Where did Book of Mormon events take place? Why haven’t we found evidence?
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A More Promising Land of Promise
The Book of Mormon is scripture entwined in a geographical setting. Three small groups of people reportedly migrated from the Middle East to a Land of Promise. Most events in the Book of Mormon occurred in the Land of Promise. To date, in spite of much dedicated searching, the land has not been convincingly located.
Some Mormons assure us that the geography and history of the Book of Mormon are of little or no importance. Possibly for them this is true. But for many millions on the planet, the Book of Mormon will remain a compilation of fairy tales from a make-believe land unless the Land of Promise is found.
Potential benefits to each of us extend far beyond mere knowledge of history and geography. The Prophet Mormon hid most of the gold plates in the Hill Ramah (Morm 6:6). Only a few were turned over to Moroni. To the best of our knowledge, Mormon’s gold plates remain hidden in the Hill Ramah. I found a Hill Mah on a current day map.
In the early days of the church, the Land of Promise was thought to extend throughout the entire American continents. (Introduction to the Book of Mormon (BofM)). America has a Land Southward which is nearly surrounded by water. It has a narrow neck of land (Panama area). It had ancient peoples and impressive ruins. And gold plates were found in a hill in upstate New York. So there were reasons for traditional thought, but were they decisive?
Based partly upon recorded times to walk from place to place, Mormon scholars have recently decided the Land of Promise was much smaller than the American continents (51, p. 8). This change in thinking by devoted brethren provides convincing evidence that the site was not revealed to early leaders by divine sources.
Well informed individuals have commented as indicated:
Coe, M.D.: No supporting evidence (for the BofM site) has been found in any New World evacuation (31, p. 69).*
Matheny, R. : The Book of Mormon has no place in the New World whatsoever. It seems like the items are out of time and place, in trying to put them into the New World (34, p. 214).
Smithsonian Institution: (Our) archaeologists see no direct connection between archaeology of the New World and the subject matter of the book (BofM) (54, p. 273).
Nibley, H. : Everything written so far by anthropologists or archaeologists about the Book of Mormon (geography) must be discounted... not because it did not exist, but because it has not yet been found (37, p. 244).
Sorenson reports that the Book of Mormon geography was not revealed to Joseph Smith . . . ‘nor did Joseph Smith claim inspiration on the matter.’ Ideas he later expressed about the location of events reported in the book apparently reflected his own best thinking (51, p. 1).
President Joseph F. Smith, Seventies President Anthony W. Ivins, and Apostle John A. Widtsoe were among later authorities who affirmed that the Church took no position on specific Book of Mormon locations. Elder Ivins cautioned: “There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles the question (of Book of Mormon geography)” (51, p. 4).
Sorenson adds: “... it becomes clear that Church authorities from the time of Joseph Smith to the present (1985) have come to no consensus, made no authoritative statement, and reported no definitive solution to the question of Book of Mormon geography” (51, p. 5).
Sorensen adds: “. . .the Church authorities have not settled for us any of the major issues concerning the setting of the Book of Mormon. We must search elsewhere for answers” (51, p. 5).
In Mormonism, at least in theory, each of us is encouraged to actively seek new knowledge. For example, we emphasize James 1:5. And we strive for the perfection exemplified by Jesus, as our role model. Hopefully I will be forgiven by our kind and loving Father in Heaven for doing my best in the quest for the lost Land of Promise and for Mormon’s gold plates.
Some think that the calamities which occurred at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion destroyed all evidence supporting Book of Mormon accounts. But much of the Book of Mormon was written after 34 A.D. (51, p. 45). Sorenson (Anthropologist, BYU) writes that the record (BofM) gives no justification for supposing that the form or nature of the land changed in any essentials despite the destruction. Nor is there reliable evidence from the earth sciences to lead us to suppose major changes took place (in Central America). Nothing we know prevents our placing most of the ancient places on today’s map (ibid.). This thinking for explaining the absence of Book of Mormon evidence in Mesoamerica is without merit. If Book of Mormon events occurred in Mesoamerica, evidence should still be there. None has been found. The notion that all supporting evidence in Meso was destroyed is apparently wrong.
The MESOAMERICAN HYPOTHESIS (Meso)
Of the many small sites in America that have been proposed, the most popular is apparently the Mesoamerican site favored by Sorenson (51). Meso has ruins dating to Book of Mormon times (as do many other places). It has a topography which can be thought to match descriptions in the Book of Mormon (as do other places). It has impressive structures of stone (but the BofM makes no reference to the use of stone for construction). It has a form of writing inscribed in stone (of no apparent connection to Mideast writing). Nevertheless, Meso is a place dear to the hearts of many devoted Mormon tourists and to the hearts of many whose salaries depend upon favoring a site for Book of Mormon events in America. See Map F.
