Interpreter Peer Reviewed

Interpreter Peer Reviewed

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

BMAF criticism-my response

Although this didn't appear in the Interpreter, so far as I know, it did show up on the BMAF blog. BMAF is a division of Book of Mormon Central, which is a front for the AAF (Ancient America Foundation). They're all Mesoamerican advocates, so the names and organizations are distinctions without a difference.

Here, one of the charter members of the Council of Springville offers his review of Moroni's America. I normally refrain from naming names, but it's impossible to post his article and my peer-review comments without including his name, which is Joe. Joe's a great guy. I like him a lot. We just agree to disagree, and I enjoy his comments in a friendly matter, which I trust he does the same.

Overall, I found the paper a reiteration of everything I've seen in the past from the Mesoamerican proponents; namely, an insistence on a particular interpretation of the text supported by such adverbs as clearly, obviously, etc., combined with a straw man argument against positions I haven't taken.

Here it is, with my "peer-review" comments:

Response to Jonathan Neville’s Two Books: Moroni’s America: The North American Setting for the Book of Mormon and Letter VII

Copyright © 2016 by Joe V. Andersen
[First, my thanks to Joe for all the time he spent analyzing and reviewing Moroni’s America. I suppose I should also thank the Meso club known as BMAF—a division of the supposedly neutral Book of Mormon Central, itself a front for the Meso club known as Ancient America Foundation—for posting it on the BMAF.org site. Any publicity is good publicity, and I want more people to know about the alternatives to the Meso theory. That said, I caution readers that Joe has set up a straw man argument. He misrepresents what I wrote and my basic argument about Letter VII.]

Jonathan Neville in his new book, Moroni’s America: The North American Setting for the Book of Mormon,[i] erroneously claims that Mesoamericanists look under the wrong light of the 1842 articles in the Times and Seasons for their light and knowledge of the geography of the Book of Mormon. [Not sure why this is erroneous. Most Meso books include these articles as support, if not the primary origin of the Meso theory, and some Meso LDS scholars continue to use the articles in their presentations today.] He proposes, “When we read the Book of Mormon under the light Joseph [Smith] and Oliver [Cowdery] provided, we see it in a completely new way” (p. xi). Neville further states, among other things, that we need modern revelation to match real-world locations with Book of Mormon locations (p. 11). [Agreed.] To support his thinking, he relies heavily upon his proposal that Oliver Cowdery received revelation to the effect that the location of the Hill Cumorah in New York is the location of the final battles of the Book of Mormon people. [Except I don’t propose Oliver received revelation. While we don’t have a record that he or Joseph received revelation specifically about the battles on the west side of the hill in New York, that doesn’t mean they didn’t receive revelation. But it doesn’t matter whether they did or not receive such a revelation because they visited Mormon’s record repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York.] He cites Cowdery’s Letter No. VII: Oliver Cowdery’s Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah[ii] in an attempt to show that Cowdery received revelation about the Hill Cumorah’s location in Palmyra, New York, which he claims is the same hill Ramah/Cumorah described in the Book of Mormon. [I’m not attempting to show Oliver received revelation. This is a red herring argument.]

Neville makes the following foundational statements at the beginning of Moroni’s America:[iii]

·         “What we need is a reliable starting point—a reliable pin in the map. That’s why we need modern revelation” (p. 11).
·         “Oliver Cowdery explicitly and unequivocally located the hill Cumorah in New York. . .  I stick a . . . pin in the map in western New York” (p. 12; Letter VII, pp. 57–65).
·         “D&C 125:3 says, in part, ‘Let them build up a city unto my name upon the land opposite the city of Nauvoo, and let the name of Zarahemla be named upon it.’ This verse is not conclusive about geography, but it doesn’t need to be. The Lord named the site Zarahemla. I want to see if it fits so I stick a pin in eastern Iowa, along the Mississippi River across from Nauvoo [Montrose, Iowa]” (p. 12).
·         “There it is. Book of Mormon geography in a nutshell” (p. 12).

And that is his “modern revelation?” [Sure, I accept the D&C as modern revelation, and it refers to both Cumorah and Zarahemla.] His book contains myriads of “new ways” of justifying the North American setting for the Book of Mormon, claiming that when readers look at this new way (new revelation, see p. 13 referencing the ninth article of faith about future revelation) through the lenses of Joseph and Oliver, the following examples of some of the geographical facts are “revealed”:

·         That Joseph Smith was buried “in an ancient Nephite cemetery in Nauvoo across the river from Nauvoo” (see p. xi).
·         That Montrose, Iowa, located on the west side of the Mississippi across from Nauvoo, is the Book of Mormon city of Zarahemla (p. 12).
·         That “sea west in Alma 22:27 had to be the lower Mississippi River,” meaning south of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers (pp. 34 and 36).
·         That the west sea was also Lake Michigan (pp. 37, 189).
·         That the west sea was also Lake Erie (pp. 312–315).
·         “That head of the river is also where the river Sidon flows into the sea west” (p. 46).
·         That “perhaps the entire section from the Missouri to the Ohio River, is the head of Sidon” (p. 279). But more likely “head of Sidon . . . refers to a confluence of rivers [in this case the Illinois and Missouri]” (p. 46).
·         That Lake Ontario is the east sea (p. 265).
·         That the east sea is also the Atlantic Ocean (p. 36).
·         That the narrow strip of wilderness is the full length of the Ohio and Missouri rivers (p. 19), including the Mississippi between its confluence with the Ohio and Missouri rivers (p. 53).
  • That the east sea is also the Mississippi River/Sidon (see pp. 164–65) and that “Moroni had fortified the land of Jershon, and presumably the sea, or mighty river, it bordered” (p. 169. Thus, according to Neville, Jershon is located on the east side of Sidon/Mississippi (p. 169) and not near the east sea as required by the Book of Mormon.
·         That the terms “down” or “up” mean “simply moving with or against a river current” (p. 39).
·         That Jershon is located on the east side of Sidon/Mississippi and not near the east sea (p. 169), unless, as Neville claims, the east sea is also the Mississippi River/Sidon (see pp. 164–5) and “Moroni had fortified the land of Jershon, and presumably the sea, or mighty river, it bordered” (p. 169.
·         That Manti was located near Huntsville, Missouri, on the west side of Sidon/Mississippi (p. 143; 100 air miles from Zarahemla/Montrose and 250 miles from the Ohio and Mississippi confluence).
·         That Joseph Smith “could have” used the term “sea” for a “mighty river” (p. 34).
·         That “Mormon could have described it [the mighty river] as a sea” (p. 35).
·         That the Hill Cumorah in upstate New York is the original hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon (p. 12).
·         That to “march” could have involved “riding horses” or using “canoes or boats” (pp. 196–97).
·         That when Mormon carried his son Moroni to the land of Zarahemla, it was likely in “a boat, like a canoe” (p. 240).
·         That when Christ appeared at city Bountiful, He “may have appeared in the vicinity of Lake Ontario. Perhaps it was in the same place as the Kirtland temple” (p. 235).
·         That Chattanooga, Tennessee, was the location of the city of Nephi (p. 127).
·         That the Ohio River is the east sea—near the Mississippi where Antionum was located (pp. 169–70). Therefore, somehow the narrow strip of wilderness was also the east sea?
·         That when Zoram and his army crossed the Mississippi River going from Zarahemla to the head of Sidon to intercept the Lamanite army returning from capturing Nephites from the area of Ammonihah, “they could have waded, swam, or used boats. They could have even constructed a bridge” (p. 41).

There are many more “new things” that are “revealed” by this new way of looking through the lenses of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, provided, of course, that we look through the lenses the way that Neville does. [Of course, I don’t claim any of these listed items are revelation. These are simply conclusions that follow from the two pins in the map that I accept as revelation. That’s why we canonize scriptures.] His book is clearly not “clarification revelation” but semantic antics and elastic Chiastics. When the Mississippi River can at once be the river Sidon, the west sea, the east sea, and the narrow strip of wilderness—according to his “plausible interpretation” of the text of the Book of Mormon—then something is askew with this new “revelation” from Oliver Cowdery and Jonathan Neville. [Ha-ha, calm down, Joe. J The preceding sentence indicates that Joe either has not read carefully or is intentionally misleading his readers here. I’ll assume Joe just didn’t read carefully.] However, Neville did set up his own “cya” defense by implying that his book was not revelation. At page xi, he says, “I frame each element as a proposal or plausible interpretation. Feel free to agree or disagree. . . . Well-informed decisions tend to be better than uninformed decisions.”

Not only do I feel free to disagree but also I am compelled to disagree strongly with his new light of “plausible interpretive revelation.” [This is Joe’s term, not mine. I don’t think that term is even coherent. Revelation is not “plausible” or “implausible.” If that’s how we’re supposed to interpret the scriptures, why would we canonize them?] I submit that Zarahemla being located west of the Mississippi, and hence west of the west sea and across from Nauvoo, and that the Mississippi River being the river Sidon and the west sea are totally wrong and impossible if we stick to the literal text of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon describes nothing west of the west sea except more water, unless of course a sea is not a sea but is a river, the Mississippi. On page 164 (referring to Alma 27:22), Neville states, “The text changes the normal usage here; instead of a river, the people refer to the sea: ‘on the east by the sea.’” Incredible! But Neville has to twist meanings like this to justify the North American setting. I hope to make readers of this article and of the Book of Mormon better informed so they will be better able to see through the semantic and chiastic smokescreen created in Neville’s book, Moroni’s America. [It would help Joe’s readers if they can distinguish between Joe’s own interpretation and what I actually wrote. Coining a phrase such as “plausible interpretive revelation” is hardly illuminating.]

