Monday, June 27, 2016

Abstract maps revisited

I've commented on the futility of abstract maps before, but a new one has appeared that prompts me to revisit the topic.

I actually like this one a lot. It is well executed, with good coloring and detail. I'm not criticizing the people who put this map together, and I'm not criticizing those who published it, because I think they are well-intentioned and I like the map because it is at least ambiguous (i.e., there is no actual place on Earth that looks like this).

Plus, they cited Moroni's America in the footnotes.


However, I think it's a mistake to create an abstract map of the Book of Mormon in the first place, because the process requires a series of assumptions not required by the text, and the mere creation of the map transforms a theory into an artificial reality. Images such as this create their own reality in the mind of the viewer, and it becomes difficult to dislodge the image while reading the text. For example, this abstract map essentially codifies an interpretation of "narrow neck of land" that I think is inconsistent with--or at least not required by--the text.

(I'm not going to point out areas in which I think this map contradicts the text because that's the inherent problem with abstract maps--they are all entirely subjective. No two people, working independently from the text alone, can possibly create the same abstract map--unless they share a mental image they've previously seen or been taught.)

(I also don't think there is a problem with most of the generic relational maps found in current Church lesson manuals; i.e., Zarahemla is north of the land of Nephi. This helps students follow the text without imprinting an arbitrary abstract map on their minds.)

I think it would be far more productive to develop a Book of Mormon map based on a real-world setting we already know about, which I discuss below.

If we're going to depict abstract maps, we should at least show some alternatives. In this case, we have some variation, but not a single map shows Cumorah in New York! A person reading this post would have no idea that a New York Cumorah is even an option (let alone that it was universally accepted as long as Joseph Smith was alive).

In fact, the caption notes that all the maps "exhibit general consistency." I see that as a defect, not a feature.

If the point is that the geography passages in the text are internally consistent, which the narrative here suggests, that's a valid point. But the collage of maps shows a consistency in interpretation, which is precisely the problem with creating abstract maps in the first place. They create a mental image that leads to derivative maps such as these, but not to new or different interpretations.

One example I've used before is from Xenophon's Anabasis. This is a Greek text that I studied when I was learning Greek many years ago. There's a good introduction to Xenophon here. As a member of a greek army, he wrote a narrative of the Persian Expedition (Anabasis means expedition) in 401 B.C. Like Mormon, he mentioned distances and directions but did not include a map in his narrative. Unlike the Book of Mormon, though, the Anabasis took place in a well-documented area of the world. Consequently, scholars have been able to map the expedition.

Or have they?

Even with all the touchstones--the pins in the map--that Xenophon gave us in his narrative, all well-known in terms of history and geography, scholars continue to debate about particular details of the expedition. For example, here's an article that assesses the ongoing debate about routes and parasangs in the the Anabasis. Look at Map 2 on p. 226. There are four different proposals for the retreat, based on different scholarly interpretations of the river Xenophon was referring to.

Now, imagine how confused Xenophon scholars would be if they had not a single pin in the map. That's what we have when Book of Mormon scholars disregard the New York Hill Cumorah.

Another example is Lewis and Clark. Thomas Jefferson sent them to explore the "Continent of North American" as Clark phrased it on his 1810 map. Before he left, Jefferson personally taught Lewis how to determine latitude using an octant. Lewis and Clark took rudimentary maps with them.

The Lewis and Clark journals are almost 5,000 pages long. Did Thomas Jefferson create an abstract map based on their narrative?

Of course not.

Lewis and Clark (well, Clark) created 140 maps! Plus, they collected 30 maps from people they encountered, including Indians and traders.

When they got home, Clark spent years compiling a comprehensive map (the 1810 map). He relied on his personal knowledge, the 170 maps they accumulated, and interviews with Indians and traders. It was a remarkable accomplishment, but if you compare it to a google Earth map, you'll immediately see the errors.

It was an effective map for people operating on the ground, following rivers and landmarks, but it was not "accurate" in the sense we're used to today.

Now, if someone were to take the 5,000 pages of journals and try to create an abstract map, would they come up with something close to Clark's map? Probably. Why?

Because everyone already has a mental image of what North America looks like.

