Book of Mormon Covenant Lands According to the Best Sources



For the Book of Mormon,

Came to Pass

By W. Vincent Coon

In the land Cumorah, at the Smith family home, a messenger told young Joseph about a book giving "an account of the former inhabitants of this continent…" It was there in the land Cumorah, that the angel declared the fulfillment of ancient prophecies – "the book to be revealed". (D&C 128:20, JS-H 1:34-41) Cumorah, not the Hill Cumorah is referenced in D&C 128:20. Nothing in the angel's message indicates that the principal lands of the Book of Mormon spread over the entire American continent - over two subcontinents, or that the ancient peoples named in the book, were the only ones at the time inhabiting the Western Hemisphere. You will not find a hemispheric geography advanced in the Book of Mormon. You will find in LDS scripture that the ground, on which the Book of Mormon was translated, was the same ground possessed in life by the book's ancient dead (2 Nephi 26:16, Mormon 8:23, 25-26, D&C 10:46-51); that upon this land of promise, gentile pilgrims would come, a war of independence would be fought, and a mighty nation of liberty would arise "above all other nations". (1 Nephi 13:12-20, 30)

The Book of Mormon tells us that "the land of Cumorah" was in "a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains". The Finger Lakes region, where the Smith family lived, fits the description. Other Book of Mormon lands, Nephi and Zarahemla, cannot possibly be thousands of miles away from Cumorah. The Book of Mormon places "a land among many waters" (near Cumorah), and the land of Zarahemla so near to each other, that travelers from the south could mistake one region for the other. (Mosiah 8:7-8; 21:25-26, Mormon 6:4) Of course, the proximity of New World Book of Mormon lands does not mean that Book of Mormon peoples remained localized. The scripture tells of more than one migration from its principal lands, possibly to far off places. (4 Nephi 1:23)

Joseph Smith definitely placed Book of Mormon events in his own country. A letter to his wife Emma tells of the "mounds" of the Nephites encountered during the journey of Zion's camp. (Personal Writing of Joseph Smith, pp. 344-346) In two Times and Season editorials on the writings of Josiah Priest, editor Joseph Smith implies that Book of Mormon peoples, or there descendents, migrated as far south as Mexico and Central America. Joseph never states in these signed pieces that Book of Mormon lands are to be found in Mexico and Central America. However popular among LDS, there is no verifiable statement by the Prophet placing Lehi's landing on the coast of South America. Joseph Smith firmly and consistently sets Book of Mormon history in mound builder territory. ("Traits of the Mosaic History, Found among the Azteca Nations", Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, No. 16, June 15, 1842, pg. 818; "American Antiquities" Vol. 3, No. 18, July 15, 1842, pg. 858 - Note: these articles are individually endorsed with Joseph Smith's "-ED")

Non-Mormon scholars have sorted out Joseph Smith's original statements from less verifiable statements attributed to him without proof. The academically accepted setting for the Book of Mormon is based on Joseph Smith's firsthand remarks and on details in the Book of Mormon narrative. Historians place the Book of Mormon's literary setting among the "mythic" mound builders of North America. See for instance the work Hidden Cities – The Discovery and Loss of Ancient North American Civilization by Roger G. Kennedy. The Book of Mormon is therefore classed in the American "Mound-builder" genre of the 19th century. [1] No proposed Central of South American setting for the Book of Mormon is likely to be accepted by academia as legitimately representing the book's local literary setting. Mainstream scholars seek to treat the Book of Mormon with the same textual objectivity as they do the Bible. Their research deserves consideration.

