Book of Mormon/Plagiarism accusations/Place names from North America
Does the Book of Mormon borrow place names from the area around Joseph Smith's home?
Questions and Answers
Question: Could Joseph Smith have utilized place names and locations from the region in which he lived to create the Book of Mormon?
It is claimed that Joseph borrowed names from the surrounding regions
It is claimed 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|
Many of the names and places didn't exist in the late 1820s, and they are in the wrong locations relative to one another
The original idea behind this proposal was that Joseph picked up these place names and locations from a map in order to create his Book of Mormon geography. However, once it becomes apparent that the locations are in the wrong place, critics who support this proposal then fall back to the claim that the locations of the names are actually unimportant.
After the geography is thrown out, we are simply left with a list of names that Joseph supposedly found on a 19th-century map. However, once it also becomes obvious that many of the place names that were allegedly located on a 19th century map did not exist at the time that Joseph was dictating the Book of Mormon, the entire theory falls apart. Of the few that actually did exist, some of these names represent extremely small, distant sites about which Joseph almost certainly could have had no knowledge.
So critics rely on names which are in the wrong place, which didn't exist during Joseph's time, and which were too small and distant for him to be aware of. The final blow to this theory is that 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 critics insist that Joseph forged the Book of Mormon, isn't the Bible a far more likely source for these names than obscure hamlets hundreds of miles away, which did not appear on a map, and most of which didn't even exist with those names at that time?
Question: What is the Vernal Holley map?
Vernal Holley claimed to have reconstructed a Book of Mormon geography based on the region in which Joseph Smith lived
Vernal Holley claimed to have reconstructed a Book of Mormon geography based on a Great Lakes setting from the Book of Mormon text, which he then compares to the New England of Joseph Smith's day.
In order for Holley's theory to work at all, critics must develop a map based on New England; they cannot reconstruct their map from the Book of Mormon text itself—the Book of Mormon's geography is coherent and consistent, and it does not match Holley's efforts at all.
Holley's reconstruction is seriously flawed, and does not match the Book of Mormon text
It is interesting to note the critical response to these issues:
- Critics respond by postulating that if Solomon Spalding created a geography based upon the region surrounding the Great Lakes, that subsequent alleged contributors to the Book of Mormon such as Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery or Parley P. Pratt could have altered Spalding's initially consistent geography without fully understanding Spalding's writings (in the alleged yet-to-be-discovered second Spalding manuscript), and that these men made changes that were not fully successful in maintaining the consistency of the story.
- It is claimed that Holley eliminated much of his reference text and citations in an attempt to reduce the size of his booklet in order to make it more easily readable and lower the sales price.
The Book of Mormon geography is well documented and has been shown to be internally consistent, therefore such critical speculation based upon absent evidence that Holley to document does not carry any significant weight.
Some blatant errors in the Holley map
Some geographical problems with this map include:
- it places Jacobugath, site of "King Jacob's" dissenters far in the land southward, when the Book of Mormon has it far in the land northward (3 Nephi 7:9-12; see also 3 Nephi 9:9).
- the land of first inheritance [land of Lehi-Nephi] is on the eastern coast of the United States, while the Book of Mormon is clear that Lehi and his group landed on the western coast. (See here for more information on the sea voyage.)
- "Ogath" is mentioned only once, and it is south of Ripliancum in Jaredite territory (Ether 15:10. On Holley's map, it would be almost due east of the map's Ripliancum, not south as the Book of Mormon text requires.
Even based on these three errors, it should be clear that Holley's map has serious problems.
Further errors in the Holley map
But, the problems continue with virtually every place name on the map:
- The City of Morianton should be by the eastern seashore, near the city of Lehi (Alma 50:25); Holley places it near the "sea west," not the sea east.
- "Ramah" is the Jaredite name for the Hill Cumorah (Ether 15:11). Yet, Holley places it in Ontario, not anywhere near New York and the hill where Joseph retrieved the plates.
