Sorenson's Sourcebook Annotated

In 1990, John L. Sorenson published The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book, which is available online here:

At 415 pages, it is an excellent resource. Brother Sorenson has lots of useful insights and suggestions on how to approach the issues.

He readily acknowledges his own biases. Unfortunately, though, he allows his biases to influence even his presentation of what should be objective data.

Here, I'm annotating portions of the Sourcebook to discuss the influence of Sorenson's biases. I'm also providing supplementary material to correct some of the errors and omissions.


page 1.


The subject of "Book of Mormon geography" has stimulated three different responses among Latter-day Saints over the years. On the part of Church authorities caution, if not anxiety, has prevailed.

A persistent theme of Brother Sorenson's and the rest of the M2C believers is the disingenuous claim that Church leaders have been cautious about all of Book of Mormon geography. In reality, there has always been a bright line distinction between (i) the New York Cumorah and (ii) the rest of the geography. 

The New York Cumorah was established during Moroni's first visit to Joseph Smith in 1823 and has been reaffirmed by every contemporary and successor of Joseph Smith who has ever addressed the topic. At the same time, these same people have expressed a variety of opinions about non-Cumorah locations.

Overall, Church authorities undoubtedly want people to focus on the spiritual elements of the Book of Mormon, both as a witness of the divinity of the Restoration and as a guide to accepting Christ and emulating Christlike values and practices. In that sense, the historicity and geography "don't matter." 

But of course, a person who never reads the Book of Mormon because they think it's fictional will neither get a testimony of its truthfulness nor implement its teachings.

 For a minority of members the reaction has been persistent curiosity. Meanwhile a large majority have been satisfied to ignore the matter.

This is a questionable assertion, both historically and in the present. Historically, because the New York Cumorah was a given, most Latter-day Saints ignored ancillary issues. It was enough to know that a direct connection existed  between the modern world (New York) and the world of the Book of Mormon. Certainly some Latter-day Saints were more curious than others about the rest of the geography, but everyone accepted the New York Cumorah, in no small part because Letter VII was ubiquitous during Joseph's lifetime and those with personal experience continued to testify about it.

In recent years, though, certain LDS intellectuals have cast doubt on the New York Cumorah. Consequently, Book of Mormon historicity has become a major impediment to conversion, retention, and activation.

The leaders' position probably stems from mixed concerns all classed under the heading of the threat of change:

(1) fear of embarrassment to the Church from premature, non-revelatory settling of popular opinion on one solution to the question that might later have to be changed;

Other than Cumorah, there have been no prophetic identifications to cause embarrassment, so refraining from such identifications is wise. Regarding Cumorah, though, not defending and corroborating the teachings of the prophets is more problematic because it raises doubt about other teachings of the prophets. Worse, scholarly rejecting of the New York Cumorah directly undermines the credibility and reliability of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, their contemporaries and successors.

(2) fear of divisiveness among members over competing correlations;

Now that Cumorah has been de facto de-correlated, tremendous confusion has arisen. A healthy approach that would avoid divisiveness starts with stating the facts and acknowledging multiple working hypotheses. Latter-day Saints making informed decisions can agree to disagree. It's when some are less informed than others, yet adamant about their opinions, that divisiveness arises.

(3) the challenge to traditional views about geography that is posed by scholarly study which might shake the faith of lay members who have not distinguished mere tradition from revelation; and,

This is clever reframing of the prophets vs scholars problem, but careful analysis shows the prophets have consistently recognized and articulated the difference between (i) the New York Cumorah and (ii) everything else. 

(4) generalized mistrust of intellectuals and hobbyists in religious matters.

There is no cause for mistrust of intellectuals who seek to corroborate the teachings of the prophets. The mistrust arises when intellectuals seek to undermine or contradict the teachings of the prophets. Gospel hobbies can be distracting and counterproductive, but the study of the Book of Mormon is hardly a hobby. 

But whatever the concerns of the leaders, a portion of the membership of the Church goes right on thinking their own thoughts about the geography of Book of Mormon events just as on many other subjects. Between these two unfocused interests or concerns, Mormon students of the scripture have produced a remarkably large body of writings that displays in its variety, if not its quality, the vigor of LDS thought.

This is a good insight about a practice that seems to be expanding currently. 

The expressed motivation for much of this literature seems to have been little more than intellectual gymnastics-working on the equivalent of a complex crossword puzzle where all the Ammonihahs and Mantis must interrelate.

Naturally, most people who read (or are presented with) the Book of Mormon even today ask themselves where the events took place. How could any serious reader not want to know?

When Moroni first visited Joseph Smith, he explained the record had been "written and deposited not far from" Joseph's home. Moroni spoke of specific people in a specific location. That grounding of place--a connection between Joseph's known world and the world of the ancient record--was an essential reality for Joseph to understand what was happening. It became part of Joseph's worldview, and by extension part of the worldview he shared with others. 

 Because the New York Cumorah doesn't answer questions about the rest of the setting, though, believers seek to understand the text by sorting through the passages. Because the text is so vague, nearly infinite possibilities lead to many theories.

Another motive for writing has been apologetic, for some have assumed that an accurate geography could lead to a correlation with archaeological remains or traditions that would support "the authenticity of the Book of Mormon" against scoffers.

Joseph himself wrote that the mounds of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois were evidence of the "divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon." 

The predominant explanation for the Book of Mormon in the 19th century was the Spalding theory that Joseph dictated the edited text of a novel written by Spalding. Because the fiction explanation was so effective, Oliver and Joseph wrote Letter VII and the other essays on Church history to establish facts, including the fact of the New York Cumorah. 

In modern times, the claim that the Book of Mormon is fiction is bolstered by critics who point out that even faithful LDS scholars reject the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. 

Serious discussion of benefits for the individual reader of the scripture that could come from a solution to the geography conundrum has been surprisingly rare, Among obvious points that could be made are:

(1) a heightened sense of concreteness or believability conferred on readers by their having specific, detailed knowledge of the setting of reported events; and

(2) likelihood that giving the scriptural account definite spatial, historical and cultural dimensions will make its lessons-for-living clearer.

These are important benefits, akin to the way understanding biblical settings and culture aids our understanding of the Bible. 

Third, the matter of geography may also be seen as a challenge: if Latter-day Saints have so far failed to examine "the keystone of our [LDS] religion" with sufficient care to set it into a definite place and concrete scene, does that not mean that we are treating a sacred matter superficially? That there are many hundreds of geographical statements and facts included in the record can be taken to indicate that we ought to pay attention to them. So while I do not consider the topic crucial, I believe it is significant. And for me personally it is interesting.

These considerations drive many believers to inquire about geography and historicity.

This volume aims to review the entire subject. The first thing to do is to examine what has been done previously with what has been called "Book of Mormon geography.”

The literature reveals confusion. A great amount of effort has gone into the work. Most of it, probably, has been wasted One reason is that devotees of the topic have been loners, mainly, hence they have not had the benefit of criticism. In this volume, at least, the means will be laid out to allow future workers to see what others have done and to set out on a more productive course. I would like to see this volume lead toward a meeting of minds rather than more of the arm-waving so common in the past. By a willingness to correct past errors, we may move toward helpful sharing of knowledge and even a text-based consensus.

This aspiration, if carried out, would be a welcome change. But instead, Brother Sorenson and his followers have developed a cartel of like-minded scholars who are impervious to outside suggestions, ideas, criticisms, evidence, etc. This "M2C citation cartel" creates an illusion of actual scholarship, the antithesis of a "willingness to correct past errors." Instead, the M2C citation cartel has imposed a consensus based not on the text, but on their interpretation of the text.

Because of a negative attitude of some Church leaders, the expression "Book of Mormon geography'' has taken on a bad connotation. 

This is an inevitable result when the scholars reject the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah, which opens the door to questioning the reliability and credibility of the prophets on other issues.  

Another problem with the expression is its ambiguity. The label could cover topics as diverse as where copies of the Nephite scripture are being printed and distributed or which Church members in which areas own and use copies. In addition, there are students of the scriptural text who deal only with events and their locations in the Old World-where the events took place that were reported by Nephi in the first eighteen chapters of his record. But here I am concerned with only one aspect. I have chosen an unambiguous name for the topic to distinguish it: "the geography of (American) Book of Mormon events." Since 99% of the text's reflections of geography concern the American promised land scene, I shall drop the parenthetical label and simply suppose that hereafter "the geography of Book of Mormon events" will be taken as referring to the question of what locations in the New World constituted the scene of the events reported in the Book of Mormon after Lehi's arrival in the American promised land?

(The Jaredite record is impossible to deal with except where it connects with the Nephite account; thus I ignore those geographical statements and hints in the book of Ether which I cannot connect to Mormon's account.)

Others find the Jaredite record useful and relevant.

The first task I have set is to examine everything substantive that has been written by Latter-day Saints on the subject. There is no use "re-inventing the wheel." If answers to questions of the geography of Book of Mormon events already have been found, we might as well acknowledge and take advantage of them. 

This would be a great starting place except Brother Sorenson and his followers have rejected the New York Cumorah, which is the first question to ask and to which the answer has been given as plainly as words can be.

If reliable answers have not come forth, we at least need to know what ground has been plowed. Of course some of the work done has been inconsequential, and certain writings are inaccessible to me, yet I have learned so much more than anyone hitherto about who did and said what that my findings to this point may be useful to others.

