Thursday, April 18, 2013


Nephi set a high standard for clarity and precision in his oral communication "I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err" 2 Nephi 25:20. He wanted his words to communicate effectively "my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people that they may learn" 2 Nephi 25:4. "I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus" 2 Nephi 33:6. Nephi taught that deity values this same standard of lucidity "[The Lord] doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men" 2 Nephi 26:33. Father Lehi, quoting Joseph son of Jacob (Israel), said the words of the Book of Mormon itself would be "simpleness" 2 Nephi 3:20. Following this tradition of unambiguity in Nephite culture, King Benjamin spoke "plainly unto you that ye might understand" Mosiah 2:40. Alma reprised Nephi when he taught that the Nephites had received divine communication "in plain terms, that we may understand, that we cannot err" Alma 13:23.

Nephi said it best "For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding" 2 Nephi 31:3.

If this kind of clear and understandable prose works for unshaken faith 2 Nephi 31:19, repenting of our sins 2 Nephi 31:13, baptism by water 2 Nephi 31:17, receiving the Holy Ghost 2 Nephi 31:18, and enduring to the end 2 Nephi 31:20 it also works for the sea east Helaman 11:20, the narrow (small) neck of land Alma 22:32 and the narrow strip of wilderness Alma 22:27.

The Book of Mormon has wonderfully enriched our lives. We pray the Nephite scripture becomes a much more significant force for good worldwide. We consider the degree of market penetration it has achieved since 1830 (the Book of Mormon is an integral part of the daily thought processes of a few million people) modest. We believe a verifiable ancient setting will help many more people take this inspired masterpiece seriously.

Modus Operandi
We use the 2009 Yale University Press edition of the Book of Mormon to take advantage of Royal Skousen's decades of painstaking work piecing together the text that fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph as he had the Nephite plates open in front of him. We link to the 2013 edition of the text whenever possible as a convenience to readers and to keep ourselves honest. If we cite a scriptural passage, we go to some effort to ensure the text at that point really says what we claim it says. We take the text at face value assuming the words that fell from the Prophet's lips meant the same thing they would have in Elizabethan (King James) English.
  • We assume consistency in the text. If we find a pattern where a phrase carried a discernible meaning in Nephite usage, we assume compatible if not similar exegesis for all occurrences of that phrase. See Royal Skousen, "The Systematic Text of the Book of Mormon" in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Volume 11, Issue 2, Provo: Maxwell Institute, 2002.
  • For example, we consider "a day's journey for a Nephite" Helaman 4:7 to be a standard unit of measure in Nephite culture, not the result of some extraordinary feat of heroism. When we find the distance measure "a day and a half's journey for a Nephite" Alma 22:32 in the text we multiply our derivation of the standard unit (15 air kilometers - see the article "Land Southward Travel Times") by 1.5.
  • We expect textual meanings to fall within reasonable ranges given generally accepted English usage. If Mormon described a geographic feature as "narrow" Alma 63:5 we look for a place whose width does not exceed 5 kilometers (see the article "Narrow and Small Things"). A place 100 kilometers wide would be orders of magnitude too large.
  • We read for historical context. See the article "Captain Moroni in Space and Time" for an example of the insights this methodology is capable of.     
We use Google Earth as our repository of geographic information and periodically update our complete Book of Mormon model so students of the text worldwide can reproduce our results.
  • If the text says a place was up or down relative to another place, we calculate vertical rise or fall. We have built two versions of a terrain plane that allow us to set an absolute altitude and quickly see what features rise above that elevation like volcanoes projecting through the clouds.
  • We follow the rivers. Rivers were the highways of the ancient world. We have invested several thousand hours plotting major river systems in southern Mesoamerica, but much more remains to be done before our watershed map is reasonably complete. The Olmec typically sited settlements on streams. The Maya did the same. Ditto the Zoque. We assume the Nephites were no different.
  • If the text says round about, we look for circularity in a path or movement.
  • If the text cites a cardinal direction, we let Google Earth calculate a heading where 360 is due north, 90 is due east, 180 is due south, and 270 is due west.
  • If the text uses some variant of the phrase "cross over" we look for an obstacle in the terrain (typically a mountain or river) separating two areas of roughly equivalent elevation.
  • If the text says a city had a "wilderness side" we look for an obvious terrain feature prominent enough to show up in satellite imagery.  
We assume Mesoamerica. We find the correlation between the Book of Mormon text and Mesoamerica compelling, growing deeper and stronger over time.

We correlate space and time. The Nephite nation was a very different entity ca. 90 B.C. than it was ca. 72 B.C. (see the articles "Expansion of the Nephite Nation" and "Sidon East then West") 

We look for analogues in the real world. If the text says King Noah built wineries Mosiah 11:15, we find modern viticulture in the same area (see the article "King Noah's Wine").

We do not assume territorial exclusivity. We view the Nephite nation as a confederated string of often non-contiguous settlements. We find the experience of Brigham Young and the Mormons in Utah instructive. During the 30 year period from 1847 to 1877, Brigham Young established settlements in what are today the states of Calfornia, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho. Within this enormous geographic footprint, only a tiny fraction of the inhabitants saluted the flag Brigham Young raised on Ensign Peak overlooking the Salt Lake Valley 2 Nephi 15:26, 2 Nephi 21:12.

We assume the Nephites and Lamanites were capable of extensive travel throughout their domain. Military junkets in the range of 300 - 600 kilometers across a surface area about the size of the state of Utah (219,887 square kilometers) do not strike us as anomalous.

We assume Mormon intended us to solve the geography puzzle and when we are finished, every textual piece will fit although there will be missing pieces because the text as a geographic reference is incomplete Helaman 3:14.

We ascertain fit between the text and the terrain before we go looking for archaeological sites. We view the text and satellite imagery as unimpeachable sources while the archaeology evolves with each new scientific advance. Antiquities in Mesoamerica are so pervasive that large parts of the area remain poorly studied and thousands of sites are still unknown to science.

We began the current study in the fall of 2010 and authored the first blog article in August, 2011. At this point (April, 2013) we have analyzed about half the geographic features mentioned in the text in enough detail to postulate a defensible correlate on the modern map. The points of congruence we have found between the text and the topography in our model number in the hundreds. The number of blatant anomalies found to date is zero. If this pattern  holds through the geographic referents we have yet to analyze, the Book of Mormon map puzzle will be solved in the sense that anyone can reproduce our results using the powerful spatial analysis tools available in Google Earth. Whether a given student of the Nephite scripture agrees with our assumptions or our textual exegesis is another matter entirely. The degree of confidence we have in our correlations posited to date:
The article "Book of Mormon Map" was updated April 22, 2013 to reflect this latest thinking and the article "Book of Mormon Model" was updated with the most recent Google Earth kmz file April 23, 2013.