The Land Northward and the Land of Moron in the Book of Ether

Book of Mormon geography is an area of research that has taken interesting turns in recent decades. Scholarly apologists have come to recognize that traditional interpretations of the Book of Mormon that understand it to have encompassed the lands of both North and South America are historically untenable and so have constructed alternative limited geographical models that see the events recounted in it as having occurred in a relatively small area of Mesoamerica (or, as some would have it, in the Great Lakes region of North America).[1] On the other hand, critics have countered that a close reading of the Book of Mormon argues against this approach and suggests that the narrative itself presupposes a hemispheric or continental perspective.[2] On this view, geographical considerations necessitate that we understand the Book of Mormon to be a fictional and mythological account of the aboriginal inhabitants of the Americas produced during the 19th century.

 

I would like to briefly expand on the argument for reading the Book of Mormon as myth by taking a closer look at the Book of Ether and its description of the land of the Jaredites, ie. the Land Northward. I will try and suggest not only that the land occupied by the Jaredites is best understood as the North American continent as a whole, but that we may be able to plausibly identify the Jaredite land Moron with a particular geographical locale within the borders of the United States as it was known to Joseph Smith.

 

We can begin by summarizing the evidence that the land of the Jaredites was coextensive with North America:

 

1) The language used to describe the Jaredite promised land suggests that the author of the Book of Mormon had in mind a specific land that was distinct from all other lands. The land is said to be “choice above all the lands of the earth” (Ether 1:42), with no indication that it was merely a portion of another land. It is “the land of promise” (Ether 2:7). The author feels no need to specify borders (as is the case with the promised land in the Hebrew Bible) because “the land” refers to the totality of the land and is naturally defined by the waters that surround it (cf. Hel 3:8). As is befitting to the tower of Babel context, the geographical perspective of the author is universal, taking in the lands and continents of the world as a whole.

 

2) “The Lord did bring Jared and his brethren forth even to that great sea which divideth the lands” (Ether 2:13). Again the perspective seems to be hemispheric in scope; “lands” here has reference to large land masses separated from one another by an oceanic body of water. Since the “great sea” is said to divide the lands, this would seem to imply that there are primarily two land masses in view, the Eurasian continent where the Jaredite party is located and another major land mass, the land of promise.

 

3) The characterization of the Jaredite land as “choice above all other lands” (Ether 1:42; 2:7) evokes the same language used elsewhere in the Book of Mormon to describe the North American land that the Christian Gentiles of European extraction would colonize (1 Nephi 13:12-30).

 

4) The account of the Book of Ether is directed to the Christian Gentiles (Ether 4:6, 13; 8:23; 12:22), who will inhabit the same land as the Jaredites and thus stand under the same promises (Ether 2:8-11). If they do not repent, then they will suffer the fate of the Jaredites.

 

5) The hill Ramah, otherwise known in the Book of Mormon as Cumorah, is an important site of the Land Northward. Omer passes by this hill on his way to the east seashore (Ether 9:3) and the Jaredite nation is ultimately destroyed there (Ether 15:11). There is little reason to doubt that this is the same hill which Joseph Smith and other early leaders identified as Cumorah in upstate New York. There is only one hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon and it is portrayed as the final resting place of the plates (Mormon 6:6). So even though Moroni is described as retaining the plates of Mormon to finish off the record, there is no compelling reason to assume from the narrative that Moroni would have hid the plates somewhere else. Furthermore, the hill cumorah is said to be in “a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains” (Mormon 6:4), which perfectly characterizes the region of upstate New York.

 

6) The Jaredite land is said to be the place of the New Jerusalem. Ether tells the people that “this land,” ie the Land Northward, was “the place of the New Jerusalem” (Ether 13:2-3), that “a New Jerusalem should be built up upon this land, unto the remnant of the seed of Joseph” (Ether 13:6). From Joseph Smith’s other revelations we know that the site of the New Jerusalem is Missouri (D&C 57:10-3).

