Intro/FAQ ⎜ Episode 1 ⎜ Episode 2 ⎜ Episode 3 ⎜ Episode 4 ⎜ Episode 5 ⎜ Episode 6 ⎜ Episode 7 ⎜ Episode 8 ⎜ Episode 9 ⎜ Episode 10 ⎜ Episode 11 ⎜ Episode 12 ⎜ Episode 13 ⎜ Episode 14 ⎜ Episode 15 ⎜ Episode 16 ⎜ Episode 17 ⎜ Episode 18 ⎜ Episode 19 ⎜ Episode 20 ⎜ Episode 21 ⎜ Episode 22 ⎜ Episode 23
[Editor’s Note: This is the seventeenth in a series of 23 essays summarizing and evaluating Book of Mormon-related evidence from a Bayesian statistical perspective. See the FAQ at the end of the introductory episode for details on methodology.]
It seems unlikely that Joseph could keep the Book of Mormon’s complex geographical details straight without committing frequent and obvious errors, particularly while dictating the text in a single draft.
The Book of Mormon details a complex world, referencing over 100 different cities and geographical features tied together in a dense web of over 150 unique geographic relationships. Throughout the book, there are only two potential spots that could be construed as geographic errors. Based on psychological studies of memory, we should expect something closer to 28 such errors. Though we can’t incorporate this evidence into our overall probability estimate for an authentic Book of Mormon (due to a lack of independence with other types of evidence), I estimate the probability of producing a geography that consistent to be p = .000079. Critics are quick to claim that Joseph must have had a savant-level memory, but they’re going to have to work harder to build their case (using evidence outside the dictation of scripture) that Joseph was capable of pulling off this kind of memory-related feat.
Evidence Score = 4 (i.e., if this evidence was incorporated in our overall estimate, it would increase the probability of an authentic Book of Mormon by four orders of magnitude)
When last we left you, our ardent skeptic, you had reluctantly set aside the book that still lay on your rough-hewn wooden table. The hunger that drove you to devour page after page was overtaken by that old-fashioned hunger of the body, and you take the time to quickly prepare a mid-day meal. But as you gnaw on a humble portion of bread and cheese, it’s the book that keeps gnawing on you.
In that book, you’re stuck in what seems like an endless war between peoples that had been blood enemies for hundreds of years, and the narrator seemed to take an unhealthy interest in describing battle after battle. Though you think such military obsessions as more than a little odd for an ostensibly religious text, you write it off as the vain imaginations of the foolhardy youth who surely authored it. Still, you have to give that author some credit. These battles involved city after city after city changing hands multiple times in a dizzyingly complex arrangement that remained remarkably consistent throughout. You wouldn’t be surprised to learn that cities and lands last mentioned dozens of pages before held true to the internal structure that seemed to bind them.
You think back to your own somewhat awkward attempts at authoring fiction as a younger man. Such efforts had given you an immediate and forceful respect for the likes of Cooper and Dickens—keeping a story straight had been quite a bit more difficult than you’d imagined. And if the young man who had given you the book had been telling you the truth, the book’s author would’ve had to keep these plates spinning while dictating the entirety of the text. It seems unlikely that an author dictating such a complex text could keep all these geographical details straight without committing frequent and obvious continuity errors.
Despite the seemingly everlasting debates over Book of Mormon geography, one overriding fact generally receives short shrift—that it’s possible to build a coherent internal model of the book’s geography at all. The book’s proponents often point to the book’s somewhat staggering complexity, and that complexity extends to the dozens of physical locations and hundreds of geographical references in the text. To keep all those details straight would be impressive even in professionally edited books relying on comprehensive maps. It would be even more impressive in unedited first drafts, and more impressive still in a dictated manuscript.
Doing so would seem to have required an impressive feat of memory, similar to the feats we’ve previously discussed regarding Joseph’s dictation of the text. That immediately presents a problem for us, since that means the probability of maintaining a consistent internal geography wouldn’t be independent with, say, being able to resume dictation without prompting, or following through on describing the reigns of the Jaredite kings in perfect reverse order. Though being able to pull off all those feats of memory would probably be even less likely than pulling off just one of them, we’ll be playing it safe by not incorporating this evidence into our overall probability estimate.
What this episode will instead be is an opportunity to dig more deeply into the Book of Mormon’s fascinating geography, and to see if that internal geography is indeed unexpectedly consistent in isolation. To do that, we’ll need to first establish whether those geographic details actually are as consistent as claimed. Then we’ll need to try to figure out just how many errors we’d expect to show up in a work as complex as the Book of Mormon.
What sort of geographical complexity are we actually talking about here? It depends a bit on who you ask. If we’re going by the raw number of physical locations referenced in the book, we could use this exceptionally detailed database of Book of Mormon locations. My count, based on a review of that database, is 102 (see the Appendix for a listing and description)—a number that’s surprisingly comparable to Tolkien’s Middle Earth, which over the course of his collected works totals about 130 (keep in mind, of course, that Tolkien had decades to craft his universe, and that sort of complexity is far from a given in fictional worlds—my own humble set of amateur fantasy novels features a grand total of 10 locations over the course of 180,000 words). We could also go by the number of times those locations are referenced in the book, with estimates of between 500 and 600 such references.
