10. What Role Do “Desolate Cities” Play in Locating Book of Mormon Lands?

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10. What Role Do “Desolate Cities” Play in Locating Book of Mormon Lands?

Copyright © 2015 by Jerry L. Ainsworth

In the past few years, some Book of Mormon analysts have expended significant efforts to change the focus from Mesoamerica to North America as the primary New World lands of the Book of Mormon people.

During a recent weeklong trip to some ancient-ruin sites in Mexico, I had the opportunity to focus on a few scriptures that appear to support the view that the Book of Mormon people lived in Mesoamerica (southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras).

Dwellings Shall Become Desolate

In 3 Nephi, the Savior speaks sternly to the Nephites and Lamanites who survived the catastrophic events that took place during His crucifixion when a number of cities were destroyed because of the wickedness of the people.

In 3 Nephi 10:5, the Savior tells the survivors how often He would have gathered them, as a “hen gathereth her chickens.” He then speaks in the future tense, essentially saying the same thing (i.e., if they will repent in the future, He will still gather those “chickens”). In verse 7, the Savior then warns these remnants of Israel what will happen if they do not “return unto me with full purpose of heart.” He then continues, “But if not, O house of Israel, the places of your dwellings shall become desolate until the time of the fulfilling of the covenant to your fathers” (emphasis added).

Note that the Savior does not say that the places of their dwellings will be destroyed; rather, they will “become desolate.” Webster defines desolate as being “devoid of habitation” or “deserted.” Two thoughts occurred to me:

  • First, because the “dwellings” would become desolate, they would of necessity remain intact, to some degree, and not be completely destroyed. Otherwise, it seems the Lord would have spoken of destruction rather than desolation.

  • Second, there must be a good reason why the Lord does not want these buildings destroyed but only rendered desolate. I will return to this thought later.

Cities to Be Inhabited Again

In 3 Nephi 22, the Savior returns to this issue of the desolate cities. In the chapters preceding chapter 22, the Savior describes how the restored gospel will first be taken to the Gentiles, how they will abuse the remnants of Israel, and finally how the Gentiles will fumble the gift they have been given. In chapter 21, the Savior then explains how the gospel will be taken to the remnant and how they will accept it as it slips away from the Gentiles (see Mormon 8:35–38).

As the Savior explains this fumbling by the Gentiles, He describes the emergence of the remnant of Israel on this continent—those who are descendants of Lehi—and how they will embrace the gospel. In 3 Nephi 22:3, He says to the remnant, “For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left, and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.”

I believe the cities the Lord is talking about that are to be inhabited by the remnant are those cities that were rendered desolate, as indicated in 3 Nephi 10:7. It appears to me that the Lord is going to have the remnant return to the ancient cities that became desolate and uninhabited and inhabit them again. The question, therefore, is, “Where are there ancient cities that were rendered desolate (not destroyed) and that can once again be inhabited?”

North America Has No Such Desolate Cities

My candidates for those cities are the ancient cities of the Maya in Mesoamerica. I don’t know of any ancient cities in North America that have been rendered desolate and are preserved well enough that that they can once again be “inhabited,” as described in 3 Nephi 22:3.

Later in this chapter, the Lord says that the stones to be used in this rebuilding process will be “stones with fair colors.” The Maya built all their magnificent buildings with stones and then painted them either white, blue, red, or yellow—“fair colors” indeed. In 3 Nephi 22:12, the Lord indicates that the borders of these cities will be marked with “all thy borders of pleasant stones.” I have spent an inordinate amount of time studying the Maya culture and have seen the beautifully colored stones their buildings were constructed with, as well as the borders that are marked by stone walls, stone highways, and just plain stone markers.

I believe the Lord is talking about the ancient cities of the Maya.

Contact me with a quesstion or comment: eljefejla@aol.com


Ainsworth, Jerry L.