In science, if an accepted hypothesis appears to be flawed, a better hypothesis is actively sought. In presenting a new hypothesis for consideration by others, a comparison is usually made between it and the accepted hypothesis.
Actually there is Mormon scripture which encourages each of us to gain a knowledge of history and of countries and of kingdoms and all this for the salvation of Zion (D&C 93:53; D&C 130:18-19). Geography is not excluded from either. And we are assured that many great and important things are yet to be found (Ninth Article of Faith). I have accordingly tried, with the best of intentions, to try to locate the Land of Promise of the Book of Mormon people.
The MALAY HYPOTHESIS (Mala)
According to Mala, three small groups of people migrated from the Middle East to the Malay Peninsula (in Southeast Asia). The many events recorded in the Book of Mormon occurred there in their Malay Land of Promise. But, owing to much dissension and frightful warfare, many small groups ‘hived off’ the peninsula and migrated elsewhere. Some went to isles of the Pacific Ocean (the uninhabited ‘Quarter’)* and some eventually reached the western shores of the Americas (40). Thus the Malay Hypothesis proposes that there are many lands of promise including some in the Americas. Jews were to be established in ALL THEIR LANDS OF PROMISE (2Ne 9:2). But the principal setting for most Book of Mormon events was on the Malay Peninsula.
* Jaredites were to go to a land where man had never been (Eth 2:5). In BofM times many Pacific Isles were uninhabited. The Pacific Region is still sometimes referred to as “The Pacific Quarter.”
Note that Mala does not rule out America as a Land of Promise! America may have had many Lands of Promise! As did many exotic isles of Polynesia. A crucial factor in creating a Land of Promise is the attitude and behavior of the inhabitants. Small and dry and desolate, Canaan was a Land of Promise as was tiny Jackson County Missouri (D&C 57:2). The Book of Mormon similarly refers to going from one Promised Land to another (Alma 37:45).
After many years of study, I have become convinced that the Land of Promise described in the Book of Mormon was located on the Malay Peninsula. In accord with the scientific method, the Malay Hypothesis (Mala) will be compared with the currently most popular Mesoamerican Hypothesis (Meso). The objective is to find out WHAT IS RIGHT, not WHO IS RIGHT.
Like other Mormons, I am convinced that the Book of Mormon is a genuine account of events which occurred in a Land of Promise.
Even one advantage of one hypothesis over the other can be enough to decide which is most likely to be correct. To the best of my knowledge, with regard to ALL available evidence Mala is as good or better than Meso. Each reader is invited to open-mindedly consider the evidence provided and to ponder and pray and to decide for himself.
SELECTED ARGUMENTS FOR THE MALAY HYPOTHESIS
5. SOUTHERN OCEAN. South of Asia there is an ocean which extends from Arabia to the Malay Peninsula. Joseph Smith is quoted as saying, “Lehi went down to the Red Sea to the great southern ocean and crossed over to this land,” (meaning the Malay Peninsula?). (Smith, J.F. (1938) Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Deseret Book. S.L.C. pg. 267). Maps A and B show this great southern ocean, south of Asia.
6. GYRES. Coupled ocean currents (gyres) extend along the southern coast of Asia as far east as the Malay Peninsula (21, Vol. 20, p. 180). The gyres are wind-driven and change direction in accord with seasonal winds. The Jaredite barges were sometimes submerged (Eth 6:7) so they could have had no sails. As their only means of propulsion, other than rowing, they could have drifted to the Malay Peninsula but not from there eastward across the Pacific: there are no suitable currents (See Map B).
7. COAST HUGGING. In order for the eight Jaredite barges to avoid becoming separated and lost, they would have had to go ashore each night. Frequent landings would also have been required to obtain requisite food, feed, and potable water. A continuous coast line extends from southern Arabia to the Malay Peninsula but not to America (See Map B).
13. PENINSULAR SETTING. After enough time to do a little exploring, the Lehites realized that they had landed on a peninsula (Alma 22:32). Their Land of Promise was nearly surrounded by water and was connected by a narrow neck of land to a mainland. The Malay Peninsula provides an excellent setting. Guatemala fails. America has no suitable peninsula to match the accounts. See Map G.
14. ORIENTATION. The peninsula described in Alma 22:32 was clearly oriented north-south with principal lands appropriately named Land Northward and Land Southward. The Malay Peninsula matches the account very well. In Mesoamerica, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec extends east-west. It couldn’t be oriented worse.