But for me the number that matters is the number of geographical relationships that the book establishes. Merely stating a place or referring to it doesn’t necessarily mean that a writer would be at risk of committing a continuity error. What produces that risk is establishing a connection between one place and another. Once you say that a place is nearly bordering, or north of, or across the river from another, then you’re committed to maintaining that connection throughout the rest of the book, and you place yourself at risk of contradicting that established connection. Now, many of the places in the Book of Mormon are merely mentioned in isolation, without connecting them to any other locations, such as the list of cities destroyed in the calamities of 3 Nephi, or many of the locations in Jaredite lands. But quite a few locations are very tightly knit together with various others in a web of mutual geographical connections, connections that could be easily broken. Based on the geographical references listed in the database I linked above, I count at least 151 unique geographical relationships (note that there may be some that I’ve missed, particularly ones implied by the movement of armies rather than directly referencing a connection between cities). I’ve plotted those relationships in the figure below, with numbers corresponding to the location numbers in the appendix. Note that this only plots the relationships themselves, and doesn’t imply anything about relative position (particularly for the ones without any connections, which are plotted randomly).
So the book’s geography is indeed complex. But is it as consistent as some claim? Thinking through that question, I figure that the best people to ask would be the book’s critics, who generally never miss a chance to poke holes in the book’s narrative. After spending what may have been an unreasonable amount of time combing the internet for alleged inconsistencies, I could only find one, based on this list. Yet of the 17 (supposed) inconsistencies listed, only two of them have anything to do with geography, and they’re really referring to the same issue—the fact that there seems to be two different cities named Mulek—one a Nephite city by the East Sea, and one a stronghold of the Lamanites in the Land of Nephi. I also, in preparing the analyses for this episode, found what appeared to be a second inconsistency: at one point in the war chapters it discusses a Lamanite army crossing the “head of Sidon,” presumably meaning the headwaters of the Sidon River, in order to attack Nephihah. The problem is that Nephihah is, as with Mulek, on the coast of the East Sea, quite a fair distance from the headwaters of the Sidon, which can be found near the narrow strip of wilderness separating the Nephite and Lamanite lands. (Note that this problem goes away if “head” is a reference to the river’s mouth rather than its headwaters.)
So while there could be very reasonable explanations for these apparent inconsistencies, it wouldn’t be fair to call it pristine—there are some instances that could be construed as errors or inconsistencies in the geography of the text, though these instances are decidedly vague, and, importantly, decidedly infrequent. It’s very possible to build a detailed internal geography of the Book of Mormon’s lands and cities, one detailed enough to rule out a number of the potential external geographies that have been proposed over the years.
What theories are available to us to explain this level of consistency?
The geographical consistency of the Book of Mormon is produced from authentically ancient authors familiar with their own surrounding geography—Under this theory, the book is as consistent as it is because the book is authentic, and the book’s ancient authors knew their own geography well. Inconsistencies, on the other hand, would largely be due to the fact that we, as modern readers, don’t fully understand that geography, and don’t have the context necessary to keep it as straight as we might prefer. We also wouldn’t necessarily expect even an authentic book to be fully consistent—scribal errors or misinterpretation on the part of the book’s ancient editors could easily lead to an apparent inconsistency.
The book is consistent because Joseph’s memory was sufficient to track all of its locations as he produced the dictated manuscript—This hypothesis would assume that the book was produced by Joseph, and that he possessed enough of a prodigious memory to not only be able to start dictating from where he last left off without being prompted, but to hold a complex internal geography in his head, deftly referencing it without making egregious continuity errors.
Since we’re not going to be incorporating this evidence into our overall analysis, we’ll be skipping establishing prior probabilities, though it’s worth a reminder of where we are and where we’ve been on our journey this far:
CH—Consequent Probability of Ancient Authorship—If the events and locations of the Book of Mormon were recorded by ancient authors (and subsequently dictated to modern scribes), would we expect to find two potential geographical errors such as the ones noted above? Well, we know even historical observers, recording real events, can get things wrong. We also know that scribes, particularly those who recorded the words of the Book of Mormon, could and did make typographical errors that substantially altered the text, including some that have been retained in the text we have today. It’s also possible for us to misconstrue the text in a way that makes it seem as if an error is there—for instance, it’s not impossible for there to be two distinct cities named Mulek, particularly since Zeniff’s (largely Mulekite) migration into Lamanite territory could have left its mark in terms of place names (though it’s probably more likely that Mormon meant to write that Mulek was in “the land of the Nephites” instead of the “land of Nephi”).
In that context, the fact that there’s only two potential inconsistencies is kind of a minor miracle in its own right, even with an authentic Book of Mormon, and the two that we do have wouldn’t have been at all unexpected. I have no problem assigning this evidence a consequent probability of p = 1.
