Alan C. Miner
June 28, 2006
A Chronology of
LDS Thought on Book of Mormon Geography & Culture in the New World
by Alan C. Miner
Over the years as I have studied Book of Mormon geography and the reasoning behind various geographical models which have been proposed, it has become increasingly apparent to me that we need a comprehensive chronology of LDS thought on Book of Mormon geography and culture. For example, as I would be reading someone's geographical or cultural ideas I would invariably come across selected quotes attributed to earlier Church authorities, other LDS scholars, or even non-LDS scholars which were used to bolster certain opinions or perspectives. I would try to evaluate such selected quotes but they were difficult to assess for a variety of reasons: (1) the complete text of the quote was not always printed; (2) the source was not always adequately cited; (3) the source was not readily available--being found only in Special Collections at certain libraries or in some out-of-print book or magazine; (4) there was no attempt to cite all the other pertinent comments of the person quoted that might have added to or changed the perspective; or (5) there was no attempt to cite other scholarly or authoritative thought on the subject, past or present, that might give me some additional perspective on the matter. Confronted with such a dilemma I was invariably forced to stop what I was doing and take the time to investigate. As one can easily see, this source checking ended up being very time consuming. But at the same time that I felt frustration, I also felt appreciation, for I lived close enough to special collections at Provo ( BYU J. Reuben Clark Library, FARMS Library) and Salt Lake City (LDS Historical Dept., Univ.of Utah) --an advantage that students of the Book of Mormon all over the world would be elated to have. Thus I made a commitment to assemble a comprehensive chronological collection of all authoritative statements, all books and articles, all events, and all illustrated models that have both shaped, and been shaped by, the various perspectives of thought on Book of Mormon geography from the beginnings of the Restoration up to the present.
As I proceeded with this project I found it beneficial to categorize ideas into a number of interrelated time periods and themes, each having its own unique perspective yet each contributing to a much larger picture of Book of Mormon geography. In this way I could focus on specific ideas in a multifaceted article or book rather than make some generalized statement for its content. The time periods have been shaped around certain major editions of the Book of Mormon--the first in 1830, a second one at the end of 1920, and another in 1981. Each time period has begun with a new edition, and ended (or at least the first two) with an authoritative Church review of scholarly and authoritative positions preparatory to a new edition. Thus the time periods are chronologically arranged as follows:
A. Beginnings ---> 1920
B. 1921---> 1980
C. 1981---> Present
I have also found it useful to approach the ideas from the following thematic perspectives:
1. Indian Origins and the House of Israel (including Pre-1830 ideas)
2. The Geography of Lehi's Travels to the New World.
3. Book of Mormon Geography of the New World
4. The Geography of the Jaredite Journey to the New World
5. The Geography of the Mulekite Journey to the New World
6. Polynesian Origins
7. External Evidences of Book of Mormon Geography and Culture (including Pre-1830 ideas)
Appendix:An Annotated Chronological List of LDS Periodicals in Which Articles on Book of Mormon Geography and Culture Appeared.
A Series of Biographical Sketches of Selected LDS Writers involved with Book of Mormon Geography and Culture
As of this update there are a total of about 5000 referenced quotes from all three time periods (including pre-1830 sources) and all seven thematic perspectives along with approximately 400 maps. The reader will find that I have also included enough notes, thematic lists, cross-references and endnotes so that each volume reads as a very understandable and revealing chronological report. When all these perspectives are combined they offer a panorama of LDS geographical and cultural thought regarding the Book of Mormon narrative that has never been achieved before.
In this work the reader will encounter a collection of quotes and notes resembling more of a rough draft than a finished product. The reason for this is that my project really is a rough draft--not only in the process of being edited, but continually being expanded in material and perspectives. Thus as the years roll by, this project (although imperfect) will provide an inexpensive reference library on the chronology and development of Book of Mormon geographical and cultural ideas for both layperson and scholar throughout the world.
