Episode 24
Battle of the Book of Mormon Geographies
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Battle of the Book of Mormon Geographies

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To quote Dickens: "The best of times, worst of times." Restoring reason to irrationality.

Podcast 24: Battle of the Book of Mormon Geographies


The following was recorded with the aid of Redge Flake and Andy Mathews and Aaron Tharp on hi-def for future visual editing. To reduce the echo of the room, I had to smush it a bit. If listeners complain, I'll likely re-record this. 


Greetings listeners! Welcome to ForeverLDS. Our site is due for some dynamic changes over the next while. Our YouTube channel, connected to ForeverLDS, is also growing. Even my progress with Tennis Shoes 13: Thorns of Glory is coming along swimmingly. Here's a paragraph I wrote today:


Like the others I stood entranced. Even from this distance it was clear that the Nephite defensive lines had fallen apart in that quarter. The enemy had also penetrated the first defensive wall, but the collapse of the southeastern corridor was most dire. This breach threatened the very heart of Zenephi, its most defenseless citizens: cripples and infants, toddlers and the elderly. Cumorah's bowl was transforming into a melee—a slaughterhouse. Drums resounded from Lamanite ranks, blunting every other sound except a low chorus of frightened screams and vengeful battle cries.

Not a breath of wind stirred. Smoke from the outer ditch seemed to molder in the atmosphere, like one of the corpses rotting on the southeast slope that descended into Cumorah's bowl. Directly south, the Sacred Deer River was mostly hidden by a powdery, gray gloom. I sensed this massive ash cloud was drifting toward us. Shortly, it would cover the bowl, and cover us. It would overshadow every peak and ridge, seep into every gap and furrow, of the Hill Cumorah. There was something prescient about that. Something decidedly merciful, at least to my tearful eyes. The hand of God was preparing to enfold the nation of the Nephites inside a funeral shroud.

What character is talking? Eh, not gonna say. Does this give you any clue about how close I am to finishing? No, it shouldn't. No clue whatsoever. Just know I'm forging ahead, and the story is incredible.

For the last couple weeks Forever LDS has focused on Moroni and Mormon and the last decades of The Book of Mormon. I left several topics unaddressed and incomplete. I promise, we'll get back to those. Today I wanted to discuss general Book of Mormon geography and scholarship. I felt the issue needed some framework and anchors, guidelines and traffic cones, and an updated perspective for newbies and the new millennium.

In my novels the geographical setting for the Hill Cumorah, and every other Book of Mormon location is, for all practical purposes, speculative. Fortunately my descriptions are vague and the stories don't have to fit a specific geography. Still, I've undeniably incorporated a sub-tropical environment, jaguars, etc., so my readers can correctly assume I lean toward a Mesoamerican model of Book of Mormon geography. Beyond that, I avoid specificity. Nevertheless, in my chapter notes I often spotlight some tidbit of the latest, or most highly-regarded, scholarship. 

Over the decades, as I've written the Tennis Shoes series, I've sometimes felt inclined to alter my opinions on certain pieces of research, such as rejecting, for the most part, a popular idea about the Hill Cumorah that dates back to (about) the 1970s, which proposes the location of the ancient battleground to be El Cerro Vigia in the Tuxtla Mountains of Veracruz, Mexico. I give lengthy discourses for why I feel this landmark is no longer suitable in the notes of Chapter 15 in Volume 11: Sorcerers and Seers and the notes of Chapter 7 in Volume 12: Drums of Desolation.

Remaining open to new perspectives seems the most appropriate way to approach Book of Mormon studies. Unfortunately, it means some of my premises from earlier novels in the series are dated. The stories are no less of a "thrill-ride", but the rationale behind certain premises may (I emphasize may) have become obsolete. Why admit this now as I write the final volumes of the series? By the way, "final volumes" is a pesky rumor I'll neither confirm nor deny. I only promise to conclude the current storyline that began in Warriors of Cumorah. THEN . . . we'll see.  

Anyway, I feel compelled to admit flaws because, in the end, I'd rather be remembered as honest and open-minded instead of closed-minded and rigid, especially on a topic where the Church remains officially neutral.

Substantial effort has been made over the decades (almost two centuries!) to pinpoint the geography of the Book of Mormon. Since it was published in 1830, opinions about its settings and landmarks have morphed. Tenets have fallen in and out of favor. For the first 100 years most Saints were satisfied with the idea that The Book of Mormon encompassed both hemispheres. Then, somewhere 'bouts the first half of the 20th century scholars started looking at the text more carefully and decided a more isolated region—a limited geography—made more sense. Researchers compared verses describing directions, the flow of rivers, relationships between landmarks, etc., as well as incorporating the methodologies of emerging science. An intriguing Book of Mormon geography in Mesoamerica began to emerge that seemed eminently plausible. Many Latter-day Saints got very excited, and on occasion—sometimes unfortunately (but not always)—this information intermingled with our proselytizing efforts around the world. This isn't all bad. Heavenly Father works His miracles in whatever manner best suits certain investigators at certain times. Many who were first intrigued by The Book of Mormon through archeology or scholarship are active, enduring Latter-day Saints today, even if some of the scholarship that intrigued them is now outdated.

