Official LDS Essay on Book of Mormon Geography, Annotated
The following essay is the official LDS released essay entitled "Book of Mormon Geography." It was released by the church to help explain why early church leaders were so convinced the Book of Mormon took place in America (and why the Hill Cumorah in New York is the same as the Book of Mormon Hill Cumorah), and to explain why the church's credibility is not harmed by the fact that leaders who taught this (including Joseph Smith) were incorrect in their teachings. In the below essay, all text in black is the unedited essay from the church essay, with our comments in blue. The essay below can be found on the LDS website here.
This essay is a short essay, as the church has begun releasing shorter essays than the ones released in 2013-2014, but still brings up a lot of issues that have been difficult for apologists to reconcile with our findings in archeology since Joseph Smith's lifetime.
We will put a lot of quotes in here that show how the church clearly taught that the Hill Cumorah in New York was the same one as in the Book of Mormon, and only began shifting this belief as technology made it easier to scan property for the artifacts that would have been in the hill after the massive battles in the Book of Mormon.
Before you read what follows please ask yourself this question: if the church had a single piece of convincing evidence for the Book of Mormon wouldn’t every seminary manual focus on it? Wouldn't there be Ensign articles about it and visitor centers that prominently feature it? The problem is that the Book of Mormon makes specific, testable claims that were taught by Joseph Smith himself, but when these claims are held up alongside the evidence and found to be inaccurate, the apologists, since they can’t change the evidence, attempt instead to change our expectations of what church leaders really meant. Many church leaders have addressed these problematic issues by shifting the Book of Mormon from a historical document to a spiritual one, but the reality is that if the Book of Mormon can be proven false between geography, DNA, Book of Abraham issues, King James errors, etc, why is the LDS church worthy of its members when so many other churches can provide the same spiritual guidance without the extra doctrines that are based on scriptures and doctrines that have been proven incorrect?
As President George Albert Smith said, “If a faith will not bear to be investigated; if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined, their foundation must be very weak.” (Journal of Discourses, Volume 14, Page 216)
As with all of our material, please email us at if you have any issues with our comments or suggestions to add. And without further adieu...
Book of Mormon Geography
The Church takes no position on the specific geographic location of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas. Church members are asked not to teach theories about Book of Mormon geography in Church settings but to focus instead on the Book of Mormon’s teachings and testimony of Jesus Christ and His gospel.
The Book of Mormon includes a history of an ancient people who migrated from the Near East to the Americas. This history contains information about the places they lived, including descriptions of landforms, natural features, and the distances and cardinal directions between important points. The internal consistency of these descriptions is one of the striking features of the Book of Mormon.
Since the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, members and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have expressed numerous opinions about the specific locations of the events discussed in the book. Some believe that the history depicted in the Book of Mormon occurred in North America, while others believe that it occurred in Central America or South America. Although Church members continue to discuss such theories today, the Church takes no position on the geography of the Book of Mormon except that the events it describes took place in the Americas.
The Prophet Joseph Smith himself accepted what he felt was evidence of Book of Mormon civilizations in both North America and Central America. While traveling with Zion’s Camp in 1834, Joseph wrote to his wife Emma that they were “wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls and their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity.”1 In 1842, the Church newspaper Times and Seasons published articles under Joseph Smith’s editorship that identified the ruins of ancient native civilizations in Mexico and Central America as further evidence of the Book of Mormon’s historicity.2
Anthony W. Ivins, a Counselor in the First Presidency, stated: “There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question [of Book of Mormon geography]. So the Church says we are just waiting until we discover the truth.”3 The Church urges local leaders and members not to advocate theories of Book of Mormon geography in official Church settings. Speaking of the book’s history and geography, President Russell M. Nelson taught: “Interesting as these matters may be, study of the Book of Mormon is most rewarding when one focuses on its primary purpose—to testify of Jesus Christ. By comparison, all other issues are incidental.”4