If there is a purpose for all the geography in the Book of Mormon, what is it? If we can’t piece it all together, why is it there?
This is a good question. One that I have asked myself many times and have come to a surprising conclusion. The geography is not meant to become a map. Let me say that again. The geography is not meant to become a map. When I realized that, I was astounded. Instead, the geography is the Lord’s palette of color that paints the backdrop for the events, people and principles taught. Funny, I had studied all these years to create map and understand where it all took place just to come to this discovery.
Here was my critical thinking. There are not enough pieces to the geographic puzzle to make an entire and accurate map. Have you, like me tried to put a puzzle together and some of the pieces were missing so the rest didn’t fit? I would keep turning it and trying to get them to mate up, but they didn’t. In frustration I would begin to force them, knowing they will fit, but not quite. That’s what Book of Mormon geography is, a puzzle with too many missing pieces to make an accurate map; at least one that everyone can see and agree on. Why is that? Because, it’s not supposed to become a map, only serve as the context for the purpose of the Book. If all the pieces were there, wouldn’t everyone have the same configuration of a map? The fact there are so many divergent maps is evidence there are too many missing pieces. How could it be otherwise? Everyone is doing their best to take the geography puzzle pieces and fit them into their designed map.
Don’t get me wrong, we can make a map and it will greatly benefit our study, but that’s not the reason the geography is in the Book of Mormon. Again, it’s the Lords pallet of color that paints the background for the people, places. Let me illustrate. If we were to read, Helaman’s 2,000 stripling soldiers had great faith in the Lord and thus they were always protected. Is all of that true? Yes. Does it teach the principle? Yes. But there is no context and no understanding of who they were. So let’s add this. Helaman’s 2,000 stripling soldiers were all young men who had been taught by their mothers to always believe and never doubt in the Lord’s power and willingness to protect them. While fighting in a war they never lost a battle and none were ever killed. Ok, a little more doctrine and some context for understanding the principle of faith. But when you read it within a background of geography, it becomes so much more. Helaman’s 2,000 stripling soldiers were the sons of the Lamanite people who always hated the Nephites. The parents of these sons became converted to the Lord by a few Nephite missionaries who left their homes in Zarahemla and went south to the land of Nephi. Afterward, the rest of the Lamanites expelled these converts, so the Lord led them from the land of Nephi, north to Zarahemla where the Nephites lived. They were given lands for their inheritance in an area called Jershon, east of Zarahemla by a river called Sidon that emptied into the west sea. Now with that little geography it gives the principle of faith a wonderful setting. I understand it and can remember it. Praise the Lord.
You might ask, “But what key pieces to the geography puzzle could be missing so that all the rest are disjointed and less effective?” My answer is, I don’t know. But it must have something to do with the configuration of the land then and now. I suspect it has to do with the sinking of part or all of the land of Nephi. If the land of Nephi were still on our map today, I think it would change our paradigm or view and things would become clear to our understanding. Why do I say the land of Nephi sank into the water? My conclusion comes from reading these facts.
- The land of Nephi was one of the four major lands described in the geography. It is mentioned 41 times before the coming of Jesus Christ and not once afterward. The lands of Zarahemla, Bountiful and Desolation are spoken of after 34 AD but not the land of Nephi.
- One of the cities in the land of Nephi was Jerusalem. The Lord caused it to sink into the water. “The city of Jerusalem and the inhabitants thereof; and waters have I caused to come up in the stead thereof.” (3 Ne 9:7) Jerusalem was the first city Aaron and his brethren preached in when they went on their mission to the Lamanites in the land of Nephi. It was associated with a number of other cities in the land of Nephi.
- The Lord led the righteous people out of the land of Nephi on 5 different occasions before it disappeared.
- Mosiah led all those that who would listen and obey the voice of the Lord, between 279 and 130 B.C. (Omni 12-13)
- Alma, after being converted by Abinidi, led his converts to the land of Zarahemla, between 135 and 121 B.C. (Mosiah 23:1)
- King Limhi leads his people, who had become humble and were praying for a way to escape the Lamanites, to the land of Zarahemla between 145 and 121 B.C. (Mosiah 22:11)
- Ammon led his Lamanite converts out of the land of Nephi after a 14-year mission between 90 and 77 B.C. (Alma 27:11-14)
- Because of the preaching of Nephi and Lehi, in the book of Heleman chapter 5, “many of the Lamanites did come down into the Land of Zarahemla, and did declare unto the people of the Nephites the manner of their conversion…” about 30 B.C. (Heleman chapters 6-8)
The people who were left in the land of Nephi were those who would not listen and obey, so the Lord said he did this “to hide their wickedness and abominations from before my face.”
We also read, “And many great and notable cities were sunk. The city of Moroni did sink into the depths of the sea.” (3 Ne 9:4)
So what we have today are the other major lands and an obscure geography. The Lord meant it to be that way. This is why the LDS church doesn’t take a position on Book of Mormon geography. First, the church leaders don’t know and second, if they did take a position or stated where it all happened, they would ostracize all the rest who believe something else. And what would be gained by doing that?
Have I discouraged you from studying geography? I hope not. I’m not discouraged because it does great things for me. It gives me a context or background for the people, places and events. With that, I can recall and retell the doctrines and principles found from the events of the people and places. The geography gives the colorful and beautiful three-dimensional picture.