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.

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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.

Thoughts on Utah

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From Sir Richard Burtons “The City of the Saints”

I recently spent two weeks in Utah, near Salt Lake City. This gave me the opportunity to travel around the metropolitan area and soak in a bit of the local culture. Utah is of course heavily LDS (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). This colors all aspects of the state, and it is unlike anywhere else that I am aware of in the United States.

The mountains that hem in the Salt Lake metro area add a Biblical feeling to it. The geography seems similar to Israel or the Sinai peninsula.

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Near Provo.

I imagine that these geographical features make stories from the Bible and the Book of Mormon feel more real to a Latter-Day Saint. The mountains immediately called to mind the famous painting by Friberg of Alma baptizing in the Waters of Mormon (minus the palm trees).

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Friberg’s painting of Alma baptizing.

The mountains aren’t the only feature of Utah that can make it feel like a Promised Land theme park; there are also the two large lakes, Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake, which mirror the Dead Sea.

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Utah Lake.

The feeling that struck me in Utah was how comforting the cultural conformity there must be to believing Mormons. Utah is akin to Saudi Arabia for Muslims, or perhaps how Puritan colonial cities may have felt to Protestants, or maybe how Europe felt during Christendom. There are ten temples along the Wasatch front alone, something you will not find anywhere else in the LDS world! I am not exaggerating when I say that there seems to be an LDS meetinghouse (their church building) on every other corner or less. I sat at a stoplight and saw two LDS steeples on a block ahead of me. When I flew into the airport, I could see a meetinghouse in every subdivision, sometimes two. Each meetinghouse holds several congregations, not just one, so the vastness and reach of the LDS Church in Utah cannot be overstated.

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Driving around, you see steeples everywhere. At night, the temples that are in the foothills are lit up for all to see, and are very distinctive. There aren’t many coffee shops or bars, and the conversations you overhear are loaded with LDS terminology. For someone who longs for institutional breadth and unity, this is the place, unfortunately at the expense of truth. I can only imagine how a zealous Mormon feels living here, surrounded by his Church, fellow believers, a broadly agreeable culture and powerful institutional signs like the temples close at hand.

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The Oquirrh Mountain Temple.
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The Draper Temple.
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Temple grounds at Oquirrh Mountain.
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Statue of Moroni atop the South Jordan Temple.

Utah and the LDS culture should serve as a warning sign to Christians of whatever stripe who infer God’s blessing when they see church growth, the construction of buildings, material riches or an educated leadership. These things might be God’s hand of blessing, but they might also have nothing to do with him. The LDS Church has institutional strength, respected educational institutions, a vast missionary apparatus, wealth, and success, and yet it is built on an edifice of lies and false doctrine.

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Sunset at the Provo Temple.

As humans, do we earnestly seek after truth, or are we content with comfortable lies? I’m sure we all like to think that we seek for truth, but in my experience, that search only goes so far, and many areas are off-limits for truth to shine in on.

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.

 

 

Some Fawn Brodie Sources

Many of the books that Fawn Brodie consulted in writing her famous biography of Joseph Smith “No Man Knows My History” are available from Google books or other sources. Here are links to some of them:
Gleanings By the Way, by John Alonzo Clark. See pages 216 and following.
Mormonism Unvailed, by E.D. Howe.
History of the Mormons, Henry Mayhew.
The Philosophy of a Future State, Thomas Dick. This book lies behind the cosmology of The Book of Abraham.
Early Days of Mormonism, James Harrison Kennedy.

An Address to All Believers in Christ, David Whitmer.
The City of the Mormons, Henry Caswall.
A Narrative of the Adventures and Experiences of Joseph H. Jackson, Joseph Jackson.
The History of the Saints, John C. Bennett.
Fifteen Years Among the Mormons, Nelson Winch Green.


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). 