It might be interesting to note that I began this project with only a few informative works. Of these, John L Sorenson's The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book (FARMS, 1990) and Donald W. Parry, Jeanette W. Miller, and Sandra A. Thorne eds. A Guide to Publications on the Book of Mormon: A Comprehensive Annotated Bibliography (FARMS 1996) were indispensible. Of course years have passed since these humble beginnings, and a multitude of sources have been checked, obtained and studied. I have had many people help me along the way and continue to help, so I would here like to give acknowledgement to a few of these people for allowing me the use of their libraries and files as well as their insight: First to John Sorenson for his willingness to contribute and give encouragement, and also S. Kent Brown, Matthew Roper and Dan McKinley (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies); to Bruce Warren, Garth Norman, T. Michael Smith, Richard Miner and Macoy McMurray (Ancient America Foundation); to Raymond Treat (Zarahemla Research Foundation); to Dennis Moe (Book of Mormon Foundation) who has been an invaluable link to RLDS sources; to Joseph L. Allen (Book of Mormon Tours); to John Hajicek (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints [Strangites]--Mormon Bookstore); to John Heinerman; and to Russell Taylor and Larry Draper along with the workers in the Mormon History Special Collections department and the Periodicals department of the Harold B. Lee Library at B. Y. U. Also to those who have contributed material or read various manuscripts: to David Calderwood (University of Texas at Austin); to Donald Cannon, Cameron Packer & Alex Baugh (BYU Religion Department); to Paul Smith (University of Utah LDS Institute); to George Potter and Richard Wellington (Nephi Project); and to Dennis Davis and Al Shumate. Additionally, while I disagree with their anti-Mormon approaches to the Book of Mormon, I would like to give thanks to the following people for the information gleaned from their research: to H. Michael Marquardt (independent non-LDS researcher & member of the Mormon Historical Association), to Dan Vogel (independent non-LDS researcher); and to Sandra Tanner (Utah Lighthouse Ministry). Finally, I would like to thank Dan Forward who has assembled this information at various times into a workable program on Compact Disk.
Some Pertinent Thoughts on the Study of Book of Mormon Geography
Having spent the years necessary to study most all the significant approaches to Book of Mormon geography and the reasoning behind them, and having made this extensive survey of authoritative thought on the subject, I feel that I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't respond to a few points of concern.
(1) Some will query, Why make the effort to study the culture and geography of the Book of Mormon at all? Didn't George Q. Cannon state in 1890 that "The Book of Mormon is not a geographical primer. It was not written to teach geographical truths. . . . and nowhere gives us the exact situation or boundaries so that it can be definitely located without fear of error?" Moreover, Phillip C. Reynolds adds:
It is folly to associate oneself with any peculiar notion and say of some particular ruin, "This is Zarahemla" or "There is the land of Bountiful." Such ventures in thought are merely guesses, and such speculation leads to confusion. . . . [If] the time comes, or that it is expedient for the saints to have this information, it will come to them through the regularly established source, the prophet, seer, and revelator, the Presiding High Priest of the Church and no one else.
In responding to such perspectives, I think that initially it might be best to clarify what the problem with studying Book of Mormon geography is NOT. The problem is not in whether or not we need revelation on the matter of Book of Mormon geography (most all are agreed on that idea), but rather what preparation is needed before we are granted that revelation. The problem is also not that one should seek to know the truth of the Book of Mormon primarily through an understanding of geography. The book itself testifies to the contrary. With this understood, I can now better respond to the above query.
To begin with it is worth noting that the above quote from George Q. Cannon was part of his editorial thoughts on Book of Mormon geography in the January, 1890 Juvenile Instructor, an official Church periodical. I would also like to point out that the substance of this editorial would be quoted numerous times for the next 100 years (even to the present) by those who have looked upon the study of Book of Mormon geography in a negative way. Moreover, in summing up his thoughts in that article, Cannon stated the following:
. . . we have strong objections to the introduction of maps and their circulation among our people which profess to give the location of the Nephite cities and settlements. As we have said, they have a tendency to mislead, instead of enlighten, and they give rise to discussions which will lead to division of sentiment and be very unprofitable. We see no necessity for maps of this character, because, at least, much would be left to the imagination of those who prepare them; and we hope that there will be no attempt made to introduce them or give them general circulation.
Yet in the September 1, 1908 issue of Juvenile Instructor, edited by Joseph F. Smith, the following is said concerning a Book of Mormon geography map which had been proposed by Joel Ricks:
Everyone who has ever taught Book of Mormon history has felt the need of a good suggestive map of Book of Mormon lands. For a long time, the making of such a map was discouraged. And since we have not had one such map, each teacher has made his own, and we have had a hundred.
Such a condition is almost worse than having no map at all. It leads to endless dispute; and it leaves the pupil with a far worse impression than one map alone, though wrong, or than no map whatever. We are very glad to note, therefore, that at last a Book of Mormon map may be had for use in all classes making a study of that sacred book. The map is prepared by Joel Ricks. Elder Ricks spent considerable time in South America for the sole purpose of locating Nephite historical points. The map is, therefore, prepared by one who has made a special study of Book of Mormon geography. And the map comes endorsed. That is, it is published with the approval and sanction of the presidency of the Church. Of course, the map is not correct in every detail. Indeed such a thing is impossible without special revelation. But this map of Bro. Ricks' is suggestive and helpful. We cannot see how the Book of Mormon can now be sucessfully [sic] studied without it.
In view of the fact that the George Q. Cannon cautionary statement of 1890 would be quoted numerous times in defense of avoiding geography in our studies of the Book of Mormon, it is almost unbelievable that the above statement by Joseph F. Smith would never be quoted in the future to give some kind of alternative perspective to the matter--the perspective being that Book of Mormon maps were okay if some sort of scientific reasoning and critical discussion were applied to their formulation rather than someone just putting some dots on a map. With such investigative effort, the map then becomes "suggestive and helpful." "But some would protest against investigation," wrote B. H. Roberts, "lest it threaten the integrity of accepted formulas of truth--which too often they confound with the truth itself, regarding the scaffolding and the building as one and the same thing."