 

7) Among the Jaredite battles that raged across the Land Northward, one was fought near “the waters of Ripliancum, which, by interpretation, is large, or to exceed all” (Ether 15:8). Because these waters are implied to be in a northern position not very distant from Ramah/Cumorah, they either refer to the Great Lakes conceived of as an interconnected collection of large bodies of water or to Lake Superior itself, the largest of the Great Lakes. The latter may be suggested by the name Ripliancum, since Ripple bay and Ripple creek were associated with the north side of Lake Superior. [3]

 

8) Two final factors are only obliquely touched on in the Jaredite record (Ether 10:4, 12, 20-21), and these are the topography of the Land Northward as it approaches the Land Southward and the desolate and timberless nature of much of the former. We read throughout the Book of Mormon that the Land Northward is connected to the Land Southward through a narrow neck of land, which at one point is so narrow that it was only a day or a day and half’s journey for a Nephite to walk across (Alma 22:32; Hel 4:7). On the other hand, we are told that much of the Land Northward had become desolate without timber as a result of “the many inhabitants that had before inherited the land” (Hel 3:5). Because of the lack of timber, the Nephites who migrated there became “exceedingly expert in the working of cement” (Hel 3:7; probably a reference to hardened clay) and lived in “tents” and “houses of cement” (Hel 3:9).

 

When we try and think of a geography that would fit the picture described here of a narrow neck of land connected to a larger land to the north where a considerable amount of territory was desolate of timber, it becomes clear that the author of Book of Mormon was operating on the basis of a very schematic view of the North American continent, beginning with the narrow neck of land, which can only have reference to the Isthmus of Panama, all the way up to the American Great Plains, or the Land of Desolation. Although the text indicates that not all of the Land Northward had become desolate of timber, much of it clearly had (Hel 3:5-7), so it would seem justifiable to assume that this distinctive topography should be easily recognizable in the North American landscape. Considered as a whole, the most obvious candidate for an extensive region characterized by a dearth of timber (somewhere north of a distinctive narrow neck of land) is the American Great Plains.

No other Book of Mormon geography theory has been able to adequately account for the conjunction of these two features. As far as I know, no limited geographical proponent has attempted to argue that at one point there was widespread deforestation in the regions thought to be the actual Land Northward (Southern Mexico? Canada? Both are densely wooded). Furthermore, early Mormon leaders and writers seem to have associated the Land of Desolation with the American prairies, while the notion that the prairies had resulted from early aborigines cutting down trees was current in early 19th century American thought.[4]

 

 

The Land of Moron

With this geographical setting in mind, we may be able to go further than just associating the Jaredites with North America in a general way, but actually correlate a particular prominent locality of the Jaredite kingdom, namely the land Moron, with a modern place name.

 

A close reading of the Book of Ether suggests that the land Moron was the place where the Jaredites first established their land of inheritance and the seat of their royal dynasty. When the place is first mentioned, the narrative begins in medias res, as it were. We are not told when the Jaredites first moved to Moron, but it is clear that this has occurred at least by the time of the second Jaredite king. This is indicated by the fact that after Corihor son of Kib rebels against his father and goes over to the land of Nehor, he then returns to the land of Moron where Kib lives and takes the king and the people captive (Ether 7:5). Later Noah the son of Corihor rebels against Shule, who was reigning in Nehor, and retakes the land of Moron, which is called “the land of their first inheritance” (Ether 7:16). Because “their” likely has reference to the Jaredite people, Moron appears to have been the central Jaredite land and dynastic seat from the time of Orihah, the first king.

 

Throughout the rest of the Book of Ether Moron would seem to be the setting for much of the narrative’s activity, even though it is explicitly mentioned only once towards the end (Ether 14:6). We are told that Nimrod, son of Cohor, son of Noah, gave up the kingdom to Shule (Ether 7:22), which is probably another way of saying that Shule obtained the dynastic seat of Moron. From this point on Moron is the implied residence of the highest power in the land. Jared gains the kingdom and Omer departs “out of the land” (Ether 9:3), ie. from Moron. Akish obtains the kingdom and Nimrah flees out of the “the land” (Ether 9:9). Eventually Omer is restored again to “the land of his inheritance” (Ether 9:13), ie. Moron. Which leads to the conclusion that the following kings, Emer, Coriantum, Com, Heth, Shez, and Riplakish, all reigned from Moron. After Riplakish’s descendents are driven out of “the land” (Ether 10:8), Morianton returns and establishes himself as “king over all the land” (Ether 10:9), which would be most appropriate at the Jaredite royal center. Later Levi battles against the king of “the land” and obtains the kingdom (Ether 10:15).

