“From the East to the West: The Problem of Directions in the Book of Mormon”



John Sorenson’s proposed map of Book of Mormon locations (1985)


Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture has published yet another article:  Brant Gardner’s “From the East to the West: The Problem of Directions in the Book of Mormon.”


Although I can’t guarantee that the steady pace will continue forever — we didn’t necessarily set out with a goal of posting something every week — we have, thus far, not missed a single Friday since the first article went up on 3 August 2012, and we’re still adding articles to the queue.


Pretty remarkable, I think, for a journal that has no office space and no salaried employees, pays no royalties, and has only recently begun to acquire enough capital to be able to think about even a modest budget.


Posted from St. George, Utah.



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  • JohnH

    I can sympathize with the need to be able to point to a location and culture as being the Nephites; however I am quite convinced that the Yucatan is not the land of the Book of Mormon. Reasons for this include but are not limited to the calendar round, the long count calendar, the glyphs, El Mirador, Teotihuacan, Tulan, the scarcity of metals and the lack of metal working in that area of the Americas, the mismatch of a unified confederacy of city-states described in the Book of Mormon with the independent warring tribute empire city states of the pre-classic and classic Maya, the type of warfare that was conducted in Mesoamerica being very different from that described in the Book of Mormon, the Popal Vuh having continual imagery through the pre-classic Maya, that Mesoamerica is in my opinion both too populous and too large geographically based on my readings of the book of Mormon. This is just a list not a detailed explanation of each point.

    I think it more likely that the Nephites were in a much more southern location where there was metal working and where warfare more closely matches that described in the Book of Mormon among Nephite and Lamanite. I think in trying to draw parallels between the Nephites and the Maya a lot very forced, unhelpful. and even damaging things are brought up while the much deeper parallels to the gospel found in the Popal Vuh tend to go unnoticed and uncommented on. I really think it tragic that so much superficial fluff which doesn’t stand up to any sort of inspection (such that my wife who is an epigrapher can’t stay in sunday school when someone mentions such things) gets sold to Mormons seeking external confirmation of faith while things that are so much deeper and complex in their connections to the gospel get marginalized or ignored because they don’t fit the narrative that is trying to be sold.

  • http://nathanrichardson.com Nathan

    JohnH, I’m (genuinely) intrigued. What are some of those deeper parallels to the gospel found in Popol Vuh? What are the other connections to the gospel you feel are being ignored? Where can I do some further reading?

    • JohnH

      Dr. Allen Christenson has an excellent translation of the Popol Vuh. In the Popol Vuh is the story of the creation of the earth as well as stories with parallels to the fall and the atonement, there are actually lots of connections to the gospel in it. For instance the earth is not created out of nothing, merely framed and shaped, by the Framer and the Shaper acting at the direction of Heart of Sky.

      Surprisingly one of the strongest connections which is completely ignored is the practice of blood letting as practiced by the kings. It might be because people have a problem with the concept of bloodletting but a semi-divine king (or queen) spilling his blood for the redemption of his people and even potentially slitting the jugular in symbolism of death and rebirth, with the further purpose of communing with the gods is about as close as anything I can think of to the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ by whose blood we are saved and whose death and resurrection we partake symbolically.

  • http://nathanrichardson.com Nathan

    Interesting. I had heard a little bit about those things. Why do you think focusing on the Maya detracts from those insights? I would have thought studying potential connections with the Maya would have highlighted the kinds of parallels you just mentioned.

    • JohnH

      From my wife:

      Most people I’ve met aren’t interested in actually learning about the Maya. They’re happy to take superficial connections, then feel good about them — which I imagine could be damaging to testimonies later. For example, it’s really common to have people state the phrase “i-uut” as evidence for Nephites-as-Maya. The phrase is very common in Maya glyphs and means “and then it happens.” In the Book of Mormon, “And now it came to pass” is also common. Correlation!

      Except, not so much. First, most societies are going to have some linguistical equivalent of “this thing happens after this other thing.” Further, the Maya phrase is _only_ used in a calendrical context. It’s the verb that follows a passage of time. In context, it looks something like, “Five years, 7 months, and 3 days [from the initial date in the inscription], and then it happens, 7 Muluk 17 Sek”. So, i-uut is sandwiched by long-count on the one side, and a Calendar Round on the other. It’s also common to find it in the past tense, something we don’t see in the Book of Mormon.

      There’s a bunch of other badly-mashed stuff. The Tablet of the Cross at Palenque is another one. It features a stylized world-tree. I’ve seen books where people say that this is a crucifix, and it’s a depiction of Christ giving authority to an apostle in the America. Problematic, as the text indicates that this is the coronation of K’inich Kan Bahlam in 684 AD.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    To JohnH: My recollection of John Sorenson’s works is that he, for one, does not identify the Maya with Book of Mormon peoples, and does not propose that the events recounted in the Book of Mormon took place in the Yucatan Peninsula. It might help if you would identify specifically whose model you are disagreeing with, and where that model is described.

    • JohnH

      Look at the Interpreter Article with its map, that is what I am referring to, my comments are random. It is clearly trying to label pre-classic Maya sites as Nephi and Zarahemla. The Maya were the people living there and so trying to identify the Book of Mormon as happening there then one is either saying the Maya were those people or one is taking the even more nonsensical view that even though the Maya were living there there was an entirely different set of people that lived in the area and the Maya make no mention of them and they make no mention of the Maya nor is there any cultural exchange between the Maya and the Book of Mormon people nor war despite the extreme close proximity. For reference Teotihuacan, which is in the “distant land of waters” in the map”, completely dominated most of Mesoamerica at that time period with conquests and cultural exchanges happening far to south of the labeled land of “Nephi” on the map.

      Also, when the article references maya glyphs, David Stuart, Mayan language, Mesoamerica, etc. then claiming that I am not being specific, that they are not claiming it is the Maya, is laughable. Further claiming that they are not claiming that it happened in Mesoamerica when the map is a map of Mesoamerica is nonsensical.

      Basically any model that is claiming that the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is the narrow neck of land referred to regardless of any perceived differences in the claim faces these problems.

      • JohnH

        *not* random