I'm more apt to be concerned if a convert's convictions remain dependent upon geography, lacking any kind of spiritual foundation. As for my own conversion, I gained a spiritual testimony before I ever became fascinated by scholarship. The cart should not come before the horse. And if it did, reverse it, swiftly, so the horse is pulling the cart.  The human pursuit of scholarly research is an imperfect art. One day, certain proposals and speculations may be doctrinally sanctioned, but until that day, it's been my impression that the journey is the thing. The search. The investigation.

I've always felt driven to learn everything I could about The Book of Mormon and the Gospel, and that journey of discovery has consistently verified the authenticity of the manuscript, and the Restored Church! Efforts to find a suitable Book of Mormon geography have reconfirmed my intellectual convictions.

However, spiritual conviction takes precedence. That doesn't mean we dismiss the intellectual. As it states in Doctrine and Covenants 88:118: "And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith."

To me this scripture says it's okay for members and investigators to feed both needs—faith and knowledge. Knowledge (out of the best books, which I today presumably includes the very best in all media—movies, documentaries, the internet, etc.)—is a significant thing. We seek learning by study and by faith.

A problem sometimes arises when a member or investigator is discouraged from pursing both platforms. For one, it's not scriptural. Reread D&C 88:118. For another, most ignore such advice—instinctively! Those given wings will fly. Our preference is simply that they fly in the right direction and avoid getting caught in the webs, nets, snares, wind turbines, and claws of hawks and other predators.

To clarify, I believe it's a mistake to discourage the study of Book of Mormon geography or any related apologetic, scholarly, or scientific pursuit. To do so is a fundamental contradiction of the Gospel and our nature as human beings. We're curious creatures. I believe we inherited that characteristic from our Father in Heaven. We can certainly encourage "balance" if someone is getting overly obsessed with one area of study at the expense of another. But abandoning an interest in Book of Mormon geography? Can't be done. Some might remember Jim Varney's TV character. Jim Varney does the voice of Slinky-Dog in the Toy Story movies. Before that, it was "Can't be done, Vern. Just can't be done." If The Book of Mormon is true, if it really happened, if Nephi and Alma and Mormon and Moroni really lived, The Book is a historical as well as a spiritual narrative, no matter how much we might emphasize one over the other. To ignore that is counterintuitive to an investigation of truth. And common sense.

Over the last century incredible evidences have come to light. Fascinating correlations and corroborations. Some—right now—might be inclined to ask, "like what?" Man, I wouldn't even know where to start with such an uninformed question. Before someone can be taught baby steps, they gotta learn to crawl. To read! Remember books? They still exist. The truth is out there. And most books, if copyrighted and still earning royalties for the author or his or her descendants, are NOT on the internet. So become versed in John Sorensen and Jack Welch and Hugh Nibley and Joseph Allen and a score of other honest researchers. Avoid the garbage. Read the research of those with formal training, if not in archeology or anthropology or geology, at the very least in the standardized disciplines of the scientific method.

In case you graduated from High School science many decades ago, the scientific method is the logical order of steps any respected scientist incorporates to draw rational conclusions. It demands strict and disciplined procedures of observation, research, hypothesis, prediction, and experimentation, thus engendering greater confidence in its conclusions.

So until we have revelation, we got the scientific method. And that's all we got. So use it. And consume the research of those who also use it. Does that mean all Book of Mormon enthusiasts and researchers need to have a PhD? No. But it sure helps. Brant Gardner, one of today's foremost experts on Book of Mormon studies, doesn't have a PhD. But he adheres assiduously to the scientific method. Those who earn a Doctorate of Philosophy are forcibly immersed in the regimens of the scientific method. They embrace peer review and thorough research, vetting every possible angle and if necessary, going back to the drawing board if it fails to pass the muster. Scholarship may be one of the only areas where Capitalism doesn't really work. In a university setting it's much harder—not impossible—but harder for research to be tainted and corrupted by financial motivation and deadlines, etc. It can still be tainted by bureaucracy, pride, and other human failings. But for the most part we can get money out of the equation. Well, money can still creep into a university setting—begging for grants, promotions based on prominence, Nobel Prizes—but I don't wanna get into all that. The University setting still removes much of the money quotient, which is frankly healthier. It demands that the research stand on its own and encourages scrutiny from others in the field.

Many unsuspecting Latter-day Saints—as well as non-Latter-day Saints—have no idea how easy it is to sell horse-pucky. To sound like you know what you're talking about when you genuinely don't. The horse-pucky huckster may not even know they're selling horse pucky. They don't have the experience or training or instincts to know the difference. They just have opinions and—all-too often—agendas. Truthfully, even those with strict professional standards have opinions, and sometimes agendas. It's natural. It's human. Our best defense, until the Lord offers up definitive revelation though His authorized servants, is to do everything possible to support the scientific method.

