Step-by-Step through the Book of Mormon; and Chronology of the thinking of Book of Mormon Geography
Transcript of the September 2005 BMAF Conference held at the Red Lion Hotel
Step-by-Step through the Book of Mormon; and Chronology of the thinking of Book of Mormon Geography
It’s a privilege to be here this morning. I hope that I can say some things to you that many of you may already know, but I want to reinforce those things with what I have to say. I’m from Springville, Utah, and have been raised in the Church; took a Book of Mormon class in Seminary, went to the Institute of Religion and to BYU. I went on a mission to Guatemala and El Salvador. I thought I was pretty-well versed in the Book of Mormon. But my real understanding of the Book of Mormon did not come until 1986, when President Benson gave a prophetic blessing to all those who would search the pages of the Book of Mormon, because they would have increased understanding. I have seen that prophetic promise fulfilled in my lifetime in a way that is fitting of any prophetic blessing that could come from Old Testament times or from New Testament times. In modern times we have seen knowledge of the Book of Mormon flourish since President Benson gave us that blessing. My first objective when I heard that blessing was to go back to the Book of Mormon and read it. We are under that directive right now from President Hinckley. I read it with a different purpose. I wanted the promise in Moroni 10:4, more than ever before. Yes, on my mission I stated that the Book of Mormon was true; I’ve read it and it is really nice. But, I really wanted to know about that book. So I read it and I prayed for that witness. And I received that witness.
That witness set me free, because once I had that witness I had the opportunity to attack the book in a way, question the book in any way I wanted, and ask it every question of what I read. Some of the things seem foolish: you have a Nephi going back after the plates, and he cuts of Laban’s head, which has blood everywhere, and then he’s putting on Laban’s robes. What’s he doing putting blood-soaked robes and thinking he’s going to get away with something? Some things don’t make sense. Nephi said before he went back after the plates that he was exceedingly young, nevertheless, large in stature. Well, he returns with the plates and refers to himself as a man. What’s going on here? What are we doing with the story of history?
One of the things I began to do was – I read the Book of Mormon; and I advise all of my students of the Book of Mormon, as far as this process goes, to read the Book of Mormon as if they wrote it, because you’re every bit as smart as Joseph Smith would have been, or assumed to have been at that time. You have had much more education. Then, every time you come to something that seems absurd or stupid, mark it, because that is significant in a cultural way every time. You might not understand it, but you mark it. And, as you read also, don’t ever read it without a pencil and a piece of paper in hand. Every time you have a question, you write it down, because the Lord will deal with you on your level. He can’t deal with you on any other level; he’ll deal with you on your level.
And, you have to ask a question. When the Lord says, "Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you", that is a process. That’s not saying the same thing. The Lord’s not going to do anything for you, or reveal anything to you, that you can do for yourself. So, you have to ask the question first before the Lord is going to help you to find the answer. And then you have to seek on what’s been written and is available to you. You really have to go after something. Some times you have to travel. Many of you have probably traveled down to Book of Mormon lands in Central America – there are feelings there. There are perspectives there. It involves effort. It involves doing something. So the process is questions; the process is seeking, not only for intellectual knowledge, but spiritual knowledge. So you have to do, and the Lord will bide his time in giving you the answer until you are ready for the answer. And, the answer might come in increments. You might understand something one way, and then later on in your research, understand it in a different way. And your progress continues. But, you can’t get to those levels on intellectual knowledge alone. The Spirit has to guide you, because intellectual knowledge, without the Spirit can lead you in a different direction; the intellectual knowledge that you gain can be to your destruction rather than your edification.
You have to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost, in order to know what’s worth saving and what’s worth noting, and where the priorities are. Some of the information I’ve accumulated is just that. Accumulated – I don’t know how to interpret it, and I don’t want to know how to interpret it right now, because I know that sooner or later I will get to the point where I can interpret that information. But, to jump to conclusions on intellectual knowledge sometimes is a big mistake. It’s better to take a perspective of – this is what I’ve gleaned so far, and to that extent where it helps me, that’s great.