To avoid others having to look up the sources, which are often obscure, I give summaries of them below. Part 2 includes sketches of all the schemes encountered (some unpublished) according to a paradigmatic format that will simplify comparisons. Copies of available maps are included. 1 consider this a working edition, so no doubt I will have missed some sources and possibly misread others. Corrections and additions will be appreciated.

Each distinctive body of geographic interpretation—each scheme which identifies particular Book of Mormon lands and features with a particular set of places on the western hemisphere map—I term a model. Closer examination probably will no doubt allow identifying certain of those models as sufficiently close to others that the total number (70, so far) ought to be reduced by lumping very similar, derivative schemes together in families with-variants.

Initially, here, I have chosen not to suppose that models which look a good deal alike are necessarily related to each other historically; the similarities may be coincidences following separate discoveries or invention of ideas.

Part 1 consists of a historical interpretation of the course of LDS (and RLDS) thought on the topic from the appearance of the Book of Mormon in 1830 to the present. My interpretation is based on the summaries in Part 2 plus some other minor literature. I am attempting in this treatment to place the sequence of discoveries and statements about the geography of Book of Mormon events in context. It becomes apparent that certain notions continued from writer to writer (often without acknowledgment and perhaps even unrealized). Yet overall there has been a historical cumulation of data and interpretations that can be appreciated best in the format of the "history of ideas."

To anticipate my conclusion, the upshot is that the existing literature goes in so many directions that no solution stands out as sufficiently persuasive to rally consensus behind it. 

The existing literature demonstrates a distinct break between the prophets and the scholars around 1917, when L.E. Hills published his map showing M2C. Everything after that has been derivative.

As a consequence I conclude (in Part 3) that the task must start over with the basics. The following parts then present a set of tools to move students toward a consensus. The logic for them will be explained in Part 3.

The set of tools is excellent, except Sorenson and the M2C scholars never used them, except to confirm their own biases.


p. 9.

Earliest Period, 1829-1842

Reconstructing thought on geography before the Nauvoo period is particularly difficult because the existing records of what was being said at that time are so few. What is recorded gives the impression that a single, "obvious" model of the geography of Book of Mormon events prevailed. (See General 1830 Model.) It seems to have considered the entire hemisphere as the Nephite-Lamanite scene, with North America the land northward and South America the land southward. That Panama was considered the narrow neck of land is less clear, but probable nevertheless. The evidence for this model comes from a handfull of statements from the 1829-1842 period (see Appendix A); despite their brevity, they appear to be consistent.

Given the level of secular knowledge manifested by Joseph Smith and his associates at that time, we are safe in supposing that their combined knowledge of the geography, of the western hemisphere was limited and probably unclear. That was true of virtually all Americans, of course, and those living on the frontier had even less knowledge than others. Even the form and character of the territory that would become the continental United States over the next two generations was vague to all but a few scholars, and "Oregon" and "California'' were barely conceived of as real places, let alone Peru, "Darien" (Panama) or "Guatemala."

To the saints, the one sure fact was that the plates had come out of the hill in New York, therefore, it was felt, that must have been the scene of the final Nephite battle. Furthermore, there is no evidence that early Latter-day Saints, any more than other frontier people of the time, differentiated among "Indians." An Indian, anywhere in the United States and by extension anywhere in the hemisphere, was considered generically pretty much like any other Indian (a view that still prevails in the 20th century among a substantial portion of the American population). Consequently, a Lamanite was a Lamanite was a Lamanite to a Book of Mormon believer in the 1830's. Ignorance of the actual ethnological variety among New World peoples that later research would reveal left the early saints confirmed in their vague unitary, hemispheric geography. Meanwhile nothing in the revelations to Joseph Smith (e.g., Doctrine and Covenants 28:8; 32:2; 49:24; and 54:8), given to the Church members "after the manner of their language" and understanding (D. & C. 1:24), gave them reason to question their assumptions of Lamanite/Indian homogeneity and hemispheric unity.

We must also realize that the Book of Mormon was not an object of careful study in the early days of the Church, in fact it was referred to surprisingly little (see Grant Underwood, "Book of Mormon Usage in Early LDS Theology," Dialogue 17 (3, Autumn 1984): 35-74). The scripture anchored faith and clarified aspects of theology, but it was not studied systematically, let alone critically, as history or geography. For example, even Orson Pratt, who was one of the best informed and had one of the most logical minds among Latter-day Saints of his day, was unaccountably cavalier in these matters. Still in 1868 he supposed that the Jaredites brought "elephants, cureloms and cumoms (very large animals)" with them across the Pacific Ocean on their barges! (see Appendix A). He also taught that Omer (Ether 8) and a few families alone from among the Jaredites "were saved, while all the balance, consisting of millions of people, were overthrown because of their wickedness" (see Appendix A). And he held the view, probably universal among his associates, that Moroni deposited the plates of Nephi which his father Mormon had given him in the hill of the final battle. More exacting reading of the scriptural text shows us today that the text justifies none of these ideas; they all are highly unlikely or are contradicted outright by the record.

This failure to study the Book of Mormon with care was joined with limited knowledge of the external world to prevent anything like the kind of careful study of the geography that is possible today. Besides, the predominant objectives of 19th century Mormonism-to gather and establish the Church in a safe home base and to preach the gospel-turned the attention of most people in directions that did not call for and did not really allow ''analyzing" the scripture. Anyway, whatever efforts at thoughtful study went on had to be sandwiched among urgent, time-consuming duties like missionary labors and eking out a living on the frontier.

Another factor clearly was the sheer smallness of the number of minds at work studying the Book of Mormon in any degree. For at least the first 50 years of the Church's existence, virtually everyone who thought in detail about and then put their thoughts in print on any gospel topic were few in number. They were almost all known personally to each other and were concerned with unity, not alternative views. There was no source of nor room for variant points of view, let alone criticism. No one would have thought of questioning Joseph Smith or whoever it was who indicated that "the ancient City of Manti" had once been located in Missouri (see Appendix A).

(It is obvious enough nowadays to Book of Mormon students that since Book of Mormon Manti was in the land southward and near the head of north-flowing river Sidon, a location in Missouri is out of the question.) Nor did anybody, it appears, comment to Brother Pratt that the Book of Ether fails to say anything about elephants or cumoms on the barges (the vessels were, after all, only "as long as a [temperate zone] tree" -Ether 2:17).

While it may be "obvious" to M2C advocates and believers, it is not "obvious" to Book of Mormon students that "a location in Missouri is out of the question." Missouri fits right in with the Iowa Zarahemla and other sites.  

Even if the incongruity of Pratt's assertions had been detected by an alert reader, there was no medium nor atmosphere to allow pointing it out. Brigham Young took on Pratt for doctrinal unorthodoxy, and that alone was traumatic for the leadership structure; to have people pointing out relatively minor, "scholarly'' errors like the elephant business would have been more than the social and belief structure of those early days could have put up with (see Gary James Bergera, "The Orson Pratt-Brigham Young Controversies: Conflict within the Quorums, 1853 to 1868," Dialogue 8, 2, Summer, 1980, pages 7-49).

LDS thought was monolithic in pioneer times. Yet the same factors that so greatly constrained the range of thought in early Utah were already powerful in the first decade of the Church's existence. Thus no trace of an alternative model of geography can be detected and probably none existed. In relation to the geography of Book of Mormon events, the Latter-day Saints in the first decade were as straightforwardly "obvious'' or naive in their interpretation as they were in regard to many doctrines. Only later would their views open up to allow recognizing that they could move to a broader viewpoint that allowed alternatives.

But as of 2021, the M2C citation cartel has narrowed to the point of not allowing alternatives to M2C.


An abortive opening up in regard to geography began when J. M. Bernhisel in late 1841 sent from the east to Joseph Smith a copy of John Lloyd Stephens' Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan (Vol. 1, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1841), a sensational ''best-seller" in both the United States and England. It stimulated lengthy treatment in the Nauvoo Times and Seasons. The Sept1ember 15, 1842, issue included a lengthy extract from the book, then the October 1 issue continued:

Since our 'Extract' was published from Mr. Stephens', Incidents of Travel etc., we have found another important fact relating to the truth of the Book of Mormon. Central America, or Guatemala is situated north of the Isthmus of Darien and once embraced several hundred miles of territory from north to south.- the city of Zarahemla, burnt at the crucifixion of the Savior, and rebuilt afterwards, stood upon this land as will be seen from the following words in the book of Alma: And now it was only the distance of a day and half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea; and thus the land of Nephi, and the land of Zarahemla was nearly surrounded by water: here being a small neck of land between the land southward ... (Page 915).

The phrasing I have emphasized makes clear that the newly-received volume was a direct spur for constructing a different model of where the major Nephite cities lay than had prevailed before.

This anonymous article reflects the hemispheric model, which few people still accept as plausible. 

A year later the word was still the same:

Mr. Stephens great developments of antiquities are made bare to the eyes of all the people by reading the history of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. They lived about the narrow neck of land, which now embraces Central America, with all the cities that can be found.. . . Read the destruction of cities at the crucifixion of Christ, pages 459-60. Who could have dreamed that twelve years could have developed such incontrovertible testimony to the Book of Mormon? (See Appendix A.)

