I recently came across a new and interesting Book of Mormon geography theory that I wanted to pass along even though I haven’t researched it much yet and so can’t say what I think of it. Your feedback on this would be welcome. The theory is explained at this website.
So here is the key behind it. The Book of Mormon mentions that the Nephites took seeds from Jerusalem and brought them to the promised land. Now seeds can’t grow in unlike climates, so that immediately reduces all possible Book of Mormon lands to climates that can grow seeds from Jerusalem. They then took all other geographical factors mentioned in the Book of Mormon and further reduced the possibilities. They ended up finding a surprisingly high ‘hit rate’ with none other than Baja California.
Is there any thing to this theory? I don’t know. But I like their thinking in any case. Even if this turns out to be total poppycock, it’s the right sort of poppycock. This is a really good example of ‘sticking your neck out’ with a theory. The last person to do this was the much maligned Rodney Meldrum. For all the things he gets obviously wrong, I have to get him credit for actually bothering to not merely abstract things until there is little or not chance of disproving the existence of Nephites and actually managing to come up with a solid falsifiable theory — supposedly the mark of all good scientific theories. In fact Meldrum’s theory was so solidly falsifiable that it has in fact been falsified. This may sound like a joke, but in fact this means he was really doing things the right way from a scientific perspective. If only we could now get him to admit he was wrong and stop selling books.
So now we have yet another solidly falsifiable theory. It will be interesting to see what comes of this.
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Bruce, thanks for bringing this up. I had not heard of this theory. I personally have no problem with new theories like this, and I agree with you that using the scientific method in this way raises some interesting possibilities. The only concern I would mention is that sometimes people get more wedded to their theories than they do to the actual scriptures. History is filled with people trying to prove where Noah’s Ark is or prove the dates in the OT or prove that Jonah could have survived three days inside a fish, etc. I think they are missing the point of the scriptures, which are *religious* and *spiritual* and primarily a description of God’s relationship to man. I think we should be OK with the idea that some things, perhaps many things, in the scriptures are not actually historical.
Now, having said that, I personally believe the Book of Mormon is mostly if not all historical. And the Book of Mormon itself says that after Christ’s death in Jerusalem the land changed significantly. So, it may be a fools errand to compare the land today to the land that existed in Book of Mormon times. Or maybe not. I am also open to the possibility that Mormon and Moroni were aware of these changes and still kept the geographical description in the Book of Mormon because they were still accurate *after* Christ’s earthly death.
But my point is: you cannot base your faith on a geographical theory. If somebody disproves your theory, there is a chance you could lose your faith. You need to base your faith on the Atonement, Christ’s primary message and modern-day prophets (among other things).
Now with that said, please carry on discussing whether this theory is poppycock or not.
Mormon Heretic did a post on this subject Book of Mormon on the Baja in 2010 that may help the discussion.
I believe that there is no evidence of an ancient literary tradition in that area. That seems to be the weak point of the theory. You would expect stone inscriptions–it seems to be something that almost all cultures that can write come up with, and even many that don’t. But even if not, in semi-arid climates fragments of texts on organic material can survive for a long, long time.
I’ve read a few of their articles. They generally seem pretty circumspect and careful.
**The extremely hot and humid summers are not as agreeable as
the dry cooler summers of the Mediterranean lands and thus are not as conducive to
human activity, animal life and plant growth—and cannot sustain their expanding
populations. As a result, people migrate to the Mediterranean climate areas of the
world, while at the same time others are fleeing (when they can) from areas such as
Guatemala in Mesoamerica, and similar areas of Africa, literally by the hundreds of
thousands because of poor economic conditions and the low population carrying
capacities of their lands**
–is almost complete nonsense.
1. Population sizes. Baja California does not have the ancient population sizes required (hundreds of thousands in the last battles for the Nephites and Lamanites, and millions dead among the Jaredites).
2. Written language is not found in the area.
3. It assumes both the Nephites and Jaredites took a Pacific Ocean route to the New World. There are evidences in the Book of Ether the jaredites may have come over the Atlantic Ocean.
4. The cities with palisades, cities made of cement, towers/pyramids, are not apparent in Baja.
5. The great destruction that occurred at the death of Christ are not in Baja. There are no volcanoes, no mountain ranges that show destruction, no cities sunk into the ocean/lakes of the area, etc.
The theories for Central America is that it has a variety of climates. The Nephites could have landed in an area that could use the seeds the Nephites brought. However, after moving from the Land of Lehi to the Land of Nephi and later to the Land of Zarahemla, those conditions could have changed. There are the populations necessary, the written language, the animals, etc.
