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

On Doubt and Trust
A Recent “Anti-Mormon” Essay: Trying to Understand Gee’s Response, Part II
Doubting Our Doubters
A Recent “Anti-Mormon” Essay: Trying to Understand Gee’s Response, Part I

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