THE IMAGINATION of young Joseph wrote:
Someday, I will write a book about how the Indians fought wars in this place and how chosen people from the bible sailed across the ocean to come to the promised land. They will build a ship and settle here on the coast of America. I will tell the story, so help me God.
I believe Joseph Smith conceived fundamental ideas for Book of Mormon stories when he was a youth living on his family farm before he was twenty-two years old when Martin Harris assisted him in translating make-believe gold plates that were never shown publicly to verify their existence. Smith acknowledged published testimonials of an angel by the name of Nephi (later changed to Moroni) appearing to him as a boy. This is evidence that these things were on his mind from an early age when he contemplated how the original inhabitants evolved prior to America being discovered by Columbus and settled by white Europeans.
Joseph’s mother explained that her son often talked about the native Indians and how they lived. The Indians fascinated young Joseph although he was not acquainted with science and had a limited understanding of natural history, he was for the most part an uneducated farm boy. However, Joseph was familiar with his immediate surroundings and had a basic understanding of geography thanks to maps that were available to the public through various means and in the schools. We can be confident that Joseph was familiar with the maps of his day, including maps of the United States of America and local areas including the state of New York and territory adjoined thereto.
We learn a lot about young Joseph from a documentary given by his mother Lucy Mack Smith in 1845, a year after the prophet died. Lucy provides a first-hand fascinating look at her young son who formulated ideas which would later be incorporated into stories of the Book of Mormon. Mother Smith described how the children would come together in the evening while the whole family was seated in a circle to pay “profound attention” to the storytelling of 18-year-old Joseph giving details of things that would later be found in the Book of Mormon.
Lucy Mack Smith, 1845 wrote:
During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined: he would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent; their dress, mode of travelling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, and their buildings, with every particular; he would describe their mode of warfare, as also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them.
Coincidentally, the Book of Mormon contains a variety of detail on subjects expressed in the private Smith family circle wherein Joseph led discussions about native Americans. A clear pattern is expressed in Lucy’s statement which perfectly connects to themes and stories told in the Book of Mormon. It makes me think that in hindsight, Lucy must have connected those dots and understood how her son’s ideas, before the Book of Mormon was ever written, served as a master template for the golden book. Key points made by mother Smith were:
• Ancient inhabitants
• This continent of America
• Dress standards
• Mode of travel
• Animals used for transport
• Buildings and structures of various material
• Mode of warfare (tactical & strategic)
• Religious worship
Thus, young Joseph was working on his ancient novel long before he claimed to acquire gold plates from the hill Cumorah! Joseph contemplated ancient stories years before he translated anything from plates given him from an angel in whom he originally identified as “Nephi”. He formulated stories and ideas in his own mind prior to translating with Martin Harris and before he ever met Oliver Cowdery! Joseph had years to contemplate how the ancient inhabitants of the American continent would engage in warfare and in what manner they would battle and take up arms. Joseph knew he would someday tell the whole world his stories and may have even hoped to become famous. Recall how mother Lucy said, “he would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent; their dress, mode of travelling, and the animals upon which they rode” and he did so with ease as if he had been doing it his whole life. Think about how many times “horses” are mentioned in the Book of Mormon? Therein, horses were used for multiple tasks and purposes. Apparently, according to young Joseph, we learn that that native Americans on this continent rode animals -- horses -- real horses, just like those that existed in Smith’s neck of the woods. A horse is a horse of course, right?
So, let’s switch gears and ask ourselves where did all this take place? Joseph Smith was free to invent whatever he wanted to fit within a fictional narrative. But an actual geographic location for Lehi’s landing and the cities of Zarahemla or Bountiful were never revealed by the prophet but kept private within his own mind. If he told the saints where on the American continent the land of Nephi was located then curious folks would pursue an expedition looking for ruins or evidence of the ancient Nephite civilization. They might well expect to find buried treasure, especially Nephite gold and silver! But that was not to be the case. Smith’s lips were sealed and for good reason. Book of Mormon geography was described in straightforward terms and was built within the stories of a long-drawn-out novel. Only Joseph would have known where Lehi landed and where Zarahemla was! He didn’t dare tell anyone -- not even his closest associate, Oliver Cowdery. The geography was Smith’s own secret held hidden in his heart and would remain a mystery. America was a choice land above all other lands being the land the Lord had prepared and preserved for a chosen people as a land of liberty. Later, however, the concept of the promised land extended beyond America proper to include southern lands like Central America and even the South American continent. Those southern territories were not included in the original narrative of the land of liberty but were later adopted by the Latter-day Saints as a matter of convenience. Mormon views were changing and allowed for greater expansion of what was previously considered limited Book of Mormon geography. Thus, Smith later began to accept an expansion when he learned about ruins down in Central America -- attributed as evidence of ancient Book of Mormon civilizations that existed after the timeline of the book itself and the American Cumorah in New York. As Mormonism evolved doctrinally so also did the prospects of Book of Mormon geography. By 1842 it was pretty much anything goes so long as it promotes faith in the Book of Mormon and archeological ruins in the American continents (North & South) could be attributed to the ancient inhabitants of the Book of Mormon and their descendants. Smith felt free to branch out and allow the geography to morph and exist wherever it was convenient.