25. NARROW NECK OF LAND. At the Desolation-Bountiful border, the neck of land was so narrow that a Nephite (a representative person?) could cross it in 1.5 days (Alma 22:31-32). With its Isthmus of Kra, only about 26 miles across, Mala provides an excellent setting. In the dense vegetation of tropical forests it is far more likely that a Nephite would travel 26 miles in 1.5 days (distance across Kra) than 130 miles in 1.5 days (distance across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec).* The evidence supports Mala.
28. DEFENSE. By occupying Bountiful, the Nephite army ‘hemmed in’ the Lamanite army south of them (Alma 22:33). With its narrow neck of land extending from sea to sea, Mala provides an excellent setting. In Meso, with Nephite troops gathered into the proposed tiny Bountiful located in the midst of a broad land, the northward movement of the Lamanite soldiers would have been FACILITATED and even encouraged! They could have simply walked around the tiny Bountiful containing the Nephite soldiers.
29. INLET OF THE SEA. At the Bountiful--Desolation border, there is a place where the sea divides the land (Eth 10:20). The wording suggests an inlet of the sea. Hagoth apparently built ships in this sheltered inlet and launched them into the West Sea (Alma 63:5-7). Mala has an appropriate inlet in precisely the correct location. In Meso, neither Bountiful or Desolation extend to the ‘West’ Sea and, to make matters worse, there is no suitable inlet (Maps F and G).
30. FOUR SEAS. On a map of the Malay Peninsula note that the narrow neck of land (Bountiful) was part of the Land Northward for Nephites in Zarahemla. In migrating north from Zarahemla, the Nephites spread to all four seas. . . from the sea south to the sea north and from the sea west to the sea east (Hela 3:8). Owing to an irregularity in the narrow neck of land (See Map G), Mala intriguingly provides an appropriate setting. The proposed Bountiful in Meso, conversely, has no seas at all (See Map F).
35. ANIMALS FOR FOOD. The Jaredites had all manner of cattle (beef?), oxen, cows (milk?), sheep, swine, and goats (Eth 9:18). These were all domesticated animals in the Old World during Book of Mormon times and, to the best of my knowledge, they were in Southeast Asia. Larson reports that no evidence of these animals, in any form, dating to BofM times has been found in America (31, p. 246). This includes ceramic representation, skeletal remains, mural art, scultures or any other form.
38. INSPIRED TRANSLATION. In a valiant attempt to accomodate the serious animal problems in the Book of Mormon, Sorenson (51, p. 299) has suggested that the names were mis-translated by Joseph Smith. e.g., maybe the term ‘horse’ really means ‘deer’ and maybe ‘swine’ really means ‘peccaries,’ etc. (ibid.). Well, if farm boy, Joseph Smith, had trouble translating (with divine assistance) an Egyption symbol representing an animal, then I shudder to think of errors introduced when he tried to translate esoteric religious terms from symbols. Thank heaven, Mala allows us to interpret most, if not all, terms literally. We need to have confidence in a scripture meaning what it says.
39. HONEY BEES. The Jaredites took swarms of honey bees with them in their travels (Eth 2:3). And later reference is made to them in the Book of Mormon (BofM Index). This creates a major problem for Meso. The four species of honey bees are indigenous to the Old World (21, p. 6; 36); three of them are confined to Asia. Prior to 1500 A.D., ‘there were no honey bees in the New World’ (56, p. 387). Mason (an early European explorer in S.E. Asia) intriguingly reports finding several species of natural bees in the Burma area from which a considerable amount of honey was produced (33, p. 379) (Encyclopedia Britannica 21, 6, 36).
40. BISON. Bison ranged southward through Mesoamerica (45, p. 32-33). They were the source of much essential food, shelter, and clothing for native Americans. Drums and tepees were made from their skins. Dances and important ceremonies were performed in which bison were worshipped. The bison was the glorified hero in songs and myth (ibid.). Surely then, bison would have been mentioned in the Book of Mormon if the Land of Promise had been in Meso. In complete accord with Mala, they are not mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
45. AMERICAN ANIMALS FOR FOOD. To make matters worse for Meso, many New World animals which WERE very valuable food items in MesoAmerica ARE NOT mentioned in the Book of Mormon. They include: turkey, duck, quail, pheasant, partridge, dove, hares, rabbits, rodents (paca and agouti) and guinea pigs (51, p. 292). The large American game animals are not mentioned either. This serious lack of very important evidence is supportive of hypotheses other than American (such as Mala).