In responding to Neville’s book, subtitled The North American Setting for the Book of Mormon, I will not be doing so under the “light of the 1842 Times and Seasons articles” as claimed by Neville. I have never maintained that these articles are the basis of the New World geography of the Book of Mormon being located in Central America. [Fair enough, but if so, then Joe is in a minority among Meso proponents.] Rather, they are only indicators of what Joseph Smith probably believed prior to his death because he knew of them and because he never publicly or officially rejected of corrected those statements. [This inference is not supported by any actual evidence; why require Joseph to specifically reject or correct anonymous statements he had nothing to do with in the first place, that were far from his areas of focus, and that no one could have taken seriously anyway (except 20th century Meso scholars)?] The most important issue is, therefore, whether Joseph Smith—or any President of the Church thereafter—has received, by revelation, knowledge of the location of the geography of the Book of Mormon. If it is by revelation, then there should be no disagreement, at least for the main body of the Church, including its entire leadership. [I agree with this.] If the Prophet and the Quorum of the Twelve cannot declare that Joseph Smith or any other prophet has received a definitive revelation about the location of the Book of Mormon, then such revelation has not happened. [I don’t follow this. This is a strange requirement to impose on Church leaders. First, though, consider that Oliver Cowdery was the Assistant President of the Church when he wrote Letter VII. Joseph was the President when he assisted and had the letter copied into his own history as part of his story. To retroactively reject their clear statement because they didn’t claim a separate revelation on the question is irrational. Second, Oliver told several people about the visit to Mormon’s record repository in the hill. Brigham Young related it in Journal of Discourses specifically so it would not be forgotten. Why impose a requirement of a formal recorded revelation on Joseph and Oliver when they had visited the very place Mormon mentioned in Mormon 6:6? Third, we can agree that the Prophet and Q12 have not officially declared that Cumorah is in New York, but JFS, as President of Q12, reaffirmed it. If President Nelson reaffirmed it today, would Joe and the other Meso advocates continue to reject it? Why should Church leaders reiterate what a previous President of the Q12 has said?]

The very facts of the existence of Neville’s books, of the many Central American books and theories, and of over a hundred other models and theories of its geography are evidence that its geography has never been revealed, and it surely is not revealed by the Lord in Neville’s books. [Of course. The only thing that was established during Joseph’s lifetime was the site of Cumorah. From there, any number of possibilities exist, ranging from a local New York setting, all the way to a hemispheric model. The only possibility excluded is that Cumorah is anywhere but in New York.] Let us not confuse revelation from the Lord through proper channels with personal insights, beliefs, and discoveries. It is the light of the Book of Mormon that first, last, and always must shine through. The Book of Mormon sheds its own light on its own geography. Let us stick to the plain meaning of the words of the text. [This is an ironic statement from Joe. I made it plain I framed each element as a proposal or plausible interpretation. Joe’s the one who coined the phrase “plausible interpretive revelation.” So Joe is really arguing with himself here.]

Rather than address every issue raised by Neville in his book, I will concentrate on the following issues:

1.      Definitions of such words as “sea,” “wilderness,” and “river,” as used by Nephi and confirmed by known historical areas as described within the Book of Mormon, should be the basis for how these words are used throughout the Book of Mormon.

2.      Was the location of the geography of the Book of Mormon received by revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, or were his statements based on his beliefs at the time?

3.      Does the text of the Book of Mormon control and trump all other geographical statements?

4.      How does a reader determine the location of the city of Zarahemla from the text of the Book of Mormon? Or is it possible for a reader to know for certain where the city of Zarahemla could not have been located?

5.      Was the Mississippi River fordable on foot (a) between Nauvoo, Illinois and Montrose, Iowa? (b) near its head—the confluence of the Ohio with the Mississippi, according to Neville, as required by Alma 43 and 44? and (c) “away up beyond Manti” as discussed in Alma 16:6–7?

6.        Was the narrow strip of wilderness that extended “from the east sea to the west sea” a series of rivers—the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers? Or was it a series of mountains and other terrestrial features?[1]

Joseph Smith stated (1) that the Book of Mormon “was the most correct of any book on earth”[iv] [just to be clear, although I agree with the idea, this is actually Wilford Woodruff’s summary of a day’s teachings, not a direct quotation, and of course the statement doesn’t state or imply that the Book of Mormon is perfect, as even Moroni acknowledged.] and (2) “that it says what it means and means what it says.” [v] [The footnote gives an obscure reference, but presumably it refers to the essay titled “Latter Day Saints,” attributed to Joseph Smith, which includes this sentence: “Believing the Bible to say what it means and mean what it says.”] Surely it was not translated by revelation so that only “scholars” could understand it. [Definitely! Yet Joe participated in the conclave I call the Council of Springville, which was convened so scholars could interpret the difficult passages.] It shouldn’t take intricate chiastic structures—although they are fascinating and helpful—to understand it. It was translated into the English language by Joseph Smith so that unsophisticated readers could understand it. [Hmm, how many “unsophisticated readers” can understand Isaiah? Or even the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon? It is the Hebrew parallelisms that are evidence of its antiquity. That, and the lack of punctuation in the original text. The addition of punctuation and the division into chapter and verse, have caused lots of confusion about meaning. The Hebrew parallel structure is clearer, actually.]

Thus, the Book of Mormon, including its geography, should be able to be understood by even the ordinary, reasonable reader by simply (1) understanding the words used in the Book of Mormon in their most common and ordinary way—e.g., a sea is a sea not a river, [Joe is now arguing that the King James Version (KJV) is not understandable, yet the Book of Mormon translation uses the KJV] and (2) by not making unreliable and unsupportable assumptions—like the Mississippi River is the river Sidon, Lehi landed in South America, the intended interpretation of Alma 22:32 is “from the east sea to the west sea,” or the hill Cumorah in upstate new York is the same hill as the Jaredite hill Ramah—and then, come hell or high water, making all other geographic indicators in the Book of Mormon fit those predetermined assumptions. [This is a fascinating insight into Joe’s approach. Oliver’s Letter VII statement of fact about Cumorah and Ramah is, according to Joe, merely an “unreliable and unsupportable assumption.” This is what anti-Mormons say about everything Oliver wrote.]

The Book of Mormon contains no deceptions. Mormon intended to mislead no one. He particularly desired his future Lamanite brethren to understand it. Mormon, Moroni, and Joseph Smith used words and language we can all understand. [True, just like the King James Version of the Bible. Everyone understands that perfectly. No need to analyze the text at all. Except if that’s the case, why don’t even the members of the Meso clubs BMAF and AAF agree with one another? Not to mention the untold Christian denominations that rely on the KJV.]

I. Defnitions within the Book of Mormon Itself

Because there are so many definitions and alternate definitions of words in the various dictionaries and because the difficult process of translating from one language to another is so fraught with issues in establishing a consistent meaning for words and phrases, I propose that the most reasonable method of identifying how Mormon, Nephi, Moroni, and other writers of the Book of Mormon used various words and phrases can best be obtained from seeing how these words and phrases were used within the context of a known historical background. [Sounds good.]
The most logical “known historical background” is associated with Lehi and his followers in the Old World. For example, Book of Mormon analysts [I think Joe means “scholars” such as those who participated in the Council of Springville, including Joe] have no disputations about Nephi’s meanings in 1 Nephi of such terms as “up,” “down,” “river,” “wilderness,” “sea,” “Bountiful,” “east,” “mountains,” etc. Readers can compare those meanings with the known geographical area from Jerusalem to the Red Sea and then down the east side of the Red Sea to Nahom and then east to the land Bountiful. The meanings of such terms in 1 Nephi will then give us indications of how those terms should be understood throughout the Book of Mormon. (All references in this section refer to 1 Nephi.) [Wait. I thought we were going to see how the words and phrases were used within the context of a known historical background, which I thought mean the KJV. Certainly the Old Testament at least, from Nephi’s perspective, but also the New Testament, from Joseph’s. After all, both are quoted extensively in the text. Now we’re limiting the meaning of the terms to how certain terms were used by Nephi on the Arabian peninsula? ]

Up/Down: Unless specifically identified otherwise, these words are always used in terms of elevation—for example, “up” to Jerusalem, elevation 2,200 feet, and “down” to the valley of Lemuel, near sea level (2:5, 3:9, 4:1). Thus, the Book of Mormon never indicates that “up” or “down” ever followed the flow of a river as proposed by Neville (pp. 39–40). [I agree that up or down refers to elevation; my point in the book is that over undulating terrain, the only way you can determine if you’re going up or down is by reference to running water. There are no mountains mentioned in the entire book of Alma, for example; how were people to know if they were going up or down except by reference to water?]

Wilderness: “Wilderness” is used to refer to areas that included deserts, forests, and mountains. Lehi departed from Jerusalem “into the wilderness” and “traveled in the wilderness in the borders which are nearer the Red Sea” (see 2:4–5). He even lived in the wilderness (7:5). Thus, “wilderness” is not defined as an uninhabited river as claimed by Neville (p. 52). The area between Jerusalem and Bountiful is an area that includes mostly mountains, even though the word “mountain” is used only one time until Bountiful. Historically, this entire area was sparsely inhabited with isolated settlements along the incense trail. “Wilderness” is never used to refer to a river as claimed by Neville (p. 19), although Lehi and his followers camped by the river Laman and crossed it on foot during their journey in the wilderness (16:12). [I pointed out in the book that the river I propose as the narrow strip of wilderness—the Ohio River—frequently runs dry in late summer (before dams/dikes) and therefore was a “strip of wilderness” exactly as described in the text; i.e., an uninhabited area. I’m not sure how they could have referred to a river as wilderness in the Arabian Peninsula; it would be like labeling a strip of water in the middle of the ocean as a river. When the entire area is a wilderness, you don’t have a narrow strip. But in North America along the Ohio River, the land is lush and productive—except for the riverbeds whether they are dry or full of water.]

Journey: “Journey” principally is associated with traveling on foot on land, and that is how it is used in describing Lehi’s “journey” in the wilderness from Jerusalem to land Bountiful. [The word merely means to travel. It originally meant a day’s travel, coming from the Old French, derived from Latin. It has nothing to do with land or water; you can “journey” from London to Paris, which involves crossing the English Channel. Obviously if you’re crossing the Arabian Peninsula, you’re not going to journey by water. But Paul took a journey Rome by boat (Romans 1:10), which is how he traveled to Greece as well, and he planned a journey into Spain (Romans 15:24).]
           
Travel: “Travel” means foot travel unless otherwise indicated. There is never an indication in the Book of Mormon that the Nephites or the Lamanites or any other –ites ever traveled by boat up or down a stream or river. [Several references to shipping, even though Mormon mentioned he couldn’t give an account of their shipping and their building of ships. I infer he took it for granted; i.e., he assumed everyone would know people traveled by rivers, as all ancient societies have.]