Though religious and secular scholars disagree on what is "historical" in the Bible, agreement can at least be reached on the Bible's setting. The same could be true for the Book of Mormon. Lack of archaeological evidence does not keep believers from valuing a sacred text. There is presently, little archaeological proof that Solomon's temple actually stood at the place cited in scripture. Even so, reputable authorities of the Bible are not found arguing over the whereabouts of mount Moriah (2 Chronicles 3:1) The faithful continue to believe that there actually was a king Solomon and a magnificent temple that stood on the biblical mount a thousand years before the Christian era. The union between the scripture and the land will always amount to more than geography and archaeology. ("Jesus of History vs. Jesus of Tradition", BAR Interviews with Sean Freyne, Biblical Archaeological Review, November / December, 2010, pp. 36-47)


Casqui Parkin Site

The Art of Herb Roe, depicting a North American mound builder city

Various "Book of Mormon Geography" theories are depicted in maps containing two-dimensional information only. The  Book of Mormon actually contains three-dimensional facts about its sacred lands.  It is not enough to find a "narrow neck of land", and a northward flowing river somewhere in the Americas. The truth is, there is even more to correctly placing the book's setting than getting its relative ups and downs right. Ancient Israelite covenant lands had seasons that accommodated the Law of Moses! Faithful Nephites observed "all" of the ordinances of the Law including ordinances that relied on the Israelite calendar. The ancient Israelite calendar is fixed in the temperate Northern Hemisphere. (2 Nephi 5:10, Exodus 12:1-2) This simple fact alone rules out Central and South America. If only more studied Torah!

The directions to various bodies of water, called seas, need to fit scriptural coordinates. Israelite directions depend on the perceived movements of the sun and the moon. (Genesis 1:14) Israelite directions were an integral part of priesthood ordinances. (Leviticus 1:11)

The relative locations and elevations of Book of Mormon lands are indicated in the text with perfect consistency. Notwithstanding a great upheaval at the Savior's death, key land features like the "narrow pass", and the general southward rise in elevation persisted. (Mormon 1:10; 2:29; 3:7-8, 14-16; 4:1) Traveling south from the land of Desolation to Bountiful one goes “up”. The elevation continues to rise as we continue on to the land of Nephi, further south. (Alma 22:30-31, Omni 1:13, 27-28, Mosiah 7:1-2)

The Book of Mormon narrative describes a limited geography, with prophetic and historical events associated with it: The book describes a Promised Land that would see Gentile explorers, pilgrims, the American struggle for Independence, and a “land of liberty" for "the gentiles” upon which “no kings … shall raise up unto the gentiles…” (1 Nephi 13:14-19, 2 Nephi 10:10-14) This begs a question: If LDS scripture indicates so localized an American setting for the Book of Mormon lands Cumorah, Desolation, Bountiful, Zarahemla and Nephi, how is it that the geography came to be so exaggerated in the minds of church members? Let's address this question by first defining what is meant by an “exaggerated setting” for the Book of Mormon:
An exaggerated setting for the Book of Mormon is any geographic model which places Book of Mormon locations at distances greater than a reasonable interpretation of scripture allows.
Exaggerated settings for the Book of Mormon fit into two broad categories:
(1) Hemispheric settings (the most exaggerated).

(2) Non-hemispheric exaggerated settings.
Less exaggerated settings may, for instance, spread Book of Mormon lands and cities over much of the North American continent. In the past, much attention was given  to Mesoamerica because of the alluring stone ruins there; even though scriptural Cumorah was acknowledged to sit far to the north in mound builder territory - western New York.

Other non-hemispheric settings situate Book of Mormon places and events within the mainland of the United States and parts of Canada. Even though these settings qualify as more limited, the scope of some of them is still too large. For instance, “the line Bountiful and the land Desolation” should only be a “day and a half’s journey…from the east to the west sea”. (Alma 22:31-32) More than one proposed setting stretches this critical distance to the point of incredulity.

What is a common presumption in all exaggerated settings for the Book of Mormon?

