Volume 2 - Appendix B
January 15, 2002
Evaluating Book of Mormon Geography
Although there has been no direct modern-day revelation on the subject of Book of Mormon geography,210 one of the ways in which students of the Book of Mormon have sought to more fully understand the importance of geography has been to generate geographical models based on clues in the text.211 Some have taken a purely internal approach, meaning that all insights are derived by strict analysis of the text alone before seeking external help. Others have looked for interpretive insights using a broader approach, mixing internal clues with external historical and cultural relationships. In trying to move everyone toward a consensus on an acceptable internal model of Book of Mormon geography however some writers have advocated that one cannot even consider external factors until internal interpretations have been resolved.212 It is my intention to not only show the shortsightedness of such an exclusively internal perspective, but to provide a more workable set of rules and suggestions for understanding and communicating Book of Mormon geography.
In attempting to construct a purely "internal" model of Book of Mormon geography based "wholly on the text," John Clark has written an article entitled "A Key for Evaluating Nephite Geography."213 In that article Clark says the following: "My purpose here is to suggest a simple key for evaluating any Book of Mormon geography that may be proposed." He then gives the reader a set of six assumptions that might guide reasoning.214 Even more to the point, however, Clark states:
The first [question about Book of Mormon geography should be] whether the geography fits the facts of the Book of Mormon--a question we all can answer without being versed in American archaeology. Only after a given geography reconciles all of the significant geographic details given in the Book of Mormon does the question of archaeological and historical detail merit attention.215
Thus one might assume, by Clark's approach, that in understanding Book of Mormon geography, internal geographical relationships gleaned from the text are of highest priority. To a limited extent, I agree. Anyone proposing a geographic model should initially seek a good general concept of the textual references that deal with geography. Furthermore, if the intent of Clark's approach is to require systematic textual analysis for the establishment and teaching of any Book of Mormon geography model, then I agree with him again. Anyone proposing a geographic model should be willing to systematically describe in detail their textual logic in constructing such a model. What I would like the reader to understand, however, is that some additional complicating factors may be involved in interpreting the text. Indeed, the very fact that after 160 years of dedicated research there is a need for Clark to write such an article (or for me to write a response) may imply some inherent difficulties in this process, not only just in interpreting Book of Mormon geography, but in communicating that understanding to waiting readers. I believe that a discussion of some of these difficulties is in order.
To begin, my main point of divergence with Clark (and by implication all others that advocate internal primacy) is that I do not agree in totality with his premise that the geography of the Book of Mormon is "a question we all can answer without being versed in American archaeology." It is not that I place archaeology as my top priority; it is rather that I consider the geographical verses in the text as onlyone factor among many (culture, language, chronology, history, archaeology, covenants, etc.) that help us to understand the complete message of the Book of Mormon. Clark stresses the fact that "only after a given geography reconciles all of the significant geographic details given in the Book of Mormon does the question of archaeological and historical detail merit attention."216 (emphasis added) But there is a subtle problem here: Who decides what is "significant" and whether it has been "reconciled"? Clark's article clearly demonstrates what is significant to him--specifically the textual verses and analysis which he uses to substantiate his model. However, after spending many years in studying a variety of different approaches to Book of Mormon geography, and personally interviewing many of the people involved in such study, it has been my perception that some scholars have been able to gain significantly different, but acceptable interpretations to the geographical scriptures from multiple internal and external sources (among which are archaeology, language, historical facts, covenants, etc.). This has led them to develop not only their own set of "significant" geographical details in the text, but also to develop a different approach to interpreting and reconciling those details. However, in the same manner as Clark, these scholars have tended to focus primarily on what geographical details their perspective explains well, and have tended to ignore,217minimize,218 or authoritatively over-ride219 other scriptural references or interpretive approaches which their perspective doesn't explain well. Moreover, they have tended to judge (or dismiss) other theories too quickly in a biased manner rather than to seek more understanding of their perspective.220
So again, who is to judge what is "significant"? Moreover, how do these people communicate and "reconcile" their ideas to one another (or to Clark) when certain geographical details are either interpreted differently or not considered equally significant? Can we really agree on which geographical details in the Book of Mormon are significant? And whether we agree or disagree on these details, can we ever come to an agreement on the process necessary to communicate how we interpret them? Is Clark correct? Can we judge every geographical model by his set of assumptions? Or do we continue to have multiple groups, each with its own set of criteria and priorities, flailing away at each other in disdain? I believe that some common ground rules for building and communicating Book of Mormon geography models can indeed be established. While I do not fully agree with Clark's internal approach, nor with his set of assumptions, I do feel that they provide a very good base for discussion of the previously mentioned difficulties in communication. To this end, by expanding on these assumptions, I hope not only to elucidate these difficulties, but to establish a superior set of ground rules for communicating Book of Mormon geography.
To Clark's credit, rather than being oblivious to multiple perspectives and interpretations, he opens the door for further discussion with the following:
I have been careful throughout to minimize the number of assumptions made about the meaning of a passage. As apparent . . . some inferences and guesswork are inevitable given the nature of the text. I will be explicit about these, thereby allowing others to reject those inferences which fail to meet their own standards of reasoning.221
So let us do just what Clark allows. Let us discuss his assumptions and hopefully give them added perspective.
