Book of Mormon/Plagiarism accusations/Place names from North America
Critics claim that Joseph Smith is clearly the author of the Book of Mormon because many Book of Mormon place names supposedly have clear evidence of "borrowing" from geographic locations in the United States and Canada.
Examples of this include:
|Book of Mormon City||Claimed Source||Book of Mormon City||Claimed Source|
|Alma||Alma||Land of Lehi-Nephi||Lehigh|
|Shilom||Shiloh||Ripliancum||Ripple Lake, Ontario|
Critics attempt to discredit Joseph even by resorting to suggesting place names that did not exist in his day. They also resort to extremely small, distant sites about which Joseph almost certainly could have had no knowledge.
They also overlook the Biblical source for their American "parallels," which are far more likely and plausible than giving Joseph an encyclopedic knowledge of North American place names. Even if they insist that he forged the Book of Mormon, isn't the Bible a far more likely source for these names than obscure hamlets hundreds of miles away?
Finding "parallels" between almost any subject is usually easy to do. Such parallels become more impressive if data which do not support the parallel are ignored, if only parallels are considered (instead of parallels and "UNparallels"), and if one does not consider alternate explanations. There are two schools of thought regarding these place names:
- That familiar place names in the region in which Joseph lived, or that he could have found on a map, were incorporated into the Book of Mormon narrative. This theory does not require that those names fit in a geographically parallel location.
- That familiar place names in the Northeastern area of the United States can be used to form a map describing internal Book of Mormon geography. This is the theory proposed by Vernal Holley. A response to this theory may be viewed here.
Small towns in a vast area
Consider the issue of assigning parallels between Book of Mormon place names and the region in which Joseph Smith lived. In order to obtain this list of parallels, a huge geographical area must be scanned in order to obtain names like Rama, Ontario (over 100 miles north of Toronto, Canada); Ste. Agathe, Quebec (full name is Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts; it is north of Montreal and Ottawa); Shiloh, New Jersey; Jerusalem and Jacobsburg, Ohio; and Alma, West Virginia. Five states and two Canadian provinces yield this little list of parallels.
Complicating this is the size of some of the towns identified. For example, Jerusalem, Monroe Co., Ohio and Jacobsburg, Belmont Co., Ohio were small enough that they did not even show up on a 1822 map of Ohio. Even today the village of Jerusalem occupies only 0.2 square miles.
Ripple Lake is so small that it is difficult to locate on modern day maps, and it is one of more than 250,000 lakes in Ontario. Are we to assume that Joseph selected this one location amongst many, and then converted the name "Ripple Lake" to "Ripliancum?"
Some of the names listed by the critics are, in fact, Biblical names. If one is going to suggest that Joseph plagiarized the names, why rely on obscure and sometimes distant American towns when it can be just as easily proposed that Joseph took the name from the Bible? It is clear that whoever wrote the Book of Mormon was familiar with the Old Testament, and so it is not surprising that some Biblical names were used:
- Lehi (Judges 15:9-19: The "Lehi" in the city Lehi-Nephi is clearly from the name of the two prophets of 1 Nephi. This is more plausible than making "Lehi-Nephi" come from the U.S. "Leheigh."
- Jerusalem (multiple): Any Bible reader would know Jerusalem.
- 'Jacobugath: The element "Jacob" is a well-known Biblical name. The "Gath" portion is also well-known as a Philistine city (1 Samuel 5:8).
- Ramah (1 Samuel 19:22-2: Critics suggest that the Book of Mormon "Ramah" comes from the local "Rama." However, the KJV Old Testament has "Ramah" repeatedly; "Rama" is also used once in the New Testament. Again, a direct borrowing from the Old Testament (whether by Joseph as plagiarizer or by ancient authors) is more plausible than raiding the 19th century geography.
- Shilom: A closer parallel than "Shiloah" in the U.S. is the Biblical "Siloam" (see Luke 13:4). If one really wants Shiloah, there is the Biblical "Siloah" (Nehemiah 3:15).
Names that didn't exist in Joseph's day
Critics scour modern maps looking for "parallels," and, without realizing it, use some place names that didn't exist at all during the period of time that the Book of Mormon was being translated in 1829. In fact, critics even go so far as to claim that apologists attempt to create doubt about whether or not these communities existed prior to the production of the Book of Mormon. It is not an issue of "creating doubt" however—either a place name existed prior to the production of the Book of Mormon, or it did not.
Ogath supposedly derived from Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts...a place not settled until 1849
The town of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec was established by Augustin Norbert Morin and first settled in 1849. 
