. So, who do you go to? Well, what do you do? So you start with 30 people, and at some point in time you would like to procreate. Your children would like to have spouses. Do they take their brothers and sisters as spouses? Well, no. Who do you take as a spouse? You take people who are around you. You take the other population? Of course, you do, which means that very, very quickly 30 people’s DNA gets mixed into millions of people’s DNA. How much of that is available to us to trace 1000 years later? And the answer is [that it’s] unlikely that you’ll find anything. And the other reason is, we don’t know to whom to compare it [to.] Again, we don’t have a lot of DNA that is specifically, well, in the case of Lehi, related to the northern tribes, because he was one of the northern tribes. So, we’d have to get DNA from the North, but we don’t know where the sons of Ishmael would have come from.

GT  40:32  The other thought that comes to my mind are the Lemba tribe in Africa. Are you familiar with them?

Brant  40:38  Yeah.

GT  40:39  So, tell us about the Lemba Tribe.

Brant  40:43  I mean, the Lemba are people who claim Jewish heritage, and they migrated down into that area. You’ll have other places, and they can trace some of their DNA back. So, the comparison is, people will say, “Well, why don’t the Lemba create a comparison to what happened with the people in the Book of Mormon?”

GT  41:09  Right.

Brant  41:10  Here’s a people–and in the real reason is, the immigration group was significantly larger. When the Lemba come down, they come down as a large community. And it’s a sufficient community where you can be insular and marry within the community, rather than have to go outside, so they can keep themselves separate. And they did. So, we find the genetic lineage there, because they were able to keep themselves separate. Why were they able to do that? They had a large enough immigrating community, that they could consistently keep themselves separate from everybody else, and still generate the progeny. Thirty people aren’t going to do that. You just don’t have enough of the people of Lehi to do that. The other indication that we have coming from the Mulekites. Again, is it’s a small population. So, the only place where we have a possibility of a larger one is with the Jaredites. But, again, that gets far enough back into history that it’s, again, difficult to trace, not to mention the fact we’re not exactly sure where they came from.

GT  42:20  So you think the Lemba Tribe was much larger than 30 people?

Brant  42:22  Oh, yeah. Yeah, I think it moved as a large community,

GT  42:27  Because they look like just your typical black Africans.

Brant  42:31  Oh, yeah, sure.

GT  42:32  It’s strange that they have, I guess, Cohen DNA or whatever, the Cohen haplotype.

Brant  42:39  Yeah. And the way you keep that is that you have a more persistent lineage. So, you marry and other people. But if you have a large enough population, you can keep that that DNA line going. But you have to have a large enough population. For example, the Cohen lineage is going to–that marker, if I remember correctly, is passed down through male lines.  What happens if you’ve got 30 people and of the 30 people,15 are male. And out of the 15 males, six of them–let’s call it five, so I can do the math. Five of them only have daughters. Well, now I’ve got 10 left for the sons, but the more daughters you have, and the fewer males that produce sons, the fewer are going to pass on the patriarchal lineage and the paternal DNA. Everybody has mothers, and so that’s why maternal DNA is usually where things are traced. Because that’ll go from daughters, to sons, to everybody. So, maternal DNA, usually, works better. Paternal tends to be shorter, because you have those breaks when you don’t have a son. But, again, the DNA doesn’t really bother me, because you have so many reasons why that small population coming into a larger population, over 1000 years, it just isn’t going to persist.

GT  44:16  I mean, you said they were insular. Sorry, go ahead. Say that again.

Brant  44:20  I think the Lemba is a more unusual case, because they were able to keep culturally and, obviously, highly genetically separate.

GT  44:32  So you think they were insular as they came down, and then…

Brant  44:37  Yeah.

GT  44:38  How big do you think they were when they came down?

Brant  44:40  Oh, yeah. I mean, I’m not an expert on them, so, I would be totally guessing. So, I have no clue. But the very fact that there’s a population of them that continue to exist and continue to hold the same stories of their ancestry tells me that that’s a community that has persisted. You have to have a community that persists in order to have that. The other thing we have, again, in the Book of Mormon, that we keep forgetting about is we have the end of the Book of Mormon where it says the Lamanites were purposefully trying to wipe out anybody who is Nephite. So we don’t know–what we know is that by the time they become Lamanite, they’re not insular enough to even remember what their lineage may or may not have been. So, even in that, they’re different from the Lemba. Or there was a group of Jews from the Diaspora, I think, who went to India, and were found. Again, they sort of kept together. So, we find those kinds of groupings, but we don’t find any evidence that any of that happened in the new world. And in the Book of Mormon, there’s really no indication that that should have happened. There’s just, genetically, [it’s] too rare to find that lineage.

Not Narrow Neck? Extermination?

GT  46:12  Okay. So, let’s jump back to the boot, if I can remember that. And I don’t know my geography as well as you do. So please correct me if I make any mistakes here. So, Guatemala is kind of the toe. is that right? Is that what you said?

Brant  46:29  The heel.

GT  46:30  The heel of the boot.

Brant  46:31  Yep.