Clark's Assumption #1: Assume a literal meaning.
To assume that every geographical reference has a "literal meaning" seems to be a very logical statement.222 However, there are ramifications for purely internal interpretations. I will lump these ramifications under the broad category of "internal bias," and treat each one in turn.
No matter how simple the internal interpretation seems to be for some geographical statements, for every primary "literal" interpretation we give to that geographical statement at the first part of the Book of Mormon, we must thereafter give a qualified secondary or tertiary "literal" interpretation to all subsequent related geographical references. This linkage creates a dilemma for Clark's Assumption #1. Let me explain.
In Book of Mormon geography, there are some geographical terms which might fall under the category of descriptive terms. Let's consider the term "wilderness." Even though we might choose to include "wilderness" areas in our internal model, we must ask what the term "wilderness" literally means. Does it mean mountains? or jungle? or desert? or uncharted territory? or sparsely populated territory? or completely uninhabited territory? And is the meaning of “wilderness” to be interpreted the same throughout the entire Book of Mormon story? It is apparent that lacking specific scriptural definition at every textual occurrence of the term "wilderness," one is left to one's own assertions.223 This means that depending on the type and extent of the "wilderness" mentioned, distances and directional (travel) relationships may need to be altered.224 One should not assume that their own internal "literal" interpretation is universally understood or acceptable in every situation.
Another concern in communicating a "literal meaning" in an internal environment has to do with an oversimplified perspective. Let me explain. Internal maps are usually no more than line-and-dot drawings using only the information gleaned from the text. What might seem logical in a "dot and line" format may appear oversimplified in a real setting. For example, the Book of Mormon text specifically names only one river (the Sidon) for all of the lands occupied by the Nephites, Lamanites and Jaredites in the New World. Moreover, while mention is made of the "head," nothing is specifically said of any tributaries or branches. Where on the American continent do we find a location that fits this "internal" picture? I would hesitate even to guess. One might ask, What difference does it make if there were multiple rivers, with tributaries and branches? An answer might be that rivers affect travel time and direction, and thus distance and directional relationships may also be affected.225 Extrapolating this oversimplification one might wonder, What other significant geographical features have gone unmentioned in the Book of Mormon--mountains? swamps? lakes? jungles? deserts? volcanic crevices? And did these unmentioned features affect travel time and direction, and thus affect distance and directional relationships? External maps show us a more complete picture of geographical relationships, even though some features may not specifically be named in the text. By using a real-world setting, we can understand one's perspective more clearly and we can see one's bias more clearly.
C. Figurative language:
In Helaman 3:8 we read:
And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to thesea east. (emphasis added)
This verse mentions four different seas. If it is to be taken literally, then the shape and extent of Book of Mormon lands would reflect four seas, and thus would be different from Clark's "hourglass" internal model, which has only an east sea and a west sea. Clark has this to say about Helaman 3:8: "Explaining away difficult passages as metaphors goes against one of my guiding assumptions for dealing with the text, but in this case I think it is well justified."226 Clark then proceeds to make a scriptural argument for a metaphoric (and not a literal) interpretation. In the middle of this argument, Clark notes that "all specific references or allusions to Book of Mormon seas are only to the east and west seas. . . . Any geography that tries to accommodate a north and south sea, I think, is doomed to fail."227
In view of Clark's scriptural argument and his assertions, one might be led to believe that the existence of a "sea south" and a "sea north" would be illogical and close the door to further consideration. This would be unfortunate, because the fact that a geographical feature (in this case a "sea north" or "sea south") appears metaphorical, or is specifically referred to once (or maybe not at all), does not negate its existence.228
Additionally, at the end of his internal metaphorical analysis, Clark adds:
The main point is that the reference to north and south seas fits nicely into the Mesoamerican scene as part of a metaphor for the whole earth and was probably used in a metaphorical sense in the Book of Mormon.229
Without disagreeing (or agreeing) with Clark's assessment of a metaphor, or delving too deeply into his taking exception to his own rule to "assume a literal meaning" for all geographical passages, all I will say is that he has brought the external world into his internal argument. And from that external perspective, there is also a good amount of external evidence (Mesoamerica's surrounding seas) which might lead one to accept the opposite point of view, which is that the four seas referred to in Helaman 3:8 were literal. I believe Clark's concern here should not be on rightness or wrongness, but on additional perspective.
In view of the arguments concerning Assumption #1, I will propose that the "literal" meaning of the geographical verses in the Book of Mormon might not be as universally communicated or accepted as we may presume. Moreover, by not accommodating for "internal bias," a strictly internal map might become a liability. The internal map becomes a liability not because it is put together in a biased way, but because the bias cannot be recognized easily or substantiated sufficiently.230 Once the geographical model is placed in a real world setting, even in a general way, the problems of linkage, oversimplification and metaphorical language can be better understood and evaluated. Thus I would make my Rule #1 to be: Rather than assume that the meaning for all geographical terms is universally understood, a linking of internal and external logic should be incorporated in order to illuminate internal bias.
Clark's Assumption #2: Assume no scribal errors unless internal evidence indicates otherwise.