Let me tell you a little bit about how this process began. I began reading the Book of Mormon with interest, I began writing down these questions, and seeking. This led me to different books to find the answers. Some of the answers I found in a day; some of the answers I found in a week; some of the answers I found in a year; some of the answers in five years; some of the answers I have still never found. Just because you write down a question doesn’t mean you’re ready for the answer. I did this, and sometimes I forget and can’t remember the details, so when I try to tell those things, I often don’t have the details with me. So, as with any person with not much of a mind, I’m pretty practical, so I wrote everything down as I found it. Then I linked it to a scripture and a phrase. Some things in the Book of Mormon are little phrases, and they’re strange, and I ask – what does that mean? So, I write it down and I ask my question, and when I find the answer, it might be from an article or a book, so I always write down the answer and its source. So that in the future I could go to that book or that article and read much, much more, because the author had much more on his mind to give me than I could write down so small.
So I did that – kept on writing them down, and over a span of 15 years they accumulated, and I found that as I went back and read the text and looked at the text where I had highlighted, I started to see things, and I started to see patterns. With the commentary that I’d written I found that, during the time that I was writing it and appreciating it, when it fit together with other commentary I had a perspective that I had never realized before. I found that what I had become excited about, because I became excited about Joe Allen’s, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, in 1989, because he had a lot of pictures and maps; and I had been to Guatemala and El Salvador, and I’d been charge of a temple excursion from Central America that went by bus from Central America along the Pacific coast up to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to Veracruz, to Mexico City, to Mesa, Arizona, and back. So I had seen the country first-hand. I knew what the country was all about; and when I saw the pictures in this book, everything became real to me.
That is the second part of what I learned – that when the Book of Mormon becomes real to you it opens up. You start to ask questions that you would never ask before. You start to have a testimony like you’ve never had before, because it’s real – it’s not a fantasy world. Sometimes we think in fantasy; we think that Nephi had the Liahona and it told him where to go, and when he got there to Bountiful that the Lord just told him everything about building a ship and he went out with his little hammer and built a ship. A ship large enough to have an 80-foot spar and a 65-foot mast, hundreds of tons of weight – how’s he going to do that? Where does he go to get the expertise, because the Lord’s not going to give him anything that he can’t do or get for himself? So, why did he go through Arabia? He went down along the Red Sea; why not build a ship on the Red Sea? He has to go east. Why? Did you ever ask that question as you’re reading the Book of Mormon? You probably didn’t because it’s not a real world to you. But when it becomes real you have to say, this happened somewhere – why? And, why is that important?
Let me tell you that Mormon wove into his account the historical and geographical places to give substance to the truth of covenants. Raymond Tree is from the Reorganized Church; he gave his life in dedication for research on the Book of Mormon. His life has been devoted to the Book of Mormon. He taught me that the purpose of the Book of Mormon was to show to the house of Israel what great things the Lord has done for their fathers, that they might know the covenants of the Lord, and also to the convincing of Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ. Why is covenant so important? Why would he say, also, for the convincing of Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ? Without covenants Jesus isn’t the Christ. And, without covenants and without Christ, nothing is true. They go hand-in-hand, you cannot separate them. So, I found that the Book of Mormon is exactly what is written on the title page. We’ve had some studies, and Dr. Ludlow gave a presentation on who wrote the title page, and everyone has this intellectual game about who wrote the title page. Well, Moroni got instructions from his father; and his father had read Nephi as he was abridging the plates, and he was so impressed with what Nephi did that he said I’m going to finish my record upon these things. This meant that he was going to take Nephi’s paradigm and follow it out. You find that in the Words of Mormon. Everyone thinks that, Oh, I’m going to finish my record on them and set these small plates at the end of the record. I don’t think that’s what he was saying. He was saying that Nephi had a concept of geography and culture and history, because the Lord is the Lord over this world, he created it, and he will prove to the people of this world, in the history of the world, in the people of the world, in the cosmological setting of this world with the other planets, that he the Creator – he is the Christ. So, we look to history; we look to geography; we look at things to give emphasis to the idea of covenants.