In the early part of the Restoration, Oliver Cowdery was seeking revelation in order to translate the Book of Mormon plates. He kept waiting for the "easy" answer and had no success. The Lord chastised him with the following words: "Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me." (D&C 9:7) I have always been taught by a wise father that the Lord is not going to give me anything that I can do for myself. He called it the Law of Stewardship. Accordingly, only when I have asked all the appropriate questions, only when I have exhausted all my efforts in seeking to find an answer to those questions, and only when I knock at the Lord's gate being true and faithful in all things will the Lord then open up to me a sufficient understanding of the principle involved in my request (Matthew 7:7). And as time moves forward--that is if the time is right--I might even get a more complete or fuller understanding of the principles involved (D & C 93:13). In the words of Eugene England, "God cannot force our agency or perceptions," for whatever time period we live in, knowledge is 'given unto my servants in their weakness [which must include prejudice], after the manner of their language [which certainly includes world-view], that they might come to understanding' (D&C 1:24)." Even Jesus "received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness." (D&C 93:13) Thus to do little or nothing on your part when questions confront you is to never progress in the knowledge of truth: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you." (Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:9) The need for revelation on Book of Mormon geography is one thing, the need for preparation (however long and convoluted) in order to merit or receive that revelation is quite another.
The object of Book of Mormon geographical and cultural studies should not be geography, in and of itself. Elder Cannon spoke the truth when he said that "The Book of Mormon is not a geographical primer," and that "It was not written to teach geographical truths." Thus we are dealing with conjecture. But it would be a terrible tragedy if in our great desires to understand the message of the great Book of Mormon prophets--men who selected the words they laboriously engraved on the plates with great care and inspiration--it would be a tragedy if we treated their many words on geography and culture too "lightly" (the precise word used in D&C 84:54 by the Lord in chastising the members of the Church with respect to their lack of attention to "the things you have received" in the Book of Mormon). Indeed, it was Nephi himself who lamented the fact that part of the reason that his people had trouble understanding the scriptures on the Brass Plates was that he had not taught his children sufficiently "after the manner of the Jews" (2 Nephi 25:3-6) and that part of this deficiency had to do with the knowledge of geography and culture. He explained that his own doctrinal understanding of the scriptures was significantly greater because he had dwelt at Jerusalem, and he knew "concerning the regions round about." ( v. 6) So if Nephi wrote on the Small Plates according to "the learning of the Jews" (1 Nephi 1:2), and Mormon "chose these things" [the ideas expressed according to the "learning" of Nephi on the Small Plates] "to finish my record [Mormon's abridgment from the book of Mosiah to the end] upon them" (W of M 1:5), and if Moroni notes that what he writes "has been commanded by my father" and that his father Mormon "hath written the intent" of the record (Mormon 8:1, 5), then perhaps the geographical and cultural phrases of our present-day Book of Mormon might lead to a greater overall understanding of the message of that book. Thus while the study of Book of Mormon geography and culture might not be considered as a worthy end in itself because as Elder Canon says, the book was "not written to teach geographical truths"; nevertheless the study of Book of Mormon geography and culture should be considered as a completely acceptable and worthy endeavor if its aim is to lead to a greater understanding of what the Book of Mormon prophets wanted us to know.
(2) Some might look to the promise in Moroni 10:4 and say that what is most important in our reading of the Book of Mormon is that we come to know that it is true, and that such a testimony is only obtained by faith and prayer. We read:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost."
To this I would fully agree, but then respond, "keep reading what Moroni had to say!" For in the following verse we find the following: "And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." It is one thing to obtain a testimony of the truthfulness of the record, quite another to maintain that testimony and come to know of what truths the record testifies. Only a spark is required to begin a fire--to see the light and feel the warmth--but one needs to add fuel (importantly of the correct type and amounts) to keep that fire burning bright and hot. B. H. Roberts, the foremost intellectual of his time and the chief defender of the Book of Mormon during his tenure as a General Authority of the Church stated the following:
To be known, the truth must be stated and the clearer and more complete the statement is, the better opportunity will the Holy Spirit have for testifying to the souls of men that the work is true. While desiring to make it clear that our chief reliance for evidence to the truth of the Book of Mormon must ever be the witness of the Holy Spirit, . . . I would not have it thought that the evidence and argument presented . . . are unimportant, much less unnecessary. Secondary evidences in support of truth, like secondary causes in natural phenomena, may be of firstrate importance, and mighty factors in the achievement of God's purposes.