I hope I am not misunderstanding Clark's intent here, but in my opinion this assumption seems flawed by an unstated premise, which has two parts: first, that there indeed might be "scribal errors" that affect geographical analysis in the text of the Book of Mormon; and second, that one can bring them to light using only "internal evidence." In other words, while seeming to disavow "scribal errors," Clark opens the door for their existence if that existence can be substantiated by "internal evidence." The problem Clark leaves us with by this unstated premise is the matter of who is to judge when there is sufficient internal evidence to declare a "scribal error."
Careful research has shown that through the various printings and editings of the Book of Mormon, incidental changes in meaning might have entered into the text.231 More pertinent to our discussion, however, is that over and above those incidental changes specifically identified through manuscript comparison, some verses related to geography seem out of place within the scheme of certain particular geographical models. Some of these have been cited as scribal errors because they don't agree with the author's own "internal evidence."232 This begs the question, Should this be allowed? Upon consulting the Book of Mormon, we find that Moroni said of the record, "and if there be faults they be the faults of a man. But behold, we know no fault (Mormon 8:17, emphasis added). Thus we might assume that even though incidental errors might exist in the text, Mormon and Moroni didn't know of any "faults." Someone might reply, "That's just it. That's why it is a scribal error, because Mormon and Moroni didn't pick it up." Nevertheless, I must counter that reply with the statement that "barring prophetic revelation above the ability of Moroni and Mormon,233 we have no adequate judge upon whom we can all place our confidence to certify such errors." Clark holds that "the Book of Mormon must be the final and most important arbiter in deciding the correctness of a given geography; otherwise we will be forever hostage to the shifting sands of expert opinion."234However, I would have to wonder how the Book of Mormon could be "the final and most important arbiter" if someone has a right to declare a "scribal error" every time some geographical or chronological phrase contradicts the supposed "internal evidence" on which they have built their geographical model. In my view, the ability to declare "scribal errors" in such a way could enable someone to create whatever internal geography and chronology he chooses.235 In other words, what doesn't fit someone's logical model quickly becomes a "scribal error," and as some might say, "the tail begins to wag the dog."
So how is my solution different from what Clark proposes? I would prefer to establish multiple standards for evaluating geographical and chronological statements, both internal (geographical, chronological, cultural, and covenant related statements, etc.), and external (geographical, archaeological, cultural, and historical statements, etc.), and allow enough time that the controversial textual interpretations (supposed "scribal errors") could be elaborated on in a broader context by the one proposing such an interpretation. This approach would not only benefit the one proposing a model by keeping open any final judgment, but it would also help those of differing opinions by keeping the responsibility of positive explanation for the supposed "scribal error" squarely on the shoulders of the one proposing the particular geographical theory. I would much rather accept a statement by a geographical theorist that, in effect, says, "I can't totally explain this one verse, at this time, relative to my theory," than to have him unilaterally assign a supposed "fault" to Mormon or Moroni (or Joseph Smith) without their opportunity for rebuttal. This approach not only fosters more expanded research, but lessens the chance for one person's internal interpretation to unfairly dominate over that of another simply because, for whatever reason, he wields more power. Thus, my Rule #2 would be: Assume no scribal errors other than the errors associated with the various printings and editings of the Book of Mormon. Nevertheless, allow time for verses that seem to be in error to be better substantiated or explained in different terms by the one proposing such an interpretation.
Clark's Assumption #3: "Assume no duplication of place names unless the text is unambiguous on the matter."
Despite the fact of the many place names in the Book of Mormon, neither Mormon nor Moroni ever specifically mentions any duplication of place names in the New World (for example, we don't find any phrases like "This city named Aaron located near the city of Nephihah is not the same city as the city of Aaron near the city of Ammonihah"). Nonetheless, for the Book of Mormon geography student, it quickly becomes evident that there are some problems in duplication. These problems are most often encountered in the descriptive parts of geographical place names, and can best be illustrated by citing a few examples.
A. Common Descriptive Terms:
There are numerous references to "the land of Nephi" and to "the land of Zarahemla," but these references do not always describe the same specific type of "land." In other words, imagine that the Book of Mormon text talks of a "national land" named Nephi, a "state land" named Nephi within that nation, a "county land" named Nephi within that state, and a "city land" named Nephi within that county. If the text simply says, "He arrived in the land of Nephi," the reader must ask, In which land of Nephi, at what boundary, and during what chronological time period did he arrive? Unfortunately, the text is not always clear. Thus, for each reference that contains the phrase "land of," the reader faces a "duplication" problem that must be addressed, but about which the text is not always clear or "unambiguous."236
Historical, cultural and geographical studies have taught me that in many instances, the borders of a "land" have been defined by cultural and geographical entities (language, rivers, mountains, trade, etc.) in addition to political or religious perspectives. Thus, a combined internal-external approach would greatly help in communicating the definition of Book of Mormon "lands" and other common descriptive terms.
B. Directional Terms:
Another difficult hurdle for the "no duplication" assumption involves directional phrases such as "the land northward" as opposed to "the land southward," or "the sea east" in possible substitution for "the east sea." Since capitalization of these terms was not part of the Original Manuscript, should we be forced to believe that there is only one "Land Northward" and one "Land Southward?" Moreover, do we have both an "East Sea" and a "Sea East?" Or do directional phrases such as "the land northward" or "the south wilderness," or "the sea east," or "the east sea" refer to places that are simply northward or southward or eastward or westward from the location of the writer or the location that he is writing about?237 Here the text is also unclear.238 Real world geographical and cultural information should be welcomed here to facilitate both interpretation and communication.