Take someone who has never seen a map of North America, maybe someone from Mongolia or the Amazon basin, and have them create an abstract map of North America from the Lewis and Clark journals. What are the chances they'll produce a map we would recognize?

Essentially zero.

Yet that's what Book of Mormon scholars are trying to do when they reject the New York setting for the Hill Cumorah.

That's why I think the effort is futile. Worse, it is counterproductive.

What would make more sense, IMO, would be a serious, multi-disciplinary effort to analyze the text using the New York Cumorah as a starting point--as a pin in the map. Throw out the mental images of the "narrow neck of land" in Central America--after all, that feature is found in exactly one verse in the entire text, Ether 10:20--and see what we come up with.

[Because the image of the Central American narrow neck has been imprinted on the minds of nearly every Latter-day Saint by now, it may require non-LDS people to do this experiment. Unfortunately, most non-LDS who have heard anything about the Book of Mormon have also had this image imprinted, so we'd probably have to find people who have never heard of Mormons before.]

People who object to the New York Cumorah can at least accept this challenge as a testable hypothesis.

It would be interesting to see how many variations people would develop, even when they have a solid starting point in New York.

We would always have differences of interpretation about details, as in the case of the Anabasis, but at least we might have an overall map that works in the real world and incorporates all of the geography "clues" in the text.

Even better, we could add the second pin--Zarahemla in Iowa.

I think we'd end up with something such as this:

You fill in the blanks for Cumorah, Bountiful, etc.



  1. Hi Jonathan,

    You quoted my website in a previous article related to abstract models, so I'd like to offer some thoughts related to the views you are expressing regarding them. As you know from my article that you quoted from, you and I both recognize many of the pitfalls that authors of models fall into when they get too wrapped up in their own internal/abstract models and maps. The process of creating internal models and maps lends itself to (intentionally or inadvertently) injecting false requirements.

    Regardless of this, simply recognizing this problem does not mean we can ignore the geographical references in the text. You say:

    "Throw out the mental images of the "narrow neck of land" in Central America--after all, that feature is found in exactly one verse in the entire text"

    ^That^ statement is troublesome for several reasons. For example, you are not arguing that we should ignore the "narrow neck of land" of any particular internal/abstract model or map, you are saying that we should ignore the actual scriptural reference. That is tremendously problematic.

    Additionally, if you're going to insist that the "narrow neck of land" is only mentioned in one verse, I would like to know why you consider it to be different from other references that seem to me to indicate a constricted area of land. For example, why the "narrow neck of land" is distinct from "the narrow neck which led into the land Northward" (Alma 63:5) or the numerous verses which describe a narrow area that can be traversed in 1.5 days, and which is bordered by seas on the east and west, and which was used to hem the Lamanites in on the south so they could get no more possessions on the north of Nephite lands (Alma 50:34, Helaman 4:7, Alma 50:11, Alma 52:9, Alma 22:32-34, Mormon 2:29, Mormon 5:4, etc.).

    Regardless of whether or not you and I are fans of internal models and maps, we don't get to dismiss the verses that those models and maps claim to be based upon.

    Although you previously used content from my article to articulate your thoughts regarding "abstract" maps and models, your intended use of those arguments appears to be somewhat different than mine. The arguments that I make against internal models is intended to focus the discussion on the scriptural verses, but the gist of what you seem to be saying is that the scriptural verses can be molded around a singular piece of evidence that you consider to be flawless and pivotal (Letter VII).

    Even if it turns out that your arguments regarding Letter VII are correct, why would it then necessitate that we ignore any scriptural references?

    1. Additionally, if you're going to insist that the "narrow neck of land" is only mentioned in one verse, I would like to know why you consider it to be different from other references that seem to me to indicate a constricted area of land. For example, why the "narrow neck of land" is distinct from "the narrow neck which led into the land Northward" (Alma 63:5) or the numerous verses which describe a narrow area that can be traversed in 1.5 days, and which is bordered by seas on the east and west, and which was used to hem the Lamanites in on the south so they could get no more possessions on the north of Nephite lands (Alma 50:34, Helaman 4:7, Alma 50:11, Alma 52:9, Alma 22:32-34, Mormon 2:29, Mormon 5:4, etc.).