Sojourn: “Sojourn” means temporary residences between travels. Therefore, when the Book of Mormon says, “And thus . . . we did sojourn in the wilderness for the space of many years, yea even eight years in the wilderness” (17:3–4), it is talking about the time from Jerusalem when they first entered into the wilderness and sojourned to Bountiful (16:6, 13, 17, 33, and 17:1).

Sea: “Sea” is always used only in its primary definitional sense—a large body of sea water of ocean level and connected to an ocean. It is never confused with or identified as a river or a lake (18:8, 17:48, 17:5, 16:14, 2:5). [Of course, this is circular reasoning; if Mormon used the term to describe a mighty river, then he didn’t use it only for an ocean-level body of sea water. If KJV translates the Hebrew term for mighty river as sea, why couldn’t Joseph Smith? Nowhere does the text connect a “sea” with an “ocean” or say anything about sea water. I thought we were going to stick with the text.]

Seashore: “Seashore” always has reference to a sea and never a river or lake (17:6). For example, the followers of Lehi in the Old World did not dwell by the seashore of river Laman but “by the side of a river” (2:6). [So they were along a river and not at the sea. Not sure how this is relevant.]

Shore: “Shore” provides references to the Red Sea and not to a river or a lake (2:5). [Of course, the KJV refers to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and in acts 27:39, “they discovered a certain creek with a shore.”]
River: “River” refers to running water in a defined streambed that empties into a sea, such as the river of Laman (2:8–9). It is never referred to as a wilderness. However, sometimes it refers to being located within a landed wilderness. [Of course, Isaiah and Nephi refer to rivers being a wilderness (2 Ne. 7:2) and men going over dry shod (2 Nephi 21:15). If we think Nephi quoted relevant Isaiah verses, then why couldn’t these apply?]

East/eastward: “East” and “eastward” are always used as correct cardinal directions (17:1, 16:13). Therefore, Lehi and his followers knew and followed cardinal directions. [Okay, but the Meso rationale about a different system is not entirely irrational.]

Bountiful: “Bountiful” is described as a relatively small area bordering a sea with fertile lands between the sea and nearby mountains, which area contains fruit, honey, trees, and iron ore (17:5–16, 18:6). [Yes, but is it a proper noun or a description? The text doesn’t say. It could be either or both.]

Mountain: “Mountain” is used in its primary sense as in general, a mountain denotes an elevation higher and larger than a hill (16:30, 18:3, 17:7). The trail Lehi followed in the Old World is mostly within very large mountainous terrains. [Unless he
Near: “Near” means very close by (4:7).
All: “All” means the sum total of the specified unit as in “all the house of Ishmael” (7:22).
Borders: “Borders” means the edge of a described area (1:2–5, 1:2–8) and not like the dividing line between countries. [In the Old Testament, numerous borders are described, including the Jordan River, and Sidon in the north.]

The following is a synopsis of these terms as they are used by Nephi in 1 Nephi while they were in the Old World. Hopefully, it will help readers have a feeling for how these words are used throughout the Book of Mormon. Again, primary points of analysis here suggest plainly that the above words are clearly understood as they apply to the Old World. Clearly, they should have the same meanings when Lehi and his followers arrive in the New World: [Whenever you see the terms “plainly” or “clearly,” you know you’re reading a basic logical thinking error, because the argument relies solely on the author’s own definition of terms.]

Lehi took nothing with him save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness. He came down by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea, and he traveled in the borders which are nearer the Red Sea. When he had traveled three days in the wilderness, he pitched his tent in a valley by the side of a river of water. He called the name of the river, Laman, and it emptied into the Red Sea; and the valley was in the borders near the mouth thereof. Father saw that the river emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea. Nephi and my brethren took our journey in the wilderness with our tents to go up to the land of Jerusalem. I went forth and as I came near unto the house of Laban I beheld; he was drunken with wine. We took the plates of brass and the servant of Laban and departed into the wilderness and journeyed unto the tent of our father. The Lord did soften the heart of Ishmael, and also his household, insomuch that they took their journey with us down into the wilderness to the tent of our father. And all the house of Ishmael had come down unto the tent of my father.

We did take our tents and depart into the wilderness, across the river Laman. We traveled for the space of four days, nearly a south-southeast direction. After we had traveled for the space of many days, we did pitch our tents for the space of a time that we might again rest ourselves and obtain food for our families. I did go forth up into the top of the mountain, according to the directions which were given upon the ball. We did again take our journey, traveling nearly the same course as in the beginning, and after we had traveled for the space of many days we did pitch our tents again, that we might tarry for the space of a time. Ishmael died, and was buried in the place called Nahom.

We did again take our journey in the wilderness; and we did travel nearly east-ward from that time forth, and we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the wilderness.

And thus . . . we did sojourn for the space of many years, yea, even eight [total] years in the wilderness. And we did come to the land which we called Bountiful, because of its much fruit and also wild honey. And we beheld the sea, which we called Irreantum, which being interpreted, is many waters. And we did pitch our tents by the seashore. After I, Nephi, had been in the land Bountiful for the space of many days, the voice of the Lord came unto me saying: Arise and get thee into the mountain. I arose and went up into the mountain. And the Lord told me whither I should go to find ore that I might make tools. And they were angry with me and were desirous to throw me into the depths of the sea. (Synthesized from 1 Nephi.)

The entire area from Jerusalem to Bountiful was considered the wilderness in which they sojourned for the space of eight years. It consisted of pockets of dwelling places, mountains, rivers, and deserts, all of which can be confirmed when readers look at Google Earth of this area. [Of course, Joe here assumes he knows where Lehi traveled. Had he traveled along the coast, or inland of the mountains, where the Frankincense trail is, he would not be traveling near mountains but not through them.]

Neville claims that because no mention of mountains is made in the New World until in Helaman—and then mountainous references pertained only to the Gadianton robbers—there were no large mountains where the Nephites lived:

The absence of mountains suggests that when we’re searching for the setting of the Book of Mormon, we would look not for terrain dominated by tall, steep mountains, but instead for a place characterized by hills and rivers and valleys, with ample flat area suitable for growing crops. (p. 209)

It does not follow that because the word “mountain” was not mentioned that that meant there were no mountains or that they were only large hills. [True, as far as it goes; absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But in the context, the failure to mention mountains is significant. Notice that Nephi describes the entire journey from crossing the river Laman to Bountiful in only 37 verses (of which many have to do with him breaking the bow). Yet even in these 35 verses, he refers to mountains three times. Mountains are also significant in the Isaiah quotations. But in the New World, he never once mentions mountains. Nobody does in Mosiah all the way to the end of Alma, even though describe other natural features.] The word “mountain” is used only once in the sojourning of Lehi from Jerusalem to Bountiful, [but twice when they get to Bountiful] and then there is no indication of its size:

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did go forth up into the top of the mountain, according to the directions which were given upon the ball. (1 Nephi 16:30)


And yet the entire area from Jerusalem to and including Bountiful was totally involved with mountains. [Not if you follow the frankincense trail through the desert.] These were no small mountains like at Adam-ondi-Ahmon (elevation 270 feet; see p. 210). These were steep, tall, and rugged mountains. It was such a treacherous mountainous terrain that it required the Liahona to guide them through it. [Or to guide them through the desert and its blowing sands, which makes more sense.] Nahom was at an elevation of over 5,000 feet, and there were mountains in the area in excess of 7,000 feet. This mountainous terrain is never referred to by Nephi—with the one exception. Does that mean it was not mountainous or that they were only large hills along a river? Of course not! [A good example of the fallacy of the “plainly” argument—and the exclamation point doesn’t make it any stronger an argument. It’s pure guesswork that Lehi traveled through the mountains.]

The mountains and hills referred to in Helaman where the Gadianton robbers lived and from which they sallied forth were more likely similar to those along Lehi’s route to Bountiful. [More likely similar? The author in Helaman had never been to the Arabian peninsula. He had no basis for comparison. To people living in the Midwest, the mountains of Adam-ondi-Ahman are mountains. It’s a relative term, on a continuum with hills.] These were the mountains located between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi within the narrow strip of wilderness from where the robbers inflicted harm to both the Lamanites and Nephites as they sallied forth to take over the cities and lands of Nephi and Zarahemla.  [Here’s a fascinating interpolation. The “narrow strip of wilderness” is mentioned exactly once in the text, in Alma 22. It is never mentioned in connection with the robbers. Now does the text say the mountains separated the land of Zarahemla from the land of Nephi. Joe is just making this up.]

Here are some photos of the mountainous terrain along the route from Jerusalem to Bountiful, Oman:

Text Box: Shahara Bridge Near NahomText Box: rib, Yemen
Text Box: Near NahomText Box: Mountains east side of Aqaba

Text Box: Negev, route to red SeaText Box: untains and trees at Bountiful, Kharfout, Oman near Aqaba
Text Box: Sinai near AqabaText Box: Near Nahom, northern Yemen

Notice the descriptive language used in 3 Nephi 4:1 as Lehi and his followers coped with the mountainous terrain suggested by the preceding photos: [I don’t see anything in these photos that compares with the Americas except maybe the Chilean mountains. I don’t know how Joe explains how anyone could “sally forth” out of mountains such as these. Descending such mountains can hardly be characterized as a “brief outbreak” or “an action of rushing.”] 

