Book of Mormon Geography - New England Theory
The exact location of the Book of Mormon history has not been revealed by prophets to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes erroneously referred to as Mormons). Thus, there are varying theories regarding the geography of the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon mentions geography in these passages:
- And they built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land (Ether 10:20)
- Therefore, Morianton put it into their hearts that they should flee to the land which was northward, which was covered with large bodies of water, and take possession of the land which was northward (Alma 50:29).
- And thus he cut off all the strongholds of the Lamanites in the east wilderness, yea, and also on the west, fortifying the line between the Nephites and the Lamanites, between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi, from the west sea, running by the head of the river Sidon—the Nephites possessing all the land northward, yea, even all the land which was northward of the land Bountiful, according to their pleasure (Alma 50:11).
- And there they did fortify against the Lamanites, from the west sea, even unto the east; it being a day’s journey for a Nephite, on the line which they had fortified and stationed their armies to defend their north country (Helaman 4:7).
Thus, all of the geographical descriptions are in relation to one another, but not to the larger structure that could frame a location in North or South America. (Note that the Nephites began their journey in Arabia, and those geographical sites have been located.) Also, there was a huge earthquake that killed the more wicked parts of the population and affected the geography just before the visit of the resurrected Christ to the inhabitants:
- And the city of Moroni did sink into the depths of the sea, and the inhabitants thereof were drowned. And the earth was carried up upon the city of Moronihah, that in the place of the city there became a great mountain. And there was a great and terrible destruction in the land southward. But behold, there was a more great and terrible destruction in the land northward; for behold, the whole face of the land was changed, because of the tempest and the whirlwinds, and the thunderings and the lightnings, and the exceedingly great quaking of the whole earth; And the highways were broken up, and the level roads were spoiled, and many smooth places became rough. And many great and notable cities were sunk, and many were burned, and many were shaken till the buildings thereof had fallen to the earth, and the inhabitants thereof were slain, and the places were left desolate (3 Nephi 8:9-14).
In the early days of the Church, many members visualized the saga of the Book of Mormon peoples as occurring over the vast reaches of North and South America, but modern Latter-day Saint scholars have favored a very small locale, about the size of the Holy Land, wherein the biblical narrative transpired. Many LDS scholars support Mesoamerica as the location for the Book of Mormon peoples, but there are some who favor the northeastern United States, instead.
Support for a New England or Heartland Theory
The Heartland Theory for the Book of Mormon geography suggests that events took place in the heartland of North America and culminated in upstate New York. A strength of the theory is the belief that Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon where Moroni buried the engraved records kept by himself and his father Mormon (see Mormon 6:6) is the same Hill Cumorah from which Joseph Smith removed the record. Rod L. Meldrum has been one of the most notable proponents of this theory.
Book of Mormon Central indicates that the drumlin hill from which Joseph removed the plates was called Cumorah first by William W. Phelps in 1833 and Oliver Cowdery in 1835 and "there is 'no historical evidence that Moroni called the hill "Cumorah" in 1823' during his first encounter with the Prophet Joseph Smith."(See more of the article on Cumorah here.)
- "The Book of Mormon is a history of a related primitive church, and one may well ask what kind of remains the Nephites would leave us from their more virtuous days. A closer approximation to the Book of Mormon picture of Nephite culture is seen in the earth and palisade structures of the Hopewell and Adena culture areas than in the later stately piles of stone in Mesoamerica" (Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon, "Ancient Temples: What Do They Signify?", page 272).
- From Ezra Taft Benson: "The prophecies pertinent to this holy land of America were not just directed to the ancient saints, but those of our day as well, that we, too, might know of our responsibility to keep the Promised Land free from sin. Thus, knowing which land is the Promised Land is far more important than we might otherwise have supposed. Not only is such information vital to our understanding of where Book of Mormon activity took place, but learning that those activities took place in what has since become known as the United States of America is therefore critical to our very survival as a nation and as individuals who may just suffer untold misery in years to come if we allow the nation to become ripe in iniquity. The Lord’s decree that all who inhabit this promised land must serve Him or be wiped away is an everlasting decree, and just as pertinent to those of our day as it was to the Nephites or Jaredites, for according to the Lord Himself, this glorious land of America, the place of the New Jerusalem, is the land of promise, and who shall dispute His word."
- From Brigham Young: “This book which contained these things, was hid in the earth by Moroni, in a hill called by him, Cumorah, which hill is now in the State of New York, near the village of Palmyra, in Ontario County. (Cheesman, Paul R., 1978, The World of the Book of Mormon, Horizon Publishers, Bountiful, Utah, p. 24). (Scholars favoring a Mesoamerican location feel that Cumorah was in Mesoamerica, and Moroni carried the plates to the northeastern United States and buried them in a hill, later named after the one in the southern location.)
- From Lucy Mack Smith: “During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode, their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them.”
- The Indian legend of a great white God: "After these great battles, it was heard that a holy man walked among them. This holy man was known as Etowah, who had come to give the People the Great Law! He taught peace. This was the essence of the religion." Indian legend says Etowah was taken up into the clouds and that it happened near a place called “The Mountain of Muskoro," near Lake Erie.
- Indian legends tell not only of a "great white God" who visited them and promised to return, but of their own origins in the land, which coincide well with the Book of Mormon narrative that they originated in the Mediterranean and traveled over the sea to the New World: "It is the belief of the Cherokee People that they came to the land of the New World from the direction of the East Ocean riding on a white cloud. There seems to be in the legend, the existence of some type of round instrument which directed the voyage." The Cherokee like the Iroquois believe the ancient ones landed somewhere near present day New York State.
- The Book of Mormon narrative constantly refers to the "narrow neck of land," which in the Algonquin, Huron, Eries, Mohawks, Tuslar, Oras and Oneidas languages is "Niagara." Nowhere else is that term used.
- The Micmac Indians of the northeastern U.S. were discovered in the 1600's to employ a script very much like Egyptian hieratic. The Book of Mormon was originally written in "reformed Egyptian."
Statement from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
In an article entitled "Book of Mormon Geography" under "Gospel Topics" on the Church's official website—released on January 29, 2019—the position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is declared:
- Since the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, members and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have expressed numerous opinions about the specific locations of the events discussed in the book. Some believe that the history depicted in the Book of Mormon—with the exception of the events in the Near East—occurred in North America, while others believe that it occurred in Central America or South America. Although Church members continue to discuss such theories today, the Church’s only position is that the events the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas. . . .
- The Church does not take a position on the specific geographic locations of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas. President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, reminded members that “the Book of Mormon is not a textbook on topography. Speculation on the geography of the Book of Mormon may mislead instead of enlighten; such a study can be a distraction from its divine purpose.”
- Individuals may have their own opinions regarding Book of Mormon geography and other such matters about which the Lord has not spoken. However, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles urge leaders and members not to advocate those personal theories in any setting or manner that would imply either prophetic or Church support for those theories. All parties should strive to avoid contention on these matters.