1888 Book of Mormon
1888 Book of Mormon

If you want to see the Mormon Playbook in action consider the founding work of Mormonism, the Book of Mormon.

I have an 1888 copy of the Book of Mormon, beautifully bound, with a personalised inscription and a hand-written note from Seymour B Young, son of Joseph Young, Brigham Young’s older brother. It is signed ‘To my friends Mr and Mrs Hayden Coffin with kindest regards,’ (below). Charles and Adeline, were both entertainers with colourful personal lives. It must have been gifted to them in New York, the note dated Oct. 1892, a time when Mr Charles Hayden Coffin was co-starring with Lillian Russell there in the season of 1892-93.

Seymour Young explains his original intention to hand over the book in person, ending his note:

Seymour B Young Signature

PS The above note I was intending to have handed you with the book, but failed to do so, and so will add that your singing and acting last evening my dear sir were superbly natural, My son and my daughter who were with me, like myself were immensely delighted.

Mrs Young regrets her indisposition which has prevented her from enjoying this same treat.

Very truly your friend

Seymour B Young

It is an interesting insight into the life of a Mormon General Authority of the late 19th century. It was a time when Mormonism was beginning to come out of the shadows and establish Utah as a state of the Union, having abandoned polygamy (officially) and begun to gain respectability.

Book of Mormon Geography: The Mormon Playbook

I have often asked, as I am sure you must have, about the absence of maps in the back of the Book of Mormon. There are none in the back of this copy either, but it does have the next best thing, footnotes that name places.

Today Mormons only know for sure that the Book of Mormon story begins in Jerusalem and ends in a hill in upper New York state. Between these locations Book of Mormon geography quickly becomes as mysterious as the lost city of Atlantis.

Back in 1888 things were different. Mormonism had a clean slate on which to write Book of Mormon culture, history, and geography into American history and hardly anyone to call them out on their claims.

On the coast of Chili

For instance, in 1 Nephi 19, a footnote (above) informs us that Lehi and his squabbling family’s landing in the Americas was ‘believed to be on the coast of Chili, S. America.’ From this point you can easily follow their journeys, which appear to have traversed Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, and the Isthmus of Panama.

In 1 Nephi 19, Nephi explains to his family, ‘ye are a remnant of the house of Israel, a branch who have been broken off.’ (v24) Chapters 21 and 22 transcribe Isaiah 48 and 49, designed to demonstrate as much.

We are familiar with the Mormon claim that Native Americans are a lost tribe of Israel. The key text here is 1 Nephi 21:9/Isaiah 49:9, ‘they shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.’ These ‘high places’ are identified in a footnote as, ‘in the elevated regions of the Rocky Mountains.’ (below)

The Rocky Mountains

In the Book of Omni, chapter 1, there is mention of ‘the land of Nephi,’ which a footnote informs us is ‘in or near Ecuador, South America.’ On the same page there is also mention of Mosiah being ‘made king over the land of Zarahemla.’ The footnote says, ‘The land of Zarahemla is supposed to have been north of the head waters of the river Magdalena, its northern boundary being a few days journey south of the isthmus.’

The River Magdalena

As you can see from the map (left), this river runs through Colombia. This makes sense if Nephi and his family landed in Chile and moved north through Ecuador and Colombia.

In chapters 23 and 24 of the Book of Mosiah we are told that Alma led his people, fleeing from king Noah, into Zarahemla. A footnote (below right) at the end of chapter 24 tells us, ‘From the city of Nephi to Zarahemla was about 22 days journey.’ How would anyone know this unless they had a specific idea of where these places were, in Ecuador and Colombia respectively?


The Book of Alma (ch.2) mentions the river Sidon, which the footnote confidently informs us is, ‘supposed to be Magdalena.’ In that same chapter, the land of Minon is mentioned. Again, the footnote (right) confidently tells us this is, ‘about two days journey south of the city Zarahemla’ which, remember, is in Colombia.

After a great war, we are told, ‘the slain upon the bank of the river Sidon, were cast into the waters of Sidon; and behold their bones are in the depths of the sea…’ (Alma 3:3). This, the footnote tells us, is ‘the Caribbean sea,’ which is off the north coast of South America. You can see it on the map, marked as Karibu Jūra.

When, in 3 Nephi, we get to the visit of Christ to the Americas, it is to the land Bountiful he comes. Bountiful is described in a footnote as ‘south of the Isthmus,’. The footnote (below) even calculates the timing of the three days of darkness that is supposed to have occurred at the time of the crucifixion by calculating the difference in longitude between Jerusalem and Bountiful.

But now we come to a great problem.

The Mormon Playbook in Play

LDS archaeologist John Sorenson believes Bountiful to have been in what today is the Mexican State of Tabasco, on the Isthmus of Panama, which makes perfect sense if the people of the Book of Mormon, starting in Chile, have continued to move north. The problem is Bountiful is near to Cumorah, which is located in upper New York State, where Moroni is meant to have buried, and Joseph Smith recovered, the gold plates that gave the world the Book of Mormon.