And it came to pass that in the latter end of the eighteenth year those armies of robbers had prepared for battle, and began to come down and to sally forth from the hills, and out of the mountains, and the wilderness, and their strongholds, and their secret places, and began to take possession of the lands, both which were in the land south [of the narrow strip of wilderness] and which were in the land north [of the narrow strip of wilderness], and began to take possession of all the lands which had been deserted by the Nephites, [as well as the Lamanites (see 3 Nephi 3:14 and 3 Nephi 6:2)] and the cities which had been left desolate. (Emphasis added.)
Now notice how Neville describes that scene:
These mountains are habitable; the robbers dwell “upon” them in hiding places. Yet they are in close proximity to the Nephite communities. The robbers can “sally forth” out of them, a term that means a sudden rushing out, as from a hiding place. . . These mountains would have to be in proximity to rivers, yet also in an area that supports extensive agriculture. . . The description in the text implies something more like “large hills” than “the largest eminences on the globe.” (See p. 210.)
[Exactly. Unlike the mountains in Joe’s photos, those in the text were habitable. The term “sally forth” precludes any kind of tall, massive mountains like those Joe describes. Additional synonyms for “sally forth” include a jaunt, an outburst, a sortie. These are not what an army does from such huge mountains.]
These robbers were not “river pirates” hiding in caves (p. 210). These were not hills along the banks of a river but were large areas where armies had been training and living. [If we’re sticking with the text, the text does not say they were not along a river, and does not say they were “large areas where armies had been training.” The text does not say how many robbers there were.]
And there were so many of the robber armies that they were able to occupy the lands and the cities of the Nephites and the Lamanites (3 Nephi 3:14) [not sure what verse Joe meant to cite here, but v. 14 doesn’t say or imply this.] on both sides of the narrow strip of wilderness from whence the robbers had come (3 Nephi 3:17). [not sure what verse Joe meant to cite here, but v. 17 doesn’t say or imply this. Of course, nothing in 3 Nephi or Helaman mentions the narrow strip of wilderness.] These events were not happening from the Ohio/narrow-strip-of-water wilderness to Chattanooga, Tennessee—two hundred miles south and across the Tennessee River—to take over the city of Nephi! Nor were the robbers sallying forth from the Ohio—northwestward 250 miles—to take over the city of Zarahemla/Montrose! How much more illogical and invalid could Neville’s descriptions be worded? [ha-ha, yeah, had I written anything of the sort, I’d agree with Joe. But since it is Joe making up the narrow strip of wilderness in these verses, and since I’ve stuck with the text, I can’t respond to whatever it is Joe is imagining here.]
These mountains, first mentioned in Helaman 11:25 in the year 13 BC, were the same mountains mentioned after the destruction at Christ’s crucifixion. [This is interesting because no mountains are mentioned after the destruction.] That being the case, then they must have been the same mountains between the lands Zarahemla/Nephi that must have existed at the time when Mosiah I and those who followed him traveled through when they crossed the narrow strip of wilderness from Nephi and went down to the land of Zarahemla about 200 BC: [This is a series of cascading assumptions that have no basis in the text.]
And it came to pass that he did according as the Lord had commanded him. And they departed out of the land into the [narrow strip of] 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 [narrow strip of] wilderness until they came down into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla. (Omni 1:13; emphasis added)
[Those brackets are not mine, but Joe’s. He retranslates the text often, which is why he is confused when I stick with the actual text.]
They were not sailing down the Ohio River as Neville would have us believe:
When Mosiah left the land of Nephi, he went “down” into the land of Zarahemla. (Omni 1:13) This means he went down river. Zeniff came “up” out of the land of Zarahemla; i.e., he went upstream. (Mosiah7:9) (p. 40)
That is not what the text says. [I didn’t quote the text. I explained my interpretation that the only way you know you’re going up or down is by reference to running water.] Never are there any indications or questions in the New World about the use of these terms that are explained at the first of this section. For example, never is a sea confused with a river. A river is never deemed the major portion of a wilderness. The only means of travel or journeying mentioned was by foot. [I’ve already addressed this circular reasoning in the definition phase.] The New World Book of Mormon people generally never followed a river or used a river as the primary means of transportation—at least as far as described in the Book of Mormon itself. They knew and followed cardinal directions. [Actually, they rarely followed cardinal directions. They refer to “northward” and “southward,” just like the Old Testament. These are vague descriptions, of course; no one would know where to go if you told him/her to go “northward.” Such general directions make sense, though, when you’re referring to river traffic.] When Mosiah went down out of the wilderness into Zarahemla, he came down out of the same mountains that were later occupied by the Gadianton robbers. [Pure fabrication.] In the interest of honesty and full disclosure to his brethren, Mormon and Moroni would have told their readers of any differences in meaning of these and other words than those that the ordinary reader would understand. There is no deception in the Book of Mormon. [I agree. But it is misleading to add terms to the text that are not there.]
II. Joseph Smith’s Understanding of the Geography of the Book of Mormon

The geography of the Book of Mormon began September 21, 1823, when the Angel Moroni appeared to seventeen-year-old Joseph Smith and told him that the gold plates contained a history of “former inhabitants of this continent.”

There is no question but that by 1830, Joseph Smith and most members considered the term “this continent” to mean North and South America. [The “plainly” fallacy repeated. Here, it’s worse because no evidence is even offered.] The belief was that the land southward described in the Book of Mormon was South America; the narrow neck of land was the Isthmus of Panama; and the Jaredite land northward was North America, with the hill “Ramah” located near Joseph’s home—which later became known as the Hill Cumorah. [This was the belief of Orson Pratt and…. Not sure who else. Maybe Parley? Who else?] Joseph Smith never stated or maintained that this hemispheric understanding of the geography of the Book of Mormon was received by him by revelation. He never said that Moroni told him that Panama was the narrow neck of land or, for that matter, that the hill “Cumorah” was the same hill where the Jaredites were destroyed. [First, notice the fallacy here that, at most, Joe can say there are no extant records of Joseph stating a hemispheric understanding of the term “this continent.” But we know there were early records we don’t have, and no one took verbatim notes of everything Joseph said. Even the quotation Joe started this paper with—the “most correct book” quotation—is merely a summary of a days’ worth of instruction. Second, we don’t know that Joseph never told Oliver Cowdery that Moroni explained—or showed in a vision—that the New York hill was both Cumorah and Ramah. Most of the historical details in Oliver’s 8 letters could only have come from Joseph, and many of the details are unique to these letters; i.e., these letters are the only evidence we have of these events. If Joe’s argument is that we can only rely on what Joseph wrote in his own handwriting, we have a much bigger problem than what Oliver wrote.]

In his book, Letter VII,[vi] Neville quotes the entire letter from Oliver Cowdery, which is the basis for the initial belief by Joseph Smith and others that the Hill Cumorah in upstate New York was the area of the last battles of the Nephites and Lamanites and also of the Jaredites. [This is quite a claim, but it is contradicted by historical evidence. Joseph’s mother said Joseph referred to the hill as Cumorah even before he got the plates. Oliver referred to it as Cumorah during his 1830-31 missionary journey to the Lamanites. David Whitmer heard the term Cumorah before the Book of Mormon was even completely translated. So Oliver’s 1835 letter can hardly be the “basis for the initial belief by Joseph Smith” about Cumorah.] Oliver Cowdery did not claim that Moroni told him this fact. He did not claim that Moroni told Joseph Smith this fact either. Cowdery’s statements were clearly those that he personally believed in, and they were extrapolated from his understanding of his reading of the Book of Mormon—but not by revelation. [The “plainly” fallacy arises again. Oliver stated it was a fact that the battles took place in the valley west of Cumorah. He didn’t explain how he knew, but he did say Joseph helped him write this history. He was the Assistant President of the Church at the time. He’d been in the presence of John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, Moroni, and others. In a few months, he would be present when Moses, Elijah, Elias, and the Savior Himself appeared in the temple. But more relevant to this particular situation, he and Joseph had been in Mormon’s record repository in the hill. It wasn’t a question about needing a revelation.] In fact, Oliver Cowdery even declared that there was no current revelation about the Hill Cumorah being the place of those final battles:

Here may be seen, where once sunk to nought the pride and strength of two mighty nations, and here may be contemplated in solitude, while nothing but the faithful record of Mormon and Moroni is now extant to inform us of the fact, scenes of misery and distress. (See page 64 of Neville’s Letter VI: Oliver Cowdery’s Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah; emphasis added.)

[Who else could inform us of the fact besides Mormon and Moroni? They were the only two who kept the record. There were no other survivors besides Moroni.]
There is no claim to revelation here. Cowdery is clearly relying on his reading of the record and not on statements from Moroni or revelation from the Lord. [I need to change the description of the fallacy from “plainly” to “clearly,” since that’s the term Joe is using more frequently. Oliver is emphasizing that only Mormon and Moroni could have informed us of the fact that here may be seen, and here may be contemplated. Here is the hill Cumorah in New York.] And until about 1842, Joseph assented to the theory that the hill in upstate New York was the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon, and Joseph even proposed various possible Book of Mormon locations in conformity with this belief, most of which are set out in Moroni’s America. [Even under Joe’s theory that Joseph knew nothing, Joseph wasn’t assenting to a theory; he assented to what Oliver expressed stated was a fact. But more importantly, Joseph helped Oliver write these letters. He had them copied into his own history. And as I mentioned, the other historical evidence shows that Joseph knew about Cumorah in New York even before the Book of Mormon was published.]

The foundational “pin” that I propose and adhere to is that if something is received by revelation from the Lord, then it was, and still is, true and will be supported by our current Prophet in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And because the Isthmus of Panama has been proven that it could not have been the narrow neck of land—and Neville and Meldrum agree with this proposition—then Joseph Smith’s initial beliefs about the geography of the Book of Mormon were clearly not by revelation, regardless of any statements to the contrary made by anyone. [I don’t follow this at all. Joseph never said or implied that Panama was the narrow neck of land.] This conclusion, of course, must also include all geographical statements made by Oliver Cowdery, even if he was quoting the Prophet Joseph Smith himself.

The questions that must be answered are therefore the following: (1) Did Joseph Smith ever receive revelation that Panama was, or was not, the narrow neck of land? If so, when and where? (2) Did he ever receive revelation that Zarahemla was located in Guatemala? If so, when and where? (3) Did he ever receive revelation that the river Sidon was the Mississippi River? Or the river Grijalva? Or the river Usumacinta? If so, when and where? Did he ever receive revelation that the ancient city of Zarahemla was located near Montrose, Iowa? or Guatemala City (Kaminaljuyu)? or that the Hill Cumorah in New York was the same hill where the last battles of the Jaredites and Nephites/Lamanites were fought? If so, when and where?

[The test Joe establishes here would invalidate most of what Joseph Smith taught. We don’t even know when and where the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored. We don’t know when and where Joseph learned much, and may most, of the things he taught, including everything regarding the temple. Joe knows what Joseph’s mother said about Cumorah, as well as what David Whitmer said, both of which predated the publication of the Book of Mormon. And as I have mentioned already, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery visited Mormon’s record repository in the New York hill, so what more revelation would they need?]