All exaggerated settings for the Book of Mormon presume that the "west sea" in the neighborhood of the New World land of first inheritance, is an ocean. Almost all exaggerated settings identify the "west sea" with the Pacific Ocean, even though the Book of Mormon never states that Lehi voyaged across "the west sea". The critical scripture to pay attention to is Alma 22:28. It reads:

"Now the more idle part of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness, and dwelt in tents; and they were spread through the wilderness on the west, in the land of Nephi; yea, and also on the west of the land of Zarahemla, in the borders by the seashore, and on the west in the land of Nephi, in the place of their fathers' first inheritance, and thus bordering along by the seashore."
It is significant that LDS scripture no where identifies "the waters of the great deep", "the great waters" or "the many waters" that Book of Mormon peoples voyaged across, with the neighboring seas west and east of the lands of Zarahemla and Nephi. (1 Nephi 17:5, 17, 2 Nephi 4:20, Omni 1:16) Some argue that broad oceanic reference frames define the west and east seas of the Book of Mormon. But this line of reasoning conflicts, with the clearly local description of "the sea on the west and on the east" of a land based location "by the narrow pass…" (Alma 50:34) It can only be concluded, based on LDS scripture, that the American land of "first inheritance" extended to and included a place by the shore of a sea that situated west with respect to the land of Nephi. There is absolutely no indication in scripture that this "west sea" was salt water or ocean.

To allege that the north, south, east, and west seas bordering various Book of Mormon lands are all oceanic bodies is to make extrapolations beyond what the scripture says. (Helaman 3:8) The logic that sea must mean ocean, fails in the case of many biblical verses that refer to a "sea" or "the sea" (Numbers 34:11, Joel 2:20) Even "the great sea" (the Mediterranean, Numbers 34:6) bordering the biblical Promise Land, is really an inland body of water.

References to "beach" or "sea shore" in scripture needn't mean an ocean coast. (Genesis 22:17) The same Hebrew word "saphah" (שׇׂפׇה) translated "shore" in one instance is also translated "bank" as in "bank of the Jordan". (2 Kings 2:13; The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon, entry 8193, שׇׂפׇה, pp. 973-974)

While the Book of Mormon mentions "large bodies of water" (Alma 50:29, Helaman 3:4), neither the Book of Mormon or the King James translation of the Old Testament ever call a body of water a "lake". This isn't because there were no "lakes" in Old and New World promised lands. Ancient inhabitants referred to lakes as "seas". (Ether 2:7) Of course, from New Testament Greek we get the familiar expression "lake of fire and brimstone" (Revelation 20:10), also used in the translation of various Book of Mormon passages. But this does not mean that the Nephites actually used a Greek word for "lake" when describing scenes of burning effluence. It is more likely that their original description paralleled the poetry of Yesha'Yahu (Isaiah):

"And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch." (Isaiah 34:9-10). See also Isaiah 30:33 , " a stream of brimstone..."

If the "west sea" is not an ocean, how did Lehi arrive near it?
Rejecting hemispheric settings and accepting the scriptural location of Cumorah (D&C 128:20), LDS authors Phyllis Olive, Wayne May and others, have concluded that the "many waters" crossed by Lehi's family involved the Atlantic Ocean. [2][3] This view is at odds with the Pacific Ocean crossing alleged in dubious sources like the Williams document. A vision recorded in the Book of Mormon describes how "a man among the Gentiles" was seen navigating "the many waters" to the American Promised Land. The "many waters" in this instance is clearly the Atlantic Ocean. The Book of Mormon follows with prophetic descriptions of events in colonial American history that occurred on the eastern coast of the United States. (1 Nephi 13:10-20)

Events at Jerusalem and teetering family relations had made it unwise for Lehi's family to flee to the populated Mediterranean coast. (1 Nephi 3:18) The prospect of sailing to another Promised Land by way of the Mediterranean was out of the question. In an effort to avoid contact with potential adversaries, Lehi's family fled to the southern desert, eventually arriving at an isolated southeastern shore of the Arabian Peninsula. There they constructed a ship. Currents and seasonal winds at this location carried them to Africa and southward along the continent's coast.

The women of the company had given birth during their wilderness sojourn. (1 Nephi 17:1-2) The company could easily have consisted of more than thirty souls at the time they set sail. They had limited stowage. The preferred sea path to the Promised Land would have been one that would keep them in reach of coastline (food and much needed freshwater) for most of the voyage.

