Thursday, March 25, 2010

Central America or North America?

I used to view the subject of where the events in Book of Mormon took place as one of those trivial matters (2 on my earlier scale).  However, I've found that FARMS has become quite animated about the subject.  They are quite critical of the North American model.  This has somewhat raised the subject's importance in my view.

There are two views. One is that the events took place in Central America.  The other is that they occurred in North America.  The best explanation of the Central American setting is John Sorenson's book: An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, published by FARMS.  The best defense of the North American setting is Bruce Porter and Rod Meldrum's book Prophecies and Promises - The Book of Mormon and the United States of America.  FARMS gave a very critical review of the Porter/Meldrum book.

I used to think this subject was unimportant enough to allow it to remain undecided.  After reading both sides' arguments, I am inclined to believe it has more significance if you accept Bruce Porter and Rod Meldrum's view.  If you accept their view, then Joseph Smith knew something more about the Book of Mormon's events than Sorenson advances.  Also the fit of Book of Mormon prophecies into a highly focused unfolding of events also follows.  In fact, the D&C comes into sharper focus when you accept the Porter/Meldrum view.

I am inclined to now view this as an important or very important issue (7 or 8 on my earlier scale).  I think everyone ought to read those two books and decide the subject for themselves.  Since the Sorenson book was written first, and the Porter/Meldrum book is somewhat a response to it, I think they should be read in that order.


  1. This is an interesting and timely post Denver. I have a friend that is heavily convinced that the events took place in Meso-America. His model is also rejected by FARMS since it disagrees with the Sorenson model. I am not so sure that FARMS gives unfavorable reviews based on what continent in which the events occurred as much as whether or not they coincide with Sorenson's views...

    Here is a link to the site that sells the book my friend enjoys:

    Personally, having lived in the Great Lakes area, I think it all occurred in that general region... I will leave my reasons for that belief for anther time and place.

    As for level of importance I would give it a 4, tops...

  2. I read the Sorenson book several years ago. I have not read the Porter/Meldrum book. Is the the same Porter who works for CES?

  3. Mr. Snuffer, you don't know me but I'm a friend of David Christienson and Mark Hudson. My name is Ed Goble. David brought your blog to my attention. I was co-author with Wayne May of a book called This Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation that came out in 2002 that essentially dealt with the same general geography that Rod Meldrum believes in, and he derived a lot of his views from it. But those views are already invalidated by new scholarship. Mr. Meldrum, Mr. May and associates ignore it, though May and Meldrum are well aware of the problems. And the fact that they continue to push this geography, as well as other facts invalidated by the research of FAIR (of which I'm a part), especially the DNA evidences, shows the lack of objectivity in Meldrum's and May's scholarship. I was forced by evidence to retract that view because the idea that Joseph Smith believed that the Land of Zarahemla was in the United States was unsustainable. My retractions to that book are contained in the 2008 FARMS review. The Levi Hancock Journal contains a direct quote unambiguously from Joseph Smith placing the Land of Desolation in Illinois, which pushes the Narrow Neck of Land into Southern Mexico, according to his view. My follow up to the original This Land book containing that view is a new book that I have written with a friend that is yet unpublished named Resurrecting Cumorah. This doesn't mean that FARMS and Sorenson have it wrong with the Land Southward in Mesoamerica, but North America does have a significant part to play in the equation, including Cumorah being in that region, but now there is a rational framework for Cumorah being there rather than relying on dated historical statements from Church Authorities. Reliance on those statements, especially from Joseph Smith without a rational framework based on other evidences is problematic and unsustainable.

  4. Hi Denver,
    I appreciate your bringing up this topic on your blog. My Google alert found your post. You have tapped into something really quite monumental here. There is so much information coming out about this topic it is almost overwhelming! Just next week there will be at least two major public forums on this topic. The Ancient American History Conference at the Southtown Expo Center on April 1 & 2 and the Book of Mormon evidence Conference at Zermatt resort in Midway, UT. Much of the new information coming out on this is actually coming from non-LDS scholars and researchers. Take for example a book called Hidden Cities: The Discovery and Loss of Ancient North American Civilization by Roger Kennedy (former head of the Smithsonian Institute). In it Dr. Kennedy openly questions and wonders about the unsolved mystery of what happened to the massive Mound Building culture that came to a sudden end in 400 AD.

    Many more books on the Mound builders of the river valley's of the Midwestern US and elsewhere are totally consistent with What Joseph Smith referred to as "the Plains of the Nephites" and how he was "roving over the mounds of this once-favored people of the Lord" (letter to Emma while in Illinois during the Zion's camp March). Not to mention the warrior Zelph who "...died in the last great struggle between the Nephites and Lamanites" and was buried in a mound in Illinois.

