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Evolution of Thought


Evolution of Book of Mormon Related Geographical & Cultural Thought



     Dr. Henry Eyring, professor of chemistry at the University of Utah published a book in 1983 called Reflections of a Scientist. In it he mused about the relationship between religion and science. The book concludes with the following"

     As parents and teachers we pass on to our children and pupils our world picture. Part of this picture is religious and part of it deals with the world around us. 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. The solution is to avoid telling them that the earth is flat too long after it has been proved round. Don't defend a good cause with bad arguments.

     So I am certain that the gospel, as taught in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is true. It's a better explanation of what I observe in science than any other I know about. There are still lots of things I don't know, but that doesn't bother me. I'm a happy muddler. The gospel simply asks me to find out what's true as best I can and in the meantime to live a good life. That strikes me as the best formula for living there could be. (Reflections of a Scientist. S.L.C.: Deseret Book, p. 101)


     In 1909, B. H. Roberts said the following:

     Let me here say a word in relation to new discoveries in our knowledge of the Book of Mormon, and for matter of that in relation to all subjects connected with the work of the Lord in the earth. We need not follow our researches in any spirit of fear and trembling. We desire only to ascertain the truth; nothing but the truth will endure; and the ascertainment of the truth and the proclamation of the truth in any given case, or upon any subject, will do no harm to the work of the Lord which is itself truth. Nor need we be surprised if now and then we find our predecessors, many of whom bear honored names and deserve our respect and gratitude for what they achieved in making clear the truth, as they conceived it to be--we need not be surprised if we sometimes find them mistaken in their conceptions and deductions; justa s the generation who succeed us in unfolding in a larger way some of the yet unlearned truths of the Gospel, will find that we have had some misconceptions and made some wrong deductions in our day and time. . . . All which is submitted, especially to the membership of the Church, that they may be prepared to find and receive new truths both int he Book of Mormon itself and about it. (B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God , Vol. II. (3 Volumes), Deseret News: Salt Lake City, 1909, pp. 503-504)


     It is in this same spirit that I submit the following chronological summary of those events that have shaped the evolution of thought on Book of Mormon geogarphy. This summary is built on the previous works by John Sorenson and Joseph L. Allen.[ ] and historical information recorded by A.A.F (S.E.H.A.). The reader should also be aware that all the documentary statements pertaining to the summary are contained in the footnotes. So let us begin.



     Book of Mormon geography as a whole was not part of the picture to the early saints (and apparently not even to Joseph Smith). What was important was the coming forth of the record and the spread of the gospel. To that end, it is not surprising that the understanding of geography ("tunnel vision geography" if you will) related only to the "obvious" source of the record (the "hill Cumorah") there in New York, and the places to which the early Church members were to carry the gospel (to "the borders of the Lamanites"). According to John Sorenson:

     To the saints, the one sure fact was that the plates had come out of the hill in New York, therefore, it was felt, that must have been the scene of the final Nephite battle. Furthermore, there is no evidence that early Latter-day Saints, any more than other frontier people of the time, differentiated among "Indians." An Indian, anywhere in the United States and by extension anywhere in the hemisphere, was considered generically pretty much like any other Indian. . . . Consequently, a Lamanite was a Lamanite was a Lamanite to a Book of Mormon believer in the 1830's.


     It is important to note that in relation to the Lord's reference to "Lamanites" and "the borders of the Lamanites" in revelations recorded during this time period (and beyond), the Lord also made it clear that he speaks to men "after the manner of their language" and understanding (see D&C 1:24). Thus the words like "Cumorah" and "borders of the Lamanites" were sufficient for the times. They "brought home" the truth of the Book of Mormon in an immediate way.



