Some, of course, want to claim it was a revelation, others simply want it to go away so they can promote their own views, especially those who champion Mesoasmerica or the eastern U.S. or Heartland.
In 1890, in response to the sheer number of varying theories being produced, George Q. Cannon, then first counselor in the First Presidency, made the following statement:
“There is a tendency, strongly manifested at the present time among some of the brethren, to study the geography of the Book of Mormon. We have heard of numerous lectures, illustrated by suggestive maps, being derived on this subject during the present winter, generally under the auspices of the Improvement Societies and Sunday Schools.” He stated further that: “No two original investigators agree. . . When, as in the case, one student places a certain city at the Isthmus of Panama, a second in Venezuela, and a third in Guiana or northern Brazil, . . . they cannot be thus far apart in this one important point without relative positions being also widely separate. Consequently, we see no necessity for maps of this character, because, at least, much would be left to the imagination of those who prepare them” (The Juvenile Instructor, 1890).
Because of the various comments of the Brethren on the subject of Book of Mormon geography it should be very obvious that no one considered the geography of the Book of Mormon events settled at this point in history—neither Joseph Smith nor Olivwer Cowdery, nor Orson Pratt nor anyone else. In fact Cannon comments on that very subject when he said: “The First Presidency have often been asked to prepare some suggestive map illustrative of Nephite geography, but have never consented to do so. Nor are we acquainted with any of the Twelve Apostles, who would undertake such a task. The reason is, that without further information they are not prepared even to suggest. The word of the Lord or the translation of other ancient records is required to clear up many points now so obscure” (John Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book, p17).
This statement alone should dispel any long held traditional beliefs that any of the proposed landing sites of Lehi was a settled issue. Partly because 1) Lehi’s proposed landing site in South America was not considered a revelation to Joseph, and 2) the theory that the Isthmus of Darien was the narrow neck described in the Book of Mormon was simply the conjecture of those who embraced the believability in the Central American setting which they held only in response to a gentile book which dealt exclusively with the discoveries of ancient ruins in that land.
Now, since there was no official designation given by the Church as to the whereabouts of the ancient Book of Mormon lands, we might reasonably ask ourselves why those theories that placed them in either South America or in Central America continued to persist for so long?
On the other hand, it is often asked why more attention was not placed on the Hill Cumorah in New York, a known landmark, at least by name, why was more attention not placed and the site given more attention? Or why more attention was not placed on an area within the United States, a country destined to be the leader of the world and the place of the New Jerusalem? Perhaps, it might be answered, because nothing in the Book of Mormon matches the historic knowledge of this North American area, at least not in an overall way using all the descriptions mormon left us.
Brigham Young University Archaeological expeditions to Middle America 1949. At the ruins of Aguacatal, Campeche, Mexico, their probable city Bountiful of the Book of Mormon. Earthen city wall on the left; exterior swamp on the right
Later, others came to the forefront, such as the Heartland, the Great Lakes, etc., both because of the hill Cumorah, and also because of an enormous amount of advertising and exposure in Church house fireside meetings by supporters of these areas.
The sad fact is, that few of these theories concentrate on the scriptural record, and on Mormon’s descriptions of the Land of Promise in which he lived, traveled, and fought many battles for some 75 years. Certainly no theorists opinions, nor anyone’s beliefs or models, can outweigh Mormon’s abridged writing of the larger record that gives us numerous clues to the appearance and even location of the Land of Promise.
Another problem is that modern man simply cannot seem to put himself in the world of 600 B.C. as to the method of Nephi’s ship, which he describes as being “driven forth before the wind” (1 Nephi 18:8,9) tells us how he traveled, since to modern man, a sailing ship, especially one with a diesel engine of today, can go just about anywhere, and modern sailors, even hobbyists, know a great deal about sailing with today's modern technologies.
Nor can they accept Jacob’s statement of the Land of Promise being an island in the midst of the ocean over which they sailed (2 Nephi 10:20). And as we have discussed in this series and these pages numerous times, what they found where Lehi landed (1 Nephi 18:23-25).
The problem is that people get so worked up about their own beliefs and models, they cannot stop and look beyond their own noses at what Mormon said, not what they “think” or “want” him to say, but what he actually said.
John L. Sorenson's map of Mesoamerica ass the Land of Promise, that changes Mormon's directions 90º from a north-south land to an east-west land
But Mormon did not say what Sorenson tries to tell us he meant! He said just the opposite of what Sorenson wants us to believe.
Since no two theorists state things the same way, yet there is only one description we should be following—the Book of Mormon—how is it that people can come up with so many different theories—and each person wants us to accept his view as correct!
One would think Mormon would be turning over in his grave.
Take this comment from Phyllis Carol Olive, who is one of the theorists that believed fervently in the Great Lakes location for the Book of Mormon Land of Promise. She stated: “Even so, it is abundantly clear that if we are to find the lost lands of the Book of Mormon we must approach the matter in an entirely different way, for the old methods certainly have not brought us any closer to a consensus of opinion in regard to Book of Mormon geography” (The Lost Lands of the Book of Mormon, Bonneville Books, Springville, Utah, 1998, pp12-13).
The truth of the matter is that we will never locate the Land of Promise unless we accept what Nephi says of how his ship was “driven forth before the winds,” and the course that such would dictate; the fact that Jacob said the Land of Promise was an island in the midst of the ocean over which they sailed; and all of Mormon’s comments, including Samuel the Lamanite’s prophecies of mountains "whose height is great," etc., etc., etc.
The extremely flat land of the Great Lakes area--not a hill in sight, let along mountains, "whose height is great"
(See the next and final post of this series, “Evolution of Land of Promise Geography – Part VII,” for more information regarding how the Book of Mormon Land of Promise geography came about).