GT  46:32  Okay, so that’s the heel, then it kind of goes up into the Yucatan. Is that right?

Brant  46:37  Yes.

GT  46:37  And then [west,] I guess.

Brant  46:41  The really thin ankle up there is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. And that’s what’s considered the narrow neck of land.

GT  46:50  Oh, I was going to ask that. Because when I look at the Yucatan Peninsula, I’m like, that’s not very narrow.

Brant  46:55  No, and the people who use the Yucatan, in that model, like it best, because they like the north-south orientation, but it’s really hard to redefine a narrow neck. And, again, that’s one of the reasons why I like better what’s happening in Sorensen’s [model] is you’ve got a narrow neck there. The difficulty with the narrow neck is, and frankly, the difficulty with anything that we do, looking at ancient geography, we cannot help but be modern people and look at modern maps. The ancient world didn’t have modern maps. They didn’t have anything that looked at all like what we have. They may or may not have even understood what those general relationships were. If you get ancient maps, at least in Mesoamerica, they’re very stylistic. It’ll say, “Here are these four mountains, and we’re here in the middle.” Well, yeah, you can find those four mountains. But that’s a really interesting map, because it isn’t trying to tell you how to get somewhere, it’s trying to say, “I am defining myself in this particular area of the world.” But the other thing about looking at the maps from our perspective, is we look at the isthmus of Tehuantepec, “Well, that’s too big. It should be narrower than that.” And the reason is, we have these units of distance of a  two-day’s journey for a Nephite. It’s a distance of a day and a half. And it takes longer than that to get across the isthmus of Tehuantepec. But those come because of defensive lines. The descriptions there are, this is a defensive line across this narrow neck. In Book of Mormon times, it wasn’t that the neck was any narrower. It’s that a large portion of the Gulf of Mexico side was marshland, which is really difficult to get through. And it serves as its own barrier. So, you don’t really have that.

We’ve just reviewed the Mesoamerican model for the Book of Mormon with Brant Gardner. Now I’m going to ask Brant to review other theories, including Baja, Malay, Africa, & Heartland. We’ll also discuss faith and science. Check out our conversation…

Strengths/Weaknesses Heartland

GT  02:55  Even though you’re not interested, do you see any strengths and or weaknesses that you’d like to share with the Heartland theory?

Brant  03:11  The strengths and weaknesses of the Heartland theory?

GT  03:13  Yes, of the Heartland theory.

Brant  03:15  I think it has two strengths. One is it allows people the culturally historical ties to the New York Hill as the Hill Cumorah. Without question, that was a theme in the early Church. People believed that. And the fact that they make a geography that fits, that allows them to keep that, that’s a strength. It’s a strength that it fits the most common reading of certain prophecies about Promised Land. I probably read those very differently, but they’re very much in line with the way they have been traditionally read. And I think that also is a strength. I think the weakness is everything else. Let me give you an example. The last time I remember looking at the [Heartland] geographic model, you have to find a narrow neck of land. Every Book of Mormon geographer knows you have to find a narrow neck of land. And if I remember correctly, they were looking at a narrow neck of land just north of like, Buffalo and the Great Lakes. There’s a narrow neck that kind of leads up, fits narrow neck really, really well. It doesn’t fit the Book of Mormon text, because that narrow neck is northwest of the Hill Cumorah in New York. And so that puts the Hill Cumorah to the southeast of the narrow neck. In the text of the Book of Mormon, it says you have to go north of the narrow neck and then east in order to get to Cumorah. So, it’s completely contrary, you’ve got the wrong narrow neck, if that’s your narrow neck. And I don’t know where you’re going to find a narrow neck anywhere south of that. So the narrow neck doesn’t work. Distances have a problem. There are no horses to ride on. So, you’re on foot traffic.

Brant  03:56  I mentioned that to Jonathan, and he said, “Well, you’ve got rivers, right?”

Brant  05:23  Yeah. And he does river travel. There was an article that I know about and will not mention until it’s published, but I’ve read the draft. And it looks at the idea of river travel. And, absolutely, river traveled down river helps.  Upriver, it’s faster to walk in many cases. So, the rivering idea is really good if you only have to move in one direction. So, if they’re always going downstream, it works. As long as nobody ever goes in the other direction, it works. Except they always go in the other direction. So, it’s just not going to work in the article that will give the documentation on that–well, the way publication works, you won’t see it for a year, but somewhere a year from now.

Uto-Aztecan Language

GT  16:51  Very good. You mentioned Aztec culture. I believe, if I remember right, Brian Stubbs, do I have his name right?

Brant  17:02  Yes.

GT  17:03  He’s done some work on languages.

Brant  17:05  Yes. Uto-Aztecan.

GT  17:07  Say it again.

Brant  17:09  Uto-Aztecan.

GT  17:10  Yes, and so he’s found some Semitic origins, (can I say it that way?) with Uto-Aztecan, which is not Mayan.

Brant  17:22  It’s a very different language sect.

GT  17:24  Yeah. And so, I was wondering if you could comment on that.