     While traveling through Illinois on June 3, 1834, members of Zion's Camp located a few bones, including a broken femur and an arrowhead, approximately a foot below the earth's surface, and these remains became the catalyst for revelation to Joseph, regarding the skeleton's identity. Joseph identified the man as "Zelph" and stated a number of things concerning him. This information was recorded in diaries or journals by a number of different men. Joseph also wrote a letter to his wife Emma at this time. The dilemma is that while all the accounts are generally consistent, they all have differing pieces of information. As to what facts were crecorded properly and what were not we probably will never know. However, whether the "facts" were recorded properly (or even whether now they might be interpreted to have any bearing at all on Book of Mormon geography) might not necessarily be the most important perpective to take about these incidents. To the men that were there, the question was only whether the Book of Mormon was true, and whether Joseph Smith was a prophet. That is, the early saints were saints because they followed the voice of authority and a book. The Book of Mormon was part of the picture much more for its spiritual impact than its intellectual impact. It is easy to observe that Book of Mormon geography as an intellectual process was not part of that picture. These men (including Joseph Smith) would not have quibbled over details concerning a Book of Mormon geography that they knew nothing about; rather they would only have focused on an authoritative "proof" of the Book of Mormon. Thus all "facts" reported by these men should be taken with this in mind.



     Statements regarding Book of Mormon geography during the years 1835-1840 can be viewed in the same light as those recorded previously but with one exception. For the first time we come across an authoritative statement that the site of Lehi's landing was "the western coast of South America." This implies a developing hemispheric model of Book of Mormon lands, even though such knowledge might have amounted to only a general outline concept of North and South America.



     In this established Nauvoo period, we find a number of statements, and the first impact of published ("scientific") information on Book of Mormon geography. Charles Blancher Thompson wrote a book, Evidence in Proof of the Book of Mormon, printed in Batavia, New York, in 1841 which dealt with antiquities in the New York area. Additionally, John M. Berhhisel sent from the east to Joseph Smith a copy of John Lloyd Stephens' Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan. a sensational "best-seller" in both the United States and England. Mr. Stephens had documented and illustrated his travels through the jungles and ancient ruins of Central America. Both books stimulated treatment relative the Book of Mormon in the Nauvoo Times and Seasons. Nevertheless, the main focus appears to be, as before, validation or "proofs" of the Book of Mormon story, not a treatise on Book of Mormon geography.

     Also during this time, the first official Church account of the Zelph incident was compiled and edited from previous accounts by Willard Richards. Whether any of the editing mattered to the saints who had already heard the various stories is doubtful, but future readers would be influenced because the information from the various accounts was written as if it all came from one person's diary (written in the "first person" form).



     During the Exodus and Utah Pioneer period, there were obviously more important things to do besides studying Book of Mormon geography. The statements from this period belong exclusively to those encharged with the duties of printing material for the Church (Orson and Parley P. Pratt to be precise), a job which was handled from the distant shores of England. From whatever studies they made, or whatever sources they sought, it is apparent that as time passed, they developed a more detailed hemispheric model of Book of Mormon geography. However, John Sorenson sounds a note of caution about the efforts of this time period:

     For at least the first 50 years of the Church's existence, virtually everyone who thought in detail about and then put thier thoughts in print on any gospel topic were few in number. . . . whatever efforts at thoughtful study had to be sandwiched among urgent, time-consuming duties like missionary labors and eking out a living on the frontier. . . . We must realize that the Book of Mormon was not an object of careful study in the early days of the Church, in fact it was referred to surprisingly little. The scripture anchored faith and clarified aspects of theology, but it was not studied systematically, let alone critically, as history or goegraphy. For example, even Orson Pratt, who was one of the best informed and had one of the most logical minds among Latter-day Saints of his day . . . supposed that the Jaredites brought "elephants, cureloms and cumoms (very large animals)" with them across the Pacific Ocean on their barges [even though] the Book of Ether fails to say anything about elephants or cumoms on the barges (the vesels were, after all, only "as long as a [temperate zone] tree"--Ether 2:17). [Yet] even if the incongruity of Pratt's assertions had been detected by an alert reader, there was no medium nor atmosphere to allow pointing it out. . . . [During this time period] failure to study the Book of Mormon with care was joined with limited knowledge of the external world to prevent anything like the kind of careful study of [Book of Mormon] geography that is possible today. Besides, the predominant objectives of 19th century Mormonism--to gather and establish the Church in a safe home base and to preach the gospel--turned the attention of most people in direcitons that did not call for and did not really allow "analyzing" the scripture.