In my experience, the most notable scholars, who also have a spiritual testimony of The Book of Mormon, do not fear science. They do not fear the latest popular trends in any scientific field. In the end, whatever is "unearthed" will eventually—inevitably—bear out such testimonies. So  intelligent, effective, and faithful researchers have the ability to curb or suppress personal opinions and agendas. Let the chips fall where they may! And if flaws or conflicts are revealed in a given hypothesis, they acknowledge it. Openly. Oh, they might attempt to construct a counter-hypothesis, but the most disciplined and honest will admit when they are wrong or when more research is needed. A horse-pucky huckster—I could learn to like that term—will ignore or even hide—sweep under the rug—information that directly counters a hypothesis. If confronted with arguments that threaten their theories, they'll all-of-a-sudden play the contortionist, employing every means to defend the most flawed proposals, even if the result looks less like a hypothesis and more like a pretzel. In the end, they'll attack the motives, faith, or intent of those who expose their flawed and failed theories.

Why would anyone cling to wrong ideas? Why do we so frequently embrace ideas and opinions that, in the face of basic logic and common sense, collapse? Now you'd be asking to comprehend an attribute of the human condition that has plagued its advancement since time began. And emphasize the reason we're all here in mortality in the first place. The culprit is usually pride—and/or—deception.

In the arena of Book of Mormon scholarship, an easy principle that an armchair enthusiast—which describes most of us—can employ when seeking to expose the horse-pucky huckster—are statements and inference—any hint of any kind, that suggests that the researcher has had his or her theories substantiated, verified, supported, or in any way confirmed by the Holy Ghost. Even if the individual or organization claims to have experienced something as seemingly innocuous as "good feelings" associated with their theories, watch your wallet. Immediately our antennas should go up. What such a claim suggests is that the researcher is the recipient of revelation—new revelation. Revelation that presently is not part of the standard canon of the Church. This kind of revelation cannot be received except by the one person on earth authorized to receive it—our Prophet and President.

That's the test. It's a great test. So simple! The principle was outlined in the Doctrine and Covenants nearly two centuries ago, and very much applies today, particularly with regard to a subject like Book of Mormon geography and archeology. So if any individual or organization has represented—today or in the past—the notion that their ideas have been, or can be, confirmed by prayer, or substantiated by the Holy Spirit, the gig's up. That individual or organization is deceived. I personally believe an organization can't come back from that. Gotta start over from scratch.

Not long ago I attended a BMAF/Book of Mormon Central convention in Provo, Utah. One of the first presenters was Warren Aston, an LDS researcher from Australia who's done a lot of work on Lehi's trail and various Book of Mormon sites in Arabia. In his speech, which I'll have to paraphrase since I don't have the transcript, he said that folks will sometimes ask him if his archeological or geographical ideas about The Book of Mormon have been confirmed by the Holy Ghost. "No," he tells them. "I've never sought such confirmation." Thank you, Brother Aston. You pass the test. Moreover, Brother Aston made it clear that he's open to changing his own ideas when better ideas come along. That kind of flexibility is the hallmark of an honest researcher. A willingness to learn. Give credit to others. And abandon pet theories when better ideas take the stage.

At one time in my life I was the idiot—Kind of a harsh term. I'll just say I was the naive soul—who asked a Book of Mormon researcher how he felt spiritually about his Book of Mormon geographical ideas. That scholar was Dr. Joseph Allen. I was 23 years old, traveling with Dr. Allen and a bus-load of LDS tourists through Mexico and Guatemala to research my as-yet-unwritten concept for a novel that at that time I called Garth and I Among the Nephites, which later became . . . Well, you know. Dr. Allen's response to my naive question was to shrug and say, "I feel pretty good." After he grinned I realized he was being facetious. He explained to the whole group, just like Warren Aston, that he didn't seek for, or expect to receive, spiritual confirmation of his research. That was the role of Prophets and General Authorities. His role was to study, to explore, and to offer illumination about the scriptures based upon research, deduction, observation, and the confessed limitations of our earth-bound intelligence.

But that's okay!  ". . . seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning . . ." That's what we have. And it's glorious! The best way to avoid deception is to combine faith and study—and continually polish our armor of God with repentance and endurance.

Even then, we will make mistakes. We'll still often find ourselves barking up the wrong tree, venturing down the wrong rabbit hole, and pursuing a flawed hypothesis. The faith part keeps us humble, repentance suppresses pride, and endurance fosters patience, so that when better ideas take the spotlight, we're open to embracing them.

Over the last decade or so I've watched some of our enthusiasm for Book of Mormon geography wane—and for reasons that have little to do with the quality of the scholarship.

This generation may define the golden era of Book of Mormon research as something that belongs to the last generation. It was during the latter half of the 20th Century that some of the most thought-provoking, disciplined, and creative LDS researchers presented their most lucid and vetted scenarios. Obtaining that research was sometimes quite expensive, and for the most part it was funded by the Church through Brigham Young University with such organizations as F.A.R.M.S. (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies) and N.W.A.F. (New World Archeological Foundation).