One possible location where they may have re-supplied is the island of Grand Comore; about 200 miles off the eastern coast of Africa. The capitol port city of the island, by the way, has a Semitic name – "Moroni".
After "many days" at sea, Lehi's company confronted a "terrible tempest". The account aptly fits the throws of wind and sea encountered at Africa's tempestuous horn. They were "driven back upon the waters for the space of four days…" Thereafter, with enough freshwater and supplies stored onboard, they succeeded in crossing over to the Western Hemisphere along the shorter and more direct route between the Old World and the New. They were assisted by the prevailing winds and equatorial currents of the Atlantic during the crossing. Still aided by currents and winds they could have sailed along coasts and island chains until they arrived near the Gulf of Mexico. At this point the opinions of Olive and May diverge in regards to Lehi's final landing.
Favoring a more localized setting near the Great Lakes, Olive sees Lehi's company entering North American straits. Rivers like the Mississippi, Ohio, Allegheny  and other ancient water-ways which lead to lands a short distance from the Book of Mormon "west sea" – the freshwater Great Lake Erie. [4] Lehi's descendents would later congregate to the shore of this body of water during time of drought; and from there, spread out again after the drought had abated. (Helaman 11:20)

Thus Book of Mormon immigrants to the New World didn't just sail across the many waters to the land of promise, they sailed "cross the large waters into the promised land..." as the scripture says. (1 Nephi summary, Omni 1:16)  The spiritual significance of taking a strait and narrow course across a gulf was not lost on later generations of Lehi's faithful descendents. (Helaman 3:29) Scripture indicates that Lehi's family traveled so far northward that they encountered, "driven snow" a description used by Nephi in relating details of his vision to future generations of his people in the American land of promise. (1 Nephi 11:8)

In chapter four of The Lost Lands of the Book of Mormon, Olive discusses and shows possible routes Lehi's company could have taken to arrive near the "west sea", Lake Erie. An alternate sea path has Lehi's company sailing from the south along the eastern seaboard to the gulf we now call Chesapeake Bay. Had Lehi's company been guided to the northern end of the bay they could have entered the mouth of the Susquehanna. The western branch of the Susquehanna leads to choice lands and other water-ways near Lake Erie.

A company the size of Lehi's must have required many stops along the way - for freshwater and victuals if nothing more. These necessary landfalls were not recorded in the abridgement.  It stands to reason that they did not risk bringing the ship too close to shore each time. They likely had smaller craft for these excursions. Smaller craft could have also aided in bringing Lehi's company to their inheritance near Lake Erie.

Jacob son of Lehi referred to the land they arrived at as "an isle of the sea", an expression he took from Hebrew scripture. (2 Nephi 10:20-21) The Hebrew word translate "isle", "i" (אִי) means "coast", "region", "habitable land". It does not exclusively mean an island or small landmass entirely surrounded by water. Isaiah in fact, uses the same Hebrew word to describe Mediterranean countries, including the land of Israel. (Isaiah 20:6; The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon, entry 339, אִי, pp. 15-16) Certain Book of Mormon lands "were nearly surrounded by water..."  (Alma 22:32), but the "water" mentioned does not have to mean ocean.

Susquehanna River

Crossing "the large waters into the promised land..." (1 Nephi 1)

Both May and Olive agree that other ancient peoples in the Book of Mormon land northward (the Jaredites and the Mulekites), arrived by way of the Atlantic and St. Lawrence channel. This opinion agrees with Joseph Smith's statement, placing the arrival of the Jaredites in the region of "the lake country of America" (near Lake Ontario). ("Traits of the Mosaic History Found Among the Aztaeca Nations", Times and Seasons, June 15, 1842, Vol. 3, No. 16, pp 818-20, signed with Joseph Smith's "ED") Josiah Priest, whose written work Joseph Smith editorialized, associated the title "lake country" with the Great Lakes region of America. [5]

Lehi's Divinely Guided Voyage to America

From One Land of Inheritance Bordered by Inland Seas to Another
Lehi's Divinely Guided Voyage to America

A Feasible Voyage

How did the mistake of placing Zarahemla so very far from Cumorah come about?