Smith kept the geography of the New World a secret. He never told the church where key locations of the Book of Mormon were located on a map other than the hill Cumorah. He kept his mouth shut for a very good reason. Late in his ministry, speculation ensued about how Book of Mormon lands spanned the entire hemisphere, but Smith kept a tight lid on the subject although he was open to expansion so long as it was faith promoting, moreover, on anything that might provide evidence to verify Book of Mormon claims such as ancient ruins in Central America. But it must be emphasized and pointed out that Smith never revealed to the church specifically where the Book of Mormon took place other than the final battles at the hill Cumorah where the gold plates were finally buried. On the other hand, we are given specific details about actual geography in the Old World where the narrative first began.
It’s interesting how the Book of Mormon begins by describing geography in detail wherein we can even plot a course on a map and follow Lehi’s trek on a globe. The story about Lehi leaving Jerusalem was precise, spot on, with direction and location given in the narrative. They wandered about in the wilderness and in their various travels they bent in the direction of nearly a south-southeast direction. After years of wandering, they eventually arrived at the coast, the Arabian Sea. There, Nephi built a ship. All of that was visualized in the mind of Joseph Smith as he imagined a route and locations on a world map or globe in which he had access. Just as assuredly as Joseph knew the location of where Lehi set sail from the sea of Arabia by using a map, he also knew exactly where Lehi sailed and landed in America by using a map. The route taken from Jerusalem to America by land and sea was known to Joseph but the final destination of the American landing would remain a mystery in order to protect the story from being questioned and verified by archeological means.
The bible is ground zero *at* Jerusalem. We may refer to that as POINT A. Smith had a good grasp of the bible and understood its geography. Undoubtedly, he was familiar with maps available to him in his own day. So, Jerusalem was POINT A. Joseph Smith was aware of the biblical workings of a map shown by a globe and he knew the directions of north, east, south, and a Mediterranean Sea to the west. With Jerusalem as ground zero, he also knew Lebanon was to the north and Egypt, the Red Sea, and Arabia were south. Asia to include Babylon and Persia were eastward -- and lest we forget about the apostle Paul and his travels outlined in the epistles, Greece and Rome were far west in the Mediterranean. The world around Jerusalem was vast. But all this is basic biblical geography that one can crudely visualize even without a map.
Smith’s story begins with Lehi’s family and friends leaving Jerusalem which is POINT A. They traveled in a “south-southeast direction” which is in indicator that the narrator (Joseph Smith) used a map to aid him in plotting a journey through the wilderness prior to arriving at a certain place on the Arabian coast that was called Bountiful. Coastal Arabia is therefore POINT B. I’m confident that Smith used a map or globe to provide direction in telling the story. Let’s recap and look at the facts as Joseph dictates and Oliver pens the story.
• Smith visualized Lehi *at* Jerusalem
• Smith visualized Lehi fleeing into the wilderness
• Smith visualized Lehi traveling in a “south-southeast direction”
• Smith visualized Nephi building a ship on the coast called Bountiful
• Smith visualized Lehi leaving the Arabian coast and sailing to America
The Arabian coast is critical and is just as important as Lehi being *at* Jerusalem because it defines an exact place. Lehi is now *at* the coast prior to sailing into the Indian Ocean. Joseph Smith visualized points A & B in his mind’s eye while telling the story. Being on the Arabian coast was an important location in the story. Smith then visualized in his mind’s eye, Lehi sailing the ocean to the Promised Land. He gave details about what happened at sea during the perilous journey. It’s quite a story! They were on the ocean approaching the Promised Land and ready to make landfall. We can be confident that Smith visualized in his own mind and used a genuine map or globe to pinpoint the very location of where they landed on the American coast, which is point C.
Whether Smith consulted a map or not, we can agree that he visualized in his mind how Lehi sailed across the ocean and made landfall at the Promised Land. Smith imagined the ship in the idea of his mind as he told the story and concludes the voyage with the ship making landfall in America. The narrator said: “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did guide the ship, that we sailed again towards the promised land.”
Thus, Joseph Smith saw Lehi sailing “towards” the Promised Land where he made landfall. But this part of the story doesn’t provide cardinal direction as it did when traveling through the wilderness to the Arabian coast. We are only given to know that the voyage to the Promised Land is given in general terms having no cardinal directions. Smith did not provide details about directions or identify the actual location of Lehi’s landing. The destination would ever remain a secret whereby we are informed: “And it came to pass that after we had sailed for the space of many days we did arrive at the promised land; and we went forth upon the land, and did pitch our tents; and we did call it the promised land.”
Arrive where? I’m convinced that Joseph the seer had a perfect idea where they landed. It was no mystery to him! I’m confident he predetermined the very place in which Lehi landed at the Promised Land in the New World. But all of this was kept a secret in order to protect the story from being verified by archeological means. Smith was then free to dictate a fictional story according to his pleasure and use a predetermined landform on the American map as a basic template. I believe that template is Delmarva!
Terrestrial Board Threads by Shulem:
- Shulem Cracked the Book of Mormon Code, the Land of Nephi is now revealed! See for yourself! The Golden Key!