C. Cultural Terms:
Culturally derived place names such as "the land Bountiful" (see 1 Nephi 17:5; Alma 22:31) and "the land Desolation" (see Alma 16:11; Alma 22:30) are also affected by the "no duplication" assumption. Alma 8:7 reads, "Now it was the custom of the people of Nephi to call their lands and their cities and their villages, Yea, even all their small villages, after the name of him who first possessed them." Strangely, there is no evidence of this Nephite practice in the names "Desolation" and "Bountiful." Does this present an internal dilemma? We are told that the Nephites named a land in the Old World "Bountiful" because of the "abundance of fruit and also wild honey" (1 Nephi 17:5). In the New World, the Nephites referred to a land as "Bountiful" because of the abundance of wild animals (Alma 22:3, emphasis added). Nephi also mentions that where they first landed in the promised land, the people of Lehi planted seeds and "they grew exceedingly; wherefore, we were blessed in abundance" (1 Nephi 18:24--emphasis mine).239 The Nephites referred to a land as "Desolation" because the people of that land had been destroyed (Alma 22:30).240 They also referred to another place as "Desolation of Nehors" because of the destruction of that people (Alma 16:11). How do we "literally" interpret these names? Perhaps in the case of some references to the land Bountiful or the land Desolation, these descriptive names imply that the lands Bountiful and Desolation were not officially possessed by a people in the usual sense. In other words, perhaps the regions extended over specific official "Nephite named" lands or boundaries (according to Nephite custom) rather than being specific official Nephite boundaried lands.241 Once again the text is lacking in details, and thus a strictly internal approach to interpreting geography must be lacking also.
D. Consolidative Terms:
Some multiple descriptive terms in the Book of Mormon may refer to the same geographical area. If such is the case, then this creates a "negative duplication" (or consolidation) problem. For example, in our geographical studies we find the terms "small neck of land" (Alma 22:32), "narrow pass" (Alma 50:34, 52:9), "narrow neck" (Alma 63:5, Ether 10:20), and "narrow passage" (Mormon 2:29). Do these terms refer to the same geographical spot? That is, are the terms synonymous or different? Let us examine them:
(A) Small neck of land: "And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea; and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward." (Alma 22:32)
(B) Narrow pass: "The narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east" (Alma 30:34). "The narrow pass which led into the land northward" (Alma 52:9).
(C) Narrow neck: "The narrow neck which led into the land northward" (Alma 63:5).
(D) Narrow passage: "the narrow passage which led into the land southward" (Mormon 2:29).
Three of the terms (B,C,D) might imply a geographical entity that leads between a land southward and a land northward, while the fourth (A) is described as being definitely located "between" a land northward and a land southward. Thus we might say: B = C = D or at least they are similar. We can also say that A is similar to B, which is similar to C, which is similar to D, or perhaps they might all be equal.
The small neck of land (A) was bordered at least on one side and maybe two sides by seas. The narrow pass (B) also "led by the sea . . . on the west and on the east" which might imply that a sea (a west sea) bordered it on the west, and a sea (an east sea) bordered it on the east. Thus we might say: A is similar to B, or perhaps A = B.
Thus we have three equations: (1) A is similar to B, which is similar to C, which is similar to D, or perhaps they might all be equal; (2) B = C = D, or at least they are similar; and (3) A is similar to B, or perhaps A = B. Therefore, do we conclude A = B = C = D (and thus only one small-narrow-pass-passage or neck?), or do we separate these four descriptive terms into two entities (a small-narrow neck of land and a narrow pass-passage?), or do we keep them as four separate entities (a small neck of land, a narrow neck, a narrow pass, and a narrow passage?), or do we try for all the possible combinations? If we do consolidate the terms, we might have a duplication problem in reverse. The text (or strictly internal approach to interpretation) provides no clear-cut answer to the dilemma.
In summary, I think that the interpretations of all common descriptive terms, directional terms, culturally derived terms, and consolidative terms are better left to a more open approach. Therefore, my Rule #3 would read: Any duplication of proper place names and any duplication (or consolidation) of descriptive place names should be based on logical internal and external argument.
Clark's Assumption #4: Assume that all passages are internally consistent and can be reconciled.
I will assume that the ability for all geographical passages to be "reconciled" implies that there is sufficient textual evidence to construct an adequate geographical model. Although we do not even really know if we have such textual evidence (let alone in the specific internal geographical verses themselves as Clark implies), I would think we should nevertheless strive to make the best attempt possible to construct such a model.
As for the remainder of Clark's Assumption #4 ("Assume that all passages are internally consistent"), as far as I am concerned it runs into a problem because of his Assumption #2 ("Assume no scribal errors unless internal evidence indicates otherwise"). In other words, I have a problem with the idea that someone has the authority to declare a "scribal error." My reasoning here is that if all passages are "internally consistent," then how can there be scribal errors? And if we have to reconcile the passages by declaring a "scribal error," then how can all the passages be internally consistent?
