Question: Does a Mesoamerican limited geographical Book of Mormon setting contradict D&C 54:8, which discusses the "borders of the Lamanites" being in North America?


Question: Does a Mesoamerican limited geographical Book of Mormon setting contradict D&C 54:8, which discusses the "borders of the Lamanites" being in North America?

The statement "borders of the Lamanites" applied to a Missouri setting does not exclude any possible geographical model for the Book of Mormon

In the revelation that became D&C 28, the location of the city of Zion is originally stated to be "among the Lamanites."

And now I say unto you, that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the City shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you, that it shall be among the Lamanites. [1]

When this revelation was published in the Book of Commandments (Chapter 30), Sidney Rigdon modified the text "among the Lamanites" to read "on the borders by the Lamanites". [2]

8. And now behold I say unto you, that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter.
9. Behold I say unto you, that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites. [3]

From the present D&C:

9 And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites. DC 28:9

The present Doctrine and Covenants Section 54:8 contains a command to journey to the "borders of the Lamanites."

And thus you shall take your journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites. (DC 54:8) (emphasis added)

Compare this to Alma 39:3, which states:

And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel. (Alma 39:3) (emphasis added)

Critics use the revelatory association of the "land of Missouri," "among the Lamanites" and the "borders to the Lamanites" to conclude that Church members must accept that the geographical region covered by the Book of Mormon encompasses the area occupied by the present state of Missouri. This is used by critics to "prove" that we are required to accept a hemispheric geographical setting. The same reasoning could be applied in order to "prove" the validity of a limited North American setting.

There is no revealed Book of Mormon geographical setting. Although many LDS scholars favor a Mesoamerican setting based upon a substantial amount of evidence, there are many different models which propose settings in other regions in North America, South America or the entire hemispheric New World. The response to this criticism is not intended to promote a particular setting over another, but rather to rebut an attempt to exclude any setting other than a North American one.

All who can be considered "Lamanites" are not described in the Book of Mormon

It is important to note that the Lamanites are a people, and that they are not limited to the geographical area described within the Book of Mormon itself. For example, the story of Zelph identifies a potential Lamanite who lived in the area of Pike County, Illinois. During this period of time Joseph Smith clearly considered the lands of the Nephites and Lamanites to be associated with the "Indian Territories" of the western frontier. The identification of this individual as a "Lamanite" does not mean that the events surrounding this individual are covered during the period of time or geographical area associated with the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon describes a number of migrations to "the land northward:"

And it came to pass that in the thirty and seventh year of the reign of the judges, there was a large company of men, even to the amount of five thousand and four hundred men, with their wives and their children, departed out of the land of Zarahemla into the land which was northward. (Alma 63:4)

And it came to pass that in this year there were many people who went forth into the land northward. And thus ended the thirty and eighth year. (Alma 63:9)

And it came to pass in the forty and sixth, yea, there was much contention and many dissensions; in the which there were an exceedingly great many who departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and went forth unto the land northward to inherit the land. (Helaman 3:3)

As people continued to migrate northward, they passed out of the scope of the Book of Mormon narrative. In essence, the "borders of the Lamanites" continued to expand far beyond the scope of the original Book of Mormon narrative long after the period of time described. It is therefore not unreasonable to expect to see "Lamanites" in the land northward that are not accounted for or described in the Book of Mormon.

Notes

  1. "Ezra Booth Letter," Ohio Star Nov. 29, 1831.
  2. Manuscript Revelation Books, vol. 1 of the Revelations and Translations series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2009), 51-53.
  3. Book of Commandments, Ch. 30.