CA—Consequent Probability of Modern Authorship—But how many errors would we expect if the Book of Mormon was the fictional work of a modern author, and one who was dictating the text without notes and without revisions? We take consistency for granted in the books we read, but that consistency is the product of fastidious editing and notetaking. It is, of course, possible for careless revisions to introduce consistency errors as much as remove them, but modern publishers have to work very hard to make sure such errors are removed from the text before it hits the shelves. Tolkien himself made continuity an obsession, relentlessly revising and relying on an extensive set of notes and maps to keep his fictional world straight. The odds would not have been in Joseph’s favor as he tried to do the same for the world of the Nephites and Lamanites.
Just to make sure I wasn’t completely off my rocker, though, I consulted with a friend of mine who happens to be a prolific and popular author of mainstream fiction—he’s published some 17 novels over the course of the last decade. I asked him two questions: 1) about how many continuity errors would you expect to find in the first draft of a novel?, and 2) in the context of the theory that Joseph dictated the text in a single draft, how consistent is the Book of Mormon? His answers were a bit terse, but telling:
- In a first draft? Tons.
- Wildly, astonishingly consistent.
But we want to get something a bit more precise than “tons,” and making that sort of estimate is harder than it sounds. It seems pretty clear, though, that it’s an issue of memory—every time Joseph would have attempted to recall where a location was, he would have a chance to forget, or at least to remember it incorrectly. Just how many chances he would have to forget is difficult to say, but we can make a conservative estimate using the number of geographic relationships noted above. We could assume that for each relationship, he would have at least one chance, on average, to mess that relationship up, leaving us with an estimated number of 151 chances to make an error in recalling geographic details.
We’ve dealt with issues of memory before, in the context of Joseph remembering where he left off in the previous day’s dictation. We could be tempted to use the same probability estimates as we did there. But it’s worth seeing if we can find a better fit in the literature for recalling details about a complex array of different items with varying characteristics. There still doesn’t seem to be any studies that have looked at that specific sort of task, but we might be able to get close.
Though I considered several types of memory tasks, only one had the sort of characteristics that might correspond to trying to remember the relative position of a city or landmark in an internal geography. For one, we want the task to be a test of long-term memory rather than working or short-term memory—Joseph would have had to remember these locations over a series of days, or even months. Second, we want the task to involve recalling items from a potential set of similar confounders or distractors, since Joseph would have had to accurately recall that, say, Manti, rather than Mulek, was located in the middle of the narrow strip of wilderness. Such a task would involve distinguishing between similar items rather than merely recalling an item’s characteristics.
This brought me to the appropriately named Plagiarism Memory task. In this task, a person is brought into a room with a confederate, and both of them are asked to provide six creative solutions to a particular problem (e.g., an environment-related policy issue). Then, a day later, the participants returned, and were asked to recall their own ideas, as well as the confederate’s ideas, and then to generate new ideas listed by neither them nor the confederate. This might seem like a relatively simple task, but it’s harder than it sounds. Often people would recall the ideas, but would get the source of the idea wrong, attributing their partners ideas to themselves and vice versa. They also had trouble coming up with genuinely new ideas, and, more often than not, unconsciously stole from their partner (or from themselves!) when trying to generate new solutions.
Though it’s not a perfect fit for the situation Joseph would have found himself in when maintaining an internal geography, there are some definite similarities—Joseph would’ve had to recall things he said a day or more prior, and he would have to make sure not to confuse them with yet other things that he’d said. And forgetting who came up a particular item should be pretty comparable to forgetting whether one city is north or south of another, or whether it’s near the coast or near the wilderness. In the study, the error rate on the recall task was somewhere between 18.3% and 33%, depending on the experimental condition, and Joseph’s error rate should have been somewhat similar. For the sake of a fortiori reasoning, we’ll use the bottom of that range. When applied to the 151 geographic relationships in the text, that means he should have messed up somewhere on the order of 28 times, substantially more than the 2 we’ve been able to identify.
Since the 18.3% group also had a standard deviation of 4.3%, that lets us estimate the probability of observing 2 errors (1.3% of 151) using Z scores. That level of consistency would have put him 3.95 standard deviations away from the mean, with an associated probability of p = .000079. We’ll go ahead and use that for our estimate.
We’ll just be calculating an evidence score for this analysis, as outlined below.
CH = Consequent Probability of the Hypothesis (the probability of observing a consistent internal geography if the book was written by authentically ancient authors, or p = 1)
CA = Consequent Probability of the Alternate Hypothesis (the probability of observing a consistent internal geography if the book was written via dictation in the modern era, or p = .000079)
Lmag = Likelihood Magnitude (an estimate of the number of orders of magnitude that the probability will shift, due to the evidence)
Lmag = log10(CH/CA)
Lmag = log10(1/.000079)
Lmag = log10(12658.23)
Lmag = 4
Though it wouldn’t have made much of a statistical splash in the grand scheme of things, my analysis suggests that the Book of Mormon’s internal geography is indeed unexpectedly consistent. With a complexity that rivals that of fiction’s greatest worldbuilding, we would absolutely expect Joseph to have produced more geography-related continuity errors than the paltry set on offer.
