Book of Mormon/Plagiarism accusations/Place names from North America/Holley map
Book of Mormon geography as proposed by Vernal Holley
It is claimed that Vernal Holley has 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.
The Neal A. Maxwell Institute responds to these questions
L. Ara Norwood,"Review of Vernal Holley, Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look", Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, 1/1 (1989)
The main premise of Holley's study is that, contrary to statements by the likes of Bush, Hugh Nibley, L. L. Rice, President Joseph F. Smith, and James H. Fairchild, president of Oberlin College (where the Spaulding manuscript is now housed), there exist many similarities between the two texts. These similarities are given as evidence that the later work (the Book of Mormon) borrowed from, or was influenced by, the earlier work (the Spaulding manuscript). If that is so, then it is generally concluded that the Book of Mormon is the product of the mind of a nineteenth-century rustic whose clever trickery has duped millions of people into embracing the religion of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Vernal Holley's contribution to the issue is a plethora of parallels. Though interesting, these parallels do little to establish the charge (or in this case, the implication) of piracy on the part of the author of the Book of Mormon.
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
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.
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.
Holley map 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").
- 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