The authorship of the words in the newspaper is not clear. John Taylor was the managing editor at that time, although Joseph Smith had announced himself to be the formal editor and responsible for content and policy (see Appendix A). The euphoria over the Stephens book must at least have had Joseph's approbation, for he had already waxed enthusiastic about the volume in a letter he sent in November 1841 thanking Bernhisel for the gift (see Appendix A).

As discussed elsewhere, the authorship of the newspaper is not clear, but the evidence points to Benjamin Winchester and William Smith. "Euphoria" is an exaggeration. Joseph didn't write the letter to Bernhisel, either. 

An 1849 statement by Orson Pratt made clear anew how strongly the volume had impacted the LDS circle in Nauvoo:

No one will dispute the fact that the existence of antique remains in different parts of America was known long before Mr. Smith was born. But every well informed person knows that the most of the discoveries made by Catherwood and Stephens were original. ... Now the Book of Mormon gives us the names and locations of great numbers of cities in the very region where Catherwood and Stephens afterwards discovered them. (See Appendix A.)

The year before Pratt had said in the Millennial Star:

"[The Book of Mormon says that] in the 367th year after Christ, 'the Lamanites'-the fore fathers of the American Indians-' took possession of the city of Desolation'-which was in Central America, near to or in Yucatan ... the Nephites being the Nation who inhabited the cities of Yucatan. In the 384th year, the occupants of Yucatan and Central America, having been driven from their great and magnificent cities, were pursued by the Lamanites to the hill Cumorah in the interior of the state of New York, where the whole nation perished in battle. (See Appendix A.)

So impressed was Pratt with Stephens' writings that later when he edited the Star (1865-66), he printed a long series of extracts from Stephens' volume 2, which had been published in 1843.

The Millennial Star also published the eight essays on Church history, including Letter VII.

It is not clear, however, that these enthusiasts for Stephens' findings consistently worked out the geographical implications of what they were saying. We can see in retrospect that by placing Zarahemla in Guatemala and the city of Desolation in or near Yucatan, they had come up with a different model of geography for Book of Mormon events than the one innocently held in the 1830's, where, it appears, Zarahemla was supposed to be in South America. As the Nephite capital was located in the land southward, if it was now supposed to be in Guatemala, that meant that the narrow neck of land had to be north from there, seemingly in Mexico. Panama could not be the neck. So what role did South America play in the new thinking? We do not know whether the minds of those in Nauvoo involved in the discussion got around to that question because nothing further has survived in the documents….

The significance of the events surrounding the 1842 Times and Seasons Model is at least threefold:

1. It let anyone then concerned and those of us now interested know that it was legitimate to consider alternatives to the "obvious" hemispheric model, and that on the basis of external discoveries by gentile scholars.

This is a legitimate point, although Joseph and Oliver never articulated a hemispheric model and nothing in these articles suggests or implies that it was legitimate to reject the New York Cumorah.

2. It communicated that the issue of where the Nephite cities lay had not been settled by revelation before 1842.

This is speculation because the articles were anonymous and were never intended or presented as authoritative.

3. The failure of the 1842: model to become fully accepted among the Saints also shows that neither was it put forward as based on revelation.

Nothing in the wording of these articles suggested or implied that they were based on revelation. But again, they said nothing about Cumorah.

p. 13

p. 16.

One thing evident in all the discussion is that neither the proponents of the many map correlations nor Elder Cannon found anything intrinsically wrong in pursuing such studies, only in the confusion and disunity that resulted. There is no trace of a viewpoint that the geography of Book of Mormon events had been settled, by Joseph Smith, Orson Pratt or anyone else. 

Here again, Sorenson conflates the New York Cumorah with the rest of the geography issues. Cumorah was well settled from the outset, even before Joseph obtained and translated the plates.

Indeed Cannon himself went on to say:

The First Presidency have often been asked to prepare some suggestive map illustrative of Nephite geography, but have never consented to do so. Nor are we acquainted with any of the Twelve Apostles who would undertake such a task. The reason is, that without further information they are not prepared even to suggest. The word of the Lord or the translation of other ancient records is required to clear up many points now so obscure ....

But his hope for restraint was vain; interest seems to have continued apace.

Notice, Cannon was referring to obscure points, not the well-settled New York Cumorah. It has been wise of the First Presidency to refrain from further elaboration because there are hundreds, if not thousands, of archaeological sites and geographical features that align with the text, depending on one's subjective interpretations.

p. 21.

Louis Edward Hills, an RLDS student of the Book of Mormon, had by 1917 developed a model that was strictly limited to Mexico and Central America. His thought was heavily influenced by the native traditions from the area as reported by H. H. Bancrof1t. For him the hill Cumorah was in central Mexico, and he consciously contradicted the hemispheric RLDS/Weston 1900? Model which his fellow church members espoused (see more below). Jeremiah Gunsolley, also of the RLDS Church (see Gunsolley 1922 Model) also proposed that the hill of the final battles was in central Mexico, but Lehi' s landing he put in Chile, and Panama was his narrow neck.

Hills was the first to produce a map showing M2C. On November 15, 1921, the RLDS First Presidency distanced itself from Hills' map.

p. 29.


Historical perspective is, of course, more difficult the nearer one gets to the present, particularly for someone who is a participant in the events considered. Later interpretations will no doubt be better, but for what it is worth, here are some viewpoints on the virtual present.

This is important modern history that everyone involved with the discussion should be familiar with.

In late 1974 I was approached by David A. Palmer, an active student of Book of Mormon geography and of archaeology in relation to it. He had once studied under Jakeman and was (and is) a chemical engineer with a major petroleum firm in Naperville, Illinois. (I was then nominally professor of anthropology at BYU but at the time was serving as chair of the University Studies Department). Aware of the general features of my model for the geography of Book of Mormon events, he urged upon me the importance of working toward a consensus on the disputed topic.

He proposed a conference to which all serious students of geography would be invited and where competing viewpoints would be presented and discussed. Knowing the degree of emotion the matter involved for some of the prospective participants, I was reluctant to engage in what I thought likely to be a painful and probably unfruitful activity. But Palmer's persistence drew from me a commitment to aid him in putting together a mail "non-conference." Garth Norman and I both consented to circulate position papers. Mine consisted of the latest revision of a brief item I was calling ''Where in the World," which I had first written and sent to friends and former students in 1955; it outlined the Sorenson 1955 Model, together with a lengthy appendix in which secular materials on Mesoamerican geography and cultures were mustered to show that the model fit the literature. (I had worked out the basic model in the central depression of Chiapas in April 1953 while Tom Ferguson and I-then a recently graduated student in archaeology at BYU-were doing archaeological reconnaissance which in that area, until then, was unstudied by archaeologists.)

We were acting on the recommendation of field director Dr. Pedro Armillas, at the end of what Ferguson considered a disappointing field season in Tabasco (where, he had concluded by 1952, Zarahemla would be found), the first for his privately funded New World Archaeological Foundation. Our survey (see my An Archaeological Reconnaissance of West Central Chiapas, New World Archaeological Foundation Publication no. 1, 1956, pages 7-19) turned out to set the agenda from which the NWAF began in 1955 to excavate in Chiapas, an effort that has continued to the present. Palmer sent the papers by Norman (see Norman 1966 Model) and me to a couple of dozen people, inviting them to comment. Fewer than ten did so.

Palmer interpreted the responses as a strong endorsement of the Sorenson model as against Norman's. On that basis in 1975 he made contacts in the Church office building in Salt Lake City which resulted in a series of weekly presentations which I made over the fall months to a varying group of people from several departments, the magazines, curriculum, education, etc. As a result, Jay Todd, managing editor of The Ensign, invited me to prepare a series of articles; they were completed early in 1976. For the next nine years we worked together trying to find a style and range of content acceptable for publication in The Ensign. Not surprisingly, reluctance was manifested on the part of various constituencies that would be affected by such a discussion appearing in the Church periodical. Meanwhile requests for access to my manuscript were persistent a result a total of about 1200 photocopies were distributed at cost of copying. I was surprised and gratified by the widespread interest. Strong interest was expressed by many well-informed Latter-day Saints, including a number of general authorities, who thought that such a detailed statement of an LDS position phrased in terms of current scholarship was needed.

One factor in this interest was that anti-Mormon writers and lecturers were attacking the Book of Mormon on grounds which the Church was unprepared to defend against by reason of its past reluctance to allow, let alone encourage, discussions of geography and archaeology. Poorly informed opponents were having a field day attacking 19th century models and notions still widespread among Church members and missionaries and which were represented as the definitive LDS position.

Here again, Sorenson conflates the New York Cumorah with 19th century "models" such as the Pratt brothers' hemispheric model, which Joseph had repudiated in the Wentworth letter.

The significance of this series of events for the present discussion is that most of those who had opinions on or models for "Book of Mormon geography" since the mid-seventies became very aware of the Sorenson model. Many were supportive. Others were stimulated to prepare alternative statements. The Palmer 1981 Model was one result. He considered that there was urgency in telling the public about the material I had pointed out, so he did that, supplemented with his own data, in his 1981 book.

Further, a growing Latter-day Saint tourist clientele anxious to visit “Book of Mormon lands" helped raise to consciousness the question of where those lands might be located specifically.

By 1984 continuing discussions involving editor Todd, those supervising him, and me produced a request that I prepare two articles for The Ensign giving some of the same sort of information as in the unpublished series. The first of these, "Digging into the Book of Mormon: Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and Its Scripture", The Ensign 14, September 1984, pages 26-37, contained a brief section on “The Nephite and Jaredite Lands,” which gave the basic arguments favoring a limited-scale model and recapped a little of the history of LDS study of geography (see endnotes 6 and 8). This represented the first printing of any information about external models in a Church magazine for many decades.