- Angola should be north of Zarahemla, in the land Northward (Mormon 2:3-4).
- Alma should be north of Lehi-Nephi, not far to the west (Mosiah 18:30-34; Mosiah 23:1-4,19 Mosiah 24:20,24-25).
- The city Teancum is near the city Desolation in the Book of Mormon (Mormon 4:3) by the seashore. The city and land of Desolation is on the east coast, near the narrow neck of land (see Alma 22:30-34). Yet, Holley places Teancum far from the narrow neck.
- the "hill Ephraim" is likewise mentioned only once (Ether 7:9). Not much information is given, though it seems to be near the land of Desolation. Yet, in Holley's map hill Ephraim is far to the northeast of the narrow neck, and on the completely opposite side of the map as Teancum, which is also supposed to be near Desolation (see above). This looks like an instance in which those claiming that this map is "the same" as the Book of Mormon have simply placed a city based on a New England map, rather than the Book of Mormon text. This is circular reasoning.
- The critic is again guilty of circular reasoning the case of the city "Kishkumen." This city is mentioned only in 3 Nephi 9:10; there is not enough information to place it on a map. Yet, it is placed on the Book of Mormon map based on the correlation which the critic wishes to prove. We cannot legitimately use the location of American cities to create a Book of Mormon map that we then use as evidence that the Book of Mormon used the location of American cities to construct its map.
- "Shurr" is another Jaredite place name mentioned in only one place (Ether 14:28). Shurr should be near the eastern seashore (Ether 14:26), but it is nowhere near the map's "sea east." Furthermore, after this battle the armies gather at Ramah, which is far to the west of Holley's Shurr. Why would Shiz allow Coriantumr to regain extensive territory and resources that his eastward pursuit has won?
- Holley places the city of "Angola" south and west of Zarahemla; yet Mormon tells us that Angola was encountered as the Nephites retreated "toward the north countries." After being driven from Angola, they come to the city of David, which "was in the borders west by the seashore" (Mormon 4:1-7). Yet, Holley's Angola is south of Zarahemla, and already directly on the west seashore. His geographical reconstruction does not match the text or the described tactics. Why would the Nephites, headed for the land Northward, march southward, and put a lake to their north which would block their flight?
- Holley places the valley of Alma to the west of Midian. Midian is again mentioned only once (Alma 24:5), and so this is a case in which Holley has placed his Book of Mormon map based on New England: more circular reasoning. However, it is unlikely that the Valley of Alma would be west of Midian, which is near the Lamanite territory in which the Limhites settled. Alma the Elder left King Noah's land, and traveled eight days into the wilderness, to Helam. They later fled one day's journey to the valley of Alma. They then fled a further twelve days to Zarahemla. Unless Alma is heading generally north during each of these journeys, Holley's map cannot hope to work--the distances are too great. Thus, it seems unlikely that Alma would have journeyed 13 days west of Lamanite territory (Midian) before heading north to the Nephite lands. (See here and here for more extensive discussions on mapping the distances of this key journey for Book of Mormon internal geography.)
- "On his maps, [Holley] sees a parallel between this river [the Sidon] and the Genesee River, yet on pages 14-15 he draws a parallel between the river Sidon and the Ohio River."
We should note too that many of Holley's "matches" are locations mentioned only once in the Book of Mormon text—they cannot be placed with any confidence on an internal map based on the text alone, and so Holley can simply plop them wherever he likes in New England without fear of contradiction. (He relies heavily on Jaredite place names, and Jaredite geography is much less clear than Nephite.) His map would be more impressive if locations mentioned frequency in the Book of Mormon actually matched his map in relatively location and distance.
Clearly, then, this map has been designed by first looking at a New England map, and then placing Book of Mormon place names on it. The map is incoherent if one starts with the Book of Mormon text itself. This portion of the argument, then, is merely an exercise in circular reasoning and proves nothing, save that those who think this represents a plausible map do not know the Book of Mormon text well.