Angola supposedly derived from Angola...a place not named such until 1855
This name is identical, and located within New York state. This would seem to be an excellent candidate for the critics' theory. However, the settlement at that site was not named "Angola" until 1855!
- The earliest settlers to arrive were in the vicinity located in the Evans Center area. Saw and grist mills along Big Sister Creek were established; and with the blacksmith shops and stores nearby, it soon became the center of most social activities.
- However, in 1852 the Buffalo and State Line Railroad laid tracks and built a station about a mile south of Evans Center. The railroad proved to be a great boon to the area causing a shift of the center of activities towards "Evans Station," known today as Angola.
- Over the years many have searched and probed into the past to determine the origin of the name Angola. There have been several versions but the following seems to be the most authentic. In 1820 a mail route was established between Buffalo and Olean, and a post office was opened at Springville. Two years later a post office designated" Angola" was opened at Taylor Hollow near Gowanda. The name may be related to the fact that a majority of the residents in Taylor Hollow were Quakers who being missionary-minded helped to support Angola, Africa, as one of their projects.
- In 1855 John Andrus, an influential owner in Evans Station, made application to have the "Angola" Post Office transferred...
There's a chance Joseph could have heard of the little Angola post office, or of the territory of Angola in Africa, but it seems far-fetched to think that modern Angola, New York could have any direct bearing on the Book of Mormon.
Teancum supposedly derived from Tecumseh...A place not named until 1912
Tecumseh, the supposed origin of Teancum, requires considerable creativity to even make the words the same. (The critics rely on the fact that words which start with the same letter seem "the same" to us on a cursory glance.) To get Teancum from Tecumseh, one has to take off the last syllable, add "an" after the "Te," and there you have it. Tecumseh = Teancum. Kind of like John = Joshua!
But could Joseph have known about Tecumseh, Ontario? As a prophet of God, yes, but as a plagiarizer, unlikely. Tecumseh, Ontario did not get this name until 1912. As Wikipedia explains:
- Originally known as Ryegate Postal Station when it was first settled in 1792, Tecumseh was renamed in 1912 after the Shawnee tribe leader of the same name. It was officially incorporated as a town in 1921.
Desperate to save this idea, other critics have suggested the town of Tecumseh, Michigan instead of the Tecumseh, Ontario, replacing a ridiculous candidate with one that is merely silly (and even further from Joseph Smith than its later Canadian cousin).
A check of the Michigan location reveals that this tiny Western suburb of Detroit had just barely been settled by a tiny handful of people in the late 1820s, but at least there was a village of Tecumseh in 1824. Insignificant and remote for those in Joseph Smith's area, it's hard to imagine Joseph being aware of that village and feeling some need to stick it on a mental map of the Book of Mormon. And while he may well have heard of the Indian warrior Tecumseh, it's still quite a stretch to get Teancum from that name.
Association with the Spalding theory
Critics associate parallels in local place names with the Spalding/Rigdon theory of Book of Mormon authorship as well. In the case of the Vernal Holley map and Spalding theory, such names would have to existed prior to 1816. In the alleged "second manuscript" that critics claim that Solomon Spalding produced, it is theorized that either Spalding himself, or Sidney Rigdon as the person who allegedly stole a yet-to-be-discovered second Spalding manuscript, incorporated existing place names in some form into the story. In Spalding's extant (and unfinished) manuscript, he is known to have incorporated known place names to identify specific groups of people (e.g. "Kentucks", "Delwans," and "Ohians"). In the case of the Holley map, critics respond to this lack of evidence that some place names existed prior to 1816 by claiming that Holley never published his research containing the sources for the 19th century names he listed on his map, and that he failed to document his sources in his published booklet which outlined his theory. Thus, in order to support the association of Holley's place names with the Spalding theory, we must assume the existence of undocumented research on the part of Holley in support of a yet-to-be-discovered second Spalding manuscript.
Some of the alleged "parallels" are extremely weak due to their fragmentary nature.
- Kishkumen and Kishkiminetas/Kiskiminetas (there are two variant spellings) might be said to share a "Kish/Kis" first syllable. But, what relationship is there between "-kumen" and "-kiminetas"?
- Morianton and Moraviantown likewise share a "Mor-" first element. But, what are we to make of "-ianton" and "-avian"?
Critics respond to this by noting that Vernal Holley did not document variations in spelling for his 19th century place names, and that there were alternative spellings for these names (e.g. Kishkemenetus) as well as alternative pronunciations. Again, as previously noted regarding Holley's sources, critics wish us to assume the existence of undocumented research in order to support their theory.