Statements of belief are one thing. Revelation from the Lord through His authorized prophet is another.

Neville so much as admits on pages 321–323 that revelation as to the geography of the Book of Mormon has not been received. He cites statements from General Authorities as follows:

1.      According to Anthony W. Ivins, “The Church says we are just waiting until we discover the truth” [about the geography of the Book of Mormon]. [vii]

2.      James E. Talmage said, “I encourage and recommend all possible investigation, comparison and research [about Book of Mormon geography] . . . But our brethren who devote themselves to that kind of research should remember that they must speak with caution and not declare as demonstrated truths points that are not really proved.”[viii]

3.      John A. Widtsoe added, “Out of the studies of faithful Latter-day Saints may yet come a unity of opinion concerning Book of Mormon geography.”[ix]

4.      Anthony W. Ivins further declared, “Where was the land of Zarahemla? Where was the City of Zarahemla? . . . There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles [those questions].”[x]

[Notice that none of these men questioned the New York setting for Cumorah, which Joseph Fielding Smith reaffirmed as an Apostle and later as President of the Quorum of the Twelve. Beyond that one pin in the map, they have remained neutral. But they are always referring to the future when we will discover the truth and come to a unity of opinion. IMO, until we recognize the New York Cumorah—which, after all, is pretty basic—the rest will not happen.]

Until someone on behalf of the First Presidency of the Church can affirmatively state the answers to New World Book of Mormon geographic questions—with chapter and verse or by direct revelation through the current prophet—then it must be concluded that the answers must be in the negative and, therefore, the Prophet Joseph Smith never received revelation as to the geography of the Book of Mormon. Had he received such revelation, then there would be no conflict among believers as there is today. [This paragraph repeats the same logical fallacies Joe has already stated many times. What more could Joseph have done to establish the New York setting for Cumorah, for example? His scribe, the man who wrote the entire Book of Mormon, most of the Book of Moses, and the first detailed history of the Church, included the details about Cumorah. Oliver was the Assistant President of the Church at the time. Joseph helped Oliver write the letters, had his scribe copy them verbatim into his own history, and saw them published in the Messenger and Advocate, the Gospel Reflector, and the Times and Seasons. Letter VII was better established through repetition than most of the formal revelations. Joe makes a good point about conflict among believers, but not the one he thinks he makes. During Joseph’s lifetime, and during the lifetime of all of his contemporaries, there was never a doubt that Cumorah was in New York. The “conflict among believers” came only after RLDS scholars developed the two-Cumorah theory, and then LDS scholars picked it up and developed it over the objection of Joseph Fielding Smith. So to the extent there is “conflict among believers,” it can hardly be blamed on Joseph Smith not being clear.]

The conclusion follows, therefore, that all of Joseph Smith’s geographic statements must have been based upon his personal beliefs at the time the statements were made. What necessarily follows from this conclusion is that all geographic statements made by anyone, even to the current date, are based on personal beliefs and not on revelation.  [Neither conclusion follows because the initial premise is false.]

The Lord has not revealed the geographic location of the events of the Book of Mormon yet, undoubtedly for a wise purpose. The only exception to this is Moroni’s declaration that it took place “on this continent.” [Where do we first learn of Moroni’s declaration about “this continent?” It is in Joseph’s 1838 History. But long before that, Oliver Cowdery and W.W. Phelps were using the phrase to describe the Book of Mormon people. But the first detailed account of what Moroni told Joseph Smith is in Letter IV, first published in February 1835. Again, Joseph helped write these letters. Here’s what Letter IV says: “He [Moroni] then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigines of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham. He represented them as once being an enlightened and intelligent people, possessing a cerrect [correct] knowledge of the gospel, and the plan of restoration and redemption. He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place [Joseph’s home], and that it was our brother's privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain, and translate the same.” So the first explanation of Moroni’s instructions said the book was a history of the aborigines of this country, not this continent. During the early 1800s, the phrase “this continent” was used both for the North American continent, primarily meaning the U.S., and the “western continent,” or North and South America combined. But “this country” has never been used to refer to all of North and South America. Besides, Moroni told Joseph the record was “written and deposited” not far from his home. He didn’t say it was written thousands of miles away and then hauled up to the hill where it was deposited. If we’re going to use the “clearly” argument, it’s difficult to get much more clear than this.]

The prophecy about the new Jerusalem being located upon this land is not a geographical statement about where the Book of Mormon events took place but a prophecy about the future location of the New Jerusalem upon this continent. [That’s one interpretation, but everyone can decide whether that interpretation makes more sense than what Ether wrote and what Christ said when he visited the people after his resurrection.]

III. Does the Text Control All Conflicting Geographic Statements?

One objective of the response to that question is to suggest that all writers and students of the Book of Mormon interested in this subject should study the Book of Mormon without reliance on any person’s statements or beliefs in its geography and then should rely exclusively on the text and any corroborating archaeological, geographical, and geological evidence. [I can’t follow this statement. Let’s get the response to the question before determining what the objectives are. If this is one objective, what are the others?]
Even Rod Meldrum and Bruce Porter have stated the following:

·         “Anything that Church authorities—including Joseph Smith—have said about ‘Book of Mormon geography’ is irrelevant if it conflicts with what is in the Book of Mormon itself.”[xi]

·         “Joseph Smith stated that the scriptures ‘say what they mean and mean what they say.’”[xii]

In other words, if the Book of Mormon says “a sea,” it is a sea and not a river or a lake. [This circular reasoning begs the question. We all agree the text says “sea.” But what is a “sea” in this context? The text draws extensively from the KJV. How can we not consider the KJV in determining what the text means? The Book of Mormon authors themselves invoked the Old Testament, so we should be able to as well. Others can disagree, of course, but considering the KJV seems fundamental to me.] If it talks about crossing a river, then it means on foot unless otherwise stated as when Lehi, the Jaredites, and the Mulekites crossed the sea in vessels. [That’s purely speculation, and not very good speculation at that.] If it says “mountain,” it is more than just a large hill. [But “a large hill” is a definition of the term “mountain,” not only in common usage but in the scriptures themselves.] If it says “wilderness,” it is not a river. If Mormon meant “a river,” he would have said “a river.” [I’ve already gone over this one in detail.]

Some Book of Mormon analysts claim that Joseph Smith stated that Zarahemla was located at Montrose, Iowa, as proposed by Neville as one of his “revealed” foundational “pins” (see p. 12). Other analysts claim that Joseph Smith wrote the articles in the Times and Seasons wherein he stated that Zarahemla was located in Guatemala. Whether Joseph Smith actually made such statements is irrelevant because they are geographic in nature and hence not made by revelation.
[Wait a minute. Now we’re equating anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons with canonized scripture?] As noted, Anthony W. Ivins even declared that the location of the city of Zarahemla had not been revealed (p. 321). [This is not what Ivins said. He said “There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question.” As I wrote in Moroni’s America, D&C 125 is ambiguous. I used it as the basis for a hypothesis, that’s all. And, it turns out, it’s an ideal location for Zarahemla that makes the rest of the text fit. But I’ve never said it “definitely settles that question.”] And Oliver Cowdery said that “nothing but the faithful record of Mormon and Moroni is extant to inform us” of these geographic facts.[xiii] [Wow. That’s not at all what Oliver said.] The conflict is irreconcilable. Therefore, the location of the city must be determined not from any such statements but from the text itself, and then it must be corroborated by valid physical evidence.

[Look at this logic. First, Joe paraphrases Elder Ivins to say “the location of the city of Zarahemla had not been revealed.” But let’s take Joe’s paraphrase as accurate. Next Joe says that location “must be determined… from the text itself.” But the text is a revelation, and he just said the location had not been revealed. Therefore, by Joe’s own logic, the text cannot tell us the location of Zarahemla.

This is the kind of nonsense from Mesoamerican advocates that I have to continually deal with.

The whole point of looking at modern revelation—primarily the D&C, but also the Pearl of Great Price—is that the Book of Mormon alone does not reveal its setting. And yet, we have Joe and other Mesoamerican advocates insisting we can’t look at modern revelation. Instead, they insist we have to look at the text itself—right after telling us the text doesn’t reveal the setting. It’s difficult to imagine a more bankrupt framework than this—but all the Mesoamerican advocates do it. And that’s why this issue isn’t any closer to resolution than it was in the 1920s when this all started.

Let me say it again. Joe and all the other Mesoamerican advocates insist that we figure out the Book of Mormon geography from the text. But they also quote Church leaders to say the location hasn’t been revealed. If it hasn’t been revealed, then by definition it isn’t in the Book of Mormon.

This is why I call for a reassessment of what we do know. Joseph and Oliver said the Hill Cumorah was in New York. They didn’t claim revelation specifically on that, but why would they when they had visited Mormon’s repository in that hill? They had translated and written Mormon 6:6. It doesn’t take additional revelation to know that if you’ve been in the room that contained the records, and Mormon said he put them in the Hill Cumorah, that you’ve been in the Hill Cumorah.

The Mesoamerican argument is like saying that Joseph needed a revelation to know how much the plates weighed. He hefted them himself; he didn’t need Moroni to tell him how much they weighed, and he never claimed any such revelation.

In my view, the actual experience of visiting the repository on multiple occasions is far more credible than a revelation would have been anyway. As we’ve seen, anti-Mormons reject claims of revelation, and they reject the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, but they can’t reject the existence of the Book of Mormon. In like manner, Joseph and Oliver knew from personal experience that the Hill Cumorah was in New York. It was a reality that they made clear in Letter VII. That’s why Joseph had Oliver’s Letter VII republished and put in his history, so it would never be lost. That’s why no one disputed the location of Cumorah while Joseph was alive, and none of his contemporaries did, either. It was a known fact, and Brigham Young made a point of putting it in the Journal of Discourses so the Saints would never forget it.

But LDS scholars have rejected all of this in favor of the two-Cumorah theory.

I think this is a critical issue that every member of the Church ought to consider. We can’t have it both ways. Either Joseph and Oliver were reliable and dependable and correct about Cumorah, or modern LDS scholars are correct about Cumorah. In which case, the scholars better explain why we’re supposed to accept everything Oliver wrote about the early events in Church history except those few paragraphs from Letter VII.]

