Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Notes from the Classroom - Book of Mormon Geography

I teach a CES Adult Education class on Wednesday night in St. George, as I have done both here and in Salt Lake City for many years. We currently have 168 students enrolled in the class, which means that there are many interesting questions and discussions every week. This past week the discussion turned to Book of Mormon geography.

As part of our discussion of how the Nephites moved from the Land of Nephi to the city of Zarahemla, I used the map shown here, which was developed by Dr. Daniel Ludlow. It shows the locations of cities and lands relative to each other, as described in the Book of Mormon text. Dr. Ludlow graciously allowed me to use the map in my books, so long as I included his disclaimer that it is not intended to be compared to any particular geographical area.

One sister said, "But how could that be? Didn't all of these things happened in North America?" "Not necessarily," I replied. "We do not know for sure where any of this occured." "But Brigham Young said all of this happened near the Hill Cumorah in New York," she objected. "And other prophets have supported a Mesoamerican or South American location," I responded. "In the end, we simply do not know."

That's an answer that people who have their minds made up do not like, but it happens to be the official position of the Church in these matters. This sister was not one of those with a position to defend--her question was genuine and she wanted to know the answer. In answer to her question, I include a couple of paragraphs from my book, Making Precious Things Plain, Volume 1, p. 53, which is intended to be a study guide for Gospel Doctrine class teachers and students.

"As for what part of America—North America, Central America (Mesoamerica), or South America—the only official statements that have been made by Church authorities say that we do not know. Among scholars and members there are proponents for all three of these theories, and every one of them has a quote or two from an apostle or prophet in support of their claims. What are we to make of such contradictory statements by general authorities and scholars on this topic? The only logical conclusion is that what they are telling us when they make these statements is their opinion (to which they are entitled), but their statements on this topic are not doctrine. If the answer to this question is revealed in the future, we will hear
it from the heads of the Church in an official manner. But this has not yet happened.

"We know a great deal about Arabia today, and we have some pretty good ideas about where Lehi and his family were before sailing to America. I have shared some of that information with you above. But as to precisely where the Lehites landed and lived in America, the jury is still out. There is a lot of fascinating research in this area. I enjoy reading it and I have my own opinions, as many do. But I believe that Gospel Doctrine teachers should be wise enough to admit 'we do not know' if asked where specifically they landed. It is, after all, a gospel doctrine class."
"for behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people
that they may learn"
2 Nephi 25:4

1 comment:

Tamster said...

I appreciated this. I had always understood it was the Central American region. I never realized that the official word from the Church was that we do not know for sure. That would certainly explain some things when people try to say there's no evidence of BofM dwellings. If we don't know for sure where exactly it was, then they can't say for sure it wasn't there. Well, anyway, it really doesn't matter exactly where it was. What matters is that it was! :-)