Maybe I have misunderstood Clark's intent with this assumption, but I would combine this assumption with my Rule #2, and thus my rule would then read: Assume that all geographical passages are internally consistent and can be reconciled. Assume no scribal errors other than the errors associated with the various printings and editings of the Book of Mormon. Nevertheless, allow time for verses that seem to be in error to be better substantiated or explained in different terms.
Clark's Assumption #5: Assume that uniformitarian rather than catastrophic principles apply to the actual Book of Mormon lands (i.e., that the locality where the Book of Mormon events took place was not unrecognizably altered at the time of the crucifixion, that geographic details in the small plates and in the book of Ether are therefore compatible with those in Mormon's and Moroni's abridgment, and that the principles of natural science that apply to today's environments are also pertinent to Nephite lands.
I would like to approach this assumption of a uniformitarian view of Book of Mormon lands from at least two different perspectives: catastrophic changes and directional notations.
A. Catastrophic Changes:
Some people have supposed that the verses mentioning "a great and terrible destruction" (3 Nephi 8:11) mean that the entire configuration of the Book of Mormon lands was changed. However, Mormon, in abridging the records of the events that followed the destruction, gives some hints that the former geography had not drastically changed: Zarahemla was rebuilt (4 Nephi 1:8), and the people "did build many cities again which were burned (4 Nephi 1:7). The destructive forces, although great, were defined in terms we can understand: lightning, earthquake, whirlwind, thunder, tempest.242 What about the "many cities which had been sunk (by water) that could not be renewed" (4 Nephi 1:9)? We find that Mormon made a very natural observation. In other words, although the destruction was widespread, it was only irreparable around coastlines or shorelines; and rightly so, for cities cannot easily be rebuilt upon water.
Without closing the door to alternative viewpoints, it would be the responsibility of any theorist to establish justification (internal and external) for the assumption that any substantial part of the American continent was inundated with water, covered over with mountains, or altered dramatically.243
B. Directional Notations:
Did the meaning of directional terms change from the beginning of the Book of Mormon story till the end? Put another way, were the directions given on the small plates of Nephi of the same standard as the directions given throughout the large plates of Nephi? And were they the same as those used in the abridgment of Mormon and Moroni (including the book of Ether)? Moreover, when Joseph Smith conveyed the message of the plates which Moroni gave to him, did he translate the directional terms to a system he was familiar with (cardinal directions), or did he just dictate the directional terms as Nephi, Mormon and Moroni envisioned them?
In attempting to find the answers to these questions, we may do well to approach them from multiple perspectives. These perspectives should help form the foundation for a standard of directions in the Book of Mormon: (1) consistency among the record keepers; (2) the range of variance in directional terms; (3) directional orientation from a point of reference; and (4) the translation process.
1. Consistency Among the Record Keepers:
The Book of Mormon is made up from original writings of many writers:
Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Enos, etc. (The Small Plates)
Lehi, Nephi . . . Benjamin, Zeniff, Mosiah2, Alma2, . . . Mormon2, Moroni2 (The Large Plates)
The Brother of Jared, Ether, etc. (The Jaredite History)
Moreover, in our present Book of Mormon, we find directional notations directly attributed to the following:
Nephi (1 Nephi 16:13) -- Small Plates;
Zeniff244 (Mosiah 9:14; 10:8) -- Large Plates;
Mormon (Alma 22:27-24) -- Mormon's Abridgment; and
Moroni (Ether 1:1) -- Moroni's Abridgment.
One might ask, Were these directions from the same standard? In other words, were the directions of every writer on the Small Plates the same as the directions of every writer on the Large Plates? And was the directional system established first by Nephi on the Large Plates (1 Nephi 19:1-5) and years later by Nephi on the Small Plates (2 Nephi 5:28-34) (both from a location on the American continent) according to the same directional standard as that of Mormon and Moroni in their abridgement?
In assessing this directional dilemma, we find that although Mormon used many different geographical and directional notations in trying to describe not only Nephite and Lamanite territories but the lands of Mulekite and Jaredite origins as well (see Alma 22:27-34 for an example), he apparently did not make any mention of having to change any system of directional standards relative to any recordkeeper on the Large Plates. Nor did he mention any directional system changes relative to the authors of the Small Plates when he wrote his editorial introduction to that record (see Words of Mormon). In the writings of Moroni we find that even though he tried to correlate some Jaredite locations with those of the Nephites (hill Shim -- hill Cumorah -- hill Ramah -- see Ether 9:3, 15:11), he failed to mention specifically any major differences in directional reference systems.
Therefore we have reason to believe that the directional references in the Book of Mormon are "standardized" (meaning, for example, that the term "north" would always refer to a consistent orientation). On the other hand, if we choose not to accept this reasoning for the standardization of directions, we are left with one or more of the alternative conclusions that:
(a) Some or all of the original Book of Mormon record keepers did not consider consistent directional terms as necessary factors in keeping the records; and/or
(b) Mormon and Moroni, in their understanding and responsibility as abridgers and compilers to describe and transpose directional notations through the different chronological and cultural time frames of the Book of Mormon, did not choose to convey a consistent directional system; and/or
(c) Joseph Smith did not translate a consistent directional system correctly from the writings on the plates.
