Why? Because The Book of Mormon is a History!
The Value of the Book of Mormon is in it’s message! Yet, In his abridgement, Mormon gave us many details about the lands where these messages took place. I discovered the answer to the “Why Geography” question when I allowed myself to explore the possibilities of where my favorite stories took place.
A Parable is location indifferent, meaning the location is not relevant to the story. The parable of the Prodigal Son does not tell the story in a specific location. The story has more value when we apply the story to our own familiar surroundings.
On the other hand, a History IS location specific! Every history includes details about the location that are an integral part of the story. You cannot separate the location from the history!
The Book of Mormon is a History, NOT a Parable! When read, in view of a specific location, the stories come alive! So it was with me. I had read the Book of Mormon countless times, and have always loved the stories and gained faith and support from reading of the strength and faith of Nephi, Alma, and Captain Moroni. Yet when I started on the path of trying to find out where these events took place, because I was teaching Seminary and really thought it might be important, The Book Exploded For Me!! I was seeing details in the stories that I have never seen before. I was understanding those events with much more clarity and I understood their significance even more.
Having said all this about Why, I still have said nothing about where! I think the passion comes, because when you pick a location, you are recognizing the Book of Mormon as a History and not a parable.
First Key – The Hill Cumorah is in New York
This is the ONLY KNOWN Book of Mormon location. The following references clearly place the Hill Cumorah in New York. All other proposed locations are yet theoretical.
Joseph Smith Papers
Doctrines of Salvation, Volume 3
Joseph Fielding Smith
Chapter 12, A Voice from Cumorah Witnesses of Book of Mormon
WHERE IS THE HILL CUMORAH?
Marion G. Romney
LDS General Conference
The Last Words of Moroni
Mark E. Petersen
LDS General Conference
The hill in New York, known as Cumorah to the Nephites and Ramah to the Jaredites, is the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon, where the Nephites and Jaredites both fought their last battles and perished as nations. This is the same hill where Mormon kept his Repository of Records, and where Moroni buried the plates, in a cemented stone box covered by a large, flat, rounded top boulder, near the top of the hill.
Second Key – Limhi’s Rescue Expedition
King Limhi’s Rescue Expedition in 121 BC links all 3 major lands of the Book of Mormon that were occupied for hundreds of years by the 3 major groups.
The Land of Nephi was occupied by both Nephites and Lamanites.
The Land of Zarahemla was occupied by both Mulekites and Nephites.
The Land Desolation was occupied by both Jaredites and Nephites.
The Expedition started in the City of Nephi,
intending to travel to the City of Zarahemla,
but ended up in the Land of Desolation.
There are over a dozen accounts of journeys between the City of Zarahemla and the City of Nephi.
King Mosiah’s Migration from Nephi to Zarahemla
Around 200 BC, King Mosiah I made the first documented journey from Nephi to Zarahemla.
No mention is made of how long the journey took.
12 Behold, I am Amaleki, the son of Abinadom. Behold, I will speak unto you somewhat concerning Mosiah, who was made king over the land of Zarahemla; for behold, he being warned of the Lord that he should flee out of the land of Nephi, and as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord should also depart out of the land with him, into the wilderness—
13 And it came to pass that he did according as the Lord had commanded him. And they departed out of the land into the wilderness, as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord; and they were led by many preachings and prophesyings. And they were admonished continually by the word of God; and they were led by the power of his arm, through the wilderness until they came down into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla.
14 And they discovered a people, who were called the people of Zarahemla. Now, there was great rejoicing among the people of Zarahemla; and also Zarahemla did rejoice exceedingly, because the Lord had sent the people of Mosiah with the plates of brass which contained the record of the Jews.
Zeniff’s Colony from Zarahemla to Nephi (many days)
Within a relatively short few years after the arrival of Mosiah I and his people in the Land of Zarahemla, a large group of people from Zarahemla, under the leadership of Zeniff, traveled to the City of Nephi to reestablish a Nephite presence in the South.
The only mention of travel distance or time is “many days wandering”.
This journey actually happened twice. The first journey ended in great bloodshed just as they arrived near the City of Nephi. The leader wanted to attack and kill the Lamanites, but Zeniff wanted to live there. The disagreement ended in many deaths and only 50 remained, who returned back to Zarahemla. Zeniff returned to Nephi with a much larger group and stayed.