     The years immediately following this period of print ruled over by the Pratts were filled almost entirely with accounts of the feelings of authorities of the Church as they returned to "where it all began"--the "hill Cumorah" in New York. Additional stories circulated about Moroni personally dedicating the sites of the St. George and Manti temples. Thus in retrospect, it is easy for me to see that such authoritative and spiritually moving accounts solidified the position of the New York hill as the main peg in the developing Book of Mormon geographic model. It is no surprise to find "the New York hill Cumorah" among Orson Pratt's hemispheric geographical footnotes appearing for the first time in the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon. Pratt's basic model was that the entire North American continent was the Land Northward and the entire South American continent was the Land Southwasrd. The Isthmus of Panama was designated as the Narrow Neck of Land. He proposed that Lehi landed near Valparaiso, Chile. With these and other notes included in the scriptures, this model became the standard for most Latter-day Saints.


[Map: Book of Mormon Lands as Viewed by Orson Pratt (1879). Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 185]



     During these years, the specific idea that Lehi landed in Chile (thus implying a hemispheric model) was not only backed up by some authoritative endorsments, but designated for teaching: (1) the 1836 statement of Frederick G. Williams was reprinted in James A. Little and Franklin D. Richards' "A Compendium of the Doctrinres of the Gospel" printed by the Deseret News; (2) articles by George Reynolds and A. H. Cannon appeared in the Juvenile Instructor aimed at intruction in "the Sunday Schools in Zion"; and (3) an article by B. H. Roberts appeared in the Millennial Star. It was however, as John Sorenson points out,

     the [accumulated] writings of George Reynolds which affected the most people. He was personal secretary to Brigham Young and then secretary to the first Presidency in the administrations of Presidents Taylor, Woodruff, Snow, and Smith. He was simultaneously one of the presidents of Seventy for nineteen years. It was while he was a prisoner in the Utah territorial prison from 1879 to 1881 as a result of a famous test case over polygamy taht he began his work. An early fruit of his effort was the series of pieces in the Juvenile Instructor whcih ran between 15 November 1880 and 1 February 1881. Amplified somewhat, these then were published in 1888 as The Story of the Book of Mormon, the first popularizaation based on the scripture. Because of Reynold's intimate connections with the key Church leaders and his ties with its media (he was assistant editor for the Instructor and associate editor of The Deseret News), his book quickly reached best-seller status, apparently being published five separate times within the year 1888 (twice in Salt Lake, twice in Chicago and once in Independence)! [Reynold's work] culminated int he 1899 publication of the monumental A Complete Concordance of the Book of Mormon. What Reynolds did was to flesh out and somewhat rationalized the outline geography Pratt had presented in the footntoes of the Book of Mormon. He explicitly agreed with Pratt and cited the footnotes at times . . . Yet he noted that other men ahd somewhat different ideas. . . . [although still hemispheric models differing little from Pratt and Reynolds] One seems to have been Karl G. Maeser, who with student Heber Comer, mapped a model in 1880 at the Brigham Young Academy in Provo.


[Comer and Maeser 1880 Model, John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: pp. ]


     Another hemispheric model was introduced (author unknown) in a pamphlet titled Plain Facts for Students of the Book of Mormon with a Map of the Promised Land.


["Plain Facts" 1887 (Minimal External) Model, John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: pp. ]


     Still another model was in development by B. H. Roberts about the year 1888, and apparently there began to be many more. As one student was to remark: "there [are] so many [models] entertained by so many men that theory after theory spring[s] up all around the country. . . . we know the whole thing is in a shape that my opinion is as good as the other fellow." People were creating hemispheric models where variations were slight and substantiation was lacking.