This, of course, would be much less unexpected if Joseph had the type of savant-level memory that would’ve been needed to produce the dictation evidence we have, or the narrative consistency we see elsewhere in the Book of Mormon. Critics are usually quick to note that there are a number of people with savant-level memory skills who can do amazing things, like recite pi to thousands of decimal places, or tell you the day of the week from calendar dates hundreds of years ago (though it turns out this one isn’t too bad if you memorize a few key facts). But one question is fair to ask in that context: outside of his dictation of scripture, did Joseph give any indication that he had this sort of savant-level memory elsewhere in his life? It’s easy to assume that he must have given what we have with the Book of Mormon, but it’s hard to build a case that stands in isolation. A few quick pieces of contradictory evidence even come to mind, such as Joseph’s failing to remember that Jerusalem had walls, or forgetting whether he said he was 14 or 15 when writing down the story of the first vision.
If the critics would like me to believe that Joseph was capable of dictating an extensive and consistent internal geography, they have their work cut out for them tracking down similar instances of consistent recall in his personal and professional life. Until then, I can more fully appreciate the world of Nephi, Alma, and Moroni, treating the stories that take place there with a considerable and well-earned credulity.
One might wonder what the point of a skeptic’s corner would be when this one is essentially a gimme, but we’ll go ahead and think through some of this anyway. It goes without saying that it would be nice to have more direct studies of inconsistencies in first drafts or more robust inventories of opportunities for contradictions in the Book of Mormon. More applicable tests of memory would be pretty useful too, including ones that test how and whether memory on the two different dictation-related tasks we’ve taken a look at here (including the resumption of dictation without prompting) are independent of each other.
It might also be interesting to think through some different alternative assumptions. Instead of assuming that Joseph relayed the book in a single draft, we could take a look at how many drafts it would take to get a book as consistent as the Book of Mormon. My guess is it would generally be more than two—Brandon Sanderson, for instance, likes to do six or seven, not including proofreading by editors. You could then take a stab at how long multiple drafts of the Book of Mormon would take to put together, which might lead us to question just how much paper Joseph would’ve had access to, let alone gold.
Next Time, in Episode 18:
When next we meet, we’ll take a look at the perfections and imperfections of prophets, both living and dead, and determine what kind of standards might be reasonable to apply to the prophetic mantle.
Questions, ideas, and some fraction of a thousand cuts can contribute to the death of BayesianBoM@gmail.com or submitted as comments below.
|1||Aaron||Nephite||Near Nephihah, Moroni, and Ammonihah.||3|
|2||Ablom||Jaredite||East of Cumorah by the seashore.||2|
|3||Ammonihah||Nephite||Three days north of Melek, close to Sidom, close to Noah, called the Desolation of Nehors, on the borders of the land of Zarahemla.||4|
|4||Amulon||Lamanite||Close to Helam, Shemlon, Shilom, and Jerusalem.||4|
|5||Angola||Nephite||North of Zarahemla||1|
|6||Ani-Anti||Lamanite||Close to Jerusalem.||1|
|7||Antionum||Nephite||East of Zarahemla, nearly bordering on the seashore, south of Jershon, close to the south wilderness, close to the east wilderness, close to the head of the Sidon river, close to the Hill Onidah, home to Zoramites.||8|
|8||Antiparah||Nephite||Taken by the Lamanites, in the borders by the seashore, close to Judea, close to the west wilderness.||4|
|9||Antum||Jaredite||Close to the Hill Shim.||1|
|10||Boaz||Jaredite||No pertinent details.||0|
|11||Bountiful||Nephite||At the northern part of the Nephite lands, by Desolation, close to Jershon on the north, by the seashore, close to the narrow pass, close to Mulek, close to Gid, (land of Bountiful) close to the West Sea, (land of Bountiful) borders the land of Zarahemla.||9|
|12||City by the Sea (unnamed)||Nephite||Near Antiparah, near the borders by the seashore, close to Judea.||3|
|13||Corihor||Jaredite||Close to the Valley of Shurr, near the Hill Comnor||2|
|14||Cumeni||Nephite||Taken by the Lamanites.||0|
|15||Cumorah||Jaredite||Land of many fountains and rivers, west of Ablom, by the Hill Shim.||2|
|16||David||Jaredite||No pertinent details.||0|
|17||Desolation||Jaredite||North of Nephite lands, close to Bountiful, by the small neck of land, close to Morianton, close to Teancum,||8|
|18||East Sea||Sea||Close to ablom, bordering Bountiful, Desolation, Teancum, Gid, Mulek, Moroni, Omner, Lehi, Jershon, narrow strip of wilderness, Land of Nephi,||17|
|19||East Wilderness||Nephite||Stretched from the River Sidon to the seashore of the Sea East.||5|