    For more than 30 years I was a die-hard Meso-American "two-hiller," and like you, I considered the location of the BoM events to be rather low on my scale of what matters. It was not until 2 years ago when I had a chance encounter with Rodney Meldrum (one of the co-authors of the book you referenced). As president of a small publishing company, ( I came away so impressed by what he said I found myself committing to publish his book (should he ever write one). Well THAT book has now come to fruition and is the one referenced in your post. Find it at:

    Needless to say, the book is creating no small stir, as you have pointed out. There was even one attempt (early on) by one faction to have the book "banned" from Deseret Book. This caused the Mgmt at Deseret Book to temporarily suspend sales in order to conduct a full doctrinal and accuracy analysis of the book. The result: The book was placed immediately back on the shelves where it remains one of their best sellers today.

    It has always struck me as interesting that the closer one gets to the (apparent) "truth" the more the entrenched orthodoxy seems inclined to rise up in great swelling words (couched in much academic sophistry) crying "heresy" against any and all who would have the temerity to even suggest the possibility that the "august body" of smartness ensconced on high at BYU does not necessarily hold an exclusive corner to ALL knowledge.

    In fact, when it comes to BYU, I find myself standing with Robert J. Matthews (to whom the book was dedicated) who declared upon his reading of the manuscript, "I'm a one-hill man, I've always been a one-hill man just like the prophet Joseph Smith and if I am wrong... well I'm in good company."

    Thanks for posting on this topic. Like you, I have come to understand increasingly that knowing WHERE the book of Mormon took place is indeed important to if not our eternal salvation then certainly our temporal salvation as citizens of this PROMISED LAND of LIBERTY at this THIS TIME of its serious PERIL.

    Boyd J. Tuttle
    Prophecies & Promises: The Book of Mormon and The USA

  5. Mormon Times published an interesting discussion on this topic:

  6. For those who who would like to read for themselves what Bruce Porter has written, and what the Book of Mormon has to say about this topic, one can read very plainly in the following .pdf file on Bruce Porter's website:

    Who am I? Just a student of the scriptures and the Gospel of Jesus Christ as restored by the Prophet Joseph Smith.

  7. Mr. Tuttle,

    I wrote a post earlier on here and I don't know if you saw it regarding my research. On a side note, I have several books including the one that I mentioned in the works that I'm about ready to get published and need to talk to you about them if you are interested (email me at But that isn't my main point.

    There is no ideological conspiracy at FARMS/BYU to suppress anything. They have real concerns about quality of scholarship. Meldrum and company ignore other statements of Joseph Smith in order to justify a placement of the heartland model. I was one of the pioneers in that model. But the fact remains that other statements of Joseph Smith place things further south. And there has to be a balance in scholarship. You can't say that Joseph Smith said this and that, and cherry pick among his statements. If you give credence to anything he said at all, you must weigh in the balance everything he said. The issue that FARMS has with the continual flurry of books about the geography is that they continually refuse to use good scholarship, and to not perpetuate misinformation, This is a valid concern. It is the same concern that FAIR has about the rest of Rod Meldrum's scholarship, especially about evolution and DNA. There was one faction for evolution among the brethren, and one against it. Rod Meldrum makes it look like the Church is against evolution, which is not a balanced view at all. That was perpetuated by Elder McConkie and President Joseph Fielding Smith. You get a balanced view of the issue when you look at all the statements coming from both sides of the issue. Similarly, Rod Meldrum ignores all statements of Joseph Smith placing Nephites in Mesoamerica.

  8. For another interesting perspective, check out an interview Keith Merrill gave concerning his involvement with the Church Movie: "The Testaments". In this interview he explains his reasoning for the shift in his own mind concerning the locations of the settings of the Book of Mormon. It's about 7 minutes...

  9. Thanks for this post Denver. I used to be completely convinced of the Mesoamerican theory. I would watch the video's and read from the books written on the subject and they seems so scholarly that I felt like I had no reason to doubt them. I would even defend the theory to others.
    Then I saw the 4-hour video that Rod Meldrum filmed called "DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography". And even though his conclusions or credentials were as "scholarly" as FAIR would have them to be, I felt a completely different spirit while watching it. The longer I watched it, the better I felt, and I also got more excited about reading the Book of Mormon and the Prophecies and Promises found therein. I try hard to know and recognize when the Spirit is bearing witness to truth, and I am confident that this was one such occasion.
    I have since read what "FAIR" has to say on the matter, and was turned off by the negativity and hostility I sensed as I read what they had to say. And no amount of scholarly wisdom, for me at least, can compete with what I feel the Spirit is telling me.
    I understand how hard it is for people to change their paradigms on things like this, especially because many have devoted their lives and entire careers to proving a (what I consider) false theory. Not to mention, a lot of money invested in Book of Mormon tours to Guatemala, etc. But I found Keith Merrill's response to the North American setting of the Book of Mormon. (Keith Produced the film: "The Testaments." Which was obviously set in Meso/South America) Check it out here.
    I'm with you, Denver. I feel that the true location is around a 7 on your scale, because a knowledge of that has strengthened my testimony of the Book as well as the prophet Joseph Smith.