The Holley map is used to support the Spalding theory
Critics have used Holley's geography and map to support the Spalding/Rigdon theory of Book of Mormon authorship as well. In the alleged "second manuscript" that some imagine 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").
Question: Does Vernal Holley rely on modern maps to create his comparison of actual place names with Book of Mormon names?
Holley claims to have obtained his names from gazetteers that were available in Joseph Smith's time, however he uses "modern maps" and "modern place names" as the basis for his comparison
One critic of Mormonism challenges the idea that Vernal Holley obtained his place names from modern maps:
Vernal Holley is dead. We can’t contact him to find out exactly where he got his sources. FairMormon’s strawman that these towns/cities were discovered only through maps may not be...how Holley found some of the towns. He may have used letters, newspapers, post office records, obituaries, local city/county library records, etc. in which records and books are not accessible online. We do not know.
However, Holley himself claims to have used modern maps and modern place names in his comparison. Holley claims that "The following modern place names are actually located in the area of Spaulding's Manuscript Story setting. All but a few can be found in gazetteers published prior to the Book of Mormon."  Holley does not list the gazetteers that he used. Holley indicates that he is comparing "Modern Maps" against the "Book of Mormon."
Holley states that he is using modern maps and locations in his comments regarding the cities of Angola and Tecumseh: both are names that weren't assigned to those locations until many years after the Book of Mormon was published
Holley points out that the present day city of Angola, New York is a possible match for a Book of Mormon location. He notes the location of the city on "modern maps". Holley states,
The present day city of Angola, New York, is located west of the Genesee (Sidon?) River and south ["in the borders"] of the proposed land of Zarahemla. This is another example of the many actual locations in the Great Lakes area that can be located on modern maps by following geographical information in the Book of Mormon. 
However, when one looks up the Wikipedia entry for Angola, New York, it becomes evident that the name "Angola" was not established until approximately 1854, twenty-four years after the Book of Mormon was published. Wikipedia notes,
The community was previously called "Evans Station." In 1854 or 1855, a post office was established there, bearing the name Angola. 
Holley makes the same error in relying on modern maps with the city of Tecumseh, Canada. In his book Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look, Holley claims,
Teancum, a Book of Mormon city located in a land called Desolation, within the north country, was "in the borders by the seashore" (Mormon 4:3). It was named after Teancum, who fought and died in the land Desolation while helping the Nephite military commander, Moroni, contain the Lamanites who were trying to gain access to the "land northward" (Alma, Chapters 50-62).
The modern city of Tecumseh [Tenecum] is located in Canada (the land to the north), by "the borders" of Canada and the United States, and by "the seashore." It was named after the great Shawnee Indian chief, who fought and died as a military commander under the British in the War of 1812, while helping their forces contain the Americans, who were trying to gain access to British territory in Canada. 
Once again, a check of the city's history on Wikipedia reveals that the name "Tecumseh" wasn't assigned to the area until 1912, eighty-two years after the Book of Mormon was published.
In 1792, Tecumseh, then known as Ryegate Postal Station, had only three families. In 1912. Ryegate Postal Station was renamed Tecumseh in honour of Tecumseh, leader of the Shawnee Tribe who was killed at battle in the War of 1812. 
Question: How valid are the names used in the Holley Map?
When a comparison is made to maps available in the 1800s, it becomes evident that Holley has included names of places which didn't even exist in Joseph Smith's time
The Book of Mormon contains 345 names. The theory, proposed by Vernal Holley and posted by Mazeministries, is that 28 of these names were derived by Joseph Smith by looking at the names of places in the surrounding region, then altering the names slightly to create a map of Book of Mormon lands.
Rather than compare to "modern maps" and "modern place names" as Holley indicated that he did, we have made an attempt to locate these places on maps from the 1800s, which could have been available to Joseph Smith. When such a comparison is made, it becomes evident that Holley has included names of places which didn't even exist in Joseph Smith's time.