Thus, whether the directional ideas in the Book of Mormon were expressed in the beginning of Nephite history according to "the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians" (1 Nephi 1:2), or whether they were expressed in the end of Nephite history according to "Hebrew" or "reformed Egyptian" which had been "altered" (Mormon 9:32-33), if these directional ideas mentioned in our present Book of Mormon didn't become standardized when they went through the editing and compiling process of Mormon and Moroni; or more important, if they didn't become standardized when they came through the mind of Joseph Smith in the "translation" process, then trying to make sense out of the geographical terms in the Book of Mormon might become very frustrating, perhaps even hopeless.
2. Range of Variance in Directional Terms:
According to John Sorenson, "Directions and how they are referred to are cultural products, not givens in nature."245 However, in the Book of Mormon, we are not dealing with all the cultural variations by which people orient themselves or have oriented themselves throughout history, we are only dealing first with the directional notations on the set of plates which Moroni delivered to Joseph Smith; and second, with how those directions came forth from the mind of Joseph Smith in the "translation" process.
By the use of such a term as "south-southeast" (1 Nephi 16:13), the directional system of the Book of Mormon (or at least the Small Plates) becomes divided into a minimum of eight parts with the ability to mark between them (producing roughly sixteen parts).246 This 16-part division of direction tends to limit the range of variance in defining such specific words as "north," south," and "east."
Directional terms on the Large Plates, however, appear not to follow this specific compass-like sectioning; here we find the terms "northward," "southward," and "eastward." (The term "westward" is never mentioned, which may prove to be significant.) Thus one might wonder if these terms should also be taken in a compass-like manner,247 or be viewed as generalized directional terms? In other words, should the term "northward" be taken to mean a direction broadly and generally north of a reference point, or should the term "northward" be taken as a specific substitute for an intercardinal term? (For example, "northward" equals northwest, "eastward" equals northeast, "southward" equals southeast.)248
Because questions such as these about the meaning of different directional terms are not readily answered with certainty from a purely internal perspective, the Book of Mormon student should expect a standard of external correlation for any proposed interpretation of directional terms.
3. Directional Orientation from a Point of Reference:
In order to make the directions of an internal map of any value at all in the real world setting, one must be able to orient the internal directional standard with an external point of reference. In the Old World, Lehi's "valley of Lemuel" was near the northern tip of "the Red Sea" (1 Nephi 2:4-14). The Red Sea is a definite external location mentioned in the Book of Mormon to which we can correlate. If Lehi traveled "south-southeast" in "nearly the same course as in the beginning" from the valley of Lemuel until he reached "Nahom" (1 Nephi 16:33-34), then the direction of "south-southeast" can be correlated with the Red Sea. It is worth noting that the coast of the Red Sea is aligned in a south-southeast direction. It is also no small thing that the ancient Frankincense trail went in the same direction.249 After reaching Nahom, Lehi traveled "nearly eastward" (1 Nephi 17:1), eventually reaching the land which the group called "Bountiful" by the sea, which they named "Irreantum" (1 Nephi 17:5). Thus, if the position of Nahom could be confirmed,250 then by having the beginning point, middle point, and the ending point of Lehi's "course" of travel ("south-southeast" then "nearly eastward"251), a definite directional orientation and comparison could be made relative to our modern-day system of cardinal directions. If our directional assumptions prove adequate, the land Bountiful might also be found,252 which might further verify our assumptions.
Unfortunately, in the New World (the Americas) we do not know of any verified point of reference.253 None is specifically mentioned in the Book of Mormon text. Because of this, and other internal factors,254 we have a problem in trying to establish an acceptable directional orientation standard that might span the whole Book of Mormon story.
4. The Translation Process:
We do not know the details of how the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith gave few first-hand descriptions of the process. The following is taken from page 71 of Volume 1, History of the Church, concerning the Title Page or Preface:
I wish to mention here that the title page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the last leaf on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated, the language of the whole running the same as all Hebrew writing in general; and that said title page is not by any means a modern composition, either of mine or any other man who has lived or does live in this generation.
Joseph Smith, Jun.
Thus one is left to his own assertions as to what a "literal translation" might mean, or whether the statement that the language ran "the same as all Hebrew writing in general" implies Hebrew cultural paradigms related to geography, or whether the statement that the title page "is not by any means a modern composition" implies that the directional system is also ancient. In other words, without revelation on the matter, we cannot answer as to whether in a "literal translation" the directional terms (north, south, east, west) represent the directional system of Mormon and Moroni, or whether the directional terms represent those of the Hebrews, or whether the directional terms represent those of Joseph Smith, or whether the directional terms represent all or some of the above.
In summary, taking into consideration the consistency of the record keepers, the range of variance of directional terms, directional orientation from a point of reference, and the translation process, my Rule #4 would be: It is the responsibility of any theorist to establish justification (both internal and external) for any catastrophic changes or altered directional meanings relative to Book of Mormon lands at any point in the narrative.
Clark's Assumption #6: "The best internal reconstruction is one which reconciles all of the data in the Book of Mormon with a minimum of additional assumptions."
