It’s been over a year since someone posted something on Book of Mormon geography, so I think it’s about time. Most of you believe that the Book of Mormon occurred in Central America, right? Well it turns out there are over 100 theories. Check out this big list, which is incomplete.
In 1991, John Sorenson of BYU, the “dean” of Book of Mormon geography, created a book called “The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book“. (It is hard to find because it has no ISBN #, but can be purchased at the BYU Bookstore as well as some bookstores specializing on obscure Mormon books.) I reviewed the book, and grouped the theories into basic categories.
(1) Internal Theories. Any scholar should create a map before trying to locate it in the real world.
(2) Hemispheric Models. Mormons originally thought that the Book of Mormon peoples covered the entire North and South America.
(3) Central America Models. The bulk of “Mormon approved” scholars support this general group of theories.
(4) South America Models. Joseph Smith is reported to have said that Lehi landed 30 degrees South of the equator, in what would be modern day Chile.
(5) The Great Lakes Theories. Since the golden plates were found in NY, the BOM lands must be nearby. The Narrow Neck is near the Great Lakes.
The book is now close to 20 years old. Since it was published, a flood of new theories have been created. The following 2 theories are some of the most radical.
(6) The African Theory by Embaye Melekin. Michael Ash wrote a review of this theory in 2001. Melekin claims that his book titled, “Manifestations mysteries revealed,” has proven “beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Book of Mormon is an African book and about Africans. . . . My book will change the church and the belief of the Mormons drastically.”
(7) The Malay Theory. This theory says it would have been much easier for Nephi to travel a 4000 mile journey to the Malay Peninsula than a 16000 mile journey in open seas to the Americas, and the Malay Peninsula is a better description of the Narrow Neck of Land.
So, what if the Book of Mormon is true, but we’re digging in the wrong place? I decided to look at one of the radically different geography theories-the Malay theory. I discovered it in the footnotes of the Wikipedia article on Archaeology and the Book of Mormon. The theory even has its own section here, as well as a Wikipedia article. If you look in the footnotes, you’ll see a link to a Sunstone article written by Ralph Olsen. (You must open the attachment with the free Adobe Reader.)
In the Sunstone article, he lists his mailing address, so I wrote him a letter. Ralph Olsen is a retired chemistry professor at Montana State University, with research interests in plants, soils, and microbes. I asked him why he picked Malay as a possible Book of Mormon location, and he cited several reasons:
(1) The peninsula is north-south, unlike Sorenson’s east-west orientation
(2) The problems with animals go away. Elephants, sheep, horses, etc. all date to the proper time period
(3) The civilization dates to the proper time period, and had chariots, iron, silk, etc
(4) There were dark-skinned people pre-existing on the peninsula. If they intermarried with the Lamanites, (while the Nephites did not intermarry) that might explain the “dark and loathsome” peoples in the Book of Mormon
(5) The shorter 4000 mile oceanic travel makes more sense than a 16000 mile journey. Even the FAIR produced DVD called Journey of Faith, (which shows many Old World evidences of the Book of Mormon), indicates Nephi would have hugged the coastline, and the path goes right by the Malay Peninsula.
(6) Alma 63: 5 And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an aexceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land bBountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the cnarrow neck which led into the land northward.
a. Traditional Mormon scholars seem to support the idea that Hagoth traveled eastward and populated the Pacific Islands (such as Hawaii, Tonga, etc),
b. Scholarly consensus indicates that Native Americans came from Asia, and came along one of two routes. (1) the Bering Strait, or (2) they hopped across the Pacific Islands (such as Hawaii, Tonga, etc), before arriving in the Americas. Olsen’s migratory theory seems to be backed up by more scientists.
(7) DNA evidence seems to be better. While not endorsing the Malay Theory, Simon Southerton even commented on my blog that “I’m not aware of any DNA evidence from South East Asia linking populations there with the Middle East. South East Asia has been heavily populated for tens of thousands of years, with large civilizations. It is possible that Jewish sailors colonized parts of Asia though.”
Unrelated to this theory, a Jewish documentary filmmaker named Simcha Jacobovici has made the claim that the tribe of Manasseh may be located in the Malay Peninsula in his film “Quest for the Lost Tribes” , which I blogged about previously. Jacobovici maintains that when Babylon invaded Israel and scattered them in 600 BC, that some of the tribes were taken across land to Malay. This could seemingly explain how the Mulekites got there, and why the Nephites (who traveled by boat) couldn’t understand them.
There is also a legend in Malay stating that some shipwrecked Jewish people landed there, possibly indicating the Nephites landing there. As we know from the Book of Mormon, Nephi and Lehi were from the tribe of Manasseh. Jacobovici states in his film that some of the local citizens in Malay claim to be from the Tribe of Manasseh.
Olsen has written a short book called “A More Promising Land of Promise”, which is available for purchase on his own website. He encourages people to critique his work, so if you have problems with his theories, be kind, but please express them. I told him I was going to post on his theory, and he may or may not stop by. (He is not technologically savvy.)
My biggest problems with the theory are:
(1) How did the plates get to New York? Olsen admits that he doesn’t know. But he also points out that Sorenson doesn’t adequately explain how the 200 lb plates moved from Guatemala 3,000 miles north to NY without a wheeled vehicle.
(2) Joseph Smith History 1:34 “[Moroni] said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang.”
a. Olsen’s argument emphasizes this scripture differently, instead emphasizing “and the source from whence they sprang.” He says the source is the Malay Peninsula, and that is how to overcome this apparent discrepancy. I can see his point, but I know that is not a traditional understanding of that scripture, and I’m not sure I buy it.
For those of you who want more information, the longer version of this post can be found here. And if you really want to see this theory, Ralph Olsen has given me permission to make his unpublished manuscript available. It can be found here. Patience is a virtue…It’s 300 pages and 20 MB is size!
So, what do you think? Do you have any other major problems with the theory? Is there anything you like about the theory?
UPDATE 4/27/2009. Sorenson’s proposed Oceanic Journey.