If one cannot affirmatively prove where Zarahemla was located, then does the Book of Mormon text give sufficient information to preclude specific areas from being Zarahemla? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” [Do I need to point out that Joe just said the location has not been revealed, but now he’s claiming it is revealed in the Book of Mormon?]

IV. What Are the Parameters, from the Text, to Locate Where the City of Zarahemla Was Located or Where It Could Not Have Been Located?

According to the Book of Mormon itself, the city of Zarahemla must be located as follows:

1.            West of the river Sidon (Alma 2:34; Alma 2:15).
2.            Northerly of the city/land of Nephi (Alma 22:24, 27, Alma 50:7).
3.            North of the land of Manti (Alma 17:1).
4.            North of the narrow strip of wilderness (Alma 22:27).
5.            Lower in elevation than the city of Nephi (Mosiah 28:1–7).
[I was fine up to here. The book of Mosiah never mentions the city of Zarahemla. Unless I’ve missed something, the city doesn’t show up until Alma 2. There’s a big difference between the land of Zarahemla and the city of Zarahemla that I usually don’t see recognized in this type of analysis. I agree that the land of Zarahemla is lower than the city of Nephi, but whether the city of Zarahemla is higher or lower, the text doesn’t say.]
6.            Northerly and lower in elevation than Gideon (Alma 62:7).
7.            Northerly and lower than Minon (Alma 2:24).
8.            Jershon and Antionum must be located east of Zarahemla and near the east sea (Alma 27:22, 31:3).
9.            Jershon must be located down in elevation and east from the area near Manti, and east from Zarahemla (Alma 27:26).
10.        The river Sidon must be fordable on foot near but south of the city of Zarahemla (Alma 2:27–34).
11.        The river Sidon must be easily fordable on foot by large armies near the head of Sidon, which head must be located south of Manti, and Manti must be located south of Zarahemla (Alma 43, 44).

Any proposed location for the city of Zarahemla must conform to all of these conditions. Neville’s model possibly complies with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and perhaps 6 and 7, but it definitely does not satisfy the requirements of 8, 9, 10, and 11. [Obviously, I disagree, as I made clear in the book. But reasonable people can disagree about all of these passages, and I’m fine with agreeing to disagree. I always welcome other interpretations, so long as we’re keeping Cumorah in New York.]

V. Was the Mississippi River Fordable on Foot?

One of the most significant features of Book of Mormon geography is the river Sidon. Thus, any model for Book of Mormon geography must reflect a major river.

As the proponents of the Heartland Model developed their Book of Mormon geography, they naturally realized the absolute necessity of identifying a river they could label as the river Sidon. In the setting for the Heartland Model, the territory from the Great Lakes on the north to the Gulf of Mexico on the south, the only possible candidate for the river Sidon was the Mississippi River, even though it flowed from north to south rather than south to north as had been stipulated for the river Sidon for the previous 170 years or so. [The idea of a south to north flowing river Sidon is a complete fallacy. It’s based on a series of assumptions, not on the text itself, as I’m sure Joe is about to demonstrate.]

Readers of Neville’s Moroni’s America should be prepared to deal with issues associated with the Mississippi as the Book of Mormon’s primary river, the Sidon. Mesoamericanists agree that Book of Mormon warfare accounts associated with the Sidon “paint a clear picture” of the Sidon as a relatively shallow river at certain points so the warring parties could cross it on foot. If the Mississippi is the Sidon, analysts should naturally expect that it could be crossed on foot during Book of Mormon times. But was the Mississippi fordable on foot? A careful examination of the Sidon content of the Book of Mormon in relation to the geography and topography of the Mississippi answers that question.

A. (No. 10 above) The river Sidon Must Be Fordable on Foot near, but South of, the City of Zarahemla (Alma 2:27–34).[xiv] (See my article at endnote 14.)

If the city of Zarahemla was located near Montrose, Iowa, as proposed by Neville and supported by other proponents of the Heartland Model, then the Mississippi River—their river Sidon—must have been fordable on foot across the Des Moines Rapids as claimed by Rod Meldrum and Jonathan Neville. Meldrum stated the following in 2015:

We also know that the river between Nauvoo and Zarahemla was shallow enough to allow crossing on foot both anciently and in the Nauvoo period, making this one of the most strategic locations in North America.[xv]

Neville agrees with Meldrum’s statement in an email sent to me on April 21, 2016: “Actually, the rapids here are the first place the River can be crossed on foot north of the Gulf of Mexico.”


There is no scientific or historical evidence to support this claim. No one has ever crossed the Mississippi on foot at the forty-five-hundred-feet-wide Des Moines rapids, [really? How could anyone know that no one has ever crossed on foot? I could have done it myself not long ago. You can cross in the winter, as the Saints did, when it is frozen. The average depth (before the dams and locks) was only about 2.4 feet. That’s average.] including especially the thousands of soldiers who would have crossed it and fought in it on foot if the Mississippi were the Sidon. Those outcomes are an impossibility as explained in my short article entitled, “Crossing the Mississippi River on Foot,” a copy of which is located at endnote14. If the Mississippi River between Nauvoo and Montrose, Iowa, was crossable on foot, then why did Brigham Young not cross it on foot when the Saints left Nauvoo? Why did the Mormon pioneers always ferry people and wagons across the Mississippi? [If the water is 2 feet deep, you’re not going to want to wade through it or drive wagons through it. The question is not the preferable way to cross, but whether it’s possible to cross on foot. It’s undoubtedly possible. The raids are 11 miles long, and historically, sometimes they were so shallow even canoes couldn’t navigate over them.] Or why did Brigham Young and the Saints wait until winter to cross the Mississippi on frozen ice when they first vacated Nauvoo? [You mean, when they crossed on foot?]

The Army Corps of Engineers made the following statement regarding the Des Moines Rapids:

The difficulty of navigation . . . lies not so much in the shallowness of the channel or the thread of the current as in its unevenness of bottom, insufficient width [of the otherwise navigable chains of channels within the rapids], tortuous direction, and great velocity. The influence of those features is exaggerated by cross-surface and under currents, and by east and west winds.[xvi]


Alma 2 and 3 discuss the battle between the Nephites and the Amlicite/Lamanite armies and their crossing of the river Sidon several times on foot. Without a doubt, contrary to what Neville claims on page 151 of Moroni’s America, the Amlicite/Lamanite army did not “follow the Nephites into” the Mississippi (Sidon) river near Montrose, Iowa, or near Gideon—or anywhere in the Mississippi River for that matter (see Alma 2:24–27). At page 151, Neville states the following:
Because the Lamanites “came upon” the Nephites as the Nephites were crossing the river, the Lamanites had to be behind the Nephites, following them into the river (emphasis added).
This is his personal definition and is not what the scripture states or means. [Ha-ha, everything we write about the scriptures is our own interpretation. Joe here claims he knows what Mormon meant, but then he offers a variety of non-exclusive connotations.] The synonyms for “come upon” as suggested in a thesaurus are “bump into,” “chance,” “encounter,” “meet,” and “come across,” none of which requires catching up from behind.[xvii]
Neville continues, “An interesting feature of the Mississippi River is the numerous islands that form in the channel. Here’s an example.” Neville then presents the following visual to his readers.

JVA Neville image 41 of Mississippi River.jpg

Following that visual, Neville says the following:

This section of the river, located just north of my proposed Gideon, is 2.5 miles wide at its widest point. What is now farmland to the east (right) of the current river is part of the historic channel, which is over five miles wide.

With this in mind, the description in Alma of a battle taking place while crossing the [Mississippi] river makes perfect sense. (See pages 151–53 of Moroni’s America.)

It makes perfect nonsense. Neville further stated in his email to me, “The Lamanite/Amlicite army was moving all night,” and “I think they were on the east side the entire time until the fight on the river.” [I didn’t realize our personal communications would be published on the Internet. Good to know. And a good warning to anyone who wants to engage with the Mesoamerican scholars.]

To Jonathan I say, “I am sorry but that analysis is, to use your word, ‘goofy.’” In this instance, that’s another way of reflecting the adjectives “unscholarly,” “illogical,” and “invalid” as I attempt to deal with his Mississippi River comments associated with pages 151–53 of Moroni’s America. Neville talks about the Mesoamericanists taking scriptures out of context and adding inferences that are not proper and so forth. However, his analysis in this instance is far more egregious than any he has cited of the Mesoamericanists. [I’m curious what criteria Joe uses to measure relative levels of egregiousness, but in this case, Joe insists these spies crossed the river twice, even though the text says nothing of the sort.] The Book of Mormon text absolutely does not say what he claims it means. And the events of Alma 2 absolutely could not have happened in the Mississippi River. [Okay, maybe I need to change the “clearly” fallacy to “absolutely” from now on.]

By his own admission in his email to me, he stated that the Des Moines “rapids here are the first place the River can be crossed on foot north of the Gulf of Mexico.” His proposed crossing of the Mississippi River, 2.5 miles north of his proposed Gideon, is located 23 miles south of the end of the rapids at Keokuk. Therefore, by his own admission, it is impossible to cross the Mississippi on foot, regardless of an island in the middle of it. Note also that there has never been an island or large sandbar in the middle of the Des Moines Rapids. Naturally, I recommend checking facts before making conclusions.  [The Des Moines Rapids are a permanent feature. The sandbars are periodic, and shift constantly. They are passable when the water level is low, but not normally. Again, it’s important to remember that today’s Mississippi is not the same river it was 2,000 years ago because of the dams, locks, and reservoirs. But as recently as July 2012, a 100-mile stretch of the North Platte River in Nebraska dried up. That same year, the Mississippi was 55 feet below what it had been the year before—and this is with all the Army Corps of Engineers projects. I’ve met people who said in their childhood, the Ohio River dried up enough you could walk across it, and the Ohio River is by far the biggest tributary to the lower Mississippi. So definitely, I recommend checking facts before making conclusions. J]

Neville further states the following on pages 152–53 (my comments are bracketed):

As I read this, Alma was crossing the river when the Lamanites attacked. The battle ensued on the river; i.e., on one of these islands in the middle of the river [the Book of Mormon does not say this]. Alma then cleared the west bank of the island [the Book of Mormon does not say this; it says “the bank which was [located] on the west of the river Sidon”—not west of an island] so his people could “have room to cross and contend with the [enemy] on the west side of the river” (Alma 2:34) This fits the text, which distinuishes beween “ground, or rather the bank, which was on the west of the river”—the ground Alma cleared—and the “west side of the river,” where Alma wanted to fight the battle. [This is Neville’s conjecture but not what the scripture says. How did the Lamanites/Amlicites ever get to the west bank of the Sidon ahead of Alma in the first place?] [The text doesn’t say they did.]