The LDS scholars of this era, trained in University disciplines, built upon each other's work and strived to maintain objectivity despite their core belief in The Book of Mormon. Such scholars were not always perfect in their objectivity, but for the most part they were pretty disciplined.

Also, scholars of the 20th century felt free to encourage the average lay member of the Church to ask: "Where did the Book of Mormon take place?" As I've said, if it's true, it took take place somewhere. LDS scholars of the 20th Century encouraged us to ponder such matters without the fear of censure—even from fellow Latter-day Saints, who are occasionally inclined to remind us that testimonies ought to be based on faith, not science. Here's the thing. I don't think most folks of past century missed that. It was common sense.

Anybody listening to this podcast who happens to be a Millennial or Gen-X or Y, I challenge you to ask the older members of your Stake, Ward or Branch—the Baby Boomers and older—if they feel that Church members today are as adept and nimble and educated on Church doctrine and history and usage of the scriptures as the average member—the average Sunday School class—of their day, when they were in their prime.

Many older, mature Latter-day Saints didn't have to reminded that a spiritual testimony trumped earthly knowledge. Duh! This reminder only seems to have become increasingly imperative with the passage of decades. I predict this cycle will come back around, but we're not there yet. I have that confirmed whenever I notice that the new generation doesn't know the words of our most popular hymns without using a hymnbook. Heck, many don't even open the hymnals, open the hymnal apps on their devices, or participate in singing, as if they don't quite remember what purpose singing really serves in the Church! What was the point of this again?

Different topic for a different podcast. I just want to emphasize that I believe a passion for knowledge and understanding about the Restored Gospel will cycle back. It has to. It'll become a matter of spiritual survival.

So it's true. Some members today—and in the past—have allowed science to trump faith. At times new research has brought well-publicized "evidences" of The Book of Mormon under fresh scrutiny, and sometimes that scrutiny has revealed mistakes. Sometimes testimonies have even been shaken. Same thing happens when members who've never studied much Church History learn isolated details about Joseph Smith or other tidbits that they believe contradicts their prior understandings. These kinds of spiritual challenges—or "tests"—have always existed for believers in Christ. The adversary has a well-stocked arsenal of stumbling blocks. So for those who launch into any intellectual pursuit, including Book of Mormon research, there is risk, but less risk, I believe, than by NOT embarking. As the slogan says, The mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Sometime around the turn of the century, Book of Mormon scholarship fell on hard times. The motives and disciplines of those who kept up the vigil became a bit foggy. Some privately-funded organizations rejected virtually all of the work done by LDS scholars of the last half century. Despite the emergence of an intriguing Mesoamerican model of Book of Mormon geography, such forces remain determined to establish a geography they believe dates to the earliest days of the Church—a model placing Book of Mormon territory exclusively inside the borders of United States, principally in the East and Great Lakes regions. This is commonly called the "Heartland" model of Book of Mormon geography.

Those who advocate this model are an organized movement. Now, I really don't want to pick on any particular organization. Those who are part of the Heartland organization are not the only ones who pursue a possible Book of Mormon geography inside the United States. However, the Heartlanders (as they are known) may represent a prime example of what I'm trying to express. This group pursues an aggressive campaign to diminish any Book of Mormon geography related to Mesoamerica. They sponsor conventions, promote tours, and publish and distribute books and other media. Now, some Mesoamericanists have done this as well, but not with quite the same motivations, and not under a single umbrella, and certainly now at the exclusion of other ideas or geographical models. This particular movement may be unprecedented. They've even purchased land with the express purpose of turning it into an archeological site for tourism, despite an absence of disciplined archeology that supports their claims. Many claims have divided the lay membership of the Church in a remarkable and visceral way.

At its core, the Heartland model, appears to be energized by statism and American exceptionalism. One of its most touted principals is that America is the only nation in the western hemisphere that qualifies as a "blessed" or "promised land" according to 2 Nephi 1:5-9 and other Book of Mormon verses.

In the words of the organization's founder and president, "This is the promised land. The prophecies and promises indicate that the United States has to be at least some part of the Book of Mormon, because practically every one of these promises in it can only really be applied as the United States. It is a nation 'above all other nations,' and a 'mighty' Gentile nation. Well, what other nation are they talking about here? I don't think that they are talking about Guatemala here."

This concept, for obvious and very patriotic reasons, has proven attractive to many American Latter-day Saints, despite Church Presidents and other General Authorities expressly stating that these same "prophecies and promises" can be applied to other nations and peoples.

President Brigham Young taught in 1852, "The land of Joseph is the land of Zion; and it takes North and South America to make the land of Joseph (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol.6, p. 296, Brigham Young, August 15, 1852)." President Heber J. Grant said in 1937, “I am a firm believer that this country, both North and South America, is the choice land of the world, a land choice above all other lands, according to the words of the prophets in the Book of Mormon. (Heber J. Grant, Conference Report, October 1937, p. 98)."