Mark down 3 Nephi 5:12. When you start the Book of Mormon, well, it’s a book of Mormon, that’s the title. Does the title mean anything? Words mean something, names mean something, so what does the title say? The title says, according to what everybody thinks, that it’s a history of Mormon, the prophet. But that’s not what Mormon says. You’ll find in 2 Nephi 5:12, he says, I am Mormon, and I was named after the valley where the gospel was restored to Alma. In other words, if we plug those words back in, the Book of Mormon title is actually the Book of the Restored Covenant. Raymond Tree has done an extensive work on the printer’s manuscript, and has put out an edition that he calls the Restored Covenant edition of the Book of Mormon. Our Prophet has said that we will tack on to the name of the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Christ. What is testament? Testament means covenant. So, in other words, it’s exactly the title of the Book of Mormon right now what Mormon intended it to be. The Book of the Restored Covenant.
How does geography and everything tie into this? It gives you something real and allows you to put peoples in places and circumstances that have meaning that you can research beyond the text. For example, we say ‘Narrow Neck of Land.’ What makes in narrow? Did Mormon have a plane? Was he able to fly to high altitudes and look down on the continent and say, we have South America and North America, and we have this narrow neck of land. Is that what he did? I don’t think so. Not only that but this narrow neck of land was significant, not only to the time of Lehi, but it was significant to the Jaredites. Their whole civilization revolved around this Narrow Neck of Land. Did you ever ask yourself, why this narrow neck was important? And, what was it? What is it when you’re on ground level? I’ve been through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and it seems quite wide. And I’m not even talking about the distance from sea to sea, which is about 130 miles. So, what’s going on? Perhaps it’s the Isthmus of Panama. That distance is only 37 miles, but it took Balboa and his men 26 days to cross – not a day-and-a-half.
Are you satisfied with reading the Book of Mormon and just accepting everything that comes your way? Don’t you ever ask, why? Because, unless you ask, why, the Lord’s not going to give you any answer at all. It’s his ultimate purpose to tell you something about covenants. And the truth of those covenants, which is the truth of the Book of Mormon, is the truth of Jesus Christ and his mission. So, he’s waiting on you. He’s there; he knows the answers – he’s just waiting on you. But, if like in the 84th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, you ignore that challenge, you’re under condemnation. That’s exactly what President Benson said. You have to start doing something in your understanding of the Book of Mormon. To that end, I’ve compiled research and one of the things that I’ve compiled is a program called "Step-by-Step through the Book of Mormon." In that I have highlighted the text in different ways – the people in the text, then names of Christ in the text. There are over 500 different names of Christ in the Book of Mormon. Did you realize that? Susan Easton Black in "Finding Christ" found 100. I’ve since found over 500; and each descriptive name tells you something about Christ. The Book, just by reading the names, tell you what the qualities of Christ are. Search them out, every time you find a descriptive name of the Lord, highlight it. That’s what I’ve done
Highlight the places and the geography, because you don’t understand what’s going on in the East Wilderness and the war there until you understand the relationship of the Jaredite lands and Mulekite civilization, which was with the Jaredites, and the close proximity it was to the East Wilderness. Everybody thinks that the Jaredites came and were destroyed; then the Mulekites came in 600 B.C. but they don’t read the text. The text says that Zarahemla was named after the person who first occupied it, and the Nephites found Zarahemla, the leader, which happened in 200 B.C. So, what happened between 600 B.C. and 200 B.C.? Where were those Mulekites? And why is every name of every rebellious leader among the Nephites in the Book of Mormon a Jaredite name? What is Mormon trying to tell us? What’s he trying to tell us in culture and geography?
The second thing that applies is that sometimes people hear things about, oh, a leader said this, or a leader said that. They take a little quote, and that quote gets extended for years and years; because the book gets published for years and years and years. I got tired of hearing quote for giving a reason for every geographical location under the sun, that I decided to go back, because every time I would come across this, in order to evaluate geography, I would have to go to BYU’s Special Collections, take things of the rack, because so many things are out of date and they’re not available. So, the project I’ve been on for the last five years is to go back to the beginnings of LDS times and even beyond, and accumulate everything, every article, every book, every video, everything that has ever been said on Book of Mormon geography and culture. I could then evaluate authoritative statements, and evaluate scholarly statements. It creates a different picture.