 

Internal dynastic struggles plague the subsequent history of the Jaredite people. The kingdom is frequently divided and various rulers and strong men are said to have “[obtained] the kingdom.” But the implicit setting in Moron as the center of the Jaredite people and dynasty remains the same all the way to the time of Coriantumr, where it is explicitly stated that his throne was in Moron (Ether 14:6). Nowhere at any point is it implied that the permanent center of the kingdom was transferred somewhere else.

 

Now, when we return to the question of where the land Moron was located, we can note several important clues in the narrative:

 

First, the only explicit description of the location of Moron is that it was “near the land which is called Desolation by the Nephites” (Ether 7:6). As we have already noted, in the mind of the Book of Mormon author the Land of Desolation would appear to be inclusive of the American Great Plains (extending all the way down into Mexico).

 

Second, the land Moron is apparently west of the hill Ramah, ie. New York (Ether 9:3), and south of Ripliancum, ie. Lake Superior, since the latter is situated in a northerly position (Ether 15:10).

 

Third, the land Moron is implied to have a rather central position in the Land Northward as whole, since kings rule over “all the land” from this locality (Ether 10:9; 12:1).

 

Based on these criteria, we may plausibly identity the land Moron with the land of Missouri. Missouri fits the general geographical specifications and, most importantly, lies on the border separating the Great Plains from the more wooded territory to the east and north. A comparable understanding of Missouri as a topographically significant transition area is reflected in D&C 57:4-5.

 

Furthermore, understanding Moron as Missouri may help elucidate an oddity of the Jaredite account, which is the emphasis placed on the New Jerusalem in the prophet Ether’s preaching. According to Moroni’s abridgement, Ether tells the people that the land upon which they live was “the place of the New Jerusalem, which should come down out of heaven (Ether 13:3), and that it would be built upon “this land” (Ether 13:4). Of course, “this land” could and probably does refer in some sense to North America as a whole. However, the identification of Moron with Missouri gives extra explanatory power to Ether’s prophecies. As we already noted, Coriantumr’s throne was in Moron (Ether 14:6). So when the narrative says that Ether “came forth in the days of Coriantumr and began to prophesy to the people” (Ether 12:2), this would suggest that his prophetic activity was centered not just anywhere in the Land Northward, but in the land Moron, the political and social capital of the Jaredite people. Thus on this reading, Ether is prophesying in the very vicinity of the future New Jerusalem and making an implicit contrast between the righteous inhabitants of what will be the millennial capital of the Western hemisphere and the wicked Jaredite nation, whose glory and greatness was unparalleled in its time (Ether 1:43).

 

If this reading is correct, it suggests that Joseph Smith had much earlier intimations of where the city Zion would be built (contra D&C 28:9), or that the process of producing the Book of Mormon helped lead him to the idea.

 

 

 

 

[1] This is best exemplified in the work of John Sorenson, whose magnum opus will be published soon as Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient Mesoamerican Book.

[2] Dan Vogel, Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon: Religious Solutions from Columbus to Joseph Smith (Signature Books, 1986); Earl M. Wunderli. “Critique of a Limited Geography for Book of Mormon Events,” Dialogue 35 (2002): 161–97; Thomas Murphy, “Simply Implausible: DNA and a Mesoamerican Setting for the Book of Mormon,” Dialogue 36 (2003): 109-131; Brent Metcalfe, “Reinventing Lamanite Identity,”  Sunstone, March (2004): 20–25.

[3] Vernal Holley, Book of Mormon Authorship, 59-62. Available: http://www.solomonspalding.com/docs2/vernP3.htm#pg59

[4] Dan Vogel, Indian Origins. Available: http://signaturebookslibrary.org/?p=598

  • kiwi57

    Your opening paragraph describes the argument in ways difficult to recognise. Limited geographical models are *NOT* retreats in the face of recognising the popular assumptions as “historically untenable,” but in fact themselves derive from the “close reading of the Book of Mormon” you choose, for reasons known only to yourself, to ascribe to “critics.”

  • RT

    kiwi57:
    You are free to feel that way if you’d like (in any case, I wouldn’t exactly
    use the word “retreat” and don’t think apologists of the BoM’s historicity are
    incapable of any kind of close reading of the text). Irrespective of how I
    describe the opposing views, do you have any comment to make about the rest of the post?