1 I, Zeniff, having been taught in all the language of the Nephites, and having had a knowledge of the land of Nephi, or of the land of our fathers’ first inheritance, and having been sent as a spy among the Lamanites that I might spy out their forces, that our army might come upon them and destroy them—but when I saw that which was good among them I was desirous that they should not be destroyed.
2 Therefore, I contended with my brethren in the wilderness, for I would that our ruler should make a treaty with them; but he being an austere and a blood-thirsty man commanded that I should be slain; but I was rescued by the shedding of much blood; for father fought against father, and brother against brother, until the greater number of our army was destroyed in the wilderness; and we returned, those of us that were spared, to the land of Zarahemla, to relate that tale to their wives and their children.
3 And yet, I being over-zealous to inherit the land of our fathers, collected as many as were desirous to go up to possess the land, and started again on our journey into the wilderness to go up to the land; but we were smitten with famine and sore afflictions; for we were slow to remember the Lord our God.
4 Nevertheless, after many days’ wandering in the wilderness we pitched our tents in the place where our brethren were slain, which was near to the land of our fathers.
5 And it came to pass that I went again with four of my men into the city, in unto the king, that I might know of the disposition of the king, and that I might know if I might go in with my people and possess the land in peace.
27 And now I would speak somewhat concerning a certain number who went up into the wilderness to return to the land of Nephi; for there was a large number who were desirous to possess the land of their inheritance.
28 Wherefore, they went up into the wilderness. And their leader being a strong and mighty man, and a stiffnecked man, wherefore he caused a contention among them; and they were all slain, save fifty, in the wilderness, and they returned again to the land of Zarahemla.
29 And it came to pass that they also took others to a considerable number, and took their journey again into the wilderness.
Ammon’s Exploration Party From Zarahemla to Nephi (40 days)
After around 80 years, in the year 121 BC, King Mosiah II sent a 16 man exploration party, headed by Ammon, a Mulekite, south to check on the people that had left with Zeniff.
This is the first time we have mention of travel time.
They wandered 40 days.
They were unsure how to get there.
1 And now, it came to pass that after king Mosiah had had continual peace for the space of three years, he was desirous to know concerning the people who went up to dwell in the land of Lehi-Nephi, or in the city of Lehi-Nephi; for his people had heard nothing from them from the time they left the land of Zarahemla; therefore, they wearied him with their teasings.
2 And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted that sixteen of their strong men might go up to the land of Lehi-Nephi, to inquire concerning their brethren.
3 And it came to pass that on the morrow they started to go up, having with them one Ammon, he being a strong and mighty man, and a descendant of Zarahemla; and he was also their leader.
4 And now, they knew not the course they should travel in the wilderness to go up to the land of Lehi-Nephi; therefore they wandered many days in the wilderness, even forty days did they wander.
5 And when they had wandered forty days they came to a hill, which is north of the land of Shilom, and there they pitched their tents.
6 And Ammon took three of his brethren, and their names were Amaleki, Helem, and Hem, and they went down into the land of Nephi.
Alma’s People From Nephi to Zarahemla (21 days)
When Alma and his people left the Land of Nephi, they eventually ended up in the Land of Zarahemla.
The complete journey from Nephi to Zarahemla took 21 days. (8 + 1 + 12)
1 Now Alma, having been warned of the Lord that the armies of king Noah would come upon them, and having made it known to his people, therefore they gathered together their flocks, and took of their grain, and departed into the wilderness before the armies of king Noah.
2 And the Lord did strengthen them, that the people of king Noah could not overtake them to destroy them.
3 And they fled eight days’ journey into the wilderness.
4 And they came to a land, yea, even a very beautiful and pleasant land, a land of pure water.
5 And they pitched their tents, and began to till the ground, and began to build buildings; yea, they were industrious, and did labor exceedingly.
20 And Alma and his people departed into the wilderness; and when they had traveled all day they pitched their tents in a valley, and they called the valley Alma, because he led their way in the wilderness.
21 Yea, and in the valley of Alma they poured out their thanks to God because he had been merciful unto them, and eased their burdens, and had delivered them out of bondage; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it were the Lord their God.
22 And they gave thanks to God, yea, all their men and all their women and all their children that could speak lifted their voices in the praises of their God.
23 And now the Lord said unto Alma: Haste thee and get thou and this people out of this land, for the Lamanites have awakened and do pursue thee; therefore get thee out of this land, and I will stop the Lamanites in this valley that they come no further in pursuit of this people.