I’ve heard it a thousand times, George Q. Cannon’s statement in 1890, "The Book of Mormon is not a geographical primer." Nobody ever bothers to read the statement in 1908, when Joseph F. Smith was the editor of the Juvenile Instructor, the magazine for Sunday School and youth, which said, "We have a map here by Joel Ricks. He has actually gone down to South America, and he’s actually visited the lands down there, and because he’s actually been there, we are going to recommend his map." He was not just drawing dots and lines on a paper and saying, this is great. It gives you a whole different perspective. And with George Q. Cannon’s statement, nobody ever reads the part where he discourages the study of Book of Mormon geography, but then ads, "at the present time. We discourage things at the present time." Well, the present time has extended to 2005. Well, we’ve advanced a little bit since then. But, some of us haven’t. And we want desperately for Joseph Smith to have said something to solve the problem for us. We want desperately for Orson Pratt to have said something to solve the problem. Or any one of our authorities to solve the problem for us, so that we can be spoon-fed. So that we don’t have to make the effort. Of course, we’ve been raised in that environment; and, yes, the words of the old prophets are of great worth, but at any moment, our new prophet can say something and that’s who we follow. We follow the new prophet.
So, let’s not look to dead prophets for our testimony of Book of Mormon geography and the Book of Mormon. Let’s live in the present. Let’s take some responsibility for ourselves to investigate, to travel, to learn, to obey the covenants we have already made, because without obeying the covenants we have already made, we have no idea of the worth of covenants. And that’s what Nephi tries to tell us.
Let me say a few things about what I have. We’ll discuss Step-by-Step through the Book of Mormon, and I’ll show you how it works. We’re still in the development on this, and it’s a process, and it’s made for study purposes. If we issue it, it will be through the non-profit organization; it’s not made for profit, because it involves a lot of people and a lot of people’s work, because it’s a collection of commentary. I’m not going to re-write what they said and I’m not going to interpret what they said. I’m just going to give you a snippet of what they said and I’m going to give you the title of their books, and then leave it up to you to go to that book and to collect that article. The same goes for the illustrations. Now, in the text, sometimes by highlighting certain things in the text we get an understanding, because we see patterns. I’ve highlighted all the geographical verses in the Book of Mormon and have my own text on computer, and I’ve arranged it how I want it; and as I flip through the pages there is a pattern. There are certain patterns that you see when you start to see colors. The written pages are great because you can flip through and see patterns. You can also flip through and see cultural words.
Write this down: in 1st Nephi, there is a word, or a couple of words, that mean covenant. Look for the covenant setting, and the words are "I know." Every time you read those words it’s an allusion to the knowledge of covenants, which is different from intellectual knowledge. It’s covenant knowledge. In chapter 3 of 1st Nephi, everybody knows this verse, "I will go and do the things that the Lord has commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandment unto the children of man unless he prepare a way for them. . . ." Everybody says, oh, that’s a nice illustration of simple faith. It has nothing to do with simple faith. Nephi is telling, "I know." Well, how does he know? Read the previous chapter. He says in the previous chapter, "I want to know what my father knows." So, he says he went and talked with the Lord. Did he just go out and pray? No, he talked with the Lord. Then, in the next verse, he says, "The Lord told me that if I obeyed his commandments, he would lead me to a land of promise." Then he goes back to his father and his father says, go get the plates, he has them, and because Laban is the commander over armies, it’s impossible to get them, but, go get them. In other words, I don’t know how you’re going to get them, everything says you’re going to die, you have to back through the wilderness and if the beasts don’t get you, Laban will. And what did Nephi say at that point? He said, "I will go because I know," because he had just come from talking with the Lord. The Lord had promised him and he knew the Lord was bound. He didn’t know the answers but he knew the Lord was bound. So, you have this story with many different examples of covenants. When he returns his fathers sees him and says, "Now I know that I have obtained the land of promise."