Much like the seeds in the Parable of the Four Soils, a testimony of the Book of Mormon will become vulnerable to attack by various forces that might weaken or destroy it. In preparing for such attacks I subscribe to the same attitude as that which Elder Jeffrey Holland attributed to Elder Neal A. Maxwell: "Let's know more than anybody else knows [about the Book of Mormon]. Let's not have anyone else tell our story. . . . What critic should ever be able to tell us anything we haven't already examined in depth?" Wisdom dictates that if geography and culture are part of the story of the Book of Mormon, they must become part of our study, and ultimately part of "all things" that the Lord will help us understand through faith.
(3) Is "guessing" about where the Hill Cumorah might be, and "challenging" the words of the prophets on Book of Mormon geography harmful? Does anyone have the right to raise doubts in anyone's mind?
From my perspective, problems have arisen in the study of Book of Mormon geography not because people completely ignored the statements of early Church leaders, but because they chose to be selective in regards to the statements which they quoted. And as they became more dogmatic in what and who they chose to quote, they were inevitably forced to choose which authoritative statements about Book of Mormon geography they wanted to believe and which ones they wanted to ignore. In reality, past authoritative statements are not always so clear or harmonious as one might make them out to be. For example, in 1887 George Q. Cannon wrote an editorial about Book of Mormon geography in the Juvenile Instructor in which he declared that there were only "a few points [of Book of Mormon geography] which can be identified," and "beyond these few points, it may be said that the sites of the cities of the Nephites are left to conjecture." One of those points which he identified was "that the landing place of Lehi and his family was near what is now known as the city of Valparaiso, in the Republic of Chili." Yet rather than state the source from where this information came, Elder Cannon just said the following: "The book itself does not give us this information, but there is no doubt of its correctness." Unfortunately, Elder Cannon failed to bring up the fact that in the September 15, 1842 edition of the Times and Seasons there was an editorial by Joseph Smith or John Taylor to the effect that Lehi "landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien [Panama]," which is hundreds of miles north of Valparaiso. To this we might add that shortly before his death in 1918, President Joseph F. Smith declined to officially approve of a map showing the exact landing place of Lehi and his company saying that the Lord had not yet revealed it. So the question arises, What statement or authority do we believe?
In the same 1887 Juvenile Instructor article cited above, Elder Cannon stated, "While the Book of Mormon does not give us all the information necessary to identify the river Sidon under its modern name, it is understood that the Prophet Joseph communicated to some individual or individuals that it was the stream now known as the River Magdalena." Now according to the text of the Book of Mormon the city of Zarahemla was located on the River Sidon, and according to modern geographical maps the Magdalena River is located in South America in the country of Colombia. Thus, according to this tradition cited by Elder Cannon, the city of Zarahemla would have been located in South America in the country of Colombia. Yet in the October 1, 1842 edition of the Times and Seasons there was an editorial by Joseph Smith or John Taylor to the effect that the city of Zarahemla was near Quirigua, Guatemala, in Central America. So again, are we supposed to believe what is written or what is heresay when both sources come from Church authorities? To complicate matters even further, in the April Conference of 1929, after bringing up the question of Book of Mormon geography and such questions as "Where was the City of Zarahemla? and other geographic matters," President Anthony Ivins would declare that "there has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question. Once again, which statement do we accept and which do we ignore?
In the April 1928 Conference shortly after the Church acquired the New York hill where Joseph obtained the plates, Anthony W. Ivins, then first counselor in the First Presidency, praised the purchase saying that "the memories of the remote past which cluster round this sacred spot . . . make the acquisition of this almost an epochal accomplishment in the history of the Church." And after citing a number of scriptural passages and events found in the Book of Mormon relating to the Hill Cumorah (Hill Ramah) he noted that "all of these incidents to which I have referred, my brethren and sisters, are very closely associated with this particular spot in the state of New York." Yet in 1939, after years of study, the Washburns would publish the most definitive LDS study to date of geographical relationships as detailed in the Book of Mormon. In this report they would say the following:
There seems to be no evidence in the record to justify the universal belief among our people that the Jaredites and Nephites moved their entire civilizations more than four thousand miles from the original homes to northeastern United States. It appears that where they lived, there also they died. . . . May we not, then, say for the present that our sacred hill Cumorah in New York is a namesake of another once-bloodstained and no less appointed place in the homeland of the Jaredites and Nephites? Such at least is the trend of much of the thinking of today."
Thus a dilemma surfaced of which Elder John A. Widtsoe had the following to say in 1950:
There is a controversy about the Hill Cumorah--not about the location where the Book of Mormon plates were found, but whether it is the hill under that name near which Nephite events took place. A name, says one, may be applied to more than one hill; and plates containing the records of a people, sacred things, could be moved from place to place by divine help. . . .
As far as can be learned, the Prophet Joseph Smith, translator of the book, did not say where, on the American continent, Book of Mormon activities occurred. Perhaps he did not know.