According to Latter-day revelation, early members of the Church, notwithstanding their testimonies and exemplary lives, “treated lightly” the Book of Mormon, bringing “the whole Church under condemnation”. (D&C 84:54-57) Instead of carefully consulting scripture, enthusiastic associates of Joseph Smith jumped to conclusions based largely on outside source material i.e. available maps of the Western Hemisphere and popular works like John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America. Their hasty conclusions started traditions which have led to embarrassment and confusion. The following are examples of exaggerated geographies tendered by early church members:

Hemispheric e.g. Orson Pratt’s model, suggested as early as 1832. Elder Pratt presumed the Book of Mormon's “narrow neck of land” to be at Panama. He contended that the Book of Mormon "river Sidon" was the long, northward flowing Magdalena River of tropical Colombia. Because of the presumed need for a landing site that was as far south of the equator as Jerusalem is north, Elder Pratt placed Lehi’s landing far to the south in temperate Chile. Orson Pratt’s presumptions make for a most exaggerated setting. Localized South American geographies have essentially distilled from the hemispheric tradition started by Orson Pratt and others.

Orson Pratt outlived more than one Apostle who differed with his geographic conclusions. Late in the nineteenth Century, Orson Pratt’s geography prevailed to the point of being published as footnotes in the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon. Though his speculative footnotes have since been removed, his influence carries on in the Church. Celebrated author Robert Silverberg notes that Orson Pratt in fact espoused a "Mound Builder" setting for the Book of Mormon. The Mormon leader chose to spread the setting of the "mounds" over "both North and South America." (Silverberg, Robert, The Mound Builders, 1970, pp. 72-73)

Elder Orson Pratt started promoting his over-sized Book of Mormon geography as a brilliant young missionary on fire with his own vision of the scripture - a book which he had only begun to study in depth. Elder Pratt discoursed on “ancient” Cumorah in western New York. (“The Hill Cumorah”, Millennial Star, 28:417-19)  He informed the Saints, that the exhumed remains of New York mega-fauna, (e.g. recovered near the Mohawk River) were the bones of “domesticated animals” of the Jaredite people of Omer who, according to Apostle Pratt, “inhabited all that region of country”. (“The Mastodon of the Book of Ether”, Millennial Star, 28:776-7) Elder Pratt definitely recognized the mound builders as Book of Mormon peoples, and went so far as to promote the Ohio Hebrew stones, reportedly “discovered in the mounds”, as Nephite scripture. (Journal of Discourses, 16:47-49)

Out of line with key Book of Mormon details, Elder Pratt placed Nephite cities like “Amonihah in the northern part of South America”, while correctly recognizing Cumorah in western New York. Elder Pratt had the prophet Ether carrying the Jaredite record thousands of miles from the region of Ramah (Cumorah) “towards South America”, placing the plates “in a position north of the Isthmus, where a portion of the people of King Limhi, about one hundred year before Christ, found them.” (Journal of Discourses, 16:47-49) This is a geographic impossibility, not because ancient people could not have traveled far and wide, but because the land where the Jaredites were destroyed (proximal to Ramah / Cumorah), was near enough to Zarahemla to be misidentified as Zarahemla. (Mosiah 8:7-9; 21:25-27, Mormon 6:4, Ether 9:3; 15:8-12) Apostle Pratt had Zarahemla near the Magdalena River of South America. (Journal of Discourses, 16:47-49)

 NY Mastodon Scene

NY Mastodon

Murals at the Rochester Museum of Science depicting the prehistoric New York mastodon and its use by local people. Large numbers of these creatures inhabited western New York in ages past. The discovery of mastodon remains in New York, where native earthworks were also found, led many to presume that the animal was contemporary with mound building people. (Ether 9:19) Latter-day Saint Apostle Orson Pratt acknowledged the mound builder setting for the Book of Mormon, but exaggerated it. Elder Pratt stretched his mound builder geography over the Western Hemisphere! His geographic views greatly influenced  Mormon opinion for a while.