What’s he talking about, they’re in the Valley of Lemuel by the Red Sea? They’re not over in America. How does Lehi know that he has obtained a land of promise? Well, you’re talking about a covenant story. Every story in the Book of Mormon is about covenants, if you understand the process. And Mormon has inserted culture and geography to tell you about that. You just have to ask the questions. If you obey his commandments, the Lord will unlock the answers to you.
We have the text and you can see I’ve highlighted the names of the people in the Book of Mormon and the places in the Book of Mormon the first times they show up. And, I’ve highlighted geographical phrases; and I’ve highlighted the covenant phrases. These are color-coded in a different text. This computer program is interactive and you can move from summaries of what’s happening to the chapters; and the words are highlighted in different colors. When you click on those, you can bring up a commentary. As we go through the commentary, we will come across references to illustrations. Then you can click on a button and that illustration will pop up. The reason that I’ve tried to do it this way is because this commentary can be constantly expanded and edited, changed and modified and enriched; whereas when you write a book, that book is on the shelves, and you have to print a lot of them in order to break even. Then, when you print a lot of them, you have to sell a lot of them. With the LDS book market the way it is, you’re lucky to break even, and then in less than five years. And, sometimes with every book you sell, you go deeper in debt; especially when it comes to Book of Mormon geography because so few people are interested in it. So, with this, I can keep doing what I can do; I can leave this in the hands of other people. We can modify this; we can issue it on a ‘per order basis.’ So, we don’t lose money. We don’t have to wait for a new edition to be produced, we can just keep modifying it and have it for people for their use on their computers as they study the Book of Mormon. If they can get use out of it – great. For me, it’s the accumulation of what I’ve done. It’s been the journey that’s been important for me, and it’s a journey that should be important for you. Whatever you use, move forward in your knowledge and search of the Book of Mormon.
How many of you have gone to Book of Mormon lands? How many of you have had the opportunity to go up to Huehuetenango and then go down into the Chiapas depression to Santa Rosa? Have you ever looked back? What did you see when you looked back? Here we are in a proposed place for Zarahemla and you’re looking back and you see this wall of mountains, the Sierra Cuchamatanes. They rise 10,000 feet – it’s a wall, a barrier. It’s a Narrow Strip of Wilderness that separates the Land of Zarahemla from the Land of Nephi. It’s never mentioned until the people go into the Land of Zarahemla, then you hear of a Narrow Strip of Wilderness. It took the sons of Mosiah many days to get through that Narrow Strip of Wilderness. So, how can a Narrow Strip of Wilderness take many days to get through? It’s all in perspective. Once again, did Mormon have a satellite picture? No, he was on the ground. So, by traveling to Central America, and whether it’s correct or not, by going from Huehuetenango down into the Chiapas depression and looking back, you have received a perspective that nobody else has, and it can change the way you think, because it’s real. And it could be, although it doesn’t mean that it is the Narrow Strip of Wilderness, but it could be. And, all of a sudden, the Book of Mormon becomes real. One picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to Book of Mormon geography, pictures are worth everything.
That, pretty much, is Step-by-Step, and regardless of what we have, I’m more interested in your process, that you do the same things, that you mark your text, that you ask the questions, that you accumulate answers, and that you accumulate perspectives, illustrations, charts – anything that will help you understand what’s going on in chronology, whatever. I’ve accumulated a few thousand pages of commentary and a few thousand illustrations. The process goes on.
In organizing all the statements that have ever been made, it’s a massive work. I have over 5000 excerpts from different authors, in different categories and different perspectives. I have over 500 maps of proposed areas for the Book of Mormon. I found that by grouping them into certain time periods, it allowed me to see development. And those time periods were centered around editions of the Book of Mormon. At certain times, when the Church put out a new edition, they would have committees meet, and these committees would study how to format this. What are going to emphasize, what are we going to do? It was a time of re-evaluation. One of the times had to do with the first edition of the Book of Mormon. In other words, what did people think? What were their feelings? What did they think about the Indians? What did they think about America, because that’s how they interpreted the book.