In the December 1975 issue of the now no longer published Ensign, the flagship magazine of the Mormon Church (right), the church published several articles on the Lamanites of the Book of Mormon. One article, entitled ‘Who and Where are the Lamanites,’
s accompanied by a helpful map (below). It confirms as late as 1975 that Book of Mormon geography sits around central and south America and the South Sea islands.

The denouement of this story of Nephites and Lamanites is the overthrow and destruction of the former by the latter. The Book of Mormon chapter two tells of the rout of the Nephites and of their flight before the pursuing armies of the Lamanites ‘towards the north countries’ (2:3) The north countries are identified in the footnotes as ‘North America.’

Taken from December 1975 Ensign

Just four chapters on we find Mormon and the Nephites at ‘the hill which is called Cumorah,’ (BOM 6:2) the footnote saying, The hill Cumorah is in Manchester, Ontario, N. York.’ It is here that Mormon’s son Moroni was to bury the gold plates dug up by Joseph Smith. This is a journey of over 7,000 km, or 4,350 miles, to a place that is totally alien to these people.

Book of Mormon Credibility

The triumphant Lamanites were once confidently regarded as the principal ancestors of the American Indians.’ (Introduction, 1981 Book of Mormon). That is the whole point of the Book of Mormon, that native Americans (American Indians as they were known) are descendants of 6th century BC Jewish migrants.

With advancements in DNA science, that claim has been roundly disproven, but the Mormon Church hardly broke step as it took out its Mormon playbook and declared the Lamanites are now among the ancestors of the American Indians.’

Indeed, so small is their contribution to the gene pool of Native Americans they give the lie to the claims in the Book of Mormon of great cities, huge populations, and vast armies of Nephites and Lamanites battling it out across enormous but unidentified tracts of the American continent. Whichever way you turn with the Book of Mormon problems of historical and cultural credibility keep popping up.

As I have so often pointed out, there is not a city, not a town, not a village, a building, a wall, a brick or stone, not a weapon, not an arrow head, not a nail, not a bone or a piece of pottery to give any encouragement to those who would prove the Book of Mormon’s credentials.

The Mormon Playbook and the Apologists

The footnotes I have referenced were written and entered into the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon by Orson Pratt, an original member of the quorum of the twelve apostles of the Mormon Church. He subscribed to the so-called hemispheric geography of the Book of Mormon. This ‘theory,’ as Mormons are careful to call it, postulates that the events took place in North and South America, revolving around the Isthmus of Panama.

There is also a limited geography ‘theory,’ based on the reasonable conclusion that the lands travelled by Lehi’s descendants could be crossed in a matter of weeks. This makes a journey of 4,350 miles untenable.

Others put the geography of the Book of Mormon in and around the Great Lakes that span the US and Canada, which makes sense since the fabled Hill Cumorah is in that region.

If you want to spend a couple of hours you will never get back on this you can find information on FAIR, an unofficial Mormon apologetics website. There is also a lengthy and multi-part review of a recently published Annotated Book of Mormon that talks about the problems in producing such a book, on the personal blog of Stephen Owen Smoot, a Mormon scholar.

What is most disturbing about all this is the complete silence of Mormon prophets. They can offer no insights, can throw no light on this most fundamental issue at the centre of Mormonism; where did the events of the Book of Mormon take place? Where are the maps you might reasonably expect to find in such an important, historical book? Step forward the ‘unofficial’ apologists.

Mormons will confidently think of Evangelical believers as blind leaders of the blind because of the absence of prophets in our ranks. But consider, apologists for the Book of Mormon are plentiful, yet they ‘do not represent the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.’ Theories abound then, speculation is rife, but the official eyes of the church are blind.

For the Lord has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes (the prophets) and covered your heads (the seers.)’ (Isaiah 29:10, ESV)

I point these out to show how tangled is the web of confusion and obfuscation over what you might have thought would be simple Book of Mormon geography. Especially so in light of what has appeared to be official ‘evidence’ published in editions of the Book of Mormon over the years.

In a 1966 missionary copy of the Book of Mormon the church confidently published a black and white image of a picture described thus:

Ancient records

A modern discovery by archaeologists. Near the ancient Persian capital of Persopolis archaeologists discovered a box made of stones cemented together. When opened it contained some ancient records of the Emperor Darius I, engraved on gold and silver plates in three languages. The…picture shows the box containing these actual plates…The plates found by Joseph Smith were contained in a stone box somewhat like this one shown from Persia…’

Another, this time colour, version of the same plate (above) appeared in a 1980 missionary edition, along with pictures of gold work, both clearly meant to invoke images of Joseph Smith’s gold plates. There is a mural, which they insist is ‘Egyptian-like’ (it isn’t), textiles ‘from the Book of Mormon period,’ a broad vista showing ‘Monte Alban (Sacred Mountain), dating back to 800 years before Christ,’ meant to plant in the readers’ minds connections that aren’t there, and a picture of the Temple of the Cross (below). It is ‘the Temple of the Cross’ because the complex is in the ubiquitous shape of a cross. The caption ties it in with the time of 3 Nephi onwards:

Temple of the Cross

This temple, believed to have been erected during the Maya classic period, contains the famous Cross of Palenque. Many archeologists (sic) now agree that these artistic masterpieces date back to the beginning of the Christian Era.’