Yet in a 1954 article in the Church News, "By Joseph Fielding Smith, President of the Council of the Twleve," Elder Smith denounced "this modernistic theory" of two Cumorahs, which he complained had done nothing but create "confusion and disturb[ance] in [the] faith in the Book of Mromon" of "some members of the Church." He also stated that "The Prophet Joseph Smith himself is on record, definitely declaring the present hill called Cumorah to be the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon."
In the year 1990 in response to a question about the location of the Hill Cumorah, the following response was sent from the Office of the First Presidency: "The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon." Yet in 1993, when the Limited Mesoamerican scholars at FARMS complained about this statement, they were sent the following FAX:
"The Church emphasizes the doctrinal and historical value of the Book of Mormon, not its geography. While some Latter-day Saints have looked for possible locations and explanations because the New York Hill Cumorah does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Cumorah, there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site that has been suggested.
So again, what statements do we accept and what do we ignore? While scholars claim that the Church does not have any "official doctrine" on Book of Mormon geography in general, do they fail to call attention to the fact that the Church has "long maintained" an authoritative position on the Hill Cumorah? Are past statements of the Brethren more important than any scholarly interpretation of the text regarding the location of the Hill Cumorah? Do the writings and does the authority of Nephi, Mormon & Moroni, the authors of the Book of Mormon text itself, hold any weight against statements of their modern-day Brethren? Or do we really have to choose between scholarship and authority?
Before answering the above it might be wise to review once more a few of the questions concerning authoritative thought as it relates to scholarship. Given the subject of Book of Mormon geography, (1) Can we ignore the statements as early as 1830 that have Lehi landing "in Chili" and "in South America"? (2) Can we ignore the Hemispheric Theory that had its beginnings at least by 1830 with Oliver Cowdery and Parley P. Pratt (and possibly Joseph Smith)? (3) Can we ignore the details of the Hemispheric Theory supplied as footnotes in the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon itself by Orson Pratt (and approved by the First Presidency)? (4) Can we ignore the 1838 identification of the city of Manti by Joseph Smith in northern Missouri? If we can't ignore these statements, (1) Are we forced to ignore the September 15, 1842 editorial by Joseph Smith or John Taylor in the Times and Seasons to the effect that Lehi "landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien [Panama]"? (2) Are we forced to ignore the October 1, 1842 editorial by Joseph Smith or John Taylor in the Times and Seasons to the effect that the city of Zarahemla was near Quirigua, Guatemala? (3) Are we forced to ignore the fact that in the Book of Mormon text itself the city of Manti is located in the land southward. (4) Are we forced to ignore the clues in the text which place the final battles at the Hill Cumorah near the narrow neck of land? Once again, must we be forced to choose between scholarship and authority?
While the Church has been put under commandment to "teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom" (D&C 88:77), the Lord has given us some insightful perspectives in how we should approach this undertaking:
Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand; of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are . . . and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms (D&C 88:78-79)
In Webster's Dictionary the word "theory" is defined as "a hypothesis to explain something." In relation to the things of God as outlined above it amounts to the guidelines and the limited "knowledge" that we have that might lead us to the actual truth, which only comes through doing. The Lord does not promise us immediate truth in these doings, he only says that if we are diligent in our actions based on theory, then he will be merciful in judging us. The Lord encourages us in this uncertain quest by having us seek after "all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient" for us to understand. Webster's Dictionary defines the word "expedient" as "proper under the circumstances." Thus we might ask, Is there anything wrong with Book of Mormon geography being classified as "theory," or that the study and comparison of past authoritative statements in hopes of gaining new perspectives might be considered "proper under the circumstances"? I don't think so. Do we hold too closely to (or condemn too easily or too harshly) any "theory" concerning Book of Mormon geography that does not suit our perspective? I would hope not, because sometimes new ideas can only come when perspectives change, and sometimes perspectives change only as a result of changing circumstances. Can I give an authoritative example of seeking new perspectives rather than trying to defend an idea which was no longer "expedient" for our understanding? Yes I can. Until the early 1920's, the prevailing belief of the Church was that the Jaredites came to a pristine continent devoid of people because the book itself appeared to say nothing about other people. Furthermore, because the prophet Ether in the Book of Mormon said that the two battling factions of the Jaredites were completely destroyed in their final battles (with the exception of the one surviving yet severely wounded leader named Coriantumr), it was believed that Lehi's party also came to a pristine continent. Yet archaeological discoveries at the beginning of the 1900's and certain related geographical and cultural references in the Book of Mormon soon began to severely challenge that notion. In attempting to come up with a viable solution, B. H. Roberts said the following:
Can we successfully maintain the Book of Mormon's comparatively recent advent of man in America . . . ? If we cannot, what is to be the effect of it all upon the minds of our youth? What is to be our general standing before the enlightened opinion of mankind? Is silence to be our answer? Again will occur to thoughtful minds the difficulties attendant upon silence. In the last analysis of things silence would be acknowledgement of defeat. Silence in an age of free inquiry is impossible. . . . To stand up and say to the modern world we place our revealed truth against all the evidence and deductions of your science, and await the vindication of new evidence yet to be discovered, is heroic; but is it, and will it be convincing?