As one consequence, the major publisher to the LDS trade decided that they had received a green light from 47 East South Temple to publish on the geography of Book of Mormon events where before they would not touch the topic. It would be easy to read too much and too little into this event. By no means did the Brethren approve a particular model or even the notion of a limited geography model as such; the Ensign articles did not even put forward details of my model but dealt only in general with Mesoamerica.

What was signaled by this request and publication of the pieces was that it was now permissible, and perhaps even desirable, to discuss the topic openly. Such a position was easier to adopt because of the progressive passing from the scene of older Church authorities who had been strongly committed to the prevailing hemispheric model with which they had grown up.

Thus the eighties have seen an unprecedented crop of writings on the geography of Book of Mormon events-more than ever. Much of this consists of slightly revised versions of previous models. The table on the next page illustrates this fact. It shows in sequence when certain major features or attributes of most of the external models were communicated. (A full history-of-ideas treatment would require many more and more elaborate displays of this sort with appropriate analyses.)

Key Points in the History

For the first 85 years few anomalies can be seen. The full hemispheric model prevailed, yet with one notable blip on the screen of history-the 1842 Times and Seasons Model. This was discussed above, but placed in the format of this chart, its uniqueness stands out starkly.

Hills, an RLDS student of the Book of Mormon, seems to deserve credit for many innovations: 

(1) the first regionally limited model, 

(2) that the lands where Book of Mormon events took place comprised exclusively Mesoamerica, 

(3) that the Isthmus of Tehuantepec was the narrow neck, 

(4) that the Usumacinta was the Sidon, and 

(5) the first comprehensive attempt to utilize secular scholarly literature (on the native chronicles or traditions) to settle Book of Mormon questions.

The first point involves both the landing of Lehi's party in Central America and the presence of the hill Cumorah of the final Nephite battles in Mexico; actually, then, the concept of "two Cumorahs goes back at least 75 years.

I pointed out above that there is reason to think that some LDS students may have preceded and inspired Hills' geographic correlation. For instance, the Plain Facts 1887 Model, though brief, maintained that ''Most of the descendants of the genuine race of Lamanites, possibly live in Yucatan or Central America." Had more details been added to that short piece, we might have learned that something less than a full hemispheric model was intended, as hinted by the inclusion of only a partial map. Also we need to learn more about the Anthony Ivins' 1900 view that the Isthmus of Tehuantepec was the narrow neck. And there may have been others.

Interestingly, as noted above, Hills' model [p. 87] is similar at all major points of geography with that of Jakeman, a generation later. This raises the question, persistent as we scan the models in sequence, of how much influence previous students of the topic had on later ones. Only very rarely does one find a writer giving explicit credit to a predecessor. It would seem that particular attributes of many models reappear by separate rediscovery. That may, in fact, be so. After all, there are only a limited number of possible isthmuses and once one of those has been chosen, certain other features, such as a candidate river for the Sidon, virtually suggest themselves. Yet, while this is possible in some cases, a more parsimonious explanation is that those who phrased a later model had somehow been alerted, whether by reading or oral reporting, to ideas of their predecessors. In an extreme instance, it is difficult to imagine that Birrell, Priddis and Kocherhans produced their very similar Andean-emergence models in complete independence. Yet we are not told, in their printed works at least, who influenced whom….

Only in 1989 did Clark finally produce the first consistently rationalized internal model which had not been preceded, and to an extent betrayed, by picking an external correlation in advance.

John Clark's "internal model" is based on his M2C interpretation and has influenced subsequent M2C scholars and their students. It is a fantasy model, unconnected with the real world. The more aesthetically pleasing BYU map is essentially the same thing, applying the M2C interpretation of the text to create a fantasy world. 

BYU map of the Book of Mormon

Imagine being a BYU or CES student today and being taught that the best explanation for the Book of Mormon is that it took place in a fantasy land. That's tantamount to accepting the Spalding fiction theory.

What we see in our survey of these models which stretch over more than a century and a half is that superficial study has been the norm, while confusion has been rampant for at least the latter half of the period by reason of the multiplicity of discordant maps. It is true that for the last seventy-five years the old hemispheric model has tended to fall into disfavor, Tehuantepec as the narrow neck has become the common view, and the notion of sweeping geological changes at the time of the crucifixion of the Savior is now less often mentioned. Yet all sorts of variants continue to crop up or reappear. Large land masses are still thought to heave out of the sea, the Magdalena River in Colombia is still argued as the Sidon, and several types of "necks" are yet proposed. There is no indication that by simply waiting for more books or papers to appear somehow consensus will emerge. Without major changes in approach, nothing like that promises to come about. There have been lessons out of the history of thought in this matter, but we need to identify them pointedly and insist that they not be forgotten if we are to avoid continued folly.

The Resulting Problem and How to Proceed 

Parts 1 and 2 have shown that 160 years of ad hoc modeling or interpretation of the geography of Book of Mormon events have failed to settle much about the question of where were the lands in which Book of Mormon events took place. My reading of the models leaves me discouraged even while granting that some things of enduring value have been distilled through this haphazard historical process. 

Sorenson's 160 years (as of 1990) are now 191 years and counting. The 31 years since Sorenson published his Sourcebook have seen the rise of 

(i) the intransigent and insular M2C citation cartel and 

(ii) the only significant innovation in assessing the geography; i.e., the development of the Heartland model that starts with the New York Cumorah and combines textual interpretation with extrinsic evidence (archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography, etc.).  

If we are serious about answering the question-and I at least am-what should we do that is different?

One thing that we should do that is different is accept the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. This seems to have never occurred to Brother Sorenson (or Jack Welch and his followers and donors). In fact, when some of us do advocate accepting the teachings of the prophets, the M2C advocates accuse us of apostasy. That is directly contrary to Brother Sorenson's point. 

Well, the question itself has two sides to it. Our goal has to be to construct an equation involving the two sides: 

Nephite locations A, B, C, etc. = New World locations X, Y, Z, etc. 

This equation is key. Once one set of variables is solved, the others can be derived.

Ironically, Brother Sorenson and the M2C citation cartel continue to refuse to accept the most obvious solution to the equation. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery gave us the solution when they taught that, in fact, the Nephite location of Cumorah in Mormon 6:6 is the New World location of the hill Cumorah in western New York. 

Cumorah/Ramah = the hill in western New York

Once we understand that, the rest is relatively easy.

We cannot work on the whole equation without first attaining thorough definition of the variables on either side of the equal sign. Equipping ourselves with that thorough knowledge demands different capabilities on the one side and on the other. For the external world, we cannot substitute knowledge of scripture for knowledge of climate, topography, hydrography, etc. 

Finding links between scripture and extrinsic evidence is one of Sorenson's most important contributions. Unfortunately, he stopped looking for links once he thought he found his answer in Mesoamerica. 

Unavoidably, we must have a profound grasp of the elements of the physical and cultural scene in its own terms-without any reference to the scripture. Most people offering models show that they have limited knowledge of that world. 

It's difficult to say who has what knowledge, apart from what they've written. Here, Sorenson simply assumes that others lacked the extensive knowledge he claimed to have regarding Mesoamerica.

On the other side, we must know all there is to know about the statements in the Book of Mormon on the matters at hand without any reference to external geography, archaeology, or history. 

This is Sorenson's argument for an "internal map," which of course is an illusion. Every word in the text is subject to interpretation, and every interpretation is informed and influenced by ideas about geography, archaeology, and history.

Everything done so far in studying the geography of Book of Mormon events has been inadequate by reason of incompleteness, if not of real errors. All the models reviewed in Part 2 have been partial and many are pitifully naive. 

That's a subjective assessment, of course, but probably reasonably true. But naive in what sense? Naive because they ignore the teachings of the prophets? Naive because they don't spell out the extrinsic evidence or the passages from the text, or all of the above?

On the textual side, examination reveals that every single model has failed to deal successfully with certain geographical data in the scripture. As for the external world, most of the models again have failed to provide convincing evidence that the model maker understands such things as actual rates of travel over several types of ancient American terrain, or medical, ecological, and economic factors involved in population growth and stasis. We have all simply not been careful enough, by far. 

"Actual rates of travel" is a deceptive phrase because it is based on subjective assumptions regarding travel by land vs. water, on animals vs. walking, etc. Even population estimates are subjective.  

So at this time there is no way convincingly to argue where the equal sign in the equation should be placed. That will continue so long as we are ignorant about either or both sides of the equation. 

We are only "ignorant" about both sides of the equation because we reject the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. The New York Cumorah should inform both sides of the equation. Cumorah is the key that unlocks the door to understanding.  

Of course it is truism that studies of an ancient text should begin with the text itself. Yet most studies in fact neither begin nor end so. 

This demonstrates Sorenson's self-awareness and insight. 

For example, the Bible text. Works on this record typically begin with assumptions about the Bible (as well as about documents in general, the nature of humans, the cosmos, etc.). The text then becomes a source of fragments which are considered in the light of the initial assumptions, usually employed to justify the assumptions. Was there ever a study which began assuming that the Old Testament text was composed by combining two, or three, or four ancient sources (traditions or manuscripts) which did not at the end conclude that indeed there were two, or three, or four such elements?