By the time we get into the 21st century however all this suggestive imagery has disappeared. The Book of Mormon now has only the familiar images painted by Arnold Friberg, John Scott, and Tim Lovell, the famous painting of Christ by Heinrich Hofmann, and of Joseph Smith by Alvin Gittins.

Mormonism’s ambiguity on the issue of Book of Mormon geography and archaeology must be frustrating for older, long-time Mormons. I have thought how I, having become a Mormon in the early ‘70s might have dealt with this back-pedalling had I stayed. As with so much of Mormonism, there was a time when Mormons ‘just knew’ stuff. It is true to say, every generation of Mormons joins, or is born into a different Mormon church. The cognitive dissonance old-timers have to deal with here, as the narrative changes and the familiar illustrations that lend it credibility disappear, has to be uncomfortable.

The Mormon Playbook Plays People

What Mormon apologists have to say on this issue is insightful, a demonstration of how Mormonism plays people. We see them switch in a heartbeat from absolute confidence in the narrative of Mormonism to wild historical/theological speculation dressed up as serious academic work, and practised obfuscation. This is a classic bait and switch routine from the Mormon play book.

The bait is assurance, certainty on an issue superficially supported, the switch occurs when questions are asked and cannot be met with direct answers, so prophetic certainty is replaced by ‘scholarly’ prevarication, complication, and mystification. That, along with a good dose of burning bosoms and ‘if we had evidence we wouldn’t need faith, would we?’

The Book of Mormon, 1981 edition, declared in its introduction, ‘The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fulness of the everlasting gospel.’

Of course, this raised in peoples’ minds the question, ‘If the Bible contains the fullness of the everlasting gospel doesn’t that make the Book of Mormon redundant?’ After all, what could Mormonism be restoring if the fullness is in the Bible? But since the Introduction is ‘non-canonical’ it can be manipulated and changed.

It doesn’t occur to the new converts that it might have been any other way, nor does it occur to the old-timers that nobody publishes the Book of Mormon except the prophet-led Mormon Church, so why these significant changes? Why was the early Mormon Church confident in printing geographical footnotes while the footnotes are absent from the modern editions? The same prophet-led church produced both. For a church that teaches ‘eternal progression’ they seem to be continually regressing.

The truth is the Book of Mormon is emblematic of the serious problems facing the Mormon Church with advances in science, historical and archaeological research, which were in their infancy in 1830, and the advent of the Internet; there is no longer anywhere to hide.

There is no Israelite DNA among Native Americans anywhere near sufficient, anywhere near the right time, to support Mormon claims. The racist content of the Book of Mormon, which describes ‘Lamanites’ as being cursed with a dark skin because of their rebellion and disobedience, and that obedience turns them white, has been disavowed. The related teaching that black people are black because cursed as punishment for a lack of courage, a failure of loyalty in a premortal life. has been disavowed.

Book of Mormon Pseudepigraphy

Many Mormons are finding it increasingly difficult to take literally the historical claims for the Book of Mormon. Perhaps they take some comfort from the growing understanding among Mormon scholars that the Book of Mormon should be regarded as pseudepigraphical, Joseph Smith as ‘a creative theologian and writer,’ and the events described in the Book of Mormon, especially Jesus’ visit to America, as not historical but artistic ingenuity, throwing light on the gospels. There is an interesting commentary here on these ideas. Note the writer’s comment, ‘Historicity is not the measuring stick of spiritual value.’

People who keep a watchful eye on so-called ‘progressive Christianity’ will recognise this kind of thinking. It places greater emphasis on authenticity of meaning, regarding the story itself as simply a vehicle for my personal journey of faith. If it helps you to believe the stories God bless you in that, but it doesn’t really matter, as long as you are true to your Mormon self. In a religion that lays greater store by feelings than by facts this kind of thinking works very well. As long as they keep giving people burning bosoms and teach them to ‘feel the sincerity’ they will have converts, especially in developing nations where American culture is as much of an attraction as Mormon teaching.

It is more important than ever that Christians give solid biblical, historical, as well as metaphysical reasons for why we believe as we do. Of course God transcends our limited knowledge and experience but, in Christ, he has entered our world so we can know him by the process of empirical and intellectual understanding as well as by the presence of his Spirit in our daily Christian walk. After all, the Bible is an historical record of God’s dealings with mankind from the beginning, and foretells his continuing and ultimate dealings with his creation.

We believe…’ means we literally believe that, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’; that, ‘Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…’ that, ‘he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’ (Gen.1:1; 1 Cor.15:3; Acts 17:31) There is nothing pseudepigraphical about these things and we are called to be witnesses of that fact.

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.

From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic (universal) church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.