     The year 1890 is marked with an authoritative word of caution about the many maps of Book of Mormon geogarphy that were being promoted. With no basis for their reasoning other than an author's opinion, Elder Cannon could obviously see "that suggestive maps prepared by these brethren would confuse instead of enlighten," and he cautioned them to avoid promoting them for "the present time." Yet sadly, some people have carried this quote beyond those "present times," even to our day implying that Book of Mormon geography was not intended to be understood (thus somehow setting it apart from the process of understanding the more imortant doctrine that is found in the book). However as John Sorenson notes:

     One thing evident in all the discussion is that neither the proponents of the many map correlations nor Elder Cannon found anything intrinsically wrong in pursuing such studies, only in the confusion and isunity that resulted. There is no trace of a viewpoint that the geograpahy of Book of Mormon events had been settled, by Joseph Smith, Orson Pratt or anyone else.



     In the almost 20 years subsequent to George Q. Cannon's statement, printed items related to Book of Mormon geography were remarkably few and only repeated information stated previously. There is one interesting happening worthy of note however. Joseph Allen writes that in 1901, Benjamin Cluff, president of Brigham Young Academy, requested and received permission from the First Presidency of the Church to form a "Zarahemla Expedition." The expedition's intent was to locate the Land of Zarahemla in Colombia, as they felt that he Magdalena River was the best candidate for the River Sidon. The general feeling of the organizers of the expedition was that the heartland of the Book of Mormon was in Central and South America. Still the general thinking of the day was thet the history of the Book of Moromn covered a large amount of ground from South America to North Ameirca. The expedition never reached colombia because of a revolution int he country. However, regarding he accomplishments of the expedition, Cluff wrote that the expedition served to open to the Mormon peole a knowledge of the countries on the South where they bellieved the ancient Nephties and Lalmanties lived and to stimulatle intrest in the ancient ruins of central and South Ameica-- specifically to date those ruins. However, most significantly, Cluff noted that they probably furnished some evidence to corroborate the theory of Anthony Ivins and other Book of Mormon authorities that the narrow neck of land spoken of in the Boo of Mormon as being "a Sabbath day's journey for a Nephite from sea to sea, was the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. This appears to be the first documentation of any theoretical changes that mgiht have been proposed that the Narrow Neck was any place but Panama.



     The years from 1909 to 1920 were marked by remarks and actions which distanced the Church somewhat from the Orson Pratt hemispheric theory of Book of Mormon geography that had developed through the years. In his writings of 1909, B. H. Roberts, a great champion of the Book of Mormon, concluded from his studies that between 600 B.C. and 46 B.C., the Nephites were confined to a relatively small area. He also cast doubt on the statement of Frederick G. Williaims regarding the site of Lehi's landing in Chile on the western coast of South America. And his statement concerning one's openness to "new discoveries in our knowledge of the Book of Mormon" seemed to close the door to the whole of South America being the land southward. In 1918, the associate editor of The Instructor published a statement about the Frederick G. Williams statement saying that it was "subject to grave doubt." He also ran a note that he had overhead President Joseph F. Smith to say that as far as Book of Mormon geography was concerned, "the Lord had not yet revealed it."



     In 1920 a Church committee (composed of Orson F. Whitney, Antony W. Ivins, Joseph Fielding Smith, Melvin J. Ballard, George E. Richards, and James E. Talmage) was given the assignment of preparing a new 1921 edition of the Book of Mormon. They met "to give certain brethren an opportunity to state their views regarding the geography of the Book of Mormon." After hearing many hours of presentations on the geography of the Book of Mormon, they saw fit to delete all of Orson Pratt's geographical footnotes from the new edition of the Book of Mormon. Thus the hemispheric model was being modified but the full geographic picture of the Book of Mormon was still unsettled. However, the one point that seemed without question was the New York Hill Cumorah. The years that followed saw an initial thrust of pressure by informed students of Book of Mormon geography toward Church officials to modify their stance on the New York Cumorah. Jean Driggs presented his material to James TAlmage [NOTE} However, in 1927??? the Church purchased the site of the New York hill and with it came an official authoritative entrenchment on the New York hill Cumorah. [NOTE} However, students continued to study the Book of Mormon geography intensily and in the 1930's the ideas derived therefrom led to an "internal map" which showed that hill Cumorah by necessity was located near the narrow neck. This map was developed by [ ] and they met with and presented their ideas to Joseph Fielding Smith. This led once again to a statement by Smith reinforcing a commitment to the New York hill. [NOTE}


     1925Jean Driggs Book of Mormon Model--the first adequate LDS map of Middle America--the first LDS to maintain that the hill of the final battle was in Central America.