This type of outcome-driven analysis is easy to see in biblical studies, but the M2C citation cartel is blind to the same outcome-driven analysis that they reinforce with their "peer-approval" system that substitutes for peer review. 

Or, where is a Christian evangelical exegeite who has failed to identify and support his own brand of theology through his writings about the Bible? 

Again, Sorenson makes an important point.

Many purport to "let the text speak for itself," but that is nonsense. For practically all of us, our anxiety to hear what we want to hear almost invariably overwhelms the other voice(s) the text conceivably may be directing toward our ears. 

This is one of the take-aways from the Sourcebook. Every student of the Book of Mormon should internalize this self-awareness. It is easiest to do when, as I have, we change our minds in response to new evidence. As a former long-term M2C believer, it's obvious looking back that Sorenson's observation, if heeded, would have avoided years of wasted effort and belief.  

My own book cites Book of Mormon verses over 960 times. But even so many citations does not mean that the text is "speaking for itself." For who can doubt that I chose those verses and the interpretations I provided for them while omitting others. 

The M2C citation cartel has completely overlooked this crucial point. The CES and BYU fantasy maps overlook this point. 

Other people too have chosen their verses and their interpretations. We cannot get far if mere opinion determines which set of verses we rely on, whether it is 1000 or 10. 

I assume everyone agrees with this. 

We need instead to use the entire scripture, without exception. Selectivity should be avoided like the plague. We must understand, interpret and deal successfully with every statement in the text, not just what is convenient or interesting to us. That can only be done, I believe, by doing our level best to approach the words of the Book of Mormon having to do with geography without preconceptions. 

This ideal is unrealistic and probably unattainable. Our very language is based on preconceptions about what words mean. It's understanding the preconceptions, not pretending we can use language without preconceptions, that matters. 

I admit that my own (1955) model was tainted by preconceptions. So has everybody else's been. If we are to progress in this task, we must chop away and burn the conceptual underbrush that has afflicted the effort in the past. 

This is another essential point. The M2C citation cartel does the opposite of this. Instead of chopping away and burning the conceptual underbrush, they nourished it and built a wall around it to protect it from new ideas (and hide it from outsiders). Their followers, employees, and donors aggressively defend the underbrush against 

We must stop asking, as so many do, what have the Brethren said about this in the past? It is clear enough (see Appendix A) that none of them knew the answer (which is what some of them have said often enough). 

This is the core of M2C. Naturally, and by definition, an M2C advocate must ignore and reject what the Brethren have said about Cumorah. 

The disappointing aspect of what Sorenson writes here is the disingenuous way he frames the issue. The Brethren have been consistent about two things: (i) Cumorah is in New York, and (ii) we don't know where other events took place. 

Sorenson conflates the two points. His followers have continued that practice. 

Even in his list of statements by Church leaders, Sorenson pressed his thumb on the scale by (i) omitting important statements that contradict his M2C thesis, (ii) editing statements to dilute their relevance and meaning, and (iii) inserting editorial comments to cause confusion and uncertainty.

For a scholar of Sorenson's experience and knowledge, especially with his evident self-awareness of his own bias, his work in this area is nothing short of deplorable. His Sourcebook is thoroughly tainted as a result, as he failed to heed his own advice while purporting to provide objective sources and insisting others do likewise.  

And equally we must stop asking, what civilization known to the archaeologists must the Nephites have participated in? This is completely irrelevant at the present stage of study. 

Anyone who reads Sorenson's work can see immediately that he did not live up to this standard. 

Where we must begin is with the words of Mormon and his associates who kept the original records. From their words we must derive every scrap of meaning; I assume that their knowledge of geography was so integral and holistic that meanings are tucked into their records at a level below intention. We must sift for these. 

Sorenson's call for "sifting" betrays his own aspiration for objectivity. The only viable approach is to set out the words and the offer a variety of possible interpretation, or multiple working hypotheses. Any "sifting" will necessarily be subjective and thereby confine analysis to a pre-determined arena.

We cannot omit any of them, for crucial clues may occur in or between words or lines where we had not seen them before. 

It is inconsistent to say we cannot omit any of the words in the text but we must "sift" for the meanings of the words. Sifting results in omitting possibilities.

To summarize, the. following steps are necessary, and no other set of steps nor any other order for accomplishing them can solve our problem: 

1. Purge our minds as far as possible of preconceptions about where the Book of Mormon lands were. 

This is where Jack Welch and the rest of the M2C citation cartel run off the rails. They can't even accept the first step! 

Notice, too, that this is another argument for rejecting the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. There is no principled reason to reject what Joseph and Oliver said--except if we don't like what they said. To "purge our minds" of the teachings of the prophets is an invitation to chaos--which is exactly what Sorenson and the M2C citation cartel have generated.

2. Analyze as freshly and completely as possible every geographical fact and sound inference which the texts require or make likely. 

Here, Sorenson reiterates his "sifting" approach with subjective terms such as "sound inference" "require" and "make likely." Those terms, applied broadly, are useful, but because Sorenson and the M2C citation cartel applies the terms narrowly to confirm their biases, this second step has been transformed into a litmus test for conformity to M2C. 

3. Realizing that in fact we cannot completely rid ourselves of preconceptions or make inferences without some factual or logical errors, we should guard against hidden biases or errors by displaying for examination by other students as much of our mental processing as we are able. This requires writing out our work in detail; only written communication permits the careful examination by others that such work demands. (The resulting volume of writing may seem tedious to those not sufficiently motivated to the task.) 

This is another idealistic step that Sorenson and his followers violate. The M2C citation cartel, by refusing to allow peer review outside the M2C citation cartel itself, cannot guard against hidden biases. The M2C bias is implicit in everything they produce. Book of Mormon Central is probably the worst offender because of the millions of dollars it spends to promote M2C, but it is just one of the storefronts in the Potemkin village of M2C. 

4. Mutual criticism (again ideally in writing) is essential to reveal points where different students can agree or where they need to improve their thinking or information. This criticism need not be uncharitable, although truth must be the ultimate standard. 

The M2C citation cartel has a long-established record of illusory criticism. Participants may disagree about which river in Mesoamerica is the Sidon, but they steadfastly refuse to allow criticism of M2C itself. They employ people to suppress criticism on the Internet. They refuse to allow comparisons of M2C and Heartland ideas that would give useful information to Latter-day Saints and others interested in the Book of Mormon.

5. By this repetitive process all should move toward consensus. 

This "repetitive process," as implemented by Sorenson and his followers, has moved toward consensus. But only among those who are uninformed about all the historical evidence and the alternative interpretations of the text and the extrinsic evidence.  This is the "Council of Springville," analogous to the "Council of Nicea" that produced the Nicean Creed by consensus.

However, the end result may be a conclusion that the text does not provide enough information, as read at this time, to come to full consensus on a single-text based model. That can only be learned by trying. 

This end result remains possible, even likely, because no two people interpret the words and phrases exactly the same way (unless conditioned or required to do so). 

6. So far as a single model emerges from this effort, then one-half-the prerequisite half-of the equation has been prepared. Only after this has happened can a definitive search for external correlations be carried out. 

This argument for an "internal model" is so patently subjective that it is almost difficult to imagine that someone as intelligent as Brother Sorenson would seriously argue for it. But it suits M2C because of the way Sorenson and his followers interpret the "narrow neck of land," the "small neck," and the "narrow neck" to be the same thing. They also claim the "land northward" and the "land southward" are proper nouns, not relative terms. 

In a word, this process of developing an "internal map" is a farce.

Until then anything said about external geography, archaeology, linguistics or the like for any location in America can only be prejudicial to the suspension of opinion-that we ought to maintain. 

An actual "suspension of opinion" would be welcome, but that should include a "suspension of opinion" about the viability, let alone the feasibility, of a focus on developing an "internal map." 

An alternative approach would start with the prophetic teaching about the New York Cumorah, and then interpret the text accordingly, in conjunction with extrinsic evidence.

But because the M2C citation cartel rejects Sorenson's own advice about openness to new ideas and suspension of opinion, the cartel will never move beyond the circular reasoning and logical and factual fallacies that produced M2C in the first place.  

p. 351.

Generalized Criteria 

0.1 The dimensions of the New World lands where Book of Mormon events took place can hardly exceed several hundred miles in length and fewer in width. 

This outcome-oriented assumption requires us to believe that, for over 1,000 years, the Nephites (and Jaredites) traveled only by land, in a limited area, over mountains and through jungles. Yet Moroni supposedly traveled, by himself, within a few years, over 3,000 miles to get to New York. And Mormon said he didn't discuss their shipping and building of ships, which suggests they traveled by water, meaning a much larger territory is possible (but certainly not hemispheric). 

0.11 The promised land was quite surely located in the tropics since no indication of cold or snow is given in the text, while heat is. This is confirmed by the fact that the season for warfare and that for agriculture were different (in a temperate place, they would coincide). 

This is an outcome-oriented assumption. The text rarely mentions weather, but does mention "thick clothing" (Alma 43:19) and "very thick garments" (Alma 49:6). The "heat of the day" can occur anywhere. In the Bible, the term is used for the "plains of Mamre" between Jerusalem and Hebron. Snow 3 feet deep has been recorded in Jerusalem. As in the Book of Mormon, "snow" is used only as a metaphor in the New Testament, yet it snows in Israel and in places where Paul traveled in Turkey. There's no reason why warfare could not occur after harvest or before planting. 