While the problem seemed large for Roberts in the light of the established traditions of his time, continued study eventually brought forth much more understanding on this subject, and perspectives were changed.
In 1844 Joseph Smith said the following: "I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions." (Joseph Smith, D. H. C. 6:183-185, January 20, 1844) While equating Book of Mormon geography with "the things of God" is an individual matter, I still have to believe that those who hold too tightly to traditional ideas (backed by selective authoritative statements about Book of Mormon geography), and shut their eyes to additional perspectives, might just put themselves and those that look up to them in jeopardy of "flying to pieces." In the same manner, those who hold too tightly to intellectual traditions run the same risk.
In conclusion, I would have to take exception to the idea that anyone who questions a traditional authoritative statement on Book of Mormon geography is "challenging" the words of the prophets, especially when some of these authoritative statements appear to be in conflict with each other. All members of the Church, to a greater or lesser extent, are commanded to teach one another diligently as both "students" and "teachers" of what the Book of Mormon contains. In fulfilling the capacity of a teacher, and while established doctrine is paramount, much of what we perceive is considered "theory." And when it comes to the area of Book of Mormon geography, there is a great difference between a person who is knowledgeable in what has been said concerning Book of Mormon geography, but chooses not to "bear testimony" of it in his teaching, and one who is forced to ignore it or dismiss any questions concerning it out of ignorance on the subject, or worse yet, one who becomes dogmatic on some selective "traditional" idea (be it intellectual or authoritative) simply because it is the only thing that he has been taught and he feels no need to look any further into the matter. While teachings of doctrine are given priority in Church classrooms, the teachings of science and intellect are given priority in the University setting. Despite the fact that Book of Mormon geography and culture might not be addressed in a Church classrom setting, we all should realize that sooner or later in the privacy of one's personal study corner, questions about culture and geography will invariably be asked because a student can easily deduce that if the doctrine of the Book of Mormon is true, then the history, geography and culture described in that book should be correct also. Concerning the importance of correctly addressing these sincere questions (whether voiced or silent) about the various statements that have been made concerning the culture and geography of the Book of Mormon, I will turn to Austin Farrer, who in writing about C. S. Lewis said: "Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish." In other words, quoting Henry Eyring, "If we teach our pupils some outmoded and nonessential notions that fail to hold water when the students get into their science classes at the university, we run grave risks. When our proteges shed the bad science they may also throw out some true religion. . . . Don't defend a good cause with bad arguments." Thus wisdom dictates that sincere and patient inquiry should not be equated with "raising doubts," or "challenging" the words of the prophets on officially revealed doctrine. Yet in integrating or addressing culture and geography in our study and teachings of the Book of Mormon, it should be done in the most "proper" manner possible for our circumstances.
(4) How does one account for the many testimonies that have been given by those who have stood upon the New York Hill Cumorah and contemplated the last battles of both the Nephites and Jaredites that were fought in that vicinity?
First of all, a testimony of the Gospel or the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon is quite different than a testimony of Book of Mormon geography. I have always felt that at least in the area of Book of Mormon geography a "testimony" represented a personal testament--what people have said concerning the New York hill Cumorah they have said as a matter of faith and what was proper for their circumstances in their time. Thus I feel that "testimonies" should be respected and honored. However, the knowledge upon which individual faith rests can sometimes change, especially when the subject involves theory or tradition. The Lord deals with people in their own times and circumstances in a manner sufficient or "proper" to sustain their faith. If modern advances in knowledge require new perspectives, then the Lord will provide sufficient new knowledge to sustain faith. However, sometimes this new sustained faith comes at the expense of old traditions or old theories. Realizing this, one should be careful not to "canonize" some person's selective theory on Book of Mormon geography simply because he was an early leader of the Church. Gordon Wood, an eminent American historian, makes a similar argument in cautioning against inordinate hero worship of the great men of early America. He writes: "We Americans make a great mistake in idolizing . . . and making symbols of authentic figures who cannot and should not be ripped out of their time and place." Along similar lines, while respecting and honoring the intellectual knowledge of our time, we should be careful not to "worship" the intellectuals or their intellectual theories that challenge our theories and traditions to the point that it destroys our faith. We must be patient in our quest for understanding.