     1930      Beginning of serious archaeological excavation work (Exploring 49)

1930's      Silvanus Morely, father of archaeology of Yucatan--Classic ruins - Chichen Itza and Uxmal (Ex, p. 48)

     1938      Lynn C. Layton--the first "internal" model of the Book of Mormon

           1939J. Alvin and J. Nile Washburn--An Approach to the Study of the Book of Mormon--First detailed internal analysis of Book of Mormon geography--They demonstrate convincingly that the extent of the map was restricted by the text itself to a few hundred miles. Moreover, the layout tended to favor Central America although no external statements are made.


1955??: The highly popuolar multivolume Commentary on the Book of Mormon by George Reynolds and Janne Sjodahl.

 (volume IV has a copyright of 1959)





1957? 1962-1967:

     In 1957? (1962) the Church brought forth a special large-print student edition of the Book of Mormon that included a number of colored prints illlustrating Book of Mormon culture. This was to be purchased and used by all Seminary students for use in their classes for a number of years. Included with an array of Arnold Friberg illustrations were pictures of cultural artifacts from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Columbia and Peru. However most distintively at the beginning of the book was a large print of the New York hill Cumorah with the word "CUMORAH" carved out of folliage on the hill and with the title "The Hill Cumorah" at the bottom of the page (see Illustration). Thus without overtly declaring so, the implication of the prints was a hemispheric model with a New York hill Cumorah.


[Illustration: "The Hill Cumorah," The Book of Mormon, 1962, preface.]



     Starting in 1968, A Compnion To Your Study Of The Book of Mormon began to be used for Religion 121, 122, 421, and 422 at B.Y.U. This was carefully prepared by Daniel Ludlow to avoid the subject of geography in the New World. Most interesting is his quote of the Frederick G. Williams information regarding Lehi's travels through Arabia (Richards & Little "Compendium, 1925 edition), but which is cut off before the mention of Lehi's landing in Chile. No maps are included in the commentary.



     In 1979 the Church Educational System prepared a commentary for use in all its Religion 121-122 classes for the next 10 years. There were a few cultural pictures from Mexico, Guatemala and Peru. However while there were some outline maps of Lehi's travels through Arabia, there were no maps of the New World (in America). Most telling, however, is a quote from Doctrines of Salvation, 3:233-34 (see the notation for 1938) with the heading as follows: Mormon 6:1-6. Where Did the Last Great Nephite-Lamanite Battle Take Place?" The following words are in italics: "the Propohet Joseph Smimth himself is on record, definitely decalring the present hill called Cumorah to be the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon." Thus the concept of a hemispheric model with a New York hill Cumorah was apparently the model authorized to be taught by Church authorities.



     In 1989 the Church Educational System prapared a commentary for used in all its Religion 121-122 courses for the decade which followed. Photos of cultural artifacts from both North America and South America are conspicuously absent. There is however an intnernal map prepared by Daniel H. Ludlow. A caption at the bottom states: "Possible comparative relationships for use of the sites mentioned in the Book of Mormon based on internal evidences. No effort should be made to identify points on this map with any existing geographical locations (cf. 3 Nephi 8:5-18)." While locations for the Land Southward (appearing much like South America) are detailed on this map, the Land Northward is left quite ambiguous and a location for the hill Cumorah (hill Ramah) is conspicuously absent. However, included in the commentary for Ether 2:7-10 is a statement by Marion G. Romney while standing on the "hill Cumorah" in New York. On this hill he contemplated "the events which occurred in that vicinity some twenty-five centureies ago--events which brought to an end the great Jaredite nation." Thus, once again, without overtly stating as much, the concept of a hemispheric model with a New York hill Cumorah was still established in the authorized teachings of the Church.


[Illustration: Map: "Possible Book of Mormon Sites (in Relationship to Each Other)." Church Educational System, Book of Mormon Student Manual , 1989, p. 163.]