  • kiwi57

    Where to begin? The fact that you assume only one Book of Mormon author (hence the word “the”) and that assumption underpins your entire argument?
    Or the fact that you are relying upon an incontrovertibly anti-Mormon source as an authority?

  • RT

    That there is one singular author for the Book of Ether is not
    pivotal to my argument. Rather my argument has to do with geography and a close reading of the text. The assumption of unitary authorship is secondary, proceeds from my examination of the book, and, if nothing else, is more of a heuristic tool to facilitate analysis.

    What “incontrovertibly anti-Mormon source” are you referring to? Vogel? I don’t see what you’re talking about. Just because a scholar questions certain common assumptions about the historicity of the BoM doesn’t mean that they are “anti-Mormon”.

  • RT

    And by the way, the vast majority of the post doesn’t rely upon those authors mentioned in reference 2, but merely confirms their argument for a hemispheric perspective of BoM geography.

  • RaymondSwenson

    Your essay is full of those “obviously” phrases that are indicators of a lack of precise evidentiary support. My sense is that you prefer a continental model because it leads to broader, universalist assertions that are easier to refute and justify rejection of the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient record.

    Since you have read Sorenson you know that he first created a map of relative directions and distances and then applied that template to the Americas before concluding the best fit was southern Mexico and Guatemala west of the Yucatan and Maya culture area. Trying to refute that detailed correlation with assertions about the meaning of general phrases like “all the land” being a continent-wide reference does not impress me. Why should Lehi or Nephi have any concept of the North and South American continents when there is no evidence they ever explored across the continents or had any map of them?

    The Book of Mormon says nothing about where Moroni finally deposited the set of plates he was carrying around with him. There is no reference in the Pearl of Great Price or D&C to the hill in New York as “Cumorah” until D&C 128 in 1843, when it had become an assumption among the Saints (as it is for you) but was not a term used.by Moroni. There is no more reason to think that the use of the same name means the places are the same, anymore than Palmyra, Manchester, Rochester, Rome and Utica in New York are identical to their namesakes in Europe and Asia. Moroni lived for decades after the last battle in 385 AD, so he had plenty of time to travel north and hide the plates where Joseph could get to them after his family was forced to move to Palmyra by the eruption of Tambora in Java in 1815. Indeed, he could have made most of the journey by a canoe along the coastline, using the protected inland waterway and the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario to get within a few miles of the hill, a lot easier than backpacking or using a travois. Or he could have gone up the Mississippi to “Chicago” and then through the Great Lakes to around Buffalo, where he could have gone east to Palmyra upstream on the natural creeks that made it feasible to build the Erie Canal.

  • RT

    Raymond: I see “the most obvious” once but not “obviously”, so I don’t agree with your assertion. If my arguments lack evidence to support them, then show me why you think that.

    “My sense is that you prefer a continental model because it leads to broader, universalist assertions that are easier to refute and justify rejection of the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient record.”

    Your spider sense could not be more wrong! I don’t “prefer” a continental model in the sense that I want reality to conform to my personal preferences. I adopt a continental perspective because I think it makes the most sense out of the text and because other readings, such as the one offered by Sorenson or you above, bring so much extra-textual baggage that governs the process of interpretation and causes one to speculate and fill in gaps present in the BoM narrative.

    With regard to Sorenson’s map, I find his use of a handful of travel notices and distances as the basis for hypothesizing a limited geographical model to be methodologically problematic and highly speculative. The vast majority of travel notices in the BoM are exceedingly vague (often “many days” or simply unspecified). One has to know what kind of a text one is dealing with before they can draw firm historical conclusions about the meaning and significance of the few travel notices that are specified. For more on this, see Wunderli.

    “Why should Lehi or Nephi have any concept of the North and South American continents when there is no evidence they ever explored across the continents or had any map of them?”

    Umm, because they are portrayed in the BoM as prophets who have the ability of accessing a grand universal perspective on human history. Lehi sees the Babylonian captivity, the return of the Jews to Palestine, the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist; Nephi sees Columbus and the Revolutionary War etc. More to the point, in the Book of Ether the brother of Jared is said to have been shown “all the inhabitants of the earth which had been and also all that would be. And the Lord withheld them not from his sight, even unto the ends of the earth” (Ether 3:25).

    “The Book of Mormon says nothing about where Moroni finally deposited the set of plates he was carrying around with him.”