0.2 At the time of the catastrophe accompanying the crucifixion, "the face of the whole earth became deformed, because of the tempests, and the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the quaking of the earth." These familiar phenomena, though of remarkable intensity, changed only the face of the land, not its topography nor its configuration or outline. Mormon and Moroni never evidence uncertainty about the scenes where the pre-Christian events of their forefathers took place. The hill Ramah was the hill Cumorah, without a hint of difference in their forms; Zarahemla was rebuilt after its burning; the Lamanites in the fourth century came out of the same highlands (Nephi) and along the same river Sidon as had their ancestors hundreds of years earlier; the narrow pass in Alma 50 was identical to the narrow pass in Mormon 3; and so on. Thus the text does not justify the view that fundamental geological changes or other changes in nature took place which involved the rise or fall in elevation of large areas. Certainly the known facts of natural history rule out any assumption that continental changes took place. 

This is a reasonable assumption regarding geology, but it's merely an interpretation that the "narrow pass" of Alma 50 is the same as the narrow pass in Mormon 3. In Alma, the narrow pass led into the land northward; in Mormon 3, the narrow pass led into the land southward. There's no reason to assume these are proper nouns instead of relative terms. 

0.3 The civilizations of Lehi's people and the Jaredites were both literate; they would have left evidence of that behind. Areas that lack (in archaeology or history) evidence of writing are quite certainly not where the text's Nephites dwelt. 

Both civilizations did leave the evidence behind, in the form of plates of metal. From the beginning (Enos) to the end (Moroni), the Lamanites were intent on destroying the records of the Nephites. Mormon put all the Nephite records in the hill Cumorah specifically to prevent the Lamanites from destroying them. The people of Zarahemla had no written language at all, and there's no indication that, outside the ruling and priestly class, the Nephites and Lamanites were literate, apart from some scriptures that were burned. The one stone, or stella, that had writing was so unique it was specifically discussed (Omni). 

0.4 Naive linguistic comparisons have sometimes been made by Latter-day Saints-to site names, names of divinities, the names of peoples, etc. All those comparisons are methodologically unreliable, hence any model depending seriously on them gains nothing thereby. 

This makes sense, which is why it was significant when the Lord designated the land across from Nauvoo to have "the name of Zarahemla" upon it.

0.5 The record being replete with reference to large populations and ''cities," we must suppose that the core promised land area will manifest evidence of such through archaeology, and they need to date correctly. It will not do to propose a location where such evidence is lacking. 

"Large" is a relative term. Jerusalem when Lehi left was a "great city" of about 25,000 people. The largest enumerated army in the text was 42,000 Lamanites, which fought 40,000 Nephites after the Nephites had gathered the people together. (Mormon 2:7-9). The Nephites and Lamanites lived in tents. At one time, the Nephites built with wood and cement, but the text never mentions building with stone, except for one wall. 

0.51 Assumptions (there are no demonstrations) that a particular people mentioned in tradition must be a particular Book of Mormon group, or that a particular culture or site represents a given Book of Mormon place, mislead, for methodologies to give confidence in such relationships do not exist. 

If this refers to D&C 28, 30 and 32, and the Wentworth letter, we are not dealing with "assumptions" but revelations and Joseph's explicit explanation.

0.6 Assumptions of arbitrary, unrealistic population increase adds nothing to a geographical model, rather misleading. 

This makes sense.

0.7 The Book of Mormon never tells us where, nor when, the plates of Nephi were buried by Moroni. Strong arguments can be adduced to suggest that he did not place them in the hill Cumorah of the final battle. (He would have had to hang around in the midst of the Lamanite-controlled hill territory for at least 35 years to do that, something most unlikely.) Hence that Joseph Smith obtained the plates from the hill in New York tells us nothing, either way, about where the battleground was. 

Presumably the phrase "plates of Nephi" refers to the abridged plates in the stone box. One wonders how and why Moroni would explain where he buried the plates before he buried them, but it doesn't matter because on his first encounter with Joseph Smith, Moroni explained the record had been "written and deposited" not far from Joseph's home, and that they were in "the hill of Cumorah" three miles from Joseph's home. There's no reason to assume the Lamanites would "hang around" Cumorah after the final battle; if anything, they would have returned to their homelands and families. Battlefields are often considered cursed lands (lands of desolation) that people avoid, making that a safe place for Moroni to survive. There are several historical sources explaining that the final battles took place at Cumorah in New York, including Letter VII in which Oliver (and Joseph) explained this was a fact. 

0.8 The text we have of the Book of Mormon being a translation from a drastically different language and culture, we must not suppose that our current ethnocentric readings, of the English terms having geographical significance can misleadingly control our interpretation. We need to discover, if possible, what the original terms meant to the writers (e.g., "elephants," "great city," "north," "dragons"), realizing that the author's meanings are not be obvious from the English as we naively construe it. Thus models must not depend crucially on culturally uninformed interpretations of terms in the text. 

This is not an unreasonable assumption, but it applies as well to geographical descriptions. A "narrow neck" can mean anything from an isthmus between continents to a feature along a river (as George Washington used the term). A "great city" can mean a few thousand people. "Northward" can be a proper noun or a relative term.  

0.9 It has often been supposed that the Church authorities (particularly Joseph Smith) must have had accurate, and by implication revealed, knowledge about Book of Mormon geography. The evidence is against that view; too many statements from those authorities are in contradiction to the text and to each other to allow us to suppose that anybody knew for sure the answers to the crucial geographical questions. Furthermore, later Church authorities have asserted that definite knowledge about geography has never been revealed to the Church. Hence, statements about geography made by historical figures deserve to be assessed critically in the same terms as do modern statements; those of early date are no more likely to be correct because they were early and none are authoritative.

This outcome-driven assumption is counterfactual because it conflates 

(i) the clear, unambiguous, consistent and persistent teachings about the New York Cumorah with 

(ii) the various statements about other aspects of geography that were always admittedly speculative. 

Notice how easily this assumption disregards the actual historical evidence regarding Cumorah without informing readers what that evidence was. 

Plus, of course, Oliver wrote that the New York Cumorah was a fact and explained to David Whitmer, Brigham Young, and others that he and Joseph had actually visited the repository of Nephite records inside Cumorah in New York. They didn't need to "claim revelation" for that because they had a real live personal experience. 

It's not merely a loose or negligent argument to say that Joseph and Oliver, who experienced these things personally, are no more likely to be correct than armchair historians and scholars living today. This is a deliberate effort to undermine the credibility and reliability of Joseph and Oliver and everyone who knew them, as well as their successors in Church leadership.

Furthermore, Brother Sorenson himself made the opposite assumption regarding the text. On page 215, he wrote:

Assumptions and Editorial Considerations:

1. The original text was produced by men who often had first-hand knowledge of the events and scenes of which they spoke. Other parts of the text they based on reports and records from others who were direct observers, even though their words have not always been passed on to us.

2. Thus I consider that, minor slips of the ''pen" aside, all the information on geography will prove to be consistent. 

If he wasn't outcome-driven, Sorenson would recognize that what was true of the "original text" of the Book of Mormon is also true of the writings of Joseph, Oliver, and their contemporaries. But because those writings conflict with Sorenson's M2C theory, he applies a different evidentiary standard to every statement that contradicts M2C.


p. 371.

Statements, by Date, Relevant to the Geography of Book of Mormon Events, by LDS Leaders or Others Reflecting Views Current in the Church


See [1845] Lucy Mack Smith.

[When we look at this below, we'll see what Sorenson omitted.]


See [1878] David Whitmer .

[When we look at this below, we'll see what Sorenson omitted.].


Doctrine and Covenants 28:8-9

. . . . You shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel .... The city of Zion shall be built .... on the borders by the Lamanites.

 14 And thou shalt assist to settle all these things, according to the covenants of the church, before thou shalt take thy journey among the Lamanites. (Doctrine and Covenants 28:14)

Sorenson forgot D&C 30:6 "I have given unto him power to build up my church among the Lamanites."

Doctrine and Covenants 32:2 . . . . Into the wilderness among the Lamanites.


Doctrine and Covenants 54:8.

A group of the saints in Ohio are commanded to flee the land and "take your journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites."


Phelps, W. W. Evening and Morning Star, October 1832; Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate, July 1836, p. 341:

... These vast prairies of the far west ... the Book of Mormon terms them the land of desolation." (Compare Levi Ward Hancock, The Life of Levi W. Hancock, typescript, BYU Library, who reported that Joseph Smith called North America the "land of desolation.")


For a complete treatment of all known statements on the Zelph incident which took place during the Zion's Camp journey, see Kenneth A. Godfrey, The Zelph Story, F.A.R.M.S. Paper GDF-89, 1989; a shorter version of the same, without the copies of the original sources, can be seen in BYU Studies 29 (Spring 1989), pages 31-56.

[For many incidents in Church history, the only record is Wilford Woodruff's journal. His entry about Zelph is fairly clear; i.e., Joseph had a vision of Zelph who was known from Cumorah to the Rocky Mountains, etc. Others wrote their own recollections. Any time multiple witnesses make a record, they report variations from one another. Modern archaeologists have excavated the Zelph mound and verified that the date and scope of trade aligns with what Joseph taught.]