The Mesoamerican Theories can basically be categorized in two different ways: (1) As to which of two rivers was the Sidon: The Grijalva or the Usumacinta; and (2) as to whether cardinal directions were the basis of Joseph's translation or whether directional terms in the Book of Mormon could be interpreted in a different manner: Cardinal Directions vs. "Nephite North."




     The following is a list of authoritative statements and notable research steps that have been taken toward a greater understanding of Book of Mormon culture and geography. They have been separated into three groups: (1) those statements that tended to sustain the New York hill Cumorah in a hemispheric setting; (2) those statements that tended to sustain the New York hill Cumorah while assuming that most of the Book of Mormon story happened in Central America; and (3) those statements and research steps that supported not only a limited region for the B of M. story, but the location there of the hill Cumorah. This approach naturally favors Mesoamerica.





1827      In retrospect from 1845, Lucy Mack writes (History of J.S.) that Joseph went to the "hill Cumorah."

1829      In retrospect from 1878, David Whitmer writes of meeting Moroni who was going to "Cumorah."

1830      Revelations (D&C 28:8-9; 32:2) the "borders of the Lamanites" and sending men to the "Lamanites."

1830      Revelations (D&C 49:24; 54:8) "Lamanites" and the "borders of the Lamanites."

1832      W.W. Phelps--prairies of the far west = "land of desolation."

1834      Joseph Smith (Zions Camp) to Emma--wandering on "the plaines of the Nephites."

1834The Zelph Incident (Zions Camp): "Lamanite" skeleton. Reuben McBride, Moses Martin, Wilford Woodruff, Levi Hancock, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith.

1835      Oliver Cowdery (Mes & Adv.) N.Y. "hill Cumorah" place of last Jaredite battles.

1836      Frederick G. Williams note: Lehi landed in Chile ("30 degrees south latitude")

1838      J. Smith (History of the Church) refers to "tower hill" where "remains of an old Nephite altar" stood.

1838      A. Jenson: infers that J.S. said that Huntsville, Randolph County = "ancient site of the city of Manti."

1840      Orson Pratt: "the western coast of south America" is the site of Lehi's landing.

1841J. Smith letter concerning J. Bernhisel's gift of J.L. Stephens' Incidents of Travel: "of all histories . . . pertaining to the antiquities of this country it is the most correct, luminous & comprehensive . . . [it] supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon."

1842      Times and Seasons book review: B of M people "are the authors" of antiquities of eastern U.S.

1842      Times and Seasons book review (J.L. Stephens' Incidents of Travel) = proof of B of M.





1842      Times and Seasons remark concerning John Lloyd Stephens' ruined cities: "The city of Zarahemla . . . stood upon this land" (Central America)      


1843      Willard Richards (Manuscript Hist. of the Church) "Compiled" Zelph Incident: Written in "first person"

1843      Times and Seasons book review (J.L. Stephens' Incidents of Travel) = proof of B of M.

1844Mosiah L. Hancock: (retrospect Autobiography) infers that J.S. said at this time that "Nephites lost their power" in (pointing to) Mexico.

1845      Lucy Mack dictates (History of J.S.) that Joseph went to the "hill Cumorah."

1848      Orson Pratt (England): Most Book of Mormon cities were in northern South Amer.& Cent. Amer.

1848      Orson Pratt: Nephites pursued from the city of Desolation (Yucatan) to N.Y. hill Cumorah.

1849      Orson Pratt: Stephens' book confirms Book of Mormon.

1851      Parley P. Pratt      Lehi landed in "Chili."

1855      Parley P. Pratt (England): Lehi landed in Chile.

1866Orson Pratt (England--Millennial Star): Nephi at the time of the crucifixion resided in "the northwestern portions of South America" The "Hill Cumorah is situated in western New York."

1868Orson Pratt (England-Journ. of Dis.): Jaredites landed near Gulf of California, migrated eastward to New England states. "Their last struggles were in the Satae of New York."