Other implausible sites
Alma = Alma
Could Joseph have heard of Alma, West Virginia? Perhaps, however the town is so small even today that there is almost no information about it on the Web - not even a stub in Wikipedia. The satellite image of the town suggests that there might be a couple of businesses in the area, but there seems to be little there even in modern times.
With so many other sources of "Alma" to choose from - like "alma mater" or the female Latin name Alma, why do we have to drop down to West Virginia to find this "incredible" parallel? Alma isn't even a city in the Book of Mormon—instead, it's a prominent name for a couple of prophets. True, there was a valley that Alma's group encounters in Mosiah 24 that his people briefly called the valley of Alma on their way back to the main land of the Nephites, but this is nowhere close to being a notable landmark in Book of Mormon geography.
More importantly, the reality is that nothing available to Joseph Smith would have informed him that Alma was not a female name, but was actually an authentic male Jewish name in Nephi's day, a name that could have been brought to the New World by Nephi's group.
For a detailed response, see: Book of Mormon "anachronisms"—Alma as a male Hebrew name
Rama = Ramah
As indicated above, Ramah is a perfectly good Biblical name.
Critics claim, however, that "Rama, Ontario" was Joseph Smith's source for this name. However, it is on the opposite side of Lake Huron, and today holds only a casino and about 500 inhabitants. How likely is it that Joseph would have even heard of this obscure spot? Ramah is also the Jaredite name for Cumorah, yet Holley's map does not place it at the New York Cumorah location, but in Ontario. This would seem to be more evidence that he created his "Book of Mormon map" by looking at New England placenames, and not by looking at the Book of Mormon text.
A modern survey of thousands of square miles and hundreds of small townships can doubtless turn up a few coincidental matches to Book of Mormon place names—or place names from any other source.
Cognates and similar names occur easily by chance and can readily be found anywhere one looks. (One LDS author has compiled a list of Hawaiian "parallels" that are at least as convincing as the critics', to demonstrate how pointless this exercise is.)
The examples provided by the critics fail on multiple grounds, as this color-coded chart demonstrates:
|Book of Mormon City||Claimed Source||Book of Mormon City||Claimed Source|
|Alma||Alma||Land of Lehi-Nephi||Lehigh|
- Red = Did not exist in the 1816 to 1830 timeframe
- Blue = Biblical name or element
- Green = Small, distant and likely unknown to Joseph
- Violet = Partial parallel at best given name differences
- Black starred (*) = site not yet located on modern map. Has it vanished or is this an error?
|Book of Mormon|
Book of Mormon & Bible:
|FAIR Wiki Topical Guide|
|FAIR web site|
|FARMS web site|
- [note] This wiki article was initially based on a webposting made by Jeff Lindsay, and with his kind permission was used as the base text for the wiki article. Due to the nature of a wiki project, the article may have been substantially modified from the original text. Jeff Lindsay, "Book of Mormon Plagiarism: The Hawaiian Connection," mormanity blog, (29 July 2007). off-site
- [note] "Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec," Wikipedia (accessed 27 Nov. 2009). off-site
- [note] "Angola, New York," Wikipedia (accessed 31 July 2007). off-site
- [note] Joan Huston, "The History of Angola from 1873 to 1973," in the Angola Village Centennial Celebration Booklet (22 July to 28 July, 1873). off-site
- [note] "Tecumseh, Ontario," Wikipedia (accessed 31 July 2007). off-site
- [note] "Tecumseh, Michigan," Wikipedia (accessed 31 July 2007). off-site
- [note] "Chippewas of Rama Mnjikaning First Nation," wikipedia (accessed 31 July 2007). off-site See also "Rama, Ontario," wikipedia (accessed 31 July 2007). off-site
- [note] Jeff Lindsay, "Book of Mormon Plagiarism: The Hawaiian Connection," mormanity blog, (29 July 2007). off-site
Copyright © 2005–2013 Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The content of this page may not be copied, published, or redistributed without the prior written consent of FAIR. The Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR) is a non-profit organization formed in late 1997 for the purpose of defending the Church. FAIR is staffed completely by volunteers, all of whom are dedicated to defending the Church. FAIR is not owned, controlled by, or affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All research and opinions provided on this site are the sole responsibility of FAIR and should not be interpreted as official statements of LDS doctrine, belief, or practice.
If you have a question or feedback on this article, please feel free to pose your question to the FAIR Apologetics list at "Ask the Apologist"