    I disagree. I think the BoM implies that the final resting place of the plates was Cumorah. Even though Moroni retained the plates to finish off the record while hiding here and there, the fact that no other place is mentioned in the text suggests that their final destination was Cumorah too.

    Your suggestion that the identification of Cumorah was simply an erroneous assumption/late tradition by the saints is just silly. We have many identifications from people we can be certain to have known exactly what JS believed and therefore to have been influenced by him (eg Oliver Cowdery in 1835).

  • JohnH2

    RT,

    I have to call you on two things in this response;

    First while journeys are often vague everything happens in the same general area which does have rough distances based on marching speeds and etc attached to them. You can not both argue that the distance from point A to point B is 3 days direct march and at the same time argue that A and B are thousands of miles apart because somewhere else the record uses vaguer terms.

    Second, That Cumorah is “implied” to be the resting place in the Book of Mormon. There is no implication of this and reason to think that it wasn’t the case because Moroni talks of leaving the land of Cumorah, meaning to assume that Moroni returned to bury the plates is to assume that Moroni headed back to an area where, according to him, they were actively seeking to kill him. I see no reason to think this as Moroni wrote quite a lot which suggests that he was relatively safe.

    Raymond’s suggestion of boat makes a lot of sense.

    Have you considered the hypothesis in Archeology of a greater Olmec civilization? From the southern Mayan sites to the northern most parts of Mesoamerica show Olmec influences from ~2000 B.C.-~400 B.C. with some people hypothesizing that the civilizations around the Mississippi had close relations to the Olmec. This, of course, places the narrow neck of land further south than Sorenson hypothesis, which is fine as I find lots of reasons to disagree with that particular hypothesis.

    Also, you appear to be unfamiliar with the deforestation events which happened in MesoAmerica. The method of construction involved building with plaster made by the stones with wood, so it used a lot of wood. This also cleared the area for farming, and it literally changes the local climate from being very hot and muggy to being quite nice. The problem is that this was done (multiple times) on such a large scale that the regional climate would change to being one that was drier than otherwise experienced. During the times of collapse, such as the classic and preclassic collapses of the Maya some 80-90% of the trees would be gone over the entire area leading to severely deceased rain fall, and an inability to plaster the buildings (as well as build the huts in which people lived) because there were no trees with which to build. Meaning that it is entirely consistent with any hypothesis placing the Nephites in Central America to have a group of nephites come across the narrow next of land which was deforested and find a destroyed people which suffered massive warfare in its waining drier years; because that is literally what happened multiple times in the history of Central America.

  • Rathje

    The assertion that the prophets should have had a sense of continental geography simply because they were prophets is completely baseless.

    By those same lights, I suppose they should have had a sense of quantum physics as well.

  • RT

    Thanks for dropping by, JohnH2. Did you read the post?

    “You can not both argue that the distance from point A to point B is 3 days direct march and at the same time argue that A and B are thousands of miles apart because somewhere else the record uses vaguer terms.”

    I’m not arguing for that. I think that some places in the BoM are portrayed as being relatively close together and that others could as well as be a thousand miles apart. I think the narrative is imaginative and fanciful, even as it strives to produce a plausible historical depiction.

    “There is no implication of this…”

    Take a look at Mormon 6:6:

    “I, Mormon, began to be old; and knowing it to be the last struggle of my people, and having been commanded of the Lord that I should not suffer the records which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred, to fall into the hands of the Lamanites, (for the Lamanites would destroy them) therefore I made this record out of
    the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the
    records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni.”

    A number of things should be noted about this passage.

    First, it is the only passage describing a final resting place for sacred plates. Nothing else is mentioned past this point.
    Second, Mormon is the one who is given a commandment by the Lord to hide up the records in Cumorah, and he does so. All the records. The plates given to Moroni are portrayed as though they are temporarily exempted from this plan but are ultimately destined to be hid in the same place.
    Third, the language used by Mormon for hiding the plates in Cumorah to protect them from the Lamanites is almost the same as what we find in Moroni’s title page: “hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed,” suggesting that he followed the same plan as his father.

