The Book of Mormon is set in the United States

I. Book of Mormon geography

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not take an official position on the geography of the lands in the Book of Mormon. No evidence has turned up in the Americas that confirms any of the Book of Mormon cities, nations, or battles. Several theories exist among Mormons as to where the Book of Mormon may have taken place. For a long time, a hemispheric model held sway, where all of North, Central and South America were the theater of the book. In recent times, theories about Central America have been most prominent, see this site for an example. Much of the artwork that you find based on the Book of Mormon shows palm trees, Aztec-looking warriors, and a generally Central American milieu. However, The text of the Book of Mormon necessitates that the United States is the location for its events.


The Book of Mormon has a lot to say about the lands where it claims its events occurred. In particular, it says many things about the future configuration of these lands, and what it says casts light on where we should think that these lands were located. What some of these Book of Mormon prophecies establish is that the text takes place somewhere within what is now the United States of America.

II.Established in this land

In the book of 3 Nephi, Jesus is speaking to a crowd of Nephites in the land called Bountiful. He prophesies of a sign that will occur, which will indicate that the gathering of Israel from dispersion is about to take place. The sign he prophesies is the coming forth of the Book of Mormon among “the Gentiles” (3 Nephi 21.2) which will teach them about the past existence of the Nephites and Lamanites “who are a remnant of the house of Jacob.” Next comes a long sentence that establishes where this will happen (with my comments in italics):

Verily, verily, I say unto you (the Nephites),

when these things (the Book of Mormon) shall be made known unto them (the Gentiles) of the Father,

and shall come forth of the Father,

from them (the Gentiles) unto you (the descendants of the Nephites and Lamanites);

For it is wisdom in the Father

that they (the Gentiles) should be established in this land,

and be set up as a free people by the power of the Father,

that these things might come forth from them (the Gentiles)

unto a remnant of your seed (the Nephites and Lamanites) […] —3 Nephi 21:3-4

“This land” is the one that will be inhabited by the Gentiles, the same Gentiles who will bring forth the Book of Mormon. These Gentiles will also be set up as “a free people.” As we know, Joseph Smith lived in the United States of America, and produced the Book of Mormon in the state of New York. Thus, the Jesus of 3 Nephi is saying that wherever Bountiful was, it was within the territory of the future United States. Mormons have often made this same identification. For example, Elder Mark E. Petersen commented on these verses in 1968:

You will recall that the Savior was talking to the Nephites about the Gentiles who would occupy this country in the latter days. He talked about the destiny of America, and explained why there would be a United States…this is God’s land. He raised it up specially as he has raised up no other nation (Ludlow 280-81).

III.The land of their inheritance

In 1 Nephi 13, there is an extended prophecy about the history of America and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. This prophecy is a vision that Nephi sees somewhere between 600 and 592 B.C. It touches on someone who clearly seems to be Christopher Columbus (verse 12) and then touches on the Pilgrims and other colonists, describing the Revolutionary War. At one point, Nephi says, “I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise” (I Nephi 13.14). When he says “the land of promise” he is not referring to Biblical Israel, but rather to the land promised to Nephi’s father Lehi and his family, which is where they arrive when they flee Jerusalem and sail across the sea. So there is a one to one correlation between Nephi’s land of promise and the land that the multitudes of Gentiles in his vision inhabit.

Let me focus for a moment on I Nephi 13:30, again with my italics to elucidate what is being said:

Nevertheless, thou beholdest that the Gentiles who have gone forth out of captivity (English colonists),

and have been lifted up by the power of God

above all other nations,

upon the face of the land which is choice above all other lands (New England and the U.S.A.),

which is the land that the Lord God hath covenanted with thy father

that his seed should have for the land of their inheritance;

wherefore, thou seest that the Lord God

will not suffer that the Gentiles (Americans) will utterly destroy the mixture of thy seed,

which are among thy brethren (the Lamanites or American Indians).