24 And it came to pass that they departed out of the valley, and took their journey into the wilderness.
25 And after they had been in the wilderness twelve days they arrived in the land of Zarahemla; and king Mosiah did also receive them with joy.
From the Land of Nephi they traveled 21 days and arrived in the “Land of Zarahemla”, which may or may not mean they arrived in the “City of Zarahemla”, it may have taken them a few more days to get to the City.
There were a few more journeys between the two main cities of Nephi and Zarahemla.
Limhi’s people eventually made it to Zarahemla with Ammon as guide, they traveled “many days”.
The 4 sons of Mosiah traveled from Zarahemla to Nephi as missionaries.
They returned to Zarahemla 14 years later with an entire nation of converts.
Amalekiah wanted to be King in Zarahemla, but ended up being King in Nephi after killing the Lamanite King.
Nephi and Lehi, the sons of Helaman traveled from Zarahemla to Nephi as missionaries.
20 And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi did proceed from thence to go to the land of Nephi.
21 And it came to pass that they were taken by an army of the Lamanites and cast into prison; yea, even in that same prison in which Ammon and his brethren were cast by the servants of Limhi.
This brings us to King Limhi’s Rescue Expedition
Just before Ammon’s Exploration Party arrived in the Land of Nephi from Zarahemla, King Limhi had sent a group of 43 men to search for the City of Zarahemla “that we might appeal unto our brethren to deliver us out of bondage”.
Limhi’s grandfather Zeniff had lived in the City of Zarahemla, so Limhi probably knew the basic route and roughly how long it should take.
At some point the 43 man expedition made a wrong turn and missed finding the City of Zarahemla, but found the “Land of Desolation” instead, which was the land of the Jaredite destruction. They returned with 24 gold plates, large breastplates and old rusty swords.
The only mention of travel distance is “many days”. Curiously, when Ammon traveled “many days” it was equated to exactly “forty days”. There is no way to know for sure and the exact distance was not mentioned.
7 And the king said unto him: Being grieved for the afflictions of my people, I caused that forty and three of my people should take a journey into the wilderness, that thereby they might find the land of Zarahemla, that we might appeal unto our brethren to deliver us out of bondage.
8 And they were lost in the wilderness for the space of many days, yet they were diligent, and found not the land of Zarahemla but returned to this land, having traveled in a land among many waters, having discovered a land which was covered with bones of men, and of beasts, and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind, having discovered a land which had been peopled with a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel.
9 And for a testimony that the things that they had said are true they have brought twenty-four plates which are filled with engravings, and they are of pure gold.
Hill Ramah and Land Desolation
The site of the last Jaredite battle was near the Hill Cumorah, or Hill Ramah to the Jaredites.
They had camped there 4 years preparing for battle.
11 And it came to pass that the army of Coriantumr did pitch their tents by the hill Ramah; and it was that same hill where my father Mormon did hide up the records unto the Lord, which were sacred.
12 And it came to pass that they did gather together all the people upon all the face of the land, who had not been slain, save it was Ether.
13 And it came to pass that Ether did behold all the doings of the people; and he beheld that the people who were for Coriantumr were gathered together to the army of Coriantumr; and the people who were for Shiz were gathered together to the army of Shiz.
14 Wherefore, they were for the space of four years gathering together the people, that they might get all who were upon the face of the land, and that they might receive all the strength which it was possible that they could receive.
Limhi’s rescue expedition travelled from the City of Nephi, wherever it was, to a location near the Hill Cumorah in New York, then returned to the City of Nephi by the same route.
Many Days and Many Months
There are almost 40 references to “many days”. There are 15 references to a specific “month”.
There is one reference to “many months”.
Alma 58:7 And it came to pass that we did wait in these difficult circumstances for the space of many months, even until we were about to perish for the want of food.
How many months does it take to perish without much food?
If a month is 28 days (Lunar), after how many days would you start counting by months?
100 days would be over 3 months, but perhaps not “many months”? 150 days would be 5 months, many?
A biblical days journey is roughly 20-25 miles.
Traveling an average of 10 hours per day, this would be a fairly easy walk of 2.5 miles per hour.
The average walking speed is around 3 miles per hour.
Traveling 40 days at 25 miles per day is a journey of 1000 miles.