[Sorenson forgot to mention Joseph's letter to Emma dated 4 June 1834. "The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest men and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendour and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed, and in short were it not at every now and then our thoughts linger with inexpressible anxiety for our wives and our children our kindred according to the flesh who are entwined around our hearts; And also our brethren and friends; our whole journey would be as a dream, and this would be the happiest period of all our lives."


Sorenson forgot Letter IV: "He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigenes of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham. He represented them as once being an enlightned and intelligent people, possessing a correct knowledge of the gospel, and the plan of restoration and redemption. He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record.

Oliver Cowdery. Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate, July 1835, p. 158-159. (Reprinted in The Times and Seasons 2, 1841, page 379, and again in The Improvement Era 2, 1899, pages 729-734.)

[Sorenson forgot to mention that Joseph had his scribes copy these essays into his own history, that he gave Benjamin Winchester specific approval to republish them in the Gospel Reflector in 1841, that they were published in the Millennial Star in 1841, that Joseph's brother William republished them in 1844 in The Prophet, and that they were published as a special pamphlet in England that sold thousands of copies in 1844.]

Re. the New York hill Cumorah: "At about one mile west rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former ... [Sorenson edited out this part: leaving a beautiful vale between. The soil is of the first quality for the country, and under a state of cultivation, which gives a prospect at once imposing, when one reflects on the fact, that here,] between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.

. . . . By turning to the 529th and 530th pages of the Book of Mormon you will read Mormon's account of the last great struggle as they were encamped round this hill Cumorah. In this valley fell the remaining strength and pride of a once powerful people, the Nephites-once so highly favored of the Lord, but at that time in darkness, doomed to suffer extermination by the hand of their barbarous and uncivilized brethren. From the top of this hill, Mormon, with a few others, after the battle, gazed with horror upon the mangled remains of those who, the day before, were filled with anxiety, hope, or doubt. A few had fled to the south, who were hunted down by the victorious party.


[Sorenson omitted this part: "He [Mormon], however, by divine appointment, abridged from those records, in his own style and language, a short account of the more important and prominent items, from the days of Lehi to his own time, after which he deposited, as he says, on the 529th page, all the records in this same hill, Cumorah and after gave his small record to his son Moroni, who, as appears from the same, finished, after witnessing the extinction of his people as a nation.

It was not the wicked who overcame the righteous; far from this: it was the wicked against the wicked, and by the wicked the wicked were punished.—The Nephites who were once enlightened, had fallen from a more elevated standing as to favour and privilege before the Lord in consequence of the righteousness of their fathers, and now falling below, for such was actually the case, were suffered to be overcome, and the land was left to the possession of the red men, who were without intelligence, only in the affairs of their wars; and having no records, only preserving their history by tradition from father to son, lost the account of their true origin, and wandered from river to river, from hill to hill, from mountain to mountain, and from sea to sea, till the land was again peopled, in a measure, by a rude, wild, revengeful, warlike and barbarous race.— Such are our indians."]

This hill, by the Jaredites, was called Ramah; by it, or around it, pitched the famous army of Coriantumr their tents. Coriantumr was the last king of the Jaredites. The opposing army were to the west, and in this same valley, and near by, from day to day, did that mighty race spill their blood .... In this same spot, in full view from the top of this same hill, one may gaze with astonishment upon the ground which was twice covered with the dead and dying ... [Sorenson omitted this part: "of our fellow men. Here may be seen where once sunk to nought the pride and strength of two mighty nations; and here may be contemplated, in solitude, while nothing but the faithful record of Mormon and Moroni is now extant to inform us of the fact, ... In this vale lie commingled, in one mass of ruin the ashes of thousands, and in this vale was destined to consume the fair forms and vigerous systems of tens of thousands of the human race—blood mixed with blood, flesh with flesh, bones with bones and dust with dust!

And Letter VIII: "I have now given sufficent on the subject of the hill Cumorah—it has a singular and imposing appearance for that country, and must ex[c]ite the curiosity curious enquiry of every lover of the book of Mormon: though I hope never like Jerusalem and the sepulcher of our Lord, the pilgrims. In my estimation, certain places are dearer to me for what they now contain than for what they have contained."


Frederick G. Williams may have written down a statement about Lehi's party landing at 30 degrees south latitude1 in Chile_. See the material about J. M. Bernhisel under [1845].


Joseph Smith, Jr. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 3:34-35.

Regarding "Tower Hill," north of Far West, Missouri: ''He (L. Wight) lives at the foot of Tower Hill (a na1me I gave the place in consequence of the remains of an old Nephite altar or tower that stood there) .... "


Samuel D. Tyler. Journal. In, Manuscript History, Sept. 25, 1838, page 829, Book B-1. Sept. 25, 1838.

We [the Kirtland camp] passed through Huntsville, Co. seat of Randolph Co. Pop. 450, and three miles further we bought 32 bu. of corn off one of the brethren who resides in this place. There are several of the brethren round about here and this is the ancient site of the City of Manti, which is spoken of in the Book of Mormon and this is appointed one of the Stakes of Zion ... .

A. Jenson, Historical Record, Book 1, page 601 (also in Millennial Star 16:296):

The camp passed through Huntsville, in Randolph County, which has been appointed as one of the stakes of Zion, and is the ancient site of the City of Manti .... [No origin of the statement about Manti is credited in either record. It has been inferred, plausibly, to have come from Joseph Smith. According to the Book of Mormon, of course, the Nephite city of Manti was south of the city of Zarahemla and obviously south of the narrow neck of land; its location was not far from the headwaters of the north-flowing Sidon River. It is obvious that no place in Missouri, nor in North America, could qualify in these terms, hence there had to be an error in the original assertion or in its transmission.]


Orson Pratt, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, and of the Late Discovery of Ancient Records, 1840. Third American edition, New York, 1842, page 18.

Mentions "the western coast of South America" as the site of Lehi's landing.

[1841] Joseph Smith Junior. Letter to John Bernhisel dated 16 November 1841, in, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, Dean C. Jessee, ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984)1 page 502:

Bernhisel had sent a copy of John Lloyd Stephens' Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan to Joseph. In this letter the prophet thanks the donor and observes of the book, "of all histories that had been written pertaining to the antiquities of this country it is the most correct, luminous & Comprehensive---'' and it "supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon." (Compare The Times and Seasons excerpts below.)

[This letter was not written or signed by Joseph Smith. At most, it was dictated by him, but it differs significantly from his other correspondence with Bernhisel that he definitely dictated. The context and language suggest that Wilford Woodruff, who had read the Stephens books on the trip from New York to Nauvoo, composed the letter on behalf of Joseph. At no point did anyone mention observing Joseph reading these long books, nor did he have the time to do so between meeting Woodruff and the date on this letter. I've addressed the details in other articles and my book The Lost City of Zarahemla.]


Charles [Blancher] Thompson. Evidence in Proof of the Book of Mormon. Batavia, New York, 1841. Times and Seasons, 1 Jan. 1842, pages 640-644.

Gives a positive review of Thompson's book wherein he states (p. 101) " ... the people whose history is contained in the Book of Mormon, are the authors of these works" (i.e., antiquities of the eastern U.S.)


Joseph Smith, Jr. (The Wentworth Letter) The Times and Seasons, 3 (1 March 1842), pages 707-708. And in History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4:537-538. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1932-51.

In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement ... to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people .... The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the dose of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country.

[Sorenson doesn't mention that the Wentworth letter tracks Orson Pratt's pamphlet until it reaches Pratt's speculation about Central America. At that point, Joseph clarified that instead of being the Mayans, "the remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country." Joseph was writing from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Wentworth who was in Chicago, Illinois, suggesting that "this country" referred to a "country" the two men shared, meaning either Illinois or the United States. See] 


[September 6) Doctrine and Covenants 128:19-20:

And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfillment of the prophets-the book to be revealed.

[It is clear that by the date of this revelation, Joseph Smith, and seemingly his readers generally, commonly recognized the term Cumorah to refer to the hill in New York]

[Good insight from Sorenson, given that Letter VII had been republished the year before in the Times and Seasons.]


John Taylor or Joseph Smith. The Times and Seasons 3(22) (15 Sept. 1842), pages 914-915:

[Regarding the authorship of the following, see The Times and Seasons 3(15 March 1842), page 710, where Joseph Smith announced the commencement of his career as editor of The Times and Seasons and stated, "I alone stand responsible for it .... " The actual (managing) editor was John Taylor]

[There is extensive evidence that Joseph was the nominal editor only and that William Smith, who was the editor of the Wasp which was printed in the same print shop as the Times and Seasons, was the actual editor of the Times and Seasons, likely with the assistance of W.W. Phelps at some point. The Mesoamerican articles, along with other anonymous articles, were likely sent to Nauvoo by Benjamin Winchester from Philadelphia. See The Lost City of Zarahemla, Brought to Light, and The Editors: Joseph, Don Carlos, and William Smith, for more detail.

Overall, these articles attribute to the Nephites various Mayan ruins that post date the Book of Mormon by hundreds of years.]

Mr. Stephens' great developments of antiquities are made bare to the eyes of all the people by reading; the history of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. They lived about the narrow neck of land, which now embraces Central America, with all the cities that can be found .... Read the destruction of cities at the crucifixion of Christ, pages 459-60. Who could have dreamed that twelve years could have developed such incontrovertible testimony to the Book of Mormon?