North American Continent e.g. Apostle John E. Page’s model, the initial version drafted in1842. Elder Page was enamored with John Lloyd Stephens’ 1841 best settler, and sought to fit Book of Mormon cities to the sites of Mesoamerica stone ruins brought to public attention by Stephens’ volumes.  Stephens’ own conclusion that the ruins which he and Catherwood documented were not of "great antiquity", went unheeded by Elder Page and many other excited Latter-day Saint readers. [6] Page made more than one revision of his geographic model. Page initially had the “narrow neck of land” at the bay of Honduras (not Panama), but appears to have modified his view (by 1848), moving the location further west and north, possibly to the wide lateral Isthmus of Tehuantepec. In contrast to Pratt's model, Page’s geography better accommodates the compact size of Nephite lands indicated in scripture. Still, Page's Central American scenario is set far too distant from scriptural Cumorah. Based more on Stephen's popular volumes than on scripture, Pages model does not contemplate the difficulties imposed on a party of Israelite immigrants intent on keeping “the commandments of the Lord in all things, according to the law of Moses” (2 Nephi 5:10) in a tropical land with only two seasons (wet and dry).

American Heartland e.g. ”Manti” in Missouri, circa 1838, as indicated in the  Journal of Samuel D. Tyler, September 25, 1838. In the late 1830s, some members of the Church claimed that the Book of Mormon city of Manti (southward from Zarahemla) was located in Randolph County Missouri. [7] There is no firsthand, verifiable statement by Joseph Smith supporting this belief. Some American heartland settings draw upon the Manti in Missouri claim, and the fact the Lord approved “the name of Zarahemla” to be placed upon the site of an LDS community across the Mississippi from Nauvoo. (D&C 125:3) These models spread Book of Mormon sites and events over much of the eastern U.S. and parts of Canada. The "head of the river Sidon" is argued by some to be the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, even though this confluence was routinely called the "mouth of the Missouri" - never the head of the Mississippi. (Wilford Woodruff's Journal, August 2, 1842, 2:184) As one might expect, the Book of Mormon patriarch Lehi correctly understood a river's "head" to be its source at higher elevation. (1 Nephi 8:13-14)

Thus we see that the hemispheric setting was not the only geographic model on the minds of early members of the Church. Joseph Smith’s contemporaries had different, conflicting ideas about Book of Mormon lands. Joseph apparently tolerated this, but he refused to take responsibility for things published in his name, that did not come under his supervisions. For instance in the March the 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons, Joseph refused to take responsibility for the previous February 15 issue published in his name. The absence of certified comments from Joseph Smith on ideas of the time like: Manti in Missouri, Lehi’s landing in Chile, Lehi’s landing just south of Panama, "the narrow neck of land" embracing all of Central America, Zarahemla at Quirigua, etc., does not mean that he endorsed these conflicting ideas. Joseph at the very least had resolved that some Book of Mormon events took place in his own country. He clearly stated this, and the Saints accepted it! Beyond this he apparently allowed the Saints to do as the Bible directs: “…consider of it, take advice, and speak your minds.” (Judges 19:30)  

