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Some Personal Thoughts

 


 

 

Some Personal Thoughts

Alan C. Miner

 

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 to those who might be pondering the worth of this project.

(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 wrote:

"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 giving an answer to these perspectives, I prefer to side with the reasoning of 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. He states:

Those who accept the Book of Mormon for what it claims to be, may not so state their case that its security chiefly rests on the inability of its opponents to prove a negative. The affirmative side of the question belongs to us who hold out the Book of Mormon to the world as a revelation of God. The burden of proof rests upon us in every discussion ... for not only must the Book of Mormon not be proved to have other origin than that which we set forth, for be other than what we say it is, but we must prove its origin to be what we say it is, and the book itself to be what we proclaim it to be--a revelation from God. . . . 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 first rate importance, and mighty factors in the achievement of God's purposes.'

I also 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?"'

 

(2) Many will sincerely ask, as some have before, How can we ignore the fact that "men [such] as. Oliver Cowdery, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, David Whitmer, and many others, could speak frequently of the Spot where the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained the plates as the Hill Cumorah [in addition to other matters concerning Book of Mormon geography], and not be corrected by the Prophet, if that were not the fact"?

The problem with the approach of those who pose such a question is that they are choosing to be selective in regards to the statements which they quote. In other words, if this is the position that people take, then they will invariably be forced to choose which authoritative statements about Book of Mormon geography they want to believe and which they want to ignore. For example, can we ignore the statements as early as 1830 that have Lehi landing in Chili" and "in South America"? 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)? Can we ignore the details of the Hemispheric Theory supplied as footnotes in the Book of Mormon itself by Orson Pratt (and approved by the First Presidency)? Can we ignore the 1838 identification of the city of Manti by Joseph Smith in northern Missouri? If we can't, then we are forced to ignore the fact that in the Book of Mormon text itself the city of Manti is located in the land southward, we are forced to ignore the 1842 editorial by Joseph Smith in the Times and Seasons to the effect that Zarahemla was near Quirigua, Guatemala, and we are forced to ignore the actions of Joseph F. Smith when he 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. We are also forced to ignore the 1929 statement by President Ivins that "There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question [of Book of Mormon geography] So the Church says we are just waiting until we discover the truth." And we are forced to ignore the 1993 letter coming from the office of the First Presidency stating that "there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site that has been suggested." Relying on selective authoritative statements from the past is a very weak position if it represents one's only argument for Book of Mormon geography.

While one certainly has the liberty to believe whatever he chooses in view of the fact that Church officials have approved no official map of Book of Mormon geography, those who hold too closely to tradition and ignore the information at hand put themselves in jeopardy. 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 statements about Book of Mormon geography will either shut their eyes to new information or put themselves in jeopardy of "flying to pieces" when what is being substantiated, quoted and taught with more frequency at the present time is overwhelmingly contrary to their traditions.

 

(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? More to the point, should we teach from the Book of Mormon while ignoring the geographical statements within its pages and the related scholarly statements which have been made concerning these cultural and geographical statements?

There is a great difference between a teacher who is knowledgeable in Book of Mormon geography--but chooses not to emphasize it in a lesson, and one who is forced to shy away from it or chooses to dismiss any questions concerning it out of ignorance on the subject. All teachers of the Book of Mormon should realize that whether in the openness of a classroom or 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 Book of Mormon is true, then the geography and culture described in that book should be true also. Concerning the importance of correctly addressing these sincere questions (whether voiced or silent) about

the literal 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 in integrating or addressing culture and geography in our study and teachings of the Book of Mormon, it should be done in the most knowledgeable manner possible for our circumstances. Such an approach offers much more promise than excluding culture and geography, downplaying its importance, or looking back for authoritative guidance to the earlier times of the Church when the purposes of the Lord, and the saints' needs and perspectives with regard to Book of Mormon geography were quite different than today.

 

(4) Some might wonder if I might have a particular agenda that I want to promote. The only agenda I. have sought has been to project informative historical perspective with minimal bias, to "seek learning, even by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118). If I have missed any pertinent statements, information or insights, or have been erroneous in what I have written, I would welcome anything that one might send my way. I have always considered this a continuing project where ideas are to be mined like gems, where perspectives are always varied, and where opinions can be subject to change.