The following correspondences are listed. In order to obtain this list of parallels, a huge geographical area must be scanned: Five states and two Canadian provinces yield this list of parallels, and it gets even smaller when one actually tries to locate many of these places on a map. In the list below,
- Names in red indicate places which either did not have that name until after 1830, or cannot be found on a map or in the Book of Mormon.
- Names in blue indicate names that are found in the Bible.
- Names in green indicate names that could potentially be a valid match.
- Actual Place Names = Book of Mormon Place Names
Alma = Alma, Valley of
In the area indicated on the Holley map, modern maps show that there is a small, unincorporated community called Centerville, also known as Alma, in Tyler County, West Virginia, United States. Coordinates: 39°25′55″N 80°50′24″W. However, when we view the 1822 map of Virginia, we cannot find the name "Alma" anywhere.
Antrim = Antum
"Antrim Township" is located in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. It was named after County Antrim in Northern Ireland. The township was organized in 1741.
Antioch = Anti-Anti
The name "Anti-Anti" doesn't even appear in the Book of Mormon, nor does the biblical name "Antioch."
Boaz = Boaz
The name "Boaz" is from the Bible. Joseph would not have needed to look at a map for this one, unless one accepts Holley's assertion that the Holley map is supposed to show the geographical locations of Book of Mormon places.
Conner = Comner
The name "Comner" doesn't appear in the Book of Mormon. The name "Comnor" does, in Ether 14:28. Of course, "Comnor" doesn't match "Conner" quite as closely in spelling. We cannot find "Connor" in either New York or Pennsylvania.
Ephrem, Saint = Ephraim, Hill
The actual name is "Saint-Éphrem-de-Beauce, Quebec." Wikipedia shows the town being established with that name in 1866. This is 36 years after the publication of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon name "Ephraim," of course, is easily found in the Bible.
Hellam = Helam
According to their website, Hellam Township, Pennsylvania, was established in 1739.
Jacobsburg = Jacobugath
Jacobsburg, Belmont Co., Ohio does not even show up on a 1822 map of Ohio. According to Wikipedia: "Jacobsburg was laid out in 1815. It was probably named for its founder, Jacob Calvert." Therefore, the town definitely existed prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon, but was apparently too small to appear on the 1822 map seven years later. By 1833, three years after the publication of the Book of Mormon, Jacobsberg had grown to include "one tavern, two stores, a physician, sundry mechanics, and about 120 inhabitants."  Jacobsburg does indeed appear on an 1831 map of Ohio (one year after the Book of Mormon was published).
Jerusalem = Jerusalem
Jerusalem, Monroe Co., Ohio does not even show up on a 1822 map of Ohio, nor does it show up on a 1831 map of Ohio (one year after the Book of Mormon was published). Even today the village of Jerusalem occupies only 0.2 square miles. The Holley map shows "Jerusalem" in Ohio, but we went ahead and searched for other towns named "Jerusalem." It turns out that there is a Jerusalem, New York that was established in 1789, however, it does not appear on either the 1822 map or the 1831 maps of the state of New York. The town was named after the Biblical city of Jerusalem. Besides, the name "Jerusalem" is from the Bible. Joseph would not have needed to look at a map for this one, unless one accepts Holley's assertion that the Holley map is supposed to show the geographical locations of Book of Mormon places.
Jordan = Jordan
The village of Jordan, New York existed prior to 1819 and became an incorporated village in 1835.  The town of Jordan, New York was established prior to 1819, but does not appear on the 1822 map of New York. It does appear on the 1827 map (three years prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon) and the 1831 map of New York (one year after the publication of the Book of Mormon). The name "Jordan" is from the Bible. Joseph would not have needed to look at a map for this one, unless one accepts Holley's assertion that the Holley map is supposed to show the geographical locations of Book of Mormon places.
Kishkiminetas = Kishkumen
Vernal Holley relies upon "modern maps" when he speculates on the name Kishkumen,
The location of the Book of Mormon city of Kishkumen is not given in the text. However. there are names similar to Kishkumen, on modern maps, in the location of Spaulding's Manuscript Story setting. 