      I'd like to answer this. While I personally think the narrow neck of land and the narrow neck which led into the land Northward could probably be the same geographic feature, I find it incredibly problematic when theorists conflate that particular feature with all the others you've referenced. None of those other features is called a "narrow neck." If these are all the same geographic feature, why the variety of names to designate a single geographic feature in the text? Note, all of these names you reference come from Mormon's compilation of the records (Ether 10:20, not referenced, is Moroni), so its not like we have multiple names due to multiple authors. Can you think of *any* other feature that Mormon uses multiple words to describe? I can't.

    2. Hi Russ,

      Those are very fair questions. Although I offer it as my opinion that Ether 10:20, Alma 22:32-34, and Helaman 4:7 all refer to the same feature (and perhaps some of the other references I listed as well), I am not insisting that there are no other possible interpretations. What I was pointing out was that in order for Jonathan to assert that Ether 10:20 is the "only" reference to that feature, that he should help us to know how he distinguishes that reference so clearly from these other references.

      You also asked if I can think of *any* other feature that Mormon uses multiple words to describe. While I don't have time to make an exhaustive search of the text right now, "the south wilderness" comes to mind:

      In Alma 22:30-31 it describes how the Mulekites first landed in Jaredite lands then came up into "the south wilderness", but makes no mention of "the south wilderness" in relation to Zarahemla, only in relation to Desolation and Bountiful. Like many geographical clues, there are several possible ways to interpret this. Based on these verses, some might conclude that Bountiful is "the south wilderness". Some might read those same verses and conclude that the thought that Mormon is trying to convey is that everything south of Desolation is "the south wilderness". Others might conclude that because the Mulekites were found at Zarahemla that "the south wilderness" means Zarahemla or a combination of Bountiful and Zarahemla or some other similarly-broad description of a macro-area.

      Others might notice that, although Bountiful is generally considered to be north of Zarahemla, the phrase "the south wilderness" also is also used to identify a wilderness south of Zarahemla: There was a "wilderness which divided the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla" (Alma 27:14), which seems to be closely associated with Manti (Alma 16:6-7, also Alma 27:14-16 combined with Alma 17:1) and that the city of Manti had something called "the wilderness side" (Alma 58:13) and that the river Sidon and the "borders" of Manti are associated with a feature called "the south wilderness".

      Is "the south wilderness" used to describe two different wildernesses (ie: Bountiful && near Manti)? Also, is "the south wilderness" near Manti the same wilderness that Ammon and his people camped in, which Mormon called " the wilderness which divided the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla"?

      We can make educated guesses, but we can't be certain. Mormon never promises to stick to one singular way to define each geographic reference, and I certainly wouldn't expect him to.

      Additionally, Helaman 6:10 seems to break away from traditional references to the lands of Nephi and Zarahemla and references to "the land northward" and "the land southward" and gives the proper names of "Mulek" and "Lehi" to some or all of those previously-mentioned areas. Since they then got proper names, what does that mean about all the previous ways that Mormon described those same areas?

      Here's the main point I'm trying to make: When we, as model authors, make internal assertions (which is exactly what's happening if we insist that Ether 10:20 is the "only" reference to the "narrow neck of land") in order to justify our external geographies, we are closing off our own minds to other possibilities and we are leading our readers to do the same. This is exactly how internal modeling tends to lead to unjustified geographic requirements.

      It is VITALLY important that we acknowledge where the text is vague and not use our own opinions to create internal requirements. What we should do is try to show how our external geographies are not contradicted by a reasonable reading of the text.

    3. Let's break this up a little.

      1. Regarding the south wilderness: Clearly, in relation to the Land of Nephi, Bountiful lies somewhere beyond Zarahemla capable of cutting the Lamanites off from the "north country" (Helaman 4:5-7) -- whether north, east, west, or some combination (I personally favor northeast, but I digress); Bountiful cannot simultaneously be located between the lands of Zarahemla and Nephi in the wilderness near Manti.

      But that's the opposite of what I was asking for. This isn't Mormon using multiple words to describe a single geographic feature; it's Mormon using a single word to describe multiple geographic features. Doesn't that favor Jonathan's interpretation of "narrow neck of land" v. merely "narrow neck?"