1870      Orson Pratt: Savior appeared at the temple in "the northern part of South America."

1872Orson Pratt (England-Jour. of Disc.): Lehi landed "in Chili, not far from where the city of Valaraiso no stands" The city of Zarahemla was near the mouth of the Magdalena river. Hagoth launched his ships from "near the Isthmus of Darien. Nephites migrated to the "great Mississippi Valley." At time of Christ, Nephites dwelt in North America & part of South America. The last great battle was at the N.Y. Hill Cumorah.      

1873Brigham Young Jr. and George Q. Cannon visit N.Y. Hill Cumorah. Written acct. in Millennial Star. Special feelings contemplating the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites.

1874Brigham Young chooses site for St. George temple "because the Nephites had previously dedicated that very site."

1877      Brigham Young (Journ of Disc.): Joseph & Oliver went into cave of records in the hill Cumorah [N.Y.].

1877Brigham Young dedicates site for St. George temple: "Moroni stood and dedicated this piece of land."

1878      David Whitmer account published of seeing Moroni on way to "Cumorah."

1878Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith visit the N.Y. hill Cumorah. "The spirit of prayer, of blessing and prophecy rested upon [them]."

1879      Orson Pratt's hemispheric model of geography inserted in the 1879 Book of Mormon as footnotes.

1880      George Reynolds (Juvenile Instructor): Lehi landed in Chilli.

1882Richards & Litle (Compenium of the Doctrines of the Gospel) include Frederick G. Willilams note that Lehi landed in Chile.

1883William Smith: the final Nephite war "commenced at the Isthmus of Darien" and ended at "the hill Cumorah near where Palmyra, NY now stands."

1886      A. H. Cannon (Juvenile Instructor- for Sunday Schools) Lehi landed "on the coast of Chili."

1890George Q. Cannon: First Presidency have declined to prepared a suggestive map of Nephite geography. "We have strong objections to the introduction of maps and their circulation among our people which profess to give the location of the Neephites cities and settlements."

1899      Reprint of 1835 Oliver Cowdery statement on the hill Cumorah in New York (The Improvement Era).





     1904      B.H. Roberts (History of the Church): Zelph incident recorded as in 1843.


     1909B. H. Roberts thinks it proper "to dispel . . . a misapprehension of the extent of Nephite occupancy of the North Continent." "no further northward than southen parts of Mexico" "in other words, the Nephties were occupying the old sead of Jaredite empire . . . the land of Moron." Frederick Williams note is in doubt. We should be open to new truths about the Book of Mormon even despite what revered predecessors have said.

       1918Frederick Pack (The Instructor) Frederick Williams note is in doubt. Joseph F. Smith said that the Lord had not yet revealed an official map of Book of Mormon geography.

     1928B.H. Roberts: The facts "eliminate all doubt about the [N.Y.] hill recently purchased for the Church" being the site of the last battles. (The Deseret News)


1934      Joseph Fielding Smith: Re-edits the Zelph Incident from 1843 & reprints it in the Documentary History.

1938Joseph Fielding Smith (The Church News): "Modernistic theory" has arisen limiting Nephites to area around the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The statements of the early brethren must be upheld!


           Two "Cumorah"




           1921Geographical footnotes first included in 1879 in Book of Mormon (Orson Pratt's continental perspective--without supporting evidence) are finally taken out of the Book of Mormon

           1917Louis E. Hills--RLDS--the first Book of Mormon model strictly limited to Mexico and Central America.

           1925Jean Driggs Book of Mormon Model--the first adequate LDS map of Middle America--the first LDS to maintain that the hill of the final battle was in Central America.

           1930      Beginning of serious archaeological excavation work (Exploring 49)

     1930's      Silvanus Morely, father of archaeology of Yucatan--Classic ruins - Chichen Itza and Uxmal (Ex, p. 48)

1938      Lynn C. Layton--the first "internal" model of the Book of Mormon

           1939J. Alvin and J. Nile Washburn--An Approach to the Study of the Book of Mormon--First detailed internal analysis of Book of Mormon geography--They demonstrate convincingly that the extent of the map was restricted by the text itself to a few hundred miles. Moreover, the layout tended to favor Central America although no external statements are made.