    Moroni never says that he leaves the land of Cumorah never to return. Actually, he says that he doesn’t “make himself known to the Lamanites” (Moroni 1:1) and that he “wanders whithersoever… for the safety of his life” (1:3). To me that’s saying something very different, that he’s hiding from the Lamanites. In the world of the BoM narrative, he is perfectly capable of wandering here and there for personal safety and then hiding the plates in the place that had been designated by his father.

    With regard to Mayan deforestation, yes it occurred, but 2 things: 1) it was not as extensive and total as that portrayed in the BoM for the Jaredite land of desolation, and 2) it is not relevant to the time frame. The classic collapse happened much much later than the Jaredites, 900 AD.

  • JohnH2

    So you admit to ignoring the internal consistency of the book in terms of locations and instead assign your own fanciful interpretations because you think the book is fanciful?

    And the Olmec collapse? Or the Pre-Classic collapse? The Olmec are not Maya and the Olmec civilization largely collapsed with sudden and rapid depopulation around 400 B.C. There was also the pre-Classic Maya collapse around 250 A.D.

  • RT

    Please JohnH2, I’m not ignoring the internal consistency of the book, I just think apologists tend to imagine something that isn’t really there.

    The pre-classic collapse was much smaller, so doesn’t help your argument much, and the Olmec collapse wasn’t due to deforestation. I don’t see the relevance of either to my argument.

  • JohnH2

    Pre-classic was actually larger, sorry.

    We are not sure why the Omec collapsed, deforestation is a theory.

    I can not argue with your imagination; or at least I don’t know how to argue with your imagination.

  • RT

    JohnH2: You’re so anxious to argue your point that you’re missing the forest for the trees (pun intended). My point about the pre-classic collapse had to do with deforestation, not numbers of people.

  • JohnH2

    I don’t think that the pre-classic maya are the nephites, but the preclassic collapse was larger than the classic, and the deforestation was similar.

    I do think it is plausible that the Olmec are probably related to the Jaredites. The Jaredites were many times larger than the Nephites and the Olmec, especially if they are related to the Mississippi civilizations, would count as one of the largest pre-industrial civilizations.

  • RT

    “the deforestation was similar” Now you’re being ridiculous. A square block can fit in a round hole if you’re willing shave off the sides.

    Just because the Olmec were a large and great civilization that existed in ancient America is hardly cause for thinking that they may have something to do with the Jaredites. You have to analyze the portrayal of the Jaredites in the BoM first and try and discern whether the author of the account was attempting to depict a real flesh and blood people from antiquity.

  • JohnH2

    As I said, I can not argue with your personal imagination as to the intentionality and reality of the Book of Mormon.

    The Book of Mormon itself has the people of Zarahemla having met with at least a singular Jaredite, the people of Zenif having discovered a land filled with bones, and a few other scattered references to the Jaredites in the Book of Mormon outside of the Book of Ether.

    As for the record in Ether itself, The plates discovered were presumably the royal record and so is probably as trustworthy as any other royal record, meaning there probably aren’t out right lies but things were told intentionally from a certain perspective (as in the entire Book of Mormon). Since Moroni further condensed things then we are getting the Jaredite record through Moroni’s understanding of it and perspective of what he wanted to pass onto us.

    Since the sealed portion of the plates are to contain portions from the Jaredite record then by denying the Jaredites as real you are denying the existence of the plates itself, and therefore the entire Book of Mormon as being any sort of true. I think that someone that doesn’t believe in the Book of Mormon should not be setting up straw men as to what is in the Book of Mormon;

    in regards to deforestation, In the Maya region from pollen it appears that there were three distinct periods of collapse (already mentioned by me). Via soil Erosion rates it appears that the Pre-Classic had a greater degree of deforestation than the Classic did. Via plaster rates it appears that the Pre-Classic Maya had by the end stripped more trees than the Classic Maya did. The reason the Classic Maya is more well known is that its deforestation drought coincided with global variations that also led to drought in the area and so the drought, but not the deforestation, was much worse.

  • RT

    Rathje: I think you slightly misunderstood what I was saying. I don’t believe that in a real world scenario prophets such as Lehi, Nephi, or the brother of Jared could have had a sense of continental geography, but that in the imaginative world of the narrative, which reflects the perspective of the BoM author, they could.

  • Rathje

    So you’re basically trying to say that this might have been a case of semi-mythic exaggeration? The way ancient military historians routinely exaggerated the number of combatants, or simply played fast and loose with the numbers for narrative purposes?