After many years of study and research, I have come to believe that all Book of Mormon geography students are guilty of using additional assumptions, whether internal or external, as we attempt to fit together a model, for it is difficult or nearly impossible to finalize a model without them. Yet sometimes we become so absorbed in the absolute logic of our own additional assumptions that we fail to recognize the magnitude of their impact on our model. I would like to ask the question, Is it the number of additional assumptions that decides who has the better model, or is it the impact those additional assumptions might have on the final outcome? And who is to judge?
Perhaps the judge is the real world. The first additional assumption the Book of Mormon student is asked to accept is that this book is about real people who made covenants with a real God. What goes without saying is that these people also lived in real cities, spoke and wrote real languages, had real customs, fought real wars, and kept real records. In essence, the Book of Mormon is about peoples who migrated from the Near East to the Americas and who built civilizations there during a time period from approximately two to three thousand years before Christ until approximately four hundred years after Christ and beyond. The problem of Clark's map, or any internal map, comes when the map is all finished, with the least number of additional assumptions (the principle of Occam's razor), and yet according to the same principle (of Occam's razor), doesn't fit on the external map.255 More additional assumptions then have to be made in order to give the internal map any relevance.256 No allowance has been made for this in Clark's Assumption #6, obviously because what I have discussed are external additional assumptions. What should be apparent, however, is that relatively few internal assumptions could lead to major external assumptions, which ultimately can have enormous consequences on the viability of a Book of Mormon geographical model. I propose that it is not the number of assumptions one brings to his geographical model, but the magnitude of changes that result from those assumptions.257
Thus, my Rule #5 would be: Additional assumptions about Book of Mormon geography, both internal and external, should not only be carefully detailed, but their combined impact should be weighed carefully against both the real world and the message of the Book of Mormon.
I realize that Clark's intention was to keep things simple; however, I feel that some areas beyond his six assumptions still need some attention in order to establish the proper foundation for constructing and communicating a Book of Mormon geographical model. The following are suggestions which I would add to my rules:
Suggestion #1: One should make their bias explicit in the manner of interpreting textual punctuation, capitalization, pronoun and adjective antecedents, and parallelistic patterns of writing.
A. Textual Punctuation, Capitalization, and Pronoun and Adjective Antecedents:
Although it was Oliver Cowdery's duty to make a copy of the original manuscript (printer's manuscript) and to oversee the printing process, at least some of the capitalization and much of the punctuation were apparently done by the printer.258 The Book of Mormon also contains geographical verses with many pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs whose antecedents are difficult to ascertain. Let me give just two examples of this dilemma:
(1) . . . and it bordered upon the land which they called desolation it being so far northward that it came into the land which had been peopled and been destroyed of whose bones we have spoken which was discovered by the people of Zarahemla it being the place of their first landing and they came from there up into the south wilderness. (Alma 22:30-31, emphasis added)
In order to interpret what this scripture is saying, we not only must deal with punctuation, but the words "which," "their," "they," "it," and "there" must be linked with the proper noun. One must also decide whether to capitalize "desolation" and "south wilderness." These steps are critical to interpretation, but not always apparent.
(2) Consider the following list of similar phrases:
"from the sea east even to the sea west" (Alma 22:27)
"from the east to the west sea" (Alma 22:32)
"from the east sea to the west" (Alma 50:8)
"by the sea on the west and on the east" (Alma 50:34)
"from the sea west to the sea east" (Helaman 3:8)
"from the west sea even unto the east" (Helaman 4:7)
"from the sea west to the sea east" (Helaman 11:20)
Whatever a theorist might assume about the meaning of these similar phrases relative to an east sea and a west sea, the reality is that one cannot even say with certainty that all the phrases relate to both a west sea and an east sea. To overlook phrases such as these invites confusion in communication.
In summary, confusion in communication can result when geographical theorists do not coordinate their views on punctuation, capitalization, or pronoun and adjective interpretation. We should be explicit in these matters.
B. Parallelistic Patterns of Writing:
A number of articles and books have been published which clearly demonstrate that the Book of Mormon text is full of ancient parallelistic patterns.259 The question every Book of Mormon geography student has to ponder is first, whether any of the geographical phrases in the text are included in a parallelistic pattern; and second, whether the parallelistic sequence affects the interpretation of the geographical phrase. Bias in Interpretation along parallelistic lines should be made explicit.260
Suggestion #2: One should illustrate their geographical and cultural ideas profusely, yet make illustrations free from overzealous attempts to shape an argument through convenient omissions, distortions, or additions to what, within an "artist's privilege," rightfully should be pictured.
If "a picture is worth a thousand words," then any discussion of a geographical model should be loaded with sufficient pictures such that each reference to geographical movement or location is illustrated precisely. That is, we should know by the illustration just what is meant by every word in each geographical verse. The Book of Mormon story should be understood chronologically from illustration to illustration. An illustration not only facilitates understanding, but it also highlights bias.
As much as possible, distance should be correlated with a scale, for what seems like a small slip of a pen as viewed on a piece of paper can lead to a distance or geographical scenario that might be implausible. Additionally, illustrations should be related to a background map of the real world so that external factors might be considered, at least in a general way. It is sad to say that in the current state of affairs in the study of Book of Mormon geography, not only has no theorist illustrated his opinions fully, but few have even produced more than one dot-and-line map. This has left many a Book of Mormon geography student unable to fully analyze the most critical questions regarding a particular theory.