From an extract from Stephens’ “Incidents of Travel in Central America,” it will be seen that the proof of the Nephites and Lamanites dwelling on this continent, according to the account in the Book of Mormon, is developing itself in a more satisfactory way than the most sanguine believer in that revelation could have anticipated.

Pages 921-922: . .. Lehi went down by the Red Sea to the great Southern Ocean, and crossed over to this land, and landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien, and improved the country .. ..


The Times and Seasons, 3(23) (1 October 1842), page 927:

Zarahemla. Since our 'Extract' was published from Mr. Stephens' 'Incidents of Travel," &c., we have found another important fact relating to the truth of the Book of Mormon. Central America, or Guatemala is situated north of the Isthmus of Darien and once embraced several hundred miles of territory from north to south-The city of Zarahemla, burnt at the crucifixion of the Savior, and rebuilt afterwards, stood upon this land as will be seen from the following words in the book of Alma:

And now it was only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea; and thus the land ,of Nephi, and the land of Zarahemla was nearly surrounded by water: there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward [See Book of Mormon 3d edition, page 280-81 {Alma 22:32}].

It is certainly a good thing for the excellency and veracity, of the divine authenticity of the Book of :Mormon, that the ruins of Zarahemla have been found where the Nephites left them: and that a large stone with engravings upon it, as Mosiah said; and a 'large round stone, with the sides sculptured in hieroglyphics,' as Mr. Stephens has published, is also among the left remembrances of the, (to him,) lost and unknown . We are not going to declare positively that the ruins of Quirigua are those of Zarahemla, but when the land and the stones and the books tell the story so plain, we are of the opinion, that it would require more proof than the Jews could bring to prove the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb, to prove that the ruins of the city in question, are not one of those referred to in the Book of Mormon .

. . . . It will not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens' ruined cities with those of the Book of Mormon: light cleaves to light, and facts are supported by facts. The truth injures no one, and so we make another Extract ... [followed by a page of material from the book].


The Times and Seasons 4 (1 October 1843)(Facts are Stubborn Things), pages 346-347:

A comment is made on John Lloyd Stephens' Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, volume 2 (1843): "It will be seen that the proof of the Nephites and Lamanites dwelling on this continent, according to the account in the Book of Mormon, is developing itself in a more satisfactory way than the most sanguine believer in that revelation, could have anticipated ....

This is a work that ought to be in the hands of every Latter-day Saint; corroborating, as it does the history of the Book of Mormon. There is no stronger circumstantial evidence of the authenticity of the latter book, can be given, [sic] than that contained in Mr. Stephens' works.

... It has fallen to his lot to explore the ruins of this once mighty people, but the 'Book of Mormon' unfolds their history ... accounts of a people, and of cities that bear a striking resemblance to those mentioned by Mr. Stephens, both in regard to magnificence and location, it affords the most indubitable testimony of the historical truth of that book ....


Mosiah Lyman Hancock, Autobiography, mimeographed volume, page 28 (in BYU Library):

[NOTE: It’s odd that Sorenson shows this source as dating to 1844, as if Hancock wrote it when he was ten years old. More likely, Hancock wrote it about 20 years later. Hancock’s autobiography is undated, but it covers the period of 1834-1865.[1] The preface of his autobiography opens with this statement that shows he was reflecting back from older age, likely around 1865: “It is not my intent to treat much on my sufferings; suffice it to say that my part of suffering can go to the end of oblivion.” Hancock died in 1907.]

Hancock says that while he was a ten-year-old boy in Nauvoo in 1844 " ... The Prophet came to our home and ... I ... got my map for him. 'Now,' he said, 'I will show you the travels of this people.' He then showed our travels through Iowa, and said, 'Here you will make a place for the winter; and here you will travel west until you come to the valley of the Great Salt Lake! ... But, the United States will not receive you with the laws which God desires you to live, and you will have to go to where the Nephites lost their power .... Those who are desirous to live the laws of God will have to go South,'" indicating at the same time on the map with his finger the direction of Mexico.

Sorenson forgot to include this account from Lucy Mack Smith:

Now Joseph beware or when you go to get the plates your mind will be filled with darkness and all man[n]er of evil will rush into your mind. To ​prevent you from keeping the commandments of God ​that you may not succeed in doing his work​ and you must tell your father of this for he will believe every word you say the record is on a side hill on the Hill of Cumorah 3 miles from this place remove the Grass and moss and you will find a large flat stone pry that up and you will find the record under it laying on 4 pillars of cement— then the angel left him


Lucy Mack Smith. History of Joseph Smith. First ed., Liverpool, 1853 [written in 1845]. First Utah ed., 1901, Salt Lake City, page 100. A short time after the marriage of Joseph [1827], his mother reported eighteen years later, that after a visit to the hill, he referred to "the hill of Cumorah." [But see the 1878 statement of David Whitmer, which seems contradictory.]

[As we'll see below, David's statement is not contradictory but corroborates the other accounts about Cumorah. 

Here is the complete account from Lucy, who doesn't paraphrase Joseph but quotes what he said. The details she includes suggest she had either an excellent memory or notes, possibly a diary, she referred to.

"the next January [Joseph] returned with his wife, in good health and fine spirits. Not long after this his father had occasion to send him to Manchester on business. <​and,​> as he started quite early in the morning, we expected him home, at the outside, by 6. o clock in the evening. But when 6. came he did not arrive.— we always had a peculiar anxiety about him whenever he was absent from us; for, it seemed as if something was always taking place to jeopardize his life. But to return, he did not get home till the night was far spent. On coming in, threw himself into a chair, apparently much exhausted. My husband did not observe his appearance, and immediately exclaimed, “Joseph, why have you staid so late? has anything happened you? we have been much distressed about you these three hours. As Joseph made no reply, he continued his interrogations until I finally said: now, father, (as that was the manner in which I commonly addressed him) let him rest a moment— dont touble him now— you see he is home safe, and he is very tired; so pray wait a little. The fact is, I had learned to be a little cautious about matters with regard to Joseph; for I was accostomed to see him look as he did on that occasion, and could not easily mistake the cause thereof. Presently he smiled, and said in a very calm tone, “I have taken the severest chastisement, that I have ever had in my life”. My husband, supposing it was from some of the neighbors, was quite angry; and observed, “I would would like to know what business any body has to find fault with you.”

“Stop, father, Stop.” said Joseph, “it was the angel of the Lord— as I passed by the hill of Cumorah, where the plates are, the angel of the Lord met me and said, that I had not been engaged enough in the work of the Lord; that the time had come for the record to <​be​> brought forth; and, that I must be up and doing, and set myself about the things which God had commanded me to do: but, Father,’ continued he, ‘give yourself no uneasiness concerning the reprimand that I have received; for I now know the course that I am to pursue; so all will be well.”

It was also made known to him at this interview, that he should make another effort to obtain the plates on the 22d. of the following September; But this he did not mention to us at that time."]

p. 383


Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses (Liverpool, 1878), vol.19:36-39:

(The) treasures that are in the earth are carefully watched, they can be moved from place to place according to the good pleasure of Him who made them and owns them .... Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited [i.e., returned] these plates. Joseph did not translate all of the plates. There was a portion of them sealed, which you can learn from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there the hill opened and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the sunlight or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Und1er this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates probably than many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls. The first time they went there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall but when they went again it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates; it was unsheathed, and on it was written these words: 'This sword will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our God and his Christ.' I tell you this as coming not only from Oliver Cowdery, but others who were familiar with it.

See Brigham's full statement, without ellipses and annotated, here: 

For additional accounts, see


David Whitmer. Millennial Star 40 (1870), page 722:

When I was returning to .Fayette, with Joseph and Oliver, all of us riding in the wagon, Oliver and I on an old-fashioned, wooden spring seat, and Joseph behind us-when traveling along in a clear open space, a very pleasant, nice-looking, old man suddenly appeared by the side of the wagon, and saluted us with, “Good morning, it is very warm,” at the same time wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation., and, by a sign from Joseph, I invited him to ride, if he was going our way; but he said very pleasantly, 'No, I am going to Cumorah.' This name was something new to me. I did not know what Cumorah meant. We all gazed at him and at each other, and as I looked around inquiringly at Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared, so that I did not see him again.

[If his mother's biography of Joseph is correct, the name Cumorah would not have been new to Joseph at this time. The two sources contradict each other enough that one wonders about the soundness of this detailed recollection after fifty years had passed and given Whitmer's advanced age. Of course, Lucy Mack Smith's statement was itself a recollection after eighteen years.]

[Sorenson's attempt to find a contradiction doesn't make sense. It was David who said he didn't know what Cumorah meant. Joseph and Oliver had just translated the abridged plates, so they both knew what Cumorah was. This trip was the first time David and Joseph ever met. There is no reason to assume David would have learned about Cumorah from someone else prior to meeting Joseph.

Furthermore, the incident corroborates Joseph's account. The only conceivable reason for the messenger to take the abridged plates to Cumorah instead of to Fayette was to return them to the repository in Cumorah. Joseph had been commanded (D&C 10) to translate the plates of Nephi instead of re-translating the Book of Lehi, but Joseph didn't have the plates of Nephi. The only explanation is that messenger who took the abridged plates to the repository picked up the plates of Nephi and took them to Fayette for Joseph to translate. 

In addition, David reported in another account that Joseph said the messenger was one of the Three Nephites, which is consistent with other accounts. For more information, see]

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