24 March 2010

Geography of the Book of Mormon?

Hugh Nibley sums up my view of discussions about Book of Mormon geography: "[The Nephites] journeyed in the wilderness for many days [to get away from Laman and Lemuel]. We don't know how many many is. Book of Mormon geography is a waste of time. I wouldn't touch it with a forty-foot pole. Never have; it's not necessary. Some day we'll get more information, I suppose. Everybody has tried their hand at it. I don't know why; it doesn't make any difference." (Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon Part 1, 2004, Covenant Communications).

I know some, maybe even many LDS Church members, disagree with that sentiment but we do not know where in the Americas the Book of Mormon events took place. We can speculate all we want and say, "Well Joseph Smith [purportedly] said this" or "This narrow neck of land is the Panama isthmus or this particular area in modern Mexico or Guatemala or the Great Lakes region." Whatever; we do not know where the Book of Mormon events took place and speculating about them is a waste of time. Again, I know some disagree but I wanted to offer my opinion on the matter. Maybe we'll learn more in our lifetimes but for now there are much better things upon which to focus, like the basic doctrines of the gospel: faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion, and the Holy Ghost.

Do I have no intellectual curiosity about matters such as Book of Mormon geography? To the contrary, I find it a fascinating topic; fascinating but a waste of time. We simply do not know and even if we did, it is not important. Knowing just where King Benjamin was exactly when he gave his marvelous farewell address does nothing for our salvation but knowing, believing, and living what he taught does. I would love to know Book of Mormon geography - we have fairly compelling evidence of how and where Lehi and his family went after they left Jerusalem but after that? It's anyone's guess.

3 comments:

Anthony E. Larson said...

I'm with you and Nibley. BOM geography is a waste of time ... fascinating, but a waste of time nevertheless. Members need to devote that time and effort to understanding the book itself and its vital message. There is so much to be learned there that is systematically overlooked. In fact, this is true of all scripture and the entire restored gospel. In my opinion, we take all we have far too much for granted, never looking beyond the most obvious. The gospel is rich in message and meaning. But most of us seem content to gloss over it, taking little interest in looking deeper. BOM geography is only one symptom of a larger problem.

Michaela Stephens said...

I agree and disagree.

First, I don't think it is a waste of time to try to find out where Book of Mormon geography is, if it is backed up by scientific endeavor, like archeology and such. We need Mormon archeologists and what better work could they do? It's a difficult work, but a great exercise for increasing skill.

We have a yearning to know where for the same reason that people love to visit the Holy Land and take Bible tours. We want to gain a connection to the stories and people that we revere in the scriptures by being in the places they were. There is something faith-promoting about knowing you are walking where Jesus and the apostles once walked. (I've never had this experience myself, but I have heard from many people who have that this is the case.) The church has renovated the Joseph Smith farm and preserved the Sacred Grove and the Carthage Jail and many places in Nauvoo because we go to places where these events in the restoration occurred to try to gain a deeper connection with our heritage of faith.

It's no different with the Book of Mormon. We hunger to know where these things took place so that we can go there and try to feel the truth of the things we read more deeply.

When does Book of Mormon geography become a waste of time? To me, that happens when finding it turns into a way to prove or disprove the Book of Mormon. It also becomes a waste of time when it begins to exclude the study of the gospel and begins to neglect those important principles. And lastly, it is a waste of time when arguing over geography becomes a source of acrimony and hard feelings.

Jared said...

I agree with you Michaela (does that mean I agree and disagree with myself? Hmm.). The only problem (and why I still believe Book of Mormon geography is a waste of time, at least for me) is that we do not know where the events took place. We know where many of the Bible events took place. We know where most church history events took place but we have no idea where Book of Mormon events took place. We can guess and surmise and speculate but they really are just guesses. If we had a better idea, I think focusing on Book of Mormon geography would be worthwhile. But right now we do not know and I really do not think we ever will in this life; I could be wrong - hopefully I am - but there are too many other important things to learn from the Book of Mormon to place undue emphasis on Book of Mormon geography [I know I'm preaching to the choir in my reply to you Michaela].

Also, thank you Anthony for your comment.

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