Even though exaggerated hemispheric settings for the Book of Mormon were encouraged by some early Church leaders, there is no known statement by Joseph Smith endorsing a hemispheric model. The fact that Elder John Page entertained a non-hemispheric setting for the Book of Mormon, indicates that Joseph Smith did not teach a hemispheric setting as an oral tradition. Page clearly did not agree with the geography of his contemporary Orson Pratt (who did not attribute his hemispheric model to Joseph Smith or to revelation). [8] The fact that other LDS in the late 1830s placed southern Nephite territory (Manti) in the United States is further evidence that the hemispheric setting was only the opinion of some Latter-day Saints, and not a teaching issued by the Prophet. Orson Pratt’s model, by the way, was not identical to the hemispheric model proposed by his brother Parley. Parley Pratt’s departure from his brother's geography, seems to show the strong influence that Stephens’ best seller had on Parley. Parley  ostensibly placed the “narrow neck” at a wider location closer to Stephens' discoveries, far to the northwest of Panama. [9]

The Hemispheric geography got a boost sometime after the death of Joseph Smith, when the Williams document (alleging a Pacific Ocean crossing and Chilean landing) was trumped as “Revelation to Joseph the Seer”. [10]  Unsubstantiated statements followed, to the effect that the Prophet had, “to some individual or individuals [unnamed]”, identified the Magdalena River of Colombia as the Book of Mormon River Sidon, and the landing site of Lehi far to the south at Valparaiso, Chile. [11] This alleged landing site, in fact, sounds more like the idea of Orson Pratt and Frederick G. Williams, than anything Joseph Smith is known to have said. The Chilean landing site conflicts with another site, also mistakenly attributed to Joseph Smith; alleging that Lehi “landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien [Panama]”. [12] Not one of these claims is supported by a verifiable statement from Joseph Smith’s. LDS leaders eventually tried to counteract the widespread rumors about Lehi’s landing. Orson Pratt’s geographic footnotes (published in the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon) were removed, and Frederick J. Pack (Chairman of the Gospel Doctrine Committee), George D. Pyper (Assistant editor of The Instructor) and General Authority B. H. Roberts tried to set the record straight by publishing the facts in regards to the dubious Williams document.  

While having "no confidence" in various Book of Mormon geographies of his day, First Presidency member George Q. Cannon nevertheless regarded the location of Cumorah as settled. [11] The thing that all early models agreed on was the general location of the land Cumorah revealed by Joseph Smith. (D&C 128:20) In time, the RLDS church relegated Joseph Smith’s epistle mentioning Cumorah, to an historical appendix in their version of “the Doctrine and Covenants” (RLDS D&C 110; see also RLDS D&C 107), even though the Prophet had endorsed the epistle as “the word of the Lord”. (LDS D&C 127:10, D&C 128:1-2) The chief subject of the epistle is “baptism for the dead”, a practice RLDS leaders chose not to regard as binding upon their following.  Marginalizing the authority of Joseph’s epistle on baptism for the dead made dismissing the location of Cumorah indicated in the epistle, less problematic for RLDS members. It is not surprising, therefore, that the earliest "limited" Central American geography theories, dismissing the revealed location of Cumorah, were advanced by RLDS.

To be fair, RLDS should be recognized for their attention to some Book of Mormon details. Some  began to realize that the book’s principal lands were more localized than previously supposed. (Hills, Louis E., 1917; Gunsolley, Jeremiah F., 1922) [9]  Even so, a decision was made to shrink-fit proposed settings around distant locations that had been celebrated in exaggerated geographies, and travelogues instead of anchoring near the land Cumorah revealed by Joseph Smith. In other words, some chose to trade the location of Cumorah revealed by the Prophet, for exotic pottage in faraway places! But none of these misplaced “limited geographies” are truly limited in one important detail: They all have Moroni traveling thousands of miles to the Finger Lakes region of North America in order to deposit the abridged record of his people. This is a claim that runs into problems with scripture:

In the Book of Mormon land northward, even before the abridgement of the record was complete, the Lord commanded Moroni to “seal up” the means for interpreting the record. (Ether 1:1; 4:5; 5:1) Though many years had past from the fall of the Nephites at Cumorah, Moroni was nevertheless in Lamanite held territory when he finally completed the abridgement. (Moroni 1:1-4 ; 10:1-2) Moroni did not need the interpreters to complete an abridgement of a record already translated into his language. (Mosiah 28:11, Alma 37:25-26, 29) There is absolutely no mention of retrieving the interpreters for a mission to carry the plates, and other heavy essentials to a far away land – a land whose soil had not gathered the ancient dead of the account. On the contrary, as the Book of Mormon proceeded from the mouth of the young translator, so spoke the voice of the former inhabitants as if from the very ground. (Mormon 8:23-26)