    4. 2. Regarding the proper names of Mulek and Lehi for the land northward and the land southward, respectively: That's more along the lines of what I'm looking for, thank you; but thinking over that reference, I don't think it shows variety on *Mormon's* part.

      In Helaman 6:10 Mormon notes that the *people* called the land south Lehi and the land north Mulek. But *Mormon* doesn't use those terms. Instead, he continues to consistently refer to them as the "land northward" and the "land southward." Consider Mormon 1:6 (his father takes him to the "land southward;" not to "Lehi") and 2:29 (the Nephites and Lamanites divide the lands "northward" and "southward" between themselves, not all of "Mulek" and "Lehi."

    5. 3. Returning to Bountiful and the south wilderness: You'll notice that Bountiful is referred to as being "on the north" and "on the southward" (apparently "up into the south wilderness") in the space of three verses in Alma 22. I think this is more of a paradox, not a contradiction, which could open to us another way to read Alma 22--a way which I personally think makes more sense.

      I don't read Alma 22 as a Google Earth printout; rather, I believe it relates a sociopolitical-centric geography. It begins with its focus on the throne of the Lamanites (in Nephi) and describes the borders of that land from that perspective; then it's focus briefly transitions to the political borders from the perspective of the Nephite throne (Zarahemla); and then it briefly shifts focus to Desolation, which was once Moron, the Jaredite throne, to describe the political boundaries from that perspective, at least as they tie that land into the lands of the Nephites.

      So the south wilderness up from Desolation is specifically the Jaredites' south wilderness (which we won't actually be introduced to until Ether 10:19-21), not the wilderness south of Zarahemla that divided the Nephite lands from those of the Lamanites.

      (And that's not the only geographic feature previewed in Alma 22; there's also the line Bountiful (v.32), a series of fortifications, which it appears we first see established in Helaman 4:6-7.)

      For similar reasons, I believe geography theorists make a mistake when they require the sea west of Bountiful and the sea west of Nephi to be the same sea. They *could* be the same, but if we recognize the shifting perspective in these verses, I don't think they *have* to be.

    6. Yeah, my point wasn't that there was any contradiction or paradox or anything of the sort. My point is that Mormon isn't necessarily referring to every geographical location by a proper name and that there is plenty of room for different interpretations so long as those interpretations are not contradicted by the text.

      My point about "the south wilderness" being one of two different descriptions for a single feature was actually on point but I think you missed it. He calls it "the south wilderness" in some verses but calls it the "wilderness which divided the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla" in another verse. I think it's pretty obvious that he doesn't always stick with exact naming conventions in every reference. Instead each of his references are simply descriptive in ways that fit the various points he is trying to make. In other words, "the narrow neck of land" of Ether 10:20 is not some label that can be conclusively distinguished from "the narrow neck" of other verses. All we can do is offer best-guesses, not conclusions in many cases.

      You mentioned that you believe Alma 22 is focused on "sociopolitical-centric geography". That seems to me to be a nice way to say that he's not talking about physically-existing geographic features, which in turn might allow the references to be very fluid and abstract and open to almost any interpretation. I'd like to give you an example from those verses that, in my opinion, contradicts that idea:

      After giving many of the descriptions that you refer to as sociopolitical-centric geography he tells us "and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward." (Alma 22:32)

      What I would like to point out is the word "thus" in that verse. It seems clear to me that he is saying that in his descriptions preceding that statement, he believes he has given us enough information for us to understand that "the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water".

      If you could take away the "thus" from that verse it might take on a whole new meaning and you might be able to say that maybe he's just talking about a lot of various water features or something of that sort, but we can't just dismiss the "thus". The "thus" tells us that Mormon think's he's already been clear enough to help us come to the conclusion that "the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward".

      ...thus we see that Mormon is talking about physical, geographic features that "nearly surround" the primary Nephite and Lamanite lands with water (referred to as seas in the preceeding verses), with the exception of a "small neck of land" connecting those areas with other lands Northward.