Traveling 25 days at 25 miles per day is a journey of 635 miles.
Using these calculations, the distance between the City of Nephi and the City of Zarahemla would be between 600 miles at a more direct route, and 1000 miles if you are wandering because your directions are unclear.
IF Limhi’s 43 man expedition traveled around 40 days (many days) from the City of Nephi and ended up in the New York area, then the City of Nephi would HAVE to be within a 1000 radius of New York.
1000 mile radius from Manchester, NY (Hill Cumorah)
Many scholars place the City of Nephi in Mesoamerica, usually at Guatemala City, the ancient city of Kaminaljuyu.
IF the City of Nephi is Kaminaljuyu, then the City of Zarahemla should be within a 600 mile radius.
600 mile radius from Guatemala City, Guatemala
IF the City of Nephi is Kaminaljuyu, then the Land Desolation *should be within a 1000 mile radius.
* should be assumes a 40 day travel distance.
1000 mile radius from Guatemala City, Guatemala
IF Limhi’s 43 man expedition traveled MORE that 40 days from Kaminaljuyu, their proposed City of Nephi, and ended up in New York, near the Land Desolation, then the distance traveled would have been around 3200 miles.
3200 miles from Guatemala City, Guatemala to the Hill Cumorah, New York
IF this is roughly the route traveled by Limhi’s Rescue Expedition, then there are several Major factors that would need to be examined.
At 25 miles per day, a distance of 3200 miles would have taken a MINIMUM of 130 days. The journey would have taken them up thru southern Mexico and northern Mexico, up thru Texas, and then all up thru the entire eastern US. If they knew that the City of Zarahemla was with a range of 25 to 40 days, at what point would they have said “we have traveled WAY too far?” At 50 days, 75 days or even 100 days?
Up and Down
The word UP is used previously to describe North. In the Book of Mormon, the word UP is always used to describe elevation. The Land of Nephi is always UP and the Land of Zarahemla is always DOWN. With a distance of 3200 miles, are these terms still relevant?
The River Sidon is the main river mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The City of Zarahemla is situated on the East of the River Sidon. To travel from the City of Nephi to the City of Zarahemla, the River Sidon MUST be encountered. If we assume the City of Nephi is in Guatemala and the River Sidon is in Guatemala or even southern Mexico, the proposed journey would have to cross or even navigate several more very large rivers, namely the Rio Grande River, the Mississippi River, and the Ohio River, as well as MANY smaller rivers. Mesoamerican theorists propose that the River Sidon is one of the rivers that both start and end in Mesoamerica. After Limhi’s Expedition had crossed of even navigated this river in Mesoamerica, that would have been the Sidon River, what would they do when they encountered even much larger rivers, several of them?
Extensive River Systems from Guatemala to New York
There is no mention in the record that Limhi’s Expedition encountered any other civilizations. If they had, would the “locals” have given them directions? Would they even have spoken the same language?
Around the year 121 BC, the entire eastern half of the US was covered with the vast populations of the Mound Builder or Hopewell Culture all along the rivers and inland. The Hopewell Culture flourished from around 200 BC to 500 AD. They built large earthwork structures, both ceremonial and defensive. Their trade network ranged from the Gulf of Mexico up to Wisconsin and Michigan and East to the Atlantic.
Hopewell Interaction Sphere – 200 BC to 500 AD
Hopewell – Mound Builder Distribution Map
It is very interesting to note here that the timeframe of the Hopewell matches perfectly that of the Nephite Nation in the Book of Mormon.
While on Zion’s Camp, the day after the discovery of Zelph, who was buried in a large mound atop a high bluff overlooking the Illinois River, Joseph wrote a letter to his wife Emma. He describes the camp as “Roving over the mounds of that once beloved people”.
Joseph Smith wrote this letter in June 1834. The Hopewell Culture was not identified and dated until the 1890’s, yet Joseph clearly identified the timeline of the Mound Builders exactly with the Nephites.
An Alternative to Distance
Speculation and Theory
As a result of these issues, many scholars have theorized that the “real” Hill Cumorah must be a closer distance to Kaminaljuyu, or Guatemala City, and place the Hill Cumorah in southern Mexico, near Veracruz.