In 1879, Orson Pratt put some geographic footnotes into the Book of Mormon that represented a hemispheric theory. In 1920, in preparation for a new edition, they took out Orson Pratt’s footnotes. In 1981 we had a new edition and that caused a re-evaluation of things also; so those time periods are divisions. Within those divisions, these (referring to a slide) are the categories of separate volumes so that people can see from the perspective how thought evolved; how thought changed. One of them has to do with Indian origins and the House of Israel. One of them has to do with the geography of Lehi’s travels. What did they think in the beginning? What was the reason for their thinking? When did that change?
We’re all influenced to some extent by Hugh Nibley’s books – Lehi in the Desert came out in 1952. In 1957, his studies were included in the Melchizedek manual, and the Church studied them. So, we were heavily influence in the 1950’s by Nibley’s influence. And, he had some great ideas, but George Potter has some better ideas, and George lives in 2005, not in 1950. Further, George has lived in Arabia; so, he’s actually been there. And just like Joel Ricks, if he’s actually been there, then maybe we ought to look at his map. The same goes with every one of the things on the slide. We have perspectives that I want to put people in their time. One of the things I always remember when reading the histories of Jefferson, is that he was a great man, but there are controversies about him. And one of the historians made a statement that stuck with me. He said, "Sometimes we overly revere great men; and sometimes we do them a disservice by ripping them out of their time and circumstances." I think we need to remember that as we go back and evaluate the statements of Church authorities that were outstanding and good men, but we don’t want to rip them out of their time and circumstances. My job here, is to place them into their time and circumstances so that you can understand what they were saying. Besides George Q. Cannon’s statement, there are many, many other statements, that when we place them in the circumstance they were in, we can understand what was going on.
In order to evaluate, I’ve added biographies of the LDS writers, so we know who they were, what they were all about. We’ve added a list of all the periodicals from all of the different factions, such as, the Reorganized Church. I’ve had some great help from them and other people all along the way. Joe Allen and his "Book of Mormon Tours," Dennis Moh from Independence, Missouri. He’s with the restoration movement right now. The Reorganized Church has left him. They’ve left everybody, basically. It became the Community of Christ, and now I don’t know where they’re going; and neither do any of the people back there. But there are people who have a testimony of the Book of Mormon who are great, great people. Raymond Tree, Dennis Moh – you have some people who are devoted to the Book of Mormon. Neil Steede, who addressed us yesterday; they might think differently in other doctrinal areas, but when it comes to the Book of Mormon, they know it’s true.
We will be putting the Step-by-Step on disk with the maps so that that research can go forward. The organization that I belong to is the Ancient America Foundation. The first organization on Book of Mormon geography was the University Archaeological Society in 1949; in 1961 it changed to SEHA; then it changed in the 1980’s to Ancient America Foundation. It was the earliest, and the people involved – Garth Norman, Bruce Warren, and we have the libraries of Wells Jakeman, who was the founder; we have libraries that Garth Norman and Bruce Warren house. I have my library. All that is extensive. I’m not interested in collecting an old book because of the value of the book, it’s the information that’s in it, so that whenever I can scan it or copy it, that’s fine. We have that research, and our organization is in the process of merging with the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum. I would hope that those of you with means in anything would be a part of this merger; and would be a part of supporting the work.
There is an organization called FARMS. It’s a great organization. It has its niche; so does the BYU religion department and the Church Educational System. They all have their niches. But believe me, and this comes from 20 years of intense research, there is a critical need for this organization to exist – the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum. This is because of the perspective it can give to other views and other perspectives. I hope that you would look into your situations to help that process go forward.
I also hope you will do what I talked about with respect to the Book of Mormon and your study, and President Hinckley’s challenge again. I leave you with these words, and I leave you with my testimony of the Book of Mormon, that I know it’s true. I have no idea what the answers are to a lot of questions; but I’ve received answers to dozens of questions, which makes me still a person of faith. When it comes down to it, we are all people of faith, because our whole existence revolves around a resurrection, somebody returning to life after they had died that we have no scientific prove of, and never will. It’s something that we have to accept on faith.
I leave you with these feelings and testimony, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.