My favorite quote may be from Ezra Taft Benson to the saints in Bolivia in 1979:


"God raised up wise leaders among your progenitors which afforded Latin American countries political freedom and independence. I only mention the names of a few whom God raised up to accomplish His holy and Sovereign purposes: Jose de San Martin, Bernardo O’Higgins, and Simon Bolivar. These were some of the founding fathers of your continent. I believe it was very significant that when independence came to the countries of South America, governments were established on constitutional principles–some patterned after the Constitution of the United States. I believe this was a very necessary step which preceded the preaching of the gospel in South America." (Ezra Taft Benson, “The Righteous Need not Fear,” La Paz, Bolivia, 10-18 January 1979, in Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 695.) 


(For similar quotes from J. Reuban Clark, David O. McKay, Spencer W. Kimball and many others visit: http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon/Geography/Statements/Twentieth_century.)

For me personally, when it comes to the labels I place on myself, of none am I more proud than that of being an American—except one: That of being a Latter-day Saint. And if these two labels ever came into irreconcilable conflict, the first would lose. In fact, it would be dwarfed. I pray, therefore, such a conflict never arises in my lifetime.

Heartland advocates also emphasize the preeminent authority of Joseph Smith in matters of Book of Mormon geography over and above statements by successive Church leaders. The best evidence is that Joseph himself was open. He never declared a definitive Book of Mormon geography. During his life he made a variety of statements suggesting connections in both North and Central America, but never identified any specific Book of Mormon land or city.

I think this was deliberate. For now, he preferred to leave such matters to faith. Heartland advocates carefully select statements from Joseph Smith's life (generally prior to 1835) and present him as the undisputed Book of Mormon geographer. A role he never played, and which ignores contrary messages from other Church leaders. For example, Harold B. Lee stated, "Well, if the Lord wanted us to know where it was or where Zarahemla was, He’d have given us latitude and longitude, don’t you think?" (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, Deseret Book, 1996, pg. 155).

The notion that Joseph Smith was superior in authority to all other Church Presidents is hardly new. This conviction was the motivation for many members abandoning the Church after Joseph's martyrdom, rejecting the leadership of Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and all successive prophets to the modern age. The title of one of their documentary series, Joseph Knew, suggests that Joseph Smith taught something about Book of Mormon geography that later Church presidents missed, or ignored, or misunderstood, leaving it to modern, lay LDS researchers to reveal and publicize.

The idea that The Book of Mormon may have taken place in the Eastern United States is not new, but it's rise in popularity coincides with the defunding and reorganization of certain Church and university institutions like F.A.R.M.S. and N.W.A.F. that for decades actively pursued Book of Mormon studies. This vacuum gave the Heartland model a uniquie opportunity to gain support, despite most LDS scholars dismissing their research as amateurish and agenda-driven, fitting the model to science as opposed to letting science serve the model.

Of particular concern, Heartlanders have advocated that their model can be confirmed by personal revelation. A link to such statements is found with the transcript of this podcast on ForeverLDS. (http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/publications/misguided-zeal-and-defense-of-the-church-2.)

Such overt proclamations have been tempered in recent years. Still, it's common for Heartlanders to advise those who study their model to simultaneously seek spiritual guidance. On the surface this seems harmless enough. One assumes a believing Latter-day Saint applies this principal to every facet of their lives. So what's wrong with mentioning it in association with a specific model of Book of Mormon geography?

Because to couple this principle with theories not endorsed by the Church borders to closely with spiritual manipulation. The inference is that those who advocate such theories have received spiritual confirmation. Therefore you can too! Most Latter-day Saints recognize that this directly contradicts the established pattern of new revelation for the general membership of the Church as outlined in Doctrine and Covenants Sections 21 and 28. Yet in every generation, a few seem to miss that particular memo.

I had a thought I felt I needed to insert. The sound might be different because it was recorded separately. Listen, I know by focusing on a specific organization like the Heartlanders some will take umbrage. The more umbrage you take, the more important this message becomes. Book of Mormon geography is not an emotional thing! It's not something you sell to customers like a product in an infomercial, complete with a panoply of celebrity endorsements!??  Hugh Nibley and John Sorenson didn't need celebrity endorsements! For that matter neither do the theories of any scholar or scientist. Such researchers would be embarrassed by this whole thing. Those still with us are embarrassed! Okay, back to my originally recorded podcast.  

Heated debates have arisen between advocates of Mesoamerica and the Heartland. Over time such disagreements may run their course and prove perfectly healthy. The concept of pursuing a spiritual testimony first may become more entrenched. Future scholars may be more inclined to incorporate the highest professional standards, and therefore vet, enhance, and improve Book of Mormon studies, while allowing our natural curiosity to breathe. Obviously I'm not a proponent of the the current Heartland model, but I'd like to remain open to any insight. However, a total abandonment of the excellent research of the last 50-75 years seems a fundamental step backwards.