Brant  17:30  Briefly, briefly. I’m not a fan.

GT  17:36  Oh.

Brant  17:37  It is the best work that has been done and the only work that has ever been done that does the correct linguistic work to try to get sound changes. So, it looks the best of anything that’s ever been done. I have some discomfort with some of the methodology. I have some discomfort with the way he’s developed certain explanations, datasets used. I have a big problem with the language group. The Uto-Aztecan family includes Paiute, Ute, so it’s a language group that is very much Western Rocky Mountain, Southwestern, and then moves down into Mexico. All of the indications are that it’s not moving into Mexico until after the time of the Book of Mormon. So, from everything I can tell about the Book of Mormon, no matter how good it looks, it’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. So that leads me to wonder about the rest of it. I know that Stubbs does look at some evidence for Uto-Aztecan being further south at an earlier time period. I think that still makes it extremely difficult to figure out how any kind of Semitic word language change affects the entire group, because you have to go way back into, again, the origins of these languages to get them to spread through all of the families. It does not impress me. Now, I’m not as good a linguist as I would need to be, to be able to give you really good reasons. I can just say I don’t think that works.

GT  19:47  Because the time period is off and then the location’s off.

Brant  19:49  And the location, yeah. I think it’s really interesting stuff for the wrong place at the wrong time.

Baja Theory

GT  21:20  I was wondering if I can get your opinion on a couple other theories, too, Baja, California.

Brant  21:30  Baja.

GT  21:30  That’s relatively close to Mesoamerica, right?

Brant  21:33  Yeah.

GT  21:34  Plus, it’s a peninsula, a narrow neck of land.

Brant  21:38  Yeah, I mean, geographically, and I’ve seen some good agricultural information that may work. And so, there’s some interesting strengths about it. It has one big drawback. Nobody ever lived there. So, I have a hard time putting Book of Mormon people, and the populations and the movements of populations and the wars, I can’t put it there, because there’s zero evidence, archaeologically, that that ever happened. So, yeah, geographically, it’s a nice theory. But that goes back to what I said about geographies. The problem with geographies is everybody can come up with one. Once you have a geography, you have to go somewhere else to try and find out whether or not that geography actually works. And where do you go? Well, you go to the text, and how well the text interacts with what we know of the culture at the time and in that place. And if they match, that’s good. If they don’t match, we’re going, “Okay, that’s a disqualification.” So, I think the fact that there were no good populations there, I think that’s a real drawback to that report.

GT  22:56  Even if it was just 30 people that came? (Chuckling)

Brant  23:01  With the Book of Mormon, where you’re talking about how many people are fighting, I mean, the fact is, the Book of Mormon explains lots of cities and lots of big cities and lots of population. [There’s] zero in Baja. So, yeah, as a geography, it’s really interesting. As a correlation to the real world, it doesn’t work.

Malay Theory

Brant 25:09  And Malaysia has some really interesting correlations.

GT 25:11  That’s where I was going next.

Brant  25:12  Malaysia is interesting. I wrote a review of that.

GT  25:17  I knew that, yeah.

Brant  25:20  Although it’s very interesting. Geographically, it’s got some other problems. It doesn’t have as many cultural [problems], because it does have cities and populations. What you have is a very difficult time–and I think the worst of it, it is very difficult to explain the destruction in 3rd Nephi. We don’t have any way of doing it. Krakatoa is there. But the island of Java is in between, and so Krakatoa, any tsunami that’s going to hit, is far enough away that Java is going to disperse it and it’s not going to get up into the Malaysian peninsula. So, yeah, there were a couple of other things where I was looking at it and the geography didn’t seem to work. Interesting, because there are some cultural things that work better than Mesoamerica. You get elephants. That’s kind of nice.

GT  26:19  Yeah.

Brant  26:20  But, yeah, some of the other geography–and again, there’s no way to explain 3rd Nephi. I don’t think you can explain 3rd Nephi and Baja. I know that the Heartlands try to explain 3rd Nephi with the Madrid Fault. The problem with that is, that’s a fault and it creates an earthquake. Earthquakes are very quick. Jerry Grover is the best geologist on this, and it has written about it in his book on the Geology of the Book of Mormon. It is essential reading for people who really want to know stuff. And since he’s a geologist, I’d say, two thirds of it is really dry, which I would say to his face, and then he would laugh and say, “Yeah, you’re right.” Jerry is extremely self-aware. He knows his stuff. But you’ve got to have it in order to be able to get to the interesting parts. And as he points out, he says, “The problem with the description in the Book of Mormon is they last for hours. Earthquakes are over quickly in minutes.” So, yeah, you can have a terrible earthquake–and it talks about the shaking of the ground in the Book of Mormon. But everything that’s going to happen with the shaking around, it’s minutes, and it’s over. You may get an aftershock. We know earthquakes. Many people have been through earthquakes. And they’re quick. [They’re] terrible, but quick. They don’t last for hours on end, which is the definition we get in the Book of Mormon.

We cover other theories, including Middle East and Africa. What are your thoughts?