Suggestion #3: One should put travel in geographical perspective by defining indirect and direct chronological terms, constant or inconsistent direction of travel, speed of travel, and terrain conditions. Correlate these factors with an external setting if possible, even in a general way.
A. Indirect and Direct Chronological Terms:
There is a very big difference between the assumption that a group of 100,000 people could move from South America to New York and back again in one year, and the assumption that the same group could move that distance in twenty years. In analyzing historical events and travels, distance and location are a function of time. To take any travels out of their proper time sequence or to not relate the amount of time involved negates or diminishes any argument of distance or location. Any movement relating to Book of Mormon geography should always be accompanied by an explanation of the time frame for that movement (chronology).
Over 150 phrases in the Book of Mormon refer indirectly or directly to the chronology of the story (for example: "it was in the sixteenth year" (Alma 30:4), and "thus ended the eighteenth year" (Alma 44:24).261 Interpretation of these chronological phrases is necessary in order to evaluate travel and distance.262 So one might ask, Who makes the final judgment on what certain chronological phrases really imply? I propose that it is up to each theorist to make his bias clear.
One final point is also to be made. Why should we think that one internal map of the Book of Mormon, which covered at least 1000-3500 years, should be sufficient to illustrate all the geographical relationships that came and went during that time period? Although it is a very satisfying thing to find references to apparently the same geographical terms in various parts of the Book of Mormon, and then assemble them for analysis, geographical relationships might have changed over time Thus, complete chronological charting is essential for communicating geographical relationships and making bias clear.
B. Constant or Inconsistent Direction of Travel:
While the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and at times in the Book of Mormon text we are given the "days" it took to get from one point to another; without exact textual verification one cannot say for sure just what part of those "days" were spent in traveling in a straight line, let alone the specific direction. These assumptions regarding consistent direction of travel can only be made clear when all the factors affecting travel are known. Internal maps lack much of this supportive evidence, such as terrain conditions, for example. Thus it is very helpful for a theorist not only to make his bias clear, but to give his model at least a general external background.
C. Speed of Travel:
Although it is clearly apparent that different individual people and different groups travel at different rates for different reasons, one cannot assume a standard of travel speeds suitable for judging all models until such a standard is backed up with sufficient internal and external evidence. Until that time, one should not only make his bias clear, but be very wary of judging other models by the conclusions he has drawn using his own assumptions of travel speed for individuals and groups.
D. Terrain Conditions:
Distance and location are not only a function of travel time, but also a function of terrain conditions. There is a very big difference between the time it takes people to travel through vast swampland, heavy jungle or rugged mountains, and the time it takes people to travel across uninterrupted, dry flatland. Additionally, good weather is much more conducive to travel speed than bad weather. Internal descriptions of terrain conditions in the Book of Mormon are very general and very limited. Thus, the closer one gets to locating the Book of Mormon map some place on the American continent, in some specific terrain, the easier it becomes to define direction and speed of travel and thus determine distance and location.
In summary, I hope I have illuminated some circumstances pertaining to the methods of geographical analysis that might allow the Book of Mormon student a broader, more understandable base on which to build his or her geographic model. Assuming a base of systematic textual analysis, the following is a summary of my rules and my suggestions:
Rule #1: Rather than assume that the meaning for all geographical terms is universally understood, a linking of internal and external logic should be incorporated in order to illuminate internal bias.
Rule #2: Assume that all geographical passages are internally consistent and can be reconciled. Assume no scribal errors other than the errors associated with the various printings and editings of the Book of Mormon. Nevertheless, allow time for verses that seem to be incongruous with a proposed model to be better substantiated or explained in different terms by the one proposing such an interpretation..
Rule #3: Any duplication of proper place names and any duplication (or consolidation) of descriptive place names should be based on logical internal and external argument.
Rule #4: It is the responsibility of any theorist to establish justification (both internal and external) for any catastrophic changes or altered directional meanings relative to Book of Mormon lands at any point in the narrative.
Rule #5: Additional assumptions about Book of Mormon geography, both internal and external, should not only be carefully detailed, but their combined impact should be weighed carefully against both the real world and the message of the Book of Mormon.
Suggestion #1: One should make their bias explicit in the manner of interpreting textual punctuation, capitalization, pronoun and adjective antecedents, and parallelistic patterns of writing.
Suggestion #2: One should illustrate their geographical and cultural ideas profusely, yet make illustrations free from overzealous attempts to shape an argument through convenient omissions, distortions, or additions to what, within an "artist's privilege," rightfully should be pictured.
Suggestion #3: One should put travel in geographical perspective by defining indirect and direct chronological terms, constant or inconsistent direction of travel, travel speed, and terrain conditions. Correlate these factors with an external setting if possible, even in a general way.
As a final thought, I would like to say that although the present controversy over Book of Mormon geography lets us know that our knowledge of Book of Mormon geography is incomplete, it should also make us aware that our understanding of the whole message of the Book of Mormon is incomplete. If geography is a means to help understand that message, then the challenge is before us. Toward that end, I believe I have provided a more acceptable standard for interpreting and communicating Book of Mormon geography for everyone involved in the process.