           1938-44Itzan Society, Berkeley, Tom Ferguson and Wells Jakeman (MAA p. 250)

           1939-41      Veracruz & Tabasco (La Venta), Matthew Stirling (Ex, p. 49)

           1943      Drawings of Izapa by Matthew Stirling of visit in 1941 (ex 116)

           1946Kaminaljuyu report--Alfred Kidder, Jesse Jennings, Edwin Shook-Carnegie Institute of Wash. (Ex, 49)

           1946Wells Jakeman to BYU, Department of Archaeology formed (MAA 252)

           1946-1960Wells Jakeman Chairman of Dept. of Archaeology at BYU (Arch Dig. #1, 13)

           1947      Cumorah Where? Tom Ferguson (MAA 253)

           1949      University Archaeological Society (UAS) founded

           1950Ancient America and The Book of Mormon Ferguson and Milton R. Hunter (MAA 253)

           1952      New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF)

           1953      Wells Jakeman--4 part Stela 5 in UAS Bulletin

           1955-59      250,000 granted by LDS Church to NWAF

           1956-69Edwin Shook, Univ. of Pennsylvania & Guatemalan government--Tikal (Exploring, p. 49)

           1956      Chiapa de Corzo NWAF

           1958Plaster cast of Stela 5 Ross Christensen, Carl H. Jones, Welby Ricks, Alfred Bush (Ex, p. 116)

           1958      Wells Jakeman, Stela 5 book

           1961-1964      Izapa-NWAF

           1961--      BYU-NWAF Howard W. Hunter--objectivity (MAA 277)

           1965UAS name changed to Society for Early Historic Archaeology (SEHA) (Arch Dig #1, 13)

           1965      Wells Jakeman retires at 65

           1966-69      San Lorenzo--Michael Coe

           1966-1970      NWAF surveys Grijalva before flooding by dams (MAA 280)

           1968-73      Kaminaljuyu, Pennsylvania State University (Ex. p. 49)

           1973, 76      Garth Norman, Izapa Sculpture (Ex 117)

           1974Conference: John Sorenson Mesoamerican model and Garth Norman Mesoamerican model compared

           1978-1986John Sorenson becomes chairman of Dept. of anthropology at BYU

           1979Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) organized by John Welch (Expl 191)      

           1980's      Tenochtitlan developed, Mexican government (Ex 49)

           1980, 87Garth Norman--"Astronomical Orientation of Izapa," Maya convention Austin TX (Ex 117)

           1981Palmer: In Search of Cumorah. This book listed multiple criteria for the location of the Hill Cumorah at which the final battles were fought. The New York Hill Cumorah only met a few of these criteria, while the Mesoamerican hill Vigia met all of them.

           1984John Sorenson: "Digging into the Book of Mormon" appears in the Ensign

           1985Sorenson: An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. As the name implies, this book detailed and supported a cultural and geographical setting in Mesoamerica for the events of the Book of Mormon

           1987Warren : The Messiah in Ancient America. This book gave multiple cultural details supporting the visit of the Messiah to Mesoamerica.

           1987      Hauck: Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon

           1989Allen: Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon This book taught a Mesoamerican setting with a multitude of maps and pictures ( See Clate Mask article)

           1989Godfrey: "The Zelph Story" A complete treatment of all known statements on the Zelph incident which took place during the Zion's Camp journey of 1834 (see notation) was finally written by Kenneth A. Godfrey ("The Zelph Story"). It included copies of the original sources. The effect of this article was to set aside the Zelph story as a basis for Book of Mormon geography.


1990      Sorenson: The Geography of Book of Mormon Events

1990's      FARMS Publications





     John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book, Part 1. A History of ideas: The Geography of Book of Mormon Events in Latter-day Thought." Provo: FARMS, 1990, pp. 7-50. (Note* I would strongly advise every student of Book of Mormon geography to read this account because it documents in a more understandable narrative manner the perspectives and influences that have been brought to bear on the subject)


     Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon. Orem: S&A Publishers, 1989, pp. 49, 116-117.

     AAF Historical Manuscripts


     John Heinerman, Hidden Treasures of Ancient American Cultures. Springville: Cedar Fort, 2001, pp 46-51.