|20||Gad||Lamanite||No pertinent details.||0|
|21||Gadiandi||Lamanite||No pertinent details.||0|
|22||Gadiomnah||Lamanite||No pertinent details.||0|
|23||Gid||Nephite||On the east borders by the seashore, close to Mulek, Morianton, Omner, Lehi, and Nephihah, close to Bountiful.||7|
|24||Gideon||Nephite||East of the River Sidon, close to the land of Zarahemla, close to the hill Amnihu, named after the man slain by Nehor, north of Manti,||4|
|25||Gilgal||Lamanite||No pertinent details.||0|
|26||Gimgimno||Lamanite||No pertinent details.||0|
|27||Hagoth’s shipbuilding site||Nephite||On the West Sea, on the borders of the lands Desolation and Bountiful.||3|
|28||Head of the River Sidon||Nephite||By the narrow strip of wilderness, close to Manti, close to the West Sea.||5|
|29||Helam||Lamanite||Close to the wilderness, eight days journey from the waters of Mormon, in Lamanite lands, close to the land of Nephi, close to Amulon, close to Jerusalem.||5|
|30||Hermounts||Nephite||Wilderness on the west and north, infested by wild beasts.||1|
|31||Heth||Jaredite||No pertinent details.||0|
|32||Hill Amnihu||Nephite||East of the river Sidon, close to the land of Zarahemla, close to Gideon.||3|
|33||Hill by Shilom||Lamanite||Close to Shilom, close to Shemlon.||2|
|34||Hill Comnor||Jaredite||Near the Valley of Shurr and the Valley of Corihor.||2|
|35||Hill Ephraim||Jaredite||No pertinent details.||1|
|36||Hill Riplah||Nephite||Close to the west valley, west of the river Sidon, close to Manti.||3|
|37||Hill Shim||Jaredite||Close to Antum.||2|
|38||Ishmael||Lamanite||In the lands of the Lamanites, close to Midian, close to the land of Nephi.||2|
|39||Jacob||Lamanite||No pertinent details.||0|
|40||Jacobugath||Lamanite||No pertinent details.||0|
|41||Jashon||Jaredite||Close to Antum.||4|
|42||Jershon||Nephite||On the east by the sea, south of Bountiful, close to Melek, on the borders of the land of Zarahemla, north of Antionum,||8|
|43||Jerusalem||Lamanite||In the lands of the Lamanites, close to Ani-Anti, close to the land of Helam, close to the land of Amulon,||4|
|44||Josh||Lamanite||No pertinent details.||0|
|45||Joshua||Jaredite||On the borders west by the seashore.||1|
|46||Judea||Nephite||Close to Antiparah.||2|
|47||Kishkumen||Lamanite||No pertinent details.||0|
|48||Laman||Lamanite||No pertinent details.||0|
|49||Land Northward||Jaredite||By Desolation, by Bountiful, by the narrow neck of land.||3|
|50||Land of First Inheritance||Lamanite||By the seashore on the west of the land of Nephi.||2|
|51||Land Southward||Nephite||By Desolation, by Bountiful, by the narrow neck of land.||2|
|52||Lehi||Nephite||In the north by the borders by the seashore, by Morianton, by Nephihah, by Omner, by Gid, by Mulek.||6|
|53||Lemuel||Lamanite||No pertinent details.||0|
|54||Lib||Jaredite||By the narrow neck of land.||1|
|55||Manti||Nephite||By the south wilderness, east of the River Sidon, south of Gideon, by the land of Zarahemla, close to Antionum, by Jershon, close to the hill Riplah.||9|
|56||Melek||Nephite||West of the River Sidon, by the borders of the wilderness, three days south of Ammonihah, close to Jershon.||6|
|57||Middoni||Lamanite||Close to the land of Nephi.||1|
|58||Minon||Lamanite||Above the land of Zarahemla, by the land of Nephi.||2|
|59||Mocum||Lamanite||No pertinent details.||0|
|60||Morianton||Nephite||Close to Lehi, on the borders by the seashore, close to Nephihah, Omner, Gid, and Mulek.||7|
|61||Moron||Jaredite||Near the land of Desolation.||1|
|62||Moroni||Nephite||South by the narrow strip of wilderness, by Nephihah, close to Aaron, sunk in the depths of the sea.||4|
|63||Moronihah||Nephite||No pertinent details.||0|
|64||Mulek||Nephite||By the city of Nephihah, north of Lehi, by Morianton, Omner, and Gid, on the east borders by the seashore, close to Bountiful.||7|
|65||Narrow Neck of Land||Nephite||Close to Desolation and Bountiful||6|
|66||Narrow Strip of Wilderness||Nephite||Runs from the sea east to the sea west, on the borders by the seashore, bordering a separate strip of wilderness north of the land of Zarahemla. Runs through Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, dividing the Nephites and the Lamanites. Close to Moroni.||8|
|67||Nehor||Jaredite||Close to the Hill Ephraim||1|
|68||Nephi||Lamanite||At a higher elevation and south of Zarahemla, south of Shilom, contains Minon, runs from the east sea to the west sea.||9|
|69||Nephihah||Nephite||Bordering Aaron and Moroni, close to Lehi, Morianton, Omner, Gid, and Mulek||8|
|70||Noah||Nephite||Close to Ammonihah.||1|
|71||North Sea||Sea||No pertinent details.||0|
|72||Ogath||Jaredite||South of Ripliancum.||1|
|73||Omner||Nephite||Close to Nephihah, Lehi, Morianton, Gid, and Mulek. On the east by the seashore.||6|
|74||Onidah (Hill)||Nephite||Near Antionum, east of Zarahemla, south of Jershon, bordering on the south wilderness.||4|
|75||Onidah||Lamanite||No pertinent details.||0|
|76||Onihah||Lamanite||No pertinent details.||0|
|77||Plains of Agosh||Jaredite||By the wilderness of Akish.||1|
|78||Plains of Heshlon||Jaredite||By the valley of Gilgal.||1|