  10. For those of you that have "felt good" and have a "testimony" of the US heartland model. Let me give you my own testimony. I wrote the first This Land book with Wayne May and had a testimony of the truthfulness of Cumorah and the Nephite habitation of the US. Here is the problem. My testimony of that continues to be active. The Spirit testified of it because there was truth in it. But it was a preparatory thing for a greater, more complex truth. That greater truth is that when proper consideration is given to all that Joseph Smith said, then the proper understanding of the whole picture comes into sharper focus. The spirit isn't going to let you down on the USA because there is truth in it. But if you let the Spirit down being content with only half of the truth, then the Spirit can't teach you the whole truth. If your pursuit of truth is based on the consideration of all the facts of the matter, then you recognize the fact that the Spirit leads you from point to point, not being satisfied by a part of the truth. And I'm telling you that the fact that I was where I was eight years ago on the heartland model, and I am where I am today is precisely because I have GROWN from the heartland model. It served its purpose to prepare the way for what I now understand. And if you guys are content with only a partial truth, so be it. The facts are more complex than that. And good feelings about some things seldom mean you understand all of them. I haven't "apostatized" from what I knew before in retracting my previous theory. I have been added upon. In the same manner a Bible believing Born Again Christian is added upon when he gets a testimony of the Book of Mormon. He only had a partial truth before, even though the Spirit no doubt led him to it before he encountered Mormonism. And in spite of the fact that he felt real good about it too, and had a testimony of the truth in it. When two nations come together, their testimony comes together also. I'm telling you Mesoamerica and the United States come together, and their testimony runs together.

  11. As the Viet Nam war ended, I was in my first year of college, double majoring in economics and marine botany, when I had a life changing event, I discovered the Book of Mormon (BoM). I spent the next three days consuming the book, living and experiencing every event in it. Now almost 40 years later I am still discovering treasures in every word, phrase, verse, page and book within its pages. I graduated with bachelor degrees in Agricultural Economics and (Middle Eastern) History, and Master degrees in Agricultural Economics & International Relations, to prepare me for a career and life pursuing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    With my interest in economics and history I have read the words on the pages of the BoM with an eye of an economist looking for economic activities such as production, trade, money, etc. And, with the passion of a historian I have noticed the themes and patterns that have affected the lives of the individual, families and nations of peoples in the BoM.

    What amazes me about the LDS community is that for a relatively well educated people, we often put aside scholarship and logic when exploring topics of our own history. Mr. Goble is a case in point. He points out a number of issues in scholarship and logic dealing with statements the Prophet of this dispensation, Joseph Smith, made that shed light on BoM people. Shame on you Mr. Goble, your scholarship stops short of exploring the subject more fully, and as such supports a conclusion that is based on partial data.

    Joseph Smith did make some very specific statements about BoM Nephites and Lamanites, and some locations where some of the events of the BoM unfolded. After having read the BoM many times, “experiencing” many of the events, studying economics and history, I am very confident that the BoM occurred in North America, right where Joseph Smith said it did. For me to say otherwise, and to apply a “rational framework (of my own) based on other evidences is problematic and unsustainable.”

    May, Porter, and Meldrum for the most part have presented data that is on the pages of the BoM, on (and in) the ground, other peer reviewed historical and scientific records and studies, and most importantly the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

    We cannot have it both ways, Joseph Smith was a prophet when he revealed the BoM, but not when he revealed facts about its people, activities & geography.

    In the 1970’s I spent many afternoons & evenings arguing these topics with a BYU Professor, John Sorenson, when I was a student at BYU, living in Provo and serving in a church position, in a ward that was in a stake in which he served in a position where we had a lot of contact. Each of those discussions ended the same way, “David you have a couple of strong points going for your argument (that North America is the setting for the BoM), the location of Cumorah and the statements of Joseph Smith, but your model is problematic.” I will let that statement speak for itself.

    I cannot accuse Joseph Smith of having a “problematic” model, but must keep looking, exploring and discovering what it was that caused him to make the statements he did with such confidence about the BoM that is a partner with revelation of revealed truth. I would suggest that all of us continue to pursue and discover additional context and detail of Joseph Smith’s revealed truths and revelations, and draw closer to the Savior in the process.

  12. By the way, a 9 on my scale.

  13. Oh, and for anyone that wants a preview of my work that shows the problems in the scholarship of both models, I don't have the book published yet, but here is a preview. Mr. Snuffer, I invite you to download it and read it for yourself:

  14. For those interested in another point of view, here is an article I wrote over a decade ago

  15. Denver,

    I know you're not fond of FARMS.... here's some information to consider fwiw:


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