Whichever model ultimately dominates, the overarching authority of present-day Church leadership should be acknowledged as supreme. I implore Latter-day Saints to recognize that the blessings and promises found in The Book of Mormon apply to faithful saints in both hemispheres—as well as across the globe—and that such discussions should never suggest the superiority of any one people or nation. 

And that concludes our podcast. I promise I'll get back to Mormon and Moroni and some of the fascinating things that I believe enlighten the last decades of The Book of Mormon. I felt it was important to establish this framework first. I really didn't want to offend those with entrenched ideas that are different than my own. I wish Latter-day Saints were above such offenses, particularly when neither point of view represents official doctrine. I've noticed both sides can be very touchy and passionate about their positions. I'd like to see us get past that.

Personally, I don't care if we're researching the predecessors of the Mayans or the Hopewells. It's all incredible fun. In the end, out of the best books, from the annals of our greatest stores of knowledge, will be confirmed the core of an indomitable testimony whose seeds initially germinated in the nursery of the Holy Ghost.

Stay close to the Lord. Don't give up on Him. Don't give up, whatever you do. And if you don't feel as close to Him today as yesterday, ask yourself who moved, and move back. This is Chris Heimerdinger. And this is Forever LDS.






  • Dustin Randall

    May 10, 2017 5:43 pm

    Wonderfully written in my opinion! I’ve always loved the idea of Book of Mormon archeology. Mostly inspired by your books. I’d honestly never heard of any other geography theories besides the Mesoamerican model. A friend of mine pointed out the Great Lakes Heartland model, and though it made sense, I think I prefer the Mesoamerican model. I freely admit, however, that I’m biased by the Tennis Shoes Series. I am perfectly fine with emerging evidence pointing to another location on the globe, but for now, I have endless fun with the etymological connections between Hebrew and Mayan words/phrases, and other neat coincidences, if they are nothing more than coincidences. Tehuantapec means "land of wild beasts". Xim or Shim means corn , etc., etc. cool stuff!

    REPLY FROM CHRIS: Thanks Dustin. Did you get "used" to the room sound on the recording? I REALLY, REALLY don't want to re-record this, but I will if it's distracting enough, because the topic is unique and not discussed from these angles very often (if at all). I'm hoping it was only jarring at first because it sounded DIFFERENT from the other podcasts, but was perfectly listenable. Lemme know. As for your actual comments...I would say I lean toward a Mesoamerica model, but that's sort of like saying you like ice cream. Then someone asks, "What flavor?" There are actually a BOATLOAD of Mesoamerican models of Book of Mormon Geography, and some of them are just as sloppy, undisciplined, and/or agenda-driven as the one presented by the Heartland organization. So while I think Mesoamerica is the right area of the world, all the same rules of the scientific method must apply. At the same time, I would not in any way discourage exploring Book of Mormon perspectives in the United States. We cannot dismiss the fact that Joseph Smith sent missionaries to the "Lamanites" (D&C Section 28). These missionaries visited tribes from New York to Nebraska. So while these areas may not be directly connected to events described during the 1000-year history of The Book of Mormon, connections to the doctrine or culture of The Book of Mormon should be readily available and evident. But the Heartland organization has mucked up the research in this part of the New World so badly that I believe we need to look to other scholarly sources for reliable research.

  • Wesley Fulks

    May 12, 2017 11:21 am

    The podcast is well done, I like it. I was first aware of this “Heartland” movement during the April 2014 General Conference inside the Joseph Smith Memorial Building while I was a missionary for the Family & Church History Mission. There were people selling books there at a discount price of $10 and advertising a video (that was by then shortly to be aired) about Jesus Christ visiting the Nephites on a hill in Ohio (The picture you showed on the podcast, however, indicated that Bountiful was somewhere in or around Georgia). We almost bought it. Later, the then-young missionary director, a senior missionary named Elder Vance Andersen, dismissed that theory because the dates of the artifacts found in the United States were inconsistent.

    As for me, I believe that the Book of Mormon events took place on both hemispheres, not exclusively on either one. Moroni, after all, had about 40 years of travel since the Battle of Cumorah, which is more than enough time to wander from present-day Mexico to New York. I do not understand how the “narrow neck of the land,” described as taking only one and a half days to travel from one side to the other, would be some obscure mountain pass in North America, rather than this obviously narrow passage somewhere in Central America. What about Hagoth and the ships traveling through the sea? If the Heartlandists said that he and his crew merely went through the Gulf of Mexico, I don’t think so, because the Nephites may as well get to Mexico by land travel. While I was in the International floor in the Family History Library in 2012, I noticed a Pacific Islander genealogy set posted on the wall that suggested Hagoth and Corianton as two of their main ancestors, known by different names. The description of the Great Lakes and oceans as the sea north, east, south, and west does not seem consistent. Anyway, whatever has been happening in the Book of Mormon (such as the Nephites moving into the land northward) appears to take place in both hemispheres.