I recently went to Palmyra, where the LDS bookstore in Palmyra proudly proclaims itself to support the One Cumorah theory of the Nephites being around the Great Lakes and Finger Lakes. This suffers from many of the same problems. Sufficient evidence is not there to make a plausible and satisfactory theory.
I have spent a lot of time both in Baja and in Mesoamerica, and Adam G and Rame’s comments are both pretty good. I would bet against a Baja California location for the BoM, but who knows, I could be wrong.
Here are several map theories in one place
I tend to like Sorenson’s theory regarding the locations of things in the Book of Mormon.
The location of the plates in upper New York doesn’t require that the Book of Mormon milieu was primarily there, since we all know a person can travel thousands of miles if you allow a year or two for that translocation.
I also love Helaman 5:12, which clearly talks about storm surge and hurricane conditions (the verse derives from passages in Isaiah, but Isaiah’s whilrwinds are clearly only desert storms).
Now, it’s possible the folks initially landed at Baja and then migrated to somewhere else. But then again, it’s also vaguely possible that the people described in the Book of Mormon were actually the African Cohenim now known as the Lemba.
Fun though I think it would be for the Book of Mormon peoples to have been ancestors of the Lemba, I’m a bit partial to possibilities that explain why the cultures in the Pacific Islands have origin stories consistent with the tale of Hagoth, the curious man at the end of Alma who set off in a boat.
In the book ‘1421’ published several years ago, the author uses evidence of crops and art to argue that a great Chinese fleet discovered America and many islands of the south Pacific seventy years before Columbus. I take it with a hefty grain of salt, but it serves as an example of speculative, cherry picking pseudo science. I am personally convinced that the Book of Mormon is a true account of historical events but as I encounter various theories of the physical location in which the story took place I feel that most are too limited in scope. If you visit Cahokia Mounds, east of St. Louis you will see artifacts and structures that convince archeologists that there was commerce with Mayan cities. There appear to be similar reasons to believe that the Anasazi of the four corners area of Colorado, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico were familiar with Mayan culture.
That is quite a spread.
I have a minor theory of my own, inspired by visiting Mesa Verde and other sites including the stone towers of Hovenweep. There is evidence that after hundreds of years of living in houses built on flat ground, fires began to take a significant toll. The population centralized and began building fortress like towers which were overcome, the remaining population retreated to hidden cliff dwellings, but were suddenly forced to abandon their refuge. This provides evidence for a relentless enemy.
For many years the Anasazi were regarded with admiration, but evidence of ruthless predation on other people, including extensive cannibalism has put them in a less favorable light. Alma 25:9 seems to me to provide an indication of the origin and eventual destruction of this group of people. In an editorial aside, the editor, writing four hundred years or so AD says ‘And behold they are hunted to this day by the Lamanites.’ Can enmity toward an enemy last a thousand years? Look to the middle east to find an answer. One of the things I believe I will enjoy when we can know all things is finding out what and where events in the Book of Mormon occurred. I won’t be surprised if much of what various people have speculated is true. We tend to forget that the Mormon Battalion traversed most of America on foot in a year. It is easy to underestimate the capacity for ancient people to travel long distances
The Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum is probably the best resource on the Webb for BoM geography.
It’s fun to see nice article and write-ups regarding models for the Book of Mormon in Baja.
I publish an alternate model of the Book of Mormon lands in Baja and the North American Southwest which is somewhat broader in scope and different than the one on achoiceland.com that you came across. I periodically correspond with some people from their working group and have been impressed by their spirit of exploration as they work on their model.
Some of your members have asked some good questions in the comments here. I’ll take some time to respond to them if you like, but please understand that my comments relate to Baja but do not necessarily reflect the views of the people who publish achoiceland.com.
…more to come if you’re interested.
Adam G. Said: “I believe that there is no evidence of an ancient literary tradition in that area. That seems to be the weak point of the theory. You would expect stone inscriptions–it seems to be something that almost all cultures that can write come up with, and even many that don’t. But even if not, in semi-arid climates fragments of texts on organic material can survive for a long, long time.”
I tend to agree that we should expect to find evidence of a literary tradition.
Although Baja (particularly the area of Baja that is identified as Zarahemla in both my model and achoiceland.com) is actually quite famous for its extravagant rock art compared to other sites in the world, the art itself is not recognized as a writing system in our traditional sense of the term. The natives of the peninsula did have “…some tablets painted with a thousand ridiculous figures which represent the most able men they have had, the best curanderos (quack doctors), the bravest, the best runners and the strongest…” (Sales; 1772-1790; published 1956). Many scholars believe that these ‘figures’ were probably akin to the figures in the rock art and was the closest thing that they had to a writing system.