    7. Here, you're conflating "water" with "seas." If Mormon meant nearly surrounded with seas, he would have written that; as you observe, he referred to seas in the preceding verses. Instead, he chose a different word: water. I realize a lot of people conflate terms the way you are doing, but that's my point; why do people want to conflate terms when Mormon didn't?

      One quick comment on "narrow neck of land." On, we read this: "Since the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in 1830 a narrow neck of land has been a touchstone of its geography." That's the kind of statement that has led to all of this confusion. No one referred to the narrow neck of land, as a touchstone or otherwise, until 1842, and then only once in the anonymous article I attribute to Benjamin Winchester.

      The phrase--which really does appear only in Ether 10:20--never appears on the Evening and the Morning Star. It never appears in the Messenger and Advocate (although the phrase "narrow neck of water" does appear, which is what I think Alma 63:5 is referring to, which is why Ether 10:20 specified that neck was of land). It never appears in the writings of Parley P. Pratt, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, etc. The phrase appears exactly once in the Times and Seasons, in Winchester's Sept. 15, 1842 extract from the Stephens books. The only place it shows up in the Joseph Smith papers is in the Book of Mormon and a note to Orson Pratt's missionary pamphlet.

      The citation cartel has imprinted "narrow neck of land" on the minds of generations of LDS people, and that's definitely a challenge, but there's no point perpetuating the error and the confusion it has caused.

  2. Thanks for your comments. I apologize if my wording led you to think I am ignoring a scriptural reference. I didn't mean to imply that at all; instead, I think we should clear our minds of the hourglass image and start with a clean slate.

    I'm not insisting the "narrow neck of land" is only mentioned in one verse; I'm just observing the fact. Alma 63:5 refers to a narrow neck, but doesn't specify "of land." I think this is a significant difference because in Ether 10:20, if it was the same feature, there was no need to qualify it with the "of land" clause.

    I recognize that many people have conflated a variety of terms and references. That's a defensible view. I just disagree with it, because I think different terms refer to different things.

    In my view, every verse needs to be addressed and accounted for, so I think we're in agreement on that.

    I don't recall ever writing that Letter VII is flawless, but I do think it is pivotal. I think it's the pin in the map that ties Book of Mormon geography to the modern world. That's my disagreement with abstract maps; why do an abstract map when we already know where Cumorah is?

    I'm certainly not saying that the maps in Moroni's America are the only possible, or even best, interpretation of the text. I'd love to see alternatives based on the New York Cumorah. (I have seen a few, but so far, the ones I've seen ignore much of the text, IMO, or stretch it beyond what I find reasonable.)

    If you know of any maps that put Cumorah in New York, I'd like to see them.

    So definitely, I agree with you that we should not ignore any scriptural references.

    Again, thanks for your comment. All the best.

  3. I'm still not seeing where you even attempt to account for Ether 10:20 or any of the other references I mentioned. I'll readily admit that the term "hourglass" does not appear anywhere in the Book of Mormon and is a construct of internal models. I don't care if you throw out the "hourglass" term, but if you're going rope your tapir to the Letter VII wagon with such a pivotal cord, it would be nice if you at least made an attempt to explain one or more possible ways that those verses don't contradict your arguments.

    Like I said in the article you quoted relative the pitfalls of internal models, in a very large number of cases the text of the Book of Mormon is vague enough to allow for multiple interpretations.

    That's not to say that multiple interpretations are all correct, only that we don't have enough evidence to be able to be confident in every instance. The huge number of internal and external models that have been proposed is a testament to this concept.

    It's quite possible that you may find a way to (more or less) fit the geography with Letter VII's Cumorah in a way that doesn't contradict the text. If you can do that then your proposal, like many others out there, is worth considering.

    Unfortunately, what you'll probably find is that your Letter VII pin-in-the-map does not make your model easier to construct or make it any more viable than models you disagree with.

    What you're doing is hanging your hat on one thing that, in your opinion, appears to be rock-solid evidence for a precise location of one geographical feature in the Book of Mormon. Once you complete the exercise of turning that concept into an external model that takes into account all the geographical and cultural references in the Book of Mormon you should take a step back and look at the viability of the bigger picture.