    If so, fine.

    But it does nothing to further the argument that the Book of Mormon objectively speaking, is talking about whole continents. Especially when you’re simply waving away much better hard evidence in the book of actual geographic distances which were much smaller.

    I’ll buy that ancient prophets had a sort of grand mythic sense in their own narratives. But I don’t buy that the Book of Mormon objectively is describing such a geography. Nor does the Book of Mormon make a compelling case for such geography.

    Narrative is one thing – evidence is another. Any good historian encountering an ancient document knows to do this kind of sifting.

  • RT

    JohnH2: You don’t have to argue with my personal imagination. You could just try and address the various points that I make in the post.

    As I try and show, I think there are multiple indications that the Land Northward should be identified with North America, and with lands that overlap with the present US in particular, and that the capital of the Jaredites should be located in Missouri.

    If you want to hypothesize that the Book of Ether was trying to describe real history, then you are going to have to show me a nation that was the greatest nation of its time on the earth, that inhabited a land somewhat like North America (since the Jaredite land is depicted as a continent), whose land was connected to a land southward through a narrow neck of land, was somewhat coextensive with the future US, had an extensive amount of territory that was timberless, had a capital land/city in that was not far from Lake Superior and the hill Cumorah but was on the borders of the land desolate of timber. You would have to also explain away why Joseph Smith believed that the Jaredites occupied the Great Lakes region down to Mexico and that the land desolation was identical with the Great American plains. Among other things…

  • RT

    “So you’re basically trying to say that this might have been a case of semi-mythic exaggeration?”

    No, I’m saying that the BoM is myth and was constructed as such. The belief that a prophet could see the distant past precisely as well the distant future on a universal scale encompassing all the peoples of the earth stems from the 19th century BoM author.

    “Especially when you’re simply waving away much better hard evidence in the book of actual geographic distances which were much smaller.”

    You need to take a closer look at the post, Rathje. I have adduced a considerable amount of evidence in favor of understanding the Land Northward as North America, and the Land Moron in particular with Missouri.

    Calling the handful of specific travel notices, none of which truly overlap (and thereby demonstrate internal consistency) and which are totally set in the dark by the many more numerous vague and ambiguous travel notices, to be “much better hard evidence” is just silly. No rigorous and careful historian would make such a supposition.

  • JohnH2

    I don’t believe that the Cumorah in New York is “the Cumorah”. I do not believe the waters of Ripliancum is Lake Superior, and think your argument for that one is entirely imaginative.

    Assuming more than contact and trade relations between the ancient cultures (such as Olmec and Poverty Point) is not well supported by Archeology, but this possibly due to the limits of Archeology. Regardless, we know the Olmec culture stretched for thousands of miles and had trade relations (at least) with Poverty Point, who also had trade relations through out the extent of the Mississippi.

    So we have clear and known evidence for a culture which was one of the largest in the ancient world, was north of a narrow neck of land, that suffered rapid and sever depopulation, and had, at the minimum, cultural contact and trade relations (at least) extending many more thousands of miles. I don’t know why you feel the need to hypothesis another culture that was also the largest in the ancient world, that also extended thousands of miles, that also suffered rapid and sever depopulation, that also deforested large areas, that likewise collapsed at about the same time, and was likewise dominant in North America. You are purposing this culure, not because you think it exist and not because you have textual evidence but because you don’t think any of it is real, when a series of real cultures are sitting right in front of you which match what is said decently well.

  • Rathje

    Actually, you didn’t really provide a lot of compelling evidence for the setting being in the north.

    In fact, the only reason your evidence would be compelling is if you approach the whole thing from the assumption that Joseph Smith (or whatever 19th century conspiracy theory of authorship you buy into) was the sole author.

    Which is rather brazen question-begging.

    Basically, your thesis boils down to – “since Joseph Smith or one of his compatriots was the sole author of the Book of Mormon” we ought to view it as him thinking of it as a North American mythic epic.”

    Well, I suppose that ought to play well in the secularist echo-chamber.

    Best wishes on that.

  • Paul

    Kiwi57, JohnH2, it must be mentioned, since you both seem stuck on the historicity issue, that RT (wisely, mercifully) withheld the big guns, i.e., the absolute dearth of archaeological or genetic evidence that might support the Book of Mormon as literal record – which, to my mind, makes the parsing of matters geographical rather irrelevant, if charming. There are undoubtedly many who also care where Middle Earth might “actually” be. In RT’s argument is a well-placed appreciation and awe for the complexity of this magnificent scripture. Bravo and good work!

