Mesoamerica, Maxwell, and Me



It’s come to my attention that some adherents of the so-called “Heartland Model” of Book of Mormon geography have been crowing over the suppression of the FARMS Review/Mormon Studies Review and my expulsion from the Maxwell Institute.  These events of the past few months, they imagine, represent a repudiation of the Mesoamerican model of Book of Mormon geography.


This is flatly untrue.


And the proof that it’s untrue is on its way:


John Sorenson — for all practical purposes the originator of the Mesoamerican model and certainly its foremost exponent — has a book coming from the Maxwell Institute, surely his magnum opus, that has been in the works for many years now.  Entitled Mormon’s Codex, it’s a summation of his life’s work — he’s approaching ninety — on how the Book of Mormon fits into its Pre-Columbian American setting.


If the Maxwell Institute wanted to repudiate the Mesoamerican model, it would have cancelled publication of John Sorenson’s last book.  It hasn’t done so.


Incidentally, the Maxwell Institute and, before it, FARMS have never held officially to a Mesoamerican model.  We were always open to other approaches.  We simply never found an alternative model that was as plausible or well-developed.


Posted from Carmel, Indiana.



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  • http://None Lew Craig

    Do we have a publication date for Sorenson’s book?

    • danpeterson

      Unfortunately, I’m now completely out of the loop, and I don’t know. However, I still have clandestine friends within the organization; perhaps I can find out.

  • Sikh Anon

    What is your view of George Potter’s work on Peru?

    • danpeterson

      I’m afraid that I really don’t know it well enough to provide a meaningful evaluation.

    • George Fisher

      I spent my spare time traversing the ruins notable and less so while serving as a temple missionary in the Lima Temple for two years. Without being rude or unkind, Potter’s work in Peru is grossly out of touch with reality. Consider Caral, a city he suggests was a Jaredite center. Not only is he off by a thousand years, (it dates to 3200 BCE), but no weapons or defensive structures were ever found there. Eventually, after living a thousand years in peace, the original inhabitants likely due to climate change moved to higher or wetter ground. Potter’s work in Peru makes about as much sense as ancient astronauts having carved the 150-200 ton stones of Machu Picchu and Sacsayhuaman, the fortress and religious center above Cusco.

      • danpeterson

        That’s the kind of problem that I’ve had (and heard about) with his work on Peru. I happen to really like what he’s done with regard to 1 Nephi’s “River of Laman” and “Valley of Lemuel.” He knows the Arabian Peninsula as few Latter-day Saints do, and, on that one, I think he’s made a real contribution.

  • Elizabeth Watkins

    Speaking for myself, plausibility of any Book of Mormon model has to meet three basic criteria: First, the culture must be literate; second, there must be strong indications of material wealth; third, the people must be technologically advanced enough to work in metals, stone, and cement. All of these would leave proof in the archaeological record. That immediately eliminates a large number of the proposed models. Geography I would consider secondary; it changes with earthquakes. I look forward with great interest to John’s book.

    • danpeterson

      Lack of literacy is, as I understand it, one of the problems with Peru.

      • George Fisher

        Maybe but maybe not. A team of scholars at Harvard led by Dr. Gary Urton and others are working to decipher the very curious recording system known as khipu. It may in fact be a written language. It is inconceivable to me an empire of 12+ million subjects could be ruled for more than a century without a written language especially given the amount of control exercised by the Inka. Time will tell… In the mean time Potter needs to work a little harder on his theories about Peru. Picking up a Lonely Planet Guide for Peru or a NG magazine would both be good places to start.

  • Louis Midgley

    If those currently in charge of the Maxwell Institute suddenly reject a Mesoamerican location for the Book of Mormon, then why did the director of the Institute last year urge me to see that John Clark’s essay entitled “A Key for Evaluating Nephite Geographies,” which appeared in the first issue of the Review in 1989 (see pages 20-70), be revised and published in the Mormon Studies Review 23/1 (2011):13-43. In this very important essay, Professor Clark assembled all the numerous geographical details in the in Book of Mormon into an a kind of internal map. Any proposed real world location must fit these geographical details.

    Since the real world location of the events depicted in the Book of Mormon must conform to the geographical details in the Book of Mormon, George Potter’s effort to place the Book of Mormon in Peru is a failure, despite his book being larded with nice photographs. Likewise, placing the Book of Mormon events on the Malay Peninsula, somewhere in Africa, or the Baja, or in the Great Lakes/Missouri area also fails to take seriously the geographical information in the Book of Mormon. Much crackpottery has burdened pious and mercenary speculation about Book of Mormon geography. Some seem anxious to peddle bunk to older sincere people with disposable income who are led to thing that they are getting spectacular new proofs for the Book of Mormon from tour guides whose pitch is virtually all rubbish.

  • George Fisher

    Thank you for that Professor Midgley. Potter does use in his media presentations seemingly genuine endorsements including a scholar of the Maxwell Institute for his work.