    If you can take an honest look at your own work at that point, I think you'll find that you have to break your own rules regarding internal models and abstract maps. In other words, you'll end up with a bunch of explanations describing that the text of the Book of Mormon means something different than most readers might otherwise think it means.

    For example, most Meso-American models rely on a compass that doesn't point North and authors commonly assert that people moving "Northward" aren't necessarily traveling in a direction that is even close to what we consider "North". They've researched and written exhaustively on the subject and use cultural clues and their own reasoning in order to convince us that this is logical. Do I think they're right? no. I think "Northward" at least implies a direction that is more North than it is East or West, but they're quick to point out I'm not a 2,000-year-old Mayan, so I just don't get it...which is true.

    In my own Baja model there are two geographical references that I need to explain because, although my model matches the requirements of the text, those references seem to mean something different that what a casual reader might reasonably think they mean. Do I still think my model (including those two references) is generally accurate? Yep. I simply acknowledge that it is right for people to scrutinize those two references (SW flowing Sidon and my location for Cumorah) in particular. I simply think they hold up under honest scrutiny.

    On the other hand, although I think my model excels when it comes to geography, it lacks evidence of many cultural references mentioned in the Book of Mormon, such as metallurgy and, to some extent, writing systems. The lack of such evidence seriously erodes the confidence that should currently be placed in my model, and I readily admit that.

    (this comment exceeds your 4096 char max so I'll continue my thoughts in a 2nd comment)

  4. Once you've turned your Letter VII pin-in-the-map into a reasonably-complete model, I think you'll find that the explanations that you will have to come up with to make the geography fit will be much weaker than the arguments that other people make against the pivotal-ness of Letter VII.

    In fact, those explanations will be such a stretch of the imagination that it will probably be easier for you to simply adopt a Meso-America, or Baja, or Peru, etc. model and just change that model's Cumorah location to Letter VII's Cumorah location. Such a model will seem obviously silly to most people (including myself), but I believe that it will have much less to explain-away than a geography in the Eastern US.

    1. Apparently you're not familiar with Moroni's America. I address all of these verses there, from 1 Nephi through Moroni 10. The text describes North America very well. The model is "reasonably complete." If you're interested, read it. If not, I guess you'll have to stick with your own ideas about it.

      BTW, I really like what you've done with the Baja page. I'm glad you've given my blog readers some more information about it. In fact, here's the link for anyone who wants to know more about Baja:

      I'm fascinated by the visceral, emotional reaction to Letter VII that I keep seeing; e.g., "if you're going rope your tapir to the Letter VII wagon with such a pivotal cord."

      I didn't write Letter VII. Oliver Cowdery did. Everyone who has a problem with Letter VII has a problem with Oliver and Joseph, not me. That's why I don't take any of this personally.

      I wish you and the rest of the Baja group all the best. If it works for you, great. For me, any geography that repudiates Letter VII repudiates Oliver Cowdery, and I know of no good reasons--not a single one--to do that.

      It makes no sense to me to accept 95% of Oliver's letters--a portion of letter 1 is in the Pearl of Great Price, after all--and reject the 5% about Cumorah just because we want to promote the two-Cumorah theory. I completely concur with Joseph Fielding Smith's characterization of that theory.

      As I've shown in other posts, the citation cartel's characterization of the archaeology and geology of the Hill Cumorah in New York is not supportable.

      Other aspects of Church history also fit the New York hill and are inexplicable if the hill is elsewhere.

      At any rate, if you want to discuss Moroni's America down the road, let me know. You can always email me.

    2. Hi Jonathan,

      You said that you're "fascinated by the visceral, emotional reaction..."

      ...c'mon lol, tell me we can share at least a little humor in the tapir comment :)

      You're right. I'm not familiar with your book, nor is it high on my list of things I plan to read anytime soon. The reason I joined this conversation is because you decided to quote my writings. Pointing out how you are using my words for a different purpose than I wrote them does not oblige me to purchase your book.

      My own thoughts are that Letter VII seems to clearly represent Oliver Cowdery's views as of the time he wrote it, which probably also means that at a minimum Joseph Smith probably didn't object to that view at that time and that Oliver's views that are represented in the letter might very well represent Joseph's opinions as well. I've got no problem with that.