The scripture says “when they had all crossed the river Sidon,” which I take to mean all the combatants, not just all the Nephites. [Neville might believe this, but the scripture does not say it.] Alma wisely saw that he had to lure the Lamanites to the west side; [does not say this] the last thing he would want is the Lamanites and Amlicites to return where they came from. [Why? Alma would have wanted them to go home rather than fight them.] Once he got them on the west bank, he could prevent them from returning home. Instead, he scattered them on the west and north. [All this is so much conjecture and guessing. Why not stick to what Joseph’s translation says?] [Joe says this because I’ve called him out on his own additions to the text—such as the examples in this analysis we’ve seen already—but I’ve not added anything here. I’ve made inferences from the text, same as Joe and everyone else who reads the text. The description is ambiguous, as we would expect in an abridgment.]

Just imagine that! About forty thousand Nephites, Lamanites—being so numerous they could not be counted (Alma 2:35) [an imaginary number, of course]—and Amlicites all converging on foot that morning on an island in the middle of the Mississippi River and Alma “luring” Amlici and the Lamanites to the west side of the island—which did not exist in the rapids—so he could kill him and toss his body into the Mississippi River so that he could then climb upon the west bank of the river. Of course, he then had to help all the other combatant Lamanites out of the Mississippi River upon the west bank so he could then scatter them to the west and north to Hermounts! Neville should have written the Book of Mormon. His version is far more entertaining, and he apparently thinks he knows a lot more about the “facts” than Mormon did. Neville even knows where Alma wanted to fight the battle all along, not at Gideon, not on the island, but upon the west bank of the Mississippi—after they crossed the Mississippi and the island! The outcomes of Neville’s analysis are reflective of what he told me in his email about my explanations: “This is just goofy.” [Good to see Joe is emotionally involved here.]

And if Minon were located on the east side of the Mississippi 24 miles south of Gideon as claimed by Neville (153), what about all those fleeing farmers and their wives, children, and flocks. Did they also cross the 4,500 ft. wide Mississippi? On foot? And maybe even ahead of the Amlicites? Maybe the scouts did not have to tell Alma about the fleeing people from Minon because the people were fleeing ahead of the Lamanites and already had passed by Alma’s camp at Gideon. Why did Alma, instead of racing to beat the Amlicites to the city of Zarahemla, not stay in Gideon and, while his army was fresh, lay ambush against the Lamanites? The Amlicites would have been exhausted, having traveled and fought all the first day, fled twenty-four more miles to Minon by midnight, and then turned around and, during the night, marched back twenty-four miles to Gideon, according to Neville. Alma would have had a great tactical and strategic advantage. Why flee from them? Why not protect the fleeing farmers, wives, children, and flocks right there? Or another possibility, if the Lamanites/Amlicites were behind Alma by twenty-four miles, why did Alma not simply beat them to the river, cross the river, climb the west bank of the river, and then kill them as they attempted to climb out of the Mississippi?

What a bunch of “goofy” nonsense. Minon was located on the west side of river Sidon opposite Gideon. Let’s stick to the text of the Book of Mormon. And let’s stick to reality and the factual and historical impossibility of crossing the Mississippi on foot. [This is all entertaining, but the text never says Minon was on the west of the river. That’s Joe’s interpretation, which he arrives at by adding a parenthetical that Alma’s spies crossed the river twice and forgot to tell Alma.]

Therefore, the fact that the warring armies of Alma 2 were not able to have crossed the Mississippi on foot at the Des Moines Rapids results in the following outcomes: (1) the Mississippi River is not the river Sidon and (2) Montrose, Iowa, is not the city of Zarahemla. [If you want to believe no one has ever crossed the Mississippi on foot, and that’s the whole case, then we can demonstrate people have crossed it on foot. Is that really all Joe’s argument boils down to?]

B. (No. 11 above) The River Sidon Must Be Easily Fordable on Foot near Its Head as Required by Alma 43–44

[The rest of this paper is a series of interpretations of the text that I don’t agree with. The entire effort to attempt to figure out Book of Mormon geography from the text contradicts Joe’s basic thesis that the geography has never been revealed.

That’s why I consider Joe’s approach a fool’s errand. I think anyone who tries to determine a setting for the Book of Mormon without using at least the Cumorah pin in the map is wasting his/her time.

Without the pins in the map provided by modern revelation (or additional revelation from the Prophet or from currently unknown documents), resolution of Book of Mormon geography is literally impossible. No two people can independently come up with the same abstract map, simply because the text is too vague.

So not only does Joe’s effort contradict his own thesis, but it demonstrates the futility of trying to come up with an abstract map.

I invite anyone who is interested to consider Joe’s interpretation, as well as mine in Moroni’s America. I don’t recommend taking Joe’s word for what I’ve written, however; as I’ve shown, he misrepresents my positions. So read Joe’s, read mine, read anyone else’s you want. Then make up your own mind.]






[i]. Jonathan Neville, Moroni’s America: The North American Setting for the Book of Mormon (n.p.: Digital Legend, 2015), xi.

[ii]. Jonathan Neville, Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery’s Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah (n.p.: Digital Legend, 2015).

[iii]. Emphasis added. All page numbers in parentheses in this article refer to Moroni’s America unless otherwise noted, and all Book of Mormon quotations are shown in italics.

[iv]. “Introduction,” The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981).

[v]. Larry E. Dahl and Donald Q. Cannon, eds., Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), under “Scriptures.”

[vi]. Jonathan Neville, Letter VII (Salt Lake City: Digital Legend, 2016).

[vii]. Anthony W. Ivins, Conference Report, April 1929, 16; Neville, Moroni’s America, 321.

[viii]. James E. Talmage, Conference Report, April 1929, 44; Neville, Moroni’s America, 321; emphasis added.

[ix]. John A. Widtsoe, “Evidences and Reconciliations: Is Book of Mormon Geography Known?” Improvement Era 53, July 1950, 547; John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Map (Provo, UT: The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000), 7; Neville, Moroni’s America, 322.

[x]. Ivins, Conference Report, April 1929, 16; Neville, Moroni’s America, 321; emphasis added.

[xi]. Quotation attributed originally to John L. Sorenson but endorsed by Bruce Porter and Rod Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America (Mendon, NY: Digital Legend, 2009), 2.

[xii]. Porter and Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises, 126.

[xiii]. Neville, Letter VII, 64.

[xiv]. Here is the text of a short article I wrote entitled “Crossing the Mississippi River on Foot”:

Just swimming across the Mississippi river is a dangerous and foolish matter. Many try; few succeed in their foolish attempts to swim the Mississippi. (See Patrick B. Anderson, “Many Try, Few Succeed in Foolish Attempts to Swim River,” August 25, 2012, http://lacrossetribune.com/news/local/many-try-few-succeed-in-foolish-attempts-to-swim-river/article_1556282c-ee69-11e1-b895-0019bb2963f4.html [accessed May 26, 2016].)

In spite of the evidence that few swimmers, even strong ones, can successfully swim the Mississippi, Rod Meldrum claims that the Mississippi river could easily have been crossed on foot at the Des Moines Rapids.

Could the Mississippi River be crossed on foot, and are its banks sufficient to allow battles to be held on them?

Remember that the Mississippi today is much wider and deeper than it was in the days before dams, locks and levies, making it still a large river, but much more shallow. In fact, the river at Nauvoo was actually shallow enough to cross on foot! This area was called the Des Moines rapids and riverboats had to off-load their cargo to pass these rapids prior to the building of locks/dams across the river. The Des Moines Rapids are known historically to have been less than 2.4 feet deep, making this the first location upstream from the Gulf of Mexico where the mighty Mississippi could be crossed on foot! Certainly this would make this area a strategic location for any ancient civilization, as access to both sides of the river was easily attainable. (See Rod Meldrum, “The Mississippi; Could It Have Been River Sidon?” The Firm Foundation, June 4, 2010, http://www.firmlds.org/feature.php?id=14 [accessed May 26, 2016].)

But not on foot! With the exception of crossing the river when frozen over, there is no evidence that I can find of anyone, even native Americans, who crossed the Mississippi River on foot. Certainly access to both sides of the Mississippi river in this area was never “easily attainable” and then only by boat. The above claim by Meldrum is baseless and without any corroboration.

For thousands of years, the mighty Mississippi—because of its phenomenal volume of water and annual flooding—has changed course many times:

Timeline of outflow course changes:

c. 5000 BC: The last Ice Age ended; world sea level became what it is now.
c. 2500 BC: Bayou Teche became the main course of the Mississippi.
c. 800 BC: The Mississippi diverted farther east.
c. AD 200: Bayou Lafourche became the main course of the Mississippi.
c. AD 1000: The Mississippi’s present course took over.

It is common knowledge that almost every year for the past thousands of years there has been some kind of a flood on the Mississippi, and each flood has left boulders, trees, sandbars, and debris scattered in the river, making navigation of the river ever more dangerous.

Rod Meldrum fails to recognize this and further fails to apprise his readers of the following statement on page 278 of his above-referenced report by the Army Corps of Engineers regarding crossing the Des Moines Rapids:

The difficulty of navigation lies not so much in the shallowness of the channel or the thread of the current as in its unevenness of bottom, insufficient width [of the otherwise navigable chains of channels within the rapids], tortuous directions and great velocity. The influence of those features is exaggerated by cross surface and under currents and by the east and west winds. (See Report of the Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army, by United States Army Corps of Engineers, https://books.google.com/books.)

Neville agrees with Meldrum’s statement in an email sent to me on April 21, 2016:

Actually, the rapids here are the first place the River can be crossed on foot north of the Gulf of Mexico. The photo below is a modern scene, the result of the dam and lock system. The average depth of the Mississippi before the dam was 2.4 feet, meaning it was even more shallow in the summer. I recommend checking facts before reaching conclusions.

