The challenge in understanding Book of Mormon geography is that it’s obscure. What I mean is that it’ not clearly seen, readily understood or plainly expressed. That’s not a criticism, that’s just the way it is. So, how can someone who has a sincere interest in Book of Mormon geography understand it better?
It’s easy to take someone else’s theory and map and follow it. I’ve done that but I could never get a map to encompass all the geography in the Book. I suppose I’m the kind of person who needs to understand first hand. I once had someone say to me, “Don’t read books about the book, read the Book.” So I did. I took a paperback copy, read it and only underlined the geography. When that was done, I added just enough history and events to get it to flow as one story. I was shocked when I printed 40+ pages of single spaced narrative.
I started reading just the geography. After reading it once, I read it again and then again. The more I read and reread, the clearer it became. As I read, I would stop and ask questions. “Where and how did the west sea relate to the river Sidon?” “If this is correct, then what I read back there must fit.” In other words, like a puzzle, I could finally see the picture and the directions each land and some cities had to each other. However, this was on a blank sheet of paper, not on the geography on a current map. I couldn’t tell you where the land of Zarahemla was located but I could tell you it was north of the land of Nephi.
Take the challenge. Get a paperback copy and start underlining the geography. It’s very revealing. Or if you want to skip that and just read the geography, I put it all together on this website under the heading Read The Geography. You may not understand it all reading it once. Study it. Ask yourself questions. To some degree, the obscurity will lift and clarity will come. Make your own map. Draw the events on it as you read. Not all the pieces are there. I can’t explain all the geography. But the greater part of it I do understand. Some of it still confuses me. But I can make assumptions and give it my best guess.
Why would Mormon write so much geography? Without a good reason, it would be pointless. There has to be a real benefit to it all…doesn’t there? I know it was difficult to engrave on gold plates, “And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands.” (Ether 12:24) I can imagine trying to get the most important teachings, and dialog engraved on the plates. How do you correct an error? How do you abridge hundreds of years of history and make it all meaningful? Given all that, you have to ask, why so much geography?
Other than feeling good that you know where the geography took place, what benefit is there? For me it was huge. When I could see on a map where the lands and cities were in relation to each other, it was so much easier to remember events. Like when Alma the younger traveled to the city of Ammonihah and with Amulek called the people to repentance, it came alive because I knew where Ammonihah was. I knew where he was headed when he left Zarahemla and which direction he went. Then when the Lamanites came into Ammonihah and destroyed it, I knew which direction they came from and the events that drove them there. I could see it on a map. Not a map of all the geography but just that region.
When the Nephites agreed to give the Lamanite converts lands for their inheritance, they gave them Jershon. I knew where it was. When the Nephites put their armies between the people in Jershon and the Lamanite territory, I could recall it because I could visualize their location. When Heleman and his 2,000 stripling worriers were fighting in one war zone and captain Moroni and Teancum were fighting in another, I could see that in my mind and knew why they were fighting a two front war. Geography opened my understanding and comprehension of the Book of Mormon beyond anything I could have done on my own. That’s the benefit.
I think it’s important to get the geography right and less important that we can put all of it on today’s map. Of course the doctrine and principles transcend all of this, but if geography had no purpose, why is there so much in the Book and how can we improve from our understanding? Well, if you want to know, you can know. I love it and have learned so much that I want others to as well. After all, we are supposed to “Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; seek learning even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118)