Kiskiminetas Township, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania was given that name in 1832, two years after the Book of Mormon was published. From History of Armstrong County Pennsylvania, written in 1883 by Robert Walter Smith, "The petition of sundry inhabitants of Allegheny township was presented December 22, 1831, to the court of quarter sessions of this county, asking that a new township be formed out of the upper end of Allegheny township, to be called Kiskiminetas. Philip Klingensmith, John Lafferty and John McKissen were appointed viewers, who, after one continuance of their order, presented their report recommending the organization of the new township, which was approved by the court June 19, 1832." off-site Kiskiminetas River in Pennsylvania does exist prior to the town, and one would assume that it would show up on a map. The Holley map, however, does not indicate that Kishkiminetas is a river, but rather a place.
Lehigh = Lehi
There is indeed a "Lehigh Valley" located in Pennsylvania.
Mantua = Manti
According to their website, Mantua Village, Ohio, was incorporated in 1898. This is 68 years after the publication of the Book of Mormon.
Monroe = Moroni
There is a town "Monroe, New York" which was named in 1808. The town does not appear on either the 1822 or the 1831 maps of New York.
Minoa = Minon
According to the Minoa town website, the town of Minoa, New York received that name in 1895. That is 60 years after the Book of Mormon was published.
Moraviantown = Morianton
Moravian Indian Reserve No. 47, Ontario, appears to have been established in 1782.
Morin = Moron
According to Wikipedia, Morin Township, Quebec, was formed in 1852. This would be 22 years after the Book of Mormon was published.
Noah Lakes = Noah, Land of
The name "Noah" is from the Bible. Joseph would not have needed to look at a map for this one, unless one accepts Holley's assertion that the Holley map is supposed to show the geographical locations of Book of Mormon places.
Oneida = Onidah
See "Oneida Castle".
Oneida Castle = Onidah, Hill
Oneida Castle, New York is located at 43°4′42″N 75°38′0″W. The town has existed since the 18th century.
Omer = Omner
We cannot find "Omer" on any modern map of Pennsylvania, New York or Canada.
Rama = Ramah
Holley speculates that Joseph obtained the name "Rama" from the Rama Indian Reservation or Rama Township, noting that
"Today, south by southeast from Lake Superior (Waters of Ripliancum?), near Lake Simcoe in Ontario, Canada, is the Rama Indian Reservation,  located within the boundaries of Rama Township.  The Book of Mormon Ramah was [relatively near] the Waters of Ripliancum in the "land northward," and, similarly, the modern day Rama Indian Reservation is located [relatively near] several place names with a "Ripple" designation, in Canada (the north country)."
However, the Rama Indian Reservation did not exist as such until 1836, when the Chippewas of Lake Simcoe and Huron were forced to move and purchased the land in Rama Township in 1836.
Known as the Chippewas of Lake Simcoe and Huron, our people are part of the Chippewa Tri-Council, an alliance of three First Nation communities now known as Beausoleil First Nation on Christian Island, the Chippewas of Georgina Island on Georgina Island, and Rama First Nation. Under the leadership of our hereditary Chief, Chief Musquakie(Yellowhead) who served his community from 1818 to 1844, the Chippewa Tri-Council First Nations continue their alliance today.
Well known for our hospitality, we shared our knowledge and medicines with early settlers which enabled them to survive their first difficult years in a sometimes harsh land.
Around 1830, our community was moved to the Coldwater Narrows area by the Crown, part of an “experiment” which shaped “Indian Reserves”. We continued on as industrious people, building a road for commerce which is known today as Highway 12, establishing farms, mills, and markets for selling produce, fish and game to settlers and travelers.
Forced to move again after our land was taken in what is now being termed an “illegal surrender”, we purchased land in Rama Township in 1836 and made a new beginning for our people. 