He is correct about the photo of the Mississippi near Keokuk that I had attached to my article,Book of Mormon Objective Geographic Standard No. 1.” I thank him for bringing that to my attention and have deleted it from my article as it is anachronistic. However, he is not correct in the following conclusions: (1) that travelers could have crossed the Des Moines Rapids on foot, (2) that the Amlicites fought the Nephites in the Mississippi River, or (3) that the Amlicite/Lamanite armies followed the Nephites into the river. No one has ever fought a battle on foot in the Mississippi River. That the Amlicites and Lamanite armies were located on the west bank of the river Sidon that second day is sure. That they tried to keep Alma and the Nephites in the river Sidon is also sure because that is what the scripture says. But that this could have happened in the Mississippi River is totally, to use Neville’s word about parts of my article, “goofy” (a less-than-scholarly synonym for “unscholarly,” “illogical,” or “invalid”).

The following is a description in 1870 of the difficulty of crossing the Mississippi River at the Des Moines Rapids in a boat, let along on foot. These rapids started at Montrose, Iowa, and ended eleven miles downriver near Keokuk, Illinois.

The fall in eleven miles is twenty-two feet; average width of Mississippi river, four thousand five hundred feet; its mean depth, two and four-tenths feet; and its mean surface velocity is two and eighty-eight hundredths feet per second. The tortuous, uncertain channel over these rapids precludes the possibility of any craft navigating them in low water. Even if the channel itself was wide and deep, no pilot would dare to undertake to pass them at night. (See J. E. Griffith, “The Des Moines Rapids of the Mississippi River, and Its Improvements,” The Annals of Iowa, 1870, No. 2 [1870], 149–54.)

The forced removal of Native Americans from the eastern part of the United States during the infamous Trail of Tears march shows the treacherousness of crossing of the Mississippi near the area of Nauvoo. They did not cross on foot but were ferried across the Mississippi:

Two thirds of the ill-equipped Cherokee that were trapped beside the frozen Mississippi River still remembered a half-century later the hundreds of sick and dying in wagons or lying on the frozen ground with only a single blanket provided by the government to each Indian for shelter from the cold wind. Falling temperatures caused the surface of the river to freeze before all the detachments could be ferried across. The ice prevented both boat and horses from moving. Besides the cold, there was starvation and malnutrition. Weakened by the hunger, the Cherokee became easy victims of disease, particularly cholera, smallpox and dysentery. Many died on both sides of the river waiting for [the] journey to resume. (See “Trail of Tears Across the Mississippi Valley,” http://www.univie.ac.at/Anglistik/webprojects/LiveMiss/TrailofTears/trailparent.htm [accessed May 26, 2016].)

Crossing the Mississippi River on foot anywhere, at any time—except perhaps near its headwaters in Minnesota and except when the Mormons crossed it on foot when it was frozen over—was impossible. Without a doubt, contrary to what Neville claims on page 151 of his book, Moroni’s America, the Amlicite/Lamanite army did not “follow the Nephites into” the Mississippi/Sidon river near Montrose, Iowa, or near Gideon—or anywhere in the Mississippi River for that matter. At pages 151–53, Neville says, “Because the Lamanites ‘came upon’ the Nephites as the Nephites were crossing the river, the Lamanites had to be behind the Nephites, following them into the river” (emphasis added).

There is no such definition of the term “came upon.” This is his personal definition and is not what the scripture states or means. The synonyms suggested in a thesaurus are “bump into,” “chance,” “encounter,” “meet,” “come across,” all of which do not require catching up from behind.

Neville continues:

An interesting feature of the Mississippi River is the numerous islands that form in the channel. Here’s an example.


This section of the river, located just north of my proposed Gideon, is 2.5 miles wide, from bank to bank. The island in the channel is about 1.5 miles wide at its widest point. With this in mind, the desription in Alma of a battle taking place while crossing the [Mississippi] river makes perfect sense. (See Jonathan Neville, Moroni’s America: The North American Setting for the Book of Mormon (n.p.: Digital Legend, 2016), 151–53.)

Neville further stated the following in an email to me “The Lamanite/Amlicite army was moving all night,” and “I think they were on the east side the entire time until the fight on the river.” He later said of my statements, “Why don’t we stick to the text.”

I am sorry, Jonathon, but that statement is, to use your word, “goofy.” It makes about as much sense as the Heartland geographic model claiming that all events described in the Book of Mormon ocurred exclusively in the Eastern United States. (I am not talking about the completion of prophesies and promises to the covenant English Gentiles upon the most favored nation—the United States—among other nations the Lord promised He would establish on “this continent, North and South America”).

Neville talks about the Mesoamericanists taking scriptures out of context and adding inferences that are not proper and so forth. This one of his is far more egregious than any he has cited of the Mesoamericanists. The text absolutely does not say what he claims it means. And the events absolutely could not have happened in the Mississippi River.

By his own admission in his email to me, he stated that the Des Moines “rapids here are the first place the River can be crossed on foot north of the Gulf of Mexico.” His proposed crossing of the Mississippi River, 2.5 miles north of his proposed Gideon, is located 23 miles south of the end of the rapids at Keokuk and therefore, by his own admission, impossible to cross the Mississippi on foot, regardless of an island in the middle of it. Note also that there has never been an island or large sandbar in the middle of the Des Moines Rapids. “I recommend checking facts before making conclusions.”

Neville further states the on page 152:

As I read this, Alma was crossing the river when the Lamanites attacked. The battle ensued on the river; i.e., on one of these islands in the middle of the river [does not say this]. Alma then cleared the west bank of the island [does not say this. It says “the bank which was (located) on the west of the river Sidon” not west of an island] so his people could “have room to cross and contend with the [enemy] on the west side of the river” (Alma 2:34). This fits the text, which distinguishes beween “ground, or rather the bank, which was on the west of the river”—the ground Alma cleared—and the “west side of the river,” where Alma wanted to fight the battle. [This is his conjecture but not what the scripture says. How did the Lamanites/Amlicites ever get to the west bank of the Sidon ahead of Alma in the first place?]

The scripture says “when they had all crossed the river Sidon,” which I take to mean all the combatants, not just all the Nephites, [Neville might believe this, but the scripture does not say it] Alma wisely saw that he had to lure the Lamanites to the west side; [does not say this] the last thing he would want is the Lamanites and Amlicites to return where they came from. Once he got them on the west bank he could prevent them from returning home. Instead, he scattered them on the west and north. [All this is so much conjecture and guessing. Why not stick to what Joseph’s translation says?]

Just imagine that! About forty thousand Nephites, Lamanites—so numerous they could not be counted (Alma 2:35), and Amlicites all converging on foot that morning on an island in the middle of the Mississippi River and Alma “luring” Amlici to the west side of the island—which did not exist in the rapids—so he could kill him and toss his body into the Mississippi River so that he could then climb upon the west bank of the river. Of course, he then had to help all the other combatant Lamanites out of the Mississippi River upon the west bank so he could then scatter them to the west and north to Hermounts! Neville should have written the Book of Mormon. His version is far more entertaining, and he knows a lot more about the “facts” than Mormon did. He even knows where Alma wanted to fight the battle all along—not on the island but upon the west bank of the Mississippi—after they crossed the Mississippi and the island! Like Neville told me in the email “This is just goofy.”

And what about all those fleeing farmers and their wives, children, and flocks. Did they also cross the Mississippi—maybe even ahead of the Amlicites? Maybe the scouts did not have to tell Alma about the fleeing people from Minon because the people were fleeing ahead of the Lamanites and already had passed by Alma’s camp at Gideon. Why did Alma, instead of racing to beat the Amlicites to the city of Zarahemla, not stay in Gideon and, while his army was fresh, lay ambush against the Lamanites? The Amlicites would have been exhausted, having traveled and fought all the first day, fled twenty-fur more miles to Minon by midnight, and then turned around and, during the night, marched back twenty-four miles to Gideon, according to Neville. Alma would have had a great tactical and stratigic advantage. Why flee from them? Why not protect the fleeing farmers and their wives right there? Or another possibility, if the Lamanites/Amlicites were behind Alma by twenty-four miles, why did Alma not simply beat them to the river, cross the river, climb the west bank of the river, and then kill them as they attempted to climb out of the Mississippi? What a bunch of “goofy” nonsense. Let’s stick to the text of the Book of Mormon. And let’s stick to reality and the factual and historical impossibility of crossing the Mississippi on foot.

I agree with what Gregory L. Smith says as he summarizes his analysis of Neville’s interpretation of Alma 22:27:

There is no common interpretive rule or principle that guides Neville’s exegesis—instead, he seems to pick and choose depending on the needs of the North American model. . . .

In conclusion, I am reluctant to accept Neville’s chiastic argument based upon Alma 22:27 on at least three grounds: (1) the existence of the chiasmus is dubious; (2) its presence in Neville’s reading leads to conclusions at variance with the Book of Mormon text, many of which make the actors’ military choices nonsensical; and (3) Neville’s reading requires him to make ad hoc assumptions and leaps at least as large [or larger] as those he roundly condemns in others.

Neville’s production of a map and detailed explanation for how it was produced represent a major step forward for Heartland advocates. Unfortunately, an examination of even a few verses reveals this model’s errors, ad hoc assumptions, and ignored details. These flaws suggest the need to begin again, and this would be best done via an internal model justified on its own terms without reference to any real-world location. (See Gregory L. Smith, “‘From the Sea East Even to the Sea West’: Thoughts on a Proposed Book of Mormon Chiasm Describing Geography in Alma 22:27,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, vol. 19 [2016], 378.)

Bottom line: Because the Mississippi River could not have been crossed on foot at or near Montrose, Iowa, then the Mississippi River could not have been the river Sidon of the Book of Mormon.

[xv]. See article entitled “Zarahemla, Iowa Archaeological Excavation,” http://www.bookofmormonevidence.org/feature.php?id=29 (accessed May 23, 2016).

[xvi]. See Report of the Chief of Engineers Accompanying Report of the Secretary of War (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1867), 278, https://books.google.com/books?id=1qRTAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false; emphasis added (accessed May 23, 2016).

[xvii]. See http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/came%20upon (accessed May 23, 2016).