46. ANIMAL MATTERS. Without the domesticated animals listed above, related items in the Book of Mormon are out of place in Mesoamerica. They include: milk (2 Ne 9:50), flocks (2 Ne 5:11, Msh 2:3), herds (Enos 1:21; Hela 6:12), firstlings of flocks for sacrifice (Msh 2:3), and milk and honey (2 Ne 26:25). The Malay Peninsula provides a far better setting than does Mesoamerica.
54. NEW WORLD PLANTS. Some of the most choice plants on earth were indigenous to the New World. They include: potato, sweet potato, cassava, lima bean, tomato, pepper, squash, pumpkin, peanut, avocado, and cacao (28, p. 306). Tobacco for all-important peace pipes could be included. Lack of reference to any of them in the Book of Mormon raises doubts about American hypotheses. Appropriately, they were not grown in ancient Southeast Asia.
60. STONE CONSTRUCTION. Early Mormons may have been too eager in accepting the stone ziggurats of Mesoamerica as evidence for Book of Mormon peoples. Actually, there is no reference to stone construction in the Book of Mormon at all. So the majestic ruins represent an anomaly for Meso. The Malay Peninsula, with minimal stone ruins, provides a better setting for Book of Mormon accounts.
Nephites lived in the Land of Promise for about 1,000 years and Jaredites for possibly 3,000 years. It seems highly unlikely that they lived in Mesoamerica since not even one identifying name has been found there (compared to the many which have been found in Southeast Asia).
Of interest is the fact that Nephites and Mulekites had trouble communicating after about 300 years being separated in the Land of Promise. Hopefully the reader will keep this name changing in mind in considering the following sections. No name has been found in Central America in a reasonable location which matches Book of Mormon places.
64. NAMES AND PLACES. Many names in appropriate places have been found in ancient Israel.Biblical names in the proper locations help significantly in authenticating Biblical accounts (Refer to the Bible Dictionary). In a comparable situation, many should have been found in the Land of Promise. Yet, Larson reports that not even one has been found in Central America (31, p. 211). Names from the Malay area are provided for your consideration. Please note that all are located in reasonable locations! Refer to Maps D and G and to Clark (13) on the pages indicated in the following sections:
68. KUANTAN (Morianton?) is a city north and east of Maran on the eastern seashore (Alma 50:25; 51:26). After overcoming the fortified city of Moroni, Amalickiah led the Lamanite forces northward, taking other cities including Morianton (Alma 51:26). The location matches the Book of Mormon account.
69. MULEK (Puteh?). The forces of Amalickiah continued northward, taking possession of other cities including Mulek (Alma 51:26). But he did not take the city of Bountiful (13, p. 32) which lay farther north. Note that the cities are aligned correctly on the Malay Peninsula and are a reasonable distance apart! See Alma 57:24-25, for example.
71. TANAH MERAH (Zarahemla?). Upstream from the city of Bountiful and in the capital part of the land, Zarahemla is located on the west side of the Sidon River (13, p. 44). Tanah Merah provides a good match for Book of Mormon accounts.
76. RAMAN (Laman?). Lamanites were usually in control of the narrow strip of coast land west of Hermounts (13, p. 44, 49, 61). In making raids on Nephite possessions in the land of Zarahemla, they sometimes went around the north end of this high mountain range (ibid.). Just north of the proposed Hermounts in Malaysia there is a city of Raman.
77. LENYA (Lemuel?). In the final battles, Lamanites and Nephites fought in the southern end of the Land Northward (southern Burma in Mala). Lamanites were victorious (Morm 6). A city of Lenya (Lemuel?) is located there.
78. MARANG (Moroni?). Prior to the final battles of annihilation, many Nephites migrated to the Land Northward (Morm 6:2-5). At the southern border of Burma near the inlet of the West Sea there is a city of Marang (Moroni?). Cumorah was in the southern end of the Land Northward (See Map C).
79. MANORON (Moron?). Jaredites had an important city of Moron near the southern end of the Land Northward (Eth 7:6) (See Map C). In southern Burma today there is a city of Manoron (Moron?). Finding the city in the right location helps authenticate Mala. It also provides strong evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and for Joseph Smith being a genuine Prophet. No rational New Englander would concoct a name of Moron in an account he was claiming to be genuine history.
80. TENASSERIM (Teancum?). The city of Tenasserim is well enough located in southern Burma to be the Jaredite city of Teancum (Morm 4:3-5). It is only a few miles north of Manoron and near the western seashore (See Map G).