This is six years after the publication of the Book of Mormon. Moreover, the Rama Township, Ontario, itself was only "first surveyed in 1834." , four years after the publication of the Book of Mormon. 
Ripple Lake = Ripliancum, Waters of
Holley speculated that "Waters of Ripliancum may have been Lake Superior, the largest of the five Great Lakes. On or near the north shore of Lake Superior are Ripple Bay, Ripple Creek, Ripple Reef, and Ripple Lake -- names surprisingly similar to the "Waters of Ripliancum."  However, 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?"
Sodom = Sidom
The name "Sodom," of course, is well known from the Bible. Joseph would not have needed to look at a map for this one, unless one accepts Holley's assertion that the Holley map is supposed to show the geographical locations of Book of Mormon places.
Shiloh = Shilom
There is a Shiloh, Pennsylvania on modern maps, however, it is a Census Designated Place (CDP) consisting of 4.2 square miles  that was established only for statistical purposes. As such, it does not appear on any maps. The name "Shiloh" is a biblical name.
Land of Midian = Land of Midian
The name "Land of Midian" is from the Bible and it is located in Egypt. Joseph would not have needed to look at a map for this one, unless one accepts Holley's assertion that the Holley map is supposed to show the geographical locations of Book of Mormon places. We are unable to locate a "Midian" or "Land of Midian" on any modern map of Pennsylvania.
Question: Are the names on the Holley Map in the correct locations relative to one another?
Not only are the names claimed to be similar to those in the Book of Mormon, but also that the locations of those names are similar. In addition, since some of these names could have easily been taken from the Bible instead of the surrounding region, one must assume that their inclusion on the map also implies that their geographical locations relative to one another are important.
Looking at the geography, it is clear from Holley's map that a number of locations have been selected to make the names match the existing geography. Some examples:
- The map places Jacobugath, site of "King Jacob's" dissenters far in the land southward, when the Book of Mormon has it far in the land northward (3 Nephi 7:9-12; see also 3 Nephi 9:9).
- The map places the land of first inheritance [land of Lehi-Nephi] is on the eastern coast of the United States, while the Book of Mormon is clear that Lehi and his group landed on the western coast.
- The City of Morianton should be by the eastern seashore, near the city of Lehi (Alma 50:25).
- "Ramah" is the Jaredite name for the Hill Cumorah (Ether 15:11). The Hill Cumorah is not in Canada.
- James R. Spencer, "BoM Empire Discovered," mazeministry.com (accessed 26 October 2008) claims that "My friend, the late Vernal Holley, originally published these maps....the two maps compare a "proposed map" constructed by Vernal from the internal descriptions of the Book of Mormon and comments, over the years by Latter-day Saint scholars, with a map showing actual place names on maps of the area around Palmyra, New York, where the Book of Mormon originally was published."
- L. Ara Norwood, "Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look (Review of Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look by Vernal Holley)," FARMS Review of Books 1/1 (1989): 80–88. off-site
- Jeremy Runnells, "Debunking FairMormon"
- Vernal Holley, Book of Mormon Authorship
- "Angola, New York," Wikipedia (access 14 Mar 2015)
- "Tecumseh, Ontario," Wikipedia (accessed 14 Mar 2015)
- Wikipedia article "Jacobsburg, Ohio".
- Wikipedia, "Jerusalem, Ohio" off-site Image taken from the David Rumsey Map Collection.
- Wikipedia, "Jordan, New York." off-site
- Chippewas of Rama First Nation, "About Us"
- Reflections of the Past : the story of Rama Township : a joint project of the Township of Rama and the Orillia Public Library, off-site
- Holley has two footnotes in his book Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look related to the name "Rama":  According to G.H. Armstrong, in his The Origin and Meanings of Place Names in Canada, Toronto, 1972, "Rama is the Greek form of Ramah of the Bible, which is said to mean 'high place'";  J.G. Farewell, History of the County of Ontario, 1907.
- Wikipedia, "Shiloh, York County, Pennsylvania" off-site