It wasn’t that there were no candidates for a “narrow neck of land” right there in the vicinity of the Great Lakes, not far from Cumorah and the Smith home; or a river flowing northward in the same region, qualifying as “Sidon”. It wasn’t for lack of finds like mounds of earth, timber breastworks, old copper artifacts; and stories of great battles between long ago peoples of the region. Rather it was that Latter-day Saints, a persecuted people, turned to popular works for support - works like Stephens' bestseller, rather than remembering to consider in detail, the “New Covenant, even the Book of Mormon”. This is essentially how unauthentic traditions and a mass of confusion, regarding the book’s covenant lands, came about.

The general Finger Lake’s location of the Book of Mormon land Cumorah is of course consistent with the original "Mound-builder" setting. American historian and journalist Hampton Sides is incredulous towards the proposal of an alternate Cumorah. Sides remarks, “As fantastic as it may seem, Sorenson actually argues that there were two Cumorahs: one in Mexico where the great battle took place, and where Moroni buried a longer, unexpurgated version of the golden Nephite records; and one near Palmyra, New York, where Moroni eventually buried a condensed version of the plates after lugging them on an epic trek of several thousand miles…” (Sides, Hampton, “This Is Not the Place”, Double Take Magazine, Vol. 5, No 2; Also included in his work ''American: Dispatches from the New Frontier'', 2004)

Today, there is no question in the minds of American History and Literature scholars as to the Book of Mormon’s legitimate setting. These scholars are not distracted by unauthentic traditions and misadventures that still intoxicate and  befuddle the minds of so many Mormons (LDS and "Community of Christ"). American History scholars go straight to the best sources; which include, Latter-day Saint scripture and verifiable statements by Joseph Smith. Uncertainty about the location of Lehi’s covenant land of liberty remains a uniquely "Mormon" problem. But with improving attention to scripture, more Latter-day Saints are coming to recognize authentic lands of the Book of Mormon with a devotion akin to what others have felt all along for another Promised Land.  

“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.” (Psalm 137:5)

Art of Herb Roe

The Art of Herb Roe, depicting a mound builder city of earth, timber and plaster-like "cement"

Additional References:

[1]        Silverberg, Robert, “…and the mound-builders vanished from the earth” , American
            Heritage Magazine,
Vol. 20, Issue 4, June 1969

[2]        May, Wayne N., This Land, They Came from the EAST, Vol. 3, pp. 12-15  

[3]        Olive, Phyllis Carol, The Lost Lands of the Book of Mormon, pp. 49-67 

[4]        Ibid., pg. 50

[5]        Priest, Josiah, American Antiquities, “Traits of the Mosaic History found among the
            Azteca Nations”, pg. 202

[6]        Stephens, John Lloyd, Incident of Travel in Central America Chiapas and Yucatan, Vol. II,
            Chapter XXVI, “COMPARATIVE MODERN DATE OF RUINS”, pp 442-443)

[7]        Millennial Star, Vol. 16, May 13, 1854, pg. 296

[8]        Journal of Discourses, Vol. 14, pg. 325

[9]        Roper, Matthew, “Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations”, section titled “Parley P. Pratt’s View”, BYU Maxwell Institute, 2004.

[10]      Richards, Franklin D. and Little, James A., A compendium of the Doctrines of the Gospel,1882, pg. 289

[11]      Cannon, George Q., “Topics of the Times”, Juvenile Instructor, Vol. 22, No, 14, July 15,
            1887, pg. 221)

[12]      Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, pg. 267

Copyright © 2009 by W. Vincent Coon

Feasible Voyage


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