Although I cannot speak for any Church Authorities, I am quite sure that I am not the only ordinary member of the Church who has stood upon the top of the Hill Cumorah in New York and has felt a sacred spirit there as I gazed at the countryside for miles around pondering the possibilities of the final battles between the armies of the Nephites and Lamanites being fought in that vicinity. I nevertheless do not believe that the spirit that I felt there was necessarily meant to confirm to me the geographical locality of those final battles but rather the verity of those events. Furthermore, I believe I felt the spirit there because it was there at that New York place where Joseph Smith received the plates from Moroni--an act which would forever stand as a testament to the world that the Lord had fulfilled his covenant promise that He would bring forth His word to all nations in the latter days. Interestingly, in the dedicatory speech of the Moroni Monument at the New York Hill Cumorah site, David O McKay, second counselor in the First Presidency, said the following:
We are not erecting [the monument] to perpetuate the deeds of Moroni, nor are we erecting it to honor his father Mormon, nor indeed to perpetuate the life and deeds of Joseph Smith. . . . This monument is built as an expression of gratitude for the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and as a manifestation to all the world of our faith in the personality and divine fatherhood of God.
I might add that in 1991 I had the opportunity to personally visit the Hill Vigia in Veracruz, Mexico (another proposed site for the Hill Cumorah) as part of a tour of "Book of Mormon lands," and I also felt a special spirit there as I contemplated the circumstances of the final battles. Accompanying us on that trip was one of the Quorum of the Twelve, in addition to the heads of the Church Educational System and some knowledgeable members of the BYU Religion Department. While I hope that they felt some sort of spirit at the Hill Vigia, I do not believe that the Lord was under any obligation to have them experience the same feelings as I did, nor to extrapolate those feelings in regards to Book of Mormon geography. One does not have to attack or destroy the beliefs of others in order to be edified in their own studies. In regards to one's "testimony" regarding Book of Mormon geography, I believe that The Holy Ghost leads a person to all-truth by communicating through the spirit in a manner sufficient for that person's needs, and that those needs are different for each individual at a certain time and a certain place in life's journey. I believe that our Church leaders also have the responsibility to communicate what is proper for the Church in their times. The differences are neither incompatible nor irreconcilable.
(5) Could the future change our attitude towards those authoritative statements of the past or those scholarly theories on Book of Mormon geography that we presently have?
Certainly! As part of a Church of continuing revelation it is my understanding that the knowledge or "truth" that is sufficient or "expedient" for one generation may not necessarily be sufficient for the generation that follows (see D&C 88:78-79). We have been challenged to seek wisdom in our modern world "by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118). Additionally, to those involved in the study of Book of Mormon geography, it becomes readily apparent that we should not go forward on just the two principles of study and faith alone; we must add to them the principles of patience and tolerance. Let me explain:
Study: As to study, Sidney Sperry noted that "Too many persons in every generation, including our own, hope for things--fantastic things--in the name of faith and religion, but give little thought as to whether or not they are based on truth." While the idea of "truth" can be elusive, any study of Book of Mormon geography today should not expect serious intellectual consideration to be given to faulty reasoning, insufficient evidence, or ideas resulting from a lowered standard of scholarship or study.
Faith: In pursuing one's studies, intellect should not act alone, and thus faith becomes an essential second part of the equation in seeking wisdom. But just like intellect, faith should not act alone, for as James E. Talmage told an audience at the Logan Temple: "Faith is not blind submission, passive obedience with no effort at thought or reason. Faith, if worthy of its name, rests upon truth; and truth is the foundation of science." John Welch gives this fine example of faith and intellect working in harmony:
I also like to think of faith and reason as two arms working together to play a violin. One hand fingers the strings and the other draws the bow. When these two distinct functions are brought together with skill and purpose, they produce expressions that ontologically transcend the physics of either part individually. According to this view, for an LDS scholar to proceed on either spirit or intellect alone is like trying to play a violin with only one arm.
Patience: To the first two principles of study and faith we can add patience. Although patience might be considered part of faith, I feel that it also deserves some special consideration as a necessary part of intellectual study. In regard to the value of patience in our endeavors to understand the geography described within the pages of the Book of Mormon, we find these wise words from President Hugh B. Brown, who counseled: "With respect to some things that now seem difficult to understand, we can afford to wait until we have all the facts, until all the evidence is in . . . If there seems to be conflict, it is because men, fallible men, are unable properly to interpret God's revelations or man's discoveries." That we might be reassured during these troubled times when conflicting ideas tug at our soul, Elder Neal A. Maxwell has given us these comforting words: "Science will not be able to prove or disprove holy writ. However, enough plausible evidence will come forth to prevent scoffers from having a field day, but not enough to remove the requirement of faith." There is a great story in the biography of Camilla Eyring Kimball that I have tried to incorporate into my life:
Camilla had a philosophy about religious problems that helped her children. She said that when things troubled her, she put them on the shelf; later when she looked at them again, some were answered, some seemed no longer important, and some needed to go back on the shelf for another time.