  • RT

    “I don’t know why you feel the need to hypothesis another culture…”

    I’m sorry, but your theory that the Olmecs=Jaredites is speculative in the extreme. Not only does it fail to read the BoM account very carefully, but it manipulates archaeological evidence to fit a preconceived belief in the fundamental historicity of the BoM.

  • RT

    Rathje:
    If that’s what you think my thesis is, then you didn’t read or understand the post.

  • JohnH2

    At least we agree about the nature of the other persons position.

  • Rathje

    I read it – I just think you’re giving a lot more credit to your evidence than it deserves.

  • RT

    Thanks Paul!

  • RT

    Show me that you read the post by engaging with the ideas it presents. If you think I’m giving more credit to the evidence than it deserves, show me why my reading of the evidence is incorrect. Just telling me that you don’t agree with it doesn’t get us very far.

  • RT

    Except that I actually have offered a close reading of the BoM, which you continue to be unwilling to engage with.

  • Hello_World

    It seems apparent from the arguments here, that if you believe the BoM is myth, there is plenty of evidence to support your theory. If you believe the BoM is true, there is plenty of evidence to support your theory.

  • Paul

    Appreciate the generous sentiments, Hello, but this depends on your definition of the word “evidence.” In the literal/mythic debate, the real stuff (genuine evidence) is overwhelmingly lopsided in favor of myth. It’s not even close. That said, I don’t think this necessarily devalues BoM as scripture, or as a path to religious discipline, any more than lack of literal evidence devalues other sacred texts, including the Bible, Tibetan Book of the Dead, Koran, etc. These are spiritual guides, not history books.

  • Hello_World

    I believe you assume science is infallible. The “real stuff” isn’t offered in your article so we have nothing to really talk about but general observations from a mythical book and the belief system of the people who follow it’s teachings. The one thing about science, even history, is that what is true today will be proved false tomorrow. At one point, we believed that the atom was the smallest particle. Today, we know that is not true. Pluto use to be a planet. Now it is not.

    I believe you are suggesting that Joseph wrote it based on his understanding of the world in which he lived, which could not be even remotely possible given his education and travel experience and age at the time he translated the BoM. There is no “real stuff” to prove that he did.

    You’re statement: “small area of Mesoamerica (or, as some would have it, in the Great Lakes region of North America).” left me with the impression that you were stating that these two places were one and the same and they are not. (I only state this because, it skewed your article as I was not certain which theory you were using for a basis. As I now realize that you were only trying to establish that the BoM was a myth because of the confusion about where it takes place, the geographical model made no difference to the material in your article.)

    And then stating: “On this view, geographical considerations necessitate…” the Book of Mormon is a myth, but you simply do not have the evidence “real stuff” to support it. I assume the “view” you are talking about is that of the whole of North and South American Continent. Given that the book is not written as a history and that there is no effort to relate to any known land mark that would have survived for 2400 or more years, I’d say the BoM has sufficient parallels to just wait out science until it finally catches up.

  • RT

    Read pass the first paragraph, Hello, and you’ll find that there’s a whole lot more to this discussion than you realized.

  • Hello_World

    It was the first paragraph I was referring too.

  • RT

    That’s hardly adequate to have an idea of what I’m talking about in the post. In other words, the “real stuff” is all after the first paragraph.

  • Hello_World

    Make up your mind, You say, read the first post, then say that’s hardly adequate. This is my last post on this article.

  • RT

    Hello, when I use the word “post”, I’m referring to the whole article, from first to last paragraph, the OP. To read only the first paragraph and then think that sufficient to comment is, in my view, highly inadequate.

  • Hajicek

    Oh, gosh, I am another JohnH. I live in Independence, Mo. (Moron), so I have an alternative view of Mormon history. I have a lot to contribute to this conversation, but I know you’ll just ask if I read the post.

  • http://www.MormonMediaReviews.com/ Mormon Media Reviews

    Why can’t the Book of Mormon be true and take place in America? It does make a lot of sense when applied to the prophecies made about the land of promise.

    Just because the author feels the Book is myth does not mean his theory of locations is incorrect.


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