Mesoamerica Map that includes Nephi, Zarahemla, Desolation, and Cumorah
This theory proposes that although Moroni buried the plates in the hill in New York, this hill is not the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon, that housed Mormon’s repository and where the last battles of both the Jaredites and the Nephites took place. That hill, the “real” Hill Cumorah is located in Veracruz, Mexico
The argument for locating the Hill Cumorah in Mesoamerica originates from the idea that many scholars felt that Joseph Smith stated that the lands of the Book of Mormon where in Central America. The circumstances surrounding these statements and their being attributed to Joseph Smith can be disputed.
Scholars have sought to anchor the lands of the Book of Mormon, including the Hill Cumorah, to Mesoamerica because of these statements, contrary to many very plain statements by several prophets that clearly identify the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon in New York.
This theory has become the prevailing and driving thought behind almost ALL Book of Mormon themed artwork and literature, even pervasive in most of the Church Education System materials.
Land of Nephi and Land of Zarahemla within the Eastern US
Speculation and Theory
The Land of Nephi is made up of the area around Tennessee and the northern parts of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, and also including the western parts of North Carolina and South Carolina.
The Land of Zarahemla is made up of the states of Iowa, Illinois, and northern Missouri.
The Land Bountiful is made up of the states of Ohio, and Indiana.
The Land of Desolation is made up of the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Ontario, and western New York.
These land assignments would be very rough estimates.
From the center of the radius that would be the City of Nephi,
the proposed Land of Zarahemla falls within the 600 mile radius.
600 mile radius from Chattanooga, Tennessee
From the center of the radius that would be the City of Nephi,
the proposed Land of Desolation and Hill Cumorah falls within the 1000 mile radius.
1000 mile radius from Chattanooga, Tennessee
From the center of the radius that would be the City of Zarahemla,
the proposed Land of Nephi falls within the 600 mile radius.
600 mile radius from Montrose, Iowa
Further Speculation and Theory
Using the speculative locations for the City of Nephi and the City of Zarahemla,
The map below shows the possible correct route of Limhi’s Expedition by river.
Correct route from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Montrose, Iowa
Using the speculative locations for the City of Nephi and the City Zarahemla,
The map below shows the possible wrong route taken by Limhi’s Expedition.
Perhaps when they arrived at the Ohio River they assumed it was the Sidon (or Mississippi) River and continued their journey against the flow until they reached Desolation.
If they had only traveled with the flow on the Ohio River the 40 miles distance until they actually reached the Sidon (or Mississippi), they would have arrived at the City of Zarahemla.
Wrong route from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Montrose, Iowa – End up in New York
The First Key places the Hill Cumorah in New York.
The Second Key places the City of Nephi within a 1000 miles of New York, and as a result, the rest of the Book of Mormon lands ALL within the eastern half of the US.
There are a few very important paragraphs from Joseph Fielding Smith in Doctrines of Salvation, Volume 3, Chapter 12 A Voice from Cumorah Witnesses of Book of Mormon
SPECULATION ABOUT BOOK OF MORMON GEOGRAPHY.
Within recent years there has arisen among certain students of the Book of Mormon a theory to the effect that within the period covered by the Book of Mormon, the Nephites and Lamanites were confined almost entirely within the borders of the territory comprising Central America and the southern portion of Mexico — the isthmus of Tehauntepec probably being the “narrow neck” of land spoken of in the Book of Mormon rather than the isthmus of Panama.
LOCALE OF CUMORAH, RAMAH, AND RIPLIANCUM.
This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years.
Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. It is for this reason that evidence is here presented to show that it is not only possible that these places could be located as the Church has held during the past century, but that in very deed such is the case.
EARLY BRETHREN LOCATE CUMORAH IN WESTERN NEW YORK.
It must be conceded that this description fits perfectly the land of Cumorah in New York, as it has been known since the visitation of Moroni to the Prophet Joseph Smith, for the hill is in the proximity of the Great Lakes and also in the land of many rivers and fountains. Moreover, the Prophet Joseph Smith himself is on record, definitely declaring the present hill called Cumorah to be the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon.
There are many other aspects to be examined when looking at the Geography of the Book of Mormon. Usually the first question asked is almost always “Where is the Narrow Neck?” Mormon left great details on his abridgement and the specifics are yet to be determined. However, Limhi’s Rescue Expedition requires that ALL Book of Mormon lands are located in North America, within a reasonable distance of the Hill Cumorah in New York. The other alternative is to place the Hill Cumorah down in Mexico, which contradicts the statements of many Prophets and Apostles.