|79||Plains of Nephihah||Nephite||Near the city of Nephihah||1|
|80||Shem||Jaredite||In the land northward.||1|
|81||Shemlon||Lamanite||North of Shilom, close to Amulon.||3|
|82||Shilom||Lamanite||South of Shemlon, close to Amulon, close to Lehi-Nephi||4|
|83||Shimnilom||Lamanite||No pertinent details.||0|
|84||Sidom||Nephite||Close to Ammonihah.||1|
|85||Sidon River||Nephite||West of Amnihu, ran by Zarahemla, close to Gideon, east of Melek, headwaters by Manti and the narrow strip of wilderness.||12|
|86||Siron||Lamanite||No pertinent details.||0|
|87||South Sea||Sea||No pertinent details.||0|
|88||South Wilderness||Nephite||By the land of Manti, east of the Sidon river, contains the headwaters of the Sidon, borders the land of Jershon.||6|
|89||Teancum||Nephite||By the seashore, near Desolation.||2|
|90||Tower of Sherrizah||Jaredite||No pertinent details.||0|
|91||Valley of Alma||Lamanite||A day’s journey from Helam, 12 days from Zarahemla.||2|
|92||Valley of Gilgal||Jaredite||Close to the plains of Heshlon.||1|
|93||Valley of Shurr||Jaredite||Close to the Valley of Corihor, near the Hill Comnor||2|
|94||Waters of Mormon||Lamanite||Close to Jerusalem.||2|
|95||Waters of Ripliancum||Jaredite||No pertinent details.||1|
|96||Waters of Sebus||Lamanite||Close to Ishmael||1|
|97||West Sea||Sea||Close to the land of first inheritance, Hagoth’s shipbuilding site, Joshua, the narrow strip of wilderness, west wilderness, Antiparah, city by the sea.||9|
|98||West Valley||Nephite||On the west side of the Sidon river, close to the Hill Riplah.||2|
|99||West Wilderness||Nephite||On the west of the Sidon river, by Melek, bordering the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla, close to Antiparah.||6|
|100||Wilderness of Akish||Jaredite||Close to the plains of Agosh.||1|
|101||Zarahemla||Nephite||North and at lower elevation than the land of Nephi, on the Sidon river, west of Amnihu, north of Minon, west of Gideon, northwest of Manti, north of a narrow narrow strip of wilderness, close to Jershon, close to the east wilderness.||15|
|102||Zeezrom||Nephite||No pertinent details.||0|
One of the unique things which Dr. Rasmussen provides for me is an opportunity to think about other challenges which the Book or Mormon answers which aren’t being included as part of his complete probability estimate.
If there are dozens of other inherent structures within the book not sufficiently large or statistically comparable enough to merit individual attention, still their existence is baffling. Take for instance, Dr. Rasmussen’s mention of the recital of Jaredite kings and then specifically, the repeat recitation in “perfect reverse order.” Little things like that may not be sufficient to warrant their own examination nor episode, but when considered alongside all the “power” players involved with each episode, the obvious construction of a very detailed and comprehensive work begins to form and to come into play.
I notice in the Hypothesis section, that one thing Dr. Rasmussen doesn’t mention, under the “… produced from authentically ancient authors…” paragraph, is the very probable possibility that one of the book’s narrators (especially Mormon or Moroni) might have been confused or wrong about a city that had already been destroyed or abandoned years earlier and yet that particular city still required referencing by that later narrator. Although probably unlikely, it’s not impossible that something of this nature could actually happen if the location mentioned had been abandoned or destroyed hundreds of years earlier. In fact, thinking about it, the fact that the internal consistencies remained intact even after a thousand-year period of the book’s described existence is remarkable in and of itself. (Especially considering that we’re not talking about modern-era geographical capabilities, but geography as given by someone born around the year 300 AD…)
I really like how Dr. Rasmussen describes the potential for Joseph to not only forget, and on-the-other-hand to remember incorrectly each location, but that this would have been compounded by each and every repeat reference to any particular locale (some references coming much distant to the initial reference.) It is the multiplication of recurring references which we tend to neglect or forget about. Dr. Rasmussen does a really good job explaining this idea, but what if instead of the lower-bound 18% rate, he had gone with the average of the lower and upper-bounds? The average of 18 and 33 percent equals 25 percent. 25 percent of 151 would be 38 inconsistencies, while the upwards-bound 33 percent would have been 50 inconsistencies! The two he mentioned seem miniscule in comparison.
It is not clear to me what point has been made by this episode, but the geographical list could stand some improvement. So here is a list of corrections:
David is not Jaredite, but a land in the vicinity of city of Angolah and the land of Joshua, ca. 327 B.C. (Mormon 2:3-6).
absent Hill Antipas, a hill or mount near Onidah where Lamanites gather (Alma 47:7,10).