Tolerance: Finally we come to the principle of tolerance. I believe that in seeking wisdom in the field of Book of Mormon geography, one should be tolerant of other views. John Welch warns us that "As with all tools, the mind must be carefully used. Like a hammer, the intellect can be used either to build up or to tear down." There is no "winner" to be chosen in some imaginary Book of Mormon geography debating contest where one rises to the top by making unwarranted derogatory statements about someone else's theory, highlighting only their weak and imperfect arguments, and questioning the authority or spirituality of the individual or individuals involved in bringing forth such a theory. Rather, on the matter of Book of Mormon geography, we can be open and grateful for any gems of light and truth coming from whatever theory, imperfect as it may be. I would like to emphasize again that Book of Mormon geography is only a contributing part to a much larger picture of a restored covenant gospel. In coming to know this restored gospel contained in the Book of Mormon (and thus possibly coming to an understanding of the part Book of Mormon geography plays in that restored message) we would do well to consider the words of Elder Dallin H. Oaks:
The Lord's prescribed methods of acquiring sacred knowledge are very different from the methods used by those who acquire learning exclusively by study. For example, a frequent technique of scholarship is debate or adversarial discussion, a method with which I have had considerable personal experience. But the Lord has instructed us in ancient and modern scriptures that we should not contend over the points of his doctrine. . . . Gospel truths and testimony are received from the Holy Ghost through reverent personal study and quiet contemplation.
Thus study, faith, patience and tolerance are indispensable for the Book of Mormon geography student.
(6) Some might ask me, Do you have a particular geographical theory that you want to promote, or are you not sensitive to what historical analysis can do to the esteem we hold for certain individuals?
First of all, the only agenda I have sought in this study has been to project informative historical perspective with minimal bias, to "seek learning, even by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118). In this historical review of Book of Mormon geographical thought I have often been reminded of the words of John Taylor:
A man in search of truth has no peculiar system to sustain, no peculiar dogma to defend or theory to uphold; he embraces all truth, and that truth, like the sun in the firmament, shines forth and spreads its effulgent rays over all creation, and if men will divest themselves of bias and prejudice, and prayerfully and conscientiously search after truth, they will find it wherever they turn their attention.
I want truth, intelligence, and something that will bear investigation. I want to probe things to the bottom and to find out the truth if there is any way to find it out.
Yet in seeking after the truth, we must be prepared for the consequences. Many times it takes a great amount of faith and courage to accept the truth when the time comes. As Janne Sjodahl once taught, "the divine promise, 'Seek, and ye shall find,' never fails, but in the search for truth, it often happens that preconceived ideas must be given up." Hubert Howe Bancroft, an eminent scholar on the history of the Americas writes:
Theories in themselves are good things, for they lead us to facts; it is often through the doubtful or the false that we attain the truth; as Darwin says: "False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often long endure; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, as every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness; and when this is done, one path towards error is closed, and the truth is often at the same time opened." (Descent of Man, vol. ii, p. 368)
In the area of Book of Mormon geography, some of these preconceived "facts" might be perceived as coming from authoritative figures. On the other hand, some of the preconceived "facts" that lead us to condemn these authoritative figures might be of our own intellectual making. In addressing the difficulties of looking back at the actions or statements of honored men in the Church, B. H. Roberts said the following in his preface to volume 1 of A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1930):
It is always a difficult task to hold the scales of justice at even balance when weighing the deeds of men. It becomes doubly more so when dealing with men engaged in a movement that one believes had its origin with God, and that its leaders on occasion act under the inspiration of God. Under such conditions to so state events as to be historically exact, and yet, on the other hand, so treat the course of events as not to destroy faith in these men, nor in their work becomes a task of supreme delicacy; and one that tries the soul and the skill of the historian. The only way such a task can be accomplished, in the judgment of the writer, is to frankly state events as they occurred, in full consideration of all related circumstances, allowing the line of condemnation or of justification to fall where it may; being confident that in the sum of things justice will follow truth; and God will be glorified in his work, no matter what may befall individuals, or groups of individuals.
Thus in reviewing the history of commentary on Book of Mormon geography, I hope that I can avoid any feelings of condemnation towards any individual, high or low, for the ideas they have put forth. Rather I hope that I can promote an appreciation for the effort that both Church authorities and individuals have put forth through the years in order to further the work in this field of study as they saw it. I also hope that others can judge me in the same light.
Conclusion: In concluding this section of commentary I would like to say a few words on my studies in Book of Mormon geography and culture. I want to state that I have always considered this work a continuing process where insightful ideas on Book of Mormon geography are to be mined like gems in a mountain of theory, where perspectives are always varied, and where opinions are subject to change. There has not been a week go by that I have not found some new insight, question, perspective or correlation to add to the existing pages of quotes. Thus I hope the reader will excuse me if they fail to find in my work the dogmatic conclusions or the definite finality that they might be seeking. In my approach I have tried to always keep in mind the words that J. F. Gunsolley once wrote in regard to the study of Book of Mormon geography: "Let us not be in a hurry to drive stakes because we may have to pull them up, and when the time comes and the [hidden] records come forth then opinions will be set aside." In the meantime if I have missed any pertinent statements, information or insights, or if I have been erroneous in what I have written, I would welcome anything that one might send my way.
--Alan C. Miner