      My own opinion is that those views seem to me to contradict the geography described by Mormon, leaving me with a few possibilities:

      Possibility #1: I'm wrong. Maybe Mormon doesn't contradict Joseph and Oliver and I'm just misinterpreting the text.

      Possibility #2: Mormon's wrong. Although he and Moroni acknowledged the possibility that there could be errors in the record, they also said it was correct to the best of their knowledge. Mormon and the other authors were acting in the role of prophets when they described the geography, not to mention the fact that they were describing their own homelands. I don't see how this "possibility #2" is really a possibility.

      Possibility #3: Oliver (and by reasonable association, Joseph too) were wrong. While I would love to agree that Joseph knew about Book of Mormon geography via direct revelation, he never made such a claim. What he did say was that "a prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such". Joseph never claimed to have provided us with revelation regarding specific Book of Mormon geographical locations other than what is found in the text of the Book of Mormon. While it would be convenient to ignore the possibility that Joseph and Oliver often had opinions that did not reflect direct revelation, it is inappropriate to do so.

      Unless there are other possibilities I'm not considering, I tend to think that my "possibility #3" is correct, because the geographical location that Oliver describes so clearly in Letter VII seems to directly contradict Mormon's geographical descriptions. You can accuse me of having "a problem with Oliver and Joseph" all day long, but when my best understanding of all the evidence points to a contradiction between the text of the Book of Mormon and what appears to me to be opinions of Oliver (and by association Joseph too), I'm not going to simply dismiss Mormon's words in favor of Oliver's, nor am I going to accuse you of "having a problem with Mormon" ...cuz I'm just not that childish :)

      What I would rather do is have a thoughtful discussion of the applicable geography. I mentioned Mormon's use of the word "thus" in Alma 22:32. You certainly aren't under any obligation to respond, but to respond saying that Mormon's use of the terms "seas" and "water" are unrelated without addressing my primary point surrounding Mormon's use of the term "thus" is simply unconvincing.

    3. Wish there was a way to edit my comments on here, because I shouldn't have used the term "childish" in that last post. My apologies.

    4. Hi bommodel. I wish we could edit comments, too. I should probably move all of this to another format that allows editing.
      I cited your page because I agree with your comment about abstract models. If I misunderstood your point, I apologize, but you wrote it so well!
      Of your three possibilities, I go with #1 because in my view, Mormon's text describes North America very well. Everything fits, and it's consistent with what Joseph actually did say.
      We could say #2 has merit in the sense that Mormon didn't explain the geography in a way we would understand it clearly; not that he was wrong, but he wrote from his perspective on the ground, and we usually try to understand it using google Earth. But I think that's why the Lord gave us Cumorah as a pin in the map so we could understand Mormon's description. (I would have liked Mormon to engrave a simple map on the plates, but apparently he didn't.)
      #3 is problematic because outside the canonized scriptures, Joseph rarely claimed to receive a revelation about the things he taught. The idea that we can only believe explicit revelations means we should throw out the lesson manual "Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith. For that matter, we should throw out all those manuals, as well as the Ensign and General Conference, except when the speaker claims specific revelation. I don't see that as a viable approach.
      Letter VII was not a one-off, random comment. During Joseph's lifetime, it was published in 3 Church newspapers, included in Joseph's journal at his direction as part of his life history, and published in full in a separate pamphlet. Part of Letter I is in the Pearl of Great Price today.
      Besides, Joseph and Oliver had good reasons aside from a specific revelation for stating, as a fact, that the valley west of Cumorah was the scene of the final battles of the Jaredites and Lamanites.

      I completely agree with your comment about "thus." The two lands were nearly surrounded by water, with a small neck of land between them. That small neck was a strategic area. It's not a "narrow neck" and it's not bordered by oceans, contrary to the common hourglass concept.

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  6. Wow, people have thought long and hard about all of the geographical words and phrases in the Book of Mormon. I find this fascinating because I have not thought about this in detail as I have read. I'm not sure how one can ever say for certain if terms or phrases which sound similar can (or cannot) mean the same thing. I think I have to stay open to both possibilities as I read the text, including every possible interpretation of words - WOW!!