Hill Comnor should most likely be spelled Comron (so Skousen)
absent Hill /Mount Zerin (Ether 12:30)
absent Desolation of Nehors, a descriptive epithet for the destroyed Nephite city of Ammonihah; destroyed by Lamanites in early 1st century B.C. (Alma 10:23, 16:2-11, 25:2)
Jacob-Ugath (so Skousen) should at least be hyphenated because it is a dual-name
Jashon is not Jaredite, but a Nephite city and land near Antum (Mormon 2:16-17).
absent Jordan, the Nephite city of (Mormon 5:3).
Joshua is not Jaredite, but is a land near seashore (Mormon 2:6).
Judeah always spelled with -h- in Original and Printer’s MSS
absent Lehi-Nephi, city and land, formerly called Nephi (Mosiah 7:1-4, 9:1,6,8).
“Lib” not actually a named city, but an unnamed Great City built by Narrow Neck of Land in the days of King Lib (Ether 10:20).
Manti is not only the Hill on which Nehor is executed, 1st cent. B.C. (Alma 1:15), but also the Nephite land on southern border with Lamanites (Alma 16:6 – 59:6), and the Nephite chief city of land of Manti (Alma 56:13 – 58:39).
absent Midian, but this a complex matter for the text critics, so we will ignore this for now.
absent Moriancumer, Land of (Ether 2:13).
absent Moriantum, Nephite place (Moroni 9:9-15).
absent Narrow Pass/Narrow Passage (Alma 50:34, 52:9, Mormon 2:29, 3:5).
Oneidah/Onidah, distinguished as separate by Skousen, but considered the same place by me and Jenny Webb
absent Ramah, the Jaredite hill, in which Mormon hides his records (Ether 15:11 = Nephite Cumorah, Mormon 6:6)
Shem is not Jaredite, but a Nephite land and city (Mormon 2:20-21);.
the Hill Shim is not just Jaredite (Ether 9:3), but also a Nephite hill, in land of Antum (Mormon 1:3)
absent Small Neck (Alma 22:32)
Thanks for taking the time to go through my list, Robert. This is what I get for relying on secondary sources (though some of these areas arise from a misreading of that source). This is great feedback, and I’ve worked to incorporate many of these additions into my own personal database. I might work with the Interpreter to update the essay here, assuming they have the time. A few thoughts on your proposals:
“David is not Jaredite, but a land in the vicinity of city of Angolah and the land of Joshua, ca. 327 B.C. (Mormon 2:3-6).”
You’re correct that it’s not Jaredite, though I believe it should be properly placed in the Land Northward, potentially close to other Jaredite sites in that area, which is why I gave it that designation. I’ll work on consistently labeling these sites as Nephite regardless of where they are to avoid confusion.
“absent Hill Antipas, a hill or mount near Onidah where Lamanites gather (Alma 47:7,10).”
“Hill Comnor should most likely be spelled Comron (so Skousen)”
It’s definitely a good point that some of these names differ in the Earliest Text, though I’ll maintain the spelling in the current edition here (and with other associated changes) for ease of reference.
“absent Hill /Mount Zerin (Ether 12:30)”
It’s not perfectly clear that this is a New World location, which is probably why it’s not in my secondary source. I’ll leave it out for now for the same reason.
“absent Desolation of Nehors, a descriptive epithet for the destroyed Nephite city of Ammonihah; destroyed by Lamanites in early 1st century B.C. (Alma 10:23, 16:2-11, 25:2)”
The secondary source combines Desolation of Nehors with Ammonihah, as they’re referring to the same location, and I’ll do the same here.
“Jacob-Ugath (so Skousen) should at least be hyphenated because it is a dual-name”
I’ll keep this as Jacobugath to reflect current edition spelling.
“Jashon is not Jaredite, but a Nephite city and land near Antum (Mormon 2:16-17).”
I’ll change this to Nephite for the reason indicated above.
“absent Jordan, the Nephite city of (Mormon 5:3).”
This was a miss on my part, as it’s included in the secondary source.
“Joshua is not Jaredite, but is a land near seashore (Mormon 2:6).”
I’ll change this to Nephite for the reason indicated above.
“Judeah always spelled with -h- in Original and Printer’s MSS”
I’ll maintain the current edition spelling as indicated above.
“absent Lehi-Nephi, city and land, formerly called Nephi (Mosiah 7:1-4, 9:1,6,8).”
The secondary source combines this with the city of Nephi, since it refers to the same location, and I’ll do the same.
““Lib” not actually a named city, but an unnamed Great City built by Narrow Neck of Land in the days of King Lib (Ether 10:20).”
This is correct, though the secondary source labels it as such due to the need to provide a label, and I think it’s as good a label as we could provide to that unnamed city.
“Manti is not only the Hill on which Nehor is executed, 1st cent. B.C. (Alma 1:15), but also the Nephite land on southern border with Lamanites (Alma 16:6 – 59:6), and the Nephite chief city of land of Manti (Alma 56:13 – 58:39).”
This one is missing from the secondary source, potentially because it’s not perfectly clear where the altercation between Gideon and Nehor takes place, though it’s likely in the Valley of Gideon.
“absent Midian, but this a complex matter for the text critics, so we will ignore this for now.”
This is one that I missed in the secondary source, so I’ll include it.