    As for the sound of your podcast, it was fine with me, for the most part. The addition you later made in the podcast sounded more choppy compared to the rest of the podcast. But in my opinion, you don’t have to do the whole thing over; I just want you to mainly focus on finishing the 13th Tennis Shoes book. But thank you for the update, anyway.

    REPLY FROM CHRIS: Thanks Wesley. It's those type of things--selling videos inside the Joseph Smith Bldg or even just outside, that taints this group forever. What's interesting is that they give a black eye to their own cause. Searching for Book of Mormon evidences in the Great Lakes region or the continental U.S. is wholly justified and should be pursued. As described in my recent Facebook post, Joseph Smith specifically sent Oliver Cowdery and Parley P. Pratt and others on a mission to the "Lamanites." Those "Lamanites" were certain Native American tribes from New York to Nebraska. So I presume in the 2500-year mixture of DNA that at least some of these tribes had relationships with the ancient Lamanites. That doesn't mean the EVENTS of the Book of Mormon necessarily took place inside U.S. borders, but finding evidences of Christianity or Nephite or Hebrew culture would be a perfectly legitimate pursuit. One other point that you mentioned...Hel 4:7 is almost universally misread. Here it is again: "And there they did fortify against the Lamanites, from the west sea, even unto the east; it being a day’s journey for a Nephite..." Notice it does not read "west sea to east sea". It reads west sea to some unidentified border or landmark "unto the east." This same fascinating designation is made in Alma 22:32: And now, it was only the a 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". Again, not east sea to west sea. "east" to "west sea." You could argue that a comma is missing in Alma 22:32. Also, no comma should exist at all between the words "Desolation" and "from." That would clarify it. We're talking about boundaries between tracts of territory--not a day-and-a-half run from sea to sea. Even the Isthmus of Teuhuatepec, which seems the most likely "narrow neck" of land, can't be crossed on foot in 36 hours. But you CAN travel from the west sea and cross the "narrow pass" in that time period. Cool Stuff!

  • Shaeleigh Wuollet

    May 22, 2017 1:01 pm

    I agree with your podcast. I have my own theories as to where the Book of Mormon took place, but I don’t really mind not having a set time or place because all I need to know is that it’s true. That is enough for me right now. Personally, I favor and propose a new model altogether…South America along the old Inca empire. My friends from that area tell folklore that before the Inca, there was a civilization so mighty that it stood for 3,000 years. Also, I favor South America because the “narrowest neck of land” in the Americas is in Panama. But this is my speculation…and I don’t really care if I’m right or not. I’d encourage those who have doubts of any kind to listen to DreamWork’s song from Joseph: King of Dreams. It is called “You Know Better Than I”-and it serves as a reminder that we don’t understand everything, but we don’t need to either. I look forward to reading your next podcast.

    RESPONSE FROM CHRIS: Shaeleigh, you are totally free to ponder any geography you choose. South America has been fairly-well explored looking for geographic corollaries. Many models have been proposed using Panama as the narrow neck, but the proposals seem to come up short. That doesn't mean we should entirely close our minds to it. Like the Eastern United States, the archaeology should continue to be explored and our theories updated. The Nephites (and Lamanites) undoubtedly migrated and mingled both north and south, so Christian/Nephite/Hebrew parallels should be evident in both hemispheres. In fact, many corollaries HAVE been found in South America. But as for offering up a solid map of actual events from The Book of Mormon, my opinion is that Mesoamerica offers the most geographic corollaries, such as the narrow neck of land. I've always felt the best candidate for this was the Isthmus of Teohuantepec.

  • James Stokes

    Jul 4, 2017 4:00 pm

    Hey, Chris! Insightful stuff as always. Thanks for taking time to put this together. I truly felt inspired as I read what you said above. I absolutely agree that no one is entitled to revelation for the entire Church except for the one man we sustain as the Church President. People seem keen to forget that in times like this when we are seeing a prophet decline. I know that I myself have heard ideas perpetuated about how prophets or apostles should be granted some kind of “emeritus status” when they reach a certain age, and that does not hold with Church doctrine and practice. I have addressed that point vigorously on my own blog of late. There is a reason why these men serve to their dying breath. I for one gladly sustain the prophets and apostles of our day with all my heart, and unless and until revelation comes from the prophet on any of this, it is wise and even preferable to keep an open mind. Thanks for this detailed analysis on that point as it relates to Book of Mormon geography. I agree that where it happened is infinitely dwarfed by the fact that it actually did happen. And on that, I hope most students of Book of Mormon geography can agree. Thanks for your insights, and keep us posted.

  • Brian Lee Watson

    Aug 4, 2017 9:06 pm

    I own Passage to Zarahemla, and wanted to know if I could purchase from you any other movies that might have followed this movie.
    I grew up in Toquerville just East of Leeds and recognized many of my old younger day stomping grounds.
    I really enjoyed the movie and would like to purchase any others if there are any.
    I also have purchased all 12 of the Tennis Shoes series and am currently re-reading them and enjoying them again very much.
    Thanks for sharing your talents with so many.