Mormonism as Baalism

James Jordan says of Mormonism:

Despite his flaws, Gideon must have restrained Baalism effectively. After his death, Israel went a-whoring after Baal again, openly. Baal-Berith, the Baal of the Covenant, was a syncretistic (combination) god composed of elements from Baalism and the true faith. Its champion will prove to be the halfbreed Abimelech. Its center will be the mixed town of Shechem. Syncretism, mixtures of faiths, will be a concern of Judges 9. A modern example of Baal-Berith religion is Mormonism. The essence of the Mormon religion is fertility cult belief, with all humanity descended from Mr. and Mrs. God, and multiple marriages (to bring forth many spirit children) the goal. Yet, this modern Baalistic cult uses the language of the Bible, speaks of Christ, the ten commandments, and so forth.

Mormons Reflect on New Brigham Young Biography

Over at Times and Seasons, a Mormon blog, Julie Smith reviews the new book, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet by John G. Turner. Smith writes:

I have serious reservations about recommending it to the average church member; if you need your prophet to be larger than life, or even just better than the average bear, this book is not for you.  I think there is a substantial risk that people raised on hagiographic, presentist images of prophets would have their testimonies rocked, if not shattered, by this book. Perhaps this is just an idiosyncratic reaction, but I felt an increased appreciation for Joseph Smith, David O. McKay, and Spencer W. Kimball after reading their biographies.  I can’t say the same for Brigham Young; I liked him–and respected him–less.  Much less.

She says that Young did “…some deeply creepy stuff” and lists:

Dubious financial practices?  Check (page 52). Knife fights in the temple?  Check (page 53). Making false statements?  Check (pages 59, 76, and 153).  Polyandry?  Check (pages 94, 136, 376).  Lying about polygamy?  Check (page 97). Extra-judicial violence, killing, and castration?  Check (pages 122, 186, 188, 259, 285).  Racism?  Check (pages 124, 218, 222, 362). Sexist language?  Check (page 158). Secretly ordaining his pre-teen sons as apostles?  Check (page 382). Violent rhetoric?  Check (page 349 and 350).  Foul language?  Check (pages 173, 305, and 320).  Blood atonement?  Check (pages 186 and 258). False prophecies?  Check (page 197). Paying bribes?  Check (page 369).  Major hypocrisy?  Check (page 400).  Members of the Quorum of the Twelve questioning his use of church funds and his doctrinal teachings?  Check (page 410).  (Irrelevant side note:  I don’t know why people act as if polyandry is somehow worse than polygamy;  I think they are just being sexist and don’t even realize it.)

Glenn Beck and Cleon Skousen

The inimitable Aaron Wolf has a good post up about Mormonism and America. Excerpt:

And yet everything about this America-is-God’s-country ideology is Mormon to the core.  It serves as the false foundation of a religion that finds the center of human history not in the Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection of Christ but in “another revelation of Jesus Christ” in the terrestrial “promised land” on which we stand.  It is Manichaean, declaring our external enemies evil and ourselves good, locating wickedness not in the hearts of sinful men but in the foes of a human government that will wither as the grass.  It is the religion of America—not the real, historical America, but the America of myth and fantasy.

“If we do these things,” Beck preached, “we will heal our nation.”  The phrase is reminiscent of 2 Chronicles 7:14, so often cited at rallies on the National Day of Prayer.  If my people, which are called by my name, shall . . . return to limited government (no. 19)?  Operate according to the will of the majority (no. 20)?  Be debt-free (no. 27)?  The assumption here is that Americans, like the Israelites of old, are uniquely “my [God’s] people.”  And that it is not “I the Lord” but “We the gods” who can “heal their land.”

Scrying

This is an interesting addition to the Joseph Smith file: a bit of background on John Dee:

In the early 1580s the English scholar and magus John Dee undertook an experiment with his “scryer,” who went by the name of Edward Kelley, to try to acquire otherwise inaccessible knowledge by means of invoking and interrogating angels. Kelley, by peering into his “seer stone,” mediated numerous conversations between these angels and Dee, and Dee left detailed transcripts of these encounters. He was told that the lost books of Esdras were still in the hands of the Jews. He was also told that he would be shown the lost books of Enoch quoted by Jude, but there is no record of this happening. Instead, the angels dictated a lengthy revelatory book called Liber Loagaeth, which was to restore all the lost holy books. Unfortunately, it is written in an “angelic” language (called “Enochian” by later followers of Dee) and, apart from a word or two here and there, no translation was ever forthcoming.