“absent Moriancumer, Land of (Ether 2:13).”
Not included, since this isn’t a New World location.
“absent Moriantum, Nephite place (Moroni 9:9-15).”
This one isn’t included in the secondary source. It’s also not clear whether this is a Nephite city, or a Lamanite city that was sacked by the Nephites. I’ll label it as a Nephite city for now, per your suggestion. It’s also possible this is a scribal misreading of Morianton.
“absent Narrow Pass/Narrow Passage (Alma 50:34, 52:9, Mormon 2:29, 3:5).”
This one is in the secondary source, but I believe I didn’t include it since it’s nested within the narrow neck and has the same relationships. I’ll continue to exclude it on those grounds, to be on the conservative side.
“Oneidah/Onidah, distinguished as separate by Skousen, but considered the same place by me and Jenny Webb”
I’ll continue to keep this as a single location of Onidah, to be on the conservative side.
“absent Ramah, the Jaredite hill (Ether 15:11 = Nephite Cumorah, Mormon 6:6)”
This is treated as a single location in the secondary source, and I’ll continue to do the same.
“Shem is not Jaredite, but a Nephite land and city (Mormon 2:20-21);.”
Updated as described.
“the Hill Shim is not just Jaredite (Ether 9:3), but also a Nephite hill (Mormon 1:3)”
Continuing to label this as Jaredite,…
Kyler has chosen not to consider the geographical evidence, which is certainly his right to exclude. This is his party and he can invite the guests he wishes to entertain. 🙂
For those (like myself) who are interested in the geographical evidence, you may want to check out the detailed geographical model put together by the folks at Book of Mormon Central (BMC). It is currently only available in Spanish but you can click Google Translate and get a good rendering in English. Here is the site.
All you need to navigate the Model is Google Earth Pro, a free download. Then you can take the short tutorial at BMC and start working through the Model correlations between the Book of Mormon and sites primarily in southern Mexico and northern Guatemala.
The bottom line is that the BMC Model is a perfect 100% fit for all 246 specific geographic references in the Book of Mormon.
I am particularly impressed by three things:
1) how well the north-flowing Usamacinta river fits with River Sidon in the Book of Mormon.
2) how well the north, south, east and west seas mentioned in the Book of Mormon fit with this area of northern Guatemala and southern Mexico. To my knowledge, there is no other limited geographical area in the New World that fits so well with these four seas.
3) the probable location of the Hill Cumorah as the volcanic complex Cerro San Martin Pajapan in southern Veracruz state. Now there is an area big enough for armies of many hundreds of thousands to fight. That many soldiers would be packed elbow to elbow around that tiny drumlin hill in called Cumorah in upstate New York.
That does indeed appear to be a fantastic resource.
In the original concept for this essay, I toyed with the idea of doing something a little bit different than I ended up doing. Instead of asking how likely it would be for Joseph to create a consistent geography, I wondered if I could estimate the probability of that geography actually fitting someplace on the American continent. It would’ve taken a lot longer, and probably would’ve required a deep understanding of and access to GIS data, but that piece of evidence would probably end up independent of Joseph’s own memory, and could thus be incorporated into the larger analysis.
A project for another day, perhaps!
The crux of the point I wish to make is regarding a prior comment made by Mr. Billy Shears as to his interpretation of the foundation of this research. Previously, in Episode 14, Billy had this to say, “The fact is that if a highly educated and experienced practitioner such as myself looks at what the implicit assumptions are, basically every single one of them is obviously, patently false. The model is junk, beginning to end.”
If someone believes that something is fundamentally flawed, then that person will have a difficult time with whatever follows or with whatever is built upon that framework. As I stated previously, I believe that in Billy Shears mind, NOTHING of which Joseph Smith makes claim is true. If taken at that value then, Dr. Rasmussen’s a priori’s or implicit assumptions are false (a boolean value of 0) and logically then, everything thereafter is false (also a boolean value of 0.) As I mentioned, ZERO times any number is always ZERO. Or in Billy Shears’ words, JUNK times any number is always JUNK.
It is difficult to state how important a factor this could end up being in the mind of the non-believer. It could also help explain why, even with good foundational data which don’t rely on spiritual factors (like that seen in most of these episodes) is still ignored by those who don’t believe. Is it any wonder then, that Bayse came up with a model which could take a priori’s of indeterminate mode and transform them into logical and understandable results. No wonder there are those who fight against it so stridently.
I have to say that I am grateful for Dr. Rasmussen’s research into a topic fraught with misunderstanding, interpretations and personal biases. It can’t be easy, and yet one of his hallmarks is acknowledging and compromising his “implicit assumptions” to factor in the relentless desires of those who disagree.
Thank you for taking the time to make a deep analysis of locations mentioned! Focusing on places with a relationship was a great way to prove authenticity. I also loved that you consulted Brandon Sanderson and referenced Tolkien. Great article!
Just to clarify one thing, despite citing Brandon’s editorial practices, which he discusses in his YouTube lectures, he wasn’t the author I consulted on the consistency of the BofM. I’d be interested in Brandon’s thoughts, though! Maybe I’ll try to ask him at his next AMA.