    REPLY FROM CHRIS: No new movies, Brian. I did write a sequel in book form called "Escape from Zarahemla" (which then ties into the Tennis Shoes series at the end of book 11), but I deliberately wrote this story without any budgetary considerations. For example, the flash flood in the opening scene, if done as written, would likely cost the entire budget of the first movie. :)
  • Mar 21, 2018 11:59 pm

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  • Cindy Suelzle

    Mar 23, 2018 1:45 pm

    thoroughly enjoyed this post Chris. For the record, I have no problem with the listenability of it. Let it be.

    The topic of geography is of tremendous interest to me and always has been. Not in an ‘affirming’ way, as the authenticity of the Book of Mormon was never in question for me, and I certainly didn’t need any physical evidence to add credibility to it. But in a way that adds texture to my already firm testimony. I enjoy having sounds and colours in my mind as I read. And the fact is that because I know the people of the Book of Mormon lived SOMEwhere, I simply cannot help but be interested in some possible ‘wheres’.

    Out of curiosity and in the spirit of fairness, I have given other geographic theories some investigative time and room in my brain, but in the end, it simply feels right to embrace the Mesoamerican candidate. For many many reasons, I have decided to stay with this one. At least until some very compelling, and at this time not yet revealed, evidence to the contrary appeals to my understanding. Another big factor in where I decide to remain in the debate, is that I have seen evidence of contention surrounding the topic, stemming from the heartland disciples and directed toward anyone else. To the point of being disrespectful. Even faith destroying instead of faith building. How does it seem right that arguments concerning a book of scripture would devolve into a contentious issue? That perspective suggests a hidden agenda. The other aspect that turned me off is the all-consuming devotion to it. … enough already.

    It has been a privilege of mine to visit many ruins in Mesoamerica over the years, and to read with interest – early accounts, and to make a personal study of numerous correlations between the gospel I believe in and the belief system of the ancient Mayan people. I have had personal witnesses over and over again that the church I belong to is NOT a 19th century church, but in fact was the church “these people once belonged to”. Because the people in the Americas were taught in the flesh by the resurrected Saviour, and because they lived the gospel He taught them, becoming a united and faithful people for many generations, it seems to me that we ought to find evidence of that entrenched-two-century-strong belief system among the remnants of their ancestors – wherever they might be. Keeping in mind that many centuries of apostasy lapsed between then and now, when Lucifer made good on his promise to buy up armies and reign with blood and horror on the earth. We know that the people in the Americas lived His gospel for two hundred years. Compare that to the people of old world where they came from, who did not ever fully embrace His teachings. Not for a single generation. There should be remnant evidence of that belief system, and in actual fact there is. So many aspects of it to even be numbered. That one could see and have witness of themselves. I have often thought “those who believe so fervently in the heartland theory have not visited the Mayan Ruins in Mesoamerica. And if they did, they did not open their eyes to see what is truly there.”

    But no one should take my word for it. Plan a trip to the Yucatan. Plan to visit some of the easiest ruins to access – Chitchen Itza and Tulum to start with. Do your homework and pre-book a reliable tour guide (no they are not all equal). Get many references before choosing one – it is important that you have a GOOD tour guide, who is honest and honorable, and informed, and up to date. It is worth the effort to find one.
    And then ‘feel’ for yourself, and see which direction you lean.

    Keep up the good work Chris. I always find your perspective good nourishment.

    Reply from Chris: Nicely put Cindy. It's important to remember, the geography of the Book of Mormon has not been revealed. It's reserved for the prophets to do so. One criticism that I have had with some organizations is to encourage members to "feel" anything. If one DOES feel anything, understand that such an experience would be very personal and sacred and should not be revealed to others or touted as "evidence" one way or another. Personally, I don't think the Lord would reveal such information to an individual unless they had earned such trust from Him that He know they will keep it to themselves. Otherwise, revealing such information to the world--or to any other person at all--is reserved for the President of the Church. The applies to any revelation or insight that is not currently Church doctrine.

    Thanks, Cindy, for your insight and testimony.

  • Jody

    May 13, 2018 6:33 am

    Thank you for taking the time to create such interesting and stimulating discussions. I’ve really enjoyed this podcast!!

  • Jonathan

    Jul 29, 2019 10:14 am

    Hello Chris,

    Im an avid Tennis shoes fan for 22 years now. Your books gave me my love for BoM geography and seeing the characters as the real people they are.
    I know that the BoM is true and don’t care where it happened as far as testimony goes. For some reason my desire to know seems to be a pinnacle and I mean I really want to know.

    I spent years looking into mesoamerica then the heartland, I skipped the Malay and Baha theories.
    A site I found had stated that the city of Nephi could have been sunken in the Caribbean.

    Then one day in January of 2013 i was really sick and laid up for about 2 weeks. I found this blog and read the whole thing.

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