There are some rock carvings in the northern part of the peninsula that look very suspiciously like characters from old-world alphabets. Those carvings are mentioned fairly early in historic records making them unlikely to be forgeries. As far as I know, several early authors likened them to old-world writing systems but nobody has made much of an effort to understand them in recent times. It’s interesting to see, but doesn’t prove anything.
Personally, I don’t think that we need to expect the literary tradition to carry on after the destruction of the Nephites. The Book of Mormon states pretty clearly that the Lamanites wanted to destroy all the Nephite records. I do hope that archaeology turns up much more evidence of a writing system than what is now known.
rameumptom said “Population sizes. Baja California does not have the ancient population sizes required (hundreds of thousands in the last battles for the Nephites and Lamanites, and millions dead among the Jaredites).”
I agree. This is a difference between my model and the one presented on achoiceland.com. Even if it turns out that Baja had a wildly more hospitable climate 1500-3000 years ago, the peninsula itself does not have enough carrying capacity for the populations mentioned in the final battles, although it did historically support population sizes that were nearly as large as the population sizes described for the Nephites before the final battle at Cumorah. I propose that the “land of many waters, rivers, and fountains” was the Colorado River Delta and that much larger populations could live in that area and in the North American Southwest and that those larger populations were involved in the Jaredite conflicts and in the final Nephite/Lamanite conflict (after the Lamanites successfully broke through Mormon’s defensive lines and overran the land Northward). My model does not even remotely require the population density in the peninsula that the other model suggests.
rameumptom said “2. Written language is not found in the area.” …see my comments in response to Adam G. Above.
rameumptom said “3. It assumes both the Nephites and Jaredites took a Pacific Ocean route to the New World. There are evidences in the Book of Ether the jaredites may have come over the Atlantic Ocean.”
I don’t know of any reference related to the Jaredite migration that cannot be readily explained by a Pacific Ocean crossing.
rameumptom said “4. The cities with palisades, cities made of cement, towers/pyramids, are not apparent in Baja.”
You are correct, but you are also being influenced by too many of our modern paintings which show Christ with Mayan pyramids in the background. In order to understand a Baja model, you must cleanse your mind of a lot of the pictures that traditionally come to mind when we think of Nephite/Jaredite cities, etc.. Pyramids are not ever mentioned in the text. “Cities” were not made of cement, houses were. In fact, the text is pretty clear that they needed to ship wood northward in order to build cities.
On the other hand, the text does say that the people in the land northward lived in tents and houses of cement. This can be read two different ways. Either the people who the Nephites encountered when they did mass-migrations northward already lived in tents (Teepee’s) or houses of cement (Adobe) or the Nephites themselves chose to live in tents (Teepee’s) or houses of cement (Adobe) after they migrated. There is, in fact, one use of fire-enhanced cement in the archaeological record for the peninsula. Very strong cement grave markers were used at the El Conchalito archaeological site near the southern tip of the peninsula.
In regards to ‘palicades’, perhaps archaeologists will eventually find remnants of stone palaces, but the palaces mentioned in the Book of Mormon were probably made largely of wood if the Baja Model is correct.
rameumptom said “5. The great destruction that occurred at the death of Christ are not in Baja. There are no volcanoes, no mountain ranges that show destruction, no cities sunk into the ocean/lakes of the area, etc.”
This is a fun one to answer because there actually are volcanoes and mountain ranges that show destruction and there are archaeologically-described ancient settlements from Nephite times that are submerged into the ocean.
In regards to volcanoes, there are many active ones in the peninsula including several in the northern portions which had documented eruptions which are dated within the margin of error to the time of Christ’s death. A different volcano, known as El Virgel, is a very explosive volcano located very near to what we identify as the land of Zarahemla. Evidence of the eruption of this volcano can be seen as a white blanket of earth covering a huge swath of that area. There is a lot of controversy regarding the date of the eruption that produced the tephra I mentioned, but none of the professionals are currently arguing for a date that matches the death of Christ…but I still hold out hope on this one. Their dating techniques have been revising the date of that eruption over and over. The location and type of eruption itself is absolutely perfect for what the Book of Mormon describes, and even if the date of that particular eruption does not match up, all the professionals leave open the possibility of other, currently undocumented, eruptions of it during the right time period for our models.
Regarding submerged cities, there is an archaeological site called El Conchalito in the southern part of the peninsula which matches up geographically (in my model) to the Lamanite city of Jerusalem. Most of the archaeological site is under water and the tectonics of the region have been described very well in professional literature to show that it exists in what is called a ‘graben’ which naturally subsides over time in a manner completely consistent with what is described in the Book of Mormon.