Two scholars, Taylor Halverson and Tyler Griffin, spoke with Nick Galieti on the Latter-day Saint Perspectives podcast about the importance of understanding Book of Mormon geography while reading and studying the Book of Mormon.
Taylor Halverson is a BYU Teaching and Learning Consultant as well as a member of the Book of Mormon Central Executive Committee, and co-founder and co-director of the BYU Virtual Scriptures.
Tyler Griffin is an associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU. He is a co-founder and co-director of the BYU Virtual Scriptures Group.
Fairly early in the podcast, the two address why it is important to have an understanding of the geography of the Book of Mormon.
Book of Mormon Geography
What is and what isn’t important about Book of Mormon Geography in general?
Many people don’t understand the importance of thinking about Book of Mormon geography while reading the book. They are either confused by the fact that there are many different ideas about where the Book of Mormon took place, or apathetic about it. Tyler Griffin gives an interesting answer about the importance of understanding basic Book of Mormon geography in reading and studying the Book of Mormon.
Griffin states that different positions about Book of Mormon geography are like positions on a pendulum. Some people try to put pins on a map and “nail it down to a specific location.” Those educated guesses are ”all over the map — all over the world, in fact. Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Africa, Central America, South America, Baja, the heartland of America, North America in general — meaning it’s all over the place.” The church has a totally neutral position, basically stating that “The Lord hasn’t revealed this yet.” The other end of the pendulum is “I just don’t care at all about geography, and I’m going to totally skip thing that mentions it. I’m going to zone out if it starts talking about migrations, movements, war campaigns, and all of that. I just don’t care.” Readers from that extreme of the pendulum will miss a lot of the “principles and doctrines that are contained within those narratives that are semi-reliant on the geography.”
Griffin and Halverson are trying to take a middle ground. They are spending countless hours creating the proposed Book of Mormon geography maps so that “people don’t have to go through that effort to say, ‘Here are the relative distances, now focus on the doctrine.’”
Joseph Smith was Divinely Inspired
Joseph Smith was divinely inspired as evidenced by the geography mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
One of the interesting things that Griffin notes is that the Book of Mormon geography is consistent throughout the Book of Mormon, despite the fact that Joseph Smith didn’t have any maps to reference while translating the book. You’ve got roughly over 550 references to geography in the book, and it’s scattered through multiple stories over 531 pages.”
If Joseph Smith made up the book, then he was “an absolute genius, because the geography references are consistent across all of these stories and across all this time. According to the witnesses of the translation process, none of them have any reference to Joseph having charts, maps, books, reference materials. He’s just going. This guy is either translating this book by the gift and power of God, or he’s an absolute genius the likes of which I’ve never come across.”
Without some map or reference material to reference, Joseph Smith could not have been consistent with the geography of the Book of Mormon.
The Importance of Book of Mormon Geography
Geography helps us More Deeply Understand Motivations of Book of Mormon Prophets.
Another thought-provoking reason that we should understand Book of Mormon geography is highlighted by the story of the missionary journeys of Alma. Without an understanding of the geography in the Book of Mormon, it might be tempting to think that Alma’s choices of where to preach were more arbitrary than they were. Halverson speaks to the point:
“This project gave me some new insights. For instance, Alma’s missionary journeys don’t seem to be random. We noticed that the Zoramites in this peripheral land in-between the Nephites and the Lamanites, they’re over on the eastern flanks. It’s very interesting as you look at where Alma’s going and spending time. It’s not just a spiritual move on his part to go preach the Zoramites. He’s trying to protect the physical safety of his people on the Nephite homeland from the potential of the Zoramites turncoat into the Lamanites. If you don’t have physical safety, spiritual safety can be very difficult. Alma is this brilliant tactician, from a military standpoint. It’s really fun to see that on the map. I’d read all about the stuff, but suddenly there’s this new insight about potentially why Alma is choosing that particular mission.”
Without the understanding of the location of the land of the Zoramites, one can’t truly appreciate all the motivations behind Alma’s mission to the Zoramites.
You can listen to the full podcast below.
Transcript: For a transcript of this podcast, go to LDS Perspectives Podcast.
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