81. HILL MAW (Hill Ramah?). A few miles east of Manoron and near an eastern seashore there is a 4,000 foot high hill named Hill Maw! Nephites called it Hill Cumorah (Morm 6:4). Mormon hid all sacred records in the hill except for a few which he gave to his son, Moroni (Morm 6:6). (NOTE: If you refer to what the Angel Moroni said to Joseph, He said the goldplates are in the Hill. He did not name it. Mormon 6:6 says Mormon put the plates in the Hill Cumorah and gave some of them to his son Moroni.)
If found, these records could be the most important archaeological find in the history of mankind.
They could prove the Book of Mormon is true.
They could prove that Joseph Smith was a genuine prophet. I’ve done enough translating to know that no matter how hard you try, some of your own beliefs end up in the translation.
Joseph clearly thought that the events occurred in America. With his own bias in mind, the fact that the Malay Peninsula matches the Book of Mormon accounts so perfectly, clearly indicates that the Book of Mormon is true.
88. JESUS’ SERMON. Jesus spoke to people in the Land of Promise in 34 A.D. (3 Ne 9-27). As a Master Teacher, He would have used terms familiar to listeners. The following would have been unfamiliar Old World terms to Book of Mormon people in America (having left the Old World 634 years earlier according to Meso):
Hens and chicks (10:5,6); Swine (14:6); Synagogues (13:5; 18:32); Barns (13:26); Sheep (15:17) 16:1; 18:31); Bread and Wine (18:1; 20:5-8); Wheat (18:18); Wine (20:8); Lions (20:16; 21:12); Sheaves of Grain (20:18); Sword (20:20); Groves (Orchards?) (21:18); Chariots (21:14); Horses (21:14); Refined and purified Silver (24:3); Windows (glass?) (24:10).
No evidence of any of these items has been found in Mesoamerica. The evidence clearly favors Mala over Meso.
90. DESOLATION. The soils of southern Burma are highly weathered and low in essential nutrient ions. When cleared of trees and other vegetation and farmed, they can become very infertile within several years; they are then ‘desolate’ (59, p. 3). In Mala near the Hill Maw there is a land subject to becoming desolate (Eth 7:6). Conversely, the soils near the proposed Tuxtla Mountains in Meso are “exceedingly fertile because of rich volcanic soil” (51, p. 341). (Also see Hela 3:5,6) (See Map C).
91. CEMENT. A soft sticky substance that dries hard or stone-like; used especially for making things adhere (Webster). The lateritic soils of southern Burma contain weathered clays and reddish brown oxides of iron and aluminum which, when dried, become hard and impermeable and brick-like (Buol, S.W. et. al. (1989) Soil Genesis and Classification. Iowa State Univ. Press, Ames, Iowa. p. 289). So the Desolation of Mala would have provided an abundance of ‘cement.’ Conversely, the volcanic soils near the Tuxtla mountains (in Meso) remain granular and permeable upon being dried and/or heated.
96. SILK. Book of Mormon people had an abundance of silk (Eth 9:17; 10:24; Alma 1:29; 4:6). Silk arts were developed in China in 2640 B.C. Silk was an extremely valuable commodity but, it’s production remained an Oriental secret until the time of Justinian (527-565 A.D.) (16; 13, p. 201). I have seen no convincing evidence for silk, silkworms, mulberry plants or production secrets from ancient America. As a site which traded with China, the Malay Peninsula provides a far more likely setting for an abundance of silk than does Mesoamerica. See next Section 97.
102. MINING, METALLURGY AND METAL WORKING. Both the Jaredites and the Nephites made all manner of metallic tools and weapons (Jar 1:8; Eth 10:25-27). Supporting evidence in prehistoric times for the Malay Hypothesis is provided by Higham (27). It includes: crucibles, casting, molds, implements (p. 102), copper and tin ingots (p. 117); mining pits for copper (p. 147); iron spear blade and knife (p. 156); spears, axes (p. 168); bronze sickle (p. 181); iron hoe, arrowheads, chisels, knives (p. 204). Larson reports that no evidence of any of these items has been found in Mesoamerica (24, p. 256).
108. MORONI. In frightful battles the Nephites were nearly annihilated about 400 A.D. (Morm 4:19). Moroni and other survivors were fleeing for their lives (Morm 4:22; 5:7). Amazingly, scholars inform us that about 400 A.D. Madagascar was settled by people from Southeast Asia (8, p. 14). Of great interest is the existence of a city of Morondava on Madagascar and a city of Moroni on an off-shore island! At that time they also named an island Cumoros. There is scientific proof that peoples came from Malaysia (400 AD) at the time of the last battles, with plants, animals, beliefs, etc! The accounts provide very convincing support for Mala. Meso has no way to accomodate this evidence.