To confirm even further that this was meant for the United States, God tells Nephi that he will bring forth unto these Gentiles, “much of my gospel,” in a passage that refers to the Book of Mormon. The Gentiles who receive the Book of Mormon are the Gentiles who inhabit Lehi’s land of promise, meaning they are citizens of the United States. Again, the LDS Church’s own teaching manuals confirm this, as the Book of Mormon Student Manual discusses the United States in its commentary on this passage, citing the words of Joseph Fielding Smith:

This great American nation the Almighty raised up by the power of his omnipotent hand, that it might be possible in the latter days for the kingdom of God to be established in the earth (Book of Mormon Student Manual 13).

Although some modern Mormon apologists want to look elsewhere for the geography of Nephite lands, they should be confined to the United States, because that is what the text itself says.

Works Cited

Church Educational System. Book of Mormon Student Manual. N.p.: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1989. Print.

Ludlow, Daniel H. A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon. United States: Shadow Mountain, 1 Aug. 1976. Print.

The Hill Cumorah Cave Story

When I was trying to figure out what Latter Day Saints say happened to the Gold Plates when Joseph Smith was done with them, I saw a reference to a paper by Paul Thomas Smith, called “A Preliminary Draft of the Hill Cumorah Cave Story Utilizing Seven Secondary Accounts and Other Historical Witnesses.” The draft was put together in March, 1980. If you would like to read that draft, the link is here.



Updates to the LDS Standard Works

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has issued updates to their Scriptures (the Standard Works). You can see a list of all the changes to Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price here. I’m not sure about the headers for the Book of Mormon and the Bible.
The changes are explained in this article (cf. here). They are generally updates to spelling and changes to the introductory/heading text above the chapters of the various Scriptures. Probably the most significant changes from the perspective of doctrine are to the sections at the end of Doctrine and Covenants, explaining the end of polygamy and allowing blacks to obtain the priesthood. Also – and this is very telling – there is a change to what is said about the papyri that Joseph Smith “translated” as the Book of Abraham. Since those papyri resurfaced, they have been an ongoing source of controversy for the Church. The old introduction said:

The Book of Abraham. A translation from some Egyptian papyri that came into the hands of Joseph Smith in 1835, containing writings of the patriarch Abraham.

The new introduction says:

The Book of Abraham. An inspired translation of the writings of Abraham. Joseph Smith began the translation in 1835 after obtaining some Egyptian papyri. 

The locus of the text is now being moved from the papyri which we can see, to the “writings of Abraham” which we may or may not be able to see.
LDS reactions to these changes can be seen at [1], [2], [3], [4] and [5] (I’m sure there are many more). 

Beza the Mormon


If you are familiar with the Book of Mormon, you probably know its radical doctrine of the Fall:

Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

II Nephi 2.25

So listen to Peter White talking about Beza:

Beza could even claim that ‘it was good that sin and death should enter into the world’ on the grounds that it was a necessary step before the benefits of the work of Christ. In that sense Adam’s Fall was ‘the best and the most profitable thing that could be done for us.’ [Beza, Quaestiones, I. 103-7]
Pretty wild stuff!

The Book of Mormon as Automatic Writing III

One well-known feature of the Book of Mormon (BOM) is its reliance on the Authorized version of the Bible. I have often wondered if Smith just pulled out the Bible and dictated these sections of the BOM from it, but Dunn addresses how these sections might have happened under an automatic writing model:

Just as individuals under hypnosis have been able to quote lengthy passages in foreign languages which they heard at the age of three, so have automatic writers produced detailed information from books that they have read but in some cases cannot remember reading. Thus, if Smith’s scriptural productions borrowed material from the Bible, this is entirely consistent with other instances of automatic writing. This quirk of memory, known as cryptomnesia, may also explain the presence of styles and literary patterns that are found both in the Book of Mormon and the Bible.

Another common question is how Smith addressed the origin of Indians and certain theological concepts of his day in such detail if he didn’t have access to the texts current in his day? Dunn says:

But automatic writing renders such a question irrelevant. Automatic texts often contain information available to the writer in the most obscure manner imaginable. One researcher described a woman who, with a ouija board, produced automatic writing that recounted “almost exactly” the death notices in an available newspaper. Although the woman apparently had not read these obituaries, she had done the crossword puzzle found on the same page in the newspaper. It seems that her mind had picked up and stored material that was in her field of vision as she worked the crossword puzzle; she had unconsciously read and unconsciously written information of which her conscious mind was entirely unaware. Interestingly, the researcher further reported that the writing contained information to which the woman had no access whatsoever. It should not be surprising, therefore, to find Smith’s scriptural productions repeating things he may have heard or overheard in conversation, camp meetings, or other settings without any concerted study of the issues.

Dunn ends his fascinating essay with a series of questions about what makes scripture into scripture? He really doesn’t have an answer. The test should clearly be doctrinal fidelity with previous Scripture, namely the Old and New Testaments. He doesn’t pose this as a test, but he should have.

I believe Dunn’s proposal to be the best explanation for the authoring of the BOM. Other explanations are a bit rag-tag in proposing dependence on this or that text, or the penmanship of Cowdrey or Rigdon. What he fails to consider is the possibility of demonic influence/dictation. Perhaps automatic writing is a combination of the subconscious with demonic guidance. I have addressed this before in relation to Socrates, who claimed demonic inspiration. Socrates said:

There is something spiritual which, by a divine dispensation, has accompanied me from my childhood up. It is a voice that, when it occurs, always indicates to me a prohibition of something I may be about to do, but never urges me on to anything ; and if one of my friends consults me and the voice occurs, the same thing happens : it prohibits, and does not allow him to act. And I will produce witnesses to convince you of these facts.

As the Apostle Paul warned us, even an angel from heaven might appear bearing a false gospel.

The Book of Mormon as Automatic Writing II

Dunn continues examining the various forms that automatic writing have taken over the years. He multiplies examples, many of which have obvious parallels with Joseph Smith. One obvious parallel are people who use scrying stones:

In such instances, the individual may experience some sort of vision while the hand writes. Typically, the text reports what was seen in the vision, but in some cases, the stone-gazer sees written words […] One psychologist reports that a young boy dictated a fantastic adventure story, which he saw enacted in the crystal while his hand wrote automatically at the same time.

Dunn cites studies suggesting that automatic writing may be a product of “the unconscious mind.” He also spends a good deal of time discussing Pearl Curran who experimented with an ouija board and produced the writings of one ‘Patience Worth.” Curran’s writings, like Joseph Smith’s, exhibited skills she should not have had, in her case it was the appearance of a massive number of Anglo-Saxon words, “proof” of their ancient nature. One scholar cited by Dunn calls these works a “philological miracle.” Dunn also says:

Another startling thing about the works attributed to Patience Worth is their accuracy on factual details that Curran apparently could not have known, a defense often applied to writings given through Joseph Smith […]

Dunn says, “Pearl Curran is like Joseph Smith in still another way: for both, available evidence militates against  the likelihood of conscious fraud.” Dunn then outlines evidence for the BOM being a product of automatic writing:

…the content of automatic writing is often similar to that of the Book of Mormon: Examples include multiple authorship, use of archaic language, accounts of bygone historical figures, accurate descriptions of times and places apparently unfamiliar to the writer, narratives with well-developed characters and plot, accounts of various ministries of Jesus Christ, poetics, occasionally impressive literary quality, doctrinal, theological, and cosmological discussions, and even discourses by a deity. […]

In addition, the bulk of the Book of Mormon, dictated after Oliver Cowdery became Smith’s scribe, was completed in approximately ninety days. This represents fairly rapid work for a book of this length-588 typeset pages in the first edition-even if the translation progressed will every day. Again, the speed and ease with which Smith worked is characteristic of automatic writing.

Dunn mentions that Smith “pronounced the words of the text with his face buried in a hat, looking at a seer stone” and concludes that “This certainly implies a relatively effortless or automatic process. Moreover, this use of a crystal or stone is a well-known method of producing automatic writing.”

Smith had time to think through themes for the BOM before he launched his project, but Dunn says this isn’t unusual for automatic writing:

Before producing Oahspe, John Newbrough was visited by its angelic authors, asked if he would “perform a mission for Jehovih,” and was told to prepare for this experience…Finally, ten years after the first visitation, the angels told him to proceed with the automatic typing of their work.

Dunn brings up one critic, the ever-present Blake Ostler, and writes:

Blake Ostler has put forth what is essentially an automatic writing model, though he is reluctant to call it that. He states that Smith’s “state of consciousness differs from…most reports of automatic writing in that he did not lose consciousness of his surroundings or become dispossessed of his personal identity,” apparently unaware that the same is true of A Course in Miracles and all of the Patience Worth literature. “Further,” Ostler continues, “there is no evidence that [Smith] claimed to hear a voice or take dictation from another personality, unlike cases of spirit writing or channeled text.” But this also applies to such dramatic instances of automatic writing as The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ and The White Goddess. In spite of his attempts to distance Smith from these works, nothing in Ostler’s characterization of the translation process is inconsistent with the best-documented instances of the this phenomenon.

The Book of Mormon as Automatic Writing I

In his essay, Automaticity and the Dictation of the Book of Mormon, (available here) Scott C. Dunn argues that the Book of Mormon (BOM) is the product of automatic writing. He begins with the example of Helen Cohn Schucman and her three volume “A Course in Miracles” dictated to her by “by an inner voice that identified itself as Jesus Christ.”

His second example is Jane Roberts who “conducted experiments” with the occult “which soon led her into contact with “Seth,” a discarnate personality who spoke through the medium of Roberts’s mind and voice. In these sessions, Roberts lapsed into a trance while Seth lectured on complex philosophical and metaphysical subjects beyond the educational experience of Jane Roberts herself.” He also mentions Levi H. Dowling, author of The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ.

For the purpose of his essay, Dunn defines “automatic writing” as “the ability to write or dictate text in a relatively rapid, seemingly effortless and fluent manner with no sense of control over the content. Indeed, except for sometimes knowing a word or two moments in advance of writing and speaking, the individual is typically not consciously aware of what the content of the writing will be.”

Dunn mentions channeled texts such as the Oahspe by dentist John Newbrough “who claimed that the book’s angelic spirit authors controlled his hands on the typewriter each morning for fifty weeks.”

Aleister Crowley wrote The Holy Books of Thelema under the influence of something he called his Guardian Angel. He said of his prose, “It is characterized by a sustained sublimity of which I am totally incapable and it overrides all the intellectual objectives which I should myself have raised.”

How about someone a bit tamer? Dunn brings up Charlotte Bronte who “is said to have written her masterpieces Villette and Jane Eyre at a constant rate with her eyes shut. Dunn writes:

Calling her a “trance-writer,” critics Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar quote entries from the author’s journal that describe her visionary experiences and moments of “divine leisure” in which “the stream of thought…came flowing free & calm along its channel.” Similarly, the English poet A.E. Housman once noted that entire stanzas of poetry would come into his mind all at once. More on the mystical side is the visionary William Blake, who claimed that his lengthy poem Jerusalem was “dictated” to him.

Anyone familiar with Joseph Smith can see where this is going. More in my next post.

Book of Mormon Geography – Why?

The editor(s) of the Book of Mormon repeatedly make it clear that the work is intended for a future readership – namely, our present day (see Mormon, chapter 3, for example). Given that this is the case, what is the point of the geography that we cannot decipher? The LDS Church has made it clear that no one really knows where the geographical locations in the BOM are located. And yet there is a large amount of geographical detail in the book. Why would past authors who knew that the work was intended for a future readership include